Gunning Daily News

Q: Is it possible to get a low down payment loans?

March 23, 2011 9:13 am

A: Such loans are offered by government agencies and private lenders, including nonprofit groups and employers. In fact, there are government programs at both the federal and state level to help cash-strapped buyers. Under many state housing agency guidelines, borrowers must usually be first-time homebuyers or have a limited family income to qualify for low down payment loans.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers several programs through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that require down payments of 3 to 5 percent.

Several times over the past few years, President Bush has proposed a "zero down mortgage" insurance program for first-time homebuyers with good credit. First proposed for his 2005 budget, it was promoted as a tool that would qualify about 150,000 FHA-insured borrowers in the first year alone. The 2006 budget indicated 200,000 potential borrowers would be helped. The plans, which required congressional approval, never got off the ground.

Fannie Mae, the nation's largest supplier of home mortgage funds, has a popular program for low- and moderate-income homebuyers called Community Home Buyers. Under the program, borrowers may buy with just 3 percent down-with a 2 percent gift from family members, a government program, or nonprofit group-and obtain private mortgage insurance to protect the lender against default. The program is available through participating mortgage lenders and requires that borrowers take a home-buyer education course.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


Adopt an Up-for-Anything Attitude and Turn the Everyday into a Special Occasion

March 23, 2011 9:13 am

RISMEDIA, March 23, 2011-With the hustle and bustle of everyday, you shouldn't have to wait for a special occasion to have a party-try turning the everyday into its own celebration and adopting an up-for-anything attitude.

Planning a festive f te need not be a daunting task. Jennifer Sbranti, otherwise known as Hostess with the Mostess, is the queen of bringing creative party planning ideas to light. Sbranti shares the following tips to make any day an occasion for entertaining without a lot of fuss. Her expert advice will help take your celebration to the next level.

Pick a theme. No matter how fancy or casual your occasion may be, choosing a theme will make the get-together more memorable and the planning process much easier. Themes can be as specific as you like-perhaps inspired by a movie your group will be watching or a book you've just read-or as simple as a favorite color palette, pattern or type of cuisine.

Make it festive. Creating an atmosphere that's a little different from the norm is one of the easiest ways to transform any gathering into a special occasion. There's no need to spend a lot of time or money-simple efforts like hanging colorful paper lanterns or creating DIY napkin rings and place cards from stylish papers will go a long way. Use your theme as the inspiration for your party d cor, and have fun with it.

Let there be (mood) light. When you're short on time or money for party decorations, white string lights and tea lights will always save the day (and night). Hang the lights around stair banisters, doorways, signature drink displays and anywhere else you can make them work, and use tea lights to dress up table and counter surfaces.

Meet. socialize. repeat. Whether it's a brunch on the first Monday of every month or dinner and a chick flick the third Tuesday, try to develop a regular habit of getting together with friends. Having a standing monthly date to keep in mind makes it easier for everyone to coordinate their schedules-and it also gives everyone in the group an excuse to take turns playing hostess.

For more information, visit www.familyfeatures.com.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


Spring Cleaning Habits among Generation Y

March 23, 2011 9:13 am

RISMEDIA, March 23, 2011-If it's spring, Generation Y may very well be at home-cleaning. According to new research from the American Cleaning Institute (ACI), 82% of Generation Y men and women (our nation's 18-29 year olds) will engage in spring cleaning this year-that's approximately 15% more than the national average of about two-thirds (based on past ACI surveys).

Twenty-seven percent of Generation Y respondents use spring cleaning as a time to clean their home from head-to-toe. Their spring cleaning priorities include bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, closets and floors.

While the priorities rank in the same order for men and women, a greater number of women prioritize the importance of each job. Seventy-seven percent of women (versus 66% of men) say that even just the change in the weather makes them want to clean up.

