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Choosing “Green Homes” Choosing “Green Homes”Comments Off on Choosing “Green Homes”

“Green” homes can be great for the environment and can save you money over time.

For environmentally-conscious homeowners wanting to minimize their footprint and their energy bills, there are four areas upon which to focus.

In-Home Energy-Efficiency
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as of December 2012, buildings account for 68 percent of the nation’s total energy consumption. Green homes can reduce this figure via energy-efficient appliances; well-sealed, double-glazed windows; and good insulation. Alternative energy sources such as solar panels can also reduce energy use.

Green Building Materials
Building materials are determined to be “green” based on manufacturing, shipping, and reclamation procedures, and are composed of renewable resources. Reclaimed materials such as wood from an old barn; or recovered newspapers for use in insulation are often considered to be green. Counter-tops made from recycled materials are often considered green, too. Ceramic tiles, because of how much energy is required to form them, are often not considered green unless reclaimed from a demolition project.

Home Location And Orientation
A home for which the main living areas are facing south will be warmed by the sun in winter, and will not be overheated by the sun in summer. This is considered “green”, as is proper window placement which allows for cross-breezes which can lower energy costs on warmer days. Living in proximity to work and other frequented spots can reduce automotive energy consumption, too.

Indoor Air Quality
Good air quality means promoting a safe, toxin-free environment. Using non-toxic paints in your home plus other green materials can improve air quality. Most notably because, over time, synthetic paints and materials break down, releasing harmful particles into the air.

When buying a green home , be sure to ask questions of the seller including how the home was built, which materials were used in construction, and whether the home’s appliances are Energy Star-rated.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : January 7, 2013 What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : January 7, 2013Comments Off on What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : January 7, 2013

Mortgage rates rose during the first week of 2013.

The fiscal cliff crisis was resolved prior to the market’s opening Wednesday, when legislators voted to approve a deal. While many tax cuts were extended for taxpayers earning less than $450,000 annually, other facets of the fiscal cliff issue are yet to be addressed, including budget cuts for federal government agencies.

Investors were surprised to learn that the Fed may end its third round of quantitative easing (QE3) sometimes in 2013. The FOMC meeting minutes for December 2012 suggested that Fed support for its QE3 program has waned as the economy has improved.

First-time jobless claims increased for the week ending December 29, 2012 to 372,000 from the prior week’s 350,000, worse than Wall Street’s consensus opinion of 360,000 new jobless claims.

The December 2012 Non-Farm Payrolls surpassed analyst expectations, posting 155,000 net new jobs for the month. The report also showed the national Unemployment Rate rising one-tenth of one percentage point to 7.8%. When the jobless rate falls to 6.5%, the Federal Reserve is expected to begin raising the Fed Funds Rate from its current target range near zero percent.

Overall, mortgage rates rose by as much as 0.25 percentage points last week. However, because the increase occurred wholly between Wednesday and Friday, Freddie Mac’s weekly mortgage rate survey failed to include it.

Freddie Mac reported the previous week’s average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage was 3.34 percent for borrowers paying 0.7 percent discount points plus closing costs. The average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage was 2.64 percent for borrowers paying 0.7 discount points plus closing costs.

As this week opens, mortgage rates are considerably higher.

This week’s scheduled economic news includes Treasury auctions on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; weekly Jobless Claims report on Thursday; and not much else. There will be planned speeches, however, from five members of the Federal Reserve, including Richmond Federal Reserve President Jeffrey Lacker.

Fed President Lacker was the lone dissenting vote among voting FOMC members in each of last year’s policy votes.

Pending Home Sales Index Cruises To Multi-Year High Pending Home Sales Index Cruises To Multi-Year HighComments Off on Pending Home Sales Index Cruises To Multi-Year High

Home buyers continue to push the U.S. housing market forward.

In November, for the second straight month, the Pending Home Sales Index eclipsed its benchmark reading of 100, posting a value of 106.4.

The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) is published monthly by the National Association of REALTORS®. It tracks homes under contract to sell, but not sold. The PHSI is relative index, comparing current contract activity to the activity of 2001 — the first year for which “pending homes” were tallied for an index.

The Pending Home Sales Index has posted an average score of 100.2 from January 2012 through November 2012, the most recent month for which there’s data. This is a significant data point because it means that the 2012 housing market is performing better than the 2001 housing market; one which is widely considered a strong one for housing.

It’s also meaningful because it foreshadows a strong market for 2013. With an increasing number of homes under contract to sell, it can be assumed that “closed units” will increase in the future, too.

The National Association of REALTORS® says that 80% of U.S. homes under contract go to closing within 60 days, and that many of the remaining homes go to closing within days 61-120.

