November 16, 2011 5:34 pm
The Pew Research Center recently published interesting findings concerning the wealth of households by age. Using government data, the authors of the report noted the following conclusions about the generational distribution of wealth and the ongoing crisis in housing:
• Households headed by adults 65 and older were 42% wealthier in 2009 relative to same-aged households in 1984
• Households headed by adults 35 and younger were 68% poorer in 2009 relative to same-aged households in 1984
As a result of these changes, the wealth gap between older and younger households has grown substantially. In 1984, the wealth ratio between households 65 and older and households 35 and younger stood at 10-to-1. In 2009, this ratio had grown to 47-to-1.
The authors of the report explain the primary cause:
Housing has been the main driver of these divergent wealth trends. Rising home equity has been the linchpin of the higher wealth of older households in 2009 compared with their counterparts in 1984. Declining home equity has been one factor in the lower wealth held by young households in 2009 compared with their counterparts in 1984.
Moreover, the authors make similar claims we have touched upon regarding the long-run demographic impact of the ongoing crisis in housing:
For the young, these long-term changes include delayed entry into the labor market and delays in marriage—two markers of adulthood traditionally linked to income growth and wealth accumulation.
Digging into the findings, the authors emphasize how important housing wealth is to older homeowners. If you exclude housing equity, the net worth of households headed by individuals 65 and older would have been 33% lower in 2009 than their counterparts in 1984, instead of 42% higher as it now stands.
For young households, there is no such difference. If you ignore housing equity, such households would be 66% poorer than their 1984 counterparts, instead of 68% poorer when one factors in home equity. So the growing gap in wealth between young and old is primarily due to the fact that older households strongly benefited from homeownership, despite recent price declines.
Taking all forms of wealth into consideration, from 2005 to 2009, according to the Pew estimates, household net worth for all households fell 28%. However, the Great Recession has been particularly hard on younger households, who form the majority of first-time home buyers. Household net worth for those younger than 35 has fallen 55%. For those 35 to 44, net worth has fallen 49%. For those 65 and older, net worth has declined only 6%.
The Pew Research findings concerning wealth and age have a direct impact for understanding housing demand. The Great Recession has clearly taken a toll on household balance sheets, and particularly on the wealth of those age classes that constitute the majority of would-be home buyers. This economic consequence, along with job market uncertainty, is the reason for pent-up housing demand. And policy proposals that would place homeownership further out-of-reach of today’s emerging households and aspiring members of the middle class will have long-run impacts on both demography and household wealth.
For more information, visit NAHB's Eye on Housing blog at eyeonhousing.wordpress.com.
November 16, 2011 5:34 pm
Whether you're in between moves or simply need the extra space, self-storage is a fantastic option for those who find they need to temporarily unload some personal belongings. To further protect your property, renters should look into and purchase storage insurance. At some facilities, it may not be an option. However, if you are not required to purchase it and think that your property is automatically safe, think again. Most times, if your property is worth seeking extra storage space for, it's worth insuring.
According to StorageFront.com, renters generally have three different options in terms of insurance:
1) Some homeowner's or renter's insurance may allow for additional coverage for your storage unit, however, you must check with the facility to ensure that they accept this type of coverage. When you go to rent your unit, proof of insurance will be required by the storage facility. Make sure to have that on hand.
2) Facilities may offer their own insurance premium ranging from $2,500 to $5,000. Although there may or may not be a deductible, rates may be higher and coverage lower compared to insuring through your homeowner's or renter's policy. Be sure to inquire about what types of damages are covered and if any items are excluded from the policy.
3) Independent self-storage insurance may be your best bet. Outside insurance companies may have a partnership with particular storage facilities, but oftentimes they operate independently. This type of insurance will insure higher-valued items and may protect against damage that other policies may not cover.
