Gunning Daily News

Existing-Home Sales Rise in January 2011

March 10, 2011 9:09 am

RISMEDIA, March 10, 2011-The uptrend in existing-home sales continues, with January 2011 sales rising for the third consecutive month with a pace that is now above year-ago levels, according to the National Association of REALTORS .

Existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased 2.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.36 million in January from a downwardly revised 5.22 million in December, and are 5.3% above the 5.09 million level in January 2010. This is the first time in seven months that sales activity was higher than a year earlier.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the improvement is good but could be better. "The uptrend in home sales is consistent with improvements in the economy and jobs, which are helping boost consumer confidence," said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. "The extremely favorable housing affordability conditions are a big factor, but buyers have been constrained by unnecessarily tight credit. As a result, there are abnormally high levels of all-cash purchases, along with rising investor activity."

A parallel NAR practitioner survey shows first-time buyers purchased 29% of homes in January, down from 33% in December and 40% in January 2010 when an extended tax credit was in place.

Investors accounted for 23% of purchases in January, up from 20% in December and 17% in January 2010; the balance of sales were to repeat buyers. All-cash sales rose to 32% in January from 29% in December and 26% in January 2010.

"Increases in all-cash transactions, the investor market share and distressed home sales all go hand-in-hand. With tight credit standards, it's not surprising to see so much activity where cash is king and investors are taking advantage of conditions to purchase undervalued homes," Yun said.

All-cash purchases are at the highest level since NAR started measuring these purchases monthly in October 2008, when they accounted for 15% of the market. The average of all-cash deals was 20% in 2009, rising to 28% last year.

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $158,800 in January, down 3.7% from January 2010. Distressed homes edged up to a 37% market share in January from 36% in December; it was 38% in January 2010.

NAR President Ron Phipps, broker-president of Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I., said the median price is being dampened by unusual market factors.

"Unprecedented levels of all-cash purchases, primarily of distressed homes sold at deep discounts, undoubtedly pulls the median price downward," Phipps said. "Given the levels of inventory we see today, we believe that traditional homes in good condition have held their value."

Total housing inventory at the end of January fell 5.1% to 3.38 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 7.6-month supply at the current sales pace, down from an 8.2-month supply in December. The inventory supply is at the lowest level since December 2009 when there was a 7.3-month supply.

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.76% in January from 4.71% in December; the rate was 5.03% in January 2010.

Single-family home sales rose 2.4% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.69 million in January from 4.58 million in December, and are 4.9% higher than the 4.47 million level in January 2010. The median existing single-family home price was $159,400 in January, down 2.7% from a year ago.

Existing condominium and co-op sales increased 4.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 670,000 in January from 640,000 in December, and are 7.9% above the 621,000-unit pace one year ago. The median existing condo price was $154,900 in January, which is 10.2% below January 2010.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast fell 4.6% to an annual pace of 830,000 in January from a spike in December and are 1.2% below January 2010. The median price in the Northeast was $236,500, which is 4.0% below a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest rose 1.8% in January to a level of 1.14 million and are 3.6% above a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $126,300, which is 3.2% below January 2010.

In the South, existing-home sales increased 3.6% to an annual pace of 2.02 million in January and are 8.0% higher than January 2010. The median price in the South was $136,600, down 2.1% from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West rose 7.9% to an annual level of 1.37 million in January and are 7.0% above January 2010. The median price in the West was $193,200, down 5.7% from a year ago.

For more information, visit www.realtor.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.


Word of the Day

March 9, 2011 9:09 am

Open listing. Listing that gives a broker a nonexclusive right to find a buyer; the owner can still find a buyer himself and avoid a commission.

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: How does the seller determine what rate to provide?

March 9, 2011 9:09 am

A: The interest rate on a purchase money note is negotiable, as are the other terms in a seller-financed transaction. To get an idea about what to charge, sellers can check with a lender or mortgage broker to determine current rates on mortgage loans, including second mortgages.

Because sellers, unlike conventional lenders, do not charge loan fees or points, seller-financed costs are generally less than those associated with conventional home loans. Interest rates are generally influenced by current Treasury bill and certificate of deposit rates.

Understandably, most sellers are not open to making a loan for a lower return than could be invested at a more profitable rate of return elsewhere. So the interest rates they charge may be higher than those on conventional loans, and the length of the loan shorter, anywhere from five to 15 years.

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.