The monthly Pending Home Sales Index, therefore, can foreshadow to today’s buyers and sellers what’s ahead for the housing market.

The Pending Home Sales Index is a forward-looking indicator.

Based on November Pending Home Sales Index, we should expect to the home resale market to remain strong, and to pick up strength, through the first quarter of 2013. Demand for homes is high, mortgage rates are low, and buyers are looking to get a good deal.

The first few months of the year are often thought to be “slow” for the housing market. This year, however, that may not be the situation. If you’re actively looking for homes , the best prices may be the ones you get this winter.

Post-Fiscal Cliff, Mortgage Markets Turn Attention To Jobs Data Post-Fiscal Cliff, Mortgage Markets Turn Attention To Jobs DataComments Off on Post-Fiscal Cliff, Mortgage Markets Turn Attention To Jobs Data

Mortgage rates moved higher Wednesday up congressional leaders voted to avoid the “Fiscal Cliff”.

Mortgage-backed securities (MBS) fell as investors bid up stock prices. Confidence among investors and consumers typically causes mortgage rates to rise. That’s what happened Wednesday.

For Thursday and Friday, expect jobs data to dictate where mortgage rates are headed.

The Federal Reserve has said that the national Unemployment Rate will dictate future monetary policy, with the central banker planning to raise the Fed Funds Rate from its target range near zero percent once joblessness falls to 6.5%. Currently, the jobless rate is 7.7 percent.

As the jobs market improves, equity markets should follow, causing mortgage rates to — again — move higher.

Thursday’s Initial Jobless Claims report has already influenced today’s mortgage rates. New claims rose 10,000 to 372,000 for the week ending December 29, 2012. This is slightly higher than Wall Street expected and mortgage bonds are moving better on the news.

Now, Wall Street turns its attention to Friday’s Non-Farm Payrolls report. 

More commonly called “the jobs report”, Non-Farm Payrolls is a monthly publication from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, detailing the U.S. employment situation, sector-by-sector. The economy has added 4.6 million jobs since 2010 and analysts expect another 155,000 added in December 2012.

The Unemployment Rate is expected to tally 7.8%.

As more people get back to work, the nation’s collective disposable income rises, which gives a boost to the U.S. economy. Furthermore, more taxes are paid to local, state and federal governments which are often used to finance construction and development — two jobs creators in their own right.

Furthermore, as the ranks of the employed increase, so does the national pool of potential home buyers. With demand for homes high and rents rising in many U.S. cities, demand for homes is expected to grow. Home supplies are shrinking.

If you’re currently floating a mortgage rate, or wondering whether it’s a good time to buy a home, consider than an improving economy may lead mortgage rates higher; and an improving jobs market may lead home prices higher.

The market is ripe for a refinance or purchase today.

How To Make An Emergency Preparedness Kit For Your Home How To Make An Emergency Preparedness Kit For Your HomeComments Off on How To Make An Emergency Preparedness Kit For Your Home

Some natural disasters can be forecast — hurricanes, snow storms and, in some cases, flooding. Other disasters occur unexpectedly, such as tornadoes and earthquakes. 

As a homeowner or renter , it’s a safe idea to prepare for disaster or unexpected emergency. Every home should maintain a ready, working emergency kit for such a time.

Here are some items to include in your home’s emergency kit :

  • Waterproof Container : Store items in a locking, plastic container
  • Battery-Powered Radio : A small radio can receive weather updates and emergency broadcasts. Pack extra batteries, or use a hand-crank radio, instead.
  • Light Source : Pack multiple flashlights and many spare batteries. LED flashlights are more expensive than “older” flashlights, but won’t lose battery power as quickly. Pack candles and matches, as well.
  • Water : Pack bottled water, storing larger bottles in a cool, separate place. Add several bottles of sport drink for variety, if desired.
  • Food : Pack non-perishable food such as canned fruits and vegetables; protein sources such as peanut butter or canned tuna; crackers and cookies; nuts and dried fruits. Remember to pack a can-opener, if needed. Include plastic utensils, if necessary.
  • Blankets : At least two blankets should be packed. Consider packing multiple sets of clothes, for different temperatures and seasons.
  • First-Aid Kit : A proper first-aid kit should include antiseptic, bandages, aspirin, an ace bandage, and allergy medicine for allergic reactions.
  • Emergency Contact List : Include a list of your local utility companies; phone numbers at which to contact friends and loved ones; and, your primary care physician’s number.

After packing your emergency kit, make sure to store it in an easy-to-reach location away from power lines, power sources, and any place that may be “extra dangerous” during a crisis. For example, storing an emergency kit in a garage or a shed may be safer than storing it in a basement or in a bedroom closet.

