Thursday, July 28, 2011

Playing Nice with Neighbors

It happens to the best of us. When it comes to decisions about our home, we can get quite territorial. How can you handle neighborly disputes and still play nice?

The first rule of neighbors is to treat others the way you would want to be treated. There is a common misconception among the prideful that respect is earned and that only when others treat you with respect will you return the favor. This sentiment is entirely backwards. You need to treat everyone with respect from the start. Respect breeds respect.

It's also easy to keep our blinders on to other people's needs and perspectives. Perhaps you have the money to fix a fence and assume your neighbor has the same. It is quite likely that your preferences, tastes, and finances are different from your neighbor's.

Be willing to see things from their perspective. Take a moment during any conflict to see the situation through their eyes. Maybe those trees partially obstruct your view, but provide your neighbors with shade during the heat of the day.

Next, unless there's unlawful behavior taking place that needs to be reported to the authorities, be sure to talk to your neighbors first about an issue before lodging a formal complaint. They may be unaware that their noise or mess is offending anyone. Many people assume that things are fine unless someone says something.

When you bring up issues to neighbors, leave your attitude and condescension at home. This gets you nowhere, except deeper into conflict. Be kind, direct, and leave the blame game at home. Simply let them know what the issue is and, if needed, what you see as a possible solution.

During this conversation it's important to listen. What is your neighbor saying literally and through body language?

Keep in mind that neighbors often live next door for decades. You don't want to let a minor issue become a dark cloud that hangs over your home. There is a time to fight and there's a time to let things go. While some people see letting things go as a sign of weakness, it can actually be a sign of wisdom.

Compromise isn't always an easy word to swallow. It can mean giving up some of your wants. Yet, this is what living in a community with others means. It is not "Youtown," but rather a wonderful collective of individuals. You may get a new fence, but one that is priced more cheaply. You may still get to have your band practice on the weekends, but need to practice at an earlier time or a lower volume.

With all that said, sometimes you'll encounter neighbors who are too enveloped in their own lives to see the needs and wants of others. If you have a neighbor that suffers from this self-absorbed affliction, then it is time to either accept the situation as it is, or to take the next steps to remedy it. You may need to contact the HOA, authorities, or a lawyer. Do this only as a last resort.

Most of the time, however, you can find a middle ground if you start with respect.

Published: July 28, 2011 by Carla Hill

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® applauds Gov. Brown on signing SB 458 into law

The CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (C.A.R.) applauds Gov. Jerry Brown on signing SB 458 (Corbett) into law. SB 458 extends the protections of SB 931 (2010), to ensure that any lender that agrees to a short sale must accept the agreed upon short sale payment as payment in full of the outstanding balance of all loans.

Under previous law (SB 931 of 2010), a first mortgage holder could accept an agreed-upon short sale payment as full payment for the outstanding balance of the loan, but unfortunately, the rule did not apply to junior lien holders. SB 458 extends the protections of SB 931 to junior liens.

“The signing of this bill is a victory for California homeowners who have been forced to short sell their home only to find that the lender will pursue them after the short sale closes, and demand an additional payment to subsidize the difference,” said C.A.R. President Beth L. Peerce. “SB 458 brings closure and certainty to the short sale process and ensures that once a lender has agreed to accept a short sale payment on a property, all lienholders – those in first position and in junior positions – will consider the outstanding balance as paid in full and the homeowner will not be held responsible for any additional payments on the property.”

SB 458 contains an urgency clause making it effective upon signing.

Leading the way…® in California real estate for more than 100 years, the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® ( is one of the largest state trade organizations in the United States, with nearly 160,000 members dedicated to the advancement of professionalism in real estate. C.A.R. is headquartered in Los Angeles.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Top ‘Lifestyle Factors’ When Home Shopping

If you want to make a sale, selling the lifestyle in a community or neighborhood is becoming an important piece of the presentation of a home, according to a new survey. One in five home owners have moved or would like to move because they don’t think their neighborhood or community is a good fit to their lifestyle, according to a recent survey of more than 1,000 home owners and future home buyers

The majority of those surveyed said they would place more weight on lifestyle factors–such as family-friendly neighborhoods or easy access to cultural activities like museums and music venues–when shopping for a future home. The survey was conducted by Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate LLC and and Meredith Corp.

