For Your Clients: 10 Low-Cost Tips to Improve Your Home’s Appeal

By Paige Tepping

RISMEDIA, September 4, 2010–When selling your home, the goal is to sell it quickly for the highest price while investing as little as possible in renovations. With a limited budget and a little effort, you can greatly increase your home’s appeal by focusing on what prospective buyers can see on their first visit. The experts at offer the following recommendations for preparing a house for sale and staging it for showings.

Tip #1: Refresh the exterior
First impressions count when it comes to selling a home. Most buyers wont even leave their car if they dont find the exterior appealing. The best ways to improve your homes exterior include:
-Repairing and/or replacing trims, shutters, gutters, shingles, mailboxes, window screens, walkways and the driveway.
-Painting siding, trim and shutters and lamp and mailbox posts.
-Pressure washing vinyl siding, roofs, walkways and the driveway.
-Washing windows.

Tip #2: Spruce up the lawn and landscape
Home buyers associate the condition of your lawn and landscaping with the condition of your homes interior. By improving the outside, you affect buyers impression of the entire property. The best ways to enhance the yard include:
-Mowing and edging the lawn.
-Seeding, fertilizing and weeding the lawn.
-Keeping up with regular lawn maintenance by frequent watering.
-Trimming and/or removing overgrown trees, shrubs and hedges.
-Weeding and mulching plant beds.
-Planting colorful seasonal flowers in existing plant beds.
-Removing trash, especially along fences and underneath hedges.
-Sweeping and weeding the street curb along your property.

Tip #3: Create an inviting entrance
The front door to your home should invite buyers to enter. The best ways to improve your entry include:
-Painting the front door in a glossy, cheerful color that complements the exterior.
-Cleaning, polishing and/or replacing the door knocker, locks and handles.
-Repairing and/or replacing the screen door, the doorbell, porch lights and house numbers.
-Placing a new welcome mat and a group of seasonal potted plants and flowers by the entry.

Tip #4: Reduce clutter and furniture
A buyer cannot envision living in your home without seeing it. A home filled with clutter or even too much furniture distracts buyers from seeing how they can utilize the space your home offers. If you have limited storage space, you may want to consider renting a temporary storage unit to place items you wish to keep. The best ways to declutter your home include:
-Holding a garage sale to prepare for your move, getting rid of unnecessary items.
-Removing clutter such as books, magazines, toys, tools, supplies and unused items from counter tops, open shelves, storage closets, the garage and basements.
-Storing out-of-season clothing and shoes out of sight to make bedroom closets seem roomier.
-Removing any visibly damaged furniture.
-Organizing bookshelves, closets, cabinets and pantries. Buyers will inspect everything.
-Putting away your personal photographs, unless they showcase the home. Let buyers see themselves in your home.
-De-personalize rooms as much as you can.

Tip #5: Clean, clean, clean
The cleanliness of your home also influences a buyer’s perception of its condition. The appearance of the kitchen and bathrooms will play a considerable role in a buyer’s decision process, so pay particular attention to these areas. The best ways to improve these areas include:
-Cleaning windows, fixtures, hardware, ceiling fans, vent covers and appliances.
-Cleaning carpets, area rugs and draperies.
-Cleaning inside the refrigerator, the stove and all cabinets.
-Removing stains from carpets, floors, counters, sinks, baths, tile, walls and grout.
-Eliminating house odors, especially if you have pets.
-Considering air fresheners or potpourri.

Tip #6: Make minor repairs
The small stuff does count, especially with first-time home buyers. Without dismissing the importance of repairing major items such as a leaky roof or plumbing, you do not need to spend money on replacing these items. Instead, focus on the minor repairs that will make your home visually appealing. The best ways to improve your home include:
-Repairing ceilings and wall cracks.
-Repairing faucets, banisters, handrails, cabinets, drawers, doors, floors and tile.
-Caulking and grouting tubs, showers, sinks and tile.
-Adding fresh paint to ceilings, walls, trim, doors and cabinets.
-Tightening door handles, drawer pulls, light switches and electrical plates.
-Lubricating door hinges and locks.

Tip #7: Showcase the kitchen
The heart of any home is the kitchen. If you are going to spend any money on renovations, this is the one area where you will see the greatest return. Even with a modest budget, focusing on a few key areas can make a great difference in getting the asking price for your property. The best ways to showcase the kitchen include:
-Replacing cabinet doors and hardware.
-Installing under-cabinet lighting.
-Replacing light fixtures.
-Replacing outdated shelving with pantry and cabinet organizers to maximize space.
-Baking cookies or cupcakes for a showing, to create a homey smell.

Tip #8: Stage furniture
Furniture placement can enhance the space of your home while giving buyers an idea of how to best utilize the space with their own belongings. Take some time to rethink how different areas in your house could be used. Some ideas to think about include:
-Moving couches and chairs away from walls in your sitting and family rooms to create cozy conversational groups.
-Creating a reading corner in the master bedroom.
-Clearing an empty room to set up a reading space.
-Turning an awkward space into a home office.
-Setting the dining room table with your best china.
-Set wine glasses in front of the fireplace or next to a Jacuzzi tub.

Tip #9: Light up the house
Create a sense of openness and cheerfulness in your home through its lighting. To improve the lighting try:
-Opening shades and drapes to let the sunshine warm and brighten rooms.
-Installing brighter light bulbs in rooms that tend to be dark.
-Adding additional lamps for ambient lighting.
-Turning on all the lights for a showing.

Tip #10: Add fresh touches
You can easily add color and style to your home by adding fresh touches throughout. Some ideas to consider include:
-Placing fresh floral arrangements in the entry and master bedroom.
-Placing bowls of bright-colored fruit in the family room and the kitchen.
-Filling an empty corner with a potted leafy plant.
-Setting new hand soap in the bathrooms.
-Displaying fresh towels near sinks.


August 25, 2010

Trends in Kitchen Design

By Jean Patteson

RISMEDIA, August 25, 2010–(MCT)–Kitchens have long been among the most popular remodeling projects. But with fewer clients requesting kitchen upgrades during this recession, one kitchen designer has turned the economic slowdown to her advantage.

“If I couldn’t remodel as many client kitchens as usual, I decided to remodel my own showroom. That way, I’d be ready to show the latest trends and the most exciting new products when this down period ends,” said Joan DesCombes, president of Architectural Artworks in Winter Park, Fla.

The result is a showroom fitted with latest looks and innovations in cabinetry, counter tops and appliances from upscale lines such as SieMatic, Sub-Zero, Wolf and Miele. Add state-of-the-art lighting and electronics, and you have the essential elements for the 21st-century dream kitchen.

Of course, not every budget can afford those high-end brands. But, as with fashion and automobiles, the top-of-the-line products set the trends. The styles, materials, colors and technical advances seen in luxury showrooms today inspire the more-affordable versions that show up in the big-box stores tomorrow.