The independent research showed that the majority (55%) of Gen Y has been living in their current location for less than two years. And, whether they live with a spouse or significant other, parents, other family, children or part-time at home and part-time at school, what is consistent is the importance of having a clean living space. Ninety-six percent of respondents reported that having a clean home is important to them.

"No matter where they seem to live, Generation Y wants their spaces clean," said ACI Vice President of Education Nancy Bock. "Spring cleaners do have a variety of easy-to-use and effective cleaning products on the shelves that can help them get their tasks done much quicker."

Gender-ation Y

When it comes to doing the "dirty work," 30% of Generation Y men agree that if it wasn't for spring cleaning, they probably would never clean. In fact, when it comes to most day-to-day cleaning chores, men are taken to task by Gen Y women.

The survey showed 96% of women are likely to clean and disinfect countertops daily, compared to 86% of men.

"It's reassuring that a strong majority of this age group regularly cleans and disinfects, which helps kill germs and lower the risk of infection," said ACI's Nancy Bock. Ninety-six percent of women are likely to clean the floors or carpet versus 88% of men, according to the survey.

The same gender pattern follows for reorganizing, cleaning under furnishings, swapping out seasonal clothes, washing windows, de-cluttering and donating old clothes to a local charity. Only when it comes to cleaning cell phones and computers is there gender-cleaning equality, with both men (73%) and women (74%) citing the likelihood of cleaning.

Gen Y women are not only more likely to clean routinely, they are more motivated to clean.

Both Gen Y men (64%) and women (79%) ranked "when their home space starts looking dirty or messy" as the top reason to clean. More women also ranked significantly higher in the following categories: when they are expecting visitors, fed up with dirt and mess, have some free time and feeling disorganized.

Overall, 74% of Generation Y respondents agreed that spring cleaning is a ritual worthy of carrying on, and seeing news about spring cleaning keeps it top of mind. Eighteen to 29-year-olds first look to family and friends for information about cleaning before turning to retailers, websites, magazines, TV shows, newspapers, blogs and social networking sites.

"What we learned is that when members of Generation Y choose to settle down, our newest generation of homeowners and families will continue to have a focus on cleanliness and better living," said Bock.

For more information, visit www.cleaninginstitute.org.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


10 Ways to Stop Wasting Money

March 23, 2011 9:13 am

By Barbara Pronin, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, March 23, 2011-If you are trying to save money for a car, a vacation, or a down payment on a house-or simply trying to tighten your belt-there are at least 10 ways to stop wasting dollars that could be stashed in your savings account. So say the money mavens at Kiplinger.com, who offer these suggestions for meeting your saving goals faster:

Buy used instead of new. Whether books, exercise equipment, cars or children's clothing, pre-owned is cheaper and often as good. Check eBay or Craigslist for gently-used local bargains.

Cut down on impulse purchases. From fancy coffee to another pair of shoes, it's tempting to buy because you want something. Before you make any purchase, stop, think and if you can do without, stash that money into savings instead.

Look for better buys. It's easy to stick with the same plans and providers we've been using for a while. Is it time to look around for a better buy on credit card companies? Cable service? Insurance?

Loosen up on travel. Discounts are available for flexibility on travel dates, booking at the last minute, or blind-booking through sites like Priceline.com. Look around before you book your next trip.

Don't pay for what you don't use. Are you getting enough value from your Netflix or magazine subscriptions? From your gym membership? Break old habits and pay only for what you really use.

Pay on time. Don't rack up fees and late charges by paying bills late. Return library books and rentals on time. Submit expense reports in time for reimbursement. Procrastination can cost plenty.

Make your money work for you. If your savings are earning scant pennies, look for high-yield CDs and money-markets. Consider free, online checking that pays better interest, like ING Direct.

Get it free. Why pay for books, software or even tech support? You can find plenty of freebies at the library or check online for free stuff.

Buying brand names. Clever advertising and fancy packaging doesn't ensure a better product. Try generics in canned foods, clothing, over-the-counter drugs and more.

