731 W Skippack Pike
September 20, 2011 5:03 pm
Q: How can I finance work needed for home repairs?
A: According to the Millennial Housing Commission created by Congress, few lenders are willing to administer home improvement loans. Most prefer to make home equity loans or unsecured consumer loans because they are easier to manage. Home improvement loans usually require inspections and irregular draws on the loan amount as work is completed, which forces regional or national lenders to find local partners to provide oversight.
Financing repairs and improvements with home equity is okay for most homeowners, but it difficult for many first-time buyers. They have lower-incomes, smaller savings, and have made lower down payments on their homes than first-time buyers a decade ago. So they have little equity to borrow against. Unfortunately, it is often lower cost older homes purchased by first-time buyers that need the most work.
Unless you have a cash reserve, you will have to shop around for the best borrowing terms. In addition to the options listed above, you can ask relatives for a loan. Borrow against your whole life insurance policy. Refinance your existing mortgage. Get a second mortgage. Contact the government about home improvement programs. And – only as a last resort – borrow from a finance agency, which generally tend to charge higher rates.
September 19, 2011 8:03 pm
If a little updating is in your kitchen’s future, one of the most important choices you will need to make involves your kitchen countertop. These days, there are many choices and more than a few differences in wearability, longevity and cost.
From home store kitchen consultant Jeff Wittenberg, here are the pros and cons about today’s most popular countertop materials:
• Granite – A good choice for looks, durability and elegance, granite stands up to heat, requires little maintenance, and will likely last a lifetime. It’s expensive, but coming down in price, and is available in a variety of colors and natural patterns. Cutting directly on them won’t harm this super-hard surface but will dull knives.
• Engineered stone – Composed of 93% quartz particles, these countertop options are expensive but are nonporous, resistant to scratches and stains, and require little to no maintenance.
• Marble – beautiful, water- and heat proof, marble is expensive and vulnerable to stains and scratches. Requires a lot of care.
• Solid surface – These custom engineered countertops are seamless and stain resistant and come in a rainbow of colors – but they are vulnerable to hot pans and stains and are moderately expensive.
• Ceramic tile – Durable, inexpensive and easy to clean, ceramic tile can take the heat and is easy to clean. But tiles can chip or crack over time and grout lines can become stained.
• Laminates – these plastic coated synthetics are durable and inexpensive. They are easy to clean, and available in many colors, but cracks and chips are impossible to repair.
• Wood or butcher block – Beautiful and easy to clean, hardwood countertops can be sanded and resealed as needed—but they can be damaged over time by water and stains, and scratches must be oiled or sealed.
September 19, 2011 8:03 pm
Thanks to the new partnership between the Building Codes Assistance Project (BCAP) and Consumers Union, user-friendly, interactive online guides and downloadable publications are helping homeowners and buyers save energy and money by teaching them the potential of building energy codes to address and improve home energy performance.
“Everyone should have the right to an energy-efficient home that meets national standards,” saysCosimina Panetti, advocacy director of BCAP. “Energy codes—minimum requirements for efficient design and construction—offer a cost-effective way to reduce energy use and monthly bills, while also lowering carbon emissions. It’s a win-win-win.”
Energy Codes: A Consumer Issue
A 2011 Consumers Union survey found that 86% of homeowners want to know a home’s energy operating costs before they buy or rent; 82% of homeowners believe they have a right to homes that meet national standards; and 77% of homeowners think that homebuilders should not construct less efficient homes at the consumer’s expense.
“Energy codes affect the majority of the population, but are often overlooked as a consumer issue,” says Stacy Weisfeld, energy campaign organizer for Consumers Union. “Strong energy codes help not only people moving into new homes, but also future buyers and the community as a whole.”
The average U.S. homeowner will spend about $2,175 on home energy costs this year, or about $180 a month. An energy-efficient home that complies with the 2009 national energy code can save homeowners $235 or more each year compared to an average new home that does not meet the 2009 code.
Energy Code Resources
The new tools provide information about energy codes and checklists homeowners and buyers can use to identify whether construction meets building energy code requirements.
The interactive tools and downloadable publications are hosted on both the BCAP website and the Consumer Reports Greener Choices site.
The resources include:
• Energy Code Guides
Learn how to increase home energy performance through in-depth guides.
• Energy Code Printable Checklists
The checklists help determine if a new home meets national energy code standards, and teach consumers how to read the Energy Code Certificate that builders post in new or substantially renovated homes.
• Energy Codes Location Guide
This step-by-step guide provides building energy codes based on location and information on whether or not the code is being effectively enforced.
