Do You Want to be a Happy Homeowner?

Wouldn't it be great if we could decouple our experience of happiness with our homes from their values, freeing ourselves up to simply enjoy them and be happy no matter what's going on in the market? What if we can make our experience of homeownership recession-resistant, even if we can't recession-proof the market itself?

Well, I know some such happy homeowners -- people who remained free of the angst and teeth-gnashing that seemed to become the near-universal sentiment among homeowners during the housing recession. And they also remained free of the euphoric rush and frenzied decision failures of homeowners at the top of the market.

Here are a few of the traits and behaviors that I've noticed in these happy homeowners:

1. Smart, proactive money managers. This does not mean these people are day traders or sit around the computer tracking every cent they spend. What it does mean is that these people are assertive about their financial planning, understand their income and expenses, save and invest for the present and the future, and live well within their means. This empowers them to weather occasional financial storms like illnesses, layoffs, and market downturns without excessive panic and fear about what their home is worth at any moment in time.
I once heard a happy homeowner express his belief that there should never be a need to tap into an emergency fund, because so-called "emergencies" like car repairs and roof leaks are just inevitabilities of life. So, instead of having an emergency fund set aside, he has structured his income and savings and expenses so that he saves upwards of 20 percent of what he makes every month, no matter what, and is always in a state of financial preparedness for the curve balls that life can throw.

2. Optimistic about their long-term future -- and that of the market. I've been fascinated lately to see all the talk of how much better mutual funds perform over the long term if they are simply invested in every stock on an exchange and parked there for decades, versus being actively traded by even the most expert of Wall Street wizards.I find that so compelling because it mirrors my experience of real estate: One of my first clients was a 70-year-old man whose home I sold for $550,000; he told me he had paid less than $20,000 for it 30 years earlier. Homeowners who have an optimism that the value of their home will increase over the very, very long term tend to be less hung up on and stressed out by the cyclical ups and downs in the real estate market.

3. Conservative mortgage holders. These folks often put a lot of money down, make extra payments, invest in improvements that bring up the value of their home, or make some combination of these and other relatively conservative mortgage moves. They might refinance if interest rates drop so low the costs of refinancing pale by comparison with the savings. But these folks are generally inclined against taking short-term or aggressively adjustable loans, and they tend to disfavor frequent refinancing or excessive borrowing against their homes.As a result, even if they didn't put a huge down payment on the home at the time they bought it, they do tend to get and stay in a relatively strong equity position compared to their peers.

4. Relatively stable and committed to their homes for the long term. People who own homes that work well for them and their families -- and will work well for years and years to come -- tend to be less emotionally yanked around by market vagaries.

Homebuyers take note: Happy homeowners tend to be people whose homes have ample space, are in good condition, and are in neighborhoods where they feel safe and comfortable; if you can position yourself well with respect to as many of these criteria out of the gate by being smart about the home you choose, you'll be that much closer to membership in this select club.These people are aware of what's going on in the market; they're just not obsessed with it, because they don't plan to move in any event.

Often times, a happy homeowner's commitments to his home mirrors a commitment to his job or career or line of business, if he's self-employed, which allows him to take the stance that as long as he can make the payment, he's planning to stay put for a very, very long time. And that, in turn allows him to opt out of the "freak out"-engendering fixation on real estate headlines and market data that in a down market causes so many unhappy homeowners to make panicked, poor real estate decisions.

Source: Tara-Nicholle Nelson author of "The Savvy Woman's Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions."

Tips for Home Buying

The home-sale market is showing signs of life. More buyers are confident now than they were a year ago that now might be a good time to buy. Interest rates are near all-time lows and home prices in some areas are back to 2002-2003 levels. Some analysts are finally suggesting that we may be headed for recovery. If you have a secure job, plan to stay put and feel this is the right time for you to buy a home, consider the following.

