Creating Curb Appeal on a Budget

The arrival of summer has many homeowners outside planting, preparing the patio for cookouts, and taking evening strolls through the neighborhood. Often, this extended outdoor time brings on a desire to improve a home’s curb appeal.But home improvement projects can be expensive, and many homeowners are still wary about spending money on renovations, despite the improving real estate market. So what’s the best way to spruce up the appearance of your house without breaking the bank?

There are many budget-friendly exterior changes that will make a big difference in curb appeal. A fresh coat of paint can work wonders, whether it’s applied to the entire house or just on the front door. If your house is painted a neutral color like white or cream, be adventurous and try an energizing red or soothing aqua on your front door; the pop of color will add appealing interest.

While a landscaping overhaul can be very expensive, window boxes or planters are an easy and cost-effective way to add natural beauty to your home’s facade. Learn how to build a container garden that will provide extra dimension and color to a front porch or patio.

Take a look at your house from the street. Do your windows look bare? Try adding shutters, but make sure they are appropriately sized. Buying shutters that are smaller than the windows they flank is an all-too-common mistake homeowners make, which leads to the windows looking disproportionately small.

And if you have a garage, don’t overlook the importance of a good-looking garage door. A garage door can account for up to 30 percent of a home’s exterior that is seen from the street, so having an attractive one is vital to good curb appeal. But, like shutters to a window, a garage door should be appropriately matched to its house’s architectural style. Not sure which door fits your home the best? Try out the handy Door Designer tool at www.amarr.com, which lets you choose from six different home styles and then matches an appropriate garage door based on that style.

Of all these budget-friendly improvement projects, a new garage door will give you the best return on your investment and provide the most value for your home. Over the last few years, surveys conducted by the Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report indicate that installing new garage doors has been the project moving up the most in the rankings.

Most people, to some degree, factor in resale when making their home improvement decisions. Both structural and decorative curb appeal is important when it comes time to sell a home, bringing in a larger number of prospective buyers and making it more likely that they will make the purchase.

According to principals at Smykal Renovations, a contracting firm in suburban Chicago, curb appeal projects “may not have the ‘wow’ factor of a major kitchen remodel, but [they] pay off more in the end.”

So don’t let budget constraints keep you from improving the appearance of your home’s exterior. There are many low-cost changes that can be made that have a big impact on how your home looks. Whether you’re making these changes to enjoy for yourself, or to make your home more marketable, the summer is a great time to get outside and focus on curb appeal.

Article Reprinted from: The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Sentinel Journal Online. http://www.jsonline.com/sponsoredarticles/home-improvement/creating-curb-appeal-on-a-budget8049450303-154078155.html

 

How Would I Know If Interest Rates Are Expected to Go Up or Down?

Wondering what to make of “historically low” interest rates? Here’s some helpful information and advise from Academy Mortgage

Everyone these days keeps talking about how now is the right time to buy because housing prices and interest rates are low. But, maybe you’re not ready quite yet to buy a new home, and you want to know how long you can wait before interest rates will rise again. Here are a few quick indicators that will let you know how interest rates may change:

 

Interest rates go UP:

When the economy is growing or is expected to grow, stocks will likely become the more favored investment.

When investors buy more stocks, they purchase fewer Mortgage-backed securities (MBS), which drives the price down.

When the price of the MBS is lower, the yield increases.

Since mortgage rates are based on the yield of the 30 Year MBS, you would expect rates to increase in this environment.

 

Interest rates go DOWN:

When the economy appears to be slowing or is doing poorly, investors typically move their money out of the stock market and into the safety of the MBS.

This drives the price of these investments higher, which results in a lower yield.

Since mortgage rates are based on the yield of the 30 Year MBS, you would expect rates to decrease in this environment.

Since these market variables and expectations change multiple times as economic reports are released throughout the course of a week, it is not uncommon to see mortgage rates change several times a day.

Understanding how rates move is not necessarily as important as having a loan officer that is equipped with the technology and professional services to track and stay alerted at the precise moment rates make a move for the better or worse.

What to Do in This Year: Rent or Buy a Home?

Today is a tempting time to buy a home with interest rates and prices at their lowest levels in years. Deciding whether to buy or rent can
be complicated, and potential homebuyers have a lot to consider this summer. As part of National Homeownership Month, the American Bankers Association came up with these key questions to help shoppers make wise financial choices when considering buying a home.

1. How much can you afford to put down? Can you afford the monthly payment? A mortgage down payment of 5 to 20 percent of the selling price is typical, but can vary depending on the situation. The size of the down payment will impact the monthly cost. Assess your financial health, determine how large of a down payment you can afford and
consider if you can then afford the monthly cost.

2. What other debt do you have?Consider all of your current and expected financial obligations and ensure you are able to make all the payments. Aim to keep total rent or mortgage payments plus other credit obligations fewer than 35 to 40 percent of your monthly
income. If you can’t keep payments below that, you may be better off renting for a while or searching for a more affordable home.

