Monday, December 7, 2009

Getting a Mortgage in 2010: Things you should know

More than three years into a painful housing crash, the real estate market has sent recent--albeit tentative--signs of stabilization. Home sales have increased, inventory levels are down, and price declines have become less precipitous. Along with more affordable home prices and a tax perk from Uncle Sam, attractive mortgage rates--which remained below 5 percent as of late November--have been a driving force behind this development. The availability of low mortgage rates will play a decisive role in the performance of the 2010 housing market as well. To help consumers better understand the requirements and costs they will face as they shop for a home loan next year, U.S. News spoke with a handful of housing market experts and compiled a list of 10 things to know about getting a mortgage in 2010.

1. Still tight: The steep run-up in home prices during the first half of the decade was fueled in large part by breezy lending standards. Some bankers handed out loans without down payments or documentation requirements. But when the housing bubble popped and those loans became massive losses, banks began raising lending standards for borrowers of all stripes. And with the labor market continuing to erode--the unemployment rate hit 10.2 percent in October--and mortgage delinquency rates setting new records, there is no reason to expect credit requirements to loosen in 2010. "Lending standards have tightened dramatically between 2007 and 2009," says Scott Stern, CEO of Lenders One, a cooperative of independent mortgage bankers. "I think there will be a little more belt-tightening in 2010."

2. Down payments: This tight credit environment affects consumers in several ways. First, down payment requirements will be higher than they were just a few years ago. Loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration are at the low end of the spectrum and come with minimum down payments of 3.5 percent. (More on FHA loans below.) Down payments on loans outside of the FHA will vary depending on the market, the borrower, and the property type. "Generally, to get the best rate around, you need at least 20 percent for a down payment," says Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance. "That doesn't mean you can't get a mortgage if you have less of a down payment . . . it just means that you are not going to get the best interest rates." Could lenders ease up on down payment requirements in 2010? Possibly. If lenders become convinced that home prices are improving, they may allow borrowers to put slightly less down. But don't expect that to occur until the end of the year--if at all.

3. Credit scores: Cecala says that borrowers will need a FICO score of at least 730 to get the best mortgage rates. They also will need to fully document their income and assets. To ensure that your credit score is as strong as possible, borrowers should access their credit reports. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act entitles consumers to one free credit report from all three major credit reporting bureaus--TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian--each year. (The free reports can be obtained at Consumers should examine each report to make sure it doesn't include any errors. "[Consumers] ought to know what their credit score is; they ought to know what's on their credit report; they ought to make sure that what's on their credit report is in fact theirs," says Rick Allen, director of strategic initiatives for Mortgage Marvel, an online mortgage shopping website. "That's a must do for everybody."

4. FHA: Borrowers who can't meet these tighter lending requirements can turn to the FHA, a federal agency that insures mortgage loans against default. Standards for FHA loans are typically less onerous than those for private lenders. The average credit score for FHA borrowers is about 690, and the minimum down payment is 3.5 percent, Cecala says. "If you can't make the 730 [credit score] or you can't make the 20 percent down [payment], the next best thing is FHA," Cecala says. The downside is that FHA loans come with additional costs. Borrowers must pay an insurance premium as well as a slightly higher interest rate, Cecala says.

5. FHA increase? With so many borrowers unable to meet today's stricter lending requirements, FHA-backed loans have become increasingly popular. Today, the FHA guarantees nearly 3 of every 10 new home mortgages. That's a stunning increase from 2006, when the agency backed roughly 3 percent of new home loans. Meanwhile, the agency's finances have deteriorated considerably. The seasonally adjusted delinquency rate for FHA loans increased from about 13 percent in the third quarter of last year to 14.36 percent in this year's third quarter. At the same time, the agency's capital reserve ratio dipped below the level that Congress mandates. In the face of mounting political pressure, the Obama administration has announced new steps that may make it more difficult for some borrowers to obtain mortgages backed by the agency. The steps include raising the minimum FICO score, increasing up-front cash requirements, and possibly charging higher insurance premiums. "We want to ensure that we are able to continue to support the housing market in the short term and provide access to homeownership over the long-term, while minimizing the risk to the American taxpayer," Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan told a congressional committee in written testimony.

Read the full story with additional things to know here:

Courtesy of U.S.NEWS

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Some Cities Unaffected by Recession

Some U.S. cities with stable housing and diversified employment have been virtually untouched by the Great Recession.

Analysts say cities that are most likely to leave the recession in the same or better condition than they started it are those where home prices didn’t fluctuate wildly, which spared them the devastating effects of foreclosure, lost jobs, and lost productivity.

If there is a lesson to be learned, experts say, it is that families looking for long-term economic stability should settle in locales with diverse employment and minimal shifts in housing values.

To identify these cities, Forbes magazine ranked the 100 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas by employment rates, the conventional mortgage home price index, and the average days on the market for properties currently for sale.

The top cities on Forbes list were:

Omaha/Council Bluffs, Neb.
San Antonio, Texas
Austin-Round Rock, Texas
Harrisburg/Carlisle, Pa.
Dallas/Fort Worth
Rochester, N.Y.
Raleigh/Cary, N.C.
Baton Rouge, La.

Source: Forbes, Francesca Levy (11/19/2009)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Texans vote for amendments that benefit homeowners

Texas voters approved three constitutional amendments that will help reform the property appraisal process, making the system fairer for property owners. Voters also passed a proposition that will strengthen protections against a government entity unfairly taking private land or homesteads through eminent domain.

Proposition 2 will ensure that property-tax appraisals value a residence homestead as a home, not at its "highest and best use."

Proposition 3 creates uniform standards across the state for appraisal methods.

Proposition 5 enables appraisal districts in two adjoining counties to combine resources for a single review board.

Proposition 11 strengthens eminent domain protections, barring government entities from taking private property for private development or for purely economic reasons.

Texas REALTORS supported these amendments because of the benefits they provide to homeowners.

Courtesy of: Texas Association of REALTORS

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Historic Time to Buy

Young people just starting to invest and buying their first homes are potentially the winners in this recession.

First-time homebuyers, most between the ages of 25 and 45, accounted for about 45 percent of home sales from January through July 2009, according to the National Association of REALTORS®

"This is a historic time," says George Jaramillo, a 35-year-old business analyst in Atlanta, who recently bought three homes, two of them foreclosures. "It's a great opportunity to make some great gains in the future."

A study by investment company T. Rowe Price points out that investing when prices are low can result in amazing gains. For instance, between 1970 and 1990, the annualized rate of return for the S&P 500 was 11.5 percent.

"We need to be shouting from the rooftops that this is not the time to get out of the market if you're young," says Christine Fahlund, a senior financial planner with T. Rowe Price. "This is the time to be in the market."

Source: The Associated Press, Chip Cutter

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Lower your energy costs with an insulated garage door

(ARA) - A leaky, un-insulated garage door may not be an obvious culprit in rising monthly utility bills, but it’s worth a second look if you have an attached garage.

Replacing an older garage door with a new, energy-efficient model can reduce energy loss through the garage door by up to 71 percent, according to a comparison study conducted by Clopay engineers.

“Since attached garages typically share one or two common walls with the house, any hot or cold that travels through a door will ultimately affect the adjacent living areas,” says Mark Westerfield, director of product development for garage door manufacturer Clopay Building Products. “An insulated garage door can help stabilize temperatures in the garage to reduce heat losses or gains from common house walls.”

Depending on the specifics of your home and attached garage construction, a well-insulated door can help keep your unheated garage 10 to 20 degrees warmer on a cold winter day. “That can have a significant impact on the comfort of family rooms or bedrooms located above or next to the garage,” says Westerfield.

Homeowners who purchase an energy-efficient garage door now through Dec. 31, 2010, will not only save on their heating and cooling bills, they may qualify for up to $1,500 in federal tax credits, thanks to the new stimulus legislation. Certain criteria apply.

Helpful tips

More than 40 percent of the current housing stock was built prior to the era of energy efficiency, according to a report by The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. If your garage door is a hold-over from the dark ages, here are some things to look for when making an upgrade:

* Two inch-thick, three-layer "sandwich” construction including environmentally safe, chlorofluorocarbon-free insulation layered between two sheets of heavy-duty galvanized steel.

* R-value or U-factor – these are measurements of the thermal efficiency of a door’s insulation. The higher the R-value, or the lower the U-factor, the more energy-efficient the insulation.

* Energy Tax Credit eligible – available for garage doors with a minimum factor of 0.30 installed on a homeowner’s primary residence.

* Insulation type – There are two different types of insulation used in garage doors; expanded polystyrene and polyurethane. Doors constructed using either kind qualify for the Energy Tax credit, and both are strong and durable.

* Design – Get the most out of your garage door upgrade. Choose a model that complements your home’s architectural style.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Down Payment Assistance Programs for 1st Time Homebuyers buying in Frisco

The Housing Trust Fund offers two Down Payment Assistance Programs designed to help low and moderate income families who work in the city limits of Frisco also purchase a home in the City of Frisco.

