NAR Reports Rise in Home Sales

February 20, 2011 - Leave a Response

 

Existing-home sales exceeded analysts’ expectations by increasing by 12.3 percent in December. Homes sales are returning to their highest level since last May.

 

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported seasonally adjusted sales rose to an annualized rate of 5.28 million last month from 4.7 million for November. Analysts had predicted a rate of approximately 4.9 million units.

 

NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said, “December was a good finish to 2010, when sales fluctuate more than normal. The pattern over the past six months is clearly showing a recovery. The December pace is near the volume we’re expecting for 2011, so the market is getting much closer to an adequate, sustainable level. The recovery will likely continue as job growth gains momentum and rising rents encourage more renters into ownership while exceptional affordability conditions remain.”

 

NAR said the median existing-home price in December was $168,000, down 1 percent from a year earlier, which was attributed to the number of distressed properties sold during the month. The level of distressed-home sales last month rose to 36 percent of the existing-home market, up from 33 percent in November and 32 percent last year.

 

Regarding distressed-home sales, Yun said, “The modest rise in distressed sales, which typically are discounted 10 to 15 percent relative to traditional homes, dampened the median price in December, but the flat price trend continues,”

 

NAR President Ron Phipps, broker-president of Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I., said buyers are responding to very good affordability conditions despite tight mortgage credit. “Historically low mortgage interest rates, stable home prices, and pent-up demand are drawing home buyers into the market,” Phipps said. “Recent home buyers have been successful with very low default rates, given the outstanding performance for loans originated in 2009 and 2010.”

Advertisements

Home Security Options

February 4, 2011 - Leave a Response

 

There are many effective security options that protect your family and home and give you peace of mind. From inexpensive Do-It-Yourself methods to pricier security systems with monitoring centers, here are a few different home security products and methods to consider.

 

  • Installed Security Alarm Systems with Monitoring Services

These systems are the most expensive, typically costing $25 – $50 per month. You pay for the installation and the equipment as well, which is generally in addition to your monthly fee. Many of the companies that provide these systems also require you to sign a contract, which can keep you committed from 3-5 years. Although, you may be able to find companies who will negotiate month-to-month options.

 

In the event that you need assistance, you have direct access to help once the alarm is activated. Maintenance of such systems should be minimal, and most of these systems are accompanied by a warranty.

 

If you enter into a contract for a security alarm system, it can be difficult to get out of without paying a large fee. Also, unintentionally activating these alarms can cause problems if you aren’t home to turn them off, resulting in annoyed neighbors and a possible visit from your local police department.

 

  • DIY Security Alarm Systems

 

Much less expensive than the monitoring systems are basic sensor alarm systems. You can usually install these alarm systems yourself with the ability to connect the system to your phone lines to dial preselected numbers if the home’s security is breached. Many of these systems allow for a number of points of contacts at various doors and windows around the home. These security systems typically have alarms and flashing lights to alert anyone nearby of a potential problem.

 

Since these systems don’t have monitoring services, they rely on those in the home or around the home to contact the police as well as the reliability of the dialer to dial preselected emergency contacts. Many of these systems have warranties, and you typically don’t sign any contracts.

 

  • Surveillance Cameras

 

The cost for a full video surveillance system for many homeowners can be pricey, but if it’s something you’d like to consider, it should be used as a backup device to a basic home security alarm or installed system. Cameras can only deter someone from breaking in. Also, many people who have security cameras around their home neglect to actually monitor and record the activity around the home. There have been many reported thefts from homes with surveillance systems that were never resolved due to the fact that the homeowners could never refer to any footage because the cameras weren’t recording. So, if you choose to install surveillance cameras, make sure you use them properly.

 

  • Man’s Best Friend

Although you wouldn’t get a dog for the sole purpose of protecting your home, Fido can be a great alarm system when anything or anyone suspicious may be threatening your home.

 

  • Simply Advertising an Alarm

it’s not a necessarily an effective or reliable source of protection in the event of an actual burglary, but sometimes simply placing an alarm system advertisement outside can be enough of a deterrent to keep anyone away who may consider breaking into your home.