In high-demand, low-inventory areas, you may find yourself bidding against other buyers, perhaps even more than once. This doesn't necessarily mean that the price will be bid up significantly over the asking price. This will vary from one listing to the next depending on property location, condition and price.

It's important to research the local community where you want to buy. Find out what homes are selling for, if multiple offers are common and if listings are selling for more than the asking price. This will help you make a realistic offer that might be accepted when you find a home you'd really like to buy. It helps to work with an experienced local real estate agent.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Whether you're anticipating competition or not, you should be pre-approved for the mortgage you'll need to complete the purchase before you write an offer. In competition, this will make a big difference, particularly if everyone else who is offering is pre-approved. It also lets you know what you can afford. And, it puts you in a good bargaining position with the seller.

Buyers aren't the only participants in the housing market that have heard the news that the market has improved. Some sellers are putting their homes on the market because they've been waiting for a better time to sell. This is good news for buyers looking in low-inventory markets.

You should expect that you will have to negotiate. Many of today's sellers are selling for less than they paid. Even though the market has improved a bit, sellers may be disappointed with the current market value of their home. Be prepared to negotiate, not just the initial price, but after inspections are completed if items come up that you hadn't anticipated.

Include realistic contingency time frames in your purchase contract for loan and appraisal approval if you're applying for a mortgage. The recent uptick in the market means that lenders are suddenly overwhelmed.

THE CLOSING: Underwriters could require that additional conditions be met before you can be approved. Act quickly to avoid further delay.

Source:Dian Hymer, syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting: The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer's Guide."

Spring Cleaning – The Organized Way

1.  Remove window coverings.  Wash or take curtains to dry cleaners.  Wash blinds and linens.
2.  Clean windows inside and out.  Clean any other glass/mirrored items in room.  Wipe off outlet covers, light switches and door knobs.
3.  Remove everything from the room except large furniture pieces.
4.  Dust furniture, tops and sides.
5.  Vacuum the room.  Slide the furniture enough to clean underneath.  Clean any spots on floor.
6.  Put back remaining items, cleaning them as you go. 
7.  Remove everything from closet.  Wipe down / vacuum interior.
8.  Replace closet contents.
If you're going to spring clean, it's also a great time to organize! 
Put nothing back in the room unless it's used or loved.

Copyright©Barbara Myers. All right reserved. Barbara Myers is a professional organizer, author and speaker. When planning your next event or needing your personal coach on taking control of your time by organizing your life. For information about Barbara, contact the FrogPond at 800.704.FROG(3764) or email

Stable Home Prices in 2012, Modest Increases Forecasted for End of Year

The forecast for the rest of 2012 shows mild increases building up to a stronger 1.2 percent by year end, according to the Home Data Index™ (HDI) Market Report, recently released by Clear Capital®, with data through March 2012. The HDI Market Report uses a broad array of public and proprietary data sources providing the most timely and relevant analysis available. Methodology details are on page eight of this report.
Report highlights shows that national home values dropped slightly in the rolling quarter-over-quarter analysis. Additionally, tegions posted mild quarterly gains, except the struggling Midwest, which continued its downward slide.

“With the exception of the Midwest, positive growth in rolling quarter-over-quarter prices is an encouraging sign that markets are rebounding from the winter slow down earlier than usual,” says Dr. Alex Villacorta, Director of Research and Analytics at Clear Capital. “Even with the relatively modest declines seen over the last few months, markets have continued to show signs of bottoming out. The projections we made at the beginning of the year are playing out and we expect to see the nation gain just over 1 percent through the year’s end.

“We are continuing to see, overall short term home value strength against the rising REO saturation.” Villacorta adds. “This is an indication of market stability, and bodes well for the continued growth we’re expecting over the rest of the year.”

Quarter-Over-Quarter Results: Is No News Good News?
At the national level, home prices fell a modest-0.2 percent over the quarter. The West, South and Northeast posted gains of less than 1 percent, but the Midwest lost a significant -2.4 percent. REO saturation, which traditionally pushes down prices, continued to climb in all regions.