Don't pay ATM fees. Find a bank that doesn't charge ATM fees and reimburses you for fees other banks charge. Or skip the ATM and get cash back when making a purchase at the grocery store.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


5 Common Gutter and Downspout Problems and How to Fix Them

March 23, 2011 9:13 am

By John Voket, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, March 23, 2011-As the constant drip of winter runoff continues throughout much of the country, we turn to the subject of gutter and downspout maintenance. That's where our friends at GuttersA-Z.com come in.

They publish a list of the 5 most common gutter and downspout problems along with tips to fix them.

1. Leaky rain gutters

This is perhaps the most common guttering problem that homeowners face each year. What happens when rain water sits in the gutter channel and seeps through joints between two sections? If you do find the cause to be from sagging guttering or standing water, you can adjust your gutter and add a couple of extra gutter hangers to fix the problem.

To repair the leak, you will need to dry out the two sections and clean the area with a brush or towel. Next, get a good tube of silicone caulk and caulk the seams on both the inside and outside of the gutter.

If the cause of the leaking is from a hole in your gutter, use a simple patch to repair it. First, apply some roofing cement to the area where the hole is located. Next, take a sheet metal patch and place it over the hole. Then, put roofing cement over the top of the patch.

2. Sagging gutters

Over the course of time it is easy for some gutters to begin to sag. Check for sagging gutters by inspecting for standing rain water or water marks inside the channel. If you notice a problem, you will need to take a 3-foot level and check your slope angle.

Generally, you should have a 1/4 inch slope for every 10 feet of guttering. If you need to make adjustments you can simply add or adjust your gutter hangers.

3. Loose downspouts

Another common maintenance issue is with downspouts that break loose or get disconnected from the gutter itself. This is an easy fix that takes very little time. You need a drill and a couple of sheet metal screws. Push the downspout back together and drill a couple of small holes in the two pieces. Next, screw the sheet metal screws through the pieces. One important point to remember: don't use long screws or they will cause debris inside the downspout that will clog it up over time.

4. Overflowing rain gutters

This problem is caused by a clogged gutter or downspout in most cases. To fix the problem, you simply need to clean out the area where the clogging is occurring. In some cases, this could be caused by having gutters that are too small to handle the rain water. In this case you would need to install rain gutters that are larger.

5. Pooling water near downspouts

To prevent water from pooling around your home and downspout, be sure to make it runoff well into your yard or driveway. You can use a downspout extension or other flexible tubing to get the job accomplished.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


Word of the Day

March 22, 2011 8:13 am

Property tax deductions. The Internal Revenue Service allows homeowners to claim as itemized personal deductions money paid for state and local realty taxes, as well as interest on debt secured by their homes. It also allows for the deduction of loan prepayment penalties, and the deduction of points on new loans.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


Q: What can I expect from a good real estate agent?

March 22, 2011 8:13 am

A: Competence, efficiency, and ethics. According to the All America's Real Estate Book by Carolyn Janik and Ruth Rejnis, good agents take the time to qualify buyers and show properties in their price range. They plan showing routes carefully and have pre-inspected most properties. They have a thorough knowledge of financing options, are up on the latest housing trends, and share with prospective buyers data on the local housing market and home sales.

Good agents also adhere to a strict code of ethics. They avoid high-pressure sales tactics, refrain from showing properties that do not fit your needs or goals, and alert you to problems about the condition of the property. And they show respect for other agents and real estate firms by not "bad mouthing" them.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


10 Tips for Getting Your Finances in Order

March 22, 2011 8:13 am

RISMEDIA, March 22, 2011-Tax season is in full bloom and Americans are up to their elbows in statements, receipts and 1099s. The IRS tells us it will only take an hour or so to fill out our 1040s, but they clearly have not factored in the time it takes us to sort through-let alone find-our financial information. Thoughts of a giant post-April 15th bonfire may come to mind, but before you light the match, consider another, more sensible way to handle your finances.

