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10 Appraisal Tips that Will Save You Time and Money

March 19, 2011 6:43 am

RISMEDIA, March 19, 2011-Mortgage rates are at near-historic lows, but sinking home values are often lowering appraisals as well. If you are considering refinancing your home, what do you need to know about the appraisal process to help ensure you get the best possible appraisal on your home? Seasoned loan officer and mortgage industry insider Len Finelli shares ten important tips on understanding the appraisal process. If you are a homeowner seeking to refinance, heeding these important tips on appraisals before proceeding can improve your refinancing options and save you time and money.

Top 10 Appraisal Tips to Help You Save Time and Money

1. Continuously research the value of your home and the other homes in your neighborhood; pay attention to foreclosures in your area; they may drive down the value of your home.

2. Since appraisers use "comps" (comparable market sales) of local properties sold within the last six months to value your home, make sure to work with a great loan officer who will leverage their knowledge to research comps in your area, before ordering the appraisal.

3. If you use your own appraiser, research them first and ask your lender to cross check them for any potential issues that may delay the process. Great loan officers will always confirm your appraiser's credentials.

4. Direct your loan officer to work with local, experienced appraisal companies. Local appraisers have a deeper knowledge of the surrounding neighborhood and will likely be more readily available for the home inspection, to speed your appraisal process.

5. The appraisal report is yours to keep. Find out in advance who pays for the appraisal-many times appraisal fees are the homeowner's responsibility and have to be paid up front.

6. New lending regulations require two appraisals in some situations-ask at the beginning whether you'll need one or two.

7. Commit to your lender before committing to an appraisal. Being comfortable working with your loan officer is imperative. They often will be the liaison between you and the appraisal company.

8. Make sure any major repairs are completed before moving forward with your refinance. Structural damages drive your home value down and jeopardize the approval process for today's popular government-backed FHA loans.

9. Don't overestimate the value of making cosmetic home improvements. The expense is rarely justified because in the appraisal world, only improvements that add square footage will significantly increase home value.

10. Rely on market value rather than tax assessments for a realistic appraisal value-in today's market, tax value and current market value may differ widely, but your lender can only go by appraisal value.

Finally, homeowners should expect their lender to explain the appraisal process and all of the steps for refinancing clearly and up front. "Homeowners have a right to understand the process fully before going forward with their appraisal and refinance," Len says. "Ask questions, and if they aren't answered to your satisfaction, find another lender that has the answers. Today's market offers many opportunities for homeowners to refinance, and a reputable lender can help homeowners find great options to consolidate debt, shorten terms and lower payments. And it all starts with an appraisal."

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

March 18, 2011 12:43 pm

Principal. The amount of money borrowed; the amount of money still owed.

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: My budget won't allow for expensive add-ons; is there another way to find and make space?

March 18, 2011 12:43 pm

A: That space may be as close as the next room, particularly if there is unused or under utilized areas in your home. A garage, attic, side porch, large closet, or basement can all be converted to fit the use you have in mind. Or, maybe, a small area can be carved from a larger area like a kitchen or living room to create, say, a powder room. This concept of "stealing" space from a neighboring room is called space reconfiguration and it is much cheaper than a major remodeling job.

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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Make Reading Fun, Interesting and a Lifelong Habit

March 18, 2011 12:43 pm

RISMEDIA, March 18, 2011-While it may be hard to believe, a recent study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation confirmed that millions of American children reach the fourth grade without being able to read proficiently at their grade level. Research has shown that children who do not learn to read at an early age are much more likely to fall behind in their studies or drop out of school. For young elementary school students, the key is to make reading fun and exciting. Here are a few simple steps parents and guardians can take to make reading fun, interesting and a lifelong habit.

Keep books, newspapers and magazines front and center. Why keep books and other reading materials tucked away on a dark shelf in your child's bedroom? Let reading be part of the atmosphere of your home. A recent study commissioned by the non-profit literacy organization Reading is Fundamental found that easy access to print materials improves children's reading performance and attitude about reading and learning. With a basket of books, magazines and newspapers by the couch in the living room, a few books accessible on a counter in the kitchen, you demonstrate that reading is an important part of your daily life and can be enjoyed by all members of the family.

