Monday, February 28, 2011

How To Have A Positive Mental Mindset Now

How To Have A Positive Mental Mindset Now | 11 Steps To A New Attitude

Submitted by Tim Harris on February 28, 2011 – 1:56 pmNo Comment | Popularity: unranked [?]
Top 11 Ways to Keep a Positive Mental Mindset

In the Chinese language, the symbols for the word “crisis” are translated as “Opportunity Riding on the Dangerous Wind.” In other words, crisis and opportunity are synonymous. Learning to persist and respond effectively through a crisis is the essence of personal growth. To avoid becoming distracted, depressed or frustrated, follow these 11 steps and take control of your future:
1. Stop brewing and start doing. Action is one of the best methods of overcoming stagnation. Walking, running, speaking with people, learning something new…ACTION is the best cure for inaction.
2. Remember that persistence can turn adversity into greatness. As the Reverend James Keller once noted, “Abe Lincoln lost is job in 1832. He was defeated for the legislature, also in 1832. He failed in business in 1833. He was elected to the legislature in 1834. His sweetheart died in 1835. He suffered a nervous breakdown in 1836. He was defeated for Speaker in 1838. He was defeated for nomination for Congress in 1843. He was elected to Congress in 1846. He lost his re-nomination for Congress in 1848. He was rejected for land officer in 1849. He was defeated for the Senate in 1854. He was defeated for the nomination for vice president of the United States in 1856. He was again defeated for the Senate in 1858. Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States in 1860.”
3. Inventory your BAG regularly: Review your Blessings, Accomplishments, and Goals. You’ll be surprised how many reasons you have for being grateful, rather than depressed, anxious or worried.
4. Focus on what you are here to GIVE. Be in a mindset of service.  How can you help as many people as possible 4th quarter?
5. Stay connected.  Cultivate lilies and avoid leaches.  If someone or something is bringing you down, replace it with someone or something that brings you up.  You have this choice every day.
6. Stick to your Media Free Morning. No news, talk radio or print…Instead, choose to read inspirational nonfiction, listen to uplifting music or books on tape, and congregate with lilies, not leaches.
7. Take the blame and credit. Acknowledge your position in life honestly and openly.  How did you get here and what are you doing to change?
8. Make a self-evaluation list of two columns. In the “I am” (or “Assets”) column, write down 10 things you are good at. In the other column, write down 10 things you need to improve on. Take the first three liabilities and schedule an activity to help you improve each of these three areas. Forget about the rest of your liabilities. Relish and dwell on all 10 of your best assets. They will take you anywhere you want to go in life.
9. Invest in your education. Since the only real security in life is the kind that is inside each of us, practice what Ben Franklin wrote: “If an individual empties his purse into his head, no one can take it from him.” If you aren’t taking action in your real estate practice because you don’t know how to, ask for help.
10. Concentrate all your energy and intensity on the successful completion of your current goal. FOCUS = Follow One Course Until Successful.  Forget about the consequence of failure. Failure is only a temporary change in direction to set you straight for your next success.
Lisa Ekanger Your Hometown Realtor!

Labor Department announces $122M for job training

Labor Department announces $122M for job training

About $65 million in job training funds through a new U.S. Department of Labor program will be set aside for health care programs. (Photo: Bucks County Community College in Pennsylvania)
​The U.S. Department of Labor is accepting applications through a new career pathways program that will award about $122 million in grants over the next year, with about $65 million going toward health care programs.
The Career Pathways Innovation Fund Grant Program will fund 40 to 50 grants, ranging from $1 million to $5 million each, according to the department. The grants—which are replacing the former Community-Based Job Training grants—will focus on career pathway programs that help individuals enter careers in emerging industries and in-demand occupations.
"Those who are looking for work—including the long-term unemployed—deserve access to the kind of training that will help them secure full-time employment in the 21st century economy," Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said in a statement. Solis announced the grants during the U.S. Department of Education’s Community College Regional Summit in Philadelphia on Monday.
The deadline for applications is March 31. The program will likely be funded for only one year, as the Obama administration has not requested funding for the program in its 2011 budget proposal.
Projects funded through these Career Pathways grants will have several entry and exit points, and many will link to services such as basic adult education and English as a second language to help individuals prepare to enroll in college courses. The grants, which will be made to community colleges and other organizations, support President Obama’s goal of ensuring the U.S. has the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.
The grant program will emphasize career pathway programs at community colleges in partnership with employers, local workforce investment boards, and community and faith-based organizations.
In order to further the goals of career training and education, and encourage innovation in developing new learning materials leading to industry-recognized credentials, grantees will be required to license to the public (not including the federal government) all work created with the support of the grants.
Lisa Ekanger Your Hometown Realtor!

Outlook 2011: Improved Economy, But Struggles Remain

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Commented 24 Days Ago
I invite Mr. Zandi to take a trip to California. Here we have 13% unemployment, with up to 40&#...
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At least 2.5 million private-sector jobs will be created this year, reducing the country’s unemployment rate from 9.4 percent to 9 percent by the end of 2011, economist Mark Zandi said at GOVERNING’s Outlook in the States & Localities conference Wednesday.
Zandi, founder of Moody’s, said he is optimistic about the future of the economy and predicted that the country’s gross domestic product would grow by 4 percent annually in 2011 and 2012.
American businesses are becoming more profitable and have shown signs lately that they are increasingly willing to hire to employees. By the end of 2012, unemployment will likely be less than 8 percent, according to Zandi. “The nightmare of the great recession is fading with each passing day. It doesn’t’ have the same kind of sting it did a year ago,” Zandi said.
Recent tax changes that encourage business investment will bode will for hiring, Zandi said. Uncertainty about legislation such as health care reform, financial reform and a tax package has been abated now that those bills have become law. Since Congress has made decisions about those issues following much uncertainty, businesses are no longer in a holding pattern waiting to see how legislative decisions will affect them. That should also have a positive effect on hiring.
But state and local governments, Zandi said, will continue to experience financial struggles. Assuming that they experience 6 percent annual revenue growth this fiscal year and next fiscal year – which may be optimistic – state and local governments won’t be able to afford any growth in their nominal spending. Because of inflation, that would mean their purchasing power would be diminished, and they’d essentially have to reduce spending.
Still, from a consumer standpoint, the country is starting to right the wrongs that led it into a debt crisis. The number of credit cards outstanding is dropping, and delinquency rates on all forms of debt – from credit cards to student loans to cars – is declining. “All the preconditions for a better economy are now in place,” Zandi said.
Zandi also dismissed recent speculation in the media about potential municipal and state bond defaults. The risk of that happening, Zandi said, is virtually nonexistent.
Challenges still remain. The country won’t return to full employment until 2014 or 2015, Zandi said.
About 2 million homes are in foreclosure, and another 2 million are more than 90 days delinquent and face imminent foreclosure. About 14 million homeowners are underwater – they owe more money on their mortgage than their home is worth – and that number is growing. Meanwhile, housing prices have already fallen 30 percent from their peak; and Zandi predicted they could fall another 5 percent.

Lisa Ekanger Your Hometown Realtor!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Are you Creative? You Have to Be to Change Your Habits!

Are you Creative? You Have to Be to Change Your Habits!

So I'm at the gym this morning. Long ago are the days of ‘heavy lifting' I've downsized to circuit training and implementing the HIIT System (High Intensity Interval Training). Things have been going grand. I'm a person that likes to take a look around and really ‘take in' the atmosphere. Whether it's at the gym, mall, airport etc.

One thing I did notice is the gym has about 1/3 of the people working out than it had a month ago. Most of the ‘resolutionists' are gone. In a way I'm glad as I'm able to get my workout in and not have to wait on machines or weights. But another part of me that really likes to see thru someone else's eyes and wonder what the people who gave up were thinking now. I'm sure in the 30 days or so they had been coming to the gym they saw results and I'm wondering what kind of self talk is happening to stop them from coming in.

I saw Rod Hairston speak a couple years ago and he put it this way. The conscious mind can only do so much until the subconscious mind (the gate keeper) steps in and says ‘this is not the way we do things'. So the gatekeeper will let you do things until things get uncomfortable then he steps in and sabotages you. So to keep the gatekeeper at bay you must constantly instill creativity into your life.

As an agent I am a prospecting maniac. I have timely follow up, network and not a day goes by that business is not coming in; this is all due to having a system in place and constantly feeding the mind ‘curveball's to keep it off balance. I was not always that way; I would always find excuses to not call on prospects that needed my services. I got around this obstacle by becoming creative with all aspects of my field.
Some things that I did:
a. Get up early and get all the tedious items on your agenda done.
b. I got an accountability partner to ‘hold my feet to the fire'
c. I ‘shadowed' other agents to see what they are doing and see if I can pick up a step (still do this)
d. Cold call 3 hours a week. (this really stinks, but has to be done)
e. Joined networking groups from different fields of business to see what I can implement

There are many other things as well, but I think you get the gist.

I know the people that want to transform themselves really want to, but get railroaded by negative self-talk. The only way to achieve a new identity is be creative and hold themselves accountable.

I would like to hear some creative things you do to keep progressing....................
Lisa Ekanger Your Hometown Realtor!

Even after foreclosure, debt collectors still pursue borrowers for repayment

Have you ever said to yourself, "I'm just going to walk away from this house and let the bank have it back." The truth is you certainly can walk away, but know that liabilities &  long term consequences will follow you.  Contact me for a better plan.

