Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Selling Your Home in the Winter

Winter is widely known as the slowest season in the real estate industry. The busy holidays, cooler weather and short days often keep home owners in place from December through March. However, it can also be a great time to sell, because, even though you may have fewer buyers during the winter months, you also have less competition from other sellers.

If you cannot wait to sell your home until the spring, you may need to try some extra marketing strategies for selling buyers on your home. Find the hidden advantages of your home during this slow season. With the leaves gone from trees, potential buyers may be able to see the whole home clearly, free from obstructions.

Just as in the summer months, keep your home exterior nicely maintained all winter long. Clear your yard of any fallen twigs or branches. Keep your driveway free of debris and the outside warmly lit. Because the holidays are over, make sure all festive decorations are taken down; however, wreaths or dried arrangements around the door are always a welcome seasonal touch — just as long as they do not scream "holidays."

Inside your home, you will also want to keep all rooms well lit. If you are not planning on being home often, keep both inside and outside lights on timers to keep electric bills at bay. Make sure all windows are thoroughly cleaned and curtains and blinds drawn. Try to schedule a showing or open house during peak daylight hours to maximize natural light in your home.

The way your home smells can make a big impression on a potential buyer. If you have a wood-burning fire, you have got a double advantage — it brings both a warm light and comforting smell to your home. Other smells that may favorably affect a buyer's mood are chocolate chip cookies, cinnamon rolls, freshly baked bread, apple cider and vanilla. Want to create a nice aroma without baking? A drop of vanilla extract on a baking sheet place in a warm oven will mimic the scent of freshly baked cookies.

Though there may be fewer prospective buyers during the winter, this does not mean you will not be able to sell your home. Be creative with the way you stage your home and remember to treat everyone who enters as respected guests. You obviously saw potential in the home you are trying to sell, and someone else surely will, too.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Protecting Your Home from Winter Windstorms
A Few Modifications Will Protect Your Most Valuable Asset from the Elements

(ARA) - Like a scene from a Hollywood movie, winter winds rage through town, whipping up leaves, smacking shutters against siding and sending shingles flying. Huge trees snap like feeble twigs. It’s no mystery why scary movies often portray ominous scenes against a backdrop of a dark and stormy night. It’s even more frightening in real life.

The roof over your head is your home's critical shield of protection from high winds and rain, and it’s often the first to be damaged during a windy storm. But with a few simple modifications and defensive strategies, homeowners can prepare their most valuable asset to stand up against even the harshest elements.

Start with the roof, a home’s first line of defense in protection from wind.

During a storm, wind hits the top of the roof and then travels down the exterior walls to the foundation. If the roof components can’t withstand the wind’s force, damage can occur all the way to the foundation. Quality roofing products can help prevent the heartache of thousands of dollars worth of damage.

According to Bert Elliott of Owens Corning, “Investing in a premium, wind-resistant shingle can help minimize the damage you could face in a high-wind event -- so that during the next windy day you can relax and know that your roof is ready for the challenge.”

Owens Corning Duration Series Shingles feature a patented sealant called Tru-Bond that creates a tight grip between the nailing strip and the shingle to insure a powerful bond that can help withstand winds from 110 mph up to 130 mph.

With solid shingles in place, now look to the rest of the house to make sure it’s secure. For example, anchoring bolts with heavy-gauge square bolt washers to connect the floor construction to the foundation is a small task that helps ensure added coverage. It is also important to ensure that metal connectors on roof trusses or rafters and walls are connected properly.

And don’t overlook the garage. Securing garage doors with the correct bracing --single-wide garage doors with a horizontal brace and for garage door panels, either vertical or horizontal bracing -- provides much needed protection for your garage.

Outside your home, survey the landscaping. The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes recommends examining trees within close proximity to the house. If trees are diseased or damaged they may have a weak root system and may not be able to withstand a windstorm. Some warning signs include mushrooms growing at the base of the tree, indicating decay, insect infestation, large cracks in the trunk or branches and dead limbs.

Consider the distance from the tree to the house, even with healthy trees. A tree’s proximity to the home should be greater than the height of the full-grown tree.