Most strikingly, Descombes’ model kitchens don’t look like typical, traditional kitchens. Appliances are fully integrated into the cabinetry. You see no telltale dishwasher dials and switches, no refrigerator door handles and ice-dispensers. Or fridges and ovens are designed to look like the freestanding cabinets or sideboards. Even the sophisticated finishes and colors on cabinetry seem more like those you’d find in an elegant living room than the kitchen.

That’s because the kitchen has become a kind of surrogate living room in today’s homes, said DesCombes. It’s where families, cook, eat, relax and entertain. And in today’s open-plan home designs, homeowners prefer kitchens that blend with adjacent spaces living and dining areas, bars and patios.

“We spend a lot of time in the kitchen,” said Judy Yarmuth of Winter Park, Fla., whose kitchen was recently renovated by the Architectural Artworks team. “It’s the center of the house. We have a lot of dinner parties. While I’m cooking, it’s the place to be.”

The entire kitchen was designed around the refrigerator, she said. But hers is no ordinary icebox. Designed to look like a classic Chinese wedding cabinet with a walnut finish, it is typical of the freestanding pieces likely to become popular in coming seasons.

“It’s stunningly beautiful and different,” said Yarmuth. Together with a backsplash of tan/gold Jerusalem stone behind the range and a massive slab of dark wenge wood set into the stone-composite island, the refrigerator cabinet warms up the otherwise white-on-white kitchen “and makes it just yummy.”

Of course, a dream kitchen doesn’t just look beautiful. “It has to function for each individual client,” said DesCombes. “I need to know all about their lifestyle. Are they great cooks, don’t cook, use caterers? Do they have pets and where do they keep the dog food? Everything.”

When she redesigned the kitchen in the Melbourne Beach, Fla., house of Charlie and Carol Draper, she replaced the enclosed, traditional design with an open, low-maintenance space. She also installed horizontal-grain cabinets with stainless-steel channels in lieu of hardware, which draw the eye across the room to the panoramic ocean views.

“It’s an incredibly workable kitchen,” said Carol Draper. “Joan moved the island a little. She got rid of some cabinets so the eating area was no longer separate. Now the whole thing just flows. When you’re cooking, it doesn’t even seem like work.”

Counter tops: Stainless steel, antiqued marble, lava stone, wood, concrete, mosaics and flamed granite with a textured, matte finish.

Cabinetry: Fewer overhead cabinets. Lift-up or sliding doors, self-closing drawers, glass-fronted cabinets and glass shelving, tracks inside doors for attaching storage accessories, pantires with multiple storage options. Fresh finishes, from smooth, high-gloss and matte lacquer, to textured, horizontal-grain laminates.

Appliances: Free-standing accent pieces and fully-integrated designs that blend with cabinets. Fridges with more crisper space, less freezer space; combination gas/electric ranges; designer range hoods; super-quiet dishwashers; specialty sink faucets; luxury items such as warmer drawers for coffee mugs.

Lighting: Combinations of soft incandescent, bright halogen and cool, energy-efficient LED bulbs.

Colors: Warm neutrals such as walnut, slate, sand, greige, celadon and magnolia.

Architectural elements: Wall niches and bump-outs for housing coffee machines, juicers, dinnerware, herbs, spices and collectibles.

(c) 2010, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


July 30, 2010

Five Smart Reasons to Buy a Home Now

RISMEDIA, July 30, 2010–The economy is stabilizing. Home prices are holding. It’s not just as good a time as ever to buy a house. It’s one of the best times ever. presents five overlooked reasons why now is a great time to buy a house.

1. Low mortgage rates serve as an equity shock absorber. When buyers borrow at today’s record-low rates, they start building equity as soon as they close. That means they have a little give to absorb a few ups and downs as the still-recovering housing market gains traction.

2. Houses are in move-in condition. Homeowners have continued to spend on maintenance and repair, according to the Harvard Joint Center on Housing. Homeowners who have been holding back kept their houses in good shape while they waited. As those houses enter the market, they are in marked contrast to tattered foreclosures.

3. Terrific houses are coming on the market. Foreclosures are finally starting to clear the system and this is just the opportunity that owners of many desirable properties have been waiting for.

4. Appraisal regulations are finally aligned with market realities. Fannie Mae has adjusted its appraisal guidelines…again. Now that appraisers have more flexibility to set values that reflect the current market, today’s deals will make it over the finish line.

5. Plenty of programs. Homes are more affordable than they have been for years, but communities have stuck by “workforce housing” programs that encourage middle-class families to buy houses. Buyers who qualify can get a big boost by combining one of these programs with today’s low mortgage rates.


July 22, 2010

4 Steps toward Preparing Your Home for a Hurricane

By Stephanie Andre

RISMEDIA, July 22, 2010–It’s hard to believe that it’s already been five years since Hurricane Katrina devoured the Gulf Coast. While hurricanes are not preventable, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your property should disaster strike.

Here are four important steps to consider, according to the Insurance Information Institute:

STEP #1: Review Your Insurance Coverage
Be sure you have the right kind and amount of insurance, enough to rebuild your home and replace your belongings. Ask about flood insurance, which is not covered under a standard homeowners policy. Learn more about flood insurance at

STEP #2: Create a Home Inventory
An up-to-date home inventory will speed up the claims process by substantiating losses and may provide documentation for tax purposes. It can also help you determine how much insurance to purchase. Visit to download software to help make this process easier.

STEP #3: Protect Your Property
Keeping wind and water out of your home is critical. Invest in storm shutters and reinforced garage doors. Secure roof shingles and seal any openings, cracks and holes. Gable end walls and roof sheathing should be strongly attached and braced, and double doors should have heavy duty anchors at the top and bottom and a dead bolt at least 1″ long.

STEP #4: Have an Evacuation Plan
Decide where you will go and how you will get there, and have more than one option. Keep a map, phone numbers and addresses handy. Think about what youll need to take with you – items like medicines, important documents, clothing and food – and have them ready to go.

June 30, 2010
100 Dollars Can Go a Long Way for a Great Looking Yard
RISMEDIA, June 29, 2010–Got a hundred bucks and a free weekend? Then you’ve got what it takes to invest in some yard care improvements.

“Some of the best upgrades to your yard can be done with a few dollars and a few hours,” says Trey Rogers, Ph.D., the Briggs & Stratton Yard Doctor. “When budgets are tight, get creative and do it yourself.”

For those who’d like one-on-one advice from Rogers, enter the Yard Smarts Boot Camp. Attendees will learn how to easily take care of their yard, tour amazing green spaces and win a new lawn mower and more. Visit to enter.

What can you do for $100 right now?