Even after foreclosure, debt collectors still pursue borrowers for repayment

Brian J. O' Connor / Detroit News Finance Editor

A grim echo of the housing bust is building for Michigan homeowners who've lost their homes to foreclosure or sold them in short sales. Without even knowing it, they could end up owing tens of thousands of dollars in mounting debts under a previously unenforced provision of the state's foreclosure law.
Until a few years ago, when someone lost a home to foreclosure in Michigan, the owner walked awayembarrassed and financially battered, but owing nothing more onthe property.
Now, because of dropping property values, mortgage lenders are engineering foreclosures so they can pursue a borrower for the unpaid balance of a home loan for years to come. With added fees and interest, this phantom debt — called a "mortgage deficiency" — could swell to become more than the homeowner paid for the property.
"It's a huge problem," said Julia Gordon, senior policy counsel at the Center for Responsible Lending in Washington. "This is the last thing anyone needs."
There are no figures to show how many Michigan homeowners could be liable for deficiencies, but foreclosure rates suggest there will be plenty.
Since 2006, the number of foreclosures in Michigan has more than doubled to nearly 136,000 last year, and the state has recorded nearly 500,000 filings for homes in or near foreclosure.
As a result, property values in southeast Michigan have plummeted. Home prices dropped 34 percent during the past decade and recently hit their lowest point since the summer of 1994.
Before the real estate meltdown, few lenders ever pursued borrowers for mortgage deficiencies, said bankruptcy attorney Stuart Gold of Southfield.
"We used to see it maybe once a year or very infrequently," Gold said. "In the last two years it's become more and more prevalent."
Values sink under water
Before the recession, foreclosed homes in most cases were worth enough that banks could recoup the amount they were owed plus legal costs, if not more. At the county sheriff's foreclosure auction, lenders would bid the amount they were owed on the mortgage, then sell the property, and banker and homeowner could move on.
But now that many homes in the region are worth far less than their mortgages, lenders aren't bidding what's owed. They enter bids for the current value of the home or, sometimes, even less. Under state law, the lenders can then pursue the homeowner for the shortfall between what was owed and what the lender got when the home was sold, plus legal fees and interest.
Lenders have up to six years to sue for the bad debt and, once they obtain a judgment, can pursue the borrower for 10 years. If they still haven't collected, they can renew the judgment for another decade, repeating the process indefinitely.
During that time, interest can build on the debt at the default rate stated in the original mortgage. That's usually four or five percentage points above the original mortgage rate, so a deficiency on even a low 6-percent loan would be charged 10 percent or 11 percent interest, doubling the cost of the debt in as little as six and a half years.
"The whole situation has gotten kind of crazy," said bankruptcy attorney Mike Greiner of Warren's Financial Law Group. "I have one or two clients a month who are being sued on the first mortgage, and it's usually a large number, $50,000, $60,000 or $70,000. It's quite a shock because the client's attitude is, 'I gave the house back to the bank.'"
Short sales not excluded
These unseen debts also are cropping up on short sales, where the bank approves the sale of a home for less than the amount owed.
But just because the bank OKs the sale and releases its lien on the property doesn't mean it can't sue for the balance, said Dan Lievois, a short-sale expert and chief executive of Devon Title Agency in Troy.
"There are a lot of folks walking around now who don't understand that in three or four years they're going to wake up and have letters coming in from debt collectors," Lievois said. "That's what's sad."
The only way out for the homeowner is to get a specific release on the amount owed, Lievois said. Often in short sales, the deficiency is negotiated down and paid off by having the seller take on a new unsecured loan for the amount owed.
"In instances where the consumer didn't get that waiver of the deficiency," he said, "they have to understand that the lender has the right to sell that debt or collect on it, and do whatever they want with that asset."
This, consumer experts say, is where the real trouble can start.
In the past two decades, a robust business has grown up around the buying and selling of old consumer debt, from years-old credit card balances to long-forgotten traffic tickets and library fines.
Collection agencies buy the debt for pennies on the dollar, then try to track down the debtor with threats of legal action and damage to credit scores. Often, the debt may not even be legally owed because it's beyond the statute of limitations, which is six years in Michigan.
Now, mortgage lenders can start selling their deficiencies to make up some of their loan losses, unleashing debt collectors who may wait years to file suit — well after foreclosed homeowners have rebuilt their financial lives and have assets that can be pursued for collection.
"There are certain lenders that know borrowers will become viable for collection down the road," Lievois said.
The best way for borrowers to avoid the problem is to get a release from the lender in a short sale or, in the case of a foreclosure, file for bankruptcy. If they file soon after a foreclosure, when they have few assets, they can wipe out the debt entirely in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
But if they wait until a collector shows up years later, they might have to pay some of the debt under a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, or may not qualify for bankruptcy at all.
"You can garnish their wages or you can seize property," said Greiner, the bankruptcy attorney. "You can go after people for their assets.
"It's like a big iceberg out there. We haven't even seen the beginning of it yet."
If you're considering doing a short sale on your home, be sure you choose a real estate agent that is well aware of all the "down the road" implications to you and your family. 
I utilize the knowledge and negotiation power of a real estate attorney to ensure that this never happens to our clients. This service is provided free of charge to our clients also. Call me today, and I'll guide you through this process.
Lisa Ekanger Your Hometown Realtor!

It's easier to apologize later than to ask permission now...

Subject: 2011

There were probably many, many times this year when
I may have.....
Disturbed You,
Troubled You,
Pestered You,
Irritated You,
Bugged You,
Or got on your Nerves!!

So today, I just wanted to tell you....

Suck it up Cupcake!!
Cause there AIN'T NO CHANGES Planned for 2011!!

Lisa Ekanger Your Hometown Realtor!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Do you ever wonder if how you feel on a given day has anything to do with what millions of others are feeling or doing?

Or if your mood is somehow contributing to a larger, collective mood?
The Internet, social media and 24-hour news cycle offer real-time insight into the national mood. The Google-Profile of Mood States (G-POMS) farms Twitter content to assess collective happiness, kindness, alertness, confidence, vitality and calmness.
Stockbrokers talk about "investor mood," historians the "zeitgeist." In a recent post, Arianna Huffington wisely called for a strengthening of our "collective immune system."
The term "collective consciousness" has been used to refer to the overall social atmosphere that arises from the thought and behavior of all the individual members of a community or society.
As stress and tension build in collective consciousness, the resulting social incoherence agitates individuals and groups within the society. According to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, "All occurrences of violence, negativity, conflicts, crises or problems in any society are just the expression of the build-up of stress in collective consciousness. When the level of stress becomes too acute, it erupts into crime, violence, war and social disorder."
To create a more harmonious national atmosphere, many are calling for greater civility and cordiality in our political discourse; others urge us to do some "soul searching" and renew our national purpose. More respectful conversation may soften the debate, and pausing to reflect might clarify our higher goals. However, if a nation's collective consciousness remains acutely stressed -- with tension and discord seething barely beneath the surface -- what will prevent that collective stress from breaking out into violence?
The wisest approach might be to somehow defuse collective tensions before they erupt as destructive behavior.

Looking Deeper: Consciousness and the Unified Field
If we're all interconnected through the fabric of collective consciousness, could society be dramatically transformed by a sufficient number of people creating a positive influence -- say, by practicing a meditation technique designed to defuse stress and enliven orderliness within the brain and human consciousness?
The notion that the world is independent of our minds was overthrown a century ago by quantum mechanics. Yet a scientific understanding of how interconnected we all really are -- with one another and the universe -- is just now coming to light.
Quantum physicist John Hagelin, a forerunner in that exceedingly intricate, leading-edge area of science called "unified field theory," explains:

Progress in theoretical physics during the past quarter century has led to a progressively more unified understanding of the laws of nature, culminating in the recent discovery of unified field theories based on the superstring. These theories locate a single, universal unified field at the basis of all forms and phenomena in the universe.
While Superstring Theory and M-theory are undergoing important refinements, the consensus among leading theorists is that the unified field exists. "What we've discovered at the foundation of the universe is a universal field where all the forces and particles of nature are united as one," says Dr. Hagelin. "They are ripples on a single ocean of existence."
If this non-material field is the essence of everything, is it also the essence of individual and collective consciousness? If the unified field is at the core of everything -- even at the core of our bodies -- is it also hidden deep within the mind?
Yes, says Dr. Hagelin, and if we go deep enough in meditation, we can experience this core reality -- the field of unity within.
Do we all share the same consciousness?
Although Western science currently has no commonly accepted understanding of consciousness to affirm or deny how consciousness relates to the unified field, for thousands of years the world's great meditative traditions have identified an underlying, non-material field of order unifying mind and matter. The Vedic tradition specialized in developing techniques for opening human awareness to this core unity of life.
"Our minds profoundly mirror the hierarchical structure of nature," says Dr. Hagelin. "We can dive within to deeper levels of mind, accessing more powerful levels of thought and ultimately the unified field itself, the most powerful, limitless, universal level of our own consciousness."
Photo Credit: Maharishi University of Management
For some, it may be surprising to hear that scientific exploration of deeper levels of nature, from the molecular to the atomic, nuclear and subnuclear, might have led us back to ourselves -- that the fundamental field underlying all of nature is indistinguishable from the deepest level of the mind. Yet since the beginning of recorded history, sages have reported experiencing a transcendental field of oneness, the source and substance of everything, and not only in the East. "Within us is the soul of the whole," said Emerson, "the wise silence, the universal beauty, the eternal One."
The leap for Western science involves recognizing consciousness as something more than brain functioning -- as a thing in itself, a fundamental field.
Meditation: A technology for peace and social change
Dr. Hagelin cites numerous studies on the Transcendental Meditation technique that measure, using advanced statistical analysis, the power of group meditation to change the social climate: "In the summer of 1993, this approach reduced crime by 26 percent in Washington, D.C. An earlier study on the Lebanon war showed profound reductions in open warfare. These results have been confirmed repeatedly through extensive research published in leading, peer-reviewed scientific journals." 1
Neuroscience shows that the brain becomes highly coherent during TM practice.2 "The orderliness of brain functioning in the individual spills over into society," says Dr. Hagelin. "Since the unified field is an all-pervading field at the basis of consciousness and matter, when unity is enlivened in the individual, unity is enlivened everywhere. This is a field effect of consciousness."
Knowing that we're all interconnected -- on a level deeper than Twitter or Facebook -- makes it easy to understand meditation's silent, transformative influence on collective consciousness.
Certainly much work is needed to improve education, economics, health care and other areas. But for social programs to flourish there must be a supportive, coherent social atmosphere.
Meditation is a means for each of us to make a powerful, personal contribution to the collective peace and coherence, strengthening life in the way that's needed most -- from within.

Lisa Ekanger Your Hometown Realtor!

Monday, February 14, 2011

For VALENTINES DAY this year, I decided to write a thank you to my Love of 24 years.