Wind speeds fluctuate and often change directions during a storm, so make sure you are not enabling more damage to occur during the next high wind event. Loose items near the home such as lawn furniture, trash cans and other outdoor objects can wreak havoc, and pose a huge risk of injury, so put them away before a windstorm hits.

There’s another bonus to preparing your home for high winter winds. While some wind-retrofit projects are not visible, cleaning up landscaping and installing quality roofing products can help provide protection for your home while adding to its curb appeal.

“Protecting your home doesn’t mean you will have to sacrifice appearance,” says Elliott. “Updating the roof can have a tremendous impact on the overall look of your home, while providing superior protection against wind.”

A little forethought and a few modifications can help you keep those raging, wind-whipped scenes where they belong: in the movies. Visit www.owenscorning.com for more information.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Hot Home Decorating and Color Trends for 2008

(ARA) - Are you ready to get a jump start on discovering 2008’s hottest decorating and paint color trends? Winter is an ideal time to start planning your interior decorating spruce ups. And one of the easiest, least expensive ways to give a room a new look and feel is with paint.

“The 2008 color forecast contains some extraordinarily vibrant, yet versatile, hues that have been inspired by everyday life,” says Donna Schroeder of Dutch Boy Paints. “The depth and range of this year’s most popular colors provide extensive options for adding accents to a room, changing themes and styles, or even completely redecorating from scratch.”

All of the colors in this year’s forecast can be found in the Trend Palette within Dutch Boy’s innovative Color Simplicity System. The five modern and stylish color themes found in the 2008 Trend Palette are as follows:

Culinary
Have you ever strolled past a bakery mesmerized by the brightly colored pastries adorned with intricate details? Food can have an emotional connection for many people, stimulating the senses, including sight. So, why not bring some of these culinary inspirations into your home decor with the Culinary palette?

Colors in the Culinary palette include: A La Carte, Gazpacho, Pink Chenna, Worn Avocado, Dining Alfresco, Phyllo, Sous Chef and Chopping Block.

Travel
Think distant lands and exotic destinations. The Travel palette takes its cue from faraway locales and memories of times past. Bring your own journeys home by displaying your travel treasures against richly colored walls.

Colors in the Travel palette include the following: African Sunset, Elephant Watch, Victoria Falls, Slouch Hat, Soukous, Cheetah Spots, Kwaito and Open Savannah.

Fashion
Whether it’s a favorite blouse, scarf or dress, find inspiration in your own fashionable favorites and dress your home in color. This year’s Fashion palette was influenced by saturated Art Nouveau colors and graphic Deco patterns.

Colors in the Fashion palette include the following: Roaring 20s, Gazette Gold, Champagne Punch, Nouveau Riche, Deco Detail, Floral Applique, Jade Brooch and Paris Metro Station.

Nature
The beauty and wonder that come from the natural world can be a great place to derive inspiration. By using colors and textures from the great outdoors, you can create your own scenic landscape in the comfort of your own living room.

Colors in the Nature palette include the following: Leafy Glimmer, Brown Noddy, Red Clover Blossom, Dark Forest, Hen House, Haven White, Purple Loosestrife and Patina Verdigris.

Art
Do you have a favorite piece of artwork? If you’re someone who appreciates the classics like Monet or Renoir, focus on adding more “lifelike” colors to the home -- like blues and neutrals. For a more contemporary look, embrace more unique, energetic colors for an abstract experience.

Colors in the Art palette include the following: Minimalist Cream, Picasso’s Blue Period, Skandi, Bartel Blue, Blue Tape, Impressionist Blue and Canvas Sky.

For more information about how to choose the perfect color, please visit www.dutchboy.com or call (800) 828-5669.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Buying Your First Home? How to Select the Best MortgageGetting the Keys to Your First Home with a Low Down Payment

(ARA) – Home ownership has always been an important component of the American Dream, but many consumers are worried about their ability to buy a home at a tumultuous time in the real estate market. It’s important to know that there are still financing options available for borrowers seeking a responsible, safe and affordable way to buy a home.

Traditionally, home buyers were required to put down at least 20 percent of a home’s purchase price in order to qualify for a mortgage. But with the national median home price still around $220,000, many buyers are unable to come up with the $44,000 needed for a 20 percent down payment. But low down payment options are available.

