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Mary Mastroeni

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Q: If faced with foreclosure, what are my options?

April 25, 2011 10:23 am

A: Talk with your lender immediately. The lender may be able to arrange a repayment plan or the temporary reduction or suspension of your payment, particularly if your income has dropped substantially or expenses have shot up beyond your control. You also may be able to refinance the debt or extend the term of your mortgage loan. In almost every case, you will likely be able to work out some kind of deal that will avert foreclosure.

If you have mortgage insurance, the insurer may also be interested in helping you. The company can temporarily pay the mortgage until you get back on your feet and are able to repay their "loan."

If your money problems are long term, the lender may suggest that you sell the property, which will allow you to avoid foreclosure and protect your credit record.

As a last resort, you could consider a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure. This is where you voluntarily "give back" your property to the lender. While this will not save your house, it is not as damaging to your credit rating as a foreclosure. Exhaust all other viable options before making a decision.

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.


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How to Save a Million Dollars - 5 Tips That Can Help Make It Happen

April 25, 2011 10:23 am

By Barbara Pronin, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, April 25, 2011-It's possible to make a million dollars instantly if you win the lottery, inherit a fortune or marry into it. For most of us, however, the only way to save $1 million is to save and invest whatever money we have.

There is a way to do it easily within your working life though. If you begin when you are 18, and sock away $150 every month-and if your funds are invested at a feasible rate of 10% interest-you will have your $1 million in something like 42 years.

If you can't earn 10% interest, you will have to sock away a little more each month. If you don't have 42 years to wait, you will have to invest a little more each month and get the highest rate of interest possible. But it can be done by the time you are ready to retire.

Even if you can't manage to save $150 per month, there are ways to maximize whatever money you do save. From the financial gurus at Money magazine, here are five tips to help you on the road to wealth:

Spend less than what you earn. Make it your goal never to build up credit card and to save something of what you earn each month. It sounds simple, but it may call for a little self-denial.

Diversify your income sources. Don't be wholly dependent on your salary. Consider consulting on the side, getting a second, part-time job, or running a home-based business.

Establish and maintain a secondary income that frees up your time to earn more. For example, as your nest egg grows, buy and rent out property or start a business that can be outsourced or sold.

Set savings goals and track your progress monthly. Challenge yourself to save money you might otherwise consider spending.

Continue to earn, save and invest. How dedicated you are to saving and how wisely you invest can indeed combine to make you a millionaire by the time you are 50 or 60.

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.


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New Homes Strengthen Economy Year-Round

April 25, 2011 10:23 am

RISMEDIA, April 25, 2011-While the housing industry celebrates "New Homes Month" in April, home builders want Americans to know just how much of a positive, direct impact residential construction has on the U.S. economy throughout the entire year.

"Home building is a key driver of the American economy," said NAHB Chairman Bob Nielsen, a home builder from Reno, Nev. "By generating economic activity, including new income and jobs, purchases of goods and services, and revenue for local governments, housing-which has historically accounted for around 17 percent of the GDP-can put America back to work."

Economists at the National Association of Home Builders estimate that the one-year local impacts of building 100 single-family homes in a typical metro area include $21.1 million in local income, $2.2 million in taxes and other local government revenue, and 324 local jobs.

The employment effects extend beyond the home-building industry. About half of the jobs are in construction, with the other 50% creating employment opportunities in industries ranging from production and sales of home furnishings to service providers such as real estate attorneys and landscapers.

Those 100 new homes also provide the community with additional, annually-recurring impacts of $3.1 million in local income, $743,000 in taxes and other revenue for local governments, and 53 local jobs.

The income earned from construction activity is spent and recycled in the local economy, and the new homes that are built become occupied by residents who pay taxes and buy locally produced goods and services. Those tax revenues help pay for a wide range of government services, including local school teachers, police departments and road repairs.

In order to accommodate population growth and necessary replacement of older homes, however, a long-run trend of approximately 1.7 million new homes a year is needed. Yet as of February 2011, the annual projection for housing starts stood at less than 500,000.

