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Mortgage Accessibility Expectations Hit Record High

April 1, 2015 12:45 am

More than half (54 percent) of respondents in a recent Fannie Mae National Housing Survey™ believe it would be easy to get a home mortgage, a record-high trend bearing out amid continued strengthening in employment and overall housing sentiment.

“We continue to see strength in attitudes about the current home buying and selling environment and consistently high shares of consumers saying they expect to buy a home on their next move,” says Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae.

According to the survey, the share of respondents who say mortgage rates will go up in the next 12 months increased to 48 percent. Those who say it is a good time to buy a house remained at 67 percent. Those who say it is a good time to sell decreased by 4 percentage points to 40 percent.

The share of respondents who say home prices will go up in the next 12 months fell to 46 percent. The share of respondents who believe the economy is headed in the right direction increased three percentage points to an all-time survey high of 47 percent.

Source: Fannie Mae

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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HVAC Cleaning Boosts Energy Savings

April 1, 2015 12:45 am

In the average household, HVAC systems consume approximately 56 percent of energy in the home. Homeowners can save 11 percent or more on energy bills with proper HVAC maintenance, according to the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA).

When HVAC systems begin to wear, they operate less efficiently. Additionally, contaminated heating and cooling systems can be problematic for occupants, contributing to poor indoor air quality, system failure, and increased energy use.

A complete and proper cleaning will remove built-up particulate and contaminants, improving indoor air quality and maximizing system efficiency. Industry standards include a complete cleaning to include replacing the filter and cleaning the ductwork from where the air enters the return duct, through the air handler (blower, coil, and head exchange) and to the exit, where the air is released to condition the home.

Source: NADCA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Invest Gas Savings into Your Vehicle

March 31, 2015 12:30 am

If your wallet feels a little heavier these days, it’s probably because you’ve been spending a lot less at the pump. Did you know that if you spend some of those gas savings on auto care you can save even more in the long run?

“Gas prices are lower than they have been for nearly six years and that means big savings for motorists,” says Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. “Add to that a proactive auto care plan and you will not only save more now, but as gas prices start to rise again, you’ll save later.”

The Car Care Council encourages motorists to put those gas savings to good use with these tips:

Motor Oil: Improve gas mileage by 1-2 percent by using the grade of motor oil recommended by the manufacturer.

Air Filters: Replacing clogged air filters on older vehicles can improve fuel economy and will improve performance and acceleration on all vehicles.

Gas Cap: Damaged, loose or missing gas caps allow gas to vaporize into the air.

Fix It: Addressing a serious maintenance problem, like a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve mileage by as much as 40 percent, according to FuelEconomy.gov.

In addition to vehicle maintenance, modifying driving habits, such as observing the speed limit and avoiding quick stops and starts, can also increase fuel efficiency. Consolidating trips, avoiding excessive idling and removing unnecessary items from the trunk are also easy ways to lower fuel consumption.

Source: Car Care Council

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Middle-Class Households Best at Saving

March 31, 2015 12:30 am

More than one-third (35 percent) of middle-class households with an annual income between $50,000 and $74,999 are saving more than 10 percent of their incomes, a rate that outpaces even the highest-income households, according to a recent report by Bankrate.com. However, just half of Americans are saving no more than five percent of their incomes. Roughly one in five (18 percent) are saving nothing at all.

“This proves the old adage that what counts isn’t how much you make, but how much you have left over,” says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com.

Overall, fewer than one in four Americans (24 percent) are saving more than 10 percent of their incomes. That figure includes 14 percent (one in seven) who are saving more than 15 percent.

Those in the western U.S. are out-saving their counterparts elsewhere; 31 percent of westerners are saving more than 10 percent of their incomes, compared with just 20 percent of southerners. However, just 19 percent of westerners aren’t saving anything.

Source: Bankrate.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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3 Ways to Maximize Garage Space

March 31, 2015 12:30 am

(Family Features) The U.S. Department of Energy cites 25 percent of homeowners with two-car garages have too much clutter to store vehicles, and 32 percent only have room for one vehicle.

"It's ironic that many of us would rather store our boxes of unwanted stuff in our garage, leaving our valuable cars outside to deal with the elements," says Lorie Marrero, professional organizer and author of The Clutter Diet. "Let's rethink our storage priorities and turn our garage into a space that's more organized and functional."