“This is a challenging time for our nation’s housing market,” says Kevin D. Schneider, president of U.S. mortgage insurance for Genworth Financial and president of the Mortgage Insurance Companies of America (MICA). “We’re seeing a greater number of low down payment, privately insured mortgages. The high cost of housing in many areas continues to put home purchases out of reach for many families. The mortgage insurance industry will keep working to help low and moderate income borrowers realize their dream of homeownership.”

Here are four key questions and answers that can help first-time home buyers who want to get a low down payment loan in today’s market.

1.) What are my options if I don’t have 20 percent down payment?

Some mortgage lenders will grant home loans to qualifying home buyers with a down payment of as little as 3 to 5 percent and even less for the most qualified borrowers. A low down payment mortgage with private mortgage insurance (PrivateMI) allows first-time homebuyers to get into a home sooner with a lower down payment, and there is no pre-set limit on the loan amount.

2.) How much can I afford for each monthly payment?

To qualify for most conventional loans, housing expenses should not exceed 26 to 28 percent of your gross monthly income. Some government loans use a ratio of approximately 29 percent of your gross monthly income. Borrowers should compare their monthly income with monthly long-term obligations and expenses for purchasing a home. Because the situation varies with each borrower, consult with your mortgage lender to determine how much you can afford.

3.) How does a low down payment loan with private mortgage insurance compare with a piggyback loan?

A single loan with PrivateMI offers a more predictable, cancelable, safe and secure financing option compared to piggyback mortgages. Piggyback structures, which have virtually vanished from the market in recent months, stack a high-rate small second mortgage on top of a lower-rate first mortgage. For most consumers, the piggyback loan can have several drawbacks, including higher monthly mortgage costs, a balloon payment and loss of financial flexibility. In addition, PrivateMI can be canceled once the homeowner achieves 20 percent equity, and 90 percent of borrowers cancel their PrivateMI within 60 months.

4.) Are private mortgage insurance premiums tax deductible?

PrivateMI premiums are tax deductible for borrowers who purchase or refinance a home in 2007. Families with a household income of $100,000 or less are able to deduct the full premium cost, while families earning up to $109,000 can qualify for a reduced deduction. This deduction marks the first time that homeowners with low down payment loans can deduct the cost of mortgage insurance premiums, resulting in a potential savings of $300 to $350 for qualified taxpayers.

Buying a home is usually the biggest financial decision for any family. With uncertainty about the direction of the housing market and slower appreciation of home prices, many people who used exotic loan structures are being surprised with a big jump in their monthly payments.

While some mortgage financing products, such as interest-only loans and piggyback mortgages, are fading from sight, low down payment loans with mortgage insurance remain readily available for qualified borrowers.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Monday, January 14, 2008

Bathroom Renovation on a Budget

(ARA) – When giving someone a tour of your home, do you conveniently skip over the bathroom? Does it look better with the lights off and door closed? If your bathroom is outdated, it might be time for a makeover. Small changes can make a big improvement, and even if you have a small budget, there are many ways to make your bathroom shine.

“Updating a bathroom benefits the home’s overall appearance and is something the homeowners can enjoy every day,” says Dan Auer of Faucet.com, a Web site with a vast inventory which includes all the fixtures and accessories needed for bathroom remodels. “Simple updates can have a big impact and can be done in a small amount of time.”

Easy bathroom updates include:

1) The Faucet
The faucet is the focal point of the entire bathroom and should be one of the main considerations when remodeling. If yours looks like it’s from a bygone era, it’s time to consider something new. Fashion and functionality are now available with many styles and finishes to choose from. You might also consider replacing the sink to really freshen up the look. Pedestal bathroom sinks and countertop sinks are easy to replace and can make an immediate improvement.

2) Bathroom Accessories
Updating the hardware and other bathroom accessories can be a fast and affordable way to give the room an instant facelift. Towel rings, vanity shelves and even drawer handles can all make or date a room. New accessories come in variety of finishes, including chrome, brushed nickel and bronze. Looking to add some bath accessories but not sure where to start? Try a towel ring by the sink for a hand towel so guests don't reach for your bath towels. Sink a little cluttered? A vanity shelf adds stylish extra space; some models even have towel bars built-in. A towel warmer is a great addition to any bathroom and surprisingly affordable. The luxury of a toasty warm towel right outside the shower can't be beat. These small items, in matching finishes, can add up to one great change to your bathroom's look and function.

