Archive for February, 2013

5 Power Saving Ideas That Can Lower Your Energy Bill

February 13, 2013

Energy Saving IdeasHow to Save Money on Energy Costs in Your Home

Many communities in Utah and around the US are seeing their energy costs increase; sometimes dramatically.

Whether you are energy conscious or just trying to save money, there are many steps you can take to lower your home bills while helping the environment at the same time.

Below are several energy-saving measures to help you save money either in your current house or future residence. 

Heating and cooling

Keeping your home at a comfortable temperature uses more energy than anything else.

To save energy, install a programmable thermostat to adjust the inside temperature when you are not there for long periods of time.

Seal windows and doors to prevent air leaks, and close doors and air vents to rooms that are not often used.

Changing filters in your heating system monthly can also help it run more efficiently, with the added bonus of increasing the air quality in your home.

Water heaters

Heating water is usually the second highest energy expense. To cut costs, set the hot water heater at 120 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Wrap older hot water heaters with an insulation jacket and insulate the piping leaving the water heater to prevent heat loss.

Appliances

Invest in appliances with the ENERGY STAR® rating. These appliances use less energy to run and will save money.

Cleaning the coils on the back of your refrigerator will help it run more efficiently.

Washing full loads of clothes on cooler settings and keeping your dryer vent clean will also save on energy costs.

Lighting

Besides turning lights out when leaving a room, use compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). These bulbs use less energy and can last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs.

Insulation

Improperly insulated houses mean high energy costs. If the attic is easily accessible, check and replace insufficient insulation to keep your living space at a more comfortable temperature.

By making energy-efficient choices you can save electricity without giving up the comforts of home.  Plus, with a little extra effort these simple tips might add more money to your month as well!

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Clever Tips for Paying Off Your Home Mortgage Faster

February 12, 2013

Pay Off Mortgage FasterPaying off the mortgage on your home faster not only means that you’ll be able to enjoy the peace of mind that comes with completely owning your property sooner, but you may also save thousands of dollars in mortgage interest payments over time.

Below are seven clever tips to help you get your mortgage payments on the fast track.

Save for a large down payment
Make as large of a down payment as you can reasonably afford. The more cash you can put down, the less you’ll have to borrow from the bank. This will reduce your monthly mortgage obligation.

Read the fine print
When you are choosing a mortgage, ask your lender if there are restrictions related to paying extra principal monthly. Some lenders will charge you for making extra or early payments. 

Prepay early in the life of the mortgage
The early years of a mortgage are interest-heavy. On a 30-year mortgage, throughout the first five to seven years, you payments are mostly interest. Request an amortization schedule of your mortgage to get a clear picture of how this works.

Be smart with unexpected fortune
If you get an unexpected chunk of cash, such as a gift, prize, work bonus, inheritance, tax refund or other windfall, consider applying it directly toward paying down the principal on your mortgage.

Double-check your records
When you make extra payments, ensure that they are processed correctly. Sometimes when the lender receives a payment that is outside of the monthly cycle, they may not know what to do with it. Make a special note and keep track of the payments yourself, so you can make sure they’ve been applied to your principal.

Increase your payment
Even increasing your monthly mortgage payment by a small amount may take years off the length of your mortgage. Consider how much additional you can afford to pay every month rather than just the minimum required payment amount.

Think about a bi-weekly payment
Many lenders offer accelerated, bi-weekly mortgage payment programs which can reduce your loan term by several years, saving mortgage interest over the life of the loan.

These are just a few techniques you can use to pay off your mortgage more quickly. Remember, the fewer years you pay on your home loan, the less mortgage interest you will pay over time.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week: February 11th, 2013

February 11, 2013

Homebuilder Confidence ImprovesMortgage rates worsened last week in response to more indications that the U.S. economy and global economic trends are improving. Global economic data was stronger than expected; which generally boosts investor confidence and leads to higher mortgage rates in Utah and across the country.

According to Freddie Mac, the average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage was 3.53 percent with borrowers paying all of their closing costs and 0.8 percent in discount points along with a full complement of closing costs.