Potholes Pose Plenty of Problems Tips to Keep Your Car Safe

March 9, 2011 9:09 am

RISMEDIA, March 9, 2011-As we leave behind the worst winter in recent memory, there are many reminders left in the form of potholes. Drivers know immediately when they hit a pothole, but what they don't know is if their vehicle has been damaged in the process. To help determine if hitting a pothole has damaged your vehicle, watch for the following warning signs provided by the Car Care Council.

-Loss of control, swaying when making routine turns, bottoming-out on city streets or bouncing excessively on rough roads. These are indicators that the steering and suspension may have been damaged. The steering and suspension are key safety-related systems. Together, they largely determine your car's ride and handling. Key components are shocks and/or struts, the steering knuckle, ball joints, the steering rack/box, bearings, seals and hub units and tie rod ends.

-Pulling in one direction, instead of maintaining a straight path, and uneven tire wear. These symptoms mean there's an alignment problem. Proper wheel alignment is important for the lifespan of tires and helps ensure safe handling.

-Low tire pressure, bulges or blisters on the sidewalls, or dents in the rim. These problems will be visible and should be checked out as soon as possible as tires are the critical connection between your car and the road in all sorts of driving conditions.

"Record snow falls, frigid temperatures and wintery rainfall have left us with plenty of potholes," said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. "Hitting a pothole can cause plenty of problems, damaging tires, wheels, steering and suspension, wheel alignment and more. If you've hit a pothole, it's worth having a professional technician check out the car and make the necessary repairs to ensure safety and reliability."

Potholes occur when water permeates the pavement-usually through a crack from wear and tear of traffic-and softens the soil beneath it, creating a depression in the surface of the street. Many potholes appear during winter and spring months because of freeze-thaw cycles, which accelerate the process. Potholes can also be prevalent in areas with excessive rainfall and flooding.

For more information, visit www.carcare.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.


Apartments.com National Survey Reveals Renter Moving Plans for 2011

March 9, 2011 9:09 am

RISMEDIA, March 9, 2011-For the first time in years, the apartment rental market is beginning to experience signs of recovery as the U.S. economy slowly begins to strengthen. Reuters reported the rental vacancy rate fell to 9.4% in the fourth quarter of 2010 from 10.3% in the July-September period-the lowest since the second quarter of 2007. Witten Advisors predicts rents will increase 4.5% in 2011 as operators become aggressive in raising rents with little fear of losing customers to other housing options. In response to this news, Apartments.com conducted a national survey of more than 1,800 of its January website visitors to find out about their 2011 moving plans, including reasons they are moving, when they plan to move and which tools they value most during their apartment search.

Socioeconomic factors are often the leading indicator of growth in the housing industry. Apartments.com survey results revealed nearly three times the number of respondents-or 28.8%-are looking to move to relocate for employment opportunities in January 2011 compared to 10.4% from the previous year, further corroborating news of an improving rental market in 2011. Other key findings from the survey demonstrated many renters are starting their apartment search earlier in the year, a large volume of current homeowners and first-time renters are entering the market and having access to accurate apartment information is paramount when looking for a new place to live.

The primary factor fueling moves for survey respondents are new job opportunities. However, the desire to have more space, affordability and living in a safe neighborhood also topped the list. The five most popular reasons survey respondents are moving in 2011 include:

- Relocating for employment opportunities: 28.8%

- Looking for a bigger apartment: 13.3%

- Shopping for a less expensive apartment: 9.7%

- Rent increase: 6.7%

- Wanting to live in a safer neighborhood: 5.7%

A significant number of respondents indicated they are apartment shopping now for a move that will not take place until much later in the year. According to the survey, nearly 20% of respondents are starting their apartment search three to four months in advance and nearly a quarter are looking as early as five months to more than a year out.

"It's a good idea to lock into a lease right now," states Chris Brown, vice president of product management, Apartments.com. "Many management companies have announced rent increases and we're starting to see this reflected in the rents advertised on our site. As vacancy rates continue to drop and the rental market improves, we expect to see the upward trend grow. Deals can still be had, but they're getting harder to find. Use the tools available online to search for apartments by rent ranges that work with your budget."

Supporting a growing trend in the industry, more than 20% of respondents looking for an apartment this year said they are current homeowners. From these survey respondents who said they are current homeowners, 32% are also first-time renters, indicating a significant number of current homeowners and new renters are turning toward the rental market in 2011.

