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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Guidelines for a Successful Summer Move - Be Prepared

By Mickey Matteson

RISMEDIA, June 18, 2009-The market is warming up, the kids are out of school, and more Americans are gearing up to move long distances. A recent survey by shows staggering data when it comes to moving:

70% of consumers are moving more than 1,000 miles, up from 38% last year
60% listed financial reasons for their move
28% are moving for family reasons compared to 18% last year
52% of Americans have a high level of fear when moving

This summer’s moving season could be a hectic one , but there are ways to move and keep your sanity. Here are some things to keep in mind to make your summer move a success:

Start Early - Allow plenty of time to get estimates from movers. It takes time to get an estimate from different companies, compare, and make a decision. 45 days prior to a move is a good time to begin to ensure the best choices are available.

Be Prepared - If are doing your own packing, get supplies and start packing early. Not finishing on time and leaving work for the moving company can result in additional costs.

Be Careful - Choosing a mover can be confusing. Comparing estimates from different companies that might reflect different items, terms, and coverage can add considerable time to the process.

The Move Advocate is a great resource to set up a summer move for success. Their dedicated Moving Coach will work with you to choose the best movers in your area, get multiple estimates, advise you on preparation, and audit and compare movers for you. Best of all this is a free service with no obligation. Sign up today at for an Agent Starter Kit and start receiving up to 60% off your move.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mortgage Rates Reach 7-Month High

Higher interest rates put the brakes on mortgage refinancing this week, according to Freddie Mac.

The firm's weekly survey pegged interest on 30-year fixed mortgages at an average of 5.59 percent -- up from 5.29 percent last week and the highest rate since November 2008.

Other rates also climbed:

Interest climbed to 5.06 percent from 4.79 percent for 15-year fixed loans;
5.17 percent from 4.85 percent for five-year, adjustable-rate mortgages;
5.04 percent from 4.81 percent for one-year ARMs.

Freddie Mac chief economist Frank Nothaft says the gains are not affecting home purchase loans.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Perfect Summer Party: How to Make the Most of Your Outdoor Get-together

By Susan M. Selasky

RISMEDIA, June 13, 2009-(MCT)-Get out your biggest serving bowls. Stock up on sturdy plastic dinner plates and serving trays.

If you are doing the summer outdoor party scene this year, taking a “staycation” is all the buzz as more people stay home to save money.
Whether you’re planning a graduation party, holiday cookout, block party or a party just because you’re glad it’s summer, you’ll need a plan.

We’ve got the goods on making yummy, cost- and time-efficient foods that will impress your guests, plus the recipes to get you started.

According to Mary Rembelski of Canape Cart Catering in Ferndale, Michigan, the current party trend is to keep portions and presentation on the small side.

“We do a lot of sliders, as they are still popular with parties,” she says. “Any big burger you can make small and put on a small bun.”

Rembelski thinks outside the bun and offers sliders with beef and caramelized onions, tuna burgers with wasabi glaze, and a vegetarian option with mushrooms.

Ethnic cuisine also is popular, Rembelski says, and Asian food is especially popular for graduation parties.

“Kids are into sushi or sesame noodles, ” says Rembelski. “And it’s also anything you can pick up and move with.”

So, let’s party on.

Party Recommendations:

Here are ideas from the Free Press Test Kitchen and Canape Cart Catering’s Mary Rembelski.

The plan:

- Decide whether the party will be indoors or outdoors. Have a rain plan in mind if you don’t want the expense of a tent.
- Determine the number of guests and age groups. Count how many teenagers are coming because they can be big eaters. How many children?
- Set up the food inside and the seating outside. This helps with bugs.
- Be adventuresome and use your good china outside.
- Use cloth napkins if you have them; they won’t blow away if it’s windy.
- Canape Cart uses biodegradable cutlery and plates from Michigan Green Safe Products in Detroit. The flatware is made from potatoes, the plastic cups from corn and the plates from sugar cane, all renewable sources.