Program #1: The Frisco Down Payment Assistance Program
(targeted to families working in the city limits of Frisco)

Families with at least one adult working full-time in Frisco for at least 6 months can be assisted in purchasing a home in Frisco.

The program provides forgivable loans of up to $10,000 to qualified homebuyers for the purpose of down payment and closing cost assistance. The homebuyers is required to pay 50% of the closing costs.

Eligible households must be first time homebuyers (with some exceptions)

Income and purchase price limits vary by family size. Household income for a family of four (4) cannot exceed $53,200 in order to be eligible for the program (see the DPA Brochure for more details)

The Down Payment Assistance Program can be used with other First Time Homebuyer Programs to help make homeownership possible for almost everyone.

Program #2: The Frisco Targeted Down Payment Assistance Program
(targeted to City of Frisco and Frisco ISD employees)

Families with at least one adult working full-time FOR the City of Frisco or Frisco ISD for at least 6 months can be assisted in purchasing a home in Frisco.

The program provides forgivable loans of up to $5,000 to qualified homebuyers for the purpose of down payment and closing cost assistance.

Eligible households must be first time homebuyers (with some exceptions).

Income and purchase price limits vary by family size. Household income for a family of 1 or 2 cannot exceed $66,500 and 3 or more cannot exceed $76,475 in order to be eligible for the program (see the TDPA brochure for more details).

The Down Payment Assistance Program can be used with other First Time Homebuyer Programs to help make homeownership possible for almost everyone.

Source:city of Frisco Texas

Sunday, September 27, 2009

1st Time Homeowners: Cleaning House

First time homeowners: Clean house naturally with inexpensive improvements

(ARA) – You narrowed the long house-hunting search down to your favorite option, made an offer the homeowners couldn’t refuse, and are well-positioned to take advantage of that $8,000 first-time home buyer federal housing tax credit. All that’s left to do is move in.

But the excitement of making a home your own can dim the first time you open a cabinet door or look in the oven to realize not everyone shares the same commitment to good housekeeping.

Whether cleaning your new home before moving in, or looking for a way to juggle the increase in housework that comes when you move from an apartment to a larger condo or single-family home, tidying up your environment doesn’t have to be a tough or expensive task. Moving into a new place is a great time to start fresh, breaking out of old routines and trying different things, including living a more natural lifestyle at home.

“Moving into a new home can be exciting and overwhelming at the same time, but a few simple steps can ease the transition,” says Jen Singer, family lifestyle expert. “Think of it as a clean slate for your family, regardless of whether someone previously lived there.”

Start off fresh

It’s the dirty little secret of home buying – sometimes the previous owners leave a mess behind when they move out. “Even if they don’t leave a mess, you’ll still want to give your new home a good cleaning so it truly feels like you’re making a fresh start,” Singer says.

Before you settle into your new home, dust, mop and scrub everything from the ceiling to the floor. It’ll save you from feeling like you’re living in someone else’s dirt, and give you a brand new start in your new home.

Divvy the chores

You may love the fact that your new home affords you more living space, but with more space comes more chores. Start out by fairly distributing chores among family members.

“It might be fun to play with your new washing machine now, but doing all the laundry all the time will get old fast,” Singer says. “So task your spouse with grabbing a natural laundry stain remover that cleans powerfully to tackle tough stains, such as Nature’s Source Laundry Stain Remover by Shout. The line also has other natural cleaners I like to use for other chores around the home by trusted brands including Windex and Scrubbing Bubbles. They contain 99 percent or more natural ingredients; and they are affordable and available in many grocery and mass merchandise stores.”

Conquer clutter ... before it starts

It’s an unwritten law of physics – when you move into a bigger place, your furniture, clothes and other things multiply to take up all the new space. More space and more stuff can add up to clutter and ultimately, more waste.

“Resist the urge to fill your closets and counters with new things,” Singer warns. “Instead, look at new ways of using pieces you already own.”

Another clutter-cutting tactic – if you just moved boxes that you packed two moves ago and haven’t unpacked since, get rid of them. “You may not even want to open them before donating or recycling them,” Singer suggests. “After all, whatever is in them is something you’ve done just fine without for quite a while.”

Personalize with paint

Even if the sellers of your new home put a fresh coat of paint throughout the house before they left, repainting is an easy, inexpensive way to personalize your environment. “Don’t be afraid to pick colors that are a shade darker than you’d normally go for. You’ll be surprised to find how it can show off your personal style,” Singer says.

In keeping with your commitment to live naturally, look for low VOC paints, especially if you’re repainting in the winter when ventilation will be limited.

To learn more about natural living tips, visit

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Monday, September 14, 2009

Property Tax hike in Plano...

PLANO — The Plano City Council approved the city's first property tax hike in 19 years Monday night.

Taxes on $250,000 home will go up about $30 a year.

Council members said the increase is necessary because growth is simply over. Plano saw its sales tax receipts tumble 16 percent in July.

The city is hoping the moderate tax hike will help it deal with a $60 million projected deficit in the next two years.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Good Year for FHA loans

FHA Is Having Busiest Year Ever
About 25 percent of all new mortgages are backed by the Federal Housing Administration in what will probably be the busiest year yet for the federal agency.

Applications for FHA mortgages rose 50 percent from last October through mid-August 2009 and approvals for purchases, refinancings, and reverse mortgages rose 70 percent to 1.67 million.

FHA loans "are one of the most important sources in this market," says Mark Zandi of Moody's "Without FHA, the housing slide would be much more severe. We wouldn't be talking about a recovery now. We'd still be talking about a crash."

Some analysts are concerned about the risk the FHA has taken on, but others point out that borrowers with FHA-insured loans now have an average credit score of 690, compared to 630 two years ago. Borrowers with a credit score below 500 must come up with a 10 percent down payment.

Source: USA Today, Stephanie Armour (09/02/2009)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

July new US home sales up 9.6 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) -- New U.S. home sales surged 9.6 percent in July, rising for the fourth straight month and beating expectations as the housing market marches steadily back from its historic downturn.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that sales rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 433,000 from an upwardly revised June rate of 395,000. Sales are now up more than 30 percent from the bottom in January, but are still off nearly percent from the frenzied peak four years ago.

The median sales price of $210,100, however, was off 11.5 percent from year-ago levels and down slightly from $221,400 in June.

Last month's sales pace was the strongest since September and exceeded the forecasts of economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters, who expected a pace of 390,000 units.
In a kind of Cash for Clunkers effect, homebuyers are rushing to take advantage of a federal tax credit that covers 10 percent of the home price, or up to $8,000, for first-time owners. Home sales must be completed by the end of November for buyers to qualify.

Builders and real estate agents are pressing Congress for that credit to be extended. If it isn't, sales could reverse their upward trend.
As sales rise, that's likely to make builders more confident about getting going on new projects, and that's likely to lead to more jobs ins the construction industry. "These are crucial elements of a sustainable recovery," David Resler, chief economist at Nomura Securities, wrote in a research note.

Each new home built creates, on average, the equivalent of three jobs lasting one year and generates about $90,000 in taxes paid to local and federal authorities, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

There were 271,000 new homes for sale at the end of July, down more than 3 percent from May. At the current sales pace, that represents 7.5 months of supply - the lowest since April 2007. The decline means builders have scaled back construction to the point where supply and demand are coming into balance.

Courtesy of:
AP Real Estate Writer Aug 26, 11:19 AM EDT
© 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mortgage Applications Rise on Falling Rates

Mortgage applications bounced back last week with the Mortgage Bankers Association market index rising 5.6 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis compared to the previous week.

On an unadjusted basis, the index increased 4.8 percent and was up 25 percent compared with the same week a year ago.

The recent seesaw of mortgage rates has affected refinances more than purchases. The refinance index rose 6.9 percent last week after falling 7.2 percent the previous week, reflecting declining mortgage rates. The purchase index, which has trended upward gradually, rose 3.9 percent.

Here are the average performances of mortgage rates this week:

30-year fixed-rate mortgages decreased to 5.15 percent from 5.38 percent.
15-year fixed-rate mortgages decreased to 4.52 percent from 4.71 percent.
1-year ARMs decreased to 6.66 percent from 6.71 percent.

Source: Mortgage Bankers Association (08/19/2009)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

$8000 1st Time Homebuyer Tax Credit Deadline is Near

The deadline is approcahing and will be here before you know it. 1st Time Home Buyers have just a little over 100 days before the $8000 tax credit is gone.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 authorizes a tax credit of up to $8,000 for qualified first-time home buyers purchasing a principal residence on or after January 1, 2009 and before December 1, 2009.

Don't miss out on this government housewarming gift.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

5 Things to do before Putting Your Home on the Market

1. Have a pre-sale home inspection. Be proactive by arranging for a pre-sale home inspection. An inspector will be able to give you a good indication of the trouble areas that will stand out to potential buyers, and you’ll be able to make repairs before open houses begin.

2. Organize and clean. Pare down clutter and pack up your least-used items, such as large blenders and other kitchen tools, out-of-season clothes, toys, and exercise equipment. Store items off-site or in boxes neatly arranged in the garage or basement. Clean the windows, carpets, walls, lighting fixtures, and baseboards to make the house shine.