Survey respondents who are former homeowners also said they are renting this year because it affords them a lifestyle they prefer, including flexibility to relocate for employment opportunities and to live where they choose.

Apartments.com visitors want access to accurate apartment information and the option to tailor their searches by price and location when looking for a new place. According to the survey, 64% of respondents said being able to check real time availability of a specific apartment matters most and 72.2% said the two most popular ways they prefer to search for an apartment is by the "cost of rent" or "location."

It is also clear that renters are tapping multiple resources to find their next apartment. While 81% of Apartments.com visitors surveyed said they are using an Internet Listing Service (ILS) during their apartment search, they are also utilizing popular search engines, listening to recommendations from others and reading their local newspapers. Only 5% said they are using social media websites during their search. Renters ranked their top apartment shopping tools as follows:

- Internet Listing Service (e.g. Apartments.com, Rent.com and MyNewPlace.com): 80.9%

- Online apartment classified listing websites (e.g. Craigslist and Oodle): 46.2%

- Search engines: 38.4%

- Word of mouth: 31.1%

- Local newspaper: 27.1%

Renters also want instant access to information on-the-go. According to the survey, 80% of respondents indicated they use a mobile device during their apartment search. Nearly half of these respondents said they use a smartphone or device including iPhone, iPad, Android or BlackBerry during their apartment hunt. Apartments.com answers the needs of on-the-go renters by offering a mobile version of the website and an app for iPhone and iTouch users.

For more information, visit www.apartments.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.


Simple Fixes for Household Hitches

March 9, 2011 9:09 am

By Barbara Pronin, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, March 9, 2011-There you are, trying to open a stubborn jar of peaches. No one else around to help? Fasten a rubber band around the lid, and poof-it just gives way!

That's just one of the dozens of household hints Wisconsin housewives share in a PTA-sponsored handbook produced last spring. "It was basically a fund-raiser," said PTA president Molly Thorne. "But even we were surprised at the number of copies we sold, and the feedback we get about some simple solutions for everyday household problems."

Among the tips and tricks contained in the PTA booklet:

No more lost socks. Pin pairs together with a safety pin before throwing them into the washer-and don't unpin until they are out of the dryer.

Upright candles. Candles won't stand straight in the holders? Melt the bottoms slightly with a lighted match to secure them firmly in the holders.

Zip top freezer bags. To open more easily, snip a small V in the plastic bag just above the sealer strip. Now you can grip and open easily.

Carpet spots. Clean small spots on rugs or carpeting with spray window cleaner. Mop up gently with a soft cloth.

Stainless steel appliances. Keep them clean and shiny with a bit of baby oil on a napkin or paper towel.

Smelly hands. To get rid of the smell after chopping onions, try a dab of dishwashing liquid mixed with salt.

Wax on the candlesticks? Place the holders in the freezer for an hour. The wax will chip right off.

Bathroom counter tile. Clean the ceramic tiles by sprinkling with boric acid as you clean.

Washing jeans. To preserve the color, wash them inside out the first time-and without detergent.

Clean eyeglasses. To remove hair spray or other grime from eyeglasses, clean them with a little rubbing alcohol.

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.


The Basics of Basement Insulation

March 9, 2011 9:09 am

By Charles Furlough

RISMEDIA, March 9, 2011-If heat is escaping your home, this is the time of year when you'll feel it-in most areas of the country anyway-not just physically, but in your wallet. Too many people spend way more than they should on heating a home due to heat escape. Your first instinct, if you're spinning your wheels trying to heat your home, is that the culprits are things you see every day, from picture windows in the living room to your bathroom skylight. And those very well might be part of the problem. But you may not know that a huge potential source of heat loss is the basement. In fact, basements can account for over one-third of a home's heat loss.

A major reason for this is incorrect insulation in basements. There are many types of insulation and the best choice for your basement is based on the area where you live and the age of your home: fiberglass, mineral wool blanketing, loose fill (cellulose, fiberglass or vermiculite) and spray foam. One of the most effective types, however, is rigid board insulation (typically either fiberglass boards or foam polystyrene boards). This type is typically the most expensive and tough to fit into irregular spaces, but many find the initial cost and effort well worth it in energy savings.

Even if the basement walls are well insulated, there's another consideration: the foundation. Older foundations (like rubble, stone and brick) often suffer from moisture problems and should generally be insulated from the outside. Concrete foundations can be insulated from either the inside or outside if they're structurally sound. Preserved-wood foundations generally must be fully insulated.