3. What is my credit score? Can I qualify for a good interest rate? A high credit score indicates strong creditworthiness, which qualifies you for better interest rates on a mortgage. Maxing out your credit lines and paying bills late will lower your credit score, and the impact
of a credit score on interest rates can be significant. For instance, a borrower with a score of 760 could pay nearly 2 percentage points less in interest than someone with a score of 620. That equates to over $3,000 less in mortgage payments each year. If your credit score is low, you may want to delay buying a home and take steps to raise your score.

4. How much will taxes, monthly maintenance or other fees cost? Owning a home means you will have to pay real estate taxes and other costs like insurance and maintenance. However, owning a home can bring tax savings at the end of the year. Remember to factor in
these costs and incentives. Renters have neither these costs, nor tax advantages.

5. How many years will I stay here? Generally, the longer you plan to live someplace, the more it makes sense to buy. Over time, you can build equity in your house where renters do not. Yet, renters have greater flexibility to move as they don’t have to worry about finding
new tenants.

 

Article reprinted from RISMedia. URL to article: http://rismedia.com/2012-06-21/what-to-do-in-this-year-rent-or-buya-home/

3 Unexpected Ways Landscaping Brings Value

It’s common knowledge good landscaping and curb appeal can add to your home’s resale value and can even bring a quicker sale. A nice yard is simply inviting to buyers. But there are other real benefits to landscaping we often overlook. Here are three ways your landscape brings value to your home’s worth, the environment, and your own well-being.

1. Cutting Heating and Cooling Bills

• Shading your air-conditioning unit can increase its effectiveness by 10%.

• Carefully selected and placed trees around your home can lower cooling costs as much as 25%.
• Planting ground covers, shrubs and lawns reduces the heat reflected from the ground and onto walls and windows for a cooler indoors and more energy savings.                                                                                                                                  • Planting shade trees that lose their leaves in the winter instead of evergreens can also help warm your home in the cloudy, cooler months by allowing in more sun.

2. Naturally Cleaning and Reducing Energy

Water and maintenance used to keep plants healthy doesn’t go down the drain. Widespread tree planting and climate-appropriate landscaping offer substantial environmental benefits.
• Trees and plants control erosion, protect water supplies, provide food, create habitat for wildlife, and clean the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. An average tree absorbs 26 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each year. That equals 11,000 miles of car emissions.
• Grass serves as a natural filter to reduce pollution by purifying the water passing through its root zone. Certain grasses, such as fescue, only grow to a certain height and are water thrifty. By using these species, you can eliminate the fuel, water, and time consumption associated with lawn mowing, watering, and trimming.

4. A Veggie Garden Helps Your Wallet and Your Health

• The amount spent on growing a veggie garden brings back 7 to 10 times the initial investment. Home grown veggies are often more tasty and certainly less expensive than store bought organics. Plus, studies have found that gardeners eat a wider variety of vegetables rich in antioxidants that help fight diseases like cancer.
• Gardening burns an average of 300 calories per hour, while heavy yard work can burn more than 600 calories per hour! Gardening is an ideal form of exercise because it combines three important types of physical activity: strength, endurance and flexibility. Spending time outdoors also reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and relieves muscle tension.

Home Is Where the History Is

As Americans prepare to celebrate Independence Day next week, thousands of them will flock to places like Mount Vernon, Monticello and Peacefield to learn and understand more about our country’s history and the men and women who shaped its future. The homes of founding fathers like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were more than shelter; they were places of respite, reflection and inspiration.

“Homeownership is an investment in our future, but it’s also a gateway to our past,” says NAR President Moe Veissi. “The homes of our country’s founders offer insights into their characters and values, and reflect the spirits of their owners, just as our homes do for us today.”

In some ways, historic homeowners bear little resemblance to the homeowners of today. George Washington inherited Mount Vernon when he was 20; only 4 percent of recent home buyers were between the ages of 18-24, according to the 2011 NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. John Adams was born in the house that would remain in the Adams family for four generations. Today, fewer than 3 percent of families in this country have received their primary residence as an inheritance, according to a recent Survey of Consumer Finances published by the Federal Reserve Board.

Women’s rights to own property in America’s early days were often based on their relationships with men, so it’s not surprising that many women today view homeownership as its own form of independence, with single women representing more than one-fifth of all home buyers in the current market.

Homeowners across U.S. history do share some common ground, of course. Most of the founding families lived out their lives close to where they were born, and the same is true today. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that nearly 60 percent of Americans currently live in the state in which they were born, and NAR research shows that the typical buyer moves only 12 miles from his or her previous residence.

