Gunning Daily News

6 Ways to Increase Your Home’s Value

January 24, 2012 5:28 pm

Homeowners nationwide have seen their home values dip over the past few years, more in some areas than others. But homes are still selling, noted California REALTOR® Ellen Parker, who recently sold a $1 million property in an Orange County neighborhood where sales have been relatively slow.

“People have to sell their homes for a variety of reasons,” Parker said, “and buyers are out there for a home that has good curb appeal, is fairly priced, and is well-maintained inside and out.”

Parker shares six ways homeowners can be assured their homes will continue to gain value, even in a slow market:

• Make repairs – It’s hard to spend money when budgets are tight, but don’t procrastinate on needed repairs such as roof work, painting, or landscaping. Making repairs are a necessary component of homeownership, and staying on top of them is a sure way to safeguard your home’s value.
• Update the kitchen – Kitchens are a major selling point, and little turns a buyer off more than outdated cabinets, counters, and appliances. On the other hand, don’t go overboard with expensive amenities without researching neighborhood comparables.
• Update bathrooms – Handsome low profile toilets can cost under $100, and stained or damaged tubs or showers are inexpensive to repair or replace. Attractive lighting fixtures and/or updated sinks also appeal to today’s buyers.
• Energy savings - Buyers want homes that are energy efficient. Low-flush toilets, solar panels, water filtration systems, and insulated windows are all inexpensive but worthwhile fixes.
• Keep the neighborhood desirable – Get involved in local organizations, such as the PTA or service clubs, which have a stake in school and community improvement. Involvement is a good way to keep track of what’s going on in your schools and neighborhoods, and can increase the odds that yours is the neighborhood most desired by new and move-up buyers.

Tips on Saving Big on Monthly Expenses

January 24, 2012 5:28 pm

The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to resolve to save money. With just a few basic lifestyle changes, renters can save up to $368 per month, or $4,416 per year!

Finding the perfect balance between pinching pennies and enjoying your home and life can be difficult, but easy money-saving techniques can help your readers stay on budget in 2012. By making eight simple changes in your home, renters can save up to $368 per month.

1. Ditch Cable - Renters pay, on average, $100 per month for cable television. Busy lifestyles mean that many rarely get to watch shows when they air, and rely on services like DVR to watch their favorite programs later. Why not consider a service like Hulu Plus or Netflix? It’s simple to connect your computer to your television and watch TV when it’s convenient for you.
• Average Savings per Month: $92

2. Space-by-space Heat – Energy bills run, on average, $183 per month. By using a space heater in the rooms where you need it and setting the thermostat to 62 degrees, you can save approximately $200 each year.
• Average Savings per Month: $17

3. Cut the Phone Cord – With all of the functionality of smart phones, a landline may be unnecessary. By eliminating a monthly telephone bill, renters can save, on average, $35 per month.
• Average Savings per Month: $35

4. Illuminate Your Savings - While not a large savings monthly, replacing light bulbs with an Energy Star qualified light bulb can save $6 per year, and nearly $40 over its lifetime—and it will last six times longer. For example, if you have six lamps in your apartment, you can save $3 per month. It may not seem like a lot, but the savings will add up over time.
• Average Savings per Month: $3

5. Skip the Hot Water – By doing your laundry in cold water rather than hot, you reduce energy usage by 90 percent and can save $72 per year! Plus, your clothes will be just as clean.
• Average Savings per Month: $6

6. Work Out in Comfort - Skip the gym membership and save, on average, $775 per year. In many cities, you will find the savings to be even more. You can still get in your workouts—consider running, or many exercises that can be done with little or no equipment in the comfort of your own home.
• Average Savings per Month: $65

7. Use Your Kitchen – You are paying rent for your kitchen, whether you use it or not. The average American eats out 6 times per month, spending an average of $172. Eat out just once a month and cook at home instead.
• Average Savings per Month: $144

8. Pull the Plug – By unplugging appliances and electronics when you are not using them, you can save a bundle on energy. Unplugging one fax machine, one computer monitor, and one television can save $70 per year. Just turning it off is not enough.
• Average Savings per Month: $6

If you are renting in one of the top 10 most expensive cities, you may find your savings to be even more. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the following metropolitan areas have the highest cost of living, as determined by the consumer price index as of August 2011.

