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August 30, 2013

7 Simple Steps To Finish Your Basement This Holiday Weekend

Category: Around The Home – Tags: – Matt Ward 7:52 am

7 Simple Steps To Finish Your Basement This Holiday WeekendNot only does the Labor Day weekend signal a little time off work, but it also indicates a close to the summer season, which means it’s time to get ready for colder weather.

So get in the spirit of the long weekend and put the labor of love into your home by creating a cozy hideaway that your family can retreat to once the outdoors become too chilly.

One of the best places to create this snug space is to mimic hibernating animals and go under ground — to the basement.

Whether your lowest level needs a facelift or is completely unfinished, Labor Day weekend is the perfect time to make a game plan and get started on remodeling your basement.

Step 1 – Obtain A Permit

Before you can just slap up insulation and drywall, you need to make sure your basement is even fit to dwell in.

Check with your city to ensure there aren’t any permits you need to obtain and that the space is up to code. If you don’t do it right, then this update could haunt you when it comes time to sell.

Step 2 – Get The Air Flowing

You’ll want this space to be warm in winter and cool in the summer. Contact a contractor to see if getting air to this lower level will be as easy as tapping into your current HVAC system and whether or not your existing appliance can handle the extra space.

Step 3 – Design And Frame

Now comes the fun part. Decide what you want down there! A bedroom or two, a man cave, or TV room; a blank slate provides all sorts of exciting options. Once you’ve got a plan, start framing it out.

Step 4 – Add Emergency Exits

This underground level needs exit points that go directly outside. So, install a back door or windows that someone could fit through in case of emergency. If there are bedrooms in the design, they also each need their own exit point.

Step 5 – Insulate And Drywall

While the ground surrounding your home provides some insulation, you’ll want to properly insulate around the perimeter and in between rooms to provide a noise barrier. Then put up the drywall.

Step 6 – Install Flooring

Pick out your flooring, such as wood, tile, carpet or vinyl. It mostly depends on what type of rooms you’re planning to create. Make sure your floors are level before you lay anything down. It’s especially common to find slanted floors in older homes.

Step 7 – Paint And Decorate

You’re almost finished! Pick out your paint colors, move in your furniture and enjoy your new cozy hideaway. Colder weather will be here before you know it, so use the long Labor Day weekend to get this project started.

August 29, 2013

Pending Home Sales Indicates That The Housing Recovery Is Progressing

Category: Housing Analysis – Tags: – Matt Ward 7:51 am

Pending Home SalesThe National Association of REALTORS reported Wednesday that pending sales of existing homes fell by 1.30 percent in July.

According to the organization’s Pending Home Sales Index, this was the second straight month that pending home sales dropped. July’s Pending Home Sales Index reading was 109.50.

Signed Purchase Contracts For Existing Homes Tracked In The U.S.

  • ·Northeast:  – 6.60 percent
  • ·Midwest:    – 1.00 percent
  • ·West:        – 4.90 percent
  • ·South:       + 2.60 percent

Pending home sales were 6.70 percent higher year-over-year on a national basis. This indicates that the housing recovery is progressing, but at a slower pace.

Short supplies of available homes have also impacted sales. In some areas homebuyers are facing competition from multiple buyers for individual homes.

Another report released earlier in the week showed that the pace of rising home prices also slowed. This connects with fewer pending home sales, as when demand for homes cools, prices are likely to fall as well.

Pending home sales serve as an indicator for future home sales, as purchase contracts typically lead to completed home sales within two to three months.

Housing Market Developments Could Delay Fed Stimulus Decision

The Federal Reserve has indicated that it may begin reducing its stimulus program of buying $85 billion per month in U.S. Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities.

The Fed has repeatedly stated that continued monitoring of economic trends would weigh heavily on its decision if and when to modify its current stimulus program.

Mortgage rates have risen more than a percentage point since May when the Fed began discussing potentially “tapering” its monthly bond purchases.

The Fed may interpret the slower pace of rising home prices and pending home sales as a sign that it’s not yet time to reduce its stimulus program. This could help with lowering mortgage rates, which are expected to rise when the Fed reduces its monthly securities purchases and eventually ends its stimulus plan.

Housing has led the economic recovery; faltering indicators in the housing sector suggest that the overall recovery is a fragile process.