— Mow the right way. Don’t scalp your lawn. Instead, let it grow a little longer, which is healthy for the lawn. When you mow, cut only one-third the length of the grass blade. Cost: About $3.00 for a month of mowing.
— Apply bark mulch. Few things dress up a yard more than mulch around flowerbeds and trees. Cost: About $3.00 per bag.
— Fertilize naturally. When you mow, leave a light layer of grass clippings on the lawn as a natural fertilizer. Cost: $0.
— Maintain your mower. Once a year, change the oil, replace the spark plug and change the filter. Tune-up kits are available and make it\ easy. Cost: $10-14 for a walk-behind mower.
— Let nature water your lawn. If water is costly where you live, let nature handle irrigation. If too little rain falls, your lawn may go dormant, but unless you are in a drought situation, it will green up
again when the rain falls. Cost: $0.

With the rest of your $100 bill, splurge on some annual flowers to dress up your front doorway, patio or deck.

June 16, 2010

Summer Remodeling Ideas

By Paige Tepping

RISMEDIA, June 16, 2010–Other than vacations, summer is the time of the year most popular for home improvement. The long days and warm, sunny weather make a great time to work on repairs and renovations without much of the hassles and delays that rain and other elements bring. For this reason and more, a good number of homeowners undertake home improvement projects during the summer.

Eugene Makeev, a home improvement expert offers the following tips for homeowners who are looking to spruce their homes up this summer.

Patios and Decks
What better way to enjoy the warm days than by creating an outdoor living space for the family to enjoy. Decks and patios are among the most popular summer remodeling ideas. There are various factors to take into consideration when deciding whether a patio or deck is the most appropriate project to undertake. Such factors include soil condition and consistency, site terrain, use, capacity, privacy as well as the cost and maintenance you are willing to put up with.

Home Maintenance
Throughout the seasons, your home has taken good care of you and your family and now is the best time to give back. Go through your property to evaluate and create a checklist on areas that need mending or replacement. This list is a crucial preparation before calling a contractor or handyman for maintenance and repair services. Some common maintenance and repair include:

-Waterproof the basement
-Re-caulk and replace weatherstrip
-Clean and seal wooden decks
-Trim bushes and trees
-Re-align downspouts and gutters
-Repair roof
-Clean the pool
-Mend the fence
-Seal cracks along driveways, foundation, walkways, etc.
-Maintenance of HVAC systems

Energy Efficient Renovation
When it comes to summer remodeling, there’s no better way to invest your hard-earned dollars than by making your home energy efficient. An energy efficient summer remodel is truly a worthwhile endeavor as it will result in years of savings on your energy bills. Some of the common items you can buy and integrate into your energy efficient renovation include:

-Insulation systems and materials
-Roofs that resist heat gain
-Biomass burning stoves
-Energy-efficient windows
-HVAC systems with the highest efficiency tier
-Solar panels
-Fuel cells
-Geothermal heat pumps
-Wind energy systems

June 10, 2010

Regional Spotlight – Be Prepared for Hurricane Season

RISMEDIA, June 10, 2010–Hurricane season has officially begun and coastal residents should make sure that they are properly prepared, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

The 2010 hurricane season, which started on June 1 and runs through November 30, is expected to be an “active to extremely active” one, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service, has projected a 70 percent probability of 14 to 23 named storms this year, with eight to 14 of them becoming hurricanes–defined as storms with top winds of 74 miles per hour (mph), or higher. Three to seven of the hurricanes could be major ones, with winds of at least 111 mph, according to NOAA. In its prediction, NOAA cites as factors a warming of the Atlantic Ocean’s water and a weakening of the wind shear, which can tear apart storms, because El Nino has dissipated in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

The average number of named storms each year is 11, including six hurricanes, with two of them becoming major storms. No hurricanes made landfall in the U.S. last year.

“Coastal residents from Maine to Texas should take steps now to ensure they have the right type and amount of insurance coverage to help them recover from a major storm,” said Jeanne Salvatore, senior vice president and consumer spokesperson for the I.I.I.

To prepare for a hurricane and other disasters, the I.I.I. suggests following these five tips:

1. Buy Enough Insurance
— Get enough insurance to rebuild your home and to replace all of your personal belongings. If you have made a major alteration or improvement to your home, or you have made significant purchases,
notify your insurance agent so that the increased value is reflected in your policy.
— Find out how much coverage you have for Additional Living Expenses (ALE). ALE coverage pays for the added costs of living away from home, such as hotel bills and restaurant meals, while your house is being repaired or rebuilt. If you rent out part of your home, ALE also replaces lost income for the time you are not able to collect rent.
–Many policies provide coverage for 20 percent of the amount of insurance you have on your house and may be for a specified time period. Additional coverage is generally available for an extra

2. Get the Right Type of Policy
— Ask about flood insurance. Flood damage is not covered under standard home insurance policies. Flood insurance for homeowners and renters is available through the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is serviced by private carriers, and from a few
specialty insurers. Excess flood insurance is also available from some private insurance companies if you need coverage over and above the $250,000 for property and $100,000 on contents that the NFIP provides.
— Look into getting an extended replacement cost policy or a guaranteed replacement cost policy for the structure of your home. Extended Replacement Cost coverage pays a certain amount above the
policy limit to repair or replace a damaged home–generally 20 to 25 percent. A guaranteed replacement cost policy pays to rebuild your home regardless of cost. Both policies are designed to protect you in the event that after a major disaster the high demand for building contractors and materials forces up the normal cost of reconstruction.
— Ask about replacement cost coverage for your belongings. When insuring your possessions, you have two coverage choices. One is actual cash value, which replaces your belongings less depreciation. The other is replacement cost coverage, which replaces your property at today’s value–without a deduction for depreciation. It costs about 10 percent more for the replacement cost policy, but provides more extensive coverage.

3. Create a Home Inventory
— Maintain an up-to-date inventory of all of your personal property. A home inventory will help you purchase enough insurance to replace your possessions and can help speed the claims process and substantiate losses for income tax purposes. To make this task simple, the I.I.I. offers free, Web-based software and information on how to create and store your inventory at

4. Hurricane-Proof Your Home
— Install storm shutters to protect your windows or use plywood panels, which can be nailed to window frames when a storm approaches.
— Make sure exterior doors have at least three hinges and a dead bolt lock that is at least one-inch long. Sliding glass doors should be made of tempered glass and covered with shutters or plywood.
— Replace old garage doors and tracks with a door that is approved for both wind pressure and impact protection. Wind coming into your house through an opening this large can cause serious problems in the rest of your home, especially for your roof.

