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Proof that NOW is a Good Time to Sell

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Most homeowners believe that the winter is not a good time to sell. This belief is based on the fact that historically the number of buyers decreases in the winter and then increases dramatically during the spring buying market. Though this is still true, there is an interesting pattern developing over the last few months.

The number of prospective purchasers actively looking at a home (foot traffic) has remained strong going into the fall. As a matter of fact, the foot traffic far exceeds the numbers reported for the same months last year (see chart):

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At the same time, the National Association of Realtors revealed that the months’ supply of housing inventory has decreased from 5.5 months to 5.3. That equates to less competition for homeowners selling today as compared to next spring when many homeowners will decide to put their home on the market.

Bottom Line

Since buying activity is still strong, this might be a great time to put your house on the market.

This post was originally published on Keeping Current Matters. See it here.

Living in a Shipping Container: The New Look of Affordable Housing?

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The increasing challenge of affordable homeownership has been well documented – and renting an apartment is getting to be a similar fiscal strain. But if you could build a home for less than half the square foot cost of a conventional home, would you make the move? What if it meant living in a shipping container?

Living in a Shipping Container
© TheStreet Living in a Shipping Container: The New Look of Affordable Housing?

Maybe it’s time to think inside the box. Steel shipping containers – stacked aboard ships and trains to haul freight around the world – eventually land empty and unused. There are estimated to be some 20 million surplus containers ready to be repurposed. A 40-foot-long container costs anywhere from $1,400 to $4,000, and with a little patch of land, the installation of a foundation, electricity and plumbing, you’ve got yourself a sturdy little 320-foot homestead. And at about half the cost of a conventional house, according to the website of home renovation expert Bob Vila.

And nobody says you have to stop with just one. These things can be stacked up to nine high and then connected and assembled as sprawling units. The trend is spreading, not just for homeowners but for renters – particularly Millennials who prefer convenient urban living and compact spaces.

“We lock them together,” Micheal Kenner, a Nashville developer, told The Tennessean.Whatever you can do with Legos, you can do with these.” Kenner is transforming about a dozen of the units into “micro apartments” in the Music City. Nearly two dozen were recently converted into retail stores, restaurants and offices in a Nashville healthcare and technology development.

New York-based SG Blocks, container provider for the Nashville projects, has delivered the units for projects around the nation: from a beach home in the Hamptons and a Starbucks in Salt Lake City, to the South Street Seaport in New York.

“It represents a progression in the technology of construction,” Paul Galvin, CEO of SG Blocks told TheStreet recently. “We repurpose containers from intermodal units of transportation into intermodal units of construction that are stronger and greener and more-efficient than traditional construction.”

The company says the containers meet or exceed structural safety codes, are corrosion resistant and reduce construction time by up to 40%. And you would think that these heavy steel boxes would absorb heat and transfer cold indoors, but SG Blocks says proper insulation provides “more than adequate heat and cold protection.”

–Hal M. Bundrick is a Certified Financial Planner and contributor to MainStreet. Follow him on Twitter: @HalMBundrick

This article was originally published on MSN Real Estate. See it here.

Don’t Sink Money Into the Wrong Home Upgrades

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If you’re considering home improvements—or even just adding a few extra touches to freshen up the place—don’t rush the process. A plan is key for any successful remodeling job.

Don't Sink Money Into the Wrong Home Upgrades

You don’t want to pay for impractical or expensive home improvements that are out of style by the time you have to hang a “For Sale” sign in the yard.

Instead, look for smart, traditional and fashionable upgrades to provide value and aesthetic beauty for years to come.

While you’re looking for upgrades, consider these following tips for remodeling.

Kitchens

  • Spacious kitchens with abundant natural light make cooking a pleasure, not a chore.
  • Light-colored kitchens can create an illusion of a bigger space.
  • Adding a skylight is another way of creating a spacious feel.
  • Multiple storage shelves and cabinets plus an extra sink will reduce counter clutter.
  • Built-in microwaves, dishwashers, six-burner ranges and convection ovens are great for utility and convenience.
  • An island range with bar stools promotes an inviting, social atmosphere.

Bathrooms

  • Two-bath homes, plus a master bathroom, are optimal.
  • Many home buyers see high-end items like whirlpools, Jacuzzis, steam and jet showers, double shower heads and hand-held sprayers as essentials.
  • Large storage cabinets, freestanding or built-in, are great.
  • Avoid all-white bathrooms—splashes of color reduce the sterile feeling.
  • Bigger is better. Tiny bathrooms are out.  

Floors

Hardwood flooring increases resale value, so keep hardwood floors in top shape by refinishing them. As an alternative, laminate flooring is typically cheaper than hardwood and a nice upgrade from carpet.