 

  • Reliable Locks on all Windows and Doors

 

Use sturdy, dependable deadbolt locks on all your doors. Keep windows locked when they’re not in use. Block your sliding doors or windows from being opened from the outside by measuring the window track when the window is open, and purchasing a piece of wood that will fit in the slot yet is sturdy enough not to break with force.

 

When leaving your home or going to bed, always ensure that your doors and windows are securely locked. Keep your home well lit, especially from the outside. Also, let your neighbors know if you are going out of town so you have someone aware of any suspicious activity happening around your home while you’re gone.

 

The Value of Long-Term Homeownership

January 18, 2011 - Leave a Response

 

Despite the decline in home prices over the past few years, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) recently released a survey concluding that moving into a new home, particularly over the long-term, is a good investment.

 

The typical seller is experiencing positive returns, and the vast majority of homeowners see their property as a good investment, according to the latest consumer survey of home buyers and sellers.

 

Although typical sellers had been in their previous home for eight years, up from seven years in a 2009 study, first-time buyers plan to stay for an average of 10 years. Repeat buyers plan to hold their property for 15 years.

 

NAR 2010 President Vicki Cox Golder said the pattern of home buyers purchasing with a long-term intent has solidified over the past few years. “This underscores two simple facts – homeownership encourages stability, and the longer you own, the better your investment. . . Despite swings in the housing market in recent years, the fact is most long-term owners see healthy gains in the value of their property.”

 

According to the NAR, even with several years of price declines, the typical seller who purchased a home eight years ago experienced a median equity gain of $33,000, a 24 percent increase, while sellers who were in their homes for 11 to 15 years saw a median gain of 40 percent.

 

Paul Bishop, NAR vice president of research, said “Eighty-five percent of recent home buyers see their home as a good investment, and nearly half think that investment is better than stocks,” he said. “Even with the turmoil created by the housing boom and bust, this indicates the long-term view of homeownership as a fundamental goal and value remains sound. In fact, the single biggest reason most people buy a home is the simple desire to own a home of their own, cited by 31 percent of respondents, including 53 percent of first-time buyers.

 

“Clearly the agenda here is sustainable homeownership,” said Ron Phipps, incoming president of the NAR. “We know homeownership matters. Long-term, it is very, very important. But we want to make sure that people who are buying homes are able to enjoy them and support them over the longer haul. . . There are people who need to rent, and that is fine. . . The market should accommodate that. But the majority of families are better off with homeownership for the long term.

 

“I think it will be interesting to watch,” said Phipps. “The market will be very creative in what it encourages. I like the entrepreneurial nature of developers and Realtors in figuring out what that future is. Right now, I am much more focused on the near future. The long-term market is strong.”

 

Other benefits of long-term homeownership include:

 

  • Social cohesion and stronger communities. Long-term homeowners move less than renters, and therefore, they stay in the same community longer.
  • Educational achievement. Studies show that the decision to stay in school is more frequent for those raised by parents who are homeowners compared to those whose parents are renters. Also, changing schools frequently due to moving can negatively impact a child’s educational outcome.
  • Civic participation. The longer a homeowner is part of a community, the more likely he is to be politically active and vote in local elections. Long-term homeowners have a higher membership in voluntary organizations.
  • Lower crime rate. It is easier for homeowners to recognize perpetrators in stable neighborhoods.
  • Better quality of home. Long-term homeowners spend more time and money maintaining their property. Neighbors can also influence other homeowners to improve their property, resulting in a better overall quality of the community.

 

Saving on Your Heating Bill this Winter

January 14, 2011 - Leave a Response

 

The weather is starting to cool down and Jack Frost has already made an appearance in many areas of the country. Before you boil over from receiving a huge heating bill, read these tips and tricks to help save on your heating costs this winter.