The dish:

- If you’re serving sliders, allow two per person, maybe three if you’re going to have a lot of teenagers.
- For chicken as a main dish, allow two pieces per person. For appetizers and chicken or meat side dishes, figure three or four bites per serving.
- Serve whatever dinner rolls or mini rolls you like.
- Instead of beef tenderloin, which can be pricey, Rembelski uses flat iron steak. It’s simple, inexpensive and easy to grill.
- Serve shots of gazpacho in sake cups.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Overlooked Signs the U.S. Housing Market is Turning

By Chris Pummer
RISMEDIA, June 12, 2009-(MCT)-In the Sacramento Delta suburbs east of San Francisco - where home prices soared and fell as viciously as anywhere in the country - a housing market rebound is feverishly under way.

A 1,600-square foot rancher listed for $179,000 - after last selling for $425,000 in 2004 - drew multiple offers last month with a high of $210,000 in cash. The topper: The property was a “short sale” whose owner needs lender approval to sell for less than the mortgage owed-and which buyers wouldn’t touch just three months ago.

“My phone was ringing off the hook, my voice mail was on overload and people were coming into the office receptionist saying they couldn’t reach me,” said Christy Howard, a Coldwell Banker Coon and McCreary agent who listed the Antioch house. “Everyone was waiting for the bottom, and the problem is they waited to long, because the bottom has already come and gone.”

Spurred by markdowns up to 80% from market highs, first-time buyers and investors both American and foreign descended en masse in the last three months on San Francisco’s hardest-hit hinterlands as Wall Street and the economic climate improved. They’re picking clean the Delta region’s banked-owned inventory as soon as properties hit the market and are engaged in unprecedented bidding wars even on short sales.

The panicked buying - fueled by buyers’ fear they’ll miss out on fire-sale prices - belies the doom-and-gloom evoked by recent reports of rising mortgage delinquency rates and foreclosure activity. It is one of several overlooked signs the U.S. housing-market turnaround has started in the nation’s hardest-hit markets, which is critical to driving an overall recovery:

- After spending most of the 1990s in the $250,000 range, the median-priced home that was sold in the seven-county San Francisco area rose to a staggering $850,000 by its May 2007 peak. It since fell to a low of $399,000 in February - a 53% drop in just 21 months - before posting its first monthly gain in March, albeit a 1% uptick. The median is expected to continue rising at a healthy clip in months ahead since it’s now at the level of nine years ago, before the bubble began inflating.

- California’s statewide inventory of unsold homes - based on the number on the market divided by the present monthly sales rate - stood at a 15.2 months supply in February, 2008. That figure was down to 5.8 months in March, near the historic average.

- At roughly 22,000 units, Las Vegas’ inventory is not far off its recent record high. Yet total sales closed in March showed flourishing demand, the fourth best on record. That monthly record - set during the height of the boom - is expected to be broken this summer.

“Things have been looking up but it’s going unnoticed,” says Forrest Barbee, a board member with the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors and a broker for Prudential American Group Realtors. “It’s just going to take the data a little longer to catch up with reality.” Listen to one analyst’s thoughts about housing having hit bottom.

Adds Rick Sharga, senior vice president of RealtyTrac, which compiles home sales and foreclosure data: “We’ve overshot the market in places like Las Vegas and Arizona in terms of fair value and buyers are bidding prices up again on many properties. The challenge is going to be whether there is enough financing to eat up the inventory that’s yet to come.”

The specter of rising foreclosures - born now of the recession rather than just overleveraged subprime borrowers - is the wild card in future health of the U.S. housing market and the economy by extension. Read about the difficulty borrowers are having with mortgage modifications.

The number of U.S. homeowners behind on payments or in foreclosure shattered the record in the first quarter, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported last week. Nearly one in eight mortgage holders were either delinquent or in the foreclosure process - and prime mortgages in trouble for the first time outnumbered subprime loans on a percentage basis. Read more on the record jump in foreclosures in the first quarter.

Yet the number of pending sales of existing U.S. homes took a surprising upswing in April, rising 6.7% in the biggest monthly gain in more than seven years, the National Association of Realtors reported Tuesday. That increase lags the 9.2% jump in October 2001, but that spike owed to buyers temporarily putting off home shopping following 9/11. See the latest data on pending home sales.

And in an overlooked report that belies the first-quarter delinquency numbers, defaults on privately insured mortgages - where borrowers are more than 60 days behind - fell 3% in April and were down 24% from a record 106,482 in February, the trade group Mortgage Insurance Companies of America reported Friday.