Though prices per plan vary, insurance typically runs $8 for $2,000 coverage; $12 for $3,000 coverage; and $20 for $5,000 coverage. Some providers may even provide coverage for 50% in case of burglary. (Taking pictures of all your items in the storage unit is highly recommended. If items are damaged during a burglary, snap photos of them as well along with a broken lock or a damaged door).
As always, it's best to understand whatever policy you sign up for. Make sure you acquire all of the details at the time of signing so that you can be prepared and knowledgeable in the worst case scenario that you need to put a claim in.
November 15, 2011 5:32 pm
One can never have enough moving tips. For those preparing to pack up their belongings and head to a new home, efficiency and ease are as important as ever. Although moving can be an exciting time, it can also be somewhat nerve-racking.
To make your move run smoothly, heed the following recommendations whether you are a homeowner or a renter:
1. Get rid of clutter. Two months before the date of the move, go through every room in the house and decide what items should not be moved. Donate or sell any clothes, furniture, or other items that are unwanted.
2. Start searching online for a moving company, if desired. There are many companies to choose from, so be sure to find a quality company and book early. Read as many reviews as possible and learn from others' mistakes.
3. Cancel and order utilities. Contact telephone, electric, gas, water, and other services to inform them of the move. By planning ahead, extra charges can be avoided and moving into a new home will be smoother.
4. Pack smart. Plan ahead when packing and use a moving checklist to stay on track. Get all the supplies beforehand, such as bubble wrap, boxes, tape and markers. Label boxes in detail with the room they go to and the contents. Pack unneeded items first and the most used items last. Have a couple of boxes of essentials that are easily accessible, which can include an alarm clock, change of clothes, toiletries, coffee maker, etc.
5. Safety first. Whether you are hiring a professional company or going at it solo, be sure to keep walkways clear, remove rugs, tripping hazards and low-hanging items. Ensure young children have a care provider and pets are kept safely away from loading and unloading areas.
6. Know what not to pack. Items such as pesticides, paint thinner, lighter fluid, and other dangerous chemicals should not be packed by professionals or in a moving truck. Valuables, irreplaceable items and important documents should be kept safe with the homeowner and moved in the truck cab, car or shipped with a tracking number.
7. Smile! This time can be more exciting than stressful with a positive attitude and a bit of preparation. Try not to stress and enjoy the excitement of your new neighborhood.
For more information, visit www.miamimovers.com.
November 15, 2011 5:32 pm
Is your home safe? Believe it or not, the leading cause for a trip to the emergency room is an unintentional home accident or injury. In fact, according to the Home Safety Council, the leading causes of unintentional home injury and death in the United States are falls, poisoning, fire/burns, and drowning.
Protecting your family and making your home safer is top priority. Prevent accidents, serious injuries, pinpoint potential hazards, and decrease the likelihood of potential home disasters by having the right safety equipment on hand.
The leading cause of accidental death in the United States is carbon monoxide poisoning. Produced by everyday home appliances like water heaters, charcoal grills and propane stoves, this odorless, tasteless and colorless gas sends more than 15,000 Americans to the emergency room each year. Those exposed to carbon monoxide are typically misdiagnosed because they experience flu-like symptoms, such as nausea, headache and fatigue. The best way to protect yourself against carbon monoxide poisoning is a carbon monoxide alarm, and at just under $20, it won't break the bank.
Every 150 minutes, someone dies from a fire-related injury in the U.S. The number one cause of death, however, is actually from smoke inhalation and toxic gases, not burns. That means having a smoke alarm in your home is essential, especially considering that four out of 10 home-fire deaths occur in homes without smoke alarms. Battery operated, super affordable and designed to protect your family from smoke inhalation and accidental fires, it's a must-have home safety item. If you have a large house, consider putting a smoke detector in each room for maximum security.