  • Lower your thermostat. Set it between 68 to 70 degrees when you’re home. Lower the temperature at night. If you’ll be out of the house for longer than 4 hours, lower the temperature to 62 degrees. Remind everyone to put on a sweater, warm pajamas, and wear slippers or socks. Add an extra blanket or quilt to your beds.
  • Buy a programmable thermostat. A smart thermostat can be set to change the temperature for you and will only set you back about $75-$150.
  • Clean or replace your furnace filters regularly. Inspect them monthly – especially during the colder months.
  • Set your hot water tank to 120 degrees or lower.
  • Use lower temperatures when washing laundry. Use a cold rinse whenever possible. Empty the lint trap before every dryer cycle. Consider line-drying clothes instead of using the dryer.
  • Open curtains and blinds on sunny winter days to help warm your home, but make sure to close them at night to help keep heat in.
  • Quick showers use a lot less hot water than long baths.
  • Limit use of a gas fireplace.
  • Use bathroom and kitchen fans sparingly. In just one hour, a hard-working bathroom or kitchen fan can expel a houseful of warm air, according to the Department of Energy. Turn them off as soon as they’ve done their job.
  • Restrict warm air from unused areas. Close vents and doors to unused rooms.
  • Winterize your windows. If you can’t afford storm windows, put plastic film on windows where a clear view isn’t crucial, which will curb drafts. About $6 of plastic film covers three windows.

 

What’s the Dirt on Mold?

December 6, 2010 - Leave a Response

Mold can grow in any home, even newly-built homes or homes under construction. Molds produce allergens, irritants, and in some cases, potentially toxic substances. Although research on the health effects indoor mold can cause is ongoing, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states, “Exposure to damp and moldy environments may cause a variety of health effects. . . In 2004 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found there was sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people. . . The IOM also found limited or suggestive evidence linking exposure to damp indoor environments in general to shortness of breath, to respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children and to potential development of asthma in susceptible individuals.

How can I prevent mold from growing in my home?

  • The key to preventing mold is controlling moisture. Keep humidity levels low (between 40% and 60%). A hygrometer is an inexpensive humidity measuring instrument that will measure your indoor moisture levels and can be purchased at most hardware stores.
  • When water leaks through roofs, windows, or pipes, act quickly. If damp areas are dried within 48 hours of a leak, mold will most likely not grow.
  • Thoroughly clean and dry all areas affected by flooding.
  • Increase ventilation by running the fan or opening the window when showering.
  • Use exhaust fans or open windows when cooking or running the dishwasher.
  • Clean and repair roof gutters regularly.
  • If you notice condensation or moisture collecting anywhere, quickly dry the wet surface, determine the water source, and reduce the moisture. Condensation can also be a sign of high humidity in your home.
  • Clean and maintain your home regularly. Discard clutter and excess stored materials. Molds grow on fabrics, paper, wood, or anything that collects dust and holds moisture.

If you are building a new home, make sure your builder is contractually obligated to do the following:

(1) Construct a mold-free home (except for very low levels of non-harmful molds);

(2) Inspect lumber and building materials used and reject moldy lumber and building materials from being used in the construction of your home;

(3) At the close of every work day, cover the entire home in clear plastic sheeting to protect it against rain and snow until the roof is completely shingled, the exterior siding is completed, and the windows are installed and closed;

(4) Permit you to do mold inspection and testing (at your expense) during the construction process so that you can monitor whether or not the home is being built mold-free;

(5) Remove any mold contaminated lumber or building materials discovered during your mold inspection and testing.

What do I do if I find mold in my house?

If mold is growing in your home, you need to clean up the mold and fix the moisture problem. Mold will reappear until its source of moisture is completely removed. High moisture levels that are not corrected can cause mold to grow back quickly. Mold growth can be removed from hard surfaces with commercial products, soap and water, or a solution containing no more than 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water.

Mold growth, which often forms spots, can be a variety of colors, and can smell musty. If you can see or smell mold, a health risk may be present. If you have health concerns, consult a health professional before beginning any mold cleanup.

You may need professional help when there is a lot of mold, the home is very damp, or mold returns after repeated cleaning.

Remember the following steps when cleaning mold yourself:

  • Discard any moldy or damaged materials. Wear a mask and gloves when removing any moldy materials. Furnishings, mattresses, carpets, rugs, or sofas that have been wet or damp for over 48 hours should be discarded.
  • Vacuum. Vacuum all surfaces in the home thoroughly to reduce the amount of mold spores.
  • Clear wet areas. Pull carpets and furnishings away from wet walls. Carpets and floor pads that are moldy should be cut out and discarded.
  • Isolate any affected areas. If the mold is limited to one area, isolate that area. Cover the affected surfaces with plastic sheeting. Note that this is only a temporary measure to minimize exposure.