“While the relation of price to features has become very favorable in many areas throughout the country, ultimately the surrounding community may determine how happy you are with your home purchase,” says Sherry Chris, president and CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate LLC, which used the survey results to launch a “Lifestyle Search” tool on its web site to help buyers factor in community preferences–such as “arts and recreation” and “family and community”–more in their search.

Here are some of the top lifestyle priorities survey respondents reported they’ll be looking for in their next home:

Ease of commuting by car: 38%

Access to health and safety services: 34%
Family friendly neighborhood: 33%
Availability of retail stores: 32%
Access to cultural activities: 21%
Public transportation access: 19%
Nightlife and restaurant access: 18%
Golf friendly area-access to golf courses: 6%

This article was provided by Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Your Small Home: 5 Big Reasons to Love It

There's plenty to love about small homes--they're easier to maintain, and the price tag is generally lower. Image: Ross Chapin Architects/

A small home packs plenty of perks, and generally means a lower asking price. But entry price is only one factor—they’re easier on the pocketbook in a host of ways.

1. Lower property taxes. Your small home will be charged at a lower tax rate than its larger neighbors because the assessed value generally is lower.

2. Lower property insurance. The smaller the house, generally the lower the insurance cost, although it also matters where you live and how your small house is constructed. A brick house in wildfire-prone southern California is likely to cost less to insure than a similar-size house with wood siding.

3. You’ll save on heating and cooling. That’s regardless of how energy efficient the house is. In fact, one study indicates that a poorly insulated, 1,500 sq. ft. house is at least $200 cheaper per year to heat and cool than a well-insulated house twice that size. The U.S. Energy Information Administration says homes of 2,000 sq. ft. to 2,500 sq. ft. use an average 102.3 million BTUs of fuel yearly—13% less than homes that are 1,000 square feet larger.

4. Save on major replacements. When you need to replace a major house component or system, you’ll be glad you’re living in a smaller home. For example: According to the Cost vs. Value Report from Remodeling Magazine, the national average for vinyl replacement siding is about $9 per sq. ft.

For a modest-size house (1,500 sq. ft. of living space) with 1,740 sq. ft. of exterior wall space, that’s $15,660. For a 2,500-sq.-ft. house, you’ll pay up to $10,000 more!

5. Easier maintenance. You’ll spend less time cutting those smaller lawns, cleaning gutters, washing windows, and the umpteen other chores that home ownership involves. Figure 16 windows and sliding glass doors on a home of 2,000 square feet or less would take about 10 hours to clean, inside and out, twice a year. Double the house size, and that’s roughly 20 hours spent with a squeegee and rag.

Living in a small home has the benefits of lower insurance rates, less hassle, and less overall cost to own.

Article compliments of Terry Sheridan

6 Best Places for Business, Careers

To find cities with the most jobs and lower costs of doing business, you’ll have to venture to the heartland, according to Forbes’ 13th annual Best Places of Business list. Eighty percent of the top 25 regions on Forbes’ list this year are from the center of the United States.

Forbes’ rankings evaluate 200 metro areas, factoring in job growth (past and projected), costs (business and living), income growth, projected economic growth, and educational attainment.

Demographer Bert Sperling says the heartland’s success is largely due to its “extractive industries,” such as oil, gas, and mining and record-high crop prices that have added jobs.

“These economies run in cycles, and these booms and busts are often decades in the making,” Sterling says.

Many of the cities topping the list also boast at least one strong university and strong entrepreneurial activity.

Here are the top six cities to make Forbes’ list:
Raleigh, N.C.
Des Moines, Iowa
Provo, Utah
Lexington, Ky.
Fort Collins, Colo.
Nashville, Tenn.

Source: “Raleigh Tops Forbes’ Best Places for Business 2011,” (July 11, 2011)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Some HOAs Foreclosing on Residents

While banks are usually the ones who go after delinquent home owners, more homeowners’ associations (HOAs) around the country are deciding to take on that power too in fighting against home owners who have stopped paying their HOA fees.