Create a new habit. Having reading materials readily accessible also means you are more likely to be reading in the same room with your child. Reading is a great habit to create-both for you and your child. Remember, children love to imitate their parents-so be a good reading model. Take every opportunity to read with your child. No matter where you are, words are everywhere. Ask your child to help you read labels at the grocery store, or to look for a certain road sign. Take a few minutes while cooking dinner to help your child as he stumbles over a word while reading at the kitchen counter. Each time you read aloud together, you are engaging your child's mind and instilling the importance of the written word. Be careful not to criticize, but gently correct mispronunciations. Remember, reading should be fun.

Have technology-free Tuesday. In addition to family movie night, have a family reading night or a technology-free night. Spend part of the evening reading your own reading material and part of the evening reading something together. Reading together is not only educational for children, but it also helps establish a bond between parent and child.

Visit the library. Make a trip to your local library a part of your family's regular weekly routine. Allow children to pick out their own books and help them understand the importance and responsibility of returning them to the library so that others can enjoy them. In the 2010 Kids and Family Reading Report, the researchers found that the power of choice is a key factor in nurturing a young reader. Nine out of ten children are more likely to finish a book they choose themselves.

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.


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5 Home Security and Safety Tips for Seniors

March 18, 2011 12:43 pm

RISMEDIA, March 18, 2011-Americans who reach age 65 are living an average of 18.5 more years-a four-year increase from 1960-according to a recent federal Aging Forum report. Friends and family can't always stay with individuals who remain at home and require caregiver help, so home security is of high concern for this growing segment of the population. Security Choice, a leading online resource for home alarm systems and home security monitoring, offers these tips to help keep seniors secure at home.

1. Light the outdoors: Motion-activated outdoor lights can discourage potential intruders and alert seniors to potential emergencies. Standard, constant lights should also be installed at home exits like porches and garage doors, and turned on each night.

2. Install a security system: Many home alarm systems offer remote access through key chains that allow seniors who have trouble moving around to arm or disable a system from any room in their homes. Make sure the chosen system covers burglary, fire and medical emergencies. Some providers also offer personal emergency monitoring systems that seniors can use to alert medical professionals in case of an emergency like a fall.

3. Check IDs: Scam artists may promise money and prizes in exchange for payment or personal information like a Social Security number. Ask for identification from anyone that comes to the door. Checking with the affiliated business before letting a service or delivery person in is also a good idea. The website Snopes keeps track of circulating scams and hoaxes. Police should be alerted to any suspicious individuals and activity.

4. Use locks on a regular basis: Existing locks on all entrances and exits of a home are useless if they aren't routinely used. Make a habit of keeping them locked and replace any in poor shape. Locks should be accessible to seniors from the inside in case of an emergency.

5. Schedule routine check-ins: Whether it's with a hired caregiver or a loved one, seniors should check-in at least once a day in person or via phone to ensure that all is well.

For more information, visit www.securitychoice.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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4 Home-Staging Trends to Help you Compete in Today's Market

March 18, 2011 12:43 pm

RISMEDIA, March 18, 2011-Staging a home before listing it on the market is a crucial step that many homeowners often overlook. The International Association of Home Staging Professionals (IAHSPR) offers four home-staging tips to help homeowners compete in today's market:

1. Home staging is not just for houses for sale. Traditional home staging involves working with sellers to prepare houses for sale; but today's successful Accredited Staging Professionals have a multi-faceted business that allows them to serve clients with staging to live, staging to work and for a myriad of events-from small parties to large, corporate parties.

2. Home staging helps foreclosure, REO and short sale properties sell. With the increase of foreclosure, REO and short sale properties in many markets throughout the U.S., the need for presentation of these properties as a product that can sell is imperative.

3. Home staging becomes greener. As of late, IAHSPR has seen a trend toward eco-friendly home staging. Home stagers have specific inventory they can provide that is "green" to help a seller, builder or investor that wants to put their "green" foot forward and achieve their goal of marketing a product that truly has the environment at heart.

