January 23, 2012 6:28 am
If you’re like many homeowners, the start of the new year finds you ready to finally tackle those home-improvement projects that have lingered on your wish list. But where do you begin?
First, prioritize those renovations that will have a maximum impact, both in terms of aesthetics and investment values. Also prioritize the projects that will enhance the livability and enjoyment of your home.
Next, decide whether or not it makes sense to handle these projects on your own or call in a professional for help. According to the experts at Sears Home Services, while taking on home remodeling yourself can seem daunting , enlisting the right help can make the process simple and seamless.
Here are three areas of the home to put at the top of your list this year:
According to the National Association of REALTORS®, one of the best investments in a home is a bathroom renovation. Remodeling a bathroom that's more than 25 years old substantially increases the value of your home. While your bathroom may not need a complete makeover, updating cabinets, lighting, tiling or countertops can go a long way toward improving design and functionality. Or, consider a few quick fixes, such as a new towel bar, shower-curtain rod, robe hooks or showerhead.
The kitchen is the heart of the home. And kitchen renovations don't need to be dramatic to be impactful—updates such as new countertops, cabinets, appliances or flooring can all dramatically improve the kitchen. These improvements can also help yield increased functionality and space throughout the kitchen. For a simple refresh, homeowners can give their kitchen a new look by replacing the hardware on cabinets, painting or updating fixtures.
A great way to upgrade an area of your home and pull a room together is to install new floors. There are myriad options to choose from: carpeting, tile, laminate, porcelain or ceramic tile, vinyl or hardwood. Consult a home-improvement retailer or flooring expert to help make the best choice and to ensure proper installation.
January 20, 2012 6:24 am
As 2012 ushers in an improving, but still highly competitive job market, more workers may be looking beyond their own backyard for employment options. According to a new nationwide study conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of CareerBuilder, 44 percent of workers said they would be willing to relocate for a career opportunity, according to a nationwide study by CareerBuilder.
At the same time, employers struggling to find workers for skilled positions said they are willing to pay to bring talent to their locations. Thirty-two percent reported they would be willing to pay to relocate new employees in 2012. Nineteen percent would be willing to pay a smaller first year salary in order to give a signing bonus to relocate an employee.
The national survey was conducted from November 9 to December 5, 2011 among more than 3,000 employers and more than 7,000 workers.
To help workers zero in on markets with the greatest demand for their skills and assess costs of moving to and living in a particular area, CareerBuilder launched CareerRelocate.com. Through this new site, workers can:
- Run a simple keyword or category search and view a map detailing where the most and fewest opportunities are for their line of work.
- View actual relocation opportunities in different cities.
- Learn what they would need to earn in order to maintain their current standard of living in another city.
- Research homes, property values, mortgage quotes, moving and storage costs.
- Tap into articles and advice on relocating and hiring trends.
While employers will move current staff and new hires for a wide variety of positions, the top areas for which they are most likely to pay to relocate employees are tied to technology and revenue-generation:
- Engineering – 30 percent of employers
- Information Technology – 23 percent
- Business Development – 21 percent
- Sales – 21 percent
- Financial – 16 percent
- Marketing – 13 percent
- Legal – 11 percent
The vast majority of workers who relocated in the last year – 77 percent – reported they were happy with the move and didn't regret the decision. Workers reported benefitting in the following ways:
- Made a fresh start – 30 percent
- Made new friends – 31 percent
- Had new experiences we wouldn't have had anywhere else – 29 percent
- Earning at a higher level gave the family more spending options – 27 percent
- Better long-term career opportunities – 22 percent
- Area is nicer and schools are better – 19 percent
Of those workers who relocated in the last year, 41 percent said their family didn't relocate with them and they have to travel to see them. Top challenges associated with relocating included:
- Cost of living is higher – 26 percent
- More stress on the family unit – 24 percent
- Difficult to make new friends – 18 percent
- Feeling homesick – 16 percent
January 20, 2012 6:24 am
Bloomberg BNA’s final fourth quarter Wage Trend Indicator™ (WTI). The forward-looking index rose in the fourth quarter for the sixth straight time, to 98.52 (second quarter 1976 = 100) from 98.36 in the third quarter.