Most important for gauging the strength of the nationwide market is how conditions are improving in the most-depressed regional markets.

With those markets now stabilizing, banks are no longer anxious to dump real-estate owned properties, as houses in their foreclosure portfolios are called, fearing they’ll get appreciably less three months from now for their foreclosed properties.

As a result, they’ll be more judicious about the pace at which they release foreclosures onto the market. The new goal: To maximize the value of supplies in hand rather than unload it helter-skelter and torpedo the housing market like they did while they were shell-shocked by the devastation they’d wrought.

With the banks themselves now somewhat more stable, they’ll also be less likely to want to part with their “toxic assets” knowing the most-scorched, still-serviceable mortgages will be the most valuable on a credit-risk markup once the economy recovers. In fact, the price stabilization in the most-depressed U.S. markets will allow a clearer valuation of the toxic assets we now all hold by virtue of bank bailouts - a modicum of certainty that will hasten the overall recovery.

Homeowners in most of America know by their own property’s value that the spike in U.S. median home values was driven in considerable measure by soaring prices and volume in major markets, especially in California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona. By virtue of their climates and economic-growth rates, those four states have been on the extremes of the U.S. boom-and-bust housing cycle since the 1950s.

You can’t discount how critical an upturn in those states will be, considering they account for 46% of foreclosures nationwide. If foreclosures there are more quickly consumed as they’re starting to be now - fueled in part by foreign buyers who recognize their value - we’ll all reap a return on our bailout money a lot faster.

“The banks are getting smarter and realizing that if they don’t sell it in a short sale, they lose more money going the foreclosure route,” Barbee said.

Adds Sharga: “The banks will be very particular and thoughtful about how they’ll release new foreclosures, because they know now how flooding the market will have a disastrous effect.”

That, and if the chastened lenders would just swallow crow and pony up for rights to an encouraging Beatles song to play on their delinquent-payers’ hold line: “We can work it out.”

Thursday, June 11, 2009

FHA Tax Credit Monetization Helps Home Buyers With Upfront Costs

RISMEDIA, June 11, 2009-First-time home buyers who would otherwise qualify for the $8,000 tax credit, but don’t have the money for a down payment or closing fees, may now be able to get a loan to help cover those upfront costs.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced on May 29 that the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) will allow state housing finance agencies to provide second mortgages “monetizing” the tax credit so that borrowers can use the funds toward their down payments and closing costs for the purchase of homes with FHA-insured mortgage loans.

“This is great news for thousands of families who want to take advantage of today’s low interest rates, competitive prices, great selection and the federal tax credit that is only available until Nov. 30, but could not save enough money for a down payment and closing costs,” said National Association of Home Builders Chairman Joe Robson, a home builder from Tulsa, Okla.

HUD also announced that FHA-approved lenders may purchase the tax credit from the home buyer in advance, so that the home buyer can use the funds for closing costs or to make a down payment in addition to the 3.5% minimum. Home buyers who go directly to FHA-approved lenders will still need to come up with the 3.5% minimum down payment that is required for an FHA-insured loan.

Home buyers previously would be able to use the funds from the tax credit only after filing their federal tax returns and had to come up with the pre-purchase costs on their own.

NAHB estimates that 40,000 more homes will be purchased due to the new FHA monetization program, in addition to the 160,000 sales already expected as a result of the tax credit.

The National Council of State Housing Agencies has a list of states offering first time home buyer tax credit loan programs on their website,

For information on the $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit, go to

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mortgage Rates Rise for Second Straight Week

RISMEDIA, June 10, 2009-The weekly average rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgage Marketplace for 30-year fixed mortgages increased last week to 5.48%, up from 5.25% the week prior, according to the Zillow Mortgage Rate Monitor, compiled by leading real estate website Meanwhile, rates for 15-year fixed mortgages rose to 4.95% from 4.78%, and 5-1 adjustable rate mortgages rose to 4.62% from 4.48% the week prior.