1. New York/Northern New Jersey/Long Island, N.Y./N.J./Conn./Pa.
2. Philadelphia/Wilmington/Atlantic City, Pa./N.J./Del./M.D.
3. San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose, Calif.
4. Seattle/Tacoma/Bremerton, Wash.
5. Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
6. Los Angeles/Riverside/Orange County, Calif.
7. Chicago/Gary/Kenosha, Ill./Ind./Wis.
8. Detroit/Ann Arbor/Flint, Mich.
9. Atlanta, Ga.
10. Houston/Galveston/Brazoria, TX

For more information, visit www.rent.com

How to Make Your Home ‘Pop’ on the MLS

January 24, 2012 5:28 pm

New housing reports out this month indicate that 2012 might be the year that the housing market begins to turn around and the combination of low interest rates, improved unemployment rates and current low home prices should bring some relief. In addition, according to Freddie Mac's U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook survey, home sales are expected to increase between 2 and 5 percent year over year. However sellers trying to sell their home right now know that properties are not moving quickly and often those that do are selling for much less than anticipated.

There are a few ways that sellers can increase their chance of selling their home and for a decent price—but it might take a little work. Here are the top recommendations from HomeInsurance.com on ways to make your home really stand out in the current real estate market:

Stage it -
When it comes time to show your home, really take time beforehand to clean up the design elements and make the home as inviting as possible. We aren't suggesting a full re-design, just a refresher. Consider how your furniture is setup and move a few things around if you can make it seem more comfortable and practical. If you tend to a favor one dominant design style, consider toning it down to something more "neutral" until the home sells. Add some last minute touches that can really add essence such as a fresh bouquet of flowers on the dining room table.

Curb Appeal - Most potential buyers will do an initial drive by before they take the time to schedule a showing and they will surely always judge a book by its cover. Make sure your home has true curb appeal by cleaning up the exterior of your home to make it inviting. Have a landscaper do a yard cleanup and make sure the grass is always freshly mowed. Don't allow any overgrowth to clutter garden beds and make sure trees and bushes are well-pruned. Also, if there are any repairs that need to be done to the outside of the house (i.e. missing roof shingles, broken windows) now is the time to get them fixed.

De-clutter - Aside from the intensely neat and organized folks, most people will let some clutter build up in and around their home. Most common problem areas? Counter tops, closets and family rooms. Now is the time to get organized and to de-clutter. When a potential buyer enters your home you want it to be clean, airy and free of junk piles. This helps people feel welcome in your home and more able to envision it as their own- and not like they just stopped into a stranger's house unannounced.

Share savings perks - There are many more financial aspects to consider with a home than just asking price and property taxes. If you want your home to stand out amongst other homes in your price range be sure to point out savings perks such as low utilities and affordable homeowners insurance premiums in the area. For example, if the house has a monitored security alarm, new homeowners can typically save up to 15 percent on their home insurance. These types of savings might just be enough to make your home more desirable than a less expensive home with higher costs of living.

Throw in a home warranty - If your major appliances aren't brand new it can be a major bonus for a buyer if you offer a one-year home warranty. A home warranty covers the appliances and systems in your home that break down due to normal wear and tear. Typically you can purchase a home warranty on behalf of your buyer for $300-$600 and it gives them the peace of mind that if anything breaks within the first year, they won't be stuck with costly repairs.

Don't underestimate aromatherapy - Last but not least, keep in mind that one of our strongest senses is our sense of smell. If your home is musty or smells like Fido, you may be used to it and not even notice it anymore. However, someone considering your home for purchase may see this as a huge turn off. Keep your home really clean while it is on the market and use cleaning products that don't leave a strong, headache-inducing odor. Instead, once odor-neutral, keep some light potpourri in a bowl or burn a clean scented candle to add some aromatherapy to the experience.