Crawl spaces should generally be insulated, as well, but must follow proper ventilation codes and guidelines (1 to 500, vent area to floor area) and the floor must be covered with a polyethylene moisture barrier.

You might be reading this feeling slightly helpless, thinking: How do I know if I've got a 1 to 500 ratio and how do I know what kind of insulation, if any, my foundation has? If you've recently moved and got a thorough, well-documented home inspection at closing-or if you're in a new home and can contact the builder-you might already have records of this information. But in the absence of such records-or if you're in an older home and feel that time and age has lowered your quality of insulation-call in a certified home inspector. Insulation quality isn't something that you can check yourself, if you're untrained; especially in older homes, to do so can be dangerous. A certified, professional home inspector can check your insulation and let you know where it's lacking and how it can be improved or made more energy-efficient.

In addition to efficiency in energy use, safety is a concern too: When upgrading existing insulation to improve efficiency, it's essential to follow local codes and laws. That's where a local, certified professional home inspector can help as he or she will know what your area's laws are. For instance, in many areas it's necessary to place a fire-resistant gypsum board layer over existing insulation to reduce the emission of harmful gases in the event of a fire. In many cases, a home inspection reveals safety lapses, like the lack of such a safety measure. The result: suggested fixes that make your home not only warmer, but safer too.

Charles Furlough is vice president of Pillar To Post Professional Home Inspections.

For more information, visit www.pillartopost.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.


Word of the Day

March 8, 2011 11:09 am

Offer. Oral or written proposal to buy a piece of property at a specified price.

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 guidelines should I use to find a contractor?

March 8, 2011 11:09 am

A: Use caution. Your home is your most valuable financial asset. You will want someone who completes the job, not botch it up. It is important that you find a competent and reliable contractor who will successfully complete your home improvement project.

Here's what you can do:

- Avoid the Yellow Pages. Check with family, friends, neighbors and co-workers for recommendations.

- Contact local trade organizations, such as the local Builder Association or Remodelers Council, for the names of members in your area.

- Deal only with licensed contractors. The state licensing board and local Better Business Bureau also can tell you if there are any outstanding complaints against the license holder.

- Interview each contractor, request free estimates, if possible, and ask for recent references. Make sure bids are based on similar project specifications. And do not automatically settle for the lowest bid.

- Ask for proof of worker's compensation insurance and get policy and insurance company phone numbers so you can verify the information. If the contractor is not covered, you could be liable for any work-related injury that takes place during the project. Also check to make sure the contractor has an umbrella general liability policy.

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.


When to Replace Your Outdated Device

March 8, 2011 11:09 am

By Amanda Wills

RISMEDIA, March 8, 2011-When is it officially time to lay to rest that CRT television and spring for the slimmer LCD? Or drop that old dishwasher in favor of a newer model? Repair is always an option, but saving money in the long run is even better. Here's when you know it's time to unplug and upgrade.

Refrigerator

The older your refrigerator is, the more energy it's using. That's because over time, energy regulations have increased, and technology has simply become more sophisticated, according to Kristen Taddonio, spokesperson for the U.S. EPA's Climate Protection Partnerships Division.

What you're spending: Your fridge's energy consumption widely depends on its birthdate. A refrigerator made in 1992 uses more than 1,020 kilowatt hours, costing more than $100 a year to run. The average 1980s model uses more than 1,480 kilowatt hours annually and comes with an energy price tag of about $160. As for those 1970s models, you're racking up more than $250 a year in electricity bills with a usage of about 2,400 kilowatt hours.

What you're saving: According to Taddino, if you upgrade to an Energy Star refrigerator, you can expect to save $65 and 940 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions a year for a 1992 model; $100 and 1,600 pounds of emissions a year for one from the 1980s and more than $200 and a whopping 3,000 pounds of CO2 emissions annually for a fridge from the 1970s.

Recommendation: Upgrade

If you were to upgrade only one appliance in your home, start with the refrigerator. You'll see the most benefits because, unlike most other devices, the fridge runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Television

It's just natural: tech lovers are more attracted to the skinnier LCD flat screen television over its bulky older sibling, the cathode ray tube (CRT). But making the upgrade could mean shelling out more than $1,000 to replace a big screen. Will you see the difference in your energy bill? According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, probably not.

"Overall, in active mode, many of the large screen flat-panel TVs will consume double the energy of smaller CRT TVs they are replacing due to increased screen size and high-definition capabilities," reads the 2006 report.