"Barring any major shocks to the U.S. economy, we expect modest acceleration in wage growth during the course of 2012," economist Kathryn Kobe, a consultant who maintains and helped develop Bloomberg BNA's WTI database, said.
Annual gains for private sector workers are expected to improve in 2012 from the 1.7 percent increase reported by the Department of Labor for the third quarter of 2011, but are unlikely to exceed 2.0 percent, as measured by the employment cost index (ECI).
Reflecting recent labor market conditions, four of the WTI's seven components made positive contributions to the final fourth quarter reading, while three factors were negative. Over its history, the WTI has predicted a turning point in wage trends six to nine months before the trends are apparent in the ECI.
Of the WTI's seven components, the four positive contributors to the final fourth quarter reading were job losers as a share of the labor force, reported by DOL; forecasters' expectations for the rate of inflation, compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia; and the share of employers planning to hire production and service workers in the coming months and the proportion of employers reporting difficulty in filling professional and technical jobs, both tracked by BNA's quarterly employment outlook survey. The negative factors were the unemployment rate and average hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory workers, both reported by DOL, and industrial production, measured by the Federal Reserve Board.
January 20, 2012 6:24 am
As federal regulators consider setting down-payment standards on new mortgages, a new study shows such rules could push 60 percent of creditworthy borrowers into high-cost loans or out of the market altogether.
A proposal by regulators to define a high-quality mortgage as one with at least a 20-percent down payment, or possibly 10 percent, would hobble a healthy segment of the housing market, says the study from the UNC Center for Community Capital and the Center for Responsible Lending. While higher down payments do result in fewer defaults, the payoff is small relative to the number of creditworthy households who could be shut out of the market, the study shows.
According to the study, the results are particularly striking for African American and Latino homebuyers. A mandatory 20-percent down-payment requirement would exclude about 75 percent of African American and 70 percent of Latino borrowers who could be successful homeowners from obtaining fairly priced mortgages.
The working paper, "Balancing Risk and Access: Underwriting Standards for Qualified Residential Mortgages," was produced by the UNC Center for Community Capital and the Center for Responsible Lending. Researchers look at mortgages originated from 2000 to 2008 and what would have happened if a 20-percent down payment and other underwriting criteria had been imposed beyond those already mandated by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
The study finds Dodd-Frank's ban on loans with the highest risk of default—for example, those with prepayment penalties or no income documentation—fixes the bad underwriting that caused the housing crisis. Adding a down-payment threshold set by the federal government would do little to reduce defaults relative to the large number of creditworthy homebuyers it would push from the market.
January 19, 2012 6:24 am
Connecticut-based DiversityBusiness.com recently announced the results of its online election designed to determine the 12th annual “Top 50 Organizations for Multicultural Business Opportunities.” Over 1,200,000 diversity business owners participated in the poll to determine the top 50 organizations for providing business opportunities to diverse business owners throughout the United States. AT&T, Wal-Mart, and Dell nabbed the first three spots.
The complete list of winners, known as the “Div50,” are recognized for truly differentiating themselves in the marketplace in a time when diversity is on the rise. The Div50 is a listing of the top 50 corporate and organizational buyers of diversity products and services throughout the U.S. It represents the voice of over 1,250,000 diversity-owned (women, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native American, and other multicultural groups) businesses in the U.S., in sectors such as technology, manufacturing, food service and professional services. Other large companies at the top of the list include Coca Cola, Cisco, Apple, Toyota, Office Depot, Time Warner, United Parcel Service, State Farm and Northrop Grumman.
The Div50 is an indicator of which organizations provide the best and the most business for diversity-owned companies. As multicultural and female owned businesses gain more buying power and their lifestyles become more affluent, multicultural markets are growing in economic muscle. This in turn attracts more corporations, as they compete for market share. The Div50 list has, therefore, become the consumer guide for many women and minority consumers.