For communities governed by a homeowners’ association, which one in five communities are, more HOAs are discovering they have a power they have ever rarely acted upon until now — the right to foreclose on residents who stop paying fees.

For example, a condo complex in Fort Pierce, Fla., for 55-and-older residents was once a desirable area with condos once fetching nearly $80,000 four years ago but now sell for as little as $3,000. The HOA levied $6,000 assessments on its residents for much-needed repairs in the complex and when some residents didn’t pay, the HOA foreclosed on them, even if they didn’t owe the bank anything.

"The treacherous part is that homeowners' associations are acting like a local government without restraints, and they have this extraordinary power," Marjorie Murray, a lawyer and founder of the Center for California Homeowner Association Law, told the Associated Press.

If HOAs need to do major repairs, the board can levy a “special assessment” on top of its regular dues. When a home owner fails to pay, all of the home owners then have to step up to pick the costs.

“What many people didn't realize when they bought their homes was that the fine print gave the association the right to foreclose — even over a few hundred dollars in unpaid dues,” according to an article by the Associated Press. “All the association board has to do is alert its attorney to place a lien on the property to start the process. The home can then be auctioned by the board until the bank eventually takes ownership. Home owners typically have no right to a hearing.”

About 65 percent of HOAs have reported delinquency rates higher than 5 percent, according to a September survey by the Community Association Institute.

Source: “As More Are Unable to Pay Homeowners’ Fees, Associations Pit Neighbor Against Neighbor,” Associated Press (July 7, 2011)

10 Best-Performing Major Housing Markets

Ten of the highest performing major market metros are expected to improve their performance over the first half of the year, with five of the top 10 even expected to see modest gains, reports Clear Capital in its latest monthly Home Data Index.

While housing prices in the first half of the year were mostly negative among the metro areas, Clear Capital says the market is showing signs of stabilizing.

Top Performers
The following are the highest performing major markets based on first half 2011 data (January through June) and second half forecast, according to Clear Capital.

1. Washington, D.C.-Arlington, Va.
2. New York-Long Island, N.Y.-No. New Jersey, N.J.
3. Orlando
4. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas
5. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif.
6. Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, Mass.
7. Honolulu
8. San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, Calif.
9. Rochester, N.Y.
10. Memphis, Tenn.

Yet, only five of these markets are expected to boast home price gains in the second half of 2011: Washington, D.C., New York, Orlando, Dallas, and San Francisco, according to Clear Capital.

Worst-Performing Markets
Meanwhile, the lowest performing markets were Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, Va.; Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, Ohio; and Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minn., according to Clear Capital.

“While most individual markets are also projected to post losses for the year, it is clear prices have begun to level off and are not exhibiting as much volatility as we’ve seen since the downturn began,” says Alex Villacorta, director of research and analytics at Clear Capital.

Source: “Clear Capital Home Data Index Forecast Reveals Further Price Declines for Second Half of 2011,” Clear Capital (July 8, 2011)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

101 Fun Things for Teens to Do This Summer

Summer Fun For Teens

Here is a list of fun things for your teen to do this summer. Print it out and give it to your teen the first time they tell you they are bored. Or be proactive and give it to them before they complain about nothing to do. Many of these things can be done either with friends or alone.