Dear H, we have been together so long that it is hard to recall all of the things that I would like to thank you for.  When I was just 20, you came into my life in an accidental and unexpected way.  Like when you find money that you didn’t know you had in winter coat that had been stored away, you want to remember where it came from but you simply cannot.  I want to remember where my love for you came from.  Sometimes it seems that it was like the opposite of when a lightning bolt splits a tree and it separates it forever; divine karma hit us and brought us together forever.  I cannot take this letter or these words as casual as Hallmark sentiment.  I must make it count because you know we both forget the meaning of commitment and the meaning of family as we wind our way through the rugged and scenic path of our joyful and tough times.  Remember the time you made me a chocolate cake in a small roasting pan because we didn’t own any baking ware?  You told me to close my eyes and when you flipped it out of the pan it had a huge vein running down the middle of it ~ I laughed so hard until I saw the three red roses and tiny birthday candles and the look in your eyes told me that you were really proud of this romantic feat. Some of my best memories are of when we went on road trips all over the U.S. without worries and without plans in your Honda Prelude.  We blew money left and right and never really thought about tomorrow ~ later we realized we could have bought a house with the money we spent traveling, but I wouldn’t change it for anything because together we managed to see almost every state from Minnesota to California.  Essentially we were children running from the inevitable, the way a rabbit runs from a fox, x-crossing the ground hoping to deflect the looming threat which we called adulthood.  I loved spending Christmas in Vegas in a motel that had more blue velvet than Elvis’ wardrobe, years later, we found out that my family thought that we had run away to get married! New Years Eve in the Mayflower in downtown Seattle was the classiest experience this Midwest girl had ever had.  I remember feeling like a fraud in that jazz club as I looked around at the older more established couples in their dazzling clothes and perfectly crafted facades.  Now I see those people all the time and call them colleagues.  Ahh how perspective changes as we age and experience life!
Then there was the time you went to jump out of an airplane and arrived home several hours later than you said you would, I paced back and forth in front of your 600 sq. ft. rental house until you arrived...thinking all the while that your parachute didn’t open and you were for sure dead.  You loved it so much and tried to go back the next day but the winds were too strong so they canceled it and I was so relieved.  During that same period, I decided to make you pancakes for breakfast while you were at class.  I turned the oven on to keep the cakes warm until you returned but managed to blow up the kitchen because I didn’t realize the pilot was out on that 50 yr old stove.
The explosion was pretty minor, just burned my eyelashes clear off my face and started the wallpaper on fire behind the stove.  I was just about to call the fire department when you walked in.  You were so angry with me that you blew up and screamed at me for the first time.  I crumbled like a child and you felt so bad that you took me out to a restaurant for pancakes ~ you hate pancakes but still obliged me and pretended that you didn’t mind me dictating the food we ate.  Remember the time we were driving down the road on the way to Grammas’ cabin and you sprayed your pop all over the place?  You barely got the car door open before you exploded in laughter.  To this day we still talk about that moment but we cannot remember what I said to make you laugh so hard.  That’s one of the many things I appreciate about you.  You have always liked that I have a sense of humor and you told me that I was an “Equal Opportunity Offender” ~ I never forgot that because you never tried to change me.  To this day, you allow me to be me and that counts for a lot since I can be described like Cyndi Lauper’s break out album “She’s So Unusual” and your nick name for me was Colargol because of my wide-eyed looks and boundless enthusiasm for life.  I didn’t really know what Colargol was until I recently discovered it on YouTube, and yep that’s me in a nutshell.  As hard as I try to weave a unique story for my life it still ends up not as a complex novel, but more as a pop up book.  I guess what I am trying to say here is thank you for your unwavering commitment to me through thick and thin, through all of the stressful moves and very depressing times.  It still amazes me that at 23 years old you had enough maturity to step in and help me with my Dad.  He was homeless and out of control, he showed up at our apartment screaming at me because I wouldn’t give him enough money for a hotel.  I kicked him out and he yelled back that he was going to go jump off a bridge....I ran to our bedroom and threw myself on the bed collapsing in tears and utter helplessness.  You held me and talked me back into this world, “You said, “Lis, he’s not gonna do it.”  Sure enough about a half an hour later my Dad came to our door and apologized for what he had said.  You invited him to stay for dinner, you gave him your P.J.’s while he took a shower and I washed his filthy clothes.  You offered him our sofa and the next day you helped me and my sister get him committed to the V.A. for help.  This didn’t just happen once, but multiple times over a period of seven years and through it all you were my rock never complaining once about how badly he treated you and what a bum deal you got for in-laws. Your family on the other hand, was (and still is) the Norman Rockwell fantasy to me.  Your diplomatic father who rubbed elbows with the important dignitaries and businessmen of his time who taught me about Ibsen and the four C’s: Cognac, Caviar, Chocolate & Coffee. 

His intelligent observations and wise words were always delivered like he was talking to the Presidents cabinet, he made sure to meet everyone’s eyes with his and then he would carefully place his message on the table the way a glass blower lowers a hot vase into cool water.  He was serious but delicate with me because somehow I knew (that he knew) that I hailed from a much unsophisticated upbringing.  Your Mom is the Grand Madame with beautiful olive skin and a Sophia Lauren glamour that keeps getting better with age.  Your Mom is at once intimidating and inspiring to me, because I had never met two people in their age group with bachelor and masters degrees.  Her quiet strength and huge determination are such an inspiration to me.  I am in awe of the job she did at raising 6 successful children and have tried to model myself after her ~ an iron fist in a velvet glove.  Being with your Mom is’s like coming home to a crackling fire on a candle lit winters night and smelling cinnamon in the air.  She’s that good!
Lisa Ekanger Your Hometown Realtor!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

President Obama to Visit Marquette Feb 10th, 2011

President Obama Details Plan to Win the Future through Expanded Wireless Access

Initiative expands wireless coverage to 98% of Americans, reduces deficit by nearly $10 billion, invests in nationwide public safety network
WASHINGTON-President Barack Obama will today detail his plan to win the future by catalyzing the buildout of high-speed wireless services that will enable businesses to grow faster, students to learn more, and public safety officials to access state-of-the-art, secure, nationwide, and interoperable mobile communications.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for a National Wireless Initiative to make available high-speed wireless services to at least 98 percent of Americans. The Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Initiative laid out today will make it possible for businesses to achieve that goal, while freeing up spectrum through incentive auctions, spurring innovation, and creating a nationwide, interoperable wireless network for public safety. It will also reduce the national deficit by approximately $10 billion.
The President will announce the new initiative at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan, a city where local businesses have been able to grow as a result of broadband access, with particular benefit in exporting goods to new markets around the world. He will also see a demonstration of how the university's WiMAX network has enabled distance learning for university and community students.
For more details on the President's Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Initiative, please see the fact sheet below:

The White House

FACT SHEET: President Obama's Plan to Win the Future through the Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Initiative
In his State of the Union address, President Obama set the goal of enabling businesses to provide high-speed wireless services to at least 98 percent of all Americans within five years. The rollout of the next generation of high-speed wireless-the "4G" technology now being deployed in the United States by leading carriers-promises considerable benefits to our economy and society. More than 10 times faster than current high speed wireless services, this technology promises to benefit all Americans, bolster public safety, and spur innovation in wireless services, equipment, and applications. By catalyzing private investment and innovation and reducing the deficit by $9.6 billion, this initiative will help the United States win the future and compete in the 21st century economy.
Details of the President's Initiative
  • Nearly Double Wireless Spectrum Available for Mobile Broadband. The number of "Smartphones" will soon pass both conventional mobile phones and computers around the world, promising lower costs for such devices, more functionality, and greater demand for bandwidth (speed). 4G deployment is rising to meet this demand, but it relies on access to the "airwaves" that is currently constrained by a spectrum crunch that will hinder future innovation. To address this challenge, the President's initiative has set the goal of freeing up 500 MHz of spectrum. Specifically, the plan provides:

    • Win-win incentives for government holders. New financial-compensation tools and a commitment to using advanced technologies more effectively will enable government agencies to use spectrum more efficiently.
    • Win-win incentives for commercial holders. As recommended in the FCC's National Broadband Plan, legislation is needed to allow the FCC to conduct "voluntary incentive auctions" that enable current spectrum holders to realize a portion of auction revenues if they choose to participate.

    The majority of the freed up spectrum would be auctioned for licensed mobile broadband, raising a projected $27.8 billion over the next decade, and a remainder would be for unlicensed use.
  • A Goal of 98% of Americans with Access to 4G High-Speed Wireless. America's businesses are building out 4G networks to much of the nation, with some major companies crediting the President's recent tax incentives for accelerating their efforts. Nevertheless, absent additional government investment, millions of Americans will not be able to participate in the 4G revolution. To that end, the President's Budget supports the 4G buildout in rural areas through a one-time $5 billion investment. This investment, to be managed by the FCC, will help catalyze universal service reform to provide access to higher-speed wireless and wired broadband, dovetail with the need for public safety to have a wireless network available in rural areas, and extend access from the almost 95% of Americans who have 3G wireless services today to at least 98% of all Americans gaining access to state-of-the-art 4G high-speed wireless services within five years. Extending access to high-speed wireless not only provides a valuable service to Americans living in those areas-access to medical tests, online courses, and applications that have not yet been invented-but also catalyzes economic growth by enabling consumers and businesses living in those areas to participate in the 21st century economy.
  • A Wireless Innovation (WIN) Fund to Help Drive Innovation. This $3 billion fund will advance our economic growth and competitiveness goals, supporting key technological developments that will enable and take advantage of the 4G rollout and pave the way for new technologies. The WIN Fund will support basic research, experimentation and testbeds, and applied development in a number of areas, including public safety, education, energy, health, transportation, and economic development.
  • Develop and Deploy A Nationwide, Interoperable Wireless Network For Public Safety. The 9/11 Commission noted that our homeland security is vulnerable, in part, due to the lack of interoperable wireless communication among first responders. The rollout of 4G high speed wireless services provides a unique opportunity to deploy such a system in conjunction with the commercial infrastructure already being developed and deployed. To seize that opportunity, President Obama is calling for an investment of $10.7 billion to ensure that our public safety benefits from these new technologies: $3.2 billion to reallocate the "D Block" (which is a band of spectrum that would be reserved and prioritized for public safety and not auctioned as called for under existing law); $7 billion to support the deployment of this network; and $500 million from the WIN Fund for R&D and technological development to tailor the network to meet public safety requirements. This investment, in coordination with the investment in rural buildout, will ensure that the rollout of 4G in rural areas serves the needs of public safety and the broader community.
  • Cut the deficit by $9.6 billion over the next decade. The President's proposals to auction off spectrum freed up from the government and voluntarily relinquished by current commercial users, is estimated to raise $27.8 billion. This total is above-and-beyond the auction proceeds that are used to provide an incentive for private and government users as well as the auction proceeds that are expected even absent the President's proposal. After the cost of the investments proposed by the President, the initiative would reduce the deficit by $9.6 billion over the next decade.

Building on Progress

The Administration has already made progress on its decade-long spectrum goal and on expanding broadband access.
  • A 115 MHz downpayment on the President's 500 MHz goal. Last June, President Obama issued a Memorandum calling for action by the Federal government and Congress to enable large swaths of spectrum to be used more efficiently. The NTIA has already taken steps to make good on that commitment. In particular, the agency has identified 115 Megahertz of Federal spectrum that can be freed up as part of a "fast track" process for exclusive or shared use, selected another 95 MHz of valuable spectrum for immediate evaluation, and has a workplan for evaluating other Federal spectrum bands that can be used more efficiently.
  • Recovery Act investments by the Commerce and Agriculture Departments have boosted deployment and adoption of broadband technology. The Recovery Act provided around $7 billion to expand broadband access and adoption, with more than $2.5 billion going to the Rural Utility Service at Agriculture for rural areas and $4.4 billion going to National Telecommunications and Information Administration at Commerce to support a number of broadband initiatives. In particular, NTIA provided around $400 million in grants to jurisdictions using wireless broadband for public safety.
Lisa Ekanger Your Hometown Realtor!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Is It A Terrible Time To Buy An Expensive House ?-- Why?

It's A Terrible Time To Buy An Expensive House -- Why?