However, newer televisions are regulated for energy usage by the Department of Energy. Energy Star 4.0 went into effect in May 2010, meaning that any TV sold after that date must meet the new standards mandating that TVs consume 40% less power overall.

What you're spending: In the state of New York, an LCD TV costs about $56 to run annually, while a CRT model comes in at about $40.

What you're saving: Believe it or not, you're actually saving by not upgrading. Aside from money, you're saving energy and resources in a whole other area: recycling. According to Kyle Wiens of iFixit, a website that hosts free repair manuals for electronics, while it's less tangible, considering improper disposal of hard-to-recycle CRT televisions is a huge factor when deciding to upgrade. "I think the real trick is to compare the captured energy in a device against the ongoing energy savings," he says. "There are also externalities like environmental pollution from incorrectly recycled CRTs to factor in."

Recommendation: Stick with it

Even if you're dying for HD, hang on to your CRT television until it's exhausted its usage. You'll save energy, resources and money. When you're finally ready to throw it out, remember its components are hazardous, so it has to be recycled.

Dishwasher

The dishwasher is one of the top five most energy-consuming devices in your home. This appliance consumes 1,800 watts of power and uses about 54 gallons of gas each year. But aside from energy usage, older dishwashers use more water as well.

What you're spending: A dishwasher built before 1994 wastes more than 10 gallons of water per cycle compared to owning an Energy Star model. Plus, you're paying an extra $40 a year on your utility bills to run it. As much as 80% of the energy your dishwasher uses goes to heat water, including pumping, treating, heating and cleaning the water that goes into your home. Up to 50% of a typical city's energy bill goes to supplying water and cleaning it after use.

What you're saving: A newer Energy Star dishwasher can save enough water each week to wash three loads of laundry in an energy-efficient clothes washer. Upgrading to a newer model could also mean free soap for a year (well, kind of). You'll save enough money on your utility bill to pay for dishwashing detergent for 12 months, according to the DOE.

Recommendation: Upgrade if older than 10 years

The average lifespan of a dishwasher is about 11 years. While it's better to invest in better air conditioning, a refrigerator or heating unit first, your dishwasher will have to be replaced at some point. Until then, make the most out of the one you've got by only washing full loads, avoiding the "rinse hold" setting on your dishwasher and by choosing short cycles and air-drying options if availa0ble.

Incandescent to CFL to LED

For incandescent light bulbs, you won't have any other choice than to upgrade in the future. In 2012, a federal mandate will phase out the sale of incandescent light bulbs in the U.S. CFL bulbs are no doubt more costly than those cheaper, energy-sucking incandescents, and LED models will run you even more. So, in this case, it's OK to start with baby steps.

What you're spending: A 60-watt incandescent bulb uses about five gallons of gas and costs $11.82 annually. But if you're talking upfront price tags, CFL bulbs can cost 10 times more than traditional incandescent bulbs, while more energy-efficient LEDs can cost up to $50 for a single bulb.

What you're saving: CFLs use 75% less energy to run and last 10 times as long as traditional incandescents. Over its lifetime, each CFL bulb actually costs $30 less than an incandescent. While LEDs are significantly more money, the savings are incredible. In fact, if every American switched to Energy Star LEDs, it would save 700 million kWh of electricity each year, achieving a greenhouse gas emission reduction equivalent to taking 100,000 cars off the road.

Recommendation: Upgrade to a CFL or LED

Choose the bulb that's right for you by assessing your lighting usage in each area of your home.

A CFL bulb's life is better spent when it's actually used during longer time spans. That's because a CFL's ballast helps "kick start" the light and then regulates the current once the electricity starts flowing. So, if you're constantly turning the CFL on and off and on again, that energy has to kick up once again to power the bulb. The most important thing to remember about CFLs is that they contain mercury, therefore, recycling is mandated by law.

LED lights work just like incandescent bulbs, but still save a ton of energy and money in the long run. These lights can be dimmed and switched on and off without a second thought.

"Most new LEDs dim well, though not quite 100 percent smooth like incandescents. They are quite good, biggest drawback being initial cost...they will pay for themselves over time, however," says Brian Clark Howard, co-author of Green Lighting. "LEDs are more durable and better for places that have vibrations than CFLs, but they don't like very high heat."

Amanda Wills is the managing editor of Earth911.

For more information, visit www.earth911.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.