1.Invent a new type of pizza3.
2.Make a music video.
3.Grow a tomato or sunflower plant.
4.Walk barefoot through the grass.
5.Build a sandcastle.
6.Have a wet t-shirt relay race4.
7.Picnic at a local park.
8.Make the best ice cream sandwich5 ever.
9.Have an overnight movie marathon.
10.Play frisbee golf.
11.Have a car wash to fundraise for a club or charity.
12.Grab a blanket, spread it out in the grass and cloud watch.
13.Make a card for a friend6.
14.Bike five miles.
15.Catch lightning bugs.
16.Eat the Best Banana Split7 ever.
17.Take a nap under a shade tree.
18.Go swimming.
19.Have a pool party8.
20.Play with water balloons9.
21.Make a summer tote bag10 out of a recycled tank top.
22.Soak in the bathtub with homemade summer bath salts11.
23.Sketch a flower that is growing in your yard.
24.Bury a friend in the sand.
25.Babysit and make paper airplanes.
26.Volunteer12 in a community effort.
27.Go fishing.
28.Sleep in your backyard, under the stars.
29.Create a photo journal.
30.Hike a rail trail.
31.Visit the local library and sign up for the summer reading list. You could win something.
32.Swap a favorite book with a friend and read it.
33.Make a friendship bracelet13 and send it to your friend.
34.Write a poem
35.Write a song.
36.Write a play.
37.Start your novel.
38.Make a website.
39.Give your MySpace/Facebook page a summery look.
40.Friend someone famous on your MySpace/Facebook page.
41.Have an outdoor basketball free-throw contest.
42.Have a watermelon seed spitting contest.
43.Sketch your pet.
44.Make smoothies14.
45.Have a high tea, only use iced-teas.
46.Help plan the family vacation15.
47.Make a root beer float.
48.Write in your journal, "My Top Ten Favorite Summertime Activities".
49.Make toe ring.
50.Paint your toe nails.
51.Make a barefoot sandal.
52.Make Hawaiian Pizza16 for your family dinner.
53.Paint your fingernails with bright sparkly polish.
54.Watch the sunrise.
55.Watch the sunset.
56.Get your community’s events list for the summer and attend an event.
57.Have a summer clothes fashion show.
58.Create a summer safety poster for the local library.
59.Volunteer to read to children at the library.
60.Learn to grill a hot dog17.
61.Learn to grill a hamburger18.
62.Learn to grill pizza crust19.
63.Eat some fruit with fruit dip20.
64.Make a collage out of old magazines.
66.Skip stones at a lake.
67.Surf/boogey board at the beach.
68.Get a new hairdo.
69.Change something about how you wear your make-up.
70.Decide to pick up one good habit21, then pick which one you’ll do.
71.Make your own popsicles.
72.Watch last year’s hot summer flick.
73.Go to this year’s hot summer flick.
74.Make a list of your favorite summertime movies in your journal.
75.Make a summer sun shaped collage out of summer fashion magazines.
76.Make a leaf t-shirt22.
77.Make a earring holder out of a branch23.
78.Make peach lemonade24.
79.Make a CD of your favorite summertime songs.
80.Enjoy a board game marathon on your backyard picnic table or on your back porch.
81.Have a scavenger hunt.
82.Make some summer jewelry25.
83.Change something in or add something to your room.(You could clean it too.)
84.Give your dog/pet a bath outside.
85.Take your dog/pet for a walk.
86.Run through a sprinkler.
87.Make a whirlpool in a kids pool or play Ice Cubes and Piggies Game26.
88.Visit a flower garden and/or butterfly house.
89.Grow some lavender so you can make your own potpourri.
90.Turn up the music and dance.
91.Go stargazing.
92.Sleep until noon – once.
93.Tie-dye your bed sheets.
94.See some fireworks.
95.See a local baseball game.
96.Play mini-golf.
97.Learn how to hula-hoop.
98.Create a sidewalk mural with chalk, use a tropical theme.
99.Organize your summer sandals and flip-flops.
100.Visit a college27.
101.Plan and enjoy a luau.

By Denise Witmer, Guide

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

6 Reasons to Reduce a Home's Price

The longer an overpriced home sits on the market, the more likely buyers will begin thinking something’s wrong with it. Help your clients avoid a long wait for the right offer by branding, printing, and hand-delivering a free article detailing 6 reasons to reduce your home’s price from the REALTOR® Content Resource.

That’s just one of five free articles to help sellers get their home sold that you can hand deliver (or post to your blog, Web site, e-newsletter, Facebook, or Twitter). You can also search the REALTOR® Content Resource by keyword or topic for other topics ranging from home improvement and maintenance to taxes and finance.

While you’re at the REALTOR® Content Resource, remember that there are only a few days left to log in to enter the REALTOR® Build-Your-Business Sweepstakes, featuring drawings for the final free iPad and the last $150 Visa gift card. All winners will be selected by April 29.

The REALTOR® Content Resource is brought to you by the National Association of REALTORS®. With it, you can download free home ownership content from HouseLogic to your marketing materials.

Is This Really a Buyer's Market?