By Patrick Killelea
  1. Because house prices will keep falling in the areas where prices are still dangerously high compared to incomes and rents. Banks say a safe mortgage is a maximum of 3 times the buyer's annual income with 20% downpayment. Landlords say a safe price is a maximum of 15 times the house's annual rent. Yet in affluent areas, both those safety rules are still being violated and there is still a huge housing bubble. Buyers are still borrowing 6 times their income and putting only 3% down, and sellers are still asking 30 times annual rent, even after recent price declines. Renting is a cash business that proves what people can really pay based on their salary, not how much they can borrow. Salaries and rents prove that those high prices will keep falling for a long time. Anyone who bought a "bargain" in those areas last year is already sitting on a very painful loss.
  2. On the other hand, prices in some poor neighborhoods have now fallen well below the cost of renting. In those housing markets, gross rents exceed 10% of the price of a house. Housing prices could still fall more if unemployment rises or interest rates go up, but on a month-to-month basis, the buyer of a very cheap house wins. So the housing market is split.
  3. Because it's usually still much cheaper to rent than to own the same size and quality house, in the same school district. On rich neighborhoods, annual rents are 2.5% of purchase price while mortgage rates are 5%, so it costs twice as much to borrow the money as it does to borrow the house. Renters win and owners lose! Worse, total owner costs including taxes, maintenance, and insurance come to about 9% of purchase price, which is more than three times the cost of renting and wipes out any income tax benefit. The only true sign of a bottom is a price low enough so that you could rent out the house and make a profit. Then you'll know it's safe to buy for yourself because then rent could cover the mortgage and all expenses if necessary, eliminating most of your risk. The basic buying safety rule is to divide annual rent by the purchase price for the house:
    annual rent / purchase price = 3% means do not buy, prices are too high
    annual rent / purchase price = 6% means borderline
    annual rent / purchase price = 9% means ok to buy, prices are reasonable
    So for example, it's borderline to pay $200,000 for a house that would cost you $1,000 per month to rent. That's $12,000 per year in rent. If you buy it with a 6% mortgage, that's $12,000 per year in interest instead, so it works out about the same. Owners can pay interest with pre-tax money, but that benefit gets wiped out by the eternal debts of repairs and property tax, equalizing things. It is foolish to pay $400,000 for that same house, because renting it would cost only half as much per year, and renters are completely safe from falling housing prices. Subtract HOA from rent before doing the calculation for condos.
    That's just a crude rule of thumb. For a more accurate estimate of the real worth of a house, try this calculator.
  4. Because it's a terrible time to buy when interest rates are low, like now. House prices rose as interest rates fell, and house prices will fall if interest rates rise without a strong increase in jobs, because a fixed monthly payment covers a smaller mortgage at a higher interest rate. Since interest rates have nowhere to go but up, prices have nowhere to go but down. The way to win the game is to have cash on hand to buy outright at a low price when others cannot borrow very much because of high interest rates. Then you get a low price, and you get capital appreciation caused by future interest rate declines. To buy an expensive house at a time of low interest rates and high prices like now is a mistake. It is far better to pay a low price with a high interest rate than a high price with a low interest rate, even if the mortgage payment is the same either way.
    • A low price lets you pay it all off instead of being a debt-slave for the rest of your life.
    • As interest rates fall, real estate prices generally rise.
    • Your property taxes will be lower with a low purchase price.
    • Paying a high price now may trap you "under water", meaning you'll have a mortgage debt larger than the value of the house. Then you will not be able to refinance because then you'll have no equity, and will not be able to sell without a loss. Even if you get a long-term fixed rate mortgage, when rates inevitably go up the value of your property will go down. Paying a low price minimizes your damage.
  5. Because buyers already borrowed too much money and cannot pay it back. They spent it on houses that are now worth less than the loans. This means most banks are actually bankrupt. But since the banks have friends in Washington, they get special treatment that you do not. The Federal Reserve prints up bales of new money to buy worthless mortgages from irresponsible banks, slowing down the buyer-friendly deflation in housing prices and socializing bank losses. The Fed exists to protect big banks from the free market, at your expense. Banks get to keep any profits they make, but bank losses just get passed on to you as extra cost added on to the price of a house, when the Fed prints up money and buys their bad mortgages. If the Fed did not prevent the free market from working, you would be able to buy a house much more cheaply.
    As if that were not enough corruption, Congress authorized vast amounts of TARP bailout cash taken from taxpayers to be loaned directly to the worst-run banks, those that already gambled on mortgages and lost. The Fed and Congress are letting the banks "extend and pretend" that their mortgage loans will get paid back.
    And of course the banks can simply sell millions of bad loans to Fannie and Freddie at full price, putting taxpayers on the hook for the banks' gambling losses. Heads they win, tails you lose.
    It is necessary that YOU be forced deeply into debt, and therefore forced into slavery, for the banks to make a profit. If you pay a low price for a house and manage to avoid debt, the banks lose control over you. Unacceptable to them. It's all a filthy battle for control over your labor
    . This is why you will never hear the president or anyone else in power say that we need lower house prices. They always talk about "affordability" but what they always mean is debt-slavery.
  6. Because buyers used too much leverage. Leverage means using debt to amplify gain. Most people forget that debt amplifies losses as well. If a buyer puts 10% down and the house goes down 10%, he has lost 100% of his money on paper. If he has to sell due to job loss or a mortgage rate adjustment, he lost 100% in the real world. The simple fact is that the renter - if willing and able to save his money - can buy a house outright in half the time that a conventional buyer can pay off a mortgage. Interest generally accounts for more than half of the cost of a house. The saver/renter not only pays no interest, he also gets interest on his savings, even if just a little. Leveraged housing appreciation, usually presented as the "secret" to wealth, cannot be counted on, and can just as easily work against the buyer. In fact, that leverage is the danger that got current buyers into trouble.
    The higher-end housing market is now set up for a huge crash in prices, since there is no more fake paper equity from the sale of a previously overvalued property and because the market for securitized jumbo loans is dead. Without that fake equity, most people don't have the money needed for a down payment on an expensive house. It takes a very long time indeed to save up for a 20% downpayment when you're still making mortgage payments on an underwater house.
    It's worse than that. House prices do not even have to fall to cause big losses. The cost of selling a house is kept unfairly high because of the Realtor® lobby's corruption of US legislators. On a $300,000 house, 6% is $18,000 lost even if housing prices just stay flat. So a 4% decline in housing prices bankrupts all those with 10% equity or less.
  7. Because the housing bubble was not driven by supply and demand. There is huge supply because of overbuilding, and there is less demand now that the baby boomers are retiring and selling. Prices in the housing market, even now, are entirely a function of how much the banks are willing and able to lend. Most people will borrow as much as they possibly can, amounts that are completely disconnected from their salaries or from the rental value of the property. Banks have been willing to accomodate crazy borrowers because banker control of the US government means that banks do not yet have to acknowledge their losses, or can push losses onto taxpayers through government housing agencies like the FHA.
  8. Because there is a massive and growing backlog of latent foreclosures. Millions of owners have simply stopped paying their mortgages, and the banks are doing nothing about it, letting the owner live in the house for free. If a bank forecloses and takes possession of a house, that means the bank is responsible for property taxes and maintenance. Banks don't like those costs. If a bank then sells the foreclosure at current prices, the bank has to admit a loss on the loan. Banks like that cost even less. So there is a tsunami of foreclosures on the way that the banks are ignoring, for now. To prevent a justified foreclosure is also to prevent a deserving family from buying that house at a low price. Right now, those foreclosures will wash over the landscape, decimating prices, and benefitting millions of families which will be able to buy a house without a suicidal level of debt, and maybe without any debt at all!
  9. Because first-time buyers have all been ruthlessly exploited and the supply of new victims is very low. From The Herald: "We were all corrupted by the housing boom, to some extent. People talked endlessly about how their houses were earning more than they did, never asking where all this free money was coming from. Well the truth is that it was being stolen from the next generation. Houses price increases don't produce wealth, they merely transfer it from the young to the old - from the coming generation of families who have to burden themselves with colossal debts if they want to own, to the baby boomers who are about to retire and live on the cash they make when they downsize." House price inflation has been very unfair to new families, especially those with children. It is foolish for them to buy at current high prices, yet government leaders never talk about how lower house prices are good for American families, instead preferring to sacrifice the young and poor to benefit the old and rich, and to make sure bankers have plenty of debt to earn interest on. Your debt is their wealth. Every "affordability" program drives prices higher by pushing buyers deeper into debt. Increased debt is not affordability, it's just pushing the reckoning into the future. To really help Americans, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the FHA should be completely eliminated. Even more important is eliminating the mortgage-interest deduction, which costs the government $400 billion per year in tax revenue. The mortgage interest deduction directly harms all buyers by keeping prices higher than they would otherwise be, costing buyers more in extra purchase cost than they save on taxes. The $8,000 buyer tax credit cost each buyer in Massachusetts an extra $39,000 in purchase price. Subsidies just make the subsidized item more expensive. Buyers should be rioting in the streets, demanding an end to all mortgage subsidies. Canada and Australia have no mortgage-interest deduction for owner-occupied housing. It can be done.
    The government pretends to be interested in affordable housing, but now that housing is becoming truly affordable via falling prices, they want to stop it? Their actions speak louder than their words.
  10. Because boomers are retiring. There are 70 million Americans born between 1945-1960. One-third have zero retirement savings. The oldest are 64. The only money they have is equity in a house, so they must sell. This will add yet another flood of houses to the market, driving prices down even more.
  11. Because there is a huge glut of empty new houses. Builders are being forced to drop prices even faster than owners, because builders must sell to keep their business going. They need the money now. Builders have huge excess inventory that they cannot sell at current prices, and more houses are completed each day, making the housing slump worse.
Lisa Ekanger Your Hometown Realtor!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

5 Reasons To Buy A Home NOW | Has Housing Hit Bottom?

5 Reasons To Buy A Home NOW | Has Housing Hit Bottom?

Submitted by Tim Harris on February 8, 2011 – 1:21 pmNo Comment | Popularity: unranked [?]
5 Great reasons to buy a home…or many homes…NOW.
Yes, you read that right…in many markets…in the lower end price ranges…it does make sense to buy a home now. Our contention is that the lower end homes where the cost of owning is equal to or less than the cost of renting it may be best to buy.
Buy a home for yourself…or as a rental…
For example: We live in Las Vegas. In Vegas there are condo areas where renters are paying the same and in some cases MORE than they would pay if they purchased. We just referred 2 Vegas condo listings (The Palms Place) to a HREU student. She is listing the condos in the low $300s. (for reference, the last sold price for these units…$800s). Rentals at The Palms Place are in the $2500-$3000 per month range. Do the owner would be paying almost the same as a renter. Now, the risk to the owner that the renter doesn’t have to consider….additional depreciation. Bottom line, know your market.

Agents, share this information with your buyers!
Home prices are starting to climb
According to a report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), sales of existing U.S. homes jumped 12.3% in December. The upbeat month for home sales data comes at the tail end of what was a weak 2010. Annual home sales saw a 4.8% drop in the metric from 2009 levels, but the final month rise in sales could be the beginning of more upside in the sector. The NAR report also shows that although there is still a lot of inventory in the property market, those inventories have been gradually going down. Inventories in December of 3.56 million homes represented 8.1 months of supply, compared with 9.5 months in November.
Stock prices are too high
Buying a home is not only a deeply personal decision; it’s also a very serious investing decision. Should you invest in a new property now, or would you be better off funneling that money into stocks or other investments? Consider this — stock prices over the past 12 months, as measured by the S&P 500 Index, are up over 25%. What this means is that if you are a long-term investor looking to put money to work, now is not really the best time to get into equities. Conversely, median home prices in 2010 were up just 0.3% according to the NAR. In equity market terms, a home could be likened to an undervalued stock.
It’s cheaper to own than to rent
Buying a home now could actually be cheaper than the alternative of renting. That’s the conclusion of real estate data firm Trulia. According to the company’s Rent vs. Buy Index, buying a property—including mortgage principal, interest, taxes and insurance—was actually cheaper than renting in 72% of cities around the country. The firm compared a year’s rent for a two bedroom apartment, condo or townhouse with the cost of buying a similar property in 50 big cities around the country. Some of the most affordable areas to buy right now, according to Trulia, are Las Vegas, Miami and Phoenix.
Rising interest rates
Another cost-related argument in favor of investing in a home right now is interest rates. We saw mortgage interest rates rise steadily during the final weeks of 2010, with the average rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage finishing at 4.71% in December. That number represents a 4.3% gain from November. As the economy continues improving, we are liable to see rates continue climbing. That means that now is the time to lock in what are still historically low mortgage rate — before the cost of that loan spikes any higher.
A great inflation hedge
Historically, real estate and gold have been considered great hedges against inflation. And while the main measure of inflation, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) hasn’t gone off the charts. That’s because the CPI measure excludes food and energy prices. If you’ve been to the grocery store or bought a tank of gas in the last month, you know inflation is real. Plus, inflation is a game of expectations; if people think prices will be going up they tend to act. As the Federal Reserve has demonstrated, it is committed to printing more and more money, and hence debasing the dollar. That means more inflation down the road, and that means an inflation hedge like real estate could be just what the portfolio doctor ordered.
Lisa Ekanger Your Hometown Realtor!