5. Prepare an Evacuation Plan
— Plan ahead and practice so that your evacuation is safe, smooth and fast. In an emergency you may have only a few minutes to gather your important papers and leave your home, possibly for good. If you have pets, be sure to identify shelters where animals will be welcome before a storm is imminent. In order to be able to evacuate quickly, have the following ready to go:
— Medicines, prescriptions, comfort items and a change of clothes
— Emergency supplies such as flashlights, radio, batteries and water
— Computer hard drive, back-up drives and/or laptop
— Copy of home inventory
— Photographs
— Insurance policies; birth and marriage certificates; wills; deeds; financial information such as account numbers, recent tax returns, stocks, bonds and other negotiable certificates; drivers licenses
and other personal identification

For more information on steps to take to protect your home, go to the Institute for Business & Home Safety.

June 8, 2010

Hello Friends, I am sure all of you have seen the devastation to the wildlife in Louisiana. They simply cannot work fast enough to save all the birds, turtles and fish covered in oil. Much of the reasons can be prevented if people can just donate some time!

Volunteers are needed to pre-clean litter and debris from Pinellas beaches, if needed, in advance of oil heading our way. Those who register will be notified by email if oil is expected on our coast within 48 hours and will be assigned to specific beaches for clean-up duties. Removing litter and debris from the shoreline prior to oil reaching our beaches will greatly speed oil removal efforts should such efforts be needed.

Keep Pinellas Beautiful has been asked by the U.S. Coast Guard and BP to prepare and coordinate a countywide effort to pre-clean all western-facing beaches in Pinellas. Sign up at


May 25, 2010

Be Safe During Memorial Day Weekend

RISMEDIA, May 25, 2010–Memorial Day serves as the start for the busy summer driving season and AAA estimates that over 27 million motorists travel for the holiday annually. So as motorists prepare for holiday travel this weekend, a team of professional drivers are helping to make our roads safer.

America’s Road Team Captains, elite professional truck drivers with millions of accident-free miles, are offering advice on how to navigate through highway traffic and arrive at your destination safely. Tips include:

— Perform a pre-trip inspection – Check your tire pressure, wipers and fluids. Simple maintenance can prevent many of the problems that strand motorists on the side of the road before you leave your home.
— Pay Attention – Distracted driving is a leading cause of crashes. Looking away for even two seconds doubles the chances of an accident.
— Allow a Safety Cushion – Look 1/4 mile ahead for a safe path. Leave yourself an out.
— Slow Down – Chances of a crash nearly triples when driving faster than surrounding traffic.
— Keep extra water in your vehicle – Just as you keep a winter driving kit in your vehicle, it is important to be prepared when driving during the summer months. Keep plenty of extra water, sunscreen and
non-perishable snacks in car in case you are stranded.
— Large Trucks Have Blindspots – If you can’t see the truck driver in his or her mirrors, then the truck driver can’t see you.
— Buckle Up – Safety belts are not a fashion statement – they save lives.
— Abide by Traffic Rules – Follow traffic signs and signals – paying special attention to work zones.
— Be Careful Backing Up – One in four preventable collisions involve backing up. Be sure to look before backing up; walk around your car prior to departure.
— Do not cut in front of large trucks – Remember that trucks are heavier and take longer to make a complete stop, so avoid cutting quickly in front of them

May 20, 2010

Is Your House Making You Sick?

RISMEDIA, May 20, 2010-On average, Americans spend about 90 percent of their time indoors – of that 90 percent, about 65 percent of that is spent at home. Indoor air pollution, including household allergens, is one of the leading causes of health problems in the United States.

A number of everyday products and activities can be making your home sick. With a few simple changes and better practices, Americans can immediately manage the quality of air in their homes.

According to Dan Stih, Certified Indoor Environmental Expert, retired engineer and author of Healthy Living Spaces: Top 10 Hazards Affecting your Health, indoor pollution can be just as harmful as outdoor pollution. “The last thing any person wants is to live in a sick house, full of triggers that end up affecting their overall well-being,” says Stih. “Paying attention to how your appliances work, the ingredients in cleaning supplies and your overall atmosphere will help combat pollutants and reduce allergies to improve your home environment.”

Asthma and allergies strike one in every four Americans, approximately 60 million people.(2) With experts predicting this year will be the worst allergy season in a decade, Stih recommends evaluating what’s happening in your home and investigating simple ways to manage allergy levels.

Indoor allergens come from a number of sources such as pet dander, dust mite feces and mold spores. As an indoor air expert, Stih explains “the technology and design behind appliances play a key role in maintaining a healthier home.”

Vacuums. Pay attention to what they promise: Investing in a good vacuum cleaner can make all the difference. Many vacuums not only underperform but can do more harm than good. Look for a machine that captures dust and does not blow it back into the air. I’ve tested a number of machines and found that Dyson vacuums reduce allergen particles. They are certified asthma & allergy friendly(TM)
by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). (3)

Don’t be fooled by marketing lines. You need a vacuum that has a HEPA filter, but make sure it is a post motor filter.

Air purifiers. The power of filters. Air purifiers that do not require filters produce ozone, a gas that can cause health problems and affect our lungs and respiratory system. Often you can smell the ozone. Purifiers with high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, on the other hand, are the best option given they remove at least 99.97 percent of airborne particles. If you air purifier doesn’t have a filter unplug it and go buy one that does.

Mold. Don’t just kill mold, remove it. Since mold causes allergies, part of getting rid of household allergens is to get rid of mold and fix the water problems that are causing mold to grow. Applying bleach or other biocides to mold may actually induce the mold to produce toxins as part of its last fight to survive.

Instead, soap, water and hydrogen peroxide can be used in cleaning the affected area. The Environmental Protection Agency states that dead mold may still cause allergic reactions in some people so for a healthy home, it is not enough to kill mold, it must also be removed.

Scents. Be as scent-free as you can be. Unplug air-fresheners, wash cloths in non-fragrant laundry soap and minimize the use of perfume. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration more that 70 percent of allergy sufferers develop respiratory symptoms when exposed to perfume.

Household Cleaners. Read the label. Cleaning supplies can sometimes increase allergen levels. Reading the label to identify hazardous chemicals is important when looking for cleaning supplies. If ingredients are not on the label, do not purchase it. Avoid cleaning products that say flammable, active ingredients, and contain alcohol as these airborne particles can ultimately affect our health. A healthy cleaning product will always list all its ingredients.

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May 12, 2010

Slide in Tampa Bay home prices has moderated

By Jeff Harrington, Times Staff Writer

Tampa Bay’s great home price slide has slowed down significantly over the past year, a boast several other Florida metro areas wish they could make.

The median sales prices for single-family homes in the bay area slipped 1 percent in the bay area from a year ago to $133,900, according to first-quarter data released Tuesday by the National Association of Realtors.

That places it at 124th among 174 metro areas ranked best to worst in home price changes, and roughly on par with the national average change.

In contrast, Orlando emerged as the country’s hardest-hit metro over the year, with a 15 percent slide in home prices this quarter to a median of $131,600. Second worst: Ocala, with a 14.5 percent drop.