August 28, 2013

Case Shiller Price Index Shows Home Prices Are Still Increasing

Category: Housing Analysis – Tags: – Matt Ward 7:52 am

Case Shiller Price Index Shows Home Prices Are Still IncreasingHome prices are still rising, but at a slower pace according to the S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Indices for June.  Home prices for the cities surveyed in the HPI rose by 12.10 percent on an annual basis as compared to May’s reading of 12.20 percent.

This is the highest rate of monthly growth for home prices since the peak of the housing bubble in 2006. 

June’s home prices remained approximately 23 percent lower than peak prices, but economists consider the bubble peak an anomaly and caution against comparing current home prices to the peak prices seen in 2006.

Overall Housing Price Increase Strongly

Regional home prices reported in June’s HMI were mixed. Case-Shiller publishes a 10-city Index and a 20-city Index of home prices. 13 of 20 cities saw their rates of rising home prices decline from May to June.

Atlanta posted the highest month-to-month gain in home prices at 3.40 percent. Washington, D.C. posted the slowest month-to-month gain in home prices at 1.00 percent.

New York City posted a monthly gain of 2.10 percent in home prices in June; this was its highest rate of increase since 2002.

Both S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Indices for June showed annual growth in home prices. The 10-city index posted an annual gain of 11.90 percent and the 20-city Index posted an annual growth rate of 12.10 percent. Las Vegas enjoyed the highest annual rate of home price growth at 24.90 percent.

In year-over-year price gains, Las Vegas and San Francisco’s gains exceeded 20.00 percent, while Atlanta, Detroit and Phoenix posted year-over-year gains of 19.00 percent, 16.40 percent and 19.80 percent respectively.

These figures suggest there’s plenty of room before prices begin to fall, but David M. Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee and S&P Dow Jones Indices, noted that “the monthly city-by-city data show the pace of price increases is moderating.”

Rising Mortgage Rates, Limited Supply Of Homes Slowing Home Price Growth

Mortgage rates remain historically low, but have risen sharply over the last few weeks. This trend, coupled with persistently low inventories of available homes is seen as a significant reason for slower growth in home prices. 

Investors and would-be home buyers are also waiting to see if the Federal Reserve reduces its monthly stimulus program; such a reduction would likely cause mortgage rates to rise further.

The Fed has not set a date for “tapering” its monthly stimulus, but has indicated it will do so soon if economic conditions continue to improve.

 

August 27, 2013

Existing Home Sales Report Shows Highest New Home Inventory Since January 2012

Category: FHFA – Tags: – Matt Ward 7:52 am

Existing Home Sales: Highest New Home Inventory Since January 2012The National Association of REALTORS reported that existing home sales for July came in at 5.39 million on a seasonally adjusted annual basis. July’s reading exceeded both expectations of 5.21 million existing homes sold and June’s reading of 5.06 million homes sold.

This suggests good news for home buyers who’ve been constrained by limited supplies of homes for sale.

As home prices continue increasing in many areas, more homeowners are likely to list their homes for sale. Existing home sales for July rose by 6.80 percent year-over-year.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency Home Price Index reported a 7.70 percent year overyear increase in prices for homes financed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

This reading was slightly higher than May’s year-over-year reading of a 7.60 percent increase in home prices.

New Home Sale Inventories Also Growing

New home sales for July dropped by 13.40 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual reading of 394,000; this was lower than expectations of 485,000 new homes sold, but this expectation was based on June’s original reading of 497,000 new homes sold. June’s reading has been adjusted to 455,000 homes sold, which likely would have resulted in a lower expectation.

New home sales were lower in all four U.S. regions:

-16.1 percent in the West

-13.4 percent in the South

-12.9 percent in the Midwest

– 5.7 percent in the Northeast

While this isn’t great news for developers and home builders, supplies of new homes for sale jumped from a 4.30 month supply of new homes in June to a 5.20 month inventory of available new homes in July. This was the highest inventory of available new homes since January 2012.

Monthly New Home Sales Continue Upward Trend

Month to-month sales of new homes tend to be volatile, but July’s year-over-year home sales were 6.80 percent above new home sales in July 2012.

Higher mortgage rates likely stifled sales, but slower sales would increase inventories of available homes. More homes available would help ease constraints on buyers and level then playing field for home buyers who have been competing for few homes in strong seller’s markets.

Rising mortgage rates could continue, especially if the Federal Reserve begins tapering its $85 billion in monthly bond purchases, a program known as quantitative easing. The Fed has announced that it may start reducing the QE program before year-end.