President Obama to Visit Marquette Feb 10th, 2011

What's Happening at NMU

U.S. President Obama President Obama to Visit Marquette
President Obama will visit Marquette Thursday, Feb. 10, to promote educational and business uses of wireless broadband Internet. NMU is the only U.S. university to operate its own WiMAX network.

Lisa Ekanger Your Hometown Realtor!

Monday, February 7, 2011

We are in the midst of a technological revolution!

Bill Hart

As I’m sure you are aware, the real-estate industry is in the midst of a technological revolution. Those agents who embrace the changes are able to provide their clients with the most efficient service through more information and easier communication. Agents can now do the things they’ve always done in a more timely and effective way.

I like to keep up with the changes to maximize the benefits to both myself and my clients. Nevertheless, there is no substitute for listening to your clients and being responsive to their needs. So no matter how much things change, providing my clients with a wide-ranging, comprehensive service will always be at the core of my business.

My approach to technology enables me to enhance the people skills I’ve developed through experience. So when you decide to buy a new home, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Lisa :-)

Bill Hart
"The Advantage" Group
Lisa Ekanger
Cell: (586) 421-1642
Fax: (586) 949-0211
Lisa Ekanger Your Hometown Realtor!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Real Estate News 2011

Common Foreclosure Misconceptions:

"An attorney told me all I have to do is file Chapter 13 Bankruptcy to stop the foreclosure”
Yes, Chapter 13 temporarily stalls the foreclosure proceedings: however it is only a temporary solution! You will have to endure fees, court appearances, and a bankruptcy on your record, and still have to make your house payments along with compiled arrears and fees. Be sure to ask the attorney these questions.

"The bank has been really helpful and they're helping me solve this. I don't need additional help"
Yes, you need to be talking to the bank, the worst thing you can do is ignore them. However, the bank does not have your best interests in mind, they have their interests in mind. They want to get paid ASAP or they want to take your house. If you don't have someone on your side, you may end up losing your home even faster.

“I can work out an affordable payment plan or forbearance with the bank”

The bank's plan is seldom reasonable and your payments will increase significantly by as much as hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

“The bank won’t kick me out because my husband and I have medical disabilities and 6 kids living in the house”

Unfortunately, the bank only cares about collecting their debt regardless of your situation. Harsh reality is once the house goes to Auction, the sheriff will eventually come and order you and your family to vacate the property.

“I owe too much on my house so if I sold my house with a Realtor® I would have to pay thousands of $$ in commissions and closing costs. I can’t sell my house, it’s not an option, I don’t have the money”

NOT TRUE.  In a short Sale, the lender pays all costs and commissions.   Working with an experienced Realtor who is a Foreclosure Specialist, and has a working relationship with banks, and is willing to negotiate on your behalf, can overcome these problems. We have been negotiating short sales since 2005 and there is no costs to the seller.  Contact us today to learn more at (586) 421-1598. 

“The bank said that I can do a DEED in LIEU and not have a foreclosure on my record”

Don’t let the bank fool you. Your credit report and personal record will read “Deed In Lieu”, which is a VOLUNTARY FORECLOSURE (this is just as bad on your credit as a full foreclosure). This only benefits the bank (saves them money)

“It’s too late, I can’t do anything, it’s no use trying”

Nothing is farther from the truth! Until the sheriff kicks you out, there are always options!

We hope this clears up any misconceptions you may have had about the foreclosure process. Don't be depressed, there is plenty of hope and lots of options. We can help you navigate the process so you can start over again. If you have additional questions, feel free to contact me at (586) 421-1598.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fannie and Freddie's Big Foreclosure Backlog

  •  Friday January 28, 2011, 8:08 am EST
Fannie Mae (fnma.ob.OB) and Freddie Mac (fmcc.ob.OB) are trying to sell their huge backlog of foreclosed homes in an orderly way to avoid flooding the market and depressing prices. As foreclosures mount, though, analysts say the companies may be forced to reconsider that approach.

The government-controlled mortgage companies' inventory of foreclosed residential property has quadrupled in three years and now stands at a record $24 billion. The number of properties they own has increased fivefold to nearly 242,000, representing roughly a third of all repossessed homes in the U.S. And the total keeps growing as they take possession of homes faster than they can sell them. In the first nine months of 2010 Fannie and Freddie took in 319,243 foreclosed properties and disposed of 210,105. At the same time, U.S. housing prices have been falling. In the most recent reading, the S&P/Case-Shiller index of home values in 20 cities fell 1.6 percent in November from the previous year, the biggest 12-month decrease since December 2009.

Officials at Fannie and Freddie say they are committed to an approach consistent with their mission as backstops for the housing market. They have been trying to stabilize neighborhoods by selling homes at prices close to market levels and giving preference to buyers who plan to live in the homes rather than investors who might rent them out or try immediately to resell them. Fannie and Freddie are also investing in some properties, spending millions on maintenance to make them competitive with other homes on the market in their neighborhoods. "We don't want a reduced value to initiate a quick sale," says David Wendling, senior director of REO (real estate owned) sales at Freddie Mac. "The focus has always been on supporting neighborhood values."

Of the 74,621 properties Freddie Mac sold in the first nine months of 2010, 67 percent went to buyers who intended to occupy them, according to company data. At Fannie Mae, about 80 percent of sales are to owner-occupants, says company spokeswoman Amy Bonitatibus. "We don't hold anything back that is available to be sold," says Jane Severn, director of REO disposition at Fannie Mae. "We're doing the opposite, pushing our homes out to the market as soon as we can."

Some real estate analysts say the companies will have to find a way to dispose of properties more quickly. The number of homes subject to a foreclosure filing may rise by 20 percent this year, up from a record 2.87 million properties in 2010, RealtyTrac, an Irvine (Calif.) data company, predicts. The market currently can absorb about a million foreclosures a year, the Mortgage Bankers Assn. estimates. Fannie and Freddie themselves estimate in regulatory filings that it will take "a number of years" to bring their foreclosure inventory down to pre-2008 levels.

As their holdings of unsold homes increase, Fannie and Freddie eventually will need to drop prices and turn to investors, analysts predict. "I think they're just (postponing) the inevitable," says Michael Slaughter, a partner at New Providence Capital, a Dallas-based private lender. "If they don't start with a systematic distribution of these properties to investors who have cash today and will buy them at the right price, they're going to end up selling the entire portfolio to Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS - News) or BlackRock (NYSE:BLK - News) at a tenth of what they can get for them today."

The bottom line: Fannie's and Freddie's strategy of not flooding the market with foreclosed homes may come under pressure as their inventory builds.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Home Insulation

Insulation's efficiency, along with its environmental impact, ranges widely. Let's look at a few of the most popular insulations on the market today, and maybe find one that is "just right" for you.
First, why do we insulate our homes? According to the Department of Energy, "Heating and cooling account for 50 to 70% of the energy used in the average American home. Inadequate insulation and air leakage are leading causes of energy waste in most homes."

So in short, insulation makes your home warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and it keeps more money in your pocket in the process.

But how much insulation you need can be entirely dependent on the climate of the surrounding area. Use this quick zip code guide to figure how much insulation is necessary in your region.
This will help you establish what R-value (the rating system used for insulation) is proper for optimum efficiency in your home. The higher the R-value, the greater the effectiveness of the insulation. By simply picking the right insulation, even if the material itself is not green in nature, you will be saving energy, and thus making a contribution to a healthier environment.

Here a few typical forms of insulation:

Blankets: These come as rolls or batts and are made from flexible mineral fibers, including fiberglass and rock wool. On the positive side, this form of insulation can be bought with a flame-resistant facing. Additionally, it comes in standard sizing, made to fit between wall studs and floor joists. On the other hand, fiberglass and rock wool are known eye, throat, and skin irritants. And fiberglass is made through an energy intensive manufacturing process, and many fiberglass products contain formaldehyde, a possible carcinogen.
Blown-in: Blown-in loose fill is done by professionals by using equipment to blow in loose fibers or pellets. This can be done with cellulose (a great green option), fiberglass, or rock wool. On the pro side, it is good for oddly shaped areas that rolls don't form to. On the con side, cellulose not mixed with foams is apt to settle and to absorb moisture.
Insulation: And finally, there is foam insulation. Foam insulations, however, are made from petrochemicals and are not recyclable.
You may have found your "just right" fit in the forms above, but there are still greener options now gaining in popularity. These include recycled paper insulation, recycled denim, hemp, and cotton. Be sure to talk to your contractor about what options would be a good, and green, fit for your new home.
Published: January 19, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011

19 Ways to Slash Your Utility Bill

By Jim Gorman

Where George Scott sees red, his clients are bleeding green. Scanning the outside of a ranch home in Longmont, Colo., recently, the energy auditor’s infrared camera registered blue and aqua in spots where heated air stayed put. That’s what the homeowner expected. “He thought he’d done everything right,” Scott says, because he had tackled obvious stuff like adding insulation. “But he was baffled by his high gas bills.” When the camera scanned the attic, the viewfinder found orange and red blobs where air gushed by the chimney, 20 recessed lights and two uninsulated hatches. After the inspection, the homeowner plugged those leaks with about $50 in caulk, sheetmetal and spray foam insulation, Scott says. “I estimate his gas use will drop 300 therms, or about $300, this winter.”

But you don’t need an infrared camera to reveal utility-bill-busters that are left after the obvious stuff is done. You need the right point of view. Big energy leaks are often hiding in plain sight, and many of them are easy to fix — you may not even need tools. Here’s how to get started.