Elsewhere in the state, Daytona Beach prices for the quarter were down 10 percent and Miami-Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville were both down 6 percent.

Just three years ago, the median home price in Orlando was a heady $261,300, far outpacing the Tampa Bay area’s median price at the time of $214,900. Based on the latest numbers, Orlando has now fallen below the bay area market.

Overall, 60 of the metro areas in the country saw home prices rise over the past year. Almost 20 percent of the markets posted double-digit price gains.

The median sales price in Florida was $133,800, down 5 percent from the year-ago quarter. Nationally, the median home sales price was $166,100, down less than a percent from a year ago.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist with the National Association of Realtors, said a flattening of home prices “is something we’ve been seeing in all of the home price measures lately.”

Meanwhile, a separate Realtors’ report underscored a bounceback in the volume of sales, skewed in part by the surge in foreclosures. Distressed homes accounted for 36 percent of first-quarter sales.

Single-family home sales in Florida rose 24 percent in the quarter, with 38,846 homes changing hands.

Sales of condos statewide rose 67 percent compared to a year earlier.

Timothy Becker, director of the University of Florida’s Bergstrom Center for Real Estate Studies, was encouraged by the news.

“Results indicate that the real estate market in Florida has hit bottom and is in the process of stabilizing across most property types,” Becker said in a statement.

Yun credited the $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit with drawing down excess industry, particularly in markets like Florida that are overflowing with foreclosures.

Florida’s total of single-family home and condo sales combined grew 35 percent from the first quarter of 2009, the third-best performance behind Idaho and Hawaii.


May 8, 2010 

Around the Home? 10 Steps to an Earth-Friendly Yard

By Nara Schoenberg

RISMEDIA, May 8, 2010-(MCT)-Want to make the planet a little greener? Look no farther than your own backyard-or, for that matter, your own front yard.

The U.S. is home to 32 million acres of lawn, or enough to cover the 100 largest U.S. cities almost twice, says Owen Dell, author of Sustainable Landscaping for Dummies. Lawns suck up 270 billion gallons of water a week and burn 800 million gallons of (mower) gas a year. And then there are the pesticides and the chemical-based fertilizers.

“I use this analogy,” Dell says. “If you take care of yourself-exercise, eat right, dont drink too much alcohol, dont use drugs-youre going to have a much better chance of staying healthy. Similarly, if you keep the landscape healthy, whether its the lawn or anything else, youre going to have fewer problems.”

How do you break free of the high-maintenance lawn care cycle? Drawing from interviews with Dell, Tom Christopher, editor of The New American Sustainable Garden (due out next year) and Annie Spiegelman, author of Talking Dirt assembled a list of basic tips to get you started.

1. Dont overwater. Most people grossly overwater their lawns. Consider getting a free ?water audit if your water company offers one, or just turn the sprinkler off and observe the results. If your grass doesnt spring back when you step on it in the heat of the afternoon, its time to water. Watering four times a week is too much in most parts of the country.

2. Water deeply. Its better to water deeply than frequently. Many lawns do well with 15 to 20 minutes at a time, once or twice a week. For maximum efficiency, give the water a chance to seep in: Water for 10 minutes, wait 20 minutes and then finish watering.

3. Get adequate coverage. If your sprinkler doesnt cover a spot, you end up with a dry area or an overwatered lawn.

4. Give the soil breathing room. Aerate your lawn once or twice a year in the spring or fall with a gas- or foot-powered aerator. This loosens the roots and lets water and fertilizers penetrate.

5. Try a lush look. If you keep your grass 3 inches high, it will ?shade out weeds, denying them the sun they need to grow and take over your lawn.

6. Reduce your lawn size. Less lawn means less watering. Consider a border planted with low-maintenance ground cover instead of grass.

7. Kick the chemical fertilizer habit. Dont pump too many nutrients into your lawn. One fertilization with an organic fertilizer in early fall is plenty.

8. Go natural. Insecticides with ingredients such as vinegar and orange oil are sold at many nurseries and boiling water kills weeds.

9. Keep grass clippings. Rather than removing them, rake them gently over your lawn. Theyre free and rich in the plant nutrient nitrogen.

10. Consider low-maintenance grass. Ask your local university extension program or agriculture department to recommend a low-maintenance grass (options include fine fescues and buffalograss) that grows well in your region. These easy-going grasses are designed for your region and will thrive with minimal water and mowing.

(c) 2010, Chicago Tribune
May 1, 2010

Welcome to Caladesi Island State Park

As one of the few completely natural islands along Floridas Gulf Coast, Caladesis white sand beaches were rated America’s Best Beach in 2008. Beach lovers can enjoy swimming, sunbathing and beachcombing. Saltwater anglers can cast a line from their boats or surf fish. Nature enthusiasts can spot wildlife while hiking the three mile nature trail through the islands interior or paddling a three mile kayak trail through the mangroves and bay. Picnic tables and shelters are located near the beach, and picnic pavilions can be reserved for a fee. The park has a marina with electric and water hookups, as well as a snack bar and gift shop. The 661-acre park is only accessible by boat or ferry. Ferry service is provided by the Caladesi Island Ferry (727) 734-1501 and departs from Honeymoon Island State Park.

April 28, 2010

Sales of new homes broke out of a four-month winter slump with a bang in March 2010, soaring 26.9% over February, the government recently said, evidence that federal tax incentives for buyers due to expire next week are giving the housing market a boost.
The March figures were meager by historical standards, bouncing off an all-time low in February, and analysts said job creation was paramount for the momentum to sustain itself.

“It shows that the tax credit still has some punch, and we will probably see some better sales numbers for April,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moodys But “if we dont get more jobs, the housing market is going nowhere.”

The news came after a report showed that sales of previously owned homes rose 6.8% in March. Although new-home sales make up a much smaller share of home-buying activity, economists are watching the data carefully as an indicator of whether the beleaguered construction industry will begin to add jobs in substantial numbers.

Home builders stocks climbed, with the Standard & Poors index of 12 major builders increasing nearly 11%.

Last year, housing was a drag on economic growth, but that could turn this year, said David Crowe, chief economist for the National Association of Homebuilders. Housing should contribute positively to the nations first-quarter growth when the governments report on gross domestic product is released, he said.

New-home sales in March jumped the most in markets hit by Februarys winter storms. They rose 43.5% in the South, 35.7% in the Northeast, 5.7% in the West and 4.3% in the Midwest.

The data are estimates based on surveys and are reported as an annual sales pace adjusted to take seasonal variations into account. The March sales pace hit an annual rate of 411,000 homes.

Februarys revised annual rate of 324,000 was the lowest since the government began tracking such statistics in 1963. That made it easy for March figures to show a surge.

Zandi estimated that, stripping out the effects of Februarys inclement weather and the influence of the tax credit, last months sales pace was closer to 350,000.