Documents That Explain What Energy Codes Are
Fact sheets and a PowerPoint presentation provide basic information about building energy codes and explain why they are important.
Select State Guides and Checklists
BCAP has partnered with state energy offices in Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri and Nebraska to create customized energy code resources for consumers in each state.
“We want to empower consumers to shop assertively for energy efficiency when they buy or renovate a home, just as they have learned to do when they shop for refrigerators and air conditioners,” Weisfeld says. “Consumers who use these new energy codes toolkits will know exactly what to look for, and which questions to ask builders, sellers and home inspectors when shopping for a home.”
BCAP and Consumers Union are also inviting consumers to become more active in state-based campaigns to educate consumers and strengthen adoption and enforcement of energy codes. Current campaigns are underway in Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio and Michigan.
For more information, visit http://www.ase.org/.
September 19, 2011 8:03 pm
The remodeling of older homes is shaping up to be the next big trend in green building. Dr. David Crowe, Chief Economist of the National Association of Home Builders, predicts U.S. home remodeling expenditures will increase by at least 20 percent by the end of 2011.
Crowe says, "Due to the housing market, homeowners will choose to stay in their homes and invest in updates rather than upgrade by moving."
That trend apparently is fueling another development in the remodeling industry—the increasing number of products being targeted to the do-it-yourselfer, says Dan Kahn of Floors to Your Home. "With products, such as flooring, becoming more technologically advanced and accessible to the homeowner, remodeling is easier and more cost effective," he says.
"Due to the economy, homeowners are choosing to add on to their existing homes and manufacturers are helping them with these products that are much easier to install than they were in the past," Kahn says. "Manufacturers are creating products specifically with the do-it-yourselfer in mind."
He also said that remodeling is popular because "small updates to the home can dramatically change the look and feel of a home, while boosting its value. For example, laminate flooring can make a home look more modern—at a much cheaper rate than a major renovation."
Real estate statistics also show that homes with hardwood flooring—real or not—often get a higher price than those with carpet. In an effort to make the house more "sellable," homeowners are opting to make those smaller renovations before selling.
Studies show that in the next five years, the focus of remodeling spending will shift from upper-end discretionary projects to replacements and systems upgrades. Kahn says, "Homeowners should look to do-it-yourself projects, such as laying a floating floor that can go above their existing floor. This way they can still refinish their home, but do it in such a way that it will be cost effective."
For more information, visit www.floorstoyourhome.com.
September 19, 2011 8:03 pm
Daily routines for many families are filled with commitments that lead to chaotic schedules. Calendars are jam-packed with carpools, sports practice and other activities, so keeping the family happy and healthy with balanced meals and fitness can become a challenging priority.
Organization and meal planning is key, says Kathy Kaehler, Snapware® brand partner and creator of the Sunday Set-Up™ Club. "As a mom, nothing feels better than being organized; it makes my day manageable." Kaehler recommends the following tips to help keep family health and happiness top-of-mind while minimizing the daily chaos of being over-scheduled:
Get a Jump Start on Tomorrow. Pack school bags, including nutritious lunches the night before.
Set Up a Snack Station. Stay ahead of the bell by setting out containers of after-school snacks on the kitchen counter, so that kids have easy access to healthy snacks as soon as they arrive home. Kaehler recommends filling containers with nutritious snack combinations like carrot sticks with hummus, celery sticks with peanut butter, frozen grapes or frozen banana chips dipped in dark chocolate.
Stay Active. Schedule a family bike ride, walk, or a soccer game on the lawn. It's important to set an example for your kids when it comes to exercise, and having these activities as part of their daily schedule allows exercise to be a part of their weekly routine.
Prepare Healthy Dinner Options. Make sure kids get the very best nutrition from family dinners by preparing lean meat meals with lots of fruits and vegetables. To save time and reduce cost, cook once but eat twice by preparing double the portions needed for dinner and refrigerating the leftovers in leak-proof storage containers. A balanced portion of leftovers can then be served on a subsequent day.
A little organization can go a long way toward making afternoons and evenings less chaotic and more enjoyable for the whole family. For more information on where to find affordable, BPA-free storage solutions visit www.snapware.com.
This and other food and lifestyle content can be found at www.editors.familyfeatures.com.
September 19, 2011 8:03 pm
Homeowner’s insurance policy. Packaged insurance policy for homeowners and tenants that cover property damage and public liability, such as fire, theft, and personal liability.