Maximizing garage space doesn’t have to be a chore. Marrero recommends three simple steps to make the most of storage space in your garage.

1. Clear the Floor
"Wire shelving is the perfect choice for 'DIYers' in need of a garage makeover," says Marrero. "It is flexible and can be customized to fit in all types of spaces, suits any climate and is easy to keep clean."

Since floor space is at a premium, get things off the floor and onto the wall. One option is heavy duty wire shelving, which can withstand the weight of some of your heaviest things and adapt to changing storage needs. This shelving will allow air to ventilate and is not affected by the humidity or sudden fluctuations in temperature.

Limit the dirt tracked inside the house with an area rug or repurposed carpet. For many, the garage serves as the main entry point into the home, so be prudent and keep the entryway as clean as possible.

2. Store Hazardous Materials
Things like poisonous pesticides and anti-freeze or dangerous tools like hedge trimmers and power tools should be hidden safely out of reach from children and pets. Find a home for these items with heavy-duty cabinets.

3. Organize Smaller Items
Can't find your wrench or screw driver? Use a peg board to keep your favorite hand tools neatly stored and easily accessible. Hooks are another great way to keep track of your belongings. Use them freely for stowing hoses, extension cords, bicycles and step ladders.

Source: ClosetMaid

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Parents: Are You Over-Sharenting?

March 30, 2015 12:27 am

Some of social media’s greatest stars aren’t even old enough to tweet. More than half of mothers and a third of fathers discuss child health and parenting on social media, adding to the growing segment of parents online dubbed “sharents,” according to the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.



“By the time children are old enough to use social media themselves many already have a digital identity created for them by their parents,” says Sarah J. Clark, M.P.H., associate director of the Mott Poll. But how far is too far when it comes to crossing the boundaries between public and private life?

“On one hand, social media offers today’s parents an outlet they find incredibly useful. On the other hand, some are concerned that over-sharing may pose safety and privacy risks for their children,” says Clark.

When sharing parenting advice on social media, common topics included getting kids to sleep (28 percent), nutrition and eating tips (26 percent), discipline (19 percent), daycare/preschool (17 percent) and behavior problems (13 percent), according to the Mott poll that surveyed a national sample of parents of children aged 0-4. Nearly 70 percent of parents said they use social media to get advice from other more experienced parents and 62 percent said it helped them worry less.

However, parents also recognized potential pitfalls of sharing information about their children, with nearly two-thirds concerned someone would learn private information about their child or share photos of their child. More than half also worried that when older, their child may be embarrassed by what was shared.

Three-quarters of parents polled pointed to “over-sharenting” by another parent, including parents who shared embarrassing stories.

Source: MottChildren.org

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Taking the Guesswork Out of Backsplash Design

March 30, 2015 12:27 am

(BPT) - The kitchen is the heart of the home and a top-selling feature with homebuyers. Whether you've just completed a remodel or you're looking for ways to upgrade your existing kitchen, a tile backsplash will instantly transform the space, says Kirsty Froelich, design director of The Tile Shop.



To design a show-stopping backsplash, Froelich recommends determining your style profile by looking at Houzz, Pinterest and home magazines to learn which styles you’re drawn to. Attend your local Parade of Homes, or visit a showroom environment to view multiple styled vignettes.

When considering tile or stone, think about whether you want the backsplash to be a focal point. If you're looking to make a statement, clean and tumbled white marble is on-trend, slate is comforting and earthy, and metallics are eye-catching and contemporary. For an even greater personal touch, consider designs with color, patchwork, patterns or pop art. For those who prefer a subdued look, subway tiles in neutral tones are timeless.



It’s important to know your budget, says Froelich. Convey your visions and cost parameters to any contractors or interior designers you plan to work with. Bring a sample of your cabinetry and countertop or a picture of your kitchen to the designer or showroom you're working with. It will help them maximize your budget while achieving your vision.

If you prefer a material that is low maintenance, Froelich suggests ceramic tile. If you are drawn to the beauty of natural stone, keep in mind that it will need annual maintenance, including resealing the surface to ensure the product's integrity and beauty last.