“The one thing to keep in mind is that these are still really horrible numbers,” said Patrick Newport, U.S. economist for the consultancy IHS Global Insight. “The only reason they look good is because Februarys were the worst numbers ever.”

Sales are likely to fall once the tax credit expires but will recover later this year if the economy picks up steam, he said.

Newport was encouraged that about a third of homes bought in March had not begun construction, which suggests the shoppers, who were unlikely to close their sales in time to qualify for the governments tax credit, were tempted by factors such as cheap prices and low interest rates.

Richard Voith, a real estate expert at the consulting firm Econsult Corp. in Philadelphia, predicted that the momentum would continue. “It will be a decent summer,” he said.

Inventory declined to levels not seen since March 1971, with the seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of last month standing at 228,000. That represents a supply of 6.7 months at the current sales rate. The median sales price of new houses sold in March was $214,000.

Builders have suffered significantly from the recession, the credit crunch and competition from bank-owned properties. As a result, they have changed their business models, constructing smaller, cheaper dwellings to attract first-time buyers and putting up fewer houses that dont have buyers lined up in advance.

Despite slumping sales this year, builders have begun construction on homes at a faster rate than last year, with many counting on a boost from the federal tax credit of up to $8,000 for first-time purchasers and $6,500 for some current homeowners.

“New homes are selling, so builders were smart,” Newport said. “They are not going to slow down the pace.”

(c) 2010, Tribune Co.

April 26, 2010

As Economy Heals, Many Americans Slipping Back into Bad Habits

With recent economic trends of higher consumer spending and healthier stock markets, many Americans are pointing to evidence that we are out of the recession. Looking back, the recession did change some peoples financial habits, but the resurgence in the economy unfortunately means most people are returning to their old ways of saving and spending, which arent always wise.

With the stock market higher, more people are returning to investing. Thats good news to the market but not to personal returns. Many people rejected investments during the recession, which created the best investment opportunity in many of our lifetimes. Investing now that the market is higher only means the returns will be smaller as there is less room to grow.

The same thing with spending is resulting. We may be spending more, however prices are not as low as they once were in many cases. Stores have stopped discounting heavily because shoppers are returning.

Still, the recession has changed some of our habits. Many of us are now valuing frugality as a permanent part of life versus just resorting to at times. Like in the 1930s, Americans became scared after all the suffering and were permanently changed to keep as much as they can for fear they will lose it again.

The ones who remain frugal are the minority, according to market research firm Decitica. It found 20% of Americans remain frugal after a recession. Meanwhile, 30% return to their previous spending levels. The other half dont change at all, either because they cant (they dont have enough money) or they dont need to (they have enough much money).

This research indicates that most Americans dont change much after a recession and are likely to end up where they once were. In other words, many of us dont plan for recessions; we just ride along with them.

Putting together a recession plan is a neglected strategy in financial planning. Budgeting and coming up with a plan of action when money is tight is a valuable practice to get in the habit of doing. This would include building and maintaining an emergency fund to cover expenses during a financial disaster such as a job loss. Another wise move would be to have saved money for purchases when the stock market and prices go down. A good financial planner will present these different scenarios to help draw up a disaster plan.

With what many Americans have just gone through, knowing what to plan for is a lot easier.

(c) 2010, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

April 23, 2010

IRS: Homeowners that use a short sale to avoid foreclosure won’t be taxed

By Alex Nixon | Kalamazoo Gazette
100215IRS.gifKALAMAZOO – A story in the April 18 business section of the Kalamazoo Gazette reported on a new federal program intended to ease the often-burdensome process of short-selling a home.

Short sales are a way for homeowners to avoid foreclosure by selling their home for less than the amount they owe on their mortgage.

A Gazette reader this week asked why the story didnt report that the IRS considers the difference between the sale price and the mortgage as income, and therefore subject to income tax.

The reason: A 2007 federal law that exempts from income taxes any debt forgiven on a primary residence, said Luis Garcia, an IRS spokesman in Detroit.

Under this law, Garcia said, debt forgiven in the calender years of 2007 through 2012 is not subject to federal taxes.

The short sale has to be on a primary residence and has a limit of $1 million for a single filer, and $2 million for married filers.

CopyrightAlex Nixon | Kalamazoo Gazette
April 22, 2010

Green Your Home This Earth Day with Cost-Saving Remodeling Tax Credits

As the 40th anniversary of Earth Day approaches (Thursday, April 22), the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) is reminding homeowners that they can use fewer resources and save money by taking advantage of federal energy efficiency tax credits through the end of the year.

Homeowners who purchase qualifying water heaters, windows, air conditioning units and other appliances, insulation and roofing can be eligible for tax code section 25C tax credit, equivalent to 30% of the cost. Theres a $1,500 overall limit for purchases made in 2009 and 2010.

“You can save money, save energy, and be a good steward of the Earths resources,” said NAHB Remodelers Chair Donna Shirey, a remodeler in Issaquah, Wash. “I cant think of a more appropriate way to commemorate Earth Day.”

Carolyn Taylor of Columbia, S.C., will enjoy Earth Day with a new tankless water heater that supplies plenty of hot water for her active family of four. Remodeler and NAHB member Pete Williams of ATherm Remodeling in Columbia suggested the switch because it was less expensive than relocating her existing gas water heater during a whole-home renovation project.

When Williams told her about the energy-efficiency tax credit the family would also enjoy, that was the icing on the cake, Taylor said. “Any time you can do something that makes a home more energy efficient and saves you money, of course you should do it,” she said.

Remodeler Shawn Nelson in Burnsville, Minn., helped homeowners combine the federal credits with a state program that offered rebates for qualifying windows as part of renovation projects he completed over the winter.

In a statement last week to the House Ways and Means Committee, NAHB urged Congress to extend the section 25C credit past its December 2010 expiration date and to reinstate the section 45L $2,000 tax credit for builders of energy-efficient homes, which expired at the end of 2009.

A more generous credit for appliances that use renewable energy is in effect through 2016. The section 25D credit applies to 30% of the total cost of solar panels for electricity or hot water, wind power equipment and the installation of geothermal heat pump systems. This credit can be used in conjunction with new or existing homes.

“These renewable systems are more expensive up front, but may offer significant savings in the long term,” said NAHB Chairman Bob Jones, a builder in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. “Both the 25C and the 25D credits are worth investigating, and youll get helpful information from the NAHB website, your local home builders association or the NAHB Remodeler member you choose to help you with your renovation and improvement plans.”

For more information, visit

Copyright 2010 RISMedia
April 20, 2010


State gives out more appliance rebates than expected

Federal energy efficiency program brings $62 million in sales for Florida merchants

State officials and retailers on Monday declared Florida’s cash for clunker appliances program a success, with Floridians reserving about 72,700 rebates – almost 4,700 more than originally anticipated – before the $17.5 million in state funding ran out Saturday night.