The U.S Department of Commerce reported that Factory Orders for December improved over November; they rose from 0.0 percent in November to 1.89 percent in December, but fell short of Wall Street’s expectation of 2.5 percent.

The ISM Services Index for January was released Tuesday and fell to 55.2 from December’s reading of 56.1 and was slightly higher than against investors’ expectations of 55.0. Readings above 50 indicate expansion of the service sector of the economy. The ISM Services Index is also an indicator of future inflationary pressure.

Homebuilders Say Markets Improve For 6th Consecutive Month

On Wednesday, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) released its NAHB/First American Improving Markets Index (IMI), which provided good news for housing markets in all 50 states and Washington, D. C. Metro housing markets surveyed showed expansion of improving markets for the sixth consecutive month.

259 of the 361 metro areas surveyed in the IMI showed improvement in February. By comparison, only 12 improving metro markets were reported for September of 2011.

Increasing home prices and mortgage rates suggest that now may be the time for buying a home.

The weekly Jobless Claims report released on Thursday indicated that 366,000 new claims were filed, which was higher than Wall Street’s estimate of 360,000 new jobless claims, but lower than the previous week’s 368,000 new jobless claims.

Falling U.S. Trade Deficit Signals Economic Uptick

The best economic news for last week came on Friday, when the U.S. trade deficit fell to its lowest level since January 2010. The Trade Balance Report for December shows the trade deficit at -$38.5 billion against expectations of -$46 billion and November’s deficit of -$48.7 billion. While a great boost for the economy, this is another indicator that recent low mortgage rates and home prices may soon become history.

Economic News scheduled for this upcoming week includes U.S. Treasury Auctions set for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Retail Sales for January will be released on Wednesday and watched closely by investors. Retail sales account for approximately 70 percent of the U.S. economy and are viewed as a strong indicator of the economy’s direction.

Jobless Claims on Thursday, Industrial Production and Consumer Sentiment on Friday round out the week’s economic reports.

When Can You Buy Real Estate After Foreclosure?

February 8, 2013

Waiting Periods After ForeclosureIf you lost your home due to foreclosure, you probably haven’t given up on the dream of owning a new home. The good news is that a number of guidelines have changed which may allow  you an opportunity to buy that new home sooner than you think.  

There are a few guidelines that lenders follow to determine when you’ll qualify for financing after foreclosure. Arming yourself with this information may help you qualify again for a mortgage.

Foreclosure With Extenuating Circumstances

Generally, lenders will take into consideration any extenuating circumstances surrounding the foreclosure on your Utah real estate.

Was there a death or illness that prevented you from earning money to pay your mortgage? Did you have a job transfer that came with a steep pay cut? Were you severely injured and temporarily disabled as a result?

You can add a memo that explains any lapses in credit worthiness to potential lenders. This report can be as long or as short as needed.

Many lenders will shorten the waiting period for documented extenuating circumstances. Traditionally the waiting period after a foreclosure is seven years. However, these waiting period guidelines may change and you would be best served by getting up to date information from a qualified mortgage professional.

Deed-in-Lieu of Foreclosure and Short Sale

You may be wondering what the waiting period for financing is if you have exercised a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure or successfully negotiated a short sale. Fortunately many lenders offer options if you were able to avoid an actual foreclosure.

Traditionally the waiting period for a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure can be four to seven years. If there were special circumstances surrounding the deal, you might be able to qualify in as little as two years. The lender may have certain down payment or credit score requirements as a condition of approval.

Getting financing after a short sale generally has the shortest waiting time before qualifying for a new home loan. Generally the lender will only require a two-year waiting period before they’ll approve financing. Once again, a call to a licensed mortgage professional will give you the most up-to-date information.

The good news about financing after foreclosure is that it is possible. Your dreams of owning a home can be fulfilled even if  you have experienced a foreclosure in your past.

Case-Shiller Index Shows Near 6% Home Price Gain

February 7, 2013

Case-Shiller Index November 2012Home prices continue their upward climb. 

Last week, the S&P/Case-Shiller Index showed home prices gaining 5.5 percent during the 12-month period ending November 2012, marking the largest one-year gain in home prices since May 2010.