+ Unplug the beer fridge

That old clunker of a refrigerator in the basement could be costing the equivalent of 10 cases of Bud in wasted energy each year. A refrigerator built in 1993 gobbles twice as much energy as new models. Need more cold brew for a party? Plug in the fridge the night before.
Cost: $0 | Monthly Savings: $12.50 | Payback: Immediate

+ Plug the Power Drain
As much as 75 percent of electricity use by electronics occurs while the devices are off. Big-screen TVs, stereo systems and computer peripherals are some of the worst offenders. Curtail the loss with power strips that kill power when they sense inactivity.
Cost: $115 | Monthly Savings: $3 | Payback: 3 years

+ Give the Sump Pump a Break
A 0.5-hp sump pump can use $30 a month in electricity during wet spring months, estimates Bill McAnally, an adviser to the Iowa Energy Center and an instructor in energy-efficient building. “You’re better off extending downspouts another 5 ft. into the yard to move rainwater away from the basement,” he says.
Cost: $16 | Monthly Savings: $6.25 | Payback: 2.5 months

+ Maximize CFLs
We’ve all heard the advice to switch to CFLs. To get the maximum bang for your CFL buck, install the bulbs for their rated use, which will help them last longer. For example, use bulbs that are designed for down-facing, enclosed receptacles in ceiling lights. Other CFLs are rated for use in fixtures plugged into a timer. Also, for a more rapid return on investment, use CFLs in fixtures that are on for at least 3 hours a day.
Cost: $3.22 per 15-watt CFL | Monthly Savings: $0.57 | Payback: 6 months

+ Seal HVAC DuctsPut away the duct tape. You need a better seal. Between 25 and 40 percent of the hot and cold air entering ducts escapes through joints, seams and gaps — many covered with poorly applied tape. That’s hard-earned money disappearing. Cut your losses by sealing duct joints with mastic, a paint-on putty, and patch holes with aluminum tape. If supply ducts have insulation, peel it back to seal the collars. Pay particular attention to elbows, advises Iowa Energy’s McAnally. “That’s where pressure builds and the air wants out,” he says. And don’t neglect return ducts. Leaks in returns strain your HVAC system and can cause pressure differentials that result in hot summer air or cold winter air being sucked into the house.
Cost: $40 | Monthly Savings: $9.33 | Payback: 4 months

+ Program the Thermostat
Install an Energy Star–qualified programmable thermostat that automatically adjusts heating and cooling temperatures based on a daily heating or cooling schedule.

For every degree you push the thermostat beyond your usual set points, you save an additional 2 percent on utility charges. Some utilities, such as Austin Energy in Texas, provide free thermostats, so inquire before you buy.
Cost: $42 | Monthly Savings: $15 | Payback: 3 months

+ Keep A/C Filters and Coils Clean
A dirty air filter reduces airflow, and a dirty condenser coil retains heat and is less efficient. The two can increase the system’s power consumption by 10 percent or more. Clean the condenser coil every two years and change filters monthly during peak cooling and heating seasons.
Cost: $50 | Monthly Savings: $8.33 | Payback: 6 months

+ Catch a Breeze
Ceiling fans minimize the need for air conditioning in summer, or at least allow you to nudge the thermostat up a few degrees, and they enhance winter comfort.
Cost: $100 | Monthly Savings: $1.33 | Payback: 6.5 years


+ Throttle Back Showers

Showers account for 26 percent of a household’s hot-water use. Installing a low-flow shower head can shrink that flood from 3.5 gal. per minute to 1.5 gal. Cost: $9, for two no-frills, 1.5-gal./minute heads | Monthly Savings: $15 | Payback: 3 weeks

+ Slow the Flow
A faucet aerator can save 400 gal. of hot water a year. Translation: less work for the water heater. If the rated flow on your current aerator is visible, and if it’s above 2.75 gal./minute, then replace it with a more efficient model that emits 1.5 gal./minute or less. If the aerator’s flow rate has been scuffed off or it’s too hard to read, just replace it. The new aerator will likely have lower flow.
Cost: $4.80 for three aerators | Monthly Savings: $0.93 | Payback: 5 months

+ Stop Drips
A slow leak of 10 drips per minute from a hot-water faucet wastes 526 gal. a year, or about the equivalent of emptying and refilling a 40-gal. water heater 13 times. Swapping in a new washer or O-ring is an easy fix, even for a novice DIYer.
Cost: $1 | Monthly Savings: $0.35 | Payback: 3 months


+ Block the Stairs
The attic may be sealed tight and insulated to R-39, but you've overlooked a gaping, 21-sq.-ft. hole that's hemorrhaging money: the pull-down stairs. You can buy an insulated cover or build your own from rigid polystyrene insulation and multipurpose construction adhesive.
Cost: $120 for a premade tent | Monthly Savings: $4.16 | Payback: 2.5 years

+ Stuff the Chimney

On average, 14 percent of the air leaking in and out of a house flows through the chimney. If you use your fireplace infrequently, seal it with an inflatable draft stopper or make your own with a garbage bag stuffed with fiberglass insulation.
Cost: $50 | Monthly Savings: $2.33 | Payback: 21 months

+ Upgrade Windows

Replacing old, single-pane windows with high-performance, double-glazed, low-e windows seems like a good idea, but at a cost of several hundred dollars each you’ll wait a while for the payoff. Inexpensive storm windows offer quick payback, especially for do-it-yourselfers. In testing performed by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, exterior storm windows reduced winter heat loss in single-pane windows by 29 percent, whereas double-pane window replacements saved 47 percent.
Cost: $65, for DIY installation of one low-e storm window | Monthly Savings: $2.15 per window | Payback: 2.5 years

+ Blanket the Water Heater
Your hot-water heater is the second biggest energy user in the home after the HVAC. Cut standby energy waste by insulating an older heater. If the casing is warm to the touch, you can save between 4 and 9 percent on water-heating costs by installing an R-10 or greater insulating blanket. Wrapping a gas-fired water heater demands extra care to avoid blocking combustion vents or the flue.
Cost: $30 | Monthly Savings: $1.20 | Payback: 25 months

+ Crack Down on Cracks
“Ten tubes of caulk will do more to reduce a home’s energy waste than replacing every window,” says Steve Luxton, a manager at CMC Energy Services, an energy audit firm in Fort Washington, Pa. Apply paintable silicone caulk around windows and doors. To check for other energy leaks, look where any pipe, vent or electrical cable comes through the siding — dryer vent outlets and hose bibs frequently present trouble spots.
Cost: $70, for 10 tubes | Monthly Savings: $8.42 | Payback: 8.5 months

+ Wrap Pipes
Insulate the first 10 ft. of the hot- and cold-water pipes (heated water can back-flow up the cold pipe) that lead into and out of the hot-water heater and you get double savings. Water arrives 2 to 4 F hotter, allowing you to lower the setting on the water heater, and there’s less wait time and water waste. Insulate the full run of exposed hot-water pipes to increase the savings.
Cost: $8 | Monthly Savings: $0.44 | Payback: 1.5 years

+ Plug Big Gaps
Practice triage by stopping the big energy bleeders — large, obvious breaches in the basement and attic — before caulking cracks or insulating. Prime offenders are gaps at plumbing stacks, furnace flues and stud cavities inside soffits. Plug holes with expanding foam, foil-backed foam board or fiberglass insulation scraps stuffed in a plastic garbage bag to stop air movement. Use heat-resistant caulk and sheetmetal around chimney flues and combustion vents.
Cost: $75 in materials | Monthly Savings: $15 | Payback: 5 months

+ Wash only full loads in dishwashers and washing machines: Save $51
+ Turn the water heater down to 120 degrees from 140: Save $22
+ Remove room air conditioners during winter: Save $40
+ Use Energy Saver features on dishwashers, dryers, fridges and freezers: Save $21
+ Wash clothes in cold water: Save $33
+ Air-dry clothes during the warmest six months: Save $57

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Don't Rush to Pay Off Your Mortgage

Many people aspire to pay off their home as quickly as possible. These folks believe that once they don't have a mortgage, they've hit a financial milestone. However, this is one milestone I believe people shouldn't rush to reach.
The first reason that people should not pay off their mortgage is that it doesn't make financial sense. A few weeks ago, a man called in to my radio show asking if he should pay off his mortgage. He owes $50,000 on his house, so he was considering using half of his $100,000 mutual fund investments to wipe out the mortgage.

Rather than pay off his mortgage, I recommended he keep his money invested. He has a 5 percent interest rate on his mortgage, and the interest he pays can be deducted when he does his tax return. Depending on his tax bracket, his interest cost leaves him with a net mortgage cost of roughly 3.6 percent (or $1,800) per year after taxes. If he keeps the $50,000 invested in the stock market rather than paying off his mortgage and earns the stock market's long-term average return of 10 percent or more, he would have an annual gain of $5,000. Subtract the $1,800 mortgage interest cost from $5,000 earned by staying invested, and he could end up $3,200 ahead. If he continues to invest $3,200 per year over the next five years, he can accumulate $16,000 or more, money he wouldn't have by paying off his mortgage.

The other reason people shouldn't pay off their mortgage is more emotional in nature. Many people believe they'll attain peace of mind when they pay off their mortgage. They might share the Depression-era belief that the government can't take their house away if they pay off their loan. I believe strongly that any peace of mind is outweighed by the potential benefits of keeping the money and investing it. If a person uses investment money to pay off that loan, it may leave that person with much less money when it's really needed in future years. That could be a costly mistake because it may not offer the person the luxury of time to replenish his nest egg.

With mortgage rates on the rise recently, this is not the time to be in a hurry to pay off a mortgage. I'm hopeful that many homeowners were able to benefit in recent years by refinancing their loans as 30-year fixed mortgage rates fell, including a period of time in 2010 when rates were below 4.5 percent. Their interest costs should be very low going forward. I believe mortgage debt is okay to have, because equity in the home is being built as the loan is paid down. For most people, their home will always be a part of their net worth, even if they don't pay off the mortgage. And low-interest mortgages allow them to expand their wealth by investing money they have because they didn't pay off their mortgage.

So, I encourage people to keep their mortgage and instead, enjoy the fruits of investing their extra money. When considering net worth, whether it's increased home equity or a larger investment account, it's still net worth. With investments, they have a chance to grow. With home equity, the interest savings are the only upside.

Adam Bold is the founder of The Mutual Fund Store, which provides fee-only investment advice with locations coast-to-coast. He's also host of The Mutual Fund Show, a call-in radio program broadcast across the country. Bold is author of the book The Bold Truth about Investing (April, 2009). Bold is Chief Investment Officer of The Mutual Fund Research Center, an SEC registered investment adviser which provides mutual fund and asset allocation recommendations and research to stores in The Mutual Fund Store system.

4 Problems that could ruin your Mortgage

Follow these tips to ensure your home purchase goes smoothly.

4 problems that could ruin your mortgage (© Image Source/
Banks are getting very cautious about home mortgage loans these days — right up to the closing date. Even consumers with good credit and plenty of cash may find themselves out on the sidewalk if any of these last-minute loan application issues pop up.

To make sure you’re on the right end of a mortgage closing, follow these four pieces of advice:
Avoid any major purchases before closing your mortgage loan. Some homebuyers think that just because they have a mortgage deal all lined up, the deal is done. Not so. Banks have been known to pull mortgages when the homebuyer buys a new car or makes another major purchase. To banks, such purchases suggest more debt for the homebuyer and more risk for the banks. Avoid any big-ticket items until after you’ve signed on the dotted line. That goes for cash deals, too. Banks also check out your cash reserves when they approve a loan.

Don’t make any big career changes. Lenders also weigh your salary and job stability when evaluating home loans. Any career move you make could jeopardize your home mortgage loan. At worst, the bank could pull the loan. At best, it could delay the process until you demonstrate your new job is a stable one that guarantees you’ll have the financial resources to pay off your mortgage debt. That’s especially true if you change industries.