Brenda Buchan, the chief analyst for the Governor’s Energy Office who’s managing the federally-financed program, said the state was able to hand out more 20 percent rebates on energy-efficient appliances because the average cost was less than expected. “There were some really good deals out there,” she said.

The money also lasted almost a day longer than projected.

South Florida merchants were delighted with the response, with state officials saying the program generated at least $62 million in sales and $4 million in sales tax. Bobby Johnson, senior vice president for South Florida-based BrandsMart USA, said customers continued to buy appliances on Sunday even though the rebate funds were gone.

Now consumers’ anxiety is shifting from snagging a priority number online, which helped guarantee them a rebate, to getting their appliances delivered in time to qualify. Rebate applications must be mailed by May 10, and customers need the serial numbers off their new products before they can complete them.

“I’m hoping the government gets enough complaints that they extend it,” said Virgina Stewart, of Dania Beach. She bought a $1,700 refrigerator Friday at Sears store in Fort Lauderdale and wrangled a priority number, only to discover she might not be able to get her appliance until May 11.

Sears spokesman Larry Costello said he hadn’t heard of similar complaints. “We’ve been preparing for almost a year 3; It’s to our benefit to make sure customers get their products in time,” he said.

When sending an application, include the original sales receipt and proof of recycling your old model from your installer for an additional $75, and make sure your priority number is on the application. Make photocopies of everything for your records.

Applications will continue to be accepted without a priority number but placed on a waiting list. For information, go to:

Copyright 2010, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

April 18, 2010

Federal Judge Awards Homeowners $2.6 Million in Critical Chinese Drywall Case

A federal judge in Louisiana has ruled that a Chinese drywall manufacturer must compensate American homeowners who used its product and are now forced to tear it out because it emits noxious fumes and corrodes household wiring and plumbing. In the first critical U.S. trial decision over faulty Chinese drywall, U.S. District Court Judge Eldon Fallon, of the Eastern District of Louisiana ordered Taishan Gypsum Company, Ltd., to pay seven Virginia families a total of $2,609,129.99 in remediation damages. Taishan is headquartered in Taian, China, about 250 miles south of Beijing. The case is captioned Germano, et al. v. Taishan Gypsum Co. Ltd., et al., case no. 09-6687.

The Virginia homeowners are represented by Christopher Seeger and Jeffrey Grand of leading New York plaintiffs law firm Seeger Weiss LLP, along with Richard Serpe, Gerald Meunier and Daniel Bryson of New Orleans firm Herman, Herman, Katz & Collar LLP.

“The message Judge Fallons ruling sends to thousands of other homeowners who have been victimized is that help is finally coming?they will be made whole after the ravages of inferior Chinese drywall and will not have to bear the substantial costs of repairing their homes to get rid of it,” said Seeger.

Seeger noted that representatives from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) observed the Germano trial, which took place in February. “The CPSC has already adopted and publicly endorsed the position we argued at trial, which is that for their safety, homeowners should remove the Chinese drywall and replace any system it has damaged, such as wiring or plumbing or sprinklers,” Seeger said. “The Germano case is just the opening salvo in what we hope will be a national effort to make families whole again for having to live with this shoddy, corrosive and toxic gypsum material in their homes.”

Seeger Weiss is also representing a Louisiana plaintiff who rebuilt his home with Taishan products after Hurricane Katrina and is now forced to renovate again, what Seeger called “a double whammy that has hit many Gulf Coast residents trying to rebuild after a barrage of destructive storms.” The firm represents a number of other Gulf region homeowners in a trial beginning in June.

All of the cases are being heard in the Eastern District of Louisiana. Seeger was appointed by Judge Fallon to the Plaintiffs Steering Committee and also chairs the Trial Committee, which directs the trial teams handling all Chinese drywall cases.

The victory for Virginia homeowners is the fourth consecutive high-profile win for Seeger Weiss in 2010. In February, the firm obtained a $25 million damages verdict on behalf of a Florida man who suffered permanent intestinal damage attributed to powerful acne medication Accutane, made by Hoffman-LaRoche. In March, a jury in Missouri awarded a group of Seeger Weiss clients $11 million in damages stemming from noxious odors emanating from a nearby factory hog farm owned by Smithfield Foods?both cases represented the largest financial verdicts to date in Accutane and hog farm odor cases.

Also in March, Seeger Weiss won a $2.25 million wrongful death verdict on behalf of survivors of a fatal bus crash involving members of a girls hockey team from Windsor, Ontario. The trial win in upstate New York was against both a bus and trucking company at fault in the crash.

In the drywall case decided on April 8, Judge Fallon heard plaintiffs describe a range of calamities caused by the Taishan drywall, including its unpleasant acrid smell, corrosion of electric wires and appliances, and physical symptoms such as difficulty breathing, headaches, rashes and nosebleeds caused by the gases released.

In addition, several homeowners paid for multiple tests in their homes, and later for temporary places to live when the drywall fumes made their homes uninhabitable. Some families lived with the persistent fear of fire breaking out, due to the corrosion of metal surfaces by sulfur gases from the leeching gypsum. As an added insult, any attempt to remove the offending drywall produced further damage or destroyed household fixtures and furnishings, including kitchen cabinets, countertops, carpet, wall trim, even doorknobs.

Chinese-made drywall, Judge Fallon wrote in his decision, has significantly higher levels of hydrogen sulfide, carbonyl sulfide, and carbon disulfide?all known irritants to humans?than “typical, benign drywall.” Sulfur gases also release strong odors and are known to corrode various metals.

Judge Fallon concluded, “The Court finds that scientific, economic, and practicality concerns dictate that the proper remediation is to remove all drywall in their homes, all items which have suffered corrosion as a result of the Chinese drywall, and all items which will be materially damaged in the process of removal.”

Copyright 2010 RISMedia
April 16, 2010

10 Simple Google Search Tricks

Im always amazed that more people dont know the little tricks you can use to get more out of a simple Google search. Here are 10 of my favorites.

1. Use the “site:” operator to limit searches to a particular site. I use this one all the time, and its particularly handy because many sites built-in search tools dont return the results youre looking for (and some sites dont even have a search feature). If Im looking for WWD posts about GTD, for example, I could try this search: GTD

2. Use Google as a spelling aid. As Rob Hacker – the WWD reader I profiled last week – pointed out, entering a word into Google is a quick way to see if you have the right spelling. If its incorrect, Google will suggest the correct spelling instead. Additionally, if you want to get a definition of a word, you can use the “define:” operator to return definitions from various dictionaries (for example, define: parasympathetic).

3. Use Google as a calculator. Google has a built-in calculator – try entering a calculation like 110 * (654/8 + 3). Yes, your computer also has a calculator, but if you spend most of your day inside a browser, typing your calculation into the browsers search box is quicker than firing up your calculator app.