With falling home prices and higher inventories, most of the public views real estate as a “buyer’s market,” in which buyers hold more of the control and sellers will more eagerly accept lower offers just to sell.

Not so fast, say buyers and sellers. More buyers are finding the sellers in the driver’s seat.

Buyer Young Hammack gave up looking for homes for a while after being outbid on three properties in California. "It's a false buyer's market," Hammack says. "If you think prices are cheap, wait until you start putting offers in."

Many sellers may be unable or unwilling to lower their home prices — mostly because they may be underwater on their mortgage — so buyers are increasingly finding lower offers than list price denied. Buyers, on the other hand, may be reluctant to agree to a deal if they don’t feel like they are getting it at a deep discount, industry insiders say.

Traditional buyers also are finding even buying a foreclosure can be difficult as they’re increasingly outbid by investors who are willing to pay cash.

"There's a shortage of attractive inventory," says Glenn Kelman, chief executive of Redfin Corp. "Customers just keep getting outbid on the houses that they want."

Real estate professional Steve Capen with Keller Williams Realty in St. Petersburg, Fla., says that the homes most in demand among buyers often don’t require much repair work and are located in good school districts and choice neighborhoods near transit hubs.

"What's selling is the cream of the crop, and they sell fast," Capen says. "If it's not cream of the crop, it's getting hammered."

Source: “Buyers' Market? Stressed Sellers Say Not So Fast,” The Wall Street Journal online (April 25, 2011)

Friday, April 8, 2011

4 Ways to Save on Your Cell Phone Bill

A potential $39 billion merger between two of the nation’s largest wireless carriers--AT&T and T-Mobile--could lead to higher cell phone bills, according to some experts.

Here are some cost-cutting measures to consider making now:

1. Use a family plan. You may want to find some “family” to add to your smartphone plan to start trimming your bill. AT&T, Sprint, Verizon Wireless, as well as other carriers offer family plans that aren’t just limited to those in your family. You can essentially add anyone to your “family” and still take advantage of the savings. Here’s the potential savings by bulking your plan: AT&T smartphone individual plans (which include voice, unlimited messaging and data) start at about $75 per month. A family plan that covers three users for similar features costs $145 a month--about $48 per person. A family of five? The monthly cost is $40 per person.

2. Trade in old phones. Don’t just dump your old cell phone in a drawer. Web sites such as and CellTradeUSA will let you trade your old phone for a new one. While you may have to pay a small upgrade cost, you’ll still save in having to buy new.

3. See if you qualify for a discount. Check to see if you qualify for a discounted cell phone plan if you’re a member of a national group such as AAA and AARP. Also, some wireless carriers even offer business discounts that you can apply toward your personal plan.

4. Free texting and video calls. You can curb your texting fees by using smartphone apps. For iPhone users, try Textfree With Voice; Android users might try chompSMS. (Note: These services only work with other smartphone owners who have the app.) You can also save by using video calls: iPhone users can save on calling minutes by using FaceTime video calling, and Android and iPhone users can video chat for free and also save on calling minutes by using Skype.

Source: “Here Are Smart Ways to Cut Cellphone Bill,” Orlando Sentinel (April 3, 2011)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Watch Your E-mail: 3 Spam Survival Tips

A massive security breach from Epsilon has potentially exposed the e-mail addresses of millions of customers at major banks, hotels, and stores to hackers. Security experts are warning the public that you may be at greater risk of getting spam in your e-mail inbox that will try to trick you into revealing your personal information.

Consumer Reports recently offered some spam survival tips in dealing with the Epsilon fallout:

1. Never click on an embedded link in an e-mail. Very targeted phishing attacks are expected from this latest security breach, experts warn. Security experts have warned that spammers have been creating official-looking e-mails from such banks as Citibank that try to direct customers to click on an e-mail link and update their online account. By doing so, you may be providing hackers with your personal account information. If a company is trying to contact you about important changes to your account, instead go directly to the company’s web site from your browser or contact the customer service phone number.

2. Protect your personal information. Remember: Legitimate companies will never ask customers for your personal data--such as Social Security numbers or credit card information--via e-mail. 