Prepare for a last-minute credit check. This is related to point No. 1, but with a twist. With new rules initiated by Fannie Mae’s loan quality initiative, which went into effect June 1, banks and lenders will likely make a second credit check right before closing. So if you miss any credit-card payments or are late on a mortgage payment between the time you were approved for a mortgage and the actual closing date, you may be putting your new home purchase in jeopardy. Even applying for a new credit card can trigger a credit-score inquiry, which could reduce your credit score and threaten your home loan.

Watch out for closing-cost surprises. Some homeowners put every last penny into the mortgage down payment and don’t leave enough to pay for closing costs. That could be a big mistake. Closing costs can be as much as 3% of the cost of a new home — that’s $6,000 for a $200,000 property. Worse, closing costs are dynamic and can change all the time. If you don’t have cash set aside to pay more for mortgage rate points or on closing fees than you were anticipating, you could lose the home.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

No McMansions for Millennials

By S. Mitra Kalita and Robbie Whelan,
Jan 14, 2011
Here's what Generation Y doesn't want: formal living rooms, soaker bathtubs, dependence on a car.
In other words, they don't want their parents' homes.
Much of this week's National Association of Home Builders conference has dwelled on the housing needs of an aging baby boomer population. But their children actually represent an even larger demographic. An estimated 80 million people comprise the category known as "Gen Y," youth born roughly between 1980 and the early 2000s. The boomers, meanwhile, boast 76 million.
Gen Y housing preferences are the subject of at least two panels at this week's convention. A key finding: They want to walk everywhere. Surveys show that 13% carpool to work, while 7% walk, said Melina Duggal, a principal with Orlando-based real estate adviser RCLCO. A whopping 88% want to be in an urban setting, but since cities themselves can be so expensive, places with shopping, dining and transit such as Bethesda and Arlington in the Washington suburbs will do just fine.
"One-third are willing to pay for the ability to walk," Ms. Duggal said. "They don't want to be in a cookie-cutter type of development. ...The suburbs will need to evolve to be attractive to Gen Y."
Outdoor space is important-but please, just a place to put the grill and have some friends over. Lawn-mowing not desired. Amenities such as fitness centers, game rooms and party rooms are important ("Is the room big enough to host a baby shower?" a millennial might think). "Outdoor fire pits," suggested Tony Weremeichik of Canin Associates, an architecture firm in Orlando. "Consider designing outdoor spaces as if they were living rooms."

Smaller rooms and fewer cavernous hallways to get everywhere, a bigger shower stall and skip the tub, he said. Oh, but don't forget space in front of the television for the Wii, and space to eat meals while glued to the tube, because dinner parties and families gathered around the table are so last-Gen. And maybe a little nook in the laundry room for Rover's bed?

In his presentation, KTGY Group residential designer David Senden showed slide after slide of dwellings that looked like a cross between a hotel lobby and the set of "Melrose Place."

He christened the subset of the generation delaying marriage and family as "dawdlers."

"A house in the suburbs is not for them," Mr. Senden said. "At least not yet."

Places to congregate are more important than a big apartment, he cautioned. He showed one layout of a studio apartment-350 square feet, as big as Mom and Dad's Great Room. Common space has migrated to "club rooms," he said, where Gen-Y residents can host meals and hang out before heading to a common movie-screening room or rooftop swimming pool that they share with the building's other tenants.

The Great Recession and its effects on young people's wages will affect how much home they can buy or rent for years to come.

"Not too many college grads can afford a lot of space in the city," he said. "Think lots of amenities with little tiny units-and a lot of them to keep (fees) down. ...The things these places are doing is constantly coordinating activities. The residents get to know each other and it makes for a much livelier and friendlier environment."

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tips for Writing Winning Purchase Offers in a Seller's Market

By , Guide

Seller's markets exist when there are a lot of buyers competing for a low inventory of active listings. It’s not unusual for a home with all the bells and whistles to draw offers from more than one buyer. When this happens, the home often sells for more than list price. But price isn’t everything to a seller. There are other factors. If you are trying to buy a home in a seller’s market, here are 10 tips to help you write that winning purchase offer and beat out the competition.

1. Submit a Preapproval Letter With Your Offer

A lender’s letter that says your credit rating has been examined and you can afford to buy the home carries a lot of weight. It tells the seller that you are serious and qualified. It says you are ready to buy and have already committed to lender. If the seller has a higher offer from a buyer without a preapproval letter, your offer will likely win.
2. Hire an Assertive Real Estate Agent
An agent who constantly combs the marketplace and networks with other agents is more likely to get a lead on your new home before anybody else, which is why you need to hire a good agent. When a young nurse was ready to buy a home she had just toured over lunch, her agent insisted they write the offer on the hood of her car. Then the agent called the listing agent from her cell. She persuaded that agent to drop what he was doing and join her at his seller’s home to present the offer. The nurse’s offer was accepted that afternoon.

3. Write a Friendly Offer

Don’t include demands in your offer that are likely to irritate or anger the seller. If it is customary in your area for the buyer to pay for her own title insurance policy, don’t ask the seller to bear that cost. If most buyers demand possession at 5:00 PM on the day of closing, show that you are different and be generous by giving the seller two or three days to move out.

4. Put Your Best Foot Forward

Simply put, this means write your very best offer. You might get only one chance to make an impression on the seller, so don’t make a low offer hoping the seller will give you a counter offer. If the seller has received multiple offers, the low offers most often are not even considered. They are shoved into the rejected pile. Figure out the top dollar you are willing to pay for the home and offer that price.

5. Put Down a Healthy Earnest Money Deposit

A larger earnest money deposit shows you are serious and are willing to put your cash on the table. Sellers will feel you are more committed with, say, a 3% deposit than 1%, meaning if a home is listed at $300,000, don’t offer a $500 deposit. The seller could feel you have nothing at risk and could walk away from the transaction at will. A deposit of $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000 says “I am committed to buying this home.”

6. Cash Talks

If you are able to pay “all cash” for a home, say so. Although it’s always “all cash” in the end to the seller, even if the buyer obtains a loan, a transaction that is not dependent on receiving loan approval is more attractive to a seller.

7. Shorten Inspection Periods

Many standard real estate purchase contracts give the buyer X number of days to perform inspections before the buyer is required to proceed with the transaction. If the default in your purchase contract is 17 days, try shortening that time period to 10. By federal law, unless you specifically waive your right under the Lead Paint Disclosure, you have 10 days to inspect the property for signs of lead paint contamination.

8. Waive Some Contingencies

If you have spoken to your legal advisor and feel comfortable risking your deposit, you might want to consider waiving contingencies such as those for loans, appraisals or inspections. However, there are risks. If you waive an appraisal contingency and the home appraises below your sales price, you will need to make up that difference in cash. But without some contingencies, your offer will be more than solid than a competitor’s.
9.  Write the Seller a Letter
If the seller has eight offers on the table but your offer includes a letter that is personally handwritten by you, your offer will stand out. In your letter, you will want to appeal to the seller’s emotions by explaining why you are in love with her home and list all the reasons why your offer should win. If you can evoke tears of joy or induce empathy from the seller, your offer will likely win.

10. Offer to Close Quickly

Unless there are extenuating circumstances, many sellers prefer to close within 30 days or fewer. If you can offer a 21-day closing time frame, that might be more important to the seller than an offer for more money and be just the edge you need to beat out the competition.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Home Inspection Checklist

Did Your Home Inspector Check the Essentials?

By , Guide

Home inspector inspecting

A home inspector will look under the sink to check the plumbing.
© Caylyn Wright Brown

Home buyers have it drilled into their heads that they need to get a home inspection. In California, for example, real estate agents advise home buyers to do a home inspection 15 ways from Sunday. Our purchase contracts contain two pages that talk about doing a home inspection, and those two pages are repeated in the buyer's broker agreement. That's just for starters.
A home buyer does not close escrow without hearing about the need for a home inspection. But what does a home inspection report disclose? Home buyers are often clueless about home construction and its components, and have difficulty deciphering home inspection reports. Many don't know how to figure out which types of defects are serious or whether their home inspector checked all the essentials. But, by George, they got that home inspection!

Home Inspection Checklist Comparisons

All home inspections are different and can vary dramatically from state to state, as well as across counties and cities. Much depends on the home inspector and which association, if any, to which the home inspector belongs. Because I am most familiar with home inspections conducted in accordance with the standards of practice established by the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors, the following information is based on NACHI guidelines.

Home Inspection Checklist of Items Not Inspected

Understand that California home inspectors are not licensed, nor are they licensed in many states. However, a home inspector's standard practice typically does not include the following, for which a specific license to inspect and identify is required:

General Home Inspection Checklist Items

  • Structural Elements.
    Construction of walls, ceilings, floors, roof and foundation.
  • Exterior Evaluation.
    Wall covering, landscaping, grading, elevation, drainage, driveways, fences, sidewalks, fascia, trim, doors, windows, lights and exterior receptacles.
  • Roof and Attic.
    Framing, ventilation, type of roof construction, flashing and gutters. It does not include a guarantee of roof condition nor a roof certification.
  • Plumbing.
    Identification of pipe materials used for potable, drain, waste and vent pipes. including condition. Toilets, showers, sinks, faucets and traps. It does not include a sewer inspection.
  • Systems and Components.
    Water heaters, furnaces, air conditioning, duct work, chimney, fireplace and sprinklers.
  • Electrical.
    Main panel, circuit breakers, types of wiring, grounding, exhaust fans, receptacles, ceiling fans and light fixtures.
  • Appliances.
    Dishwasher, range and oven, built-in microwaves, garbage disposal and, yes, even smoke detectors.
  • Garage.
    Slab, walls, ceiling, vents, entry, firewall, garage door, openers, lights, receptacles, exterior, windows and roof.

