October 28, 2011

Real Estate News: The lingering impact of foreclosures

Filed under: Real Estate — Chuck @ 1:58 pm

Everyone involved in the real estate business understands that unless and until the vast inventory of foreclosures is reduced to a manageable level the markets will be plagued by sluggishness. The volume of foreclosures available for sale has been historically high for years now, and that creates a drag on prices across the board.
Even brand new construction is suffering one its worst slumps in decades because there are aggressively priced foreclosure homes on the market that are almost brand new. That’s because building projects for many of today’s foreclosures were launched right before the mortgage and real estate bubble burst. Although it seems to some like that happened an eternity ago, the harshest impact was not felt until the end of 2008, and that is less than three years ago. Plus this particular real estate crisis was perhaps the worst in American history, so it is only natural that prices are not going to rebound as quickly as they do after a typical bear market.

But progress has been made, and that is reflected in the fact that the real estate market has become more stable over the past several months, and in some areas of the country prices have not only found a floor but have also started to recover some lost ground. California was by many measures the state that suffered the worst losses, for example, but now its real estate market is leading most of the nation in terms of finding traction and renewed confidence. All over the USA the average time on the market of listings has shrunk, and there has been a distinct slowdown in both foreclosure auctions as well as the mortgage payment defaults that lead to foreclosure.

Meanwhile, despite a slew of other economic problems, mortgage rates on safe and reliable 30-year fixed-rate mortgages recently fell to 4.12 percent. That is the lowest they have been in more than half a century, and lenders are also being more lenient than they were a couple of years about making home loans or doing refinancing. So those homeowners who have decided to stay in their homes can now entertain the idea of refinancing, even if their original loan carries the historically attractive rate of only six percent. Those who refinance a note worth $200,000, for example, can save about $250 a month and then apply that extra cash to needed savings, paying down their new mortgage, or doing valuable upgrades.

In addition to low loan rates, the Feds are also working to eliminate troublesome foreclosure inventories. Recently officials in Washington began pushing for a more robust version of the government’s Home Affordable Refinance Program, for instance. That program was launched to help curb the tide of foreclosures, but it also came with rather cumbersome restrictions regarding how much a property appraised for relative to the amount still owed on the mortgage. But officials now want to raise the existing loan-to-value restriction above 125 percent. That would allow many homeowners who are pretty deep underwater on their mortgage repayments to enter the program and take advantage of special loan modifications. Real estate economists predict that raising the loan-to-value ceiling could save American homeowners a total of at least $20 billion. That would, in turn, let more people stay in their homes and help to keep those properties off the foreclosure auction block.

Banks that have been reluctant to do so-called short sales have also begun to see the wisdom in accepting short sale offers instead of going straight to foreclosure. A short sale happens when a buyer offers to take the property off the lender’s hands in lieu of foreclosure, and because banks always lose a great deal of money on foreclosures short sales are usually good for everyone. The homeowner loses the home but doesn’t have to go into bankruptcy, and lenders are able to cut their losses. The buyer, meanwhile, gets a home or investment property at a great price.

Low rates, government initiatives, and more short sales are having an impact, and that should continue to show up in the data as well as in housing prices. Recent statistics show that there has been a 35 percent decline in foreclosures so far this year, for instance, when compared to just one year ago. That’s a significant improvement, and it happened during a challenging time for the economy and while mortgage interest rates were higher than they are today and short sales were scarce.
The residential housing market is not out of the woods yet by any means, but there are definitely reasons to be encouraged. Sometimes a little upward momentum is all it takes to help a recovering market turn the corner, and as more foreclosures get sold off at incredibly cheap mortgage rates that will definitely have a positive impact on the overall market.

House Painting Tips

Filed under: Home Maintenance — Chuck @ 1:57 pm

Although almost everyone considers themselves to be somewhat adept at house painting, there are many things that can and often do go wrong. When that happens the whole project can become frustrating and most expensive, and that can make it more trouble than it’s worth. No matter what you are painting or how large or small the project may be, it always helps to know a few painting tips and techniques, so here are some ideas to help.