The complete list of Top 50 Organizations can be accessed at: http://www.diversitybusiness.com/Resources/DivLists/2012/DivTop50/2012Div50C.htm.
January 19, 2012 6:24 am
While you may have heard that selling your home as a short sale can be a long, frustrating, and sometimes futile process, the tide may be turning as lenders have become increasingly more amenable to short sales. Many lenders, says real estate professional and educator Gee Dunsten, are viewing short sales in a more favorable light after suffering through failed loan modifications and countless foreclosures.
Before embarking on the short sale process, however, talk to a REALTOR® who is experienced in the area of distressed properties. Dunsten asks all his clients to start by completing the following questionnaire. One of the top reasons short sales fail is because the home seller never actually qualified for one in the first place. Answering the following questions accurately and thoroughly will determine whether your home is eligible for a short sale:
- Is your property currently on the market? Is it listed with an agent?
- Is this your primary residence?
- When was the property purchased?
- What was the original purchase price?
- Who holds the mortgage?
- What kind of loan do you have? (FHA, VA, Conventional)
- Do you have any other liens against your property?
- Who is on the title (or deed) for the property?
- Who is on the mortgage?
- Do you have mortgage insurance?
- Are you current with your payments? If not, how far in arrears are you?
- How much do you owe?
- Why do you need/want to sell?
- What caused you or will be causing you to miss your mortgage payment obligation?
- Do you have funds in accounts that could be used to satisfy the deficiency?
- Are you currently living in the property? If not, where are you living and is the property being maintained?
- How soon do you need to move?
- Are you up to date on your condo or HOA payments (where applicable)?
- Do you owe any back taxes?
- Are you considering filing for bankruptcy protection?
- Are you currently pursuing a loan modification with your lender?
- Who is occupying the property?
- Do you hold or are you subject to any type of security clearance related to your job?
- What are your plans after you sell?
- Are you looking to receive any money from the sale of your home?
- How much income are you currently making from all sources?
- Do you anticipate any income change up or down in the not-too-distant future?
January 19, 2012 6:24 am
According to a recent survey of 3,000 Americans, 68 percent say their incomes have not grown, while 71 percent report their expenses have. When it comes to savings, only one in four (24 percent) were able to set aside enough money to go five or more months without a paycheck and still pay their bills, and one in three say they could not go any amount of time without a paycheck before resorting to skipping bill payments.
Conducted by independent research firm Rasmussen Reports, LLC on behalf of insurance firm Country Financial, the survey underscores that many Americans lack a financial reserve, explaining why nearly half of all respondents are worried about meeting fiscal obligations this year. Nearly one in three (30 percent) reported that their personal savings and investments suffered the most due to the economic downturn, with savings for retirement coming in as the second most-affected area (25 percent).
The survey also revealed, however, that Americans are now increasingly focused on saving for the future. According to a December 2011 Country Financial survey, they identified personal and retirement savings as financial priorities to work on in 2012.
Fiscal concerns vary somewhat from generation to generation, according to the survey:
- Gen Y: Only 40 percent are worried about meeting financial obligations. Still, 31 percent of 18-29 year olds say their personal savings and investments were the hardest hit.
- Gen X: Half (50 percent) of 30-39 year olds and 31 percent of 40-49 year olds say they could not go any amount of time between jobs and still pay their bills.
- Baby Boomers: Thirty-seven percent of those nearing retirement age (50-64) say their retirement savings have suffered most.
- Retirees: For those most likely in retirement (65 or older), 41 percent claim their personal savings and investments suffered most. However, they are the least worried about fulfilling their fiscal obligations (38 percent).
January 18, 2012 6:24 am
Homebuyers should pay close attention and avoid money pit houses as the rules of navigating local real estate continue to change. These rapidly changing rules are happening in every area of the home buying process. Some of these rules have to do with the condition of the homes themselves. Bank owned properties and short sale homes tend not to be in the best shape and could have hidden conditions. New requirements for homeowners insurance policies have made changes on roof and sinkhole coverage limitations. Changes to Federal government regulations for banks and lending requirements make navigating an FHA loan quite tricky.