3) Lighting
New light fixtures can update the look of your bathroom as well as ensure safety while in the bathroom. Remember, because you use this room for your daily preparations, you want to have adequate lighting. Choose an overhead light and/or light above the mirror for ease and convenience. Choose from two, three or four bulb fixtures to adequately light the mirror area. Consider adding side sconces and adjustable lighting, so in the mornings you can turn the lights up to get ready and in the evenings, turn them down for a softer illumination during a relaxing hot bath or shower.

4) Showerhead
When updating your bathroom, add something you can enjoy every day. New showerheads come with a variety of options. They can be handheld, adjustable or even massaging. A new showerhead will prove to be a rewarding update to your daily routine. Many people find a custom shower system is a luxurious way to update their bathroom. Try a two-wall diverter system that sprays in several areas for the feeling of a spa shower at home.

5) Paint
The walls of bathrooms get abused with steam, hairspray, perfume and many other items that are involved in a family’s routines throughout the day. A fresh coat of paint will add a new, clean element that will update any room. Integrate fun colors into the bathroom by trying a new shade of paint, or stenciling in details to fit the overall room theme. When buying paint, consider having the paint store stir in a non-mildew additive because of the extra humidity associated with this room.

The best place to start your bathroom makeover is to look at Web sites like Faucet.com. The site offers many ideas and lots of style and finish options. Plus, shopping online can save you money and customer service is easily available for any questions so you are guided as you make your decisions.

“These five steps can be done in a short time for DIYers or within one day for a professional contractor, meaning you can enjoy the updates almost instantly,” adds Auer. “The bathroom is one of the most used rooms in the house. Easy updates will make sure it’s more enjoyable for both you and your guests.”

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Friday, January 11, 2008

AMT “Patch” Passes Congress – IRS Processing of Some Tax Returns Delayed

(ARA) – Auspiciously, the day before adjourning for Winter Break, Congress passed another one year fix -- averting higher taxes for the majority of middle-income America facing the dreaded Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). The Senate version of the bill, which does not compensate for a $50 billion loss of tax revenue, won majority favor and was signed into law by President Bush. The passage of this legislation boosts the AMT exemption and extends a number of credits for 2007.

In 2006, approximately four million households were required to pay the AMT. Without ratification of another provisional one-year patch to boost the amount of the AMT exemption, an additional 20 million households would have to pay an estimated average of $2,000 more in federal taxes for 2007. Another 27 million filers, who claim a variety of credits closely connected to the AMT (i.e. child and dependent care, education, residential energy and state/local taxes), were also in danger of feeling the AMT pinch.

Speculation that the start of this tax season would be delayed has been addressed by the IRS. The 2007 tax season will start on time for everyone except a small portion of taxpayers. Taxpayers who utilize five credit forms, however, will face IRS processing delays. The IRS has targeted Feb. 11 as the likely processing date for taxpayers filing the following:

* Form 8863 – Education Credits
* Form 5695 – Residential Energy Credits
* Form 1040-A, Schedule 2 – Child and Dependent Care Credit
* Form 8396 – Mortgage Interest Credit
* Form 8859 – District of Columbia First-Time Homebuyer Credit

Of the 22 million taxpayers who used tax software to prepare and electronically file their tax return last year, some may wonder, “Considering the number of last minute legislation changes, will tax software be current and reliable to use this tax season?”

To ensure taxpayers have the opportunity to submit their return, the IRS made all revised forms associated with the AMT available immediately to tax professionals and software companies who produce and support software and online services.

Good advice for taxpayers this tax season: use e-file. Those who submit their IRS return electronically will still fare better because, as the IRS works to process backlogged returns, returns received electronically will be processed faster.

“We encourage our customers who use e-file to enter their tax data into TaxACT and submit their electronic return as they would normally -- the program is current and up-to-date. Once the IRS begins accepting returns, returns will be processed. TaxACT customers can rest easy knowing no other method will help them to get a faster tax refund -- in as few as ten days,” says Stephanie Behrends, spokeswoman for 2nd Story Software, Inc. -- makers of the popular tax program TaxACT.