If you are renting and you encounter mold, report all plumbing leaks and moisture problems immediately to your building owner, manager, or landlord. In cases where persistent water problems are not addressed, you may want to contact local, state, or federal health or housing authorities.  Find your state health department contacts here.

 

Natural Disaster Preparation: Will You Be Ready?

November 16, 2010 - Leave a Response

Throughout history, natural disasters have wreaked havoc on families, homes, communities, and even entire nations. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), every state in the country has been hit by flooding, fires, or destructive high winds. There are also 41 states that have a significant earthquake hazard.

Advanced planning and preparation can be the key to a quick response and a quick, safe recovery if you happen to face a natural disaster.

First Aid Supplies

In the case of a natural disaster, or any home emergency, it is important to have basic emergency and first aid supplies readily available, and every family member should know where these supplies are located and how to use them. These supplies should include:

  • Prescription and other OTC medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, anti-diarrhea medication, anti-nausea medication, cold medicine, throat lozenges, etc.
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • First aid instruction book
  • Blankets and sheets
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Sterile gauze pads
  • Assorted bandages
  • Small, sharp scissors
  • Instant ice pack
  • Adhesive tape
  • Absorbent cotton balls
  • Antibacterial soap
  • Water purification tablets
  • Small bottle of bleach
  • Multipurpose knife/tool
  • Large and small plastic bags

These items should be stored in a durable, waterproof container. Update items annually as some, such as medications, may expire.

Develop a Family Emergency Plan

Your family members should all be prepared to respond to a natural disaster. Take time to discuss and practice for emergency situations. Teach responsible family members how to turn off the water, gas, and electricity. Make sure your children know how to safely exit your home. Designate a gathering place near your home as well as another meeting place in the occasion that you are separated.

Knowledge of first aid procedures can be invaluable. The Red Cross chapter in your community can assist you in finding a helpful class for your family. FEMA also has some material to assist children in learning more about disaster preparedness.

Preparing your Home

  • Consult your local building authority for the base flood elevation in your area, and determine whether your home is in a Special Flood Hazard Area.
  • Secure large appliances, such as your refrigerator and water heater, with flexible cable, braided wire, or metal strapping to keep them from falling over.
  • Every home should have an ABC-rated fire extinguisher.
  • Anchor propane tanks and gas cylinders.
  • Make sure your house number is visible from the street in case emergency personnel need to find your home. Some cities offer a program to paint your house number on the curb for a small fee. The best place for your house number is near the front door or slightly above eye level and lit by a light.
  • Permanent shutters are the best protection for high winds. A lower-cost approach is to put up plywood panels.
  • Roofs can be the first to go in severe storms. Simple metal straps can keep roof rafters tied to the top wall of the house and prevent uplift during high winds.
  • Foundation bolts cost around $2 each and can save thousands of dollars worth of damage if high winds, floods, or earthquakes try to force a house off its foundation.
  • Keep important records, such as mortgage papers, medical records, insurance policies, birth certificates, marriage licenses, wills, stock and bond certificates, tax records, an inventory of your assets and personal items, and other vital documents in one central location where they can easily be transported if you must leave the area quickly. Keep all papers in a water- and fire-proof container.
  • Check your homeowner’s insurance coverage. Floods are not covered by homeowner’s insurance policies. However, flood insurance is available through the government-backed National Flood Insurance Program.
  • Make food storage a priority. Have at least a five-day supply of food and water for each family member on hand. Store water in sealed, unbreakable containers, and replace it as necessary. Food should be non-perishable goods such as canned or sealed-package items.

6 Common Home Buyer Mistakes to Avoid

November 12, 2010 - Leave a Response
You’ve determined that you’re ready to buy a home. You’ve saved enough for a down payment, you’ve been searching for properties, and you’re ready to make your dream a reality. Buying a home is an exciting process; however, if you’re not careful, it can turn into a nightmare. Here are 6 common home buyer mistakes to avoid. 