When QE purchases are reduced, securities prices can be expected to fall due to less demand, and mortgage rates can be expected to rise.

August 23, 2013

Preventing And Clearing Clogs In Your Home

Category: Around The Home – Tags: – Matt Ward 7:53 am

Preventing And Clearing Clogs In Your HomeYou’re brushing your teeth and you turn on the faucet. It’s not draining and starts to back up. Here’s the dilemma; do you spit and let it sit or run to the kitchen? One thing is for sure; having a clogged drain can be a major annoyance.

Clogs not only frustrate a homeowner but they can be hard on your plumbing. The added pressure they create puts stress on your pipes and can shorten their lifespan.

So end the issue by following the guidelines below. You’ll learn how to prevent clogging and clear the ones you already have.

No Food Down The Drain

Even if you have a disposal, it’s not good for your pipes to have sticky, mushy food shoved through them. Peel vegetables and scrape plates into the trashcan.

Also, avoid pouring grease down the drain. Animal fat can congeal into a solid and form a blockage. Instead, store it in a sealable container in the freezer. Once it’s full, trash it!

Only TP In The Toilets

All feminine hygiene products should be thrown away, because most don’t dissolve quickly enough and can cause a backup. And be sure to secure toilet lids from curious children, because you have to admit that it is pretty fun to watch almost anything go “bye-bye.”

Hair Today, Problem Tomorrow

Don’t wash loose hair down the drain. Collect it and throw it away after your shower. If you shed a lot, it might be beneficial to install drain screens to catch loose hair and make it easy to dispose. Be sure to clean these out every few weeks.

Chemicals Should Be Used With Caution

Be wary about using chemical drain cleaners. They can erode cast-iron pipes and usually don’t remove an entire clog, so it can easily recur. You should consider hiring a professional plumber to snake your drains; or better yet, buy your own augur at the hardware store for about $15.

Homeowners can be hard on their drains. From hair to food, clogs are a time-consuming frustration that might cost you big. Treat your plumbing with a little love and it’ll reward you by quickly removing water and waste from your sight!

For more helpful tips on periodic home maintenance, please feel free to contact your trusted real estate professional today.

August 22, 2013

Fed Meeting Minutes Reflect Support For Reducing QE Program

Fed Meeting Minutes Reflect Support For Reducing QE ProgramThe minutes of last month’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting show significant support for tapering the Fed’s current amount of monthly securities purchases. These purchases, known as quantitative easing (QE), are an effort to maintain lower long-term interest rates including mortgage rates.

The Fed has been buying $85 billion per month in Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities (MBS).

Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve and FOMC has hinted at “tapering” the Fed’s securities purchases by year-end in recent statements. The FOMC minutes released Wednesday further suggest that tapering based on strengthening economic trends is likely.

FOMC Members Express Mixed Views

The minutes for the last FOMC meeting, which took place on July 30 and 31, states that many members are “broadly comfortable” with tapering QE securities purchases later this year if the economy continues to improve. At the same time, many FOMC members indicated that it “isn’t yet time” to scale back the purchases.

All along, the FOMC has emphasized that it will closely monitor domestic and global financial and economic developments as part of its decision about when tapering the QE purchases will begin.

The minutes for July’s meeting reflected this sentiment and noted “A few members emphasized the importance of being patient and evaluating additional information on the economy before deciding on any changes to the pace of asset purchases.”

On the other side of the issue, the minutes note that a few members said that “It might soon be time to slow somewhat the pace of purchases as outlined in the QE plan.”

QE Tapering Not The Only Influence On Mortgage Rates

The Fed is likely to monitor its words as well as economic conditions, as previous announcements about tapering QE made by Chairman Bernanke and FOMC have created havoc in world financial markets.

In relation to mortgage rates, it’s likely that tapering QE purchases will cause mortgage rates to rise. Demand for bonds will fall as the Fed reduces its purchases, falling bond prices usually cause mortgage rates to rise.

It’s important to keep in mind that tapering QE securities purchases is only one among many things that can impact financial markets, mortgage rates and the economy.

While the Fed is expected to begin tapering its securities purchases as soon as September, developing economic news throughout the world can potentially impact mortgage rates and could cause the Fed to revise its timeline for tapering the volume of its securities purchases. 