“Those who e-file their tax return also receive “Proof of Filing” which is an acknowledgement issued to the filer reflecting when the IRS received and accepted the return. Conversely, if an error is detected, the IRS can communicate the problem fast – even pinpointing the location of the error in the tax return.”

Do you have more questions regarding the AMT and how it may impact you? More information is available at www.IRS.gov -- just enter keyword “AMT” or “Alternative Minimum Tax”. To get a clear picture of the AMT’s impact on your return or for more information regarding TaxACT, visit www.TaxACT.com and start your free Standard tax return.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Make “Financial Fitness” Your Goal for 2008

(ARA) - When the New Year’s parties are over and the rich foods and gooey desserts have been put away, most of us start thinking about getting our bodies back in shape. But how “fit” are the other parts of your life -- such as your finances -- for the year ahead?
“The key to financial fitness is preparation. Whether preparing for retirement, college for your children, a dream vacation home or even the unexpected, everybody needs to take time each year to reexamine what they’re doing and the progress they’re making in order to reach those milestones,” says Christopher Pinkerton, senior vice president, North American sales and marketing for Foresters, a leading fraternal benefit society that assists people in achieving financial security.

Here are some easy ways to put together a financial fitness plan so you’re better prepared monetarily for the days and months to come.

Saving Money

It’s a new year and a new opportunity to examine your expenses, spending and savings habits. Start the year right by creating a month-by-month budget, setting a savings goal and projecting your financial needs.

A good rule of thumb is to set aside three to six months of salary for unexpected events such as a job loss, major car repairs or large medical bills. In addition to preparing for the unexpected, identify ‘known expenses’ that are coming up such as college costs, a new home, new car or a new addition to the family, and build them into your budget. Give yourself adequate time to save for these expenses a little each month. Before you know it you won’t even feel as if you’re saving and you’ll be a step ahead.
Taxes

They’re definitely something you can count on year after year. Review the withholding on your paycheck and adjust it if necessary. Take time to gather and sort out your receipts from the past year to identify tax deductions. While you’re at it, set up an organized system to keep track of receipts for next year, so you don’t misplace something and miss out on any deductions moving forward. And speaking of deductions, this is also a good time to determine which charitable contributions you made in the previous year, and which ones you plan to make in the coming year.

Retirement

Review the status of your 401(k), IRA and pension plan. If appropriate and consistent with your savings goals, sign up for any automatic increases offered through your employer. Take note of your retirement plan status at this stage of your life -- are you on track for growth, or is it time for an investment change? Even periodic small changes can have a big impact on your ability to build strength through investments.

Also, review your spouse’s retirement plan, and agree on a plan for building wealth. Determine a strategy that allows you to increase your contributions during the good times as well as make changes during challenging times. For example, mark your calendar to review your investment performance with a financial advisor each quarter.

Estate Planning

The need for this may seem like a long way off, but it’s a good idea to plan for your family’s financial security. Do you have a will, trust or health care directive? If so, review the beneficiary designations to make sure the plans reflect your current wishes. Ensure that you have a guardian named for your children, and that you’ve outlined how your assets will be transferred.

Also at this time, consider whether there will be significant tax consequences for your survivors, who has title to what property and who will oversee your estate plan. If you don’t yet have these items in place, an estate planning professional can help you sort things out, saving your family added complications upon your death. Your family will appreciate your forethought and be comforted by knowing that you made plans for them.

Life Insurance

An important step in financial fitness is financial security, and life insurance can be the backbone of financial security.

Remember, life insurance is the piece of the puzzle that makes sure your family can keep the house, send the kids to college or sustain the family’s livelihood if there’s a loss of one or both income providers. Some life insurance products can also provide savings and investment options for a home, a family bequest or a dream vacation.

“At the start of a new year, many people resolve to re-evaluate their investments or bump up their 401(k) contributions. However, as your life changes so will your life insurance needs. Be sure to check the beneficiaries. And consult with a life insurance representative on a regular basis to help you determine if you have the coverage that fits your needs,” says Pinkerton.