The third major cause of home-related injuries and death in the U.S. is unintentional slip-and-fall accidents. In fact, accidental falls are the number one cause of injury-related death for those 60 and up. Luckily, you can prevent accidental falls by eliminating tripping hazards (like electrical cords and rugs) and installing snazzy night-lights in dark areas, especially near stairs and hallways. A motion activated night-light is highly recommended, as it automatically turns on in a dark room when motion is detected. No switching or fumbling in the dark is required.
Many fatal home accidents can be prevented. Spend some time going over how you can keep your family safe and be sure to have the proper equipment on hand to do so.
November 9, 2011 5:28 pm
By Keith Loria
It used to be that if you weren’t married or living with someone, the idea of purchasing a home was considered a bit outlandish, however, more of today’s home buyers are single than ever before.
According to the National Association of REALTORS®, in 2010, unmarried women made up 20% of all home buyers and single men comprised 12%. Savvy men and women understand that now is one of the best times to buy a home and they can probably get a price that won’t stop them from enjoying their single lifestyle. These buyers may be just starting out and still envision getting married and having kids some day; some may be divorced and are looking to start fresh; still others may see it as an investment that will pay off down the line.
In her book, Buying a Home When You’re Single, Donna Albrecht walks through all the steps that take place when searching for a home, getting pre-qualified, finding an agent, and struggling through escrow.
“Before anyone buys a home—single or not—they need to consider what they want their future to look like,” Albrecht says. “If kids are a big hope, buying a studio condo could be a mistake. Going the other route and buying a five-bedroom place may not be the best idea either.”
Purchasing a smaller home, say with two bedrooms or less, has a number of advantages for a single buyer. The lower purchase price will likely net you a mortgage payment that is lower than rent and you will save on utilities, maintenance and cleaning costs. You will also have fewer rooms to furnish and decorate.
Another important point to consider is that it could be easier to sell when you are ready to move on. Single buyers know that their circumstances may change so they want to be prepared, so making sure that the home can be sold or rented out is often a key interest to this group.
Single parents are more inclined to buy a home to give their children a more stable environment and the chance of a great school system. According to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Statistics State of the Nation’s Housing report, the nation's 4.5 million single parents have greater space needs and must worry more about safety and school quality when choosing homes than households without children.
Since there is only one name and one person responsible for buying the property, a person’s credit score and ability to meet all payments is more important to single buyers. The FHA even offers a special loan for single mothers that can help reduce mortgage costs.
Mortgage experts recommend that a monthly mortgage for home buyers with one income should not exceed 28% of a borrower’s pre-tax monthly income.
November 9, 2011 5:28 pm
Sin City sees over 30 million visitors per year and can proudly declare that Las Vegas taxi cabs have been voted the best overall in the U.S., according to the annual taxi survey compiled by Hotels.com. Over 1,900 travelers from over 50 major U.S. cities responded to the survey and judged cabs on seven categories - cleanliness, value, quality of driving, knowledge of the area, friendliness, safety and availability.
With roughly 2,000 cabs on the street at any given time and having logged over 2.1 million cab rides in July alone, Las Vegas' cab drivers ranked in the top three of all seven categories. Sin city beat out Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Orlando with 11.7%, voting it the place with the friendliest drivers. "In Las Vegas, Nevada, the driver took shortcuts to get us to our destination fast. He was courteous and was telling jokes to us. The real shocker was that he actually drove safely," said one survey taker.
"I was [in] Las Vegas and my taxi driver installed a karaoke machine in his car. While we were getting home late in the evening, we were belting out Britney Spears in the back!" said another voter.
With over 13,000 yellow cabs roaming the streets of New York City, it comes as no surprise that 42% of voters nominated the city with the best cab availability. It also came out on top as the city with the most knowledgeable drivers with 30% of the votes. Unfortunately, 39% voted the city that never sleeps the worst in driving, with 38% nominating New York cabbies as the least friendly of all cities surveyed.
Taxi services come in all shapes and sizes and survey takers have plenty to share when it comes to the most unusual experiences in foreign countries. "The 'matatu', [a small, minibus taxi that is an icon of Kenyan travel] common to Kenya, is unbelievable. I held someone's chicken [since the bus was crowded]," said one traveler.