3. Get replacement estimates. Do you have big-ticket items that are worn our or will need to be replaced soon, such your roof or carpeting? Get estimates on how much it would cost to replace them, even if you don’t plan to do it yourself. The figures will help buyers determine if they can afford the home, and will be handy when negotiations begin.

4. Find your warranties. Gather up the warranties, guarantees, and user manuals for the furnace, washer and dryer, dishwasher, and any other items that will remain with the house.

5. Spruce up the curb appeal. Pretend you’re a buyer and stand outside of your home. As you approach the front door, what is your impression of the property? Do the lawn and bushes look neatly manicured? Is the address clearly visible? Are pretty flowers or plants framing the entrance? Is the walkway free from cracks and impediments?


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Housing Market on the Rise

Jul 23, 12:06 PM EDT – Dallas Morning News

June existing home sales rise by 3.6 percent
AP Real Estate Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. housing market has started to recover from the most far-reaching crisis since the Great Depression, data released Thursday shows.
Sales of previously occupied homes rose for the third month in a row in June, the National Association of Realtors reported. That hasn't happened since early 2004, during the boom.
"The turnaround in the housing market appears finally to be here and indeed may be gaining some speed," wrote Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors Inc.
Stocks jumped on the news, with the Dow Jones industrial average rising above 9,000 for the first time since early January.
Home sales rose 3.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.89 million last month, from a downwardly revised pace of 4.72 million in May. Sales were up in all four regions of the country.
It was the highest level of sales since last October and beat economists' expectations. Sales had been expected to rise to an annual pace of 4.84 million units, according to Thomson Reuters.
In another encouraging sign, the share of foreclosures on the market is shrinking. About one out of three homes sold in June was foreclosure-related, down from nearly half earlier this year.
And the glut of homes up for sale dwindled to 3.8 million. That's a 9.4-month supply at the current sales pace and another important sign of a recovery. When the market balances at a 7-month supply prices should begin to stabilize, the Realtors's group said.
That probably won't happen until next year because of a backlog of foreclosures that have yet to come on to the market. The median sales price was $181,800 in June, down 15 percent from year-ago levels but up slightly from $174,700 in May.
Nevertheless, prices have risen for three straight months in about half of the 55 major metropolitan areas tracked by the Associated Press-Re/Max Housing Report, also released Thursday.
Source: © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

10 Ways to Prepare for Homeownership

1. Decide what you can afford. Generally, you can afford a home equal in value to between two and three times your gross income.

2. Develop your home wish list. Then, prioritize the features on your list.

3. Select where you want to live. Compile a list of three or four neighborhoods you’d like to live in, taking into account items such as schools, recreational facilities, area expansion plans, and safety.

4. Start saving.Do you have enough money saved to qualify for a mortgage and cover your down payment? Ideally, you should have 3.5% to 20% of the purchase price saved as a down payment. Also, don’t forget to factor in closing costs. Closing costs — including taxes, attorney’s fee, and transfer fees — average between 2 and 7 percent of the home price.

5. Get your credit in order.Obtain a copy of your credit report to make sure it is accurate and to correct any errors immediately. A credit report provides a history of your credit, bad debts, and any late payments.

6. Determine your mortgage qualifications.How large of mortgage do you qualify for? Also, explore different loan options — such as 30-year or 15-year fixed mortgages or ARMs — and decide what’s best for you.

7. Get preapproved. Organize all the documentation a lender will need to preapprove you for a loan. You might need W-2 forms, copies of at least one pay stub, account numbers, and copies of two to four months of bank or credit union statements.

8. Weigh other sources of help with a down payment. Do you qualify for any special mortgage or down payment assistance programs? Check with your state and local government on down payment assistance programs for first-time buyers. Or, if you have an IRA account, you can use the money you’ve saved to buy your fist home without paying a penalty for early withdrawal.

9. Calculate the costs of homeownership. This should include property taxes, insurance, maintenance and utilities, and association fees, if applicable.

10. Contact a REALTOR®. Find an experienced REALTOR® who can help guide you through the process.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Home Lending Rates Falling Again

Daily Real Estate News

Rates on 30-year fixed mortgages fell to 5.14 percent for the week ended July 16, down from 5.20 percent a week before and 6.26 percent a year earlier, Freddie Mac reports.

Interest on fixed home loans has fallen in four of the past five weeks, and Freddie Mac economist Frank Nothaft says rate activity during that time has lowered the monthly payment on a $200,000 loan by $56.

Here’s a look at how other mortgage rates performed this week:

15-year fixed loans fell to 4.63 percent from 4.69 percent.
One-year adjustable-rate mortgages fell to 4.76 percent from 4.82 percent.
Five-year hybrid ARMs bumped up a notch to 4.83 percent from 4.82 percent.

Source: Grand Junction Free Press, Wyatt Haupt Jr. (07/17/09)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

New kitchen luxuries make entertaining easy

(ARA) - Entertaining at home is the perfect way to spend time with your family and friends, as nothing beats relaxing and enjoying the beautiful summer weather with your guests. Unfortunately, hosting the party has always had one down side -- being stuck in the kitchen cleaning and cooking while others enjoy the festivities.

Now, there is hope for home entertainers. New kitchen innovations provide an easy way to entertain, while adding a gourmet touch to your decor. Spend the evening socializing instead of slaving away in the kitchen.

Luxury meets technology

Every homeowner wants (and deserves) a little luxury in their home, but especially in their kitchen. Appliances are beginning to look and act more luxurious by increasing their functionality through another popular home trend -- technology. Many appliances merge lavish looks with innovation to create the perfect addition for any kitchen. These new smart appliances go beyond their traditional functions, like heating food or keeping it cold. Instead, they perform greater tasks such as collecting recipes, quickly preparing meals and keeping the pantry stocked with automated, electronic lists.

The 36-inch induction hybrid cooktop from Electrolux can really speed up your cooking, which is great for parties, keeping you out of the kitchen and engaged with your guests. You can boil water in just 90 seconds, and its Perfect Set Controls allow you to store up to 25 programmed settings to immediately raise or lower temperatures so cooking can begin at any time -- without waiting or preheating. Just input the specific settings in advance for the dishes you’ll be cooking at your next bash, and you’ll be able to get your last minute prep finished while welcoming your guests.

Appliances once only found in restaurants are now making their way into home kitchens. Ovens and microwaves aren’t the only kitchen appliances that can keep food warm; warming drawers are the newest product to be included in today’s kitchens. Dacor’s Warming Drawers feature an electric touch pad with four different settings and temperatures. This way, you’ll be able to keep all of the dishes you made in advance warm and ready to serve throughout the duration of your soiree. And best of all, the drawers can be custom made to match the rest of the cabinets in your kitchen to ensure a consistent look throughout.

Functional faucets

Kitchens can look and feel sophisticated by making a few simple changes that will easily take the look of your kitchen from average to elegant.

Increase the sophistication of your kitchen by installing a faucet with a design that brings beauty into the small space of the sink. The new Woodmere pulldown faucet from ShowHouse by Moen features a traditional sleek design, making it a great focal point at the sink. As the first traditional pulldown faucet in the ShowHouse portfolio, its high-arc spout and S-shaped handle allow Woodmere to make a bold statement and impress your guests by adding an extra element of elegance to the kitchen. The single-mount design creates less clutter, making it an ideal choice for deluxe countertops, such as granite. Clean-up in and around the sink is also a snap when you’re getting ready for your partygoers to arrive.

Woodmere offers much more than style; it also offers increased functionality that’s ideal for completing any kitchen task. The pulldown wand features three functions: pause, spray and stream. The last thing you want when company arrives is a pile of dirty dishes in your sink from all of your party prep. But the combination of Woodmere’s features and unique, patented pause button makes washing dishes quick and easy so you can avoid the clutter altogether. The faucet is available in three different finishes -- Chrome, LifeShine Classic Stainless and Oil Rubbed Bronze, to coordinate with the rest of your kitchen.

No host or hostess should miss an entertaining event by being trapped in the kitchen to babysit the stovetop or deal with the clean-up that comes with having a party. Instead, by installing luxurious and technologically savvy products, you’ll be sure to have a summer full of easy, elegant entertaining. Who says you can’t have it all?

For more information on the Woodmere pullout kitchen faucet from ShowHouse, visit or call (800) BUY-MOEN (800) 289-6636.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Friday, July 10, 2009

Mortgage Rates Drop This Week

Interest on 30-year fixed mortgages, 15-year fixed loans, five-year adjustable-rate mortgages, and one-year ARMs all fell this week, according to Freddie Mac.

The average on 30-year financing slipped to 5.2 percent from 5.32 percent a week ago.
The 15-year mortgage declined to 4.69 percent, down from 4.77 percent.
Five-year ARMs were down to 4.82 percent from 4.88 percent.
One-year ARMs fell to 4.82 percent from 4.94 percent.