1. Not Budgeting Properly

It’s easy to overestimate what you can afford. Although owning a home may be a better investment than renting, it’s not necessarily going to be cheaper. Take a good look at your income and expenses for a few months before determining what you can comfortably afford. Make a budget sheet using Microsoft Excel or any other budgeting software. List all your income as well as every single expense, including food, gifts, and even haircuts. Keep in mind any emergency expenses as well.

When budgeting, don’t forget about hidden costs including closing costs, homeowner’s insurance, property taxes, HOA fees, and décor and furniture to fill your new home.

2. Neglecting your Credit Report Prior to Getting Approved

Your credit score can be either helpful or detrimental to your loan process. Getting a full credit report from all three credit reporting agencies – ExperianEquifax, and TransUnion – before applying for your home loan will not only let you know how credit-worthy you are, it can lead you to possible reporting errors. One study found that as many as 25 percent of credit reports have damaging errors.

3. Not Getting Pre-approved for a Home Loan before Searching

Most sellers prefer bids from prospective buyers who are already pre-approved for a home loan. Being pre-qualified and pre-approved are different. Pre-qualification is usually the unofficial process of informing a lender of your credit status, income, and debt. The lender can usually give you a ballpark figure of what type of loan they may offer. Pre-qualification is based on your word alone and doesn’t hold much weight with sellers.

Pre-approval is the verification of the information you provided to the lender. This process will give you a better idea of how much the bank will loan you. Getting pre-approved can get you a step ahead other potential bidders that have no pre-approval.

4. Skipping the Home Inspection

You love that old fixer-upper, but skipping the home inspection can cost you as much in repairs as the cost of the home itself. The home inspection should include the overall foundation and structural features of the house, the roof, walls, plumbing, the presence of mold, pest infestations, heating, air conditioning, appliances, and the electrical system. Also, ensure that your inspector is certified with the American Society of Home Inspectors.

5. Picking the wrong neighborhood

You’ve found a home you love, but do you know what happens in the neighborhood after dark? Do you know the crime rate? What is the traffic like during rush hour? How is the school district?

Knock on your potential neighbors’ doors, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Call the school principal, or talk to parents who are waiting to pick up their kids after school. Read the local newspaper to learn more about the community. There are many real estate blogs and community websites on the internet so before buying the home, check out the neighborhood.

6. Using a Bad Real Estate Agent or No Agent

You want a real estate agent who understands your needs and limitations and will work for you and look out for your interests. Get references from friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors. Consider interviewing a few different agents to find out about their activity and experience in your area.

It’s definitely possible to buy a home without the help of a professional real estate agent, but realtors have access to all the homes on the market through the multiple listing service (MLS). Unless you are in the real estate business yourself, you’ll likely not have any access to the MLS in your area. Real estate agents spend their time sifting through listings, making appointments to show homes, meeting with inspectors, and helping you create a comparative market analysis to determine proper pricing.

The real estate agent you choose could be the greatest asset or biggest obstacle to finding your dream home.


Get to Know your Community by Getting Involved

November 9, 2010 - Leave a Response

Being involved in your community doesn’t just benefit others; being involved can help you feel more connected to society. Through community service, you gain a sense of responsibility, and you set an example of sacrifice and service to your family and friends.

Here are some ways to get involved in your own community:

  • Visit volunteermatch.org: Enter your zip code and skills or interests to find volunteer opportunities suited just for you.
  • Volunteer your time at rest homes or retirement communities, developmental centers, or assisted living facilities in your area.
  • Volunteer at community events. Many community events throughout the country can be found at the Library of Congress Local Legacies website.
  • Host or sponsor an event such as a race (try Relay for Life) or a school event. Read your local newspaper or city newsletter to search for opportunities.
  • Talk to local church leaders to see what the needs of your neighborhood and community are.
  • Call your local school district to find volunteer opportunities.
  • Adopt a child or family for Christmas. Many names are also given to local church authorities. Contact local shelters to find families in need or contact your local United Way.
  • Be an informed citizen so you can be a leader in your own community.

 

Buying a Foreclosed Home

November 5, 2010 - Leave a Response


The current state of the economy has caused a flood of foreclosed properties on the market. Many home buyers are taking advantage of the extremely low cost of a foreclosed home. A foreclosure occurs when a property owner fails to make the payments on his or her loan which leads to the property being seized and sold.