The Case-Shiller Index measures changes in home prices by tracking same-home sales throughout 20 housing markets nationwide; and the change in sales price from sale-to-sale.

Detached, single-family residences are used in the Case-Shiller Index methodology and data is for closed purchase transactions only.

Between November 2011 and November 2012, home values rose in 19 of the 20 Case-Shiller Index markets, with previously-hard hit areas such as Phoenix, Arizona leading the national price recovery.

The Phoenix market gained 1.4% for the month and was up 22.8% for the previous 12 months combined. 

The top three monthly “gainers” for November 2012 were:

  • Phoenix, Arizona : +1.4 percent
  • San Francisco, California :  +1.4 percent
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota : +1.0 Percent

Only New York City posted annual home value depreciation. On average, homes lost -1.2% in value there.

It should be noted, however, that the Case-Shiller Index is an imperfect gauge of home values.

First, as mentioned, the index tracks changes in the detached, single-family housing market only. It specifically ignores sales of condominiums, co-ops and multi-unit homes. 

Second, the Case-Shiller Index data set is limited to just 20 U.S. cities. There are more than 3,000 cities nationwide, which illustrates that the Case-Shiller sample set is limited. 

And, lastly, the home sale price data used for the Case-Shiller Index is nearly two months behind its release date, rendering its conclusions somewhat out-of-date. 

That said, the Case-Shiller Index joins the bevy of home value trackers pointing to home price growth over the last year. The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), for example, reported similar home price growth with its November 2012 House Price Index (HPI).

Home values rose 0.6 percent between October and November 2012 nationwide, the FHFA said, and climbed 5.6 percent during the 12 months ending November 2012. 

Economists attribute increasing home prices to higher buyer demand, record-low mortgage rates and the gradual improvement of the U.S. economy.

Tax Breaks Granted By The 2012 Fiscal Cliff Negotiations

February 6, 2013

Taxes are due April 15, 2013There was plenty of discussion and debate leading up to the New Year’s looming “fiscal cliff”. Ultimately, the event was avoided, but not before legislation was passed which may benefit homeowners nationwide. 

If you have yet to file your 2012 taxes, take a minute to review the tax limitations and credit extensions, which Congress passed through the HR 8 legislation. You’ll want to ensure you’re paying the proper tax bill come April 15.

Of course, every individual’s tax situation is unique. Review your allowable deductions and credits with your tax preparer.

Energy Updates
The tax credit for homeowners to receive a ten percent deduction, up to $500, for energy efficient improvements to homes is extended for 2013.

Estate Tax
Individual estates valued at up to five million dollars and family estates valued at up to ten million are now exempt from estate tax. After those cutoffs, the rate is 40 percent, which is up from 35 percent.

Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act
This act was also extended through 2013. It means that debt reduced through mortgage restructuring or debt forgiven in the case of a foreclosure may not be taxable.

Mortgage Insurance Premiums
This deduction for those making under $110,000 is extended through 2013. This deduction is also available retroactive for 2012. Mortgage insurance premiums paid as part of a conventional or FHA mortgage are eligible, as are premiums paid to the USDA.

Pease Limitations
These limitations that reduced the value of itemized deductions are permanently repealed for most taxpayers. However, they will be re-instituted for individuals making over $250,000, and for married couples making over $300,000 and filing jointly.

As a homeowner, you get access to special tax breaks which are unavailable to renters throughout Utah and the country. Don’t leave tax dollars on the table. Speak with your accountant to see what claims you may make.

The deadline for filing 2012 federal tax returns is Monday, April 15, 2013.

6 Tips For Buying An Older Home

February 5, 2013

Buying older homesOlder homes sometimes offer more charm and character than the newer houses of today. They boast gabled roofs, crown moldings, hardwood floors and antique fixtures.

Buying an old house is like buying a piece of local history. Its beautiful period features can give it a timeless beauty and grace that is hard to resist.

However, buying a house from another era can be an endeavor fraught with potential problems. Older houses are not necessarily built to the same electrical or plumbing standards of today. Plus, if they have not been maintained correctly through the years, they can turn into a serious money pit or a potential hazard.