Source: Los Angeles Times (07/10/09)

© Copyright 2009 Information Inc.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Get more for your money when purchasing replacement windows

(ARA) - Energy efficiency has gained national importance and window replacement is recognized as one pathway to aid in energy independence and the reduction of harmful global emissions.

Choosing replacement windows with energy-saving benefits is simple and the federal government also made it less expensive for homeowners with the signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The bill includes the opportunity for homeowners to claim a tax credit of 30 percent of the cost of eligible energy-efficient products to a maximum of $1,500 per household for 2009 and 2010 combined when used for remodeling and replacement. According to the IRS, a tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in your tax liability and can be deducted directly from your taxes owed.

While energy efficient replacement windows are included in this tax credit, not all replacement windows will qualify. Paul Delahunt, president of Renewal by Andersen, says, given the new tax credit, now is the best time to replace your leaky, worn-out windows. But he also cautions homeowners to do their homework to make sure the windows they purchase will qualify.

To qualify, windows must provide high levels of energy efficiency in two categories: reduced heat loss and reduced heat gain. The measurement for heat loss is called U-Factor and the measurement for heat gain is called Solar Heat Gain Coefficient, or SHGC. To meet the performance requirements, the window or door must have both a U-Factor and SHGC rating equal to or less than 0.30 in all climate zones in the U.S.

When comparing windows for energy performance -- and the 2009/2010 tax credit -- be sure to check the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) label that is displayed on the product. This label displays the U-Factor and SHGC ratings for the window or patio door. If the product does not have this label, then the unit does not have a certified NFRC value.

Qualifying replacement windows must be purchased and installed in a primary residence between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2010. While quality installation is a critical component of any successful window replacement project, installation costs are not included in the 2009/2010 tax credit. Your sales receipt should break out qualifying product costs separately.

In addition to your sales receipt, you will also need to save the NFRC label from each window or the Manufacturer’s Certification Statement with your tax documents.

Renewal by Andersen makes it easy for homeowners to take advantage of the new federal tax credit with its extensive selection of windows and patio doors with glass packages that meet or exceed the performance criteria to be eligible for the credit.

In fact, Delahunt says, virtually all Renewal by Andersen windows with High-Performance Low-E4 SmartSun glass are eligible for the tax credit. These same windows with SmartSun glass are up to 47 percent more energy efficient in winter and up to 70 percent more energy efficient in summer compared to ordinary dual pane glass -- making a big impact on reducing your energy bills.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The lighter side of nature-inspired home decor

(ARA) – If the words “nature-inspired decor” make you think of muted wall hues or overwrought floral fabrics, it’s time to rethink your take on this hot design trend.

Nature-inspired design can certainly be soothing, sedate and traditional, but a plethora of new products and techniques is also bringing the bold, bright and fun side of nature indoors. Whether it’s a throw pillow that looks like birch bark or a full wall mural of green bamboo, nature’s brighter side is spicing up modern American decor.

If you’re looking for fun, funky ways to bring the brighter side of nature-inspired design into your home, here are a few ideas and items to look for:

“Woodn’t” it be good …

Wood has been a beloved design element in home interiors for centuries. But you don’t have to invest in expensive hardwood floors or put up with dated wall paneling to enjoy wood’s rich beauty in your decor. Logs are the latest, and not just in log homes.

From glass tabletops perched delicately atop natural twig and branch bases, or a faux wood-grained area rug to plush throw pillows in fabric that mimics the grain of natural wood, you’re barking up the right tree by incorporating the look of log into your decor.

You don’t have to spend a dime to bring this trendy yet timeless material into your home, either. Simply take a stroll in the woods, gather some eye-catching branches, bring them home, tie with your favorite colored ribbon and use them as an accent piece above mantles, windows or doorways.

Way to do a wall

Wall murals have been around for thousands of years, and the latest twist on nature-inspired murals is bold. Forget the walls of idyllic woodland scenes that were ubiquitous during the 1970s. Modern nature-inspired murals amplify the graphic qualities and bright hues found when you take a closer look at Mother Nature’s artistry.

Zoomed in close-ups of a pebble-filled beach, bright green bamboo stalks and graceful birch trunks turn familiar natural scenes into graphic design elements that emphasize color and pattern. Each look adds a unique touch of nature-inspired drama to a room’s design. You’ll find all three murals for just $99 at, which sells easy-to-install wallpaper murals.

Whimsy away

Some nature-inspired decor is anything but serious. From parchment votive holders made out of real vegetables (at to lamps that resemble a tumble of glossy stones (, it’s easy to find the fun side of nature-inspired accessories.

Made slice by slice from fresh produce, sculptor Margaret Dorfman presses veggies into durable parchment, then fashions them into flower shapes to create inventive votive holders.

Bamboo is another versatile material that’s finding fun applications in American homes. A serene stand of miniature bamboo shoots elegantly displayed on a coffee table is a perfect foil to the vibrant, joyful color of a bamboo wall mural. A spritely bamboo window film ( can balance the rich, practical presence of bamboo flooring.

Americans’ continuing interest in the environment and eco-friendly living is sure to keep the nature-inspired home decor movement going strong. Colorful, whimsical decorator items that remind us of Mother Nature’s sense of humor are finding their place beside the more serene staples of this decorating trend.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Friday, June 12, 2009

Mortgage Rates are Rising

Mortgage Rates Reach 7-Month High
Higher interest rates put the brakes on mortgage refinancing this week, according to Freddie Mac.

The firm's weekly survey pegged interest on 30-year fixed mortgages at an average of 5.59 percent -- up from 5.29 percent last week and the highest rate since November 2008.

Other rates also climbed:

Interest climbed to 5.06 percent from 4.79 percent for 15-year fixed loans;
5.17 percent from 4.85 percent for five-year, adjustable-rate mortgages;
5.04 percent from 4.81 percent for one-year ARMs.

Freddie Mac chief economist Frank Nothaft says the gains are not affecting home purchase loans.

Source: Boston Globe (06/12/09)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Adding deck lights a simple way to enhance outdoor living

(ARA) - As summer rolls in and guests show up, the benefit of having outdoor living space for relaxing and entertaining becomes readily apparent. Homeowners love having extra space where they can hang out, and outdoor environments are a huge plus for those trying to sell or rent out a home.

Overall home improvement project budgets are shrinking in 2009, while low-cost improvements are growing in popularity with both residential homeowners and landlords who want to give their properties a little added boost, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Outdoor lighting is a popular improvement. In addition to traditional landscape lighting, deck lights, post lights and recessed path lights extend the livability of outdoor decks and patios, and offer a low-cost update with the benefit of improving the usability of outdoor spaces.

"Today it seems that the more practical the upgrade, the better. And lighting is an easy upgrade that adds instant function, ambiance and value," says Jay Savignac of Aurora Deck Lighting.

"In a down economy, people stay home more. They entertain at home more. This makes usable spaces more important than ever, and outdoor living areas remain one of the top areas for home improvement," Savignac says.

Taking your backyard deck or patio from daytime roost to night time entertainment space is easy. In fact, there have never been more product options available to homeowners for lighting up their deck or fence, and creating an inviting and usable outdoor area for night time enjoyment.

Savignac says homeowners can easily install outdoor lighting in just one weekend, or even less time if they opt for lights that don't require wiring, such as solar options.

Best of all, outdoor lighting products can be installed without the aid of an electrician and, in most communities, no permits are required. Homeowners have a variety of options to consider:

* Post lights are easy to install on the tops of deck posts and fence posts. They can be positioned directly on top of posts or mounted on the rails using special mounting brackets. Their distinctive "lantern look" offers an elegant finish to decks, and post lights are available in a variety of styles, sizes and colors that work with all sizes of posts on both decks and fences. Matching post caps are also available.

* Post lamps mount vertically on deck or fence posts and offer spot lighting, which can add security and safety in dark areas or near stairs. Post lamps on fences are a popular addition that fence builders say add value and security, as well as dramatic effect.

* Special "stair lights," like the Pyxis from Aurora, mount easily into the vertical riser on a stair to provide downlighting for safety and sure footing.

* Recessed deck lighting, like the Aurelle from Aurora, is a new product that can install under seating, in deck floor boards, or even overhead inside patio covers to add lighting using the same concept as recessed lighting indoors.

Outdoor lighting projects are easy to complete. Homeowners can choose from solar options that have no wiring requirements, or low-voltage lighting that works off a transformer and operates from a standard 110 volt power source. Outdoor lights can run off a timer or can be wired into light switches in the home for maximum control.

Your own outdoor lighting plan can be as simple or as complex as you desire. Aurora has transformers that can handle up to 50 lights, although accent lighting using as few as four or five lights can make all the difference in creating an outdoor living space that can be readily enjoyed at night.

Best of all, you can create a custom look that works for you, adding light in cooking areas, near stairs or gates, or along bench seating where guests congregate.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Monday, May 18, 2009

Water-conserving, money-saving tips for summer gardens

(ARA) - Summer 2009 may be a bit less dry than last year in some areas of the country, according to the National Weather Service’s Seasonal Drought Outlook. But it still makes sense, both environmentally and economically, to conserve water as much as possible in your gardening and landscaping efforts.