Thailand's famous tuk tuk taxis left a traveler with an unforgettable memory. "Thailand's tuk tuk, basically a motor scooter with a trailer welded to the back end, had 'bench' seating and a plastic roof. We fit eight people in space possibly made for about five, going 35+ mph on city streets. We almost lost a passenger on one of the turns, but the driver just laughed and said 'hang on!'"
Out of those who took the survey 10% of travelers have used taxi cabs in Mexico. The United Kingdom (6%), France (3%), Canada (3%), and Jamaica (2%) rounded out the top five countries that Americans frequently hail cabs in.
Top 10 tips on hailing a cab from travelers:
• Take hand sanitizer. Greet every cab driver.
• When travelling in the Caribbean, hire a taxi for inexpensive and unique island tours. The drivers are local, friendly, and happy to show you around.
• Look at the locals; if there is a particular cab service they are using, follow suit.
• In foreign countries, always negotiate rate (or use of meter) before getting in.
• Have a general knowledge of the city map, main landmarks, and directions before taking a cab.
• Be polite, patient, and explain yourself well so the driver understands what you want. Especially important when there are different languages involved.
• If you are staying in a city for a few days and get a good taxi driver, get his contact number and use him often.
• Always take a card from the hotel you are staying at in case you need to call if there is a problem.
• Look up customs; in Japan for example, it can be offensive to try to tip your driver.
• Try to always have local currency (including small bills/coins) on hand. Don't assume credit cards or US dollars will be accepted.
November 9, 2011 5:28 pm
The Federal Reserve Board recently announced that borrowers who believe they were financially harmed during the mortgage foreclosure process by four institutions in 2009 and 2010 can now request an independent review and potentially receive compensation.
Four large mortgage servicers supervised by the Board—GMAC Mortgage, HSBC Finance Corporation, SunTrust Mortgage, and EMC Mortgage Corporation —are required to conduct this program as part of their compliance with enforcement actions issued by the Board in April 2011. Under these actions, servicers are required to compensate borrowers for financial injury resulting from deficiencies in their foreclosure processes. A number of servicers supervised by the Office of the Controller of the Currency must also conduct the program.
As mandated by the Federal Reserve's enforcement actions, the four servicers were required to retain independent consultants approved by the Federal Reserve to conduct the reviews. Borrowers are eligible for a review if their primary residence was in the foreclosure process in 2009 or 2010, whether or not the foreclosure was completed. The review is intended to determine if those borrowers suffered financial harm directly resulting from errors, misrepresentations, or other deficiencies. The Federal Reserve will monitor the implementation of the program and the servicers' outreach efforts.
To apply for a review, individuals may call 888-952-9105, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. (ET), and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET). Individuals can get more information about the review through a website created by the servicers, www.IndependentForeclosureReview.com. In addition, the servicers will conduct an advertising campaign and send letters to borrowers who may be eligible to participate in the review to provide information.
Requests for review by the servicers' independent consultants must be received by April 30, 2012. Borrowers are encouraged to carefully consider the information about the review program to determine if they should participate. There are no costs associated with being included in the review.
In addition to conducting the reviews generated by this outreach program, the independent consultants retained by the servicers supervised by the Federal Reserve will separately review all cases in certain categories of foreclosure actions by the servicers to determine whether borrowers suffered financial injury.
These categories include members of the military who were in the mortgage foreclosure process in 2009 or 2010 who were covered by the service members Civil Relief Act and borrowers who had previously filed complaints with the servicers about foreclosure actions that were pending during 2009 or 2010. Borrowers who previously filed complaints with these servicers about foreclosures pending during the review period also may seek independent reviews of their foreclosures.