Home Inspection Checklist Items Needing Service

Home inspection reports do not describe the condition of every component if it's in excellent shape, but should note every item that is defective or needing service. The serious problems are:

  • Health and safety issues
  • Roofs with a short life expectancy
  • Furnace / A/C malfunctions
  • Foundation deficiencies
  • Moisture / drainage issues

Home Inspection Checklist Items Sellers Should Fix

If you have a choice, it is smarter to hire your own contractors and supervise repairs. Before issuing a formal request to repair, consider the seller's incentive to hire the cheapest contractor and to replace appliances with the least expensive brands.
Although home inspectors are reluctant to and, in many cases, refuse to disclose repair costs, call a contractor to determine the scope and expense to fix minor problems yourself. No home is perfect. Every home will have issues on a home inspection. Even new homes.
A repair issue that will be be a deal breaker for a first-time home buyer, causing the buyer to cancel the contract, will not faze a home buyer versed in home repair. Talk to your agent, family, friends and call a few contractors to discuss which types of defects are minor. Perhaps a simple solution is available such as replacing a $1.99 receptacle, which can resolve many outlet problems.
Pat yourself on the back, too, for getting a home inspection. Some buyers feel a home inspection is unnecessary, especially if they are buying new construction. If a light switch doesn't work or the air conditioner blows out hot air, those are problems you can see and test. The problems that aren't readily identifiable to you such as code violations, a furnace that leaks carbon monoxide or a failing chimney, are the types of defects a home inspector could identify in a new home. Builders' contractors make mistakes, too.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

FICO Questions Answered: Fair, Isaac CEO Reveals 3 Key Ways to Improve Your Score

Posted Jan 11, 2011 03:59pm EST by Daniel Gross
Updated from 3:59 p.m. EST
Many people have questions about the credit scores generated by Fair, Isaac & Co. Today on Tech Ticker, Aaron Task and I figured we'd take our questions straight to the source: Mark Greene, chief executive of Fair, Isaac & Co., creator and proprietor of the FICO score.
"The FICO score is a measure of a consumer's financial health and creditworthiness," Greene says. It's simply a number, ranging from 300 to 850 -- the higher the better. The average FICO score in the U.S. is about 700, and pretty much every bank in the country uses a FICO score when making lending decisions. But while the scores are important, they're not the be all and end all.
"Scores are meant to be one of several things bankers use in doing what we call sound underwriting," Greene says. Lenders should also be taking into account borrowers' background references, their capacity to repay loans, and collateral.
FICO creates the score simply by feeding numbers into its formula: "It's based on pure, statistical evidence, with no judgment or evaluation or emotion." The main factors Fair, Isaac takes into consideration are:
• How much total indebtedness a consumer has
• How long they've had the debt. "Newer relationships are riskier than things you've been paying over a long period of time," Greene says.
• How much available credit is being used: "If you're close to the edge on your credit cards, that's a danger signal."
• The mix of an applicant's credit portfolio -- is it all credit cards (bad) or a mixture of credit cards, a mortgage, and a car loan (better)?
Greene outlines three key ways through which people can improve their scores. First, pay your bills on time. Second, don't get close to the edge: "Don't use more credit than you really need." And third, don't apply for new credit unless you absolutely have to.
It may sound obvious, but the easiest way to avoid a sharp downgrade in your FICO score is to stay current on your mortgage and stay solvent. "One thing people should know is that a foreclosed home or personal bankruptcy is the most severe harm that you can do to your credit score," Greene says. FICO scores can fall by as much as 150 points when borrowers walk away from mortgages or declare bankruptcy; it can take up to seven years to rehabilitate the rating.
Greene helps clear up what may be some misconceptions about the way credit scores are calculated. For example, is it true that every time you apply for a loan it hurts your score?
"It depends on the kind of product you're shopping for," says Greene. With car loans, for example, Fair, Isaac understands that people shop for rates. "If you apply for five different car loans within a couple of days, we understand that you're looking to buy one car at the best rate. And there's no adverse impact on your credit score."
On the other hand, when people apply for five different credit cards in the space of a week, they're usually seeking to open multiple accounts simultaneously. "In those situations we will take a few points off someone's FICO score because we're worried they're sending a signal that they need too much credit."
Is it also true that people who have little or no debt may find themselves with lower credit scores? That can be the case. "Warren Buffett used to say that he didn't have a particularly high credit score," says Greene.
Consumers can obtain their FICO score from the company at (Editor's note: Greene says the report is free in the accompanying video but you must register to receive your FICO score and a payment is required.)
Greene also points to a just-launched website,, that helps people understand how credit scores factor in this new era of financial regulation. As of January 2011, you have the right to receive your score any time a lender makes certain kinds of decisions -- e.g., if you're denied credit or given credit on less than the most favorable terms a lender offers.
In the U.S. economy today, people may frequently find that a credit score is being used by companies to make decisions that have nothing to do with credit. Credit scores have become part of the application process for jobs, car insurance, and health insurance. Greene notes that the credit score can be useful in non-lending contexts: "People who are good with their finances frequently turn out to be good drivers." But he reiterates that they were designed for a purely financial use.

Friday, January 7, 2011

How to Ensure Your Success
by Dirk Zeller - Thu, Jan 6, 2011
There are as many models, trainers, and philosophies of how to be successful in real estate as there are people. Each one of these people, including myself, has strong beliefs on the path one must take to be successful. The truth is there isn't just one pathway to achieving success in real estate sales. There are a number of ways to prosper in the business. That is one of the exciting aspects of real estate sales. If anyone (Agent, Trainer, Manager, or Sales guru) tells you his or her way is the only way, run the other direction.
The real question is what will be your way? There is a right model or right pathway for you based on your experience, database size, market, commitment level, behavioral style, sales skills, and competitive nature. The way to ensure your success is to evaluate your unique factors I just listed and build your business in a complementary way.
For example, for the last ten years, we have been the leader in behavior assessments in the real estate industry. Through working with thousands of Agents and benchmarking their behavioral style, we have discovered patterns in how the different behavior styles can build a business that is effective and comfortable for them.
Not everyone should call FSBOs and expireds as some Trainers profess. In fact, there are a few behavioral styles that the success rate in prospecting to those sources is so dismal that it would be counter-productive. There are other behavioral styles that are so competitive and focused that they struggle to create referral-based relationships even when they go to numerous seminars to learn referral techniques. Some Agents sell more effectively by using facts and figures, while others use emotional connection and emotional techniques.
Being able to build your business around your natural gifts and natural skills that were given to you at birth and that you have spent years perfecting is the mark of a Champion. I once had a client who was frustrated because he didn't generate as many referral leads as his friend whom I also coached. Both of Agents were Champion Agents in their market. It really gnawed at my client, Eddie, that he couldn't generate as many referrals as Fred. When he finally shared that with me, I told him he needed to get over it because he would never get as many referrals as Fred. After he calmed down, I explained that his intensity and focus, based on his behavioral style, was not as relational and people oriented as Fred's. The outcome would be fewer referrals no matter what he did.
Because of his high desire for competition and intensity, I convinced him to try working expireds. Within weeks, he was taking at least six listings a month from working expireds. He started loving his business and was less frustrated. We then put a new Assistant on his team to love on his past clients and sphere and keep in frequent personal contact and ask for referrals. She had the same behavioral style as Fred, and the number of referrals increased by 25% in less than 60 days.
The way to ensure your success is to find your system, strategy, tactics, and lead generation and conversion sources. Too many Agents are looking for an off the rack solution in a tailor fit world. We need to be willing to pause, to evaluate, research, and design the right long-term solution. Anyone can do what he or she finds incongruent with their behavioral style for a short period of time, especially if they are broke. The problem is that it's not sustainable. When we have made enough money or feel comfortable, we stop doing activities we don't want to.
The search for your system and the perfection of that will ensure your success. It still means you need to attend seminars and training, listen to CDs, read books, and participate in coaching. If you work with a coaching company that is focused on helping you uncover your system, rather than forcing you into theirs, you have a higher probability of long-term success once coaching is completed. There is not one system or way to be successful in the real estate sales business.
The second step to ensure your success happens once you have made the best decision on how you are going to generate leads. For example: past clients; sphere of influence; strategic alliances with other professionals like Accountants, Financial Planners, Family Law Attorneys; community involvement; FSBOs; Expireds; REO properties. There are unlimited sources to choose from. Once you have finalized, stick with your decision. A Champion Agent tests the new strategies for a long enough period of time to modify the strategy a few times and test and monitor all of the results. A huge error I see most Agents make is the error of impatience. They change strategies and tactics so quickly that they never get past the steepest part of the learning curve. They are moving from one ice mountain to the next, trying to find the secret path to the top. It isn't there; you have to climb to the top.
Most Agents try a farm for three to four months, don't get any business, and scrap the farm. They will try a new newsletter to their past clients and sphere for three to four months and decide that doesn't work. They will call FSBOs or expireds for a few weeks, not achieve the result level they want, and stop that practice. In order for you to know if something new you are trying works, you have to try it for at least six months. It takes that long to gauge the return on investment. It takes that long to tweak and perfect it. You won't get all the facts to make an informed decision if the strategy works or not before a six month period of time.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Michigan Short Sale Will Be a Great Investment in a Few Years

If you are looking for great investment properties in the residential real estate market, consider a Michigan short sale. We've all heard the dismal news coming out of the auto industry, and Michigan has one of the higher foreclosure rates in the US, brought on by aggressive lending and the weakness in the job market in Michigan. Normally one picks markets that show promise of coming back soon, but the values of a Michigan short sale are compelling for investors.

Some of the home foreclosures and short sales in Michigan are incredible values. The market in Michigan will come back, especially once the auto industry starts to show signs of recovery in 2011. The auto bail out will eventually help, and the State of Michigan has put incentives in place to attract more alternative energy industries to the state. Since Michigan has a huge infrastructure already in place for durable manufacturing, once the wheels start to turn, any investor with properties that were purchased as a short sale or a home foreclosure will appreciate fairly rapidly. Jobs will eventually come back, and a property that was purchased for $40,000 to $70,000 will certainly gain in value once job-related housing demand comes back.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Buying a home now is a no-brainer
By Ali Velshi, CNN chief business correspondent

(MONEY Magazine) --

Is now the right time to invest in a house?
Trick question. Actually, it's two questions.
Question No. 1: Is now the time to buy?
Question No. 2: Is buying a house a good investment?

The first answer is easy: With a few exceptions, if you have 20% to put down and good credit, now is a great time to buy. That's been the case all year, and I'd argue that we're probably closer to the end than to the beginning of the really great time. Let me explain.
Back in January home prices had dropped 28% from their peak. More important, interest rates were at historical lows. By locking in a mortgage for 15 or 30 years on a value-priced home, you were getting an incredible deal, even if home prices decreased. (I took my advice and bought a New York City apartment.)
At the time, I thought that prices and rates were more likely to rise than fall. I was half right: Home values have been inching up since the spring, but mortgage rates, incredibly, dropped further.
By August (the latest numbers available) the median home price had risen 1% over a year ago, but 30-year rates had dropped a half-point to 4.5%. Assuming 20% down and a 30-year mortgage, the total cost of owning a median-priced home is now down $16,000 from a year ago.
Home values may waffle over the coming year, but because Americans take out such large, long mortgages, rates are what really matter. And I am more likely to grow hair than see 30-year mortgage rates drop below 4%. It's far more likely that rates (and the cost of ownership) will rise.
Now for question No. 2: Is a house a good investment?
First, it depends on what you mean by investment. If your definition is strictly about dollars returned, a house probably won't be a great use of your capital. If you bought the median-priced house today with 20% down, to recoup your total costs (and I'm not including property taxes and maintenance here) over three decades, the home's value would have to rise about 3% a year.
That's likely, but you'll almost certainly (we all hope) do much better than that in the stock market. The fact is, however, that that's the normal case for housing; the booms that began after World War II and in the late 1990s were the exceptions.
Of course, there are places where you might do better. I bought my condo in Manhattan, a small island that, by virtue of the business done on it, has a sustained demand for property. And smaller, energy-efficient housing in cities or inner suburbs around San Francisco or Chicago is likely to be in higher demand than big, outer suburban homes with long commutes to Las Vegas or Atlanta.

According to urban and environmental planning professor William Lucy of the University of Virginia, this move toward urbanization in American housing is the reversal of a trend that's been in place since 1945. Keep it in mind when making your buying decisions.
That said, the key point to remember is this: Buying a fairly priced home at today's rates may be the best deal you will ever get. And who knows? It may even turn out to be a good investment.  To top of page
Lisa Ekanger Your Hometown Realtor!