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Consumer Advocate Eleanor Blayney, CFP recommends that while you are cleaning up your house after a long winter, celebrate spring by cleaning up your finances as well. "Your goal should be to get into those forgotten corners, deal with the clutter, recycle the stuff that has value and throw out the rest," said Blayney.

Here are 10 ways to freshen up your finances:

Store it. Set up a three-tier storage system: get hanging files for information you will need within the next year, such as receipts or transaction confirmations; storage bins for documents you need to save for more than one year, such as tax returns (3 years after filing) or real estate records (for as long as you own the property, plus 3 years); and a fireproof, lockable box for difficult-to-replace items such as your Social Security card, wills and other estate planning documents.

Review your beneficiaries. Make a clean sweep of your estate plan by checking that the correct beneficiaries are designated on your insurance policies and qualified retirement accounts. For example, minor children cannot inherit assets outright without a trust or custodian.

Double check your estate plan. While you have your hands on those estate planning documents, reread them to see if anything in your life has changed that would make revisions necessary.

Get your free credit report. It's available annually (www.annualcreditreport.com). Get a copy and be sure to read it closely. That way, you can clean up any entries made by creditors that are incorrect.

Save automatically. Set up a regular transfer from your paycheck or checking account to a savings account and begin building an emergency reserve. Then forget about those savings. Just like that dust accumulating on the top of the fridge, it's out of sight, out of mind and most importantly, out of your easy reach.

Go digital. Don't ever again trip over the clutter of your busy life and forget to pay a bill or a credit card account on time. Use your mobile phone or computer to send yourself reminders of payments due and thereby avoid those late fees.

Protect what you own. While you are changing your clocks and checking your smoke detectors, check your home or renter's insurance as well. Make sure you have the necessary amount of coverage to avoid any major out-of-pocket losses in the event of fire, theft or other disaster.

Consolidate. Make your next spring cleaning a much easier job by consolidating your investment accounts with one provider. Often, custodians will provide a single statement on your accounts, even if the accounts must be separately titled. Having a single source for your investment information makes the job of monitoring and rebalancing your accounts more efficient. Be aware, however, that holding all your accounts with a single custodian can limit the amount of SIPC or FDIC coverage available to you.

Take a deep dive into your finances. When those spring showers keep you cooped up for a long afternoon, review all your checks, credit card statements and debit transactions from the year before. If you have online banking, you can usually export a year's worth of transactions into a spreadsheet, which you can then sort and classify. You'll see where you are spending the most money and can therefore focus your budgeting and cost-saving efforts accordingly. This review should also provide the basis for a workable budget going forward-a must for anyone wanting to clean up his or her finances.

For more information, visit www.cfp.net.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


Residential Remodeling Continues to Grow

March 22, 2011 8:13 am

RISMEDIA, March 22, 2011-Yet one more piece of data seems to suggest that homeowners are becoming more optimistic about the future. The Residential BuildFax Remodeling Index, a residential building and permitting database tracking 4,000+ cities and counties throughout the country, rose 18% year-over-year in 2010. After fourteen straight months of increase, it reached a peak of 103.8 in December 2010, the highest December number in the history of the index, which started in 2004.

The increase comes at a time when more and more homeowners are underwater, making the financing of remodeling projects more difficult. "We believe that many of these homeowners are drawing on their savings or other forms of consumer credit, such as credit cards to pay for the remodeling," said Bruce Hahn, president of the American Homeowners Foundation. "Anecdotal evidence that most homeowners are opting for less ambitious projects than in the past supports this view," he added. Another factor may be barriers to other alternatives. "In many markets it is very difficult to sell your home. Even if you can sell your home, financing its replacement may be a challenge because mortgage lenders have substantially tightened borrower requirements. If moving up isn't an option, improving your current home may be the next best alternative."