“Nothing shouts ‘green’ quite like a thriving garden or a lush landscape,” says Susan Thayer, an irrigation and water conservation expert, “. . . except, perhaps, a beautiful yard or garden that’s been nurtured with green practices that conserve precious water.”

While drought in some mid-northern areas is expected to improve, dry conditions will likely persist in areas such as California, Texas, Florida and North Carolina, according the Seasonal Drought Outlook map. One thing that isn’t likely to change anytime soon, however, is the need to cut costs and conserve resources during an economic recession.">Conserving water makes sense environmentally, and can also help your family reduce your water utility bill this summer.

It is possible to grow a thriving garden and nurture a lovely landscape while minimizing water consumption and saving money on your water bill. A combination of native-friendly plants, smart agricultural practices, alternative water sources and efficient irrigation can help keep gardens and lawns growing healthy throughout dry summer months.

Here are some tips for conserving water and saving money by reducing your water bill in your corner of planet.

* Choose drought-resistant native plants for your landscaping needs. Your options won’t be limited to cactus, either. From ornamental grasses to shrub roses, many drought-tolerant native species also offer bright color and visual appeal. Look for plants that do well in the driest conditions found in your geographic region. Your local Cooperative Extension office can help you identify plants that are right for your area. You’ll also find plenty of ideas online at sites like">Irrigate efficiently with low-volume irrigation systems and smart watering practices. Many communities now require all newly built homes to use low-volume irrigation in their landscapes. On average, micro sprinklers and drip irrigation uses 80 to 90 percent less water than traditional irrigation systems.

Irrigation manufacturers like Mister Landscaper are responding to increased consumer demand for low-volume systems by offering micro sprinkler and drip products that homeowners can easily install on their own. Mister Landscaper’s Micro Sprinkler Starter Kits efficiently and slowly irrigate flower and vegetable gardens, as well as areas where trees and shrubs grow. They are available in the plumbing department at Lowe’s Home Improvement stores or online at The system also offers a variety of retrofit products that allow you to replace or add on to an existing underground pvc sprinkler system so you can convert 120 gallons per hour (gph) heads to a 10 gph micro spray or 1-2gph dripper.

“The key is to apply water only exactly when and where it is needed,” Thayer says. Drip and micro spray irrigation provide optimum efficiency with minimum waste and over spray.

* Design your landscaping to minimize evaporation. Windbreaks and fences slow the movement of the wind over the ground and the evaporation it causes, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Postal Stamps going up 2 cents!

WASHINGTON - Peel it and weep: It'll cost an extra 2 cents to mail a letter starting Monday.

The price of a first-class stamp will climb to 44 cents, though people who planned ahead and stocked up on Forever stamps will still be paying the lower rate.

It's the third year in a row that rates have gone up in May under a new system that allows annual increases as long as they don't exceed the rate of inflation for the year before.

Courtesy of Associated Press

Friday, May 1, 2009

What You Should Know When Shopping for a Water Heater?

ARA) – How’s your relationship with your household appliances? You open your refrigerator every day and run the dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer several times each week.

But how often do you think about your water heater? You use it every day, usually multiple times a day. When was the last time you thought about how much energy it consumes or how well it’s doing its job?

Heating water can account for 14 to 25 percent of the total energy consumed in your home, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Choosing the">right water heater for your home and regularly maintaining it can help reduce your energy bills. What’s more, you can actually get a tax break for choosing an energy-efficient water heater.

Under the new American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, if you install a natural gas or propane water heater with an Energy Factor (EF) rating of at least .82, or 90 percent thermal efficiency, you could qualify for a tax credit of up to 30 percent of the total cost of installing the heater, including labor, up to a maximum of $1,500. In addition to the potential tax savings, many utility companies now offer rebates to homeowners who install new, energy-efficient water heaters.

So how do you choose the right water heater for your home? Here are some tips:

The Department of Energy advises you to consider several factors, including the type of fuel available to your home (gas, oil or electric), the size of your home, the energy efficiency rating of the water heater you’re considering, and the annual operating costs of different types of water heaters. The size water heater you need will vary based on the size of your home, how much use you anticipate it will get and the type of heater you’re considering.

It’s important to know the differences between standard water heaters and">high-efficiency models. For example, the Vertex high-efficiency water heater, produced by A. O. Smith, replaces the straight exhaust pipe found in standard gas models with an innovative helical coil inside the tank. Conventional heaters lose roughly 25 percent of their energy through the exhaust. Tankless heaters don’t fare much better, clocking efficiency levels of just 80 to 84 percent. The Vertex’s special design boosts efficiency to 96 percent, saving homeowners money on their gas bill and providing more hot water faster than conventional models.

Even if your water heater is currently working, if it’s an older, inefficient model, you could reap real cost benefits by replacing it with a more energy-efficient one. The average lifespan of a water heater is 12 to 14 years. If yours is approaching the end of its usable life, it’s a good idea to research your options and decide on a proactive replacement. If you find yourself without a functioning water heater and no plan for replacing it, you’ll be more likely to go for the quickest, cheapest option available – which might not be the best choice for your needs.

Five categories of water heater are now Energy Star rated, including high-performance gas storage, whole-home gas tankless, advanced drop-in or integrated heat pump, solar and gas condensing. For each type of water heater, the Energy Star rating can help you determine just how energy efficient a model is.

Finally, be aware that opting for energy efficiency doesn’t mean you’ll have to sacrifice performance in terms of how much hot water you’ll get and how quickly. In fact, modern energy-efficient heaters like the Vertex can produce more hot water, more quickly and for less money than other models of comparable size. The enhanced performance fits well into Americans’ busy lifestyles with high demand for hot water.
Courtesy of ARAcontent

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Is Now a Good Time to Buy a House in Texas?

Buying a house is a big step. The right time to take this leap depends on your financial and personal situation as well as your goals. If you are considering buying a house now, here are some strong reasons why the timing could be right:

  • Housing prices in Texas have been steadily rising at a moderate pace for many years, even while other states have experienced wild price fluctuations.

  • If you’re a first-time buyer (not owning a principal residence in the last three years), you may qualify for a tax credit of up to $8,000. This federal tax credit expires Dec. 1, 2009.

  • Other Texas-specific programs can lower your interest rate or provide additional tax-credit incentives.

  • Interest rates are at or near record lows. Even small reductions in the interest rate can significantly boost the purchase price you can afford when buying a home. Texas has one of the most affordable housing markets compared to household income, according to the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University.
  • Our state’s economy is strong and diverse, and the population is expected to continue growing steadily. These factors all point to continued health in the housing market.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Planning a Vegetable Garden

During World War II, Americans responded to pressure on the public food supply by growing fruits and vegetables at home. These “Victory Gardens” were planted in backyards and on apartment rooftops, in big cities and small rural towns, and in every corner of the country. A homespun solution to a national problem, Victory Gardens came to be a part of everyday life in America.

Today, some people are re-purposing this wartime effort on the home front into a modern strategy to combat rising grocery bills, economic uncertainty and global warming.

Why Garden at Home?

Having a vegetable patch right outside your door has many benefits. Most notably, growing your own vegetables is an easy way to save money on groceries. A small investment in seeds and supplies combined with just a little sweat equity can reap pounds of fruits and vegetables over one season. Canning or jarring the surplus from each crop allows you to enjoy the bounty of your harvest throughout the year.

In addition to the economic benefit, home-grown vegetables are fresher and often more flavorful than grocery store produce. By taking charge of your own greens, you needn’t be concerned about unknown chemical pesticides affecting the vegetables you eat.

Gardening can have intangible benefits as well. Many amateur horticulturists use time in the garden as a stress reliever – a chance for alone time and peaceful reflection. Gardening doesn’t have to be a solitary activity, however: growing vegetables can be a great outdoor activity for families and a fun way for children to help the household. Local gardens also help fight global warming, they eliminate the need for fuel to transport food thousands of miles from farm to table.

Where Will Your Garden Grow?

You don’t need to have a large available space at home in order to start a vegetable garden. A well-tended smaller garden will actually yield more vegetables than a larger counterpart that is ill-managed. If you live in an apartment or if space is very limited, you can choose to grow in containers housed on a deck or balcony.

Regardless of your garden’s size, there are some key requirements for successful growing:

Sunlight – Most vegetables require anywhere from six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day. Plants that don’t get enough light typically bear less and are more susceptible to attacks from diseases or pests. Leafy vegetables such as spinach and lettuce can be grown in the shade if you don’t have access to a spot in full sunlight. Cool-season varieties such as peas can also be grown in partial shade.
Water – Most vegetables require regular water in order to survive. While a full-scale irrigation system isn’t necessary, the closer your garden is to a water source the easier time you will have keeping vegetables well-watered.
Soil – Plants tend to thrive in moist, well-drained soil rich in organic nutrients. When using containers to grow vegetables, make sure to use a potting mix designed for containers (most contain equal parts clean sand, perlite, vermiculite, potting soil and peat moss).
Convenience – Many home gardeners like to locate their vegetable patch close to the kitchen, making it easier to harvest fresh produce while cooking. If your only suitable growing spots aren’t conveniently located, consider keeping a few favorite potted veggies on handy indoor counters.
What to Plant?