Painting Means Prepping

The biggest mistake that homeowners make when painting is that they don’t devote enough time to preparation. In some cases it will take just as long to prepare a room for painting as it does to apply the paint, but a good prep will ensure a much easier, better looking, and long lasting paint job. Don’t scrimp on the masking tape and drop cloth, either, because spills, drips, and unwanted overlaps are time consuming and difficult errors to fix. Then use a good quality primer to coat the ceilings and then the walls. Finally the trim is caulked and primed. Before applying any primer or paint, however, be sure that the surface to be painted is prepared. That often requires light sanding or patching as well as removal of switch plates over electrical outlets.

• Choose Paint Carefully

Always take extra care in choosing paints, too, because that can make all the difference between a great paint job and a bad one. Although many of the higher-end paints cost considerably more than the economy paints, for instance, they may go on easier and do a better job of covering. That can save time and get the job finished with less paint, which translates into overall savings. A cheap paint that requires three coats and goes on runny, for instance, may cost more in the long run than a more expensive paint that applies easily and covers nicely in two coats. You also want to use fresh paint, because that old bucket in your garage may be free of charge but it may have also suffered deterioration due to evaporation. When choosing a primer, you may also want to opt for those that contain extra bacteria and mildew controlling properties if you are painting a room like bathroom or basement that is subjected to lots of moisture.

• Go for the Layered Look

Oftentimes the outcome of a paint job depends on how many layers of paint are applied, so don’t cut corners in an effort to get the job done faster or easier. Paint will look so much better and last much longer if you apply adequate layers. Sometimes professionals will use four coats on high-gloss trim molding, for example, to get that extraordinarily luxurious luster and glow. You may not have to go to those extremes, of course, but you should always plan to use a solid primary coat or primer layer followed by two coats of paint. One coat rarely does the job and once the paint dries all of the blemishes will show.

• Don’t Be Afraid to Call a Pro

Sometimes even the most talented and experienced DIY homeowner needs to ask for help, so don’t be shy about calling in a professional if things get too complicated. You may need a little help to match an antique color or to do a good job of painting over an old plaster surface, for instance. Sometimes a designer can help with color choices, or a pro can add lots of character and charm by doing a special faux paint job on one highlighted accent wall. Then there are times when expert diagnosis is needed. A home inspector, for example, may be able to detect whether or not the previous layers of paint contain harmful lead. Sometimes paint will curl up due to exposure to harsh sunlight, for instance, but at other times that telltale curling and peeling is because of the presence of lead – which can cause serious illness, especially in children.

Painting is by far the most common of all do-it-yourself home maintenance tasks, and applying your own paint can save you lots of money while also giving you a great feeling of pride and accomplishment. Follow these tips and set aside plenty of time to enjoy the process. You’ll have fun painting and you’ll get plenty of compliments on the visual results.

Homeowner Tips for Disposing of Hazardous Materials

Filed under: Home Owner Tips — Chuck @ 1:56 pm

Some of us have been around long enough to remember a time before widespread recycling practices became commonplace. Back then, if there was debris from a construction project, home renovation, or long overdue garage cleaning everything was treated equally. Now we know, however, that there are many items around a home that can be hazardous to our health, to the safety and well being of our children, and to our precious ecological system unless they are disposed of properly.

Those who enjoy the great outdoors have witnessed a decline in wildlife, for example, such that the available of healthy fish in their old favorite fishing holes may now be severely limited. Many of the flounder have disappeared from the Intercoastal Waterway, and the crabbing may not be as good from seaside fishing piers. Similarly it may be harder to find a pristine camping spot in the mountains, and many of the creeks and streams that used to be fun to play in as kids are now too polluted to be safe. In extreme cases water supplies have been compromised so that rural homeowners can no longer rely on their old wells, and air pollution has become such a problem that air quality measurements are now announced during the weather report on most TV stations.

But the good news is that much of this loss of natural resources is preventable, and one way for a homeowner to contribute to a greener world is to be conscientious about disposing of household items that may pose a potential threat.

Knowing a few tips can make the task safer and easier.

Paints:

Many paints and related products, for example, contain volatile organic compounds or VOCs, and these are rather toxic. That’s why painting in an enclosed space with these products can sometimes give you a headache, and it’s also why these paints can leave a strong odor behind overnight. Because of their toxicity public landfills generally charge a per-gallon fee to any homeowner who is disposing of paint. The fees are nominal, and the positive impact on the environment is significant, so if your local community landfill offers this kind of disposal service it’s a good deal. But usually it is safe and free of charge to dispose of paints that are completely dried out, so check with your landfill to find out their policy. Really old paint will dry out over time, of course, but if you want to accelerate the process to save some recycling money you can add ordinary cat litter to the paint. Stir it in with a paint stick and soon the paint should dry to a hard clump.