4. Find out what time it is anywhere in the world. This ones really handy if you want to make sure that youre not phoning someone in the middle of the night. Just search for “time” and then the name of the city. For example, try: time San Francisco

5. Get quick currency conversions. Google can also do currency conversion, for example: 100 pounds in dollars. It only has the more mainstream currencies, though – if youre trying to see how many Peruvian nuevos soles your dollars might buy, youll be out of luck. If you would like to convert minor currencies, be sure to be specific about the country. So, if you want to find out how many nuevos soles your dollars might buy, you could try: 100 dollars in Peruvian nuevos soles.

6. Use the OR operator. This can be useful if youre looking at researching a topic but youre not sure which keywords will return the information you need. It can be particularly handy in conjunction with the “site:” operator. For example, you could try this search: GTD OR “getting things done”

7. Exclude specific terms with the ? operator. You can narrow your searches using this operator. For example, if youre looking for information about American Idol but dont want anything about Simon Cowell, you could try: “american idol” -cowell

8. Search for specific document types. Google can search the web for specific types of files using the “filetype:” operator. If youre looking for PowerPoint files about GTD, for example, you could try: GTD filetype:ppt

9. Search within numerical ranges using the .. operator. Say, for example, you want to look for information about Olympic events that took place in the 1950s, you could use this search: Olympics 1950..1960

10. Area code lookup. Need to know where a phone number is located? Google will let you know where it is, and show you a map of the area, too. For example: 415

What are your favorite Google search tricks?


Copyright 2010 GigaOm.
April 15,2010

8 Tips to Take Advantage of the Home Buyer Tax Credit before Time Runs Out
Two versions of the tax credit are still being offered: a maximum credit of $8,000 for first-time buyers (and those who last owned a home 3 or more years ago), as well as a $6,500 credit for current homeowners. Either way, the credit applies only to the purchase of a new principal residence costing $800,000 or less, and there are income restrictions and other limitations, including a requirement to close the sale before July 1.

How can buyers eager to capture the tax credit streamline their home shopping?

Here are some suggestions:

1. Get to Know Your Market: Buyers can do that using Internet sites that permit you to see the homes currently on the market, and by finding a good real estate agent who is ready to expedite the shopping process. “A capable agent can guide buyers through the home search process and save them a lot of time,” contends Debbie Laskowski of RE/MAX Select in Chicago. “New listings can be emailed to buyers as they are posted, and buyers should stay on top of the market on a daily basis, seeing what properties are coming onto the market and which ones have sold.”

2. Line Up Your Financing: Talk to a reputable lender right away and go through the pre-approval process. That will tell buyers quickly how much they can borrow. At todays extremely low interest rates, that amount may be more than many buyers imagined. But either way, the process will help buyers determine how much they are willing and able to spend on the home.

3. Start Narrowing Your Search: With a large inventory of homes to choose from in the current market, buyers wont have time to look at everything in their price range. By establishing specific criteria of the home they want, buyers can screen out homes that wont fit their needs. “If you can give your real estate agent answers to two questions: Where do you want to live, and how much can you invest, you should be well on your way to a successful home search,” said Merl Carberry of RE/MAX Suburban in Arlington Heights, Ill.

“When it comes to geography, buyers should factor in their daily commute. Few of us want to be more than 45 minutes from work. If buyers need access to public transit, then that also shapes their choice, and if they have children, schools are going to be a factor. Ideally, you can narrow you search to one or two communities rather quickly.”

4.Separate Needs from Wants: Buyers can look at fewer homes if they can tell their agent what features the home they buy must have and what features would be nice but arent required. “When it comes to must haves, start with the basics,” recommends Dan Bundy of RE/MAX Center in Grayslake, Ill. “How many bedrooms are needed? Is a separate home office essential or just desirable? Do you require a basement? Will a two-car garage be sufficient, or do you need something larger? And dont forget to consider the type of home. Are you interested only in a traditional two-story single-family detached dwelling, or would a ranch plan work just as well? And what about a townhouse?”

5. Consider Condition: In todays market, many of the best values are foreclosed homes that arent in perfect condition. Buyers should decide up front if they are willing to tackle a home that needs work, and if so, how much.

“Buyers often have a hard time articulating what they will accept when it comes to condition,” explained Jim Hannigan of RE/MAX Properties in Western Springs, Ill. “Thats why it is important for a buyer to get out and walk through some properties with their agent as soon as possible. Buyers reactions give an agent the clearest picture of their priorities.”

6. Keep Things in Perspective: As nice as it may be to get the tax credit, dont let the desire to do so completely control your home search. “Some buyers are quick decision makers, and others arent,” noted Debbie Laskowski. “If you like to mull over important decisions, take the time you need. The tax credit is a great incentive, but an $8,000 credit equals just 2.5% of the price of a $320,000 home. Buying the wrong home can end up costing you a lot more.”

7. Leave Time to Handle Standard Contingencies: The typical purchase contract may have several contingency clauses, for such things as a home inspection, attorneys approval, obtaining financing and even the sale of the buyers current residence. Fortunately, standard contingencies in a contract wont prevent it from qualifying for the tax credit, according to Dan Bundy of RE/MAX Center.

However, “the more contingencies you have in a contract, the greater the risk that it wont close,” said Bundy. For example, if an issue arises in the home inspection, and it cant be resolved, the buyer may want to find another house, but doing that after April 30 will mean losing the tax credit. Allowing time to work through the contingencies before the deadline reduces that risk.

8. Be Careful of Short Sales: If the home you want to buy is offered as a short sale, qualifying for the tax credit may become more difficult. “Short sales require that purchase offers be approved by both the seller and the sellers lender, and lenders often are slow about responding,” said Merl Carberry of RE/MAX Suburban. “Waiting for lender approval could leave you without a binding contract on April 30.”

Copyright 2010 RISMedia

April 14, 2010


The 30-year fixed mortgage rate on Zillow Mortgage Marketplace is currently 4.88%, down twenty basis points from 5.08% compared to this same time last week. The 30-year fixed mortgage rate rose last week, spiking Sunday at 5.05% before falling to 4.88% Monday.

Zillows real-time mortgage rates are based on thousands of custom mortgage quotes submitted daily to anonymous borrowers through the site, and reflect the most recent changes in the market. These are not marketing rates, or a weekly survey.

The rate for 15-year fixed home loans is currently 4.29%, while the rate for 5-1 adjustable-rate mortgages (ARM) is 3.49%.

The total volume of mortgage requests in the past week was up 4.5% from the prior week. Of last weeks requests, 21% were for refinance loans, 77% were for purchase loans and 2% were for home equity loans. The prior week, 25% of requests were for refinance loans, 73% were for purchase loans and 2% were for home equity loans.

Copyright 2010 RISMedia