“I am as happy nowhere else and in no other society, and all my wishes end, where I hope my days will end, at Monticello,” said Thomas Jefferson of his home. Although today’s economic environment has postponed homeownership for some, numerous surveys show that most Americans still aspire to homeownership. In the NAR Profile, a full 60 percent of recent first-time home buyers cited the desire to own a home of their own as the primary reason for purchasing a home.

“There’s a reason homeownership is called the American Dream,” says Veissi. “As we celebrate our country’s independence and reflect on its past, REALTORS® remain committed to keeping the dream of homeownership alive for generations of Americans to come.”

The National Association of REALTORS®, “The Voice for Real Estate,” is America’s largest trade association, representing 1 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries. For more information, visit www.realtor.org.

 

RISMedia: http://rismedia.com/2012-06-28/home-is-where-the-history-is/

Do Your Part: Green Myth-Busters

Forget “Ghostbusters.” Today, I’m fighting popular green myths to help you get started on going green. With all the misinformation out there, it’s important to zero in on effective ways to Do Your Part to save money, save resources, and live healthier. Here are my Top 7 Green Myth-Busters.

1) Organic is the only way to go
False! Organic is one good option when food shopping because it means the food or produce was not created or grown with synthetic chemical pesticides or insecticides. However, locally grown foods are another important way to be eco-friendly. Those foods are from farms within a few hundred miles and are not shipped from around the world to get to your table.

2) If it says it’s green, it must be green
Not quite. Terms like “eco-friendly,” “green,” and even “natural” are not regulated and have no defined standards. “Biodegradable” is another. Most products destined for the landfill will not biodegrade in our lifetime. Go to DoYourPart.com/Columns for specific information on labels you can trust.

3) If you don’t have a hybrid, you aren’t being eco-friendly
Not so fast. If you need a new car, hybrids are a smart option. If your car doesn’t need to be upgraded, you can make it more fuel-efficient. Getting your car regularly serviced, keeping your tires properly inflated, and consolidating your driving trips will maximize fuel efficiency. Also, when you do decide to buy, fuel efficiency should be top of mind.

4) Disinfectants can’t be natural
Not true. Unless you’re Oscar the Grouch, germs probably aren’t your thing, but you don’t have to resort to chemical warfare to disinfect. Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are safer and inexpensive options. Vinegar can be used on everything except marble. Hydrogen peroxide is ideal in the bathroom for fighting mold and mildew.

5) Incandescent bulbs are going away
Stop hoarding because incandescent bulbs are not going away. While some manufacturers are phasing out certain models, many are being replaced with more energy efficient versions. The lighting will be the same, the bulbs will just last longer.

6) What goes down the storm drain will be filtered
Not so. Everything from excess fertilizer to used motor oil can wind up in storm drains. Unlike what goes down the drain at home, this stuff isn’t filtered before heading into our streams, creeks, and eventually our oceans. It’s critical to properly dispose of household hazardous waste.

7) If an electronic is off, it isn’t using power
Wrong. ‘Phantom power’ is the energy used by electronics and appliances that aren’t even on and adds up to 10 percent of the energy we use at home. Devices with a remote or continuous display fall into this category, as do most chargers. Unplug your devices or use a power strip or similar device that will let you cut off power with the touch of a switch.

Clearing up the confusion when it comes to going green will help you cut down on wasted resources and money. That way, you can begin to Do Your Part today.

Terri Bennett is a veteran TV meteorologist, eco-expert and author of “Do Your Part: A practical guide for everyday green living” available at DoYourPart.com.

 

Distributed by MCT Information Services. Article reprinted from RISMedia: http://rismedia.com URL to article: http://rismedia.com/2012-06-12/do-your-part-green-myth-busters/

 

Spring Sales: Home Prices Rise in April

Data through April 2012, released by S&P Indices for its S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, the leading measure of U.S. home prices, showed that on average home prices increased 1.3 percent in the month of April for both the 10- and 20-City Composites. This comes after seven consecutive months of falling home prices as measured by both indices.

April’s data indicate that on an annual basis home prices fell by 2.2 percent for the 10-City Composite and by 1.9 percent for the 20-City Composites, versus April 2011. While still negative, this is an improvement over the annual rates of -2.9 percent and -2.6 percent recorded for the month of March 2012. Both Composites and 18 of the 20 MSAs saw increases in annual returns in April compared to those published for March; only Detroit and New York fared worse in April, posting annual returns of +1.2 percent and -3.8 percent respectively, falling below their March returns of +3.9 percent and -3.0 percent. For the seventh consecutive month, Atlanta posted the only double-digit negative annual return at -17.0 percent, its 22nd consecutive month of negative annual returns. Ten of the 20 MSAs saw positive annual returns – Boston, Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Miami, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Tampa and Washington D.C. No cities posted new lows in April 2012.

In April 2012, both Composites were up by 1.3 percent in the month, resulting in annual returns of -2.2 percent and -1.9 percent, respectively.