Source: HomeInsurance.com

Top 10 Homeowner Financing Tips

January 24, 2012 5:28 pm

Here are 10 great tips to consider when getting a mortgage.

1. Don’t Stretch Your Loan Qualification Limits to Buy a Home Beyond Your Budget. A home should be a source of satisfaction and an investment not a financial albatross, especially for first-time buyers. Borrowing heavily from family members, selling assets, and living poor just to own a bigger or better home, makes for larger mortgage payments and risks difficulties in the future.

2. Always Shop for Competitive Rates, Points, and Fees.
Get at least three bids. The most competitive lender one week may not be next week so get (or reconfirm) quotes the same week you are ready to make the commitment.

3. Get An Immediate Written Confirmation of Your Locked-in Interest Rate and Interest Rate Terms. You might find some discrepancies with the figures used on the final loan documents.

4. Don’t Agree to Prepayment Penalties. You may want to refinance or partially prepay part of the mortgage. If there is no mention of prepayment penalties, make sure you have an addendum attached to the mortgage specifying that no fees will be imposed.

5. Understanding All the Conditions of Your Loan:
You or a professional that you trust should thoroughly scrutinize each document. Ask questions if you aren’t sure what something means.

6. Pick the Right Kind of Loan. Rates are higher on 30 year loans than on comparable 15 year loans. That's because there is a greater risk that rates will go up the longer the lender commits to a fixed rate. Lenders hate holding loans at below market rates. While there is an advantage to the predictability of fixed rates, if you expect to be transferred in 5 years, you’ll be paying more than you need for a 30 year fixed rate loan. If you want both the security of predictable payments and the lowest monthly payment consider "hybrid" loans - those with a fixed rate for the first five or seven years of their 30 year duration. If you are going to be there for a shorter period, or have confidence that rates will be dropping further, consider an adjustable rate mortgage.

7. If You Are Buying Rather Than Refinancing, Consider Getting a Pre-approved Mortgage or Contingent Loan Approval Letter.
The former is a binding commitment for a loan up to a certain amount. It can substantially strengthen your negotiating position with the seller, but it puts pressure on you to close a deal before the loan commitment expires. A contingent approval is a letter from a lender that states the largest loan you would qualify for, subject to confirmation of the financial information you’ve provided and formal approval. It will also give you additional negotiating leverage without binding you to the lender (or vice versa). Sometimes owner financing can work to both parties advantage. Ask the seller if it’s a possibility. If so explore further to see if there might be mutually agreeable terms before making an offer.

8. Save Everything. Lenders require and provide numerous documents. Some get misplaced, usually at the most critical time. Keep copies of everything you send the lender and everything the lender sends you.

9. Take Advantage of the Deduction. The mortgage interest deduction is one of the few remaining tax deductible interest payments, and it’s also the cheapest form of long term financing. Consider financing/refinancing as an alternative source of funds for home improvements or other constructive long term investments like education. Don’t get in over your head, and never use it to finance your summer vacation or other short term pleasures.

10. Study! A lot of money is at stake. You can’t learn too much, and you won’t have time to learn what you need, interview and select a lender in the five days allowed most buyers to apply for a loan. Read the real estate section of your local paper and books on the subject.

Courtesy of the American Homeowners Foundation and the American Homeowners Grassroots Alliance, www.AmericanHomeowners

Word of the Day

January 24, 2012 5:28 pm

Trust deed. A document used in place of a mortgage in certain states; a third-party trustee, not the lender, holds the title to the property until the loan is paid out or defaulted. Also called a deed of trust.

Question of the Day

January 24, 2012 5:28 pm

Q: What is a variance?

A: It is a request made to your local jurisdiction to deviate from current zoning requirements. If granted, a variance will allow you to use your land in a way that is normally not permitted by the zoning ordinance.