"The gap between actual home starts and what is required to fulfill America's future housing needs represents more than 3 million jobs," said Nielsen. "Restoring the health of the housing industry is a crucial first step in stabilizing our country's path to economic recovery."

During New Homes Month, home builders also bring attention to the advantages of newly built homes, including safety, amenities, energy efficiency and floor plans to fit a wide variety of modern lifestyles. Combined with today's near record-low interest rates and competitive prices, the current market offers new home buyers unprecedented opportunities.

For more information, visit www.nahb.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.


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Buyer's Market Spurs Confidence in Young Professionals and Affluent Homeowners

April 25, 2011 10:23 am

By Paige Tepping

RISMEDIA, April 25, 2011-As the cold temperatures become a distant memory, and the spring selling season gains momentum, consumers have come to agree on one thing-now's a good time to get off the fence and into the real estate market. This is the overall theme in the latest American Express Spending and Saving Tracker survey, a monthly survey that tracks the spending and saving habits of consumers in order to get an indication of what's happening in the market. "This month's Spending and Saving Tracker provided an up-to-date look at various consumer trends and gave us the opportunity to assess how consumers are feeling about the current market in addition to gauging homeowner confidence," says Leah Gerstner, vice president of public affairs at American Express.

"This month's survey points to the fact that consumers overwhelmingly feel that we are in the midst of a buyer's market," she adds. The data also points to the fact that a seller's market is at least a year away, which is certainly positive news. While homeowners aren't necessarily willing to settle for less than the asking price when selling their home, two of the biggest areas of interest in the latest survey deal with homeowners including home improvement projects on their to-do list, as well as the willingness to include concessions to get their home sold.

Home Improvements

"In looking at the results of our latest Spending and Saving Tracker survey, our thinking was that if consumers overwhelmingly view today's market as a buyer's market-which they do-they are likely to have plans to put more money into their home," adds Gerstner. In fact, the survey found that about 64% of homeowners currently have home improvement projects on their to-do list for 2011. While the plans are in place, the amount that homeowners are budgeting to spend has gone down quite a bit from last year.

"Homeowners are looking for better ways to stretch their dollars, and many are looking toward energy-efficient home improvements that will pay off in the long run." The survey shows that among homeowners who are looking to go green, the most common items homeowners would spend their money on include energy-efficient windows and doors, insulation, roofing, heating and cooling systems as well as alternative energy systems.

Concessions

Another finding that stood out in the latest survey had to do with whether or not sellers were willing to make concessions to get their homes sold, especially in today's market. While 44% of sellers were willing to give away appliances during a sale-the biggest concession among young professionals and affluent homeowners-another 28% said they would take care of requested repairs in order to get their home sold. "While a large majority of sellers are willing to make concessions to get their home off the market, the willingness to make concessions is down among young professionals when compared with the 2010 survey," says Gerstner. "This is an important finding as it shows that young professionals are more confident in their ability to sell their homes today."

"Homeowner confidence in today's market has increased compared to last year," says Gerstner. "In fact, the survey shows that the confidence level is pretty evenly split-42% of homeowners are confident they will get their asking price in today's market, while 47% of homeowners aren't that confident." Even though home values continue to be on the low side, young professionals and affluent homeowners are seemingly more confident in today's market.

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.


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Americans Prefer Smart-Growth Communities, According to NAR Study

April 25, 2011 10:23 am

RISMEDIA, April 25, 2011-Americans favor walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods, with 56% of respondents preferring smart-growth neighborhoods over neighborhoods that require more driving between home, work and recreation. That's according to a recent study, the Community Preference Survey, by the National Association of REALTORS .

"REALTORS care about improving communities through smart-growth initiatives," said NAR President Ron Phipps. "Our members don't just sell homes, they sell neighborhoods. REALTORS understand that different home buyers are looking for all kinds of neighborhood settings and that many home buyers want walkable, transit-accessible communities."

Walkable communities are defined as those where shops, restaurants and local businesses are within walking distance from homes.