Conventional wisdom recommends households should carry anywhere between two to 10 times your annual income in life insurance. If you don’t have a life insurance policy -- or any of the other financial plans mentioned above -- now is the time to get those parts of your life in shape. With the help of qualified professional advisors, you can put a financial fitness plan in place and prepare both you and your loved ones for the future.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

FHA: Old Mortgage Program Finding New Life

(ARA) - The sky is falling, the sky is falling! Or so you would think if you listened to all the news coverage about the mortgage market. The news is filled with reports of declining home values, resetting adjustable-rate mortgages and people feeling the pinch of tightened credit.

However, despite the doom and gloom, much of the media haven’t reported on the proverbial silver linings in the storm clouds. One of the bright spots is the resurgence in popularity of a loan program that has been around since the 1930s -- the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan.

Historically used almost exclusively by consumers to purchase their first home because of its low down payment requirements and competitive rates, FHA loans are making a comeback and quickly gaining prominence among those looking to refinance as well.

“A large number of people are really benefiting from the FHA loan program, and what is most interesting is many of them have just recently been turned down for more traditional conventional loans,” says Bob Walters, chief economist for Quicken Loans, one of the nation’s largest mortgage lenders. “This program isn’t the answer for everyone, but we have found that it can be a very viable option for many people.”

According to Walters, FHA loans are being used by consumers for cash-out refinancings, or to consolidate debt up to 95 percent of the home’s value -- moves that are extremely difficult and often not financially practical to make with current conventional lending guidelines.

“Through the first half of 2007, homeowners had no problem making their mortgages work for them. However, since that time, tighter lending guidelines have resulted in many loan programs being taken off the table. Fortunately, FHA loans can fill some of the void. When used responsibly, FHA loans can provide much-needed relief. Every day, we help clients purchase homes, pay off medical expenses, eliminate high-interest credit card debt and generally improve their financial position through the FHA program,” Walters adds.
Consumers are also finding that in some instances, FHA loans can close very quickly, in less than 14 business days in some cases.

“The bottom line is that FHA loans are an option for many folks, but not for everyone. It is very important that every homeowner consult with a reputable lender who will listen to their needs and goals, and then suggest the best mortgage for them. In some cases it could be an FHA loan, and in others it may be a conventional fixed or adjustable rate mortgage. What is important is that the loan actually works for the consumer and puts them in the best possible financial position,” Walters concludes.
Courtesy of ARAcontent

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Most Expensive Cities for Renters

It’s good news for landlords that mortgage applications fell to their lowest level in a year last month because people have to live somewhere and if they can’t or won’t buy, they’ll have to rent.Here are the nation’s 10-most-expensive cities for renters and the average rents. The data is provided by Marcus & Millichap.


New York, N.Y.: $2,922
San Francisco: $1,904
Boston: $1,658
San Jose, Calif.: $1,612
Los Angeles: $1,452
San Diego: $1,304
Washington, D.C.: $1,302
Miami: $1,080
Philadelphia: $1,014
Chicago: $1,010


Source: Forbes, Matt Woolsey (01/07/08)

Monday, January 07, 2008

Post Holiday Cleanup

The holiday season has come and gone, and it's now time to begin packing away your holiday decorations. While cleaning up after the holidays can be a drag, it doesn't have to be. Follow these simple post-holiday clean up tips, and your home will be back to normal in no time.

Organizing your holiday decorations when you pack them away is a good way to save yourself the hassle when you go to decorate next year. Using large plastic containers can help you organize your decorations. They can also save you space in your basement or attic. Be sure to pack your decorations away in groups and mark each container, this way you can easily find each room's decorations.

When packing away tree decorations, pack fragile ornaments in bubble wrap or shredded paper and place them inside smaller boxes. Tree lights should also be neatly packed away; a good trick is to wrap them around a piece of PVC piping. Artificial trees should also be cleaned of all tinsel and garland and stored in the original box making sure not to crush or break any of the branches.

Wreaths can be easily stored by attaching the wreath to a heavy-duty clothes hanger. Cover the wreath by cutting a small whole in a trash bag and feeding the hook of the clothes hanger through the hole. You can then easily hang the wreath to prevent damage and ensure use year after year.

Taking down your holiday decorations doesn't mean sacrificing a lot of time. Keep in mind these tips and remember to stay organized and you will be on your way to enjoying a new year.