August 21, 2013

It’s Important To Follow These Specific Steps When Using Gift Funds For Your Down Payment

Category: Mortgage Tips – Tags: – Matt Ward 7:52 am

It's Important To Follow These Specific Steps When Using Gift Funds For Your Down PaymentAs lenders tighten mortgage guidelines for Leominster home buyers, minimum downpayment requirements are increasing.

Several years ago, you could finance a home with nothing down. Today, most conventional mortgages require at least 5 – 10 percent.

Incidentally, these guideline changes have led to an increase in the number of home buyers accepting cash gifts from family.

Gifts are allowed in most cases but the problem is, if you don’t accept the gift in a “lender-friendly” way, the mortgage underwriter could reject it, and negate it.

Three Steps To Success With Your Down Payment Gift Funds

You can’t just deposit a cash gift into your bank account. You have to follow a series of steps and keep records.

  1. Provide an acceptable gift letter signed by all parties
  2. Provide documentation of the gifter’s withdrawal of funds via teller receipts
  3. Provide documentation of the giftee’s deposit of funds via teller receipts

Lenders require these 3 steps for two basic reasons.  First, they want to make sure that the cash gift is “clean” (i.e. not laundered).  Second, they want to make sure the gift is really a gift and not a loan-in-disguise. It’s why lenders typically require that the loan application be accompanied by a signed, dated letter.

For example:

I am the [relationship to recipient] of [name of recipient] and this letter serves as evidence that I am gifting [name of recipient] [amount of gift] to be used for the purchase of the home at [complete address of property]. This is a gift — not a loan — and there is no expectation of repayment. Signed, [Signature of gifter]

Keep The Cash Gift Funds Separate From Your Other Money

As an additional step, home buyers receiving cash gifts should make sure that gifted funds are not commingled at the time of deposit.

If the cash gift is for $10,000, therefore, the bank’s deposit slip should indicate that a $10,000 deposit was made — nothing more, nothing less. Don’t add a random $100 deposit to the transaction, in other words. The $100 deposit should be a separate transaction.

It’s also worth noting that gifting funds between family members can create both legal and tax liabilities.

If you’re unsure about how donating or receiving a gift may impact you, call or email me directly. If I can’t help you with your questions, I can refer you to somebody that can.

August 20, 2013

Home Builder Confidence Highest Level In Nearly 8 Years

Home Builder Confidence Highest Level In Nearly 8 YearsThe National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported Thursday that its Housing Market Index rose three points to a reading of 59 for August.

Confidence among builders is likely growing in connection with stronger housing markets and high demand for homes. These conditions are being driven by short supplies of homes for sale in many markets.

Builder confidence in current market conditions rose by three points to a reading of 62, while builder confidence in market conditions within the next six months rose by one point to a reading of 68. Confidence in buyer foot traffic was unchanged from July’s reading of 45.

Readings above 50 indicate that more builders surveyed view housing market conditions as positive rather than negative; there was some concern that the high builders’ confidence reading could trigger the Fed to announce the tapering of its $85 billion monthly purchase of Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities.

Housing Starts Driven By Apartment Construction

Housing starts rose in July, but were led by the volatile apartment sector rather than single- family homes.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported 896,000 housing starts on a seasonally adjusted annual basis. This reading fell short of expectations of 915,000 housing starts, but exceeded June’s reading of 846,000 housing starts.

Starts for residential buildings with five or more units rose by 20.90 percent year-over-year while construction of one of one-to-four family residential buildings fell by 2.20 percent. Demand for rental properties and a shortage of available single family homes was seen by economists as contributing to increasing multi-family housing construction.

Analysts said that some home builders may be holding back on single-family home construction due to increasing materials and labor costs, but this doesn’t reflect the record level of builder confidence reported in the NAHB Housing Market Index.

Building homes at less than optimum capacity isn’t good news for the shortage of available single-family homes. Rising mortgage rates are also a concern for home builders, as fewer borrowers may be able to qualify for mortgage loans needed for financing home purchases.

Building permits numbers were also released on Friday, and presented a more positive picture than housing starts. July’s reading for building permits issued rose by 2.70 percent in July to an annual reading of 943,000 permits against expectations of 953,000 permits issued and exceeded June’s reading of 918,000.

Building permits issued provide an indication of future housing starts.