In an emergency, a little bit of preparation can go a long way. Be prepared and be safe.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : December 31, 2012 What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : December 31, 2012Comments Off on What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : December 31, 2012

Mortgage bonds improved last week, pushing mortgage rates lower nationwide.

Positive economic news and strong housing data was trumped by ongoing Fiscal Cliff discussions on Capitol Hill.

The “Fiscal Cliff” is meant to represent January 1, 2013 — the date on which mandatory spending cuts are enacted by Congress and on which tax rates increases for many U.S. taxpayers.

Some analysts believe that if these two events are to occur simultaneously, it would derail the current U.S. economic expansion and revert the economy back into recession. That concern has spurred a flight-to-quality which has benefited mortgage bonds and, therefore, U.S. mortgage rates.

For example, last week, Freddie Mac reported the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate at 3.35 percent nationwide for borrowers willing to pay an accompanying 0.7 discount points plus a full set of closing costs. This is a 0.02 percentage point reduction from the week prior.

The average 15-year fixed rate mortgage rate was unchanged last week at 2.66 percent for borrowers paying an accompanying 0.7 discount points plus closing costs.

In this holiday-shortened week, mortgage rates may fade again.

Congress convened over the weekend in order to discuss the impending Fiscal Cliff, and ways to avoid it. Talks have been ongoing since this year’s election yet it appears unlikely that the simultaneous expiration will be avoided.

How this would affect the economy is unknown but mortgage markets would witness an immediate boost of demand, leading mortgage rates lower. Conventional, FHA and VA mortgage rates would all likely benefit.

And then, Wall Street will turn its attention to Friday’s December Non-Farm Payroll report.

Mortgage rates are expected to make big moves upon the report’s release. This is because, earlier this month, the Federal Reserve said it would begin raising the Fed Funds Rate only after the Unemployment Rate reaches 6.5 percent. Currently, the Unemployment Rate is 7.7 percent. If December’s jobless rate slips, moving closer to the Fed’s stated target, mortgage rates are expected to rise.

Similarly, if the Unemployment Rate rises, mortgage rates are expected to drop.

Fixing Up An Historic Home : The Three Rs Fixing Up An Historic Home : The Three RsComments Off on Fixing Up An Historic Home : The Three Rs

If you enjoy both history and fixing things, then you may have trouble driving by historic homes for sale without feeling the urge to buy and fix one up.

Before you do, however, you should know the three R’s of fixing historic homes — Restoration, Renovation, and Repair.

Restoration
“Restoration” is the process of returning a home to its original state. Restoring historic homes often requires city and state permission. It’s essential that you check to see whether your home is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP); or, whether it’s located in a historic district. If either is true, there may be a specific set of rules to follow while renovating.

Restoration can be an expensive endeavor. For a home to keep its historic value, the materials used must match the home’s original materials, including furnishings. This can be costly because of antique value.

Renovation
Renovating is less complicated and less restrictive as compared to restoring. However, via a renovation, a home often becomes a more “modern” living space, which can lower the home’s historic value. Be sure that your home is not listed in the NRHP or located in an historic district before beginning renovations.

Depending on size of the project(s), renovations can be expensive, too. However, it’s easier to find great deals on modern appliances as compared to the antique appliances required for a restoration.

Repair
Repairs are often less intensive than a restoration or renovation. For repair, be sure to use materials which fit the home’s character, which may include plaster walls and wooden floors, for example. Matching original materials is not important in the home repair process..

The cost of a repair project will depend on the size and volume of required repairs.

The differences between a restoration, renovation and repair of an historic home may be minor, but those small differences will change your costs, your timeline and your procedural red tape. Speak with an qualified architect if you’re unsure of your obligations as the owner of a historic home.

Case-Shiller Index Posts 4% Annual Home Price Gain Case-Shiller Index Posts 4% Annual Home Price GainComments Off on Case-Shiller Index Posts 4% Annual Home Price Gain

The U.S. housing market continues to make home price gains.

Earlier this week, the S&P/Case-Shiller Index showed home prices gaining 4.3 percent during the 12-month period ending October 2012, marking the largest one-year gain in home prices since May 2010.

The Case-Shiller Index measures changes in home prices by tracking same-home sales throughout 20 housing markets nationwide; and the change in sales price from sale-to-sale. Detached, single-family residences are used in the Case-Shiller Index methodology and data is for closed purchase transactions only.

Between October 2011 and October 2012, home values rose in 18 of the 20 Case-Shiller Index markets, with previously-hard hit areas such as Phoenix, Arizona leading the national price recovery.