September 19, 2011 8:03 pm
Q: Is private mortgage insurance always required on low-down payment loans?
A: Lenders require private mortgage insurance (PMI) on most loans with less than a 20 percent down payment. They believe there is a correlation between borrower equity and default. They have found that the less money borrowers put down, the more likely they are to default on a loan. PMI guarantees the lender will not lose money if this happens and a foreclosure is necessary.
A growing number of private lenders, however, are loosening up their requirements for low-down payment loans. In fact, the Homeowners Protection Act states that PMI must be dropped on any loan originated after July 29, 1999. Borrowers can request that PMI be canceled when they pay down the principal balance on their mortgage loans to 80 percent of the purchase price. Lenders must automatically cancel PMI when the balance hits 78 percent.
September 16, 2011 8:03 pm
Q: Do builders provide financing?
A: Many builders offer financing incentives to help move more buyers into a project. In fact, major building companies often have their own mortgage brokerage subsidiaries, while many other builders routinely refer buyers to "preferred" local lenders. If it is a buyer's market in your area, you can be sure developers will offer incentives such as low-down-payment financing or interest rate subsidies.
September 16, 2011 5:03 pm
Short of deciding who you will marry, few decisions are more exciting than choosing your first home. Enough bedrooms? Check. Room for a pool? Check. Presumably, you have answered the large questions before submitting your bid. But before you get caught up in the buying process, here are some small practicalities to consider:
How will your furniture fit? Get the measurements of every room in the home and measure your larger pieces of furniture; the sofa, the bed, the computer desk or entertainment center. Sketch out the new room dimensions on graph paper so you can see at a glance how and where your furnishings will fit.
What about wiring? As we depend more and more on broadband, fiber optics and high speed access, check out what connections are already in place-especially if you are looking at an older home. Is it ready for digital cable, satellite, etc? If such services are not already connected, are they available to neighborhood residents?
What's the noise level after dark? The neighborhood may seem quiet during the day, but is it near a freeway or an airport? Is there a fire station or a railroad crossing nearby? If quiet is important to you, you may want to visit at night or during rush hour and check out the noise factor as those planes, trains, and automobiles-and busy fire trucks-whiz on by.
How far to the nearest cup of sugar? If your dream home is in a new development, or in a rural section of town, how far will you need to go for a quart of milk at midnight? Is the local store open late? Are new shopping centers planned-and when will they be completed?
Do you know how HOA rules will affect you? If there is a homeowners association in place, will it approve your plans to put in a deck or spa? Read the binding homeowner documents and become familiar with rules and restrictions before you buy into the community.
September 16, 2011 5:03 pm
Last winter hit hard across much of the United States, blanketing the country with snow and sending temperatures plummeting. If early weather prognosticators are correct, this winter could see even colder temperatures thanks to resurging La Nina weather conditions. Colder than normal weather often means greater energy usage and higher utility bills.
MXenergy, a Constellation company, is encouraging homeowners to act now to help protect their homes and wallets when winter approaches.
"Just as in so many other areas in life, when it comes to energy savings preparation is the key," says Marjorie Kass, MXenergy managing director of marketing. "The time to make your home more efficient for winter and lower your energy costs is not when brutal temperatures are here but rather now in order to maximize savings."
Winter Efficiency Tips
Seal It Up: Proper insulation is one of the most effective efficiency improvements homeowners can make. Check doors and windows for drafts and install weather-stripping where needed. Check to make sure your attic has adequate insulation and that the attic hatch is properly sealed. Don't forget to examine air ducts and electrical outlets for drafts and seal leaks.
Take Care of Your Furnace: A properly maintained furnace is a much more efficient one. Have your furnace serviced annually by a licensed professional. Change filters at least once a month and should your furnace need replacing make sure to look for a high efficiency Energy Star model.
Simple Steps: Cutting energy costs doesn't have to cost you money. Simple actions such as closing off empty rooms, closing your fireplace flue, and opening blinds in the morning to let in the sun and closing them at night can all help decrease costs. In order to prevent trapped ceiling heat, run ceiling fans during the day in a clockwise direction to properly disperse heat throughout the room. Consider landscaping on the northern and windward sides of your home for added protection.
Maximize Your Savings: Many parts of the country have restructured energy markets that enable consumers to shop for energy. If you have a choice in energy providers, now is a great time to research available rates and lock in savings for the coming winter.
"Locking in a low fixed rate now with a reputable energy provider ensures price stability and protects against potential price increases when cold temperatures do arrive," says Kass.
For more information, visit www.mxenergy.com.
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