However, do not view a variance as something that changes the zoning law because it does not. Rather it waives a certain requirement of the zoning ordinance. For example, it may allow the owner of an odd-shaped lot to reduce slightly the setback requirements in order to accommodate a building, or permit the building of a gazebo in the back yard.

Short Sales: A Viable Alternative to Foreclosure

January 23, 2012 5:22 pm

One of the things we hope to see less of in 2012 is short sales.

This brings me to a blog by Bion Grady, (bionsellshomes.com) who specializes in loan modification assistance and short sales in Paulding County, Ga. Grady says if the only alternative for distressed homeowners is to walk away from their property, a short sale may still be a viable alternative for a number of reasons .

Grady advises homeowners to remember these four things:

1. Debt Eraser. The upside down debt is erased in most cases. If you are selling because of a financial hardship, then the upside down debt will be automatically erased in most cases. If your loan is owned or insured by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, and/or VA, and you are short selling because of a financial hardship, their policies state that your debt will be erased.

2. Faster Rebound. You are eligible to buy another home much sooner compared to a foreclosure. The most common loan program, Fannie Mae, stipulates that you can buy another home under their program in two years. FHA, a popular low down payment loan program stipulates that you can qualify for an FHA loan within three years.

3. No Cost to You. According to Grady, all of the expenses are paid for by your lender. That includes the title insurance, any county taxes or fees on the sale, attorney fees, and the real estate agent. If the lender foreclosed on the house and then tried to sell it, they would have to pay all the costs.

4. Less Credit Damage. Upon completion of the short sale, Grady says your credit score will drop between 50 and 100 points. However, it will rebound fairly quickly, and you will have a lower debt to income ratio, which will boost your credit. In addition, anything and everything bad on your credit can be fixed through the dispute process.

Can Your Parents Disinherit You?

January 23, 2012 5:22 pm

Disinheritance. It's sometimes wielded as a joke, and sometimes said in complete seriousness. But can you legally be disinherited?

Outside of Louisiana, you have no legal right to inherit from your parents. However, you do have a right not to be accidentally disinherited.

What does this mean?

For starters, you can be disinherited. If a parent updates his or her will and includes a disinheritance clause, you will not receive an inheritance.

That is, unless you can prove that the will is invalid. Or that someone forced your parent to disinherit you.
But what happens when you're simply not mentioned in the will. Have you been disinherited?

If your parent updates his will after your birth and does not mention you, this presents challenges.

Remember, you have a right not to be accidentally disinherited. In some states, this situation implies an intention to disinherit. In others, you are disinherited if the majority of the money is left to your surviving parent.

You're also disinherited if the deceased parent gave you a very large sum of money while he or she was still alive.

Now, if a parent's will was written before your birth, this is a more favorable situation. Omitted child statutes presume that you were accidentally left out. You'll most likely get to inherit.

It’s a difficult conversation, but one worth having. With these facts about disinheritance in mind, it might be time to talk about estate planning with your parents.

Source: www.findlaw.com

Top 10 Furniture Trends of 2012

January 23, 2012 5:22 pm

Just like clothing trends, furniture fashion will change over 2012. With a brand new year in full swing, many factors are quietly reshaping our spaces and our priorities at home. Keep an eye out for following trends, offered by Ashley’s Home Furniture, in the next 12 months.

"Decisions about how and where to live have never been more critical," says Kris Woodcock, VP of Merchandising. "With older consumers wanting to stay put as long as possible, graduating children returning home after college and adult children inviting their parents to live with them, our houses are requiring smarter choices, better use of space and more long-term planning rather than resale considerations."