The top three “gainers” for the 12 months ending October 2012 were :

  • Phoenix, Arizona : +21.7 percent
  • Detroit, Michigan :  +10.0 percent
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota : +9.2 Percent

Only Chicago and New York City posted annual home value depreciation. On average, homes lost -1.3% and -1.2% in value, respectively.

It should be noted, however, that the Case-Shiller Index is an imperfect gauge of home values

First, as mentioned, the index tracks changes in the detached, single-family housing market only. It specifically ignores sales of condominiums, co-ops and multi-unit homes. 

Second, the Case-Shiller Index data set is limited to just 20 U.S. cities. There are more than 3,000 cities nationwide, which illustrates that the Case-Shiller sample set is limited.

And, lastly, the home sale price data used for the Case-Shiller Index is nearly two months behind its release date, rendering its conclusions somewhat out-of-date.

That said, the Case-Shiller Index joins the bevy of home value trackers pointing to home price growth over the last year. The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), for example, reported similar home price growth with its October 2012 House Price Index (HPI).

Home values rose 0.5 percent between September and October 2012 nationwide, the FHFA said, and climbed 5.6 percent during the 12 months ending October 2012.

Economists attribute increasing home prices to higher buyer demand, record-low mortgage rates and the gradual improvement of the U.S. economy.

How To Install A Water Heater Jacket How To Install A Water Heater JacketComments Off on How To Install A Water Heater Jacket

A simple way to save money is to improve your home’s energy efficiency rating.  For example, homeowners can save up to 9 percent per year on water heating costs simply by installing a water heater jacket.

Water heater jackets are easy to install. Here’s how you do it :

First, before you go shopping, check whether your water heater is a gas model, or an electric one. Then, write down your water heater model number. Most water heater jackets list compatible water heater models on their respective packaging. Look for jackets with a value of “R-8”.

Then, as you start your project, be sure to turn the water heater off.

Water heater jackets are pre-cut to make installation simple. Remove the outer packaging and separate the jacket’s pre-cut pieces. There will likely be a top, a body and belts. You’ll want to have plenty of duct tape on hand, too.

Next, shape the top of the water heater jacket to fit your appliance.  Trim around the pipes which enter the water heater, then tape the areas closed. This will form a strong seal.

Tape the top edges down to the side(s) of the water heater.

Then, take the body of the water heater jacket and wrap it around your water heater’s mid-section. Have the belts ready and secure them, taking care that the belts don’t push the insulation down more than one-quarter of its thickness.

Lastly, outline the access plate with a pencil on the insulation exterior, and use scissors or a knife to cut the insulation out. Tape the edges to avoid fraying and set the water heater to a temperate no higher than 130 degrees.

Note that outfitting a gas water heaters with jackets can be more complicated than with electric water heaters because of construction. If your water heater is a gas model, consider hiring a professional to handle your installation.

Housing Starts, Building Permits Rising Into 2013 Housing Starts, Building Permits Rising Into 2013Comments Off on Housing Starts, Building Permits Rising Into 2013

Single-family housing starts took a small step back in November.

According to the monthly Housing Starts report from the U.S. Department of Commerce, single-family housing starts tallied 565,000 in November 2012 on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis. This marks a 4 percent decline from October, but is more than 100,000 higher than the count from 12 months ago.

Clearly, the nation’s new home construction market is expanding.

On a regional basis, single-family housing starts have been strongest in the Midwest; and Hurricane Sandy appears to have affected the number of starts across the Northeast.

As compared to one year ago:

  • Northeast Region : Housing starts down 19% on an annual basis
  • Midwest Region : Housing starts up 40% on an annual basis
  • South Region : Housing starts up 24% on an annual basis
  • West Region : Housing starts up 33% on an annual basis

It’s expected that new construction growth will continue into 2013, too. This is because the Department of Commerce report also showed Building Permits mostly unchanged for November at 565,000 units on a seasonally-adjusted annualized basis.

As compared to November 2011, this marks a 25% increase. Permits for multi-family homes are up 17%, too.

There are more building permits being issued today that at any time in the last 4 years.

For home buyers, this may be good news. Rising permits and housing starts suggests a more healthy U.S. economy, but it also means that home supplies may not be as tight throughout the next few months.

Overly-tight home supplies in some U.S. markets have contributed to rapidly rising home values. With more construction and larger home inventories, home prices may rise in 2013 less slowly.

The good news, though, is the mortgage rates remain near all-time lows and low- and no-downpayment mortgage programs are abundant. For today’s home buyer, there are plenty of affordable ways to purchase a home.

Talk with your real estate agent and your loan officer to see which plan works best for you.

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