The West and South both saw better-than-average remodeling activity in December, with the South posting a four-year high and the West posting an index high. The Midwest suffered its usual significant November-to-December decline and the Northeast continues to lag all other regions while still showing signs of recovery. The BuildFax Remodeling Index for the Northeast was down 4.1 points (5%) month-over-month but up 1.3 points (2%) year-over-year; the South was down 0.6 points (less than 1%) month-over-month but up 9.1 points (12%) year-over-year; the Midwest was down 11.8 points (11%) month-over-month and down 0.1 points (less than 1%) year-over-year; and the West was up 2.9 points (3%) month-over-month and up 11.3 points (12%) year-over-year.

If a homeowner is lucky enough to have substantial equity in their home and good credit, financing a remodeling project through a new mortgage may make a lot of sense. Mortgage rates are at historic low levels and in many cases a homeowner who can do cash out refinancing will find themselves with new monthly mortgage payments that are lower than they have on their current mortgage. There's also hope for homeowners with limited equity in their home. Some lenders may be willing to base the allowed mortgage amount on the increased value of the home when the work is complete.

Homeowners need to be careful when selecting remodeling contractors. In good times and bad, complaints about remodeling contractors are near the top of both the Better Business Bureau's and the American Homeowners Foundation's complaint list. There are a number of steps you can take to reduce the risk. You should check the contractor's credentials carefully. Are they licensed and insured for workers compensation, property and personal liability? If in doubt, ask to see their insurance certificate. Do they belong to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, the National Association of Home Builders Remodelers Council, and/or any of the more specific trade associations in the remodeling sector? That's a sign of commitment to the trade and to professionalism. Most also offer certification and/or management training and keep their members up-to-date on the latest products and techniques. Ask for recent references on similar jobs (employee and subcontractor turnover is often fairly high, so recent jobs are a reliable indicator of their current capability). Check their record with the Better Business Bureau while you're at it.

For all but the most minor jobs, it is especially important to utilize a comprehensive written contract. This will greatly reduce the likelihood of disputes with your remodeler. Most disputes arise over issues that were not decided in advance. Make sure it covers the description of the project, timetable, payment schedule, etc., with general provisions defining the responsibility of the contractor and the subcontractors, defects and correction, change order procedures, warranties, right to termination, and alternative dispute settlement mechanisms (since more than half of the costs of lawsuits represent legal fees, homeowners and contractors will almost always be better off with mediation, conciliation, and/or binding arbitration clauses should a disagreement arise).

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


Data Shows Investing in Green Features Can Pay Dividends When Selling Your Home

March 22, 2011 8:13 am

By John Voket, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, March 22, 2011-I recently came across some interesting information regarding green homes from Jim Simcoe, a sustainability consultant, coach and speaker promoting green business practices. We often report on how to achieve greener homes, but Simcoe is coming up with data to answer the nagging question: can investing in green practices and outfitting really pay off?

Put simply, Simcoe says yes.

He says buyers will pay more for green properties provided the added value is more than the increased price. For example, if you can show a buyer that spending $10k more for a 'green' home will actually save them $250 per month in their total (mortgage + utilities) monthly bills, then they'll spend the extra $10k with you.

"We see this all the time," Simcoe says, "the key is figuring out the breakeven point between the increase in sales price-$10k in this example-and the total monthly expense." To best identify that matrix, Simcoe has developed a formula that calculates this number for consumers, which he provides among his services.

On the same subject, the latest Eco Pulse report generated by the Knoxville, Tenn.-based Shelton Group found nearly two-thirds of consumers would be willing to pay a 10% or higher premium for a home with a number of green features. Nine percent were willing to pay 30% more.

The green features chosen most often in the Shelton Group survey were:

-Renewable electric power generation systems such as solar, geothermal or wind (25%)

-Higher-efficiency appliances like those certified by Energy Star (25 %)

-Water-conserving features like low-flow showerheads or rainwater collection systems (21 %)

If you haven't gotten on the green bandwagon yet, maybe this is your year now that there is reliable data that investing in green features can pay dividends when it's time to sell your home.

For more information, visit www.jimsimcoe.com.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.