Electronics:

Electronic waste is a bit more complicated, and anything that is computerized may contain some seriously hazardous heavy metals like copper, lead, or mercury. Instead of tossing an old cell phone, computer, or computerized game console into the trash it is wise to instead drop these items off at an electronics recycling station. Some large computer stores offer this service and there are also many independent enterprises that will handle safe disposal. Many of these companies make their money by taking the valuable parts and reselling or reusing them, for instance, so oftentimes they are more than happy to handle your electronic recycling needs free of charge.

Motor Oil:

Another category of waste or debris that often presents a challenge to homeowners is motor oil, especially for those do-it-yourself homeowners who save money by changing their own oil. Fortunately that’s a pretty easy problem to solve because municipal landfills and some gas stations offer free disposal. When you drain the oil from the oil pan of a car or truck you have to catch it in a container anyway, so simply use a container that has a tight lid or one especially designed for easy transportation to a disposal site.

Recycling or disposing of these hazardous or polluting materials may require a little extra effort, but the benefits far outweigh the hassle. Your community will appreciate you for your thoughtfulness, and your kids will be grateful to you for helping preserve their increasingly valuable natural resources.

Futuristic Theft Protection for Homeowners

Filed under: Home Safety — Chuck @ 1:54 pm

A few years ago the technology for biometric keyless entry locks became available to homeowners for a reasonable price, and computer-based surveillance equipment is also now quite common. There are also microchips that can be embedded by a dentist into a person’s mouth as an identification card, and pets can be outfitted with similar technology to make it easier to find and identify them. But the world of scientific entrepreneurs recently unveiled another sophisticated tool to help protect homeowners, and this time it involves personal ID kits that use nearly invisible microdot-sized identification tags.

DataDotsDNA, the company behind the innovative identification products, explains that these are tiny microscopic discs, also known as microdots, are about the size of a grain of sand. Despite how tiny they are, on each of these unique dots there is unique information that identifies the homeowner or property owner, the same way ordinary I.D. tags do. Before selling the data-rich dots to consumers DataDotsDNA uses lasers to etch the identifying data onto them. Then they can simply be brushed or sprayed onto everything from computers and vehicles to furniture and firearms. The information is also stored in a special secure database operated by the company, so that if a stolen item marked by DataDots is retrieved it can be easily identified and returned to its registered owner.

The DataDots can be detected with a UV light or black light, making them easy for police and other investigators to find. But otherwise they are concealed from thieves, making it nearly impossible for criminals to remove the microscopic identifiers from stolen items in order to freely use or sell them without fear of getting caught.
Once the DataDots are located on an object their unique information code can be read with a simple magnifying device. That enables investigators such as your local policemen to access the tags without expensive high tech tools or any special training.

So these dots – which can be sprayed on an item in a matter of seconds – can be applied to any valuable assets in a home to create a virtually indestructible identification tag that is almost invisible to the naked eye. Thieves who are aware of DataDots will also find it virtually impossible to remove them, since hundreds or even thousands of the tiny adhesive particles can easily be applied to an object. Removing them once the adhesive has dried requires intense abrasion such as sanding or etching with strong acids, and it is hardly worth a criminal’s efforts to attempt removal since there are so many dots per item and missing just one of them defeats the whole purpose of removal.

For that reason many homeowners also use DataDots warning stickers as a powerful deterrent to announce that they have this extraordinary level of protection. Both Crime Stoppers USA and law enforcement agencies tout the benefits of this microdot identification system, and they are a great way to protect smart phones, cameras, watches, jewelry, or large items like boats, trucks, and power tools.

If a homeowner purchases the basic $50 DataDotDNA kit they will get DataDots that have already been coded with a unique number or identification code. The homeowner then uses a simple brush-on or aerosol spray application to transfer the adhesive dots to property, and each kit contains enough DataDots to project at least four valuable items.

Once the I.D. numbers have been registered the company also recommends that homeowners notify their insurance companies to let them know that the items have been tagged with DataDots. That’s because homeowners may potentially qualify for homeowner’s insurance discounts offered to policy holders who take extra steps to protect their homes and property from theft. For additional information see: datadots