Ceiling Fans

Try to install ceiling fans that make use of a remote control. This will allow you to change speeds without getting up.

High-End Home Amenities

  • Specialty rooms like media rooms, wine cellars, workout rooms and children’s playrooms can boost resale value and personalize a home.
  • Outdoor fireplaces, patio heaters, electronic insect control devices, decks and fountains are popular.
  • Outdoor kitchens can boost resale value.
  • If you live in a hot climate, an in-ground swimming pool can increase your home’s value. However, buyers in more more seasonal climates may see pools as an inconvenience. Ask a REALTOR® to see whether pools are popular in your area.

Additional Research Tips

  • Attend home improvement shows.
  • Consult with home designers, building contractors and handymen. Ask a REALTOR® for trusted references.

Updated from an earlier version by Deena Weinberg. This article was published by Craig Donofrio on realtor.com. See it here.

Beware the Bite: How to Avoid Bed Bugs in Your Rental

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While no one wants to find pests in their apartment, the possibility of bed bug infestations keeps renters up at night. According to a recent survey by Orkin, 39% of renters said bed bugs are the pests they want to see the least in their homes, outranking all other pests.

How to Avoid Bed Bugs in Your Rental
Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Thinkstock

Bed bugs are a menace on the move. In 2013, Orkin reported a 20% increase in business due to bed bug infestations nationwide. The company also identified the ten U.S. cities with the worst infestations:

  1. Chicago
  2. Los Angeles
  3. Columbus, OH
  4. Detroit
  5. Cincinnati
  6. Cleveland
  7. Dayton, OH
  8. Washington, D.C.
  9. Denver
  10. Indianapolis

Bed bugs are notoriously difficult to treat once they make their way into your residence. The pests get into everything (not just your bed) and bite, causing painful welts.

Here’s what you need to know to deal with the growing problem.

Bed Bug Prevention

Many bed bug infestations come from bringing in used furniture where the pests have set up shop. If you live in a city with a known bed bug problem, avoid the temptation to rescue any “found” furniture. Bed bugs are so small you won’t be able to spot them.

However, if you plan to buy a used mattress or furniture, take these precautions:

  • Inspect the underside of the mattress or inside of the sofa for rust-colored stains. These stains are telltale signs of bed bug infestation.
  • Treat any fabrics with a commercial bed bug spray before you bring them into your home.
  • Purchase specialty mattress cases from a pest control manufacturer. Keep the mattress encased for several months to prevent bed bugs from spreading.

Bed bugs can also follow you home in a suitcase. If you’re traveling, these steps can help you reduce your risk:

  • Keep your suitcase away from the bed and off the ground.
  • Hang your clothes in the closet. Bed bugs can live in dressers.
  • Keep your accessories in a sealed plastic bag away from the floor.

Bed Bug Treatment

Treatment can be an expensive and lengthy process. Early detection is key to keeping your costs (and headaches) to a minimum. Develop a weekly or biweekly plan to check for bedbugs in your mattress and other furniture. If you spot a potential problem, tell your landlord immediately.

Bed bugs are resistant to most types of treatments. Over-the-counter bug sprays won’t be enough to end an infestation. You’ll have to hire a professional exterminator to get the job done. If you’re hiring an exterminator, look for companies with bed bug experience and a service guarantee.

Request quotes from different providers to make sure you’re getting the best deal. Exterminators know the physical and mental pain bed bugs bring, and less-than-honest professionals may attempt to take advantage of your desperation.

Once you’ve hired a pro, keep in mind that heavy infestations may take multiple treatments. You may have to stay away from home for a day or two while the exterminator works.

Working With Your Landlord

Don’t assume your landlord will foot the bill if your apartment becomes infested. In many areas, landlords are not legally required to provide pest control.

Check your lease, and if there’s no pest policy listed, negotiate with your landlord to create one. Ask for the updated policy to be in writing and signed by both you and your landlord.

This article was originally published by Angela Colley on realtor.com. See it here.

9 Myths About Green Homes Busted

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Although most people know green homes pack plenty of eco-friendly benefits, there are some pesky misconceptions that need correcting. Here are nine myths about green homes busted.

If it weren't for the solar panels, you might not guess this house was green. Today's eco-friendly home often looks like any other house on the block -- but it'll fetch a higher price when it comes time to sell. Image: Dave Cozine, Brothers Electric Solar LLC
If it weren’t for the solar panels, you might not guess this house was green. Today’s eco-friendly home often looks like any other house on the block — but it’ll fetch a higher price when it comes time to sell. Image: Dave Cozine, Brothers Electric Solar LLC

1. Green homes are expensive.

Fact:
Eco-friendly homes come in different types, sizes and price tags—from a green-minded prefab that can cost less than $150,000 to an eco-urban condo for $690,000 or more.