Mortgage Type Average Rate Average Rate
Week ending 6/7/09 Week ending 5/31/09 % Change
30-year fixed 5.48% 5.25% 4.4%
15-year fixed 4.95% 4.78% 3.6%
5-1 ARM 4.62% 4.48% 3.1%

On Monday, rates for 30-year fixed purchase mortgages rose further, with the average rate on Zillow Mortgage Marketplace at 5.62%. For current, up-to-the-minute rates, visit

Thirty-year fixed mortgage rates varied by state. Georgia mortgage rates and Missouri mortgage rates increased the most, from 5.15% to 5.48% in Georgia and from 5.25% to 5.53% in Missouri. New York mortgage rates and Massachusetts mortgage rates were the highest, at 5.56% and 5.55%, respectively. Florida mortgage rates were the lowest, at 5.44%. California mortgage rates were the most requested among all states.

State Average 30-yr . Average 30-yr.
Fixed Rate Fixed Rate
Week ending 6/7/09 Week ending 5/31/09 % Change

Arizona 5.47% 5.25% 4.2%

California 5.45% 5.24% 4.0%

Colorado 5.48% 5.23% 4.8%

Connecticut 5.50% 5.26% 4.6%

Florida 5.44% 5.19% 4.8%

Georgia 5.48% 5.15% 6.4%

Illinois 5.53% 5.28% 4.7%

Maryland 5.52% 5.35% 3.2%

Massachusetts 5.55% 5.30% 4.7%

Michigan 5.48% 5.21% 5.2%

Minnesota 5.51% 5.28% 4.4%

Missouri 5.53% 5.25% 5.3%

New Jersey 5.45% 5.24% 4.0%

New York 5.56% 5.29% 5.1%

North Carolina 5.52% 5.27% 4.7%

Oregon 5.50% 5.27% 4.4%

Pennsylvania 5.45% 5.26% 3.6%

Texas 5.45% 5.25% 3.8%

Virginia 5.48% 5.23% 4.8%

Washington 5.45% 5.24% 4.0%

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Moving Tips for the Busiest Moving Month of the Year—June

RISMEDIA, June 9, 2009-When moving, many people are faced with weighing the options-should they hire movers or pack themselves? What are the benefits of doing either? What do most people forget when packing up and moving? How can you save money when moving? From FlatRate Movers, a nationwide leader in moving and storage, here are some tips to keep in mind:

• Order boxes and moving supplies early so you can start packing. Moving companies provide boxes that are purpose made and easily marked. If your moving company allows you to return unused boxes, order more than you think you’ll need, by 20%. Likewise, do not scrimp on tape. It is inexpensive and prevents boxes from splitting open. You need fresh felt tip pens for labeling. Use colored ready-stick labels to designate boxes to their respective rooms.

• Start a book about your upcoming move and keep it in one place. Create a “Move Book,” using a large noticeable notebook, to centralize all the important details of your move. It should contain any lists you make, including that of labeled boxes. Supplement this with a computer printout of box contents. E-mail this to yourself as a backup. You can also access it remotely.

• First, pack up what you don’t use. Items, such as books, you do not immediately need can be packed right away. Keep your list up to date. Do not make the boxes too heavy for a person to carry, and place heavier objects at the bottom.

• Document your media connections. Take photos of or make notes on how your media equipment is set up: television, sound equipment, modems and computer equipment. Keep track of your remote controls and wires so you can locate them quickly in your new home.

• Make arrangements for pets. Moving can be particularly stressful for animals. You may want to consider leaving them with a friend or retaining a professional pet boarding service.

• Plan to care for your valuables and vital documents yourself. Most homeowner’s insurance will not cover property in transit. It may be desirable to insure certain items separately. Remember to take photos in case you need documentation to support loss or damage claims. If the items are irreplaceable (family heirlooms) or complicated to replace (passports and birth certificates), carry them with you.

• Choose a good moving company. Good companies guide you through the process and minimize surprises on moving day. They have local knowledge and a proven track record, and they can also advise you on receiving building permissions. Moving companies have no incentive to create extra hours of work for themselves, if they work for a flat fee.

• Keep your moving receipts for income tax deductions. In many cases, moving expenses are deductible from federal income taxes. If you are moving because of a change in employment, you may be able to claim this deduction even if you do not itemize. Consult your tax preparer. Also note that there is an $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers in the economic stimulus plan, signed into law by President Obama. To learn more, visit