The enforcement actions issued by the Federal Reserve in April also require the servicers to correct other deficiencies in residential mortgage loan servicing and foreclosure practices going forward. Under the plans, among other things, servicers must specify a single point of contact for certain borrowers who are having difficulty paying their mortgages, ensure that foreclosures are not pursued when a borrower is performing on a loan modification, and establish robust controls and oversight over their third-party vendors.
As previously stated in April, the Federal Reserve believes monetary sanctions in these cases are appropriate and plans to announce monetary penalties. These monetary penalties will be in addition to the compensation provided to borrowers in the independent review process.
For more information, visit www.federalreserve.gov.
November 9, 2011 5:28 pm
The popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn is continuing to grow dramatically, but not just with users. Cybercriminals are increasingly targeting these sites and their troves of sensitive, personal information.
"While many of these sites are great for finding friends and connecting with business partners, users are sharing more information than ever before and the bad guys are taking note," says Andy Hayter, anti-malcode manager of ICSA Labs. "And it is not just about the sensitive data that users are exposing; the threats are also coming from scams, viruses and other forms of malware that can take many forms on these sites."
Here are some helpful tips on how consumers can enjoy social networking while protecting themselves from security threats:
1. Be wary of worms, Trojans and botnets that can infect and take control of your computer. Access to sensitive documents and personally identifiable information poses a significant threat to users. The Koobface worm, for instance, infected hundreds of thousands of Facebook users in June. Users received a video claiming to be from a Facebook friend, but after downloading the video, the worm distributed the malware to a user's Facebook friends and granted attackers full access to the user's computer.
2. If you receive a request to connect from someone you do not know, do not accept it. Trojans are infamous for tricking victims into providing sensitive information and are increasingly surfacing on social networking websites. By taking over a user's contacts or "friend" list, the Trojan sends invitations to the user's friends to try to infect their computers as well. The ZeuS Trojan is one example of malware that is remotely controlled by criminals who infect computers, wait for users to log on and then try to gain access to their bank accounts.
3. Do not share too much personal information. Hackers can easily piece together different bits of information posted to Facebook and other sites and compile a complete profile of an individual's identity, especially using birth date information. With this knowledge, hackers can trick users with targeted information that only a "friend" would know.
To safeguard against misuse of personal information, it is important for users to review and understand the privacy policies on social networking sites to make sure they disclose personal information. In addition, users should regularly check their credit report and other financial statements to verify their identity is unharmed.
4. Be careful where you click. Just because a link came to a user from someone the user knows does not mean it is safe. Users can easily check by rolling over the link for a moment before clicking to verify the Web address is legitimate. Link shorteners, such as bit.ly and tinyurl, are becoming common practice and making hackers' jobs even easier as they try to mislead victims into clicking on malicious links.
5. Use and frequently update software security programs. Updating security software is the simplest way to protect a computer from malware like worms, viruses, Trojans and clickjacking. Users should make sure that their anti-virus, firewall and spyware products are up-to-date and that they have installed the latest software upgrades. Products should also be certified by an accredited third-party organization, such as ICSA Labs, and meet the appropriate standards.
Adds Hayter, "A lot of it comes down to 'whom do you trust?' and making smart decisions about who users accept as their friends on these sites. If users pay close attention to whom they are connecting with, what they are clicking on, what they post on these sites and keep their security software updated, they'll be in a much safer place."
November 9, 2011 5:28 pm
It may not be winter yet, but the snow, sleet and the winter driving season are just around the corner, and with them comes an increase in weather-related auto accidents and maintenance needs. Here is a list of simple steps drivers can take now to help ensure their cars and trucks are ready for a safe winter driving season.
Winter Check Up - A pre-winter check-up should be done in the fall, before the mercury starts to drop. It should cover an oil change, air filter replacement, valve adjustment, spark plug inspection, and tire rotation and balance. In addition, a winter tune-up should include: a clean fuel filter, inspection for leaks that may not be visible later when the weather is freezing, a test to make sure your heater is working, and check to make sure your coolant mixture is good enough to cover lower temperatures. Frozen water can lead to cracked radiators very easily, which can cost you in the end. Also, keep your fuel tank at least half full during the winter to avoid fuel line freeze up problems. Winter will definitely expose any compromised systems in your vehicle. Deal with them now and save time and money.