The big difference is in resale value: Eco-friendly homes fetch higher prices compared with conventionally built homes.

2. Green homes look kooky.

Fact: Not all green homes look like grass-roofed hobbit holes or extra-crunchy Earthships. That’s old school. Eco-friendly abodes being built today can look just like traditional houses—except they may have solar panels or small wind turbines.

3. Green homes are a “California thing.”

Fact: California has the strictest environmental laws in the country, so it would make sense to think green homes are a hot property in the Golden State. But when you add up the number of houses that were certified in 2012 by Energy Star for their energy savings and eco-friendly benefits, Texas is the green-home leader with more than three times the number of Energy Star-certified homes than California.

Energy Star-Certified Homes
California 6,173
Texas 21,351

Plus, Delaware and Maryland also have a higher concentration of Energy Star homes: Both have 40% compared with California’s 23% and Texas’ 27%.

4. Green homes use only non-toxic materials.

Fact: Not always. Spray polyurethane foam is a petroleum-based product that’s a controversial green building favorite. Although it’s considered an energy-saving rock star because it creates a tight seal and has a high R-value (insulation), the off-gassing it creates during and shortly after installation can cause serious respiratory issues.

The EPA still supports its use, but the Passive House Institute U.S. won’t certify homes insulated with the material because it contributes to global warming.

5. Green homes require newfangled technologies.

Fact: Green homes aren’t about gizmos and gadgets—they’re about better construction methods to boost energy efficiency and promote healthy indoor environments. With that said, developing eco-friendly home habits like unplugging vampire devices or mastering how to program a digital thermostat can help to further shrink your home’s carbon footprint.

6. Green homes need exotic new building materials.

Fact: Nope! New building materials have a negative impact on the planet, because they produce greenhouse gases during both manufacturing and shipping. That’s why locally salvaged flooring is considered greener than the bamboo stuff harvested from a sustainable source thousands of miles away.

7. Green homes need new energy-efficient appliances.

Fact: It’s not very green to trash appliances in good working condition, even if they’re not rated for energy efficiency, according to the EPA. With proper maintenance major appliances, such as refrigerators and washing machines, can be useful for 10 to 18 years.

8. Green homes are needed more in urban areas.

Fact: In actuality, rural and suburban homes are the ones that need some serious greening. Thanks to walkability, people who live in high-density cities have a smaller carbon footprint since they burn fewer fossil fuels.

Bonus: Walkability can actually increase your home’s value.

9. Existing homes can’t be green.

Fact: False! Retrofitting an existing home is much greener than building a new one, according to a study by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. New green homes take 10 to 80 years to overcome the negative environmental affects of the construction process.

Since remodeling older homes requires fewer building materials, retrofitting can leave a much smaller carbon footprint.

This story was written by Deirdre Sullivan and originally appeared on HouseLogic

Fear of Low Down Payments Mostly Unwarranted

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After it was announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would again make available mortgage loans requiring as little as a 3% down payment, many people showed concern.

Fear of Low Down Payments Mostly Unwarranted

Were we going back to the lower qualifying standards of a decade ago that caused the housing market crash? Won’t lower down payments dramatically increase the default rates? Will we again be faced with an avalanche of short sales and foreclosures?

The simple answer is – NO. Let’s look at the data.

While it was happening (2011)

Back in 2011, as we were just recovering from the worst of the Great Recession, many organizations were looking for the cause of the massive default rate on mortgages.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR), the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), the National Association of Home Builders(NAHB), the Community Banking Mortgage Project and the Mortgage Insurance Companies of America (MICA) issued a white paper on the subject titled: Proposed QRM Harms Creditworthy Borrowers and Housing Recovery.

Let’s look what the report says:

“In the midst of a very fragile housing recovery, the government is throwing a devastating, unnecessary and very expensive wrench into the American dream. First time homebuyers will have to choose between higher rates today or a 9-14 year delay while they save up the necessary down payment…

High down payment and equity requirements will not have a meaningful impact on default rates. But they will require millions of consumers, who are at low risk of default, to either put off buying a home or pay unnecessarily high rates. The government is penalizing responsible consumers, making homeownership more expensive or simply out of reach for millions. We urge regulators to develop a final rule that encourages good lending and borrowing without punishing credit-worthy consumers.”