3. Update your anti-virus software. Spam also has a good chance of carrying viruses, malware, or even giving spammers the ability to capture everything you type, such as your account information. Make sure you have anti-virus software that is up to date to protect you from the latest viruses.

Source: “6 Tips for Surviving the Epsilon E-mail Fiasco,” Consumer Reports Online (April 5, 2011)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

7 Great Places to Retire

Sunbelt cities--traditional hotspots for retirees--don’t always offer good cost-of-living or the best place to settle down during retirement, according to Forbes’ annual list of best places to retire. While Forbes’ list takes into account numerous factors in choosing its “best retirement places,” this year it focused more on tax burden and cost-of-living.

Among the more affordable retiree cities that made the “best retirement places” list for 2011 are (listed in no particular order):

- Indianapolis: Very affordable housing.
- Fargo, N.D.: Lowest crime rate on the list and inexpensive living costs.
- Charlotte, N.C.: Affordable housing as well as cost of living.
- Charleston, S.C.: Lowest taxes of all the cities Forbes evaluated.
- Colorado Springs, Colo.: Affordable housing and low cost of living.
- Jacksonville, Fla.: No state income or estate tax.
- Pittsburgh: Tax breaks for retirees.

See Forbes’ complete list of 16 best retirement places.

Source: “The Best Retirement Places,” Forbes (March 23, 2011)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Five Tax Deductions You May Be Missing

Don’t miss out on important tax deductions that can bring savings to you this tax season.

You undoubtedly know about business-related tax deductions for your car expenses and home telephone expenses (such as long-distance phone calls and special phone services you use for business), but how about some of those lesser known tax deductions? Here are five that tax expert and author Stephen Fishman recently highlighted at Inman News.

1. Business gifts: Gifts you purchase for your customers are deductible as a business expense. The deduction is limited to $25 per person per year. Company-wide gifts, however, are deductible in any reasonable amount.

2. Continuing education courses: Those continuing education courses you’re required to take each year to maintain your real estate license can be deducted, as well as any education courses you take that improve your skill-set in your career (such as webinars). However, you can’t deduct the education expenses for starting a new career path, such as in obtaining a real estate license.

3. Greeting cards: Did you send a client a card to reach out to them and show them you care? Greeting cards you send to clients and prospects are deductible as an advertising expenses, says Fishman.

4. Web sites: Maintaining a business web site can get costly. You can deduct your business-related web site design and maintenance costs, as well as Internet hosting fees and the cost of getting a domain name for your business.

5. Business clothing with logos: Before you go on a clothing shopping spree, make sure you know what you can deduct when it comes to clothes. The business clothes deduction only applies to items with your company logo on it. While you can’t deduct a regular business suit, you can deduct the cost of a sport jacket or coat that boasts your company’s logo on it, Fishman says.

Don't forget: Tax returns are due by April 18 this year (a three-day extension was granted this year due to the weekend and holiday).

Source: “10 Tax Deductions: In Time for April 18 Deadline,” Inman News (March 18, 2011)

Monday, March 21, 2011

6 Ways to Squeeze Out Better Gas Mileage

With gas prices topping $4 a gallon, real estate professionals who use their car frequently for work are looking for ways to get as much as they can out of every gallon.

Here are some tips for getting better mileage out of your car:

1. Slow down: Most cars get the best gas mileage at 45-55 miles per hour. Driving faster than 60 mph actually can cut gas mileage anywhere from 7 to 23 percent.

2. Don't idle: If you need to wait longer than 20 seconds, you’re better off turning off your engine than keeping your car running. Restarting the car requires less gas than leaving it idling.

3. Lose the heavy load: Make sure you’re not carrying in your car more than what you need. An extra 100 pounds sitting in the trunk or back seat can reduce fuel economy as much as 2 percent.

4. Tighten the gas cap: Fuel can evaporate through gas caps with broken or weak seals. Loose or broken gas caps can cost you a loss of about 2 percent in your gas mileage.

5. Close the windows and turn off the AC: Driving with the windows open or the air conditioner turned on can be big gas wasters. Instead, the most efficient way to keep the car cool is by using the air that comes in through your flow-through ventilator.