Battery - Car batteries rarely signal failure ahead of time, but those cold cranking amps are working harder than ever to get your car started in the winter. Batteries are highly vulnerable in the winter. Minivans and SUVs require more cold cranking amps to start those larger engines. While it's inconvenient to have a no-start in the summer, the consequences are more serious if you can't start your car and the temperature drops below freezing, especially with small children in the car. If your vehicle is taking a long time to start or the battery is more than three years old, consider replacing the battery. You can check your battery charge with an affordable battery tester that plugs right into your cigarette lighter. You should also do a visual inspection for corrosion or ice build up on the battery posts when it's cold. To be safe, always carry a set of jumper cables and know the basics of using them.
Tires and Brakes - Tires lose pressure when temperatures drop. Be sure to check your tire pressure and tread depth, and consider whether you need all-weather tires in your area. You should also check your brakes for wear and tear and have them looked at if they are showing any of the following symptoms: squealing sounds, brake pedal judder, a pull to one side when braking, or the feeling that your foot sinks to the floor when applying the brakes. If your vehicle has an anti-lock braking system (ABS), be sure it's working properly and you know how to use it. ABS is designed to reduce skidding and help you maintain control in an emergency as long as you apply them hard and stay on them and do not pump the brakes.
Wipers and Lights - Changing your wiper blades is one of the best things you can do to help ensure your safety, and it's easy to do. The right time to change the wiper blades is not during a downpour or a snowstorm when you cannot see three feet in front of you. A set of wiper blades only costs about $20 and can help drivers avoid an accident by seeing something a split second sooner. While you're at it, double check that all of your lights are working, including your fog, brake and emergency lights, and turn signals.
Cold Weather Car Kit - Carrying a basic emergency kit year-round that includes a flashlight with extra batteries, water, flares, duct tape, extra windshield wiper fluid, tire jack and first-aid kit is important, particularly during winter months. Add a few items as needed, including an ice scraper. Also, make sure you completely remove the snow from your car. Snow piled up on the hood will blow onto your windshield and refreeze almost instantly. Headlights and taillights need to be cleared as well, so other vehicles can see you. Your winter kit should also include blankets, waterproof clothes, sand or kitty litter for tire traction, a shovel and gloves.
For more information, visit www.CarMD.com.
November 9, 2011 5:28 pm
A report released recently, sponsored in part by the Appraisal Institute, outlines ways to finance $150 billion per year in energy efficiency projects that yield double-digit financial returns.
“Energy Efficiency Financing: Models and Strategies” by Capital-E and partner organizations says that within 10 years, investment at this level would save U.S. businesses and households $200 billion annually and would create more than 1 million new full-time jobs. This level of funding represents a more than five-fold increase from current levels of about $20 billion per year and would cost-effectively make the American economy more competitive, enhance national security and help slow the impacts of climate change, according to the findings.
“This important report reflects our commitment to providing insight into market trends and to supporting the appraisal industry’s critical role in valuing the impact of all property features, including ‘green’ and energy efficient buildings,” says Appraisal Institute President Joseph C. Magdziarz, MAI, SRA. “As the real estate valuation industry’s leader, the Appraisal Institute is in the forefront of preparing appraisers to analyze energy efficient buildings.”
With the end of the 2011 fiscal year, some $40 billion in public stimulus funding for energy efficiency and clean energy is rapidly winding down, leaving a huge financing gap that only the private sector can fill, according to the report. “Energy Efficiency Financing: Models and Strategies” details how the private sector can rapidly and cost-effectively expand private investment in energy efficiency.
For more information, visit www.appraisalinstitute.org.