 

There are generally two options when buying a foreclosed home. You can either purchase the home from the lender/bank, or you can purchase the home from a foreclosure auction or sale. Because the process is very different for each, this article will specifically focus on bank foreclosures.

 

Listings of foreclosures can be obtained from most banks. Some agents and brokers who specialize in foreclosures may also assist you in finding foreclosed property for sale. Consider the following tips when looking at a foreclosed home:

 

  • Inspect the house very carefully. Many foreclosed homes have previous homeowners who did not maintain upkeep on the home or the landscape. Sometimes the repairs are minor, but take into account any unexpected repairs when budgeting. You may want to contract a private inspection to give you a better indication of the cost of repairs.
  • Evaluate the neighborhood. Knock on your potential neighbors’ doors to ask them how they like the neighborhood. Research the crime rate in the area as well.
  • Have an agent find the prices of comparable homes in the area to ensure you are actually getting a good deal.

 

Once you have found a foreclosed property you are considering buying, go to the County Recorder’s Office. The County Recorder’s Office can provide you with the Trust Deed, the Notice of Foreclosure Sale, and the Notice of Default on the property. These documents are public record and reflect how much was originally loaned to the homeowner, when the loan was issued, how much was owed at the time the Notice of Default was filed, and how much the bank paid for the property. Since there are usually no concrete rules banks follow that determine their bottom-line price, these documents will help you explore the lowest possible price the bank is willing to sell the home for.

 

Foreclosed homes are often offered at a significant discount at upwards of 30% or more, so if you are in the market for a bargain, a bank foreclosure may be a great option for you.

 

Home Buyer Tax Credit Continues to Influence Market Growth

September 20, 2010 - Leave a Response

The federal government’s extended and expanded home buyer tax credit continues to boost home sales throughout the United States, according to a report published by the National Association of Realtors. For the ninth consecutive month since 2001, pending home sales showed a marked increase.

According to a Dec. 22 NAR report, existing-home sales were up in November “as first-time buyers rushed to close sales before the original November 30 deadline. People hoped – but no one could be sure the tax credit would actually be extended by Congress. It was, and when it’s all said and done, about 4.4 million households will claim the tax credit before it expires.

The question is, will pending home sales be self-sustaining when the tax credit expires in April 2010? Housing market experts are warning there will be a natural drop in pending and actual home sales as the rush to take advantage of the home buyer tax credit wanes.

What is the Pending Home Sales Index?

The Pending Home Sales Index is a leading indicator for the housing sector. It’s based on pending sales of existing homes. A sale is considered “pending” when the contract’s been signed but the transaction isn’t yet closed. An index of 100 is equal to the average level of contract activity during 2001.

News of a sharp increase is based on contracts signed in October. The pending sales report published by NAR on Dec. 1, showed a 3.7 percent increase from September 2009. It was 31.8 percent higher than October 2008 when the housing sales crunch was sorely felt throughout America. In September the index was recorded at 110. In October, the index had increased to 114.1.

Celebrate, but be Wary

The market has been historically slow for the past year, so while the increase is good news, it is still reflective of a sluggish economy and a rebound-in-progress. NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun again credits the government’s housing stimulus package for unleashing “a pent-up demand from a large pool of financially qualified renters, much more than borrowing sales from the future.”

The Northeast saw the greatest increase in October – 19.9 percent above September and 44.2 percent higher than it was a year ago. The Western housing market didn’t fare quite as well. In fact, the index fell 11.2 percent from September to October. It’s still 21.9 percent higher than it was a year ago.

The inevitable end of the tax credit is likely to cause a dip in pending sales as buyers rush to lock in their deals. The American job market continues to be weak, and that is a major factor affecting home sales. While the federal stimulus money has helped, it will not completely correct the market alone.

“Still, as inventories continue to decline and balance is gradually restored between buyers and sellers, we should reach self-sustaining housing conditions and firming home prices in most areas around the middle of 2010. That would mean broad wealth stabilization for the vast number of middle-class families,” Yun said in the NAR report.