6. Get an oil change: Improve your gas mileage by as much as 2 percent by using energy-conserving or synthetic motor oil, which can reduce engine friction.

Source: “10 Tips to Improve Your Vehicle’s Fuel Economy,” RISMedia (March 17, 2011)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Weighing an Offer: 3 Seller Tips

Sellers can feel pressure when trying to decide whether to accept a buyer offer on their home. While real estate professionals can advise clients on whether to accept an offer, the final decision is up to the seller--and it can be an agonizing one.

In the current buyer’s market, buyers aren’t shy about making lowball offers to sellers either. So when should you accept or decline an offer?
Realty Times recently offered the following questions for sellers to consider.

1. Is the buyer pre-qualified/approved? You may not want to risk a deal falling through because the buyer wasn’t pre-qualified for a loan.

2. Do you need to move quickly? If you need to move quickly--due to a job relocation or to avoid foreclosure--you may need to accept an offer that is less than what you want.

3. Can you accept a loss? Be sure to take closing costs into consideration too as you weigh whether you can even afford to agree to the buyer's offer.

Realty Times also suggests sellers take into account how long their home has been on the market and the number of showings. Such considerations also can help sellers determine whether getting a better offer soon is realistic and would be worth the wait.

Source: “Should I Accept This Offer?” Realty Times (March 15, 2011)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tax Time Less Taxing for Home Owners

With a little more than one month before income taxes are due, many of the nation’s 75 million home owners may be appreciating the value of home ownership just a bit more as they take advantage of the tax benefits of owning a home.

“Owning a home offers myriad benefits throughout the year, but some of the financial advantages of home ownership are most apparent at tax time,” said NAR President Ron Phipps, broker-president of Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I. “As many of today’s hard-working American families are feeling a financial squeeze, the tax benefits that can come from owning a home can be a welcome relief.”

A number of tax deductions and credits are still available for home owners; these include deductions – with specific limits – for mortgage interest and capital gains on home sales, and credits for certain energy-efficient home improvements. Even with these benefits, home owners pay 80-90 percent of all U.S. federal income taxes.

“It’s been suggested that many of today’s tax incentives for home ownership primarily benefit wealthy individuals, but that’s simply not true,” said Phipps. “As today’s public debate continues about what home ownership means for families, communities, and the nation’s economy, there’s no question that for many, owning a home is still the best way to begin building wealth.”

Ninety-one percent of home owners who claim the mortgage interest deduction earn less than $200,000 a year, and the ability to deduct the interest paid on a mortgage can mean significant savings at tax time. For example, a family who bought a home in 2010 with a $200,000, 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage, assuming an interest rate of 4.5 percent, could save nearly $3,500 in federal taxes when they file this year.

“REALTORS® see the very real positive impact of home ownership every day with our clients,” said Phipps. “Recent proposals to reduce or eliminate the mortgage interest deduction and remove government support of the housing finance market could have disastrous consequences for the economy, not to mention making it harder or nearly impossible for millions of families to own their own homes. We believe America must continue to invest in home ownership, for the future of our families and our nation.”

For home owner tax season tips, visit HouseLogic is a free source of information from NAR that helps home owners maintain and enhance the value of their homes and engage in issues that affect their local communities.

Source: NAR

Lemon Chicken with Olives

Serves 4| Hands-On Time: 25m | Total Time: 30m
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons lemon zest, plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
kosher salt and pepper
1 1/2 pounds chicken cutlets
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 cup pitted green olives
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc)

Mix the flour, cumin, lemon zest, and ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper on a flat plate. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and dredge in the mixture.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken in 2 batches until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.
Wipe out the skillet and return to medium heat. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the shallots and cook until soft, 5 to 7 minutes.
Stir in the olives, parsley, lemon juice, and wine and bring to a boil. Return the chicken to the pan, nestling it in the olives and shallots.
Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes.
Divide among plates.
By Susie Theodorou, February 2008

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Spring Gardening Tips

It's still wishful thinking across much of the country, but the lure of budding trees and blooming flowers has many green-thumbers pressing their noses against the window panes.

The good news? It's never too early to start planning your garden.