August 19, 2013

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week – August 19, 2013

Category: Housing Analysis – Tags: – Matt Ward 7:55 am

What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week- August 19, 2013Last week wasn’t kind to stock market investors, but weekly jobless claims fell to an unexpected low of 320,000 new jobless claims filed, the lowest level in nearly six years.

Here is a review of the major events of the week.

Monday: The federal budget for July shows an increase in its deficit to -$98 billion, a deficit increase of $28 billion over June’s figure of -$70 billion. The good news is that the deficit for the first 10 months of the fiscal year is $38 billion less than during the same period of the prior fiscal year.

Thursday: Thursday was a busy day for economic news. The weekly jobless claims report came in lower than expected with 320,000 new jobless claims filed. This was lower than the expected.

While this is a strong sign for the economy that would typically boost stock prices, the markets fell. Analysts cite a good news/bad news scenario in describing what happened. The good news was that jobless claims fell to a new low, but the bad news is that investors feared that this may give the Fed a signal to begin tapering its quantitative easing (QE) program.

The Fed is expected to begin tapering its monthly purchases of $85 billion in treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities as early as next month. The QE purchases are intended to help hold down long term interest rates including mortgage rates.

The fall in stock prices on Thursday and Friday suggested that fear of the Fed ending QE is more compelling than the lowest number of new jobless claims since October 2007.

Freddie Mac reported that the average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage remained unchanged at 4.40 percent with 0.7 percent in discount points. The average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage ticked upward by one basis point from 3.43 to 3.44 percent.

Discount points fell from 0.70 percent the prior week to 0.60 percent last week.

The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) rose from 3.19 to 3.23 percent with discount points unchanged at 0.50 percent. The 5/1 ARM provides an alternative to higher fixed rates for borrowers seeking lower mortgage rates and payments.

Friday: Included Housing Starts for July, which came in at 896,000 as compared to expectations of 915, 00 0 and June’s figure of 846,000 housing starts. Building permits issued in July came in at 943,000, and surpassed June’s reading of 918,000 building permits.

Increasing home values, buyer demand and a short supply of available homes were seen as motivating factors for builders to construct more homes.

Looking Ahead

This week’s schedule of economic news is set to include the Chicago Fed’s National Activity Index on Tuesday. The FOMC minutes will be released on Wednesday along with Existing Home Sales.

Thursday will bring Weekly Jobless Claims, Freddie Mac’s survey of mortgage rates and the FHFA home price index. Friday will finish the week with a New Home Sales report.

 

August 16, 2013

Tips For Helping Your Kids Adjust To A New School

Category: Around The Home – Tags: – Matt Ward 7:53 am

Tips For Adjusting To A New SchoolAugust means it’s time to get your children ready for school once more. Picking out backpacks, going clothes shopping and finding all the right school supplies can be hectic enough.

However, when you’ve moved and your children have to start all over in a new district, there’s even more to worry about!

Summer fun can make the sunny months fly by. It’s easy to forget that with the beginning of school comes excitement and anxiety for your little ones — especially if they’re starting out somewhere new.

So help them get adjusted with the back-to-a-new-school strategies below.

Explain Why You’ll Be Moving

Whether you’re moving states or just school districts, it’s best to give your children as much notice as possible and explain to them the reason for the change. They’ll need time to get used to the idea and say goodbye to friends.

Be Positive

As the first day draws near, be positive about what they’ll experience. School will be a place where they’ll learn new things and make great friends.

Become Involved

Think about joining the PTA, so you can learn about what’s happening in the school, meet teachers and be able to discuss policies and issues with your children.

Stick To A Routine

A new school is going to hold a lot of unknowns for your little ones. So it’s best to keep a consistent routine at home. This will help children know what to expect and feel they at least have some control in their own space.

Tap Into Their Feelings

Your children might be excited or sad about the new change and they’ll need someone to release all of this positive or negative energy upon. Just listen and be sure not to minimize their feelings. They’ll need an understanding ear throughout this adjustment.

Encourage Participation

While it’s always important for your children to focus on their schoolwork, they would also benefit by joining some sort of club, group or team. The sooner they make friends, the more settled they’ll feel.

Moving to a new Leominster school can be tough on your children, which in turn makes it tough on you.

If you can set aside the time to prepare for the first weeks, talk positively about their upcoming experiences and take the time to really listen to your children, then adjusting to the new environment can be a smooth transition for all.

For more helpful tips on adjusting to a new home and neighborhood, please feel free to contact your trusted real estate professional today.

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