The next step is to determine what you’ll be growing in your garden. Begin by examining the types of vegetables your family eats throughout the year. First time gardeners have been known to plant more than they either need or can manage. To begin, follow the old adage that “less is more." Seed catalogs can help you narrow down your choices, or you may seek help at your local home and garden store.

Remember that certain types of vegetables such as peppers and tomatoes produce throughout the year, while others such as carrots or corn produce only once. You may need to plant more of the latter as a result. During your first growing season, you may want to plant several varieties of each vegetable to determine which will grow best in your garden.

Row Cropping Vs. Intensive Cropping

Home gardens typically adhere to two basic designs:

Row Cropping – vegetables are planted in single file rows with a walking path between each row. This layout is especially effective for larger gardens, and allows space to use mechanical tillers and for weed control. The drawback of row cropping is that fewer vegetables are planted in a given area, making it less suitable for small gardens.

Intensive Cropping – vegetables are planted in wide bands from one to four feet across. The closer spacing of the plants usually necessitates hand weeding. Because of this, the width of the bands should not exceed easy reach. Intensive cropping allows for more flexible garden layouts. Many gardeners will leave certain areas unplanted initially, allowing additional crops to be planted and harvested later in the season.


Vegetables generally require a steady supply of water. If you have indoor/covered plant containers or if rain isn’t plentiful, you’ll need to handle watering detail. Always water when the topmost inch of soil is dry. In-ground crops may require watering once or twice a week, while faster-draining raised beds or containers will likely require watering every other day.

For maximum results, consider applying a packaged vegetable fertilizer. Always follow the provided instructions and avoid applying more than the recommended amount. If you are planning an organic garden, you’ll want to dig in high quality compost during the initial planting. Organic fertilizers may also be used if desired.

Weeds are the bane of every gardener: they compete with your vegetables for nutrients and water. Discourage weed settings by using a hoe or hand fork to regularly stir the top inch of soil (this is known as cultivation).

Courtesy of RE/

Thursday, April 9, 2009

5-year Commercial "TALF" Loans in Works

The Federal Reserve might compromise with commercial real estate owners and investors and lengthen the terms of the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF) loans from three to five years while upping the interest rate.

Commercial real estate interests have been pressuring the Fed to extend TALF loan terms, but the Fed prefers to keep them short as a tool to fight inflation. Real-estate investors say a longer term is critical because an extra couple of years will help stabilize the market, which faces a mound of debt coming due in the next three years.

Charging higher rates for longer terms, “as a compromise, seems like it meets the needs of both sides,” said Louis Crandall, chief economist at Wrightson ICAP LLC. “It’s the certainty of the funding, and providing certainty goes a long way to address those concerns.”

Courtesy of Bloomberg, Scott Lanman (04/08/09)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Don't stay on the Fence about buying a Home

Daily Real Estate News | April 3, 2009 | Share
A Record Low for Mortgage Rates, Again
Just one week after 30-year mortgage rates fell to a record low of 4.85 percent, the average dropped even further to 4.78 percent this week, Freddie Mac reported.

Refinancing activity has picked up because of the low rates, and the Mortgage Bankers Association says approximately 80 percent of mortgage applications came from borrowers seeking to refinance.

Source: Boston Globe (04/03/09)

© Copyright 2009 Information Inc

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spring Home Deals are Healthy for Those Who Know the Score

(ARA) – Motivated sellers, builders offering deep discounts and incentives, historically low mortgage rates, plenty of inventory and fierce competition for qualified borrowers –it’s actually a great time to be buying a house. If your credit score is good, you’re in an even better position to negotiate the loan on the home of your dreams this spring.

Spring has always been a popular time to buy a new home. More people put their homes on the market when the weather is warm, and a wealth of inventory is available. With winter thawing into distant memory, home shoppers are ready for a fresh start in a new house. Buying a home in spring will help new homeowners ensure they move their families during the summer, and not at the beginning or in the middle of the school year.

With plenty of housing opportunities and low interest rates currently available, it pays to ensure you’re in a position of power when you go home shopping this spring. Here are some simple tips for ensuring you’re in the driver’s seat when buying a house:

Know Your Credit Score

You may not be able to control the economy, but your credit score is a financial reality you do have control over. The higher your score, the more likely you are to be able to negotiate lower interest rates when mortgage hunting.

Before you look at a single house, find out what your credit score is. Sites like give you access to your free credit report -- which will show potential lenders your payment history and help them decide if you’re a good or even great credit risk. Through the Web site, you can also get your credit score from Experian, one of the three top credit bureaus lenders turn to when evaluating the credit-worthiness of potential borrowers.

The better your score, the better your chances of scoring a great loan, so take steps to improve your score, such as paying off credit cards quickly, paying bills on time and minimizing your use of  revolving credit. Errors can occur and if you find some on your credit report, work directly with the credit bureaus to have them corrected.

Know the Playing Field

Once you’re confident you have a powerful credit score, research the market where you’re interested in buying. In addition to considering the quality of schools, proximity to work, entertainment and amenities a neighborhood has to offer; consider the number of foreclosures in an area and how much home values have dipped in the past year.

Is the neighborhood you’re interested in poised to regain value quickly when the real estate market rebounds? Recovery speed could be an important consideration if you plan to stay in the home only a few years. If you’re in the home for the long haul, you may be less concerned about how quickly home values in the neighborhood will improve.

This spring can be a great time to start fresh in a new home. To ensure you’re well-positioned to take advantage of the great housing deals, visit first to learn about your free credit report.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Home Inspection Helps Ensure Dream Deals Don’t Turn into Nightmares

(ARA)  - You found your dream deal on a foreclosed home, but will that great price tag come with a different kind of higher cost? Buying a repossessed property, short sale or a home offered at a bargain price -- because of its condition -- can mean you’re assuming much higher risks.

Repossessed and short sale homes are often abandoned and neglected, leaving them with  much more potential for unforeseen structural defects, plumbing, electrical, heating systems, environmental issues and many other problems. Fixing these woes can cost far more than the financial savings from a distressed property purchase. There also may be unknown defects, such as mold or radon, that could affect your family’s health and safety.  

Still, it is possible to get a dream deal on a distressed home. Before you sign on the dotted line, be sure to have the house thoroughly inspected by a professional, so you can reduce these potential risks as well as financial costs. A home inspector can help you identify potential problems in the home you’re considering buying, so you know in advance what you’re getting into -- and what you should walk away from.

There are many ways to find a home inspector, including consulting family, friends, your attorney, real estate professional or mortgage professional. You can also find information on inspectors across the country on, the Web site of The American Society of Home Inspectors, the organization that sets the standards of practice for the inspection industry.

Homebuyers aren’t the only ones who can benefit from a home inspection. If you’re selling your home, having it inspected before you list it may help sell your home in less time and for more money.  Moreover, homeowners can benefit from maintenance inspections, such as an energy inspection, which can help reduce monthly energy costs, and a home safety inspection that can help seniors stay in their homes longer.

* Ask the inspector how he operates.  What format will the report be in? Ask for sample reports.

* Talk with each candidate to see who is the best fit for your needs and comfort, as well as for the property being inspected.

* Check all references. Don’t automatically go with the lowest price. Remember, the old adage is often true -- you get what you pay for.

* Attend the inspection to ensure you get the best value -- and most information -- for your investment.

A home inspector can be your best ally in ensuring your dream deal doesn’t turn into a nightmare. Visit and take the Virtual Home Inspector Tour to see and hear more about home inspections.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Home Purchase: Deal or No Deal?

Deal. If you are contemplating buying a home, now may be the perfect time to make a purchase -- if you have the money and a secure job.

Real estate sales have sagged in many parts of the country as buyers have been frozen in the headlights of the economic downturn. As a result, prices are falling in many markets.

"If I could buy real estate right now, I would," says Amy Bonis, a certified mortgage planner with Alera Financial in Raleigh, N.C. "It's clearly a buyer's market. If you can buy a house that is undervalued, it's like, what shade of green do you want?"

In addition, mortgage rates have fallen near historic lows, substantially reducing the cost of financing for buyers with good credit.

Bonis says buyers who act now rather than wait are likely to see the best return.

"Somebody has to start buying, and when they do, there are going to be more buyers on the market, which is going to cause home prices to go up," she says. "When you stimulate home prices to go up, that affects the economy in a positive way, which raises interest rates. What people don't realize is, by the time they hear that things are better, (their opportunity) is already gone."

View more popular articles
More from Yahoo! Sources

Monday, March 2, 2009

How to Use the Internet to Save Money

(ARA) - Cutting costs, pinching pennies, shopping smarter -- more and more people are reacting to the current economic crisis by changing how and where they spend money. For some people, it may mean fewer restaurant dinners and more home cooking. Others are making bigger changes to save a few dollars and gain control of their finances.