First, you must establish what "zone" you live in. Knowing your zone will tell you when to plant what. You can find out your zone by visiting

If the risk of freeze is over in your zone, you might be able to start getting your hands dirty!

Everyone loves to look through Spring seed catalogs and dream up their perfect garden. And every perfect garden starts with a well-thought out plan. Now is the time of year to decide what you want to watch grow and bloom this season.

Draw out plans and pick out colors. Many flower buffs prefer to group like colors together. They'll have a pink annual garden one year and a yellow the next.

Others focus their attention on larger projects, such as decks, pathways, and patios. If this is your intent this year, start your research now. Garden books and magazines are full of inspiration and how-to books can even lead you down the do-it-yourself path. You can also get pricing estimates from local home improvement stores and lumber yards.

Spring is also a time to prepare your soil. This means checking the pH to see if it needs balancing, as well as prepping the soil with compost to ensure it is full of nutrients. Compost works especially well when you add it prior to planting, and it's a natural organic way to make your garden just that much better.

You can also take this time to prune bushes and hedges, clean dirty bird feeders, and service your lawn equipment. If you hire a landscaping company to handle the heavy work for you each year, then now would be a great time to interview potential companies and decide upon a service plan.

Above all else, be sure to enjoy the process of planning and caring for your garden. It really is a rewarding hobby that keeps on giving for years to come.

Article by: by Carla Hill

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Research Firm Says U.S. Housing Has Never Been This Undervalued

The continuing depreciation of residential property values at the end of last year has made housing look more undervalued relative to income than ever before, according to analysts at the research firm Capital Economics.

Based on the latest Case-Shiller home price index, Capital Economics’ study shows that in the fourth quarter of 2010, housing was 21 percent undervalued when compared with disposable income per capital.

Looking at data included in the index published by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), the firm found that housing in Q4 was 15 percent undervalued as measured against individuals’ disposable income.

Capital Economics says its results illustrate “housing is exceptionally undervalued,” and the gap is getting bigger. In its third quarter 2010 report, the research firm pegged the Case-Shiller index readings as 19 percent undervalued and the FHFA index as 14 percent below what would constitute a balanced housing value in relation to income.

The recent fall back in house prices, coupled with low rates, explains why the initial monthly mortgage payment on a median priced house bought with a 20 percent down payment has fallen to a record low of 13 percent of the median income, Capital Economics pointed out in its report.

Home prices in 29 states hit a new cycle low in the fourth quarter of last year, and the research firm says on both

the FHFA and Case-Shiller house price indices, housing now appears close to fair value when set against rents.

Such favorable valuations mean there is plenty of scope for housing to perform well in the medium-term, according to Capital Economics, but over the next year, the firm says the combination of weak demand, high supply, and more forced sales of foreclosed properties will push prices lower.

As Capital Economics pointed out, the sharp fall in the mortgage delinquency rate at the end of last year means there are fewer homes in the foreclosure pipeline, but the elevated number of defaulted properties still in process means home values will continue to be negatively impacted by the presence of distress for some time.

On top of low prices, mortgage rates have fallen back a bit in recent weeks, leaving them even further below the 20-year average of 7 percent, the firm’s analysts wrote. Last week marked the third consecutive week that rates have continued to decline. A national survey conducted by Freddie Mac shows that the average 30-year fixed-rate has dropped to 4.87 percent, while the 15-year fixed-rate has slipped to 4.15 percent.

When you wrap declining home prices and historically low mortgage rates together, Capital Economics says, “The incredibly favorable affordability and valuation environment is the housing market’s one big positive.”

But despite this fact, mortgage applications have remained subdued. While buyer demand is notably weak by conventional standards, Capital Economics says the decrease in mortgage apps of late reflects, at least in part, the prevalence of cash buyers.

The company says the recent “de-valuing” of housing stock appears to be attracting cash buyers and investors back into the market.

They have driven 70 percent of the increase in existing home sales seen since last July, particularly among heavily discounted foreclosed homes, Capital Economics pointed out. Over that same period, first-time buyers have been responsible for just 6 percent of the increase in sales of previously owned homes.

By: Carrie Bay 03/07/2011 ©2011 DS News. All Rights Reserved.