Here are six tips to keep in mind if you are considering buying an older home:

  1. Always hire a professional real estate inspector to take a close look at the property. A professional inspector is trained to spot structural damage or issues that might seem minor, but may cause major problems in the future.
  2. Look for signs of moisture damage. Many old houses have problems with moisture because over the years they have settled.
  3. If the old house you are considering has vintage wiring, such as the knob-and-tube technology that was popular around the 1920s and 1930s, plan to completely update the wiring for your safety.
  4. You might need to add insulation. Many older homes don’t have insulation in the walls or attic, which can increase the size of your energy bill.
  5. Be on the look out for iron pipes, which were popular up until 1940. They can become clogged with rust and may need to be replaced.
  6. Have the house tested for asbestos, if it was built before the 1960s.

These are just a few things to which to pay attention out when buying an older home.

Take time to inspect the property thoroughly. With proper attention, you can mix today’s modern technology with your home’s period features to create a combination of charm and safety.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : February 4, 2012

February 4, 2013

Freddie Mac Mortgage RatesMortgage rates worsened last week amid evidence of an improving economy. Conforming mortgage rates climbed in Utah and nationwide, rising to a 4-month high.

Freddie Mac has the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate at 3.53% for borrowers willing to pay 0.7 discount points plus a full set of closing costs.

There was plenty of news on which for rates to move last week.

First, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) met and voted to hold the Fed Funds Rate in its current target range near 0.00 percent. The Fed also recommitted to purchasing mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and Treasury securities on the open market until such time as the national Unemployment Rate reaches 6.5%, or until inflation rates rise.

Then, Friday, it was shown in the Non-Farm Payrolls report that the national jobless rate had climbed to 7.9 percent, a statistic Wall Street pinned to Hurricane Sandy. In addition, it was shown that 157,000 net new jobs were added to the U.S. economy in January.

This was a slight improvement from the month prior’s revised figures, and marked the 27th consecutive month of U.S. job growth. 

Also last week, the National Association of REALTORS® reported the December Pending Home Sales Index to be lower than expected; largely the result of shortages of available homes in many areas.

In addition, Durable Orders for December were more than twice what investors expected; a further indication of a strengthening U.S. economy.

Lastly, the ISM Index for January surpassed Wall Street’s expectations. This manufacturing index is considered an indicator of future inflationary trends. An upward trend in this index suggests rising mortgage rates. While current mortgage rates remain relatively low, they can be expected to continue rising as the economy improves.

This upcoming week will be quieter with fewer economic series scheduled for release. Factory Orders for December will be announced, as will the ISM Services Index and Jobless Claims. Mortgage rates may continue to rise.

Help Your Home Office Shine When Selling Your Property

February 1, 2013

Home officeWith telecommuting continuing to rise, and with more jobs requiring after-hours attention, showcasing your home’s “home office” can help it show better with a prospective home buyer. 

It’s wise to have your kitchen, bedrooms and bathrooms show well, but a great-looking home office can make a huge impact and help you sell your home more quickly.

Here are a few tips to helping your home office shine :

Designate The Right Space
Whether it’s a spare bedroom or a computer nook, specify a separate place at which business is done. Make sure the area has enough room to set up a desk, a chair, a computer and a printer without making it look messy or cramped. 

Clean The Area
A clean and orderly home office shows better than a messy one. To help your home office look its best to potential buyers, get rid of clutter and only retain the essentials. Use drawers and shelves effectively.

Don’t Waste Money
Don’t break the bank in furnishing your home office. Consider ready-to-assemble furniture as an inexpensive, good-looking option. Buy the necessities, then use leftover, budgeted funds for office supplies such as computer paper, pens, and a cork board, for example.

Add A Decorative Touch
Once your home office is properly outfitted, add some decorative style. Hang artwork. Add a few plants. But, remember to keep it simple and neutral so that potential buyers can easily imagine the space as their own home office.

Few people think of the importance of a home office when preparing their home for sale. But, because so many people work from home these days, a dedicated home office space can be a great selling point.