4. Home staging captivates mainstream media. There are currently no less than eight shows on HGTV devoted to the process of preparing a house for sale, and this trend will continue as long as the public finds value in learning what to do both inside and outside their home when getting ready to put it on the 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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Getting More for Less Homeowners Focus on "Rightsizing"

March 18, 2011 12:43 pm

RISMEDIA, March 18, 2011-One of the victims of the housing bubble is the McMansion. Yes, they are still being built, but despite the great benefit of the mortgage interest deduction to high income homeowners, other factors are slowing their proliferation. Chief among them are growing doubts about the long-term home appreciation potential and the owners' increased risk of finding themselves much further underwater should another housing downturn occur. The economy is a significant factor as well. Not only are new home buyers opting for smaller homes, but more homeowners are choosing to remodel instead of buying a larger home.

The result is a trend towards "rightsizing" new homes-making them big enough and well enough equipped, but not going overboard just to impress the neighbors. The same factors are affecting remodeling projects and home decorating options. According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), after growing in square footage for nearly 30 years, the average square footage of single-family homes is now declining. The average size of a single-family home in the United States peaked at 2,521 square feet in 2007. A 2009 U.S. Census bureau study found it had shrunk an average of 2,438 square feet. NAHB attributes the decline "to phenomena such as an increased share of first-time home buyers, a desire to keep energy costs down, smaller amounts of equity in existing homes to roll into the next home, tighter credit standards and less focus on the investment component of buying a home. Many of these tendencies are likely to persist and continue affecting the new home market for an extended period." NAHB also noted that fewer bedrooms and bathrooms are being built and that the several decade trend toward multilevel houses shifted back in the direction of single level homes last year. The American Homeowners Foundation believes that these trends are also being driven to some degree by the growing number of retiring/downsizing baby boomers.

Several trends are noticeable in both new homes and remodeling projects. "More bang for the buck" is the priority for more and more homeowners. This is also reflected in more careful thought about just how big the kitchen/bath/family room/deck really needs to be. Not every room gets the full luxury treatment. You can save thousands of dollars by focusing on effective space design and using less expensive components, such as cabinets or countertops. Despite the cutbacks on size and cost, some types of home investments continue to grow. The percentage of new homes and remodeling projects incorporating Energy Star appliances continues to increase, even though homeowners may not opt for the most expensive model. Available federal tax credits for home energy efficiency enhancements such as insulated windows, etc. (set to expire at the end of this year) are also helping to shore up homeowner spending in this area.

More homeowners are choosing to redecorate rather than remodel for many of the same reasons. Many small rooms in older homes can be made to seem larger and be made easier to live in through skillful redecorating.

There are many ways to use color, furniture selection and placement, and other alternatives to make a room seem larger. Traditional ways to achieve that objective are to use mirrors and white/light colored walls, while avoiding bold patterns, drapes that block window light, bulky furniture and clutter. Glass topped kitchen or coffee tables and/or desks occupy less visual space and are also good for small rooms. Eliminating knickknacks and/or consolidating them to a single display area will also help. You can often get away with one bold patterned object in a small room if it is balanced by solids or smaller and muted patterns. Similarly, a large overstuffed chair may not make a small room feel more confined if it replaces two smaller ones. Built-ins such as Murphy beds, bookshelves, window seats, shallow cabinets etc. can maximize space utilization and may also improve the room design.

Courtesy of the American Homeowners Foundation and the American Homeowners Grassroots Alliance, www.AmericanHomeowners.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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Pending Home Sales Decline in January 2011

March 16, 2011 9:43 am

RISMEDIA, March 16, 2011-Pending home sales eased moderately in January 2011for the second straight month, but remain 20.6% above the cyclical low last June, according to the National Association of REALTORS . The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator, declined 2.8% to 88.9 based on contracts signed in January from a downwardly revised 91.5 in December. The index is 1.5% below the 90.3 level in January 2010 when a tax credit stimulus was in place. The data reflects contracts and not closings, which normally occur with a lag time of one or two months.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist points to the broader trend. "The housing market is healing with sales fluctuating at times, depending on the flow of distressed properties coming on the market," he said.

"While home buyers over the past two years have been exceptionally successful with historically low default rates, there is still an elevated level of shadow inventory of distressed homes from past lending mistakes that need to go through the system," Yun said. "We should not expect the recovery to be in a straight upward path-it will zig-zag at times."