According to the survey, when considering a home purchase, 77% of respondents said they would look for neighborhoods with abundant sidewalks and other pedestrian-friendly features, and 50% would like to see improvements to existing public transportation rather than initiatives to build new roads and developments.

The survey also revealed that while space is important to home buyers, many are willing to sacrifice square footage for less driving. Eighty percent of those surveyed would prefer to live in a single-family, detached home as long as it didn't require a longer commute, but nearly three out of five of those surveyed-59%-would choose a smaller home if it meant a commute time of 20 minutes or less.

The survey also found that community characteristics are very important to most people. When considering a home purchase, 88% of respondents placed more value on the quality of the neighborhood than the size of the home, and 77% of those surveyed want communities with high-quality schools.

The survey of 2,071 adult Americans was conducted by Belden, Russonello and Stewart from February 15-24, 2011.

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.


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Word of the Day

April 23, 2011 10:11 am

Settlement. The day on which title is conveyed.

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.


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Q: Should I buy a vacation home?

April 23, 2011 10:11 am

A: The second home market has more ebbs and flows than the primary home market. Sales are iffy in a bad economy except, perhaps, on the high-end. That said, there is a growing trend toward the purchase of vacation homes. They are being bought for investment purposes, enjoyment, as well as retirement. In the latter instance, some people are buying with the idea of turning a vacation home into a permanent retirement haven down the road, a move that puts them ahead of the game now.

Some of the tax benefits of a second home mirror those for a primary residence. Before taking the leap, however, ask yourself if you can afford to carry two mortgages, maintain two households, and pay the extra utilities and maintenance costs. Also, learn about financing requirements and options, which can differ slightly from those on a primary residence.

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.


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Top Outdoor Living Trends for Spring

April 23, 2011 10:11 am

RISMEDIA, April 23, 2011-Based on the buying habits of their customers nationwide, Family Leisure and FamilyLeisure.com have announced the trends they have spotted for spring 2011.

"Over the last five years there's been a huge jump in customers' desire to nest at home as the economy continues to recover," said Kevin Prefontaine, President of Family Leisure Indianapolis. "We are seeing a continuation of consumers spending their time and dollars enhancing their at home experience with fresh, new, exciting additions."

The top 5 trends in outdoor living for spring 2011, as identified by Family Leisure and FamilyLeisure.com customers, are:

1. Fireplaces. Whether you are trying to create a simple BBQ area or an entire backyard paradise, outdoor fireplaces are "hot" right now. There are a variety of options to consider when building an outdoor fireplace, from size, color and materials.

2. Pergolas. Pergolas extend outdoor living space through a horizontal trellis work supported by columns or posts, either attached to a structure (such as your home) or standalone. "We are seeing an increase in standalone pergolas, which offer customers a separate conversation area aside from a patio or sunroom," Prefontaine said. Pergolas are also a more affordable option for some consumers.

3. Outdoor kitchens/grill islands. Grill islands and outdoor kitchens can be made from the highest quality materials and are increasingly being made to customers' specifications. The stone, stucco and tile are available in a variety of shapes and colors to match any outdoor d cor. Consumers are looking for the best cooking results and an inviting, easy-to-clean kitchen with add-ons like pizza ovens and warming drawers. "We're also seeing customers add lighting and outdoor stereo systems to create the perfect ambiance for outdoor entertaining," Prefontaine said.

4. Fire pits. "The beauty of a custom outdoor fire pit is that they can be used nearly year round and can be as simple or as elaborate as the customer wants, depending upon their budget," Prefontaine said. Fire pits can be made from a variety of materials to match or accent a customer's existing d cor. Fire pits can be customized any way you can imagine, even featuring your family name or favorite sports team's logo.

5. Patio furniture. The last few years have seen a huge increase in the availability and options of quality patio furniture. "Instead of buying disposable pieces, we are seeing more and more customers invest in quality patio furniture-sturdy, well-made items that will last a lifetime," Prefontaine said. "You can feel the difference in the weight and you can tell the difference when you sit on a piece of quality furniture as opposed to a cheaply made item that might last a year or two."