“With April 2012 data, we finally saw some rising home prices,” says David M. Blitzer, Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Indices. “On a monthly basis, 19 of the 20 MSAs and both Composites rose in April over March. Detroit was the only city that saw prices fall, down 3.6 percent. In addition, 18 of the 20 MSAs and both Composites saw better annual rates of return. It has been a long time since we enjoyed such broad- based gains. While one month does not make a trend, particularly during seasonally strong buying months, the combination of rising positive monthly index levels and improving annual returns is a good sign. The 10-City and 20-City Composites each rose by 1.3 percent for the month and posted annual rates of return of -2.2 percent and -1.9 percent compared to April 2011, better than the -2.9 percent and -2.6 percent annual rates seen in March 2012.

“We were hoping to see some improvement in April. First, changes in home prices are very seasonal, with the spring and early summer being the most active buying months. Second, while not as strong and we believe less reliable, the seasonally adjusted data were also largely positive, a possible sign that the increase in prices may be due to more than just the expected surge in spring sales. Additionally, the last few months have seen increased sales and housing starts amidst a lot of talk of better housing markets, so some price gains were anticipated.

“Detroit and New York stand out this month as the only two MSAs that saw their annual rates of return deteriorate compared to March. While Detroit posted a positive annual rate of 1.2 percent, it was still well below March’s +3.9 percent; New York was -3.8 percent in April down from -3.0 percent in March. Detroit was also the only city to show a monthly decline, down 3.6 percent. All other MSAs improved versus March.

“Atlanta and Phoenix, two markets we have followed closely in 2012 for their contrasting trends, have continued along their opposite paths. Atlanta continues to be the only city with double-digit negative annual returns, -17.0 percent, whereas Phoenix fared the best in terms of annual returns at +8.6 percent in April.”

As of April 2012, average home prices across the United States are back to the levels where they were in early 2003 for the 20-City Composite and to mid-2003 levels for the 10-City Composite. Measured from their June/July 2006 peaks through April 2012, the decline for both Composites is approximately 34 percent. Both Composites recently reached their index level lows in the current housing cycle in March 2012, down approximately 35 percent from their peaks.

In April 2012, 19 of the 20 MSAs and both Composites posted positive monthly returns. Detroit was the only exception recording a monthly decline of 3.6 percent. Atlanta was the only city to post a double-digit negative annual rate of return; however it saw improvements in both monthly and annual rates versus what was published for March. Phoenix continues to lead those cities with improving trends, posting a 2.5 percent monthly increase in April, as well as the highest annual rate of return amongst all 20 cities at +8.6 percent. Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit and Las Vegas continue to have average home prices below their January 2000 levels.

 

 

Article reprinted from RISMedia: http://rismedia.com/2012-06-30/spring-sales-home-prices-rise-in-april/

Little Know Facts About the 4th of July

Think your older siblings and cousins already taught you everything you ever needed to know about shooting fireworks? Think your 3rd grade teacher taught you all you needed to know to explain to your own kids why we celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July? Take a look at some of the below facts found in the Farmer’s Almanac. You might be surprised…

The Real Independence Day?
The Declaration of Independence was announced on July 4th, though the formal signing didn’t occur until August 2nd, and the colonies actually voted to accept it on July 2nd. So you may wonder – what day is the real Independence Day?

John Adams, who first proposed the idea of declaring independence from England, wrote a famous letter to his wife, Abigail, about how he believed July 2nd would be a day that was remembered and celebrated in America for years to come. Apparently everyone else remembered otherwise…

Old Glory
Did you know, that there have been 28 versions of the U.S flag to date, and that the most recent one, designed after Alaska and Hawaii joined the union, was the result of a school project? Robert Heft was 17 when he came up with the flag design in 1958. He originally got a B- on the project, but when his pattern won the national competition to become the next flag, his teacher raised his grade to an A.

A Patriotic Death?
Three American presidents have died on the fourth of July. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the same day, in 1826. They had been rivals in everything, even about who would live longest. Adams’ last words were about his long-time foe: “Thomas Jefferson lives!” In fact, Jefferson had died just five hours earlier, but Adams hadn’t gotten the message. James Monroe is the third president to die on July 4th, but he died in 1831.

And the Rockets’ Red Glare…
Fireworks and parades have long-since been a staple in Independence Day celebrations. In that same letter of John Adams about celebrating on July 2nd, he wrote that the day

“Ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the  other, from this time forward forever more.” And so colonists celebrated the fourth even before they knew if they would win the war, setting off fireworks July 4th, 1777. Fireworks were further popularized in the late 1700s by politicians that had displays at their speeches, and they became a firmly established tradition by the 1800s.

It is also said, that fireworks displays were used as morale boosters for soldiers in the Revolutionary war. At the time however, fireworks were the same type of explosives used in war and were called rockets, not fireworks.