The pace of January existing-home sales, 5.36 million, is slightly higher than NAR's annual forecast for 2011. If contract activity stays on its present course, there should be an 8% increase in total existing-home sales this year.

"The broad fundamentals for a housing recovery are developing," Yun said. "Job growth, high housing affordability and rising apartment rent are conducive to bringing more buyers into the market. Some buyers may be looking to real estate as a hedge against potential future inflation."

The PHSI in the Northeast declined 2.4% to 73.5 in January and is 3.0% below January 2010. In the Midwest the index fell 7.3% in January to 78.0 and is 3.2% below a year ago. Pending home sales in the South rose 1.4% to an index of 97.7 but are 0.4% below January 2010. In the West the index fell 5.2% to 98.7 and is 0.9% below 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.


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Practice Good Hearth Health: Fireplace Safety Basics

March 16, 2011 9:43 am

By Charles Furlough

RISMEDIA, March 16, 2011-In the winter, there's nothing as idyllic as sitting by a gently crackling fireplace with a cup of cider or hot cocoa, feeling the warmth from your toes to your soul. The essence of comfort and luxury, a fireplace is the focal point of a home. But, in order to ensure many more years of fireside moments-and to keep something beautiful from becoming potentially dangerous-some regular maintenance is required, as well as a keen eye toward safety.

When most people think of fireplaces, they recall traditional ones, found in older and classic homes. In a traditional fireplace, the fire is encased in a metal firebox lined with special firebrick. Smoke moves up a flue, which is typically a tile or metal liner inside a masonry chimney. A flue damper keeps air from escaping when the fireplace isn't being used; and the smoke shelf, behind the damper, stops outside air from coming in and pushing harmful smoke into the living area.

Besides traditional fireplaces, though, there are plenty of other types. A heat-circulating fireplace produces some radiant heat, but mainly warms the air that circulates around the firebox; some have a fan that increases the air flow. A gas fireplace is mostly decorative and takes gas logs. By contrast, direct-vent fireplaces are like a wood-burning heat circulator-cool air enters at the bottom, is warmed, and rises out the vent at the top; the CO is expelled out the rear, so there is no need for a chimney. Finally, if you have a modern home or apartment, there's a good chance you'll have a modern wood stove-they're desirable because they're more efficient that a heat-circulating fireplace.

No matter what type of fireplace you have, maintenance is key to safety. First, before the winter, it's essential to call in a professional to clean the chimney. Creosote can build up in the chimney and start fires. Typically, as soon as the creosote in the chimney is 1/8-inch thick, that's an automatic sign to call in a professional who will also check the firebox and masonry and fill in potentially dangerous cracks.

Another important safety note: Chimneys must be lined with metal, or the appropriate tile. Older homes (especially those built before 1950) are typically not. If you have just moved to your home, this is something that a certified home inspector should have found during an inspection; but, if you're not sure, call in a reputable, professional home inspector to assess the safety of the chimney. The inspector will give input on required repairs you need to have done.

Beyond professional maintenance, it's essential for the homeowner to take safety precautions too. Here are some of the most important:

-Never burn pine or soft wood; it generally causes extremely fast creosote buildup.

-If you have a wood stove, make sure ashes don't build up too much. One or two inches of ash is optimal; more than that, and you should remove some.

-Never burn pressure-treated or painted wood; it can cause noxious fumes.

-Never burn any kind of trash-paper, Christmas trees, anything at all-in a wood-burning fireplace. Only use logs made for wood-burning fireplaces.

-Never burn charcoal in a wood-burning fireplace.

-Even though it's tempting to have as big a fire as possible, never overload a fireplace or wood stove; it can cause restricted air flow and dangerously high levels of combustion.

-Use logs specifically designated for your type of fireplace. If the label on the log's packaging doesn't detail this clear enough (which it should), ask a representative at the store you're buying it from.

-If you have a direct-vent fireplace, make sure that it's underwritten by Underwriters' Laboratories (the "UL" symbol will be prominently listed on the packaging) or by the American Gas Association (AGA).

-Play it safe. If anything looks or smells out of the ordinary while you're operating your fireplace, call a professional for servicing.

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.


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Word of the Day

March 16, 2011 6:43 am

Point. Fee charged by a lender to get additional revenue over the interest rate. A point is equal to one percent of the loan amount.

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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