Not every adjustment has to be dramatic, however. There are ways to save significant amounts of money without leaving the house -- or even getting out of bed. With more than 84 million people having broadband Internet access at home, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a few mouse clicks can easily benefit your wallet.

The Internet has changed the way people communicate, discover and engage with others. It has also changed the way people manage their money. People regularly bank, trade, do business and shop online. Today, 40 percent of U.S. households bank online -- one-third more than in 2003 -- according to financial consulting firm TowerGroup. According to the Nielsen Global Online Survey, in 2008, more than 85 percent of the world’s online population has used the Internet to make a purchase -- up 40 percent from 2005.

“The price you pay for the things you need is not set in stone,” says Paul Ford, CEO of “Insurance, for example, is one of the biggest non-discretionary expenses for any family. What most people don’t realize is that you can -- and should -- shop around for insurance just like you shop around for a car or a house. With the technology available today, it’s easier than you might think.”

Here are just a few ways that consumers can use the Internet to take some pressure off their pocketbooks.

Check online for coupons and promotional codes.

In lieu of eating out frequently, many people are doing more grocery shopping and cooking at home. Many major grocery stores post coupons, offers and other promotions online that can easily lead to increased savings in a fraction of the time it takes to clip coupons in the traditional sense. Likewise, many online retailers circulate "promo codes" that can be redeemed at checkout for additional savings. Before completing an online purchase checkout, do a quick Internet search. Visit sites like or to save.

Shop around for insurance quotes.

Insurance, whether for your car, home, health or business is something most people cannot go without. However, many people never think to shop around for a better insurance quote because they see insurance as an expense that isn’t negotiable, or they think they’re stuck in their current policy until it runs out. This is simply not the case. People can switch at any point in their policy, without penalty, and can often find a better deal by shopping around. Better yet, people can use quote-shopping sites, such as, and receive insurance quotes from multiple interested agents without the hassle of filling out multiple requests. It can be a simple way to greatly reduce the amount people pay for insurance. After all, if you have to pay for it anyway, you may as well get the best deal you can.

Save on gas by mapping out travel routes.

Instead of taking the same route to work, friends’ houses or places of interest, consider mapping out a more cost-effective route by using online mapping services. The less time you spend driving from point A to point B, the less you’ll have to spend on gas. Web sites such as or GoogleMaps can change the way you travel and how much it costs to get there. You might find a time-saving shortcut that you never knew existed.

Don’t waste money on the wrong products -- read reviews first.

Almost every online retailer features customer reviews and ratings for each of their products. If you must make a large purchase, there can be immense benefit in taking the time to read what other people are saying about that product before you buy. Consider checking out or If the buzz indicates that a particular product is not worth the money -- or that a similar product does the same thing for less -- reconsider the purchase and look into other options. And if you happen to find what you’re looking for, check out the sites listed above for promotional codes.

People can get very creative when it comes to shaving a few pennies off their expenses. Before resorting to dramatic, cumbersome methods of saving money, explore the options above and other innovative ways the Web can be a tool for reducing your financial burden.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Friday, February 27, 2009

1st Time Homebuyers-Stimulus Tax Credit

* Qualifying taxpayers can claim 10 percent of the purchase price up to $8,000, or $4,000 for married individuals filing separately. The amount of the credit begins to phase out for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income is more than $75,000, or $150,000 for joint filers. The Housing and Economic Recovery Act defines (in part) a first-time homebuyer as one who has not owned a principal residence during a 3-year period prior to purchase. Qualification for tax credit based upon first-time homebuyer status, income, purchase price of home and other Act and IRS requirements. You must consult your tax professional for complete tax credit details. A summary of the tax credit, for general guidance only, is found at

Courtesy of Federal Housing

Thursday, February 26, 2009

How to Stay in Shape Like the 1st Family

(ARA) – The newly installed first family is young, vibrant and providing inspiration for millions of Americans to get active. What are some of the Obamas’ favorite fitness activities and how can you stay in shape like the newest residents of the White House?

The first, and perhaps biggest, step is to make time to get up and get moving. The president and first lady show that even with a very busy schedule, you can find the time to stay fit and healthy. Make a date on your calendar to work out and keep it. Participate in a variety of activities to keep it interesting and work out with a friend or family member so you can motivate each other.  

The President

He may be just about the busiest man on the planet, but President Barack Obama still makes time to stay in shape. He enjoys running, swimming and, most famously, playing basketball.

Running is great aerobic exercise that efficiently burns calories and boosts cardiovascular health. Whether you jog on a treadmill or enjoy running outdoors, make sure you have a pair of running shoes that fit properly. Before you begin running, it’s crucial to stretch and warm up properly to prevent any injuries.

Swimming is a great way to work the whole body, but is much more low-impact than running. While most people don’t have the benefit of an on-site pool like at the White House, the health benefits of swimming make it worth the trip to your local community pool. Swimming improves cardiovascular health, endurance and muscle strength and an hour in the pool burns about as many calories as running six miles.

If your goal is to shoot hoops with the president, you’ll have a lot of practicing to do, but you’ll certainly get in shape in the process. In addition to burning hundreds of calories, a game of basketball with friends or family is a great way to have fun.

The First Lady

Michelle Obama has become a style icon and a role model for women worldwide. She makes it a priority to go to the gym to swim and use free weights and makes sure to use time with daughters Malia and Sasha to stay active. Her friends have said she is a motivated and accurate rope-jumper, an activity that can burn 100 to 200 calories in just 10 minutes.

The first lady has also been known to pick up a hula hoop and strut her stuff. Her husband told “People Magazine” that Mrs. Obama is, “The best hula-hooper I know.” Hula hooping is a low-impact exercise and, according to the American Council on Exercise, burns up to 200 calories when you work out for 30 minutes. You can burn even more calories and trim up to 2-inches from your waist if you use a piece of equipment such as a Sports Hoop -- a weighted hoop you swivel for just 10 to 15 minutes to tone muscles and burn calories and fat ( It’s a workout that is fun and so easy the entire family can hoop together, even the kids.

One of the most important fitness items Michelle Obama says she keeps on hand is a positive body image. When you feel good about yourself and keep a positive attitude, you’re more likely to stick to healthy behaviors and habits.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Does Moving Up Make Sense?

These questions will help you decide whether you’re ready for a home that’s larger or in a more desirable location. If you answer yes to most of the questions, it’s a sign that you may be ready to move.

1. Have you built substantial equity in your current home? Look at your annual mortgage statement or call your lender to find out. Usually, you don’t build up much equity in the first few years of your mortgage, as monthly payments are mostly interest, but if you’ve owned your home for five or more years, you may have significant, unrealized gains.

2. Has your income or financial situation improved? If you’re making more money, you may be able to afford higher mortgage payments and cover the costs of moving.

3. Have you outgrown your neighborhood? The neighborhood you pick for your first home might not be the same neighborhood you want to settle down in for good. For example, you may have realized that you’d like to be closer to your job or live in a better school district.

4. Are there reasons why you can’t remodel or add on? Sometimes you can create a bigger home by adding a new room or building up. But if your property isn’t large enough, your municipality doesn’t allow it, or you’re simply not interested in remodeling, then moving to a bigger home may be your best option.

5. Are you comfortable moving in the current housing market? If your market is hot, your home may sell quickly and for top dollar, but the home you buy also will be more expensive. If your market is slow, finding a buyer may take longer, but you’ll have more selection and better pricing as you seek your new home.

6. Are interest rates attractive? A low rate not only helps you buy a larger home, but also makes it easier to find a buyer.

Courtesy of

Friday, February 13, 2009

Top Spring Projects for your Lawn and Garden

(ARA) - With the weather beginning to warm across the country, many people are venturing out into their yards to begin the process of turning what was once a winter wonderland into a lush green escape. The task might look overwhelming at first, but with a little help from the experts, you can have a fresh-looking lawn and garden in no time.

According to Lou Manfredini, Ace’s “Helpful Hardware Man,” there are three projects that every homeowner should do to spruce up your lawn and garden: Prune your shrubs and trees, grow new grass and plant brightly colored flowers.  “The best part about these projects,” says Manfredini “is that anyone can do them, and once they are finished they make a big difference."


Pruning works by cutting away the excess growth and dead weight that keeps your shrubs and trees from filling out. By trimming this away, more buds will be able to show, allowing you to cultivate a stronger, more vibrant plant.

“One thing to remember is not to over-prune,” says Manfredini. “Too much pruning will shock your plant and could inhibit growth.” To avoid this, hold out your first two fingers; if these were stems on a plant you would never want to cut below your first knuckle.

As with most home improvement projects, it’s very important to have the right tools on hand. Certain pruners, such as rose pruners, are made specifically for roses, while head shears can be used on most heavy-duty pruning projects.  Make sure you purchase pruners that are sturdy enough to do the job and feel comfortable and manageable in your hand. If you already have pruners, consider having them sharpened at your local hardware store before you begin working.  You’ll notice the difference immediately.

Grow New Grass

After lying dormant for a few months, your grass might need a little coaxing to get it to its pre-winter state. To prepare your lawn, thatch it by lightly running a rake across the top to pick up any sticks, leaves, debris or dead grass.