According to REALTOR® Ginny Zukowski, the “money pit” can not only be a home that has hidden repair costs, but homeowners insurance policies may require the repairs to be made before they will write a policy. Also, banks are not accepting all appraisals and often require a second and sometimes third appraisal before they will provide a loan. This can lead to a lower price than the original appraised amount and less than the contract price.
To help potential homebuyers, Zukowski reveals the following tips:
Tip 1: Be prepared for the new changes and have open communication with the real estate agent and lender. Try to meet with them together and find out all of the upfront cash that will be needed to purchase the home. Buyers will need to pay for all inspections, appraisal, good faith money, and provide a down payment. With new private mortgage insurance, this could be several thousand dollars.
Tip 2: Once the buying process starts, be prepared for the closing to take some time. If it is a short sale, this could be four-to-five months. The loan process is also taking longer, around 45 days on the average, and additional delays often occur.
Tip 3: Be on the lookout for properties that will soon need a new roof or A/C. Home insurance policies can require new ones before they issue a policy and the mortgage lender requires homeowners insurance. This can cost the buyers more upfront dollars.
Tip 4: Before putting in an offer, ask the REALTOR® to explain all the possible things that could require more time and money at or before closing. As an example, the bank may require additional appraisals. A bank-approved appraiser may be required.
Tip 5: Be sure the REALTOR® goes over all of the fine print before an offer is submitted. Be aware of all the possible things that could go wrong and how it could impact the buying process up front.
With a real estate professional to help both buyers and sellers navigate the process, you can be know what to expect in the home buying process...and what to avoid.
January 18, 2012 6:24 am
For the fifth consecutive year, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree will be donated to Habitat for Humanity to help build a simple, decent and affordable home.
The 79th annual Christmas tree will be milled into lumber after the holiday season and will return to its home state of Pennsylvania to be used in the construction of a Habitat home in Philadelphia.
"We're thrilled to be receiving the Rockefeller Tree and grateful to Tishman Speyer for this donation," says Frank Monaghan, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia. "We know the tree will bring as much joy to a Habitat family as it has to the visitors of Rockefeller Center."
"The beloved tradition of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree brings joy to people around the world," says Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International. "We are so grateful that once again the lumber from the tree will help build a home, strengthen a community and offer a family a better future."
Habitat used the 2007 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lumber to help build a home in Pascagoula, Miss., in partnership with a Hurricane Katrina survivor. Lumber from the 2008 tree was used to help build shelving in a multi-unit building constructed by Habitat for Humanity – New York City. The 2009 Rockefeller Christmas tree lumber was used in the construction of a home in Stamford, Conn. Last year's tree was used for the framing of exterior walls of a home built by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Newburgh, located in the mid-Hudson Valley of New York.
For more information, visit www.habitat.org.
January 18, 2012 6:24 am
On average, an approximate one-quarter-million homes and offices have at least one room damaged by a frozen pipe per year. In order to ensure your home stays safe and your pipes don’t freeze, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH)® suggests three easy-to-remember steps: Foam, dome and drip.
Foam: Insulate pipes exposed to the elements or cold drafts. For as little as $1 per 6’ of insulation, you can stop pipes from freezing and save energy. By keeping your water warmer, you reduce the amount of energy needed to heat water in the cold, winter months.
Dome: Place an insulating dome or other coverings on outdoor faucets and spigots to reduce the likelihood of water pipes freezing, expanding and causing a costly leak.
Drip: Allow a slow drip from your faucets to reduce the buildup of pressure in the pipes. Even if the pipes freeze, the released pressure in the water system will reduce the likelihood of a rupture. If you are going out of town and suspect the temperature will drop, turn off the water and open all of the taps to drain the water system. This way pipes won’t freeze and you won’t return home to a mess.
Your local home improvement store will have all of the tools and expertise you will need to complete these steps. Foam, dome and drip your way to a safe winter season free of costly home repairs.
For more information, visit www.greatwinterweatherparty.org.