1. Sectionals. Thanks to family rooms, more entertaining at home and fashion-forward, younger shoppers, sectionals are going to be big. Durable, high performance fabrics and leathers make sectionals appealing in 2012, along with versatile pieces, such as a chaise ottoman that can flip to either end.
2. Storage Beds. They're not just for kids' rooms anymore. Bedroom furniture pieces with storage are entering master bedroom suites in a big way, with sleek designs inspired by elegant platform beds. For 2012, many of them will include enough storage to reduce the need for both a chest and dresser, or add much-needed extra storage for shoes, off-season clothing, linens and more.
3. Better Mattress. Ever since hotels began replacing their mattresses with more heavenly versions, consumers have been upgrading their own homes with better mattresses and pillows. For 2012, look for a move away from plush pillow-tops to streamlined, flatter beds.
4. Console Seating. Once a luxury product in need of a designated home theater room, theater seating today is going anywhere there's a big-screen TV. And the console loveseat is the rising star. Perfect for small spaces and budgets, it's as fully loaded as home theater sofas and sectionals, including cup holders, storage console, plush arms, head-rest and chaise-style ottomans, multiple comfort positions and power.
5. TV Consoles. They're cheaper, bigger and better, and flat-screen TVs are making their way into every room in the house. In 2012, the vast majority of those TVs will be housed in or on furniture rather than hung on the wall. Look for better-designed, better-quality TV stands (that look like real furniture), along with clever places to store components—and taller, multi-purpose versions that double as a drawer chest.
6. Servers. The growing trend to hosting buffets rather than sit-down dinners explains the growing popularity of servers and sideboards. Easy access to cords for warming trays and blenders, less fancy china to display (younger consumers are opting out of rarely-used dinnerware) and smaller homes all add to their popularity. For 2012, look for servers with as many drawers as doors, integrated power bars or moisture-resistant tops.
7. Writing Desks. Laptop computers and wireless networks are changing our concept of a home office. A single "official" work area is being joined, or replaced, by multiple workstations that can go anywhere. For 2012, it's all about compact workstations, with a simple table in a bedroom, hallway or behind the sofa. Look for warmer styles that blend with other furniture pieces.
8. Bigger Coffee Tables. Many people opt to eat dinner on the sofa rather than at the kitchen table, explaining the trend to bigger and better coffee tables.. For 2012, look for pop-up coffee tables for eating or working in front of the TV, storage drawers or shelves and deeper sizes scaled for sectionals.
9. Gathering Tables. The kitchen may be the emotional and physical center of the home, but it's the eating area that's becoming the hub; especially when designed to be a comfortable, live-in gathering place. Higher-height gathering tables or pub tables are the perfect choice, able to house a crowd, double as a workstation or extra cooking surface, or act as space divider between the kitchen and living room (with enough height to see over the sofa to the TV). For 2012, look for unique, transitional styles that bridge more stylish kitchens and less formal living areas.
10. Accent Furniture. Unique, stand-alone accent furniture will add storage, flexibility, and plenty of character in 2012—satiating our appetite for something fresh, new or daring when budgets don't allow a full room makeover. Accent chairs, small tables, ottomans, shelves, drawer chests and screens will bring designer-style décor home, with a range of exotic or antiqued finishes, reclaimed woods or hand-painted pieces that look acquired from an antique store or exotic trip.

Source: AshleyFurnitureHomeStore.com.

When New Years Resolutions and Football Parties Collide

January 23, 2012 5:22 pm

Football season is upon us. And as the Super Bowl approaches, your diet may be taking the back-seat on game days. However, this doesn’t need to be the case.

An estimated 40 percent of Americans make new years resolutions—weight loss and exercise being among the top improvement goals. Of those, over 45 percent will have given up by the end of January. On the flip side, over 100 million people will watch NFL's championship game; many in a party setting with specially prepared food spreads. After all, the food that is served is as important to the party as the commercials are to the game. For dieters, the temptation to “cheat” will be great.

Here are a few tips for a healthier football function:

Go with Guac- Full of good-for-you fats, guacamole is a much better choice than a cheese or sour cream based dip, which are high in cholesterol.

Skip the Chips-  Serve sliced veggies alongside your dips instead of chips or crackers. This will add filling fiber, slash calories and help you get your recommended servings. If you do offer chips, make them whole grain!

Build Your Own- Offering build your own taco or sandwich bar allows guests to choose their own healthier options.

Source: www.eatwholly.com