When finalizing your design, consider adding unique characteristics based on location. Above the sink or cooktop are good places to do something more decorative, says Froelich. To make a statement, you may decide to add a niche with a cutout that has tile on the interior that matches the exterior tile or create a picture frame design using a completely different style of tile and stone.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


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4 Tips for the Final Walk-Through

March 30, 2015 12:27 am

The final walk-through is an important part of the home buying process. This step gives a buyer the opportunity to assess the home top-to-bottom before closing. Although a home inspector can accompany a buyer during the final walk-through, it’s essential for the buyer to evaluate the home as an inspector would.



To successfully complete the final walk-through, keep in mind these tips.



1. Have your contract, inspection report and any seller disclosures handy when walking through the home. These documents will help you determine if any new issues developed after the inspection, and which repairs, if any, were included in the agreement.



2.
Inspect both the exterior and interior of the home, paying special attention to any issues the seller agreed to resolve before closing. This is crucial, especially if the seller has already vacated. Spend some time assessing the landscape and grounds, as well as confirming that all doors and windows not only open and close properly, but are also secure.



3. Inside the home, test the HVAC system and all appliances included in the contract. Turn on and off all lights, both inside and outside, and check the temperature and water pressure for all faucets. Remember to flush toilets to ensure there are no drips or leaks.



4. Before completing the final walk-through, be sure to ask for working keys to every door, alarm codes, garage openers and any appliance or system manuals. It’s also a good idea to ask for copies of receipts for any repairs the sellers paid for.

Source: RISMedia’s Housecall



Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Few U.S. Workers Contribute to IRAs

March 27, 2015 12:27 am

A recent LIMRA study found that just 17 percent of American workers contribute to a traditional individual retirement account (IRA) – and only 28 percent contribute to any kind of IRA, including traditional, Roth or SEP/SIMPLE accounts. When asked to provide a reason for that decision, the majority of respondents felt they could not afford to contribute to an IRA. Nearly a quarter of respondents said they are saving in another retirement savings vehicle, such as a defined contribution (DC) plan, and one in seven workers said they were unsure how to invest their assets or haven’t gotten around to it. A third of workers believe they don’t understand enough about IRAs to contribute to one.

“For workers who don’t have access to an employer-sponsored DC plan, an IRA provides an excellent way for workers to save for retirement,” says Cecilia Shiner, assistant research director for LIMRA.

The study also found that more than a third of Generation X workers are contributing to an IRA (34 percent), compared to only a quarter of Millennials and Boomers. Forty percent of workers would be more likely to contribute to an IRA if a payroll deduction option were available through their employer; nearly half of Millennials said payroll deduction would spur them to contribute. Workers who own an IRA are more likely to feel confident that they will be able to live the retirement lifestyle they desire (55 percent), compared to just 24 percent of those who don’t own an IRA.

A traditional IRA allows workers to direct pretax income, up to specific annual limits, toward investments that can grow tax-deferred (i.e., no investment gain is taxed until the money is withdrawn).

Source: LIMRA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Mortgage Rates Return to Year Low

March 27, 2015 12:27 am

Mortgage rates returned to the lowest point of 2015 this week, a level seen three previous times from mid-January to early February, according to a Bankrate.com survey. Mortgage rates fell for a second consecutive week, with the benchmark 30-year fixed mortgage rate retreating to 3.80 percent.

The average 15-year fixed mortgage dropped to 3.04 percent while the larger jumbo 30-year fixed mortgage plummeted to a new record low of 3.92 percent. Adjustable rate mortgages also lowered, with the 5-year ARM sinking to 3.14 percent and the 7-year ARM sliding to 3.31 percent.

The catalyst was the Federal Reserve's downgrading of economic and inflation expectations for this year, which pushed back the expected timing of an initial interest rate hike. Both bond yields and mortgage rates moved lower as expectations on the timing of interest rate hikes are tempered. Mortgage rates are closely related to yields on long-term government bonds.

One year ago, the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate was 4.51 percent. At that time, a $200,000 loan would have carried a monthly payment of $1,014.56. With the average rate now at 3.80 percent, the monthly payment for the same size loan would be $931.91, a savings of $82 per month for anyone refinancing now.

Source: Bankrate.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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