The report actually studied the impact a higher down payment would have had on the default rates of loans written from 2002 through 2008. The report states:

“…moving from a 5 percent to a 10 percent down payment on loans that already meet strong underwriting and product standards reduces the default experience by an average of only two- or three-tenths of one percent… Increasing the minimum down payment even further to 20 percent… (creates)  small improvement in default performance of about eight-tenths of one percent on average.”

Today  (2014)

Just last week, the Urban Institute revealed data showing what impact substantially lower down payments would have on default rates in today’s mortgage environment. Their study revealed:

“Of loans that originated in 2011 with a down payment between 3-5 percent, only 0.4 percent of borrowers have defaulted. For loans with slightly larger down payments—between 5-10 percent—the default rate was exactly the same. The story is similar for loans made in 2012, with 0.2 percent in the 3-5 percent down-payment group defaulting, versus 0.1 percent of loans in the 5-10 percent down-payment group.”

Bottom Line

We believe that the Institute concluded their report perfectly:

“Those who have criticized low-down payment lending as excessively risky should know that if the past is a guide, only a narrow group of borrowers will receive these loans, and the overall impact on default rates is likely to be negligible. This low down payment lending was never more than 3.5 percent of the Fannie Mae book of business, and in recent years, had been even less. If executed carefully, this constitutes a small step forward in opening the credit box—one that safely, but only incrementally, expands the pool of who can qualify for a mortgage.”

This article was originally published on Keeping Current Matters. See it here.

Transform Any Basic Bathroom Into a Luxurious Spa

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Spa-like bathrooms are a hot amenity among home buyers, and whether you’re looking to buy or sell, you might be thinking about putting some money into a bathroom upgrade.

Transform Any Basic Bathroom Into a Luxurious Spa
Fuse/Thinkstock

But you don’t need to install a Jacuzzi tub to indulge in a home spa. A few simple steps involving lighting, color and some fun add-ons can transform the room into a luxurious retreat.

“It’s all about atmosphere,” says Eva Dewitz, a Boston interior designer. “A spa should appeal to all the senses. Play music [a small radio or wireless speaker will do]; light the room softly; put a dimmer switch in.”

With stress a major component of modern living, investing in spa-quality relaxation is money well spent. The next time you need to retreat from e-mail, a ringing cell phone or other demands on your time, just soak your worries away.

Clean Design Creates Sense of Tranquility

The easiest way to attain an uncluttered look is to make white, or a calm neutral, your color of choice. A monochromatic theme keeps it simple.

“I personally like the tones of beige,” says Boston interior designer Gregory R. Van Boven. “Keep it plain and simple.”

At bathroom specialty store Billie Brenner Ltd. in Boston’s Design Center, partner Robin Brenner notes that many of today’s in-home spas include big-ticket items like a large walk-in shower with a vertical whirlpool (the shower has body jets and multiple shower heads). Other “hot” items include saunas and heated towel bars, she says.

Nothing beats the convenience of adding a hot tub directly to your bath area, if you have a few thousand dollars to spend and some extra space. But you can find those stand-alone heated towel bars, for example, for less than a built-in.

The key is to be creative and realize that many smaller aspects of a spa can be purchased for a lesser price.

Jacuzzi-Alternative Amenities

If your budget falls short of a Jacuzzi, you can turn an ordinary tub into something just short of a whirlpool relatively inexpensively. For less than $100, you can get a portable spa motor that turns a regular tub into a massaging jet experience. For a shower, you could add a rainfall shower head—or one with massage options.

You could also set up your own manicures with an in-home treatment system, including a nail dryer, for $50 or less. There are a number of foot massagers on the market—some using water to soothe your feet, others using acupressure points and heat—for an equally reasonable price.

There are machines that offer the sound of ocean waves, rain or a waterfall to zone you out. Or consider a speaker that syncs with your iPod or other media player.

When planning your spa, it’s also important to keep your sense of smell in mind. Dewitz suggests using bubble bath or bath oil rather than highly perfumed candles, which can overwhelm the senses. Or you can search out candles with a light scent.

Scented soaps are another way to add a pleasing aroma to the room. Present the candles or the soaps nicely on a decorative dish or stand.

Furniture Dresses Up the Bathroom

Brenner says she’s seeing more people combine the in-home hideaway and spa concepts. Her clients are introducing furniture into their baths, including bookshelves and comfortable seating—even a fireplace.

Space permitting, adding a pretty chair and floor lamp can also enhance the relaxing atmosphere. That way, when you step out of the bath, you can wrap yourself in a luxurious robe, cozy up with a throw blanket and perhaps begin a foot soak.

Based on an original article by Anna Kasabian. Published by Anne Miller on realtor.com. See it here.