Next you will need to purchase grass seed that is indigenous to your area and that will grow with the amount of shade your lawn has. You’ll need to purchase between 2 to 4 pounds of seed for every 1,000 feet you are planting. Spread the seed either by hand or with a mechanical spreader that you can rent at your local hardware store, but be sure to keep it even.

Once your seed is down, it’s a good idea to lay fertilizer and water the entire lawn. In the weeks and months to come, be sure your lawn gets at least 1 or 2 inches of water a week, either naturally or from a sprinkler.

Plant Flowers

Flowers can spruce up any landscape design. Consider adding them around the base of a tree or on either side of your walkway.

“Consider purchasing established plants rather than seeds as they are easier to grow,” explains Manfredini. “And look for bright colored plants like impatiens or black-eyed Susans.”

Before planting, you’ll need to make sure your soil is prepared. Loosen the soil in the area where you plan on planting and add an organic matter like peat moss to help give the plant more nutrients.

Next, dig a small hole, just deep enough to fit the roots of your plant and place the plant inside. Once the plant is in the hole, fill it in with dirt and lightly pack it down. Don’t forget to water and fertilize the plant regularly and you’ll have gorgeous flowers for months to come.

For more lawn and garden tips and advice, visit

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Monday, February 9, 2009

Simple Steps to Achieve a Better Credit Score

(ARA) – Americans are dealing with the credit crunch by keeping cash on hand. In the process, however, the average consumer is paying 2.6 bills late every month, according to the Western Union Payment Services Money Mindset Index.

Unfortunately, late fees and additional unnecessary charges can stack up quickly, depleting your cash flow and harming your credit score. Here’s how it works:

The longer you maintain a track record of paying your bills on time, the better your credit score, according to the Fair Isaac Corporation, which created the FICO score, more commonly known as a credit score. Your bill payment history accounts for 35 percent of your credit score, which is used to determine your eligibility for mortgages, auto loans, credit cards and other financing.  

However, late fees can lower your credit score -- and there’s no quick fix. When you apply for a loan, a low score may hinder your efforts to secure funds.  

“Managing your finances can feel like a juggling act that won’t end,” says David Shapiro, senior vice president of Western Union. “Flexible payment plans can help consumers keep their cash flow strong by timing the paying of bills to when they get their paychecks. This allows you to avoid late charges and risking credit standing. Over time, consumers can build a strong credit history, allowing them to finance a car or a home when they are ready.”  

In tough economic times, Shapiro and other experts say, lenders will scrutinize your credit score even more. Many credit offerings and debt consolidation loans may seem advantageous, but can actually lead to debt disaster. Here are simple tips for avoiding unnecessary fees and maintaining a good credit score:


* Avoid credit agencies that charge fees to improve your credit score. You can go online to reputable sites such as or and receive free advice.

* Research flexible payment plans that allow you to make smaller, more frequent affordable payments, such as paying a bill twice a month, but at smaller increments that suit your monthly budget.  

* Pay off credit card debt. Maintaining low balances can show your ability to manage bills and can increase your credit score over time. Once you pay it off, try to only carry a balance that you can pay off in a month. Paying off your balance each month in full can help your credit score.

*  Consider same-day payments. You can maximize cash flow by paying your bill the same day it is due. For example, you can make an in-person cash payment at more than 45,000 Western Union Agent locations, and receive proof of payment within minutes. Visit to find the closest agent near you.

* Check your credit report. You can get a free report at or by calling (877) 322-8228. If you see a mistake, take necessary steps to get the mistake corrected as soon as possible.

* Learn more about credit scores. Download a free educational brochure from Fair Isaac Corporation’s Web site,

Just a few simple steps can make a big difference in managing your finances. Once you have a plan in place, what seems like a juggling act will turn into a smooth transition.  

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Simple Tips to "Green" Your Yard & Your Pocket

(ARA) – It’s never too early to get a jumpstart on planning a more beautiful backyard. Maybe you are looking forward to inhaling the perfume of flowers wafting through the air, clipping buds from your prize-winning rose bushes, or simply enjoying the beauty of a lusher, more verdant backyard oasis this year.

Here are some tips to help you to make that dream a reality, in a "greener," more cost-conscious way:

* Switch over to a push lawn mower or electric mower this year. Overall they're traditionally lower in price, save you money at the gas pump and also provide you with healthy exercise.

* Use a landscape fabric like Weed-X  or Weed Shield to protect your investment in expensive perennial and annual plants. Unlike other landscape fabrics or simple black plastic, these fabrics are the only products proven to prevent weed roots from penetrating the soil from above, and prevent existing weeds from growing up through the fabric. Also, since these landscape fabrics help soil retain its moisture, thereby conserving water, and eliminate the need for toxic or harmful chemical weed killers, you’ll save yourself time, money and help contribute to conserving our Earth’s resources. The fabrics are guaranteed to work for 20 years, reducing the amount of waste you create.

* Decorate your yard with carriage and porch lights, but install them on an "as needed basis" with a motion detector light system. This way you can still enjoy your landscaping after dark, but don't need to worry about wasted electricity or unnecessarily large utility bills.

* Build or purchase a rain barrel to capture water draining from your gutters and downspouts. These barrels work to provide you with fresh water for your plants in between showers, but also prevent soil runoff from where the spouts dump water in your grass.

* If you are dealing with hungry critters in your yard, avoid using expensive toxic chemical pesticides which can be dangerous for pets and children. Instead install a scarecrow device, like Dalen's Rotating Head Owl or their Holographic Scaretape. These scarecrows effectively and humanely deter destructive yard pests like rabbits, birds, squirrels and gophers while depending on wind and sun for movement, eliminating the need for electricity or batteries.

Visit for more ways to save money and keep your garden even "greener" this summer and for years to come.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Simple Secrets to Work Smarter & Save Money by Getting Organized

(ARA) – In today’s economy, when one overlooked deadline can cost you business or your job, and one late bill can lower your credit score, it’s important to have the edge that organization gives you in both your personal and professional lives.

Working moms especially need superior organization and scheduling skills, as 60 percent say they have more household responsibilities on their plate this year than they did in 2008, according to a survey of 500 working mothers by Braun Research on behalf of Office Depot.  Eighty-seven percent say they want to be more organized this year, and 65 percent believe that being well organized will help their families save money.

“Being organized and working smarter starts with creating new habits and systems,” says Monica Ricci, Office Depot’s organizing expert. “By making small changes and choosing the right products for their needs, busy professionals and moms can dramatically improve their productivity as well as save money in 2009.”

Ricci offers some simple advice to help you get organized:

Work Smarter

* Learn to delegate. Just because something needs to be done, don’t think you are the only one who can do it. Focus on your core strengths and delegate other tasks to trusted colleagues and outside vendors who can do the job quicker and better than you.

* Lighten your load when traveling. When you fly, save time and checked bag fees by carrying everything aboard in your carry-on bag. Opt for a light, travel-friendly laptop like the Acer Aspire Netbook. Taking everything you need on board allows you to work on the plane and hit the ground running, without having to wait at a baggage claim carousel.

* Set up for business at home. If you are thinking about starting a business out of your home, create a separate workspace by purchasing essential supplies such as a separate business phone, all-in-one printer, computer you can take on the go, data protection service like the HP Upline Data Storage Service and a shredder like the Fellowes Jam Proof Shredder to dispose of confidential customer information.

Get Organized to Save Money

*Trade in outdated technology for cash. Outdated computer peripherals, cameras, monitors and other equipment can clutter your work environment and slow you down. Take advantage of technology trade-in programs that allow you to bring in certain electronic items for a cash credit. Office Depot’s Tech Trade-In Service provides store gift cards for customers that trade in their old technology. Simply visit for a free estimate on the value of your product.

*Create a bill-paying system. In today’s economy, on-time payments have never been more important, yet over half (58 percent) of working moms say they’ve forgotten to pay a bill on time. Save money by creating a bill paying station in your home.  Set up an “Inbox” and “Outbox” for all your bills.

*Buy only what you need. Retailers like Office Depot are now repackaging essentials like Sharpie’s in single packs so you save money and get only what you need for the time being.  Don’t purchase anything without getting added value in this economy – sign up for loyalty programs and look out for bundled product offerings to save.

Smart Tax Tips

* Don’t wait until April to begin sorting your receipts and tax documents from last year. Organize them throughout the year by collecting, sorting and categorizing tax-related paperwork into separate files. At the end of each month, run a tally and staple the tape into the inside of the folder. Then, at the end of the year, just total all the tapes and store the files with your completed tax return.

* Whenever you generate a receipt that has tax implications, immediately write on it what it’s for. You won’t remember what that February 2009 receipt was for when you next look at it in April 2010. Also, if you’re ever audited, your notes will help substantiate deductions on your tax return.

* Use a highlighter to mark the date and total amount of the receipt. This will save you time and effort at the end of the month when you’re totaling receipts because the important information will stand out. You won’t have to re-read every receipt to find the information you need.

For more tips and products to help you get organized, or to find a store near you, visit

Courtesy of ARAcontent