For more information, visit www.familyleisure.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.


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Stronger Crib Safety Rules Established

April 23, 2011 10:11 am

By John Voket, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, April 23, 2011-Even though National Consumer Protection Week (March 6-12) is over, Americans should be aware of a new update regarding crib safety rules that can be seen as a step forward in protecting infants and toddlers.

Our friends at the U.S. PIRG, a federation of state Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) that advocate for consumers in areas including product safety, along with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recently announced the establishment of the strongest crib safety standards in the world.

Following recent years of recalls of millions of cribs due to entrapment deaths and injuries, the new standards become mandatory in June, 2011. They will ensure new cribs have been tested for safety to rigorous standards.

The Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Kids in Danger and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group all hailed the update as a major step forward in protecting infants and toddlers.

The new rule puts many new tests and requirements in place:

-Cribs with full side drop-sides will not be allowed-the bottom 20" of the crib rail must be fixed to eliminate the entrapment hazards seen when the hardware fails.

-All cribs must undergo rigorous testing for slat strength, durability and mattress support strength. The series of testing is conducted on one crib to simulate a life-time use of a crib. This is the key to the new standard. Most of the 10 million cribs recalled since 2007 were able to meet the weak industry standards that were in place.

-Warnings and labeling have been improved, both to make parents more aware of when a crib is mis-assembled and to alert them to developmental signs to stop using a crib (when the child attempts to climb out). While most attention has been rightly focused on entrapment deaths in cribs, most injuries are a result of children falling out of cribs.

For the first time, this mandatory rule applies to products already in use by some entities as well as to new products. Efforts will begin immediately to remove older unsafe products off store shelves, out of child care homes and out of hotels. This does not apply, however, to already purchased cribs being used in private homes, except for barring their resale.

For more information, visit www.cpsc.gov/info/cribs.

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.


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Tips to Help Buyers Assess Online Photos in Proper Context

April 23, 2011 10:11 am

RISMEDIA, April 23, 2011-With a large majority of real estate buyers starting their home search online, it is more important than ever for sellers and the agents representing them to be sure the photos they post online make a good first impression. The National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (NAEBA) warns that real estate images can be misleading, especially as home staging-the practice in which experts make the property attractive to the highest number of potential home buyers by enhancing its visual appeal-is becoming increasingly common. Taking the staging element to the dramatic editing of online photos is a relatively new tactic and can be misleading.

Today's home buyer spends more time online when shopping for a home. The practice is growing and more popular than ever with the rise of smartphone apps that allow buyers to search property listings, calculate mortgages and more. Virtual showings are integral to the total home buying process and a large part of that is the ability to view the exterior and interior of a home before deciding to view it in person.

"We advocate for clarity and integrity in every facet of the real estate buying transaction, and that extends to photographic representations of properties," says Benjamin Clark, 2010 President of NAEBA.

The following four tips will help buyers assess online photos in the proper context.

1. Pictures can look better than the actual home. Buyers should view pictures with that understanding and not make a sole judgment based on the photos.

2. Pictures may look worse than the actual home. Buyers may be discouraged by a poorly taken photo, yet the property may actually represent a good bargain.

3. Order and flow make a difference. It can be difficult to get a sense of the flow of the home from photographs. If the photos are not listed in order, try to do it yourself so that you can follow the path of the home from the front door through the rooms of the house.

4. Photos distort scale. It is difficult to get a good view of a whole room from a small picture. Rely on floor plans and room dimensions rather than photos to judge the scale of rooms.

Photos can provide additional information, but home buyers that rely solely on an image can miss out on a great home or be disappointed by an in-person visit. Buyers should assess all available information about a home. Use Google Street View to see the surrounding neighborhood, and Yelp to read reviews about local businesses and stores. A picture may not be worth a thousand words, but when added to detailed research, it can be very valuable.

For more information, visit www.naeba.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.


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