The nation held fast over the most recent quarter, and for the fifth time in six months, saw price changes of less than 1 percent. While the US lost -0.2 percent quarter-over-quarter, this decline is milder than last month’s decline of -0.6 percent. This positive trend may be attributed to the beginning of spring after a very mild winter, resulting in the start of an early buying season.

In looking at the quarter-over-quarter performance through March, the typically weak Western region squeezed out a minor 0.1 percent gain in prices over the quarter, which is a healthy improvement of over last month’s losses of -0.4 percent, and shows long awaited upward momentum in the region that posted losses over the past five months. The embattled Midwest region, hit hard over the past three months, continued sliding this month losing -2.4 percent, and was the only region to post losses in the quarter or mark any quarterly price movement more than 2 percent. This result shows how the stability seen by the rest of the nation has yet to embrace the region.

The stable Northeast held true to form and turned in a modest 0.3 percent increase in prices, which was a 0.4 percentage point improvement over the quarterly loss of -0.1 percent posted last month.
The South turned in the strongest short term gains across the nation, with prices climbing up by 0.6 percent, due in part to impressive results in Florida, Texas, and Virginia, all of which are well represented in the best performing MSAs listed later in the report. This gain was a healthy 0.8 percentage point improvement over the loss of -0.2 percent posted last month.

Year-over-Year Prices: Nation and Regions Catching Up to Short Term Gains
The year-over-year analysis found the nation lost -1.4 percent over the period, which is slightly better than February’s year-over-year results of -1.9 percent, indicating a positive trend in yearly numbers.
The yearly numbers across all regions show more significant losses than the quarter-over-quarter numbers, which indicates the nation has possibly hit the bottom of a pricing “valley,” with long term prices starting to reflecting the short term strength. This effect could be in play as all of the regions’ yearly numbers, while still weak, are better than February’s results. The consistent theme for the yearly numbers is that all regions are showing losses, with Northeast posting a small gain. This is similar to the condition seen over the past six months.

Interesting Trends in REO Saturation
For the second month in a row there have been increases in REO saturation for the nation and the regions, helping to confirm speculation the Attorneys General settlement has empowered the affected servicers to become more aggressive in moving their REO backlog onto the housing market.

In March, the national REO rate went up 1.2 points since last month and 1.8 points over the past quarter to hit 27 percent, pointing to an acceleration of REO sales. The Midwest contributed the most to the increase, jumping 3.8 points over the quarter to 34.3 percent, with the other regions all seeing softer increases.
Of particular interest this month is how these changes in REO saturation are affecting prices. In the past, there has been a consistent inverse relationship between changes in REO saturation and prices, but not this month.
While the nation and all regions saw increases in REO saturation over the most recent quarter, changes in prices over the same period were positive for the West, Northeast, and South, describing an unexpected direct relationship. The US and Midwest’s changes in prices over the same period were downward, describing the expected inverse relationship.

The geographies with direct relationships show a pricing resilience to REO saturation that has not been seen in previous HDI analysis. It could be powered by improvement in the jobs numbers recently, rapidly increasing investor activity in certain regions, and the general increase in consumer confidence.

Forecast for Remainder of 2012

The forecast models predict the nation’s prices to increase modestly over the next three months and increase to 1.2 percent growth by the end of the year. This shows the valley shape with current prices at the bottom and an upward trend from now (March) through December of 2012.

The strongest of the regions throughout much of 2011, the Northeast, is expected to gain a modest 0.3 percent over the next three months, but pick up momentum and grow prices by 1.3 percent to wrap up the year. The South is expected to perform the strongest in the short term, growing 0.5 percent over the next three months, and end the year with 1.6 percent growth, exceeding the national forecast by 0.4 percentage points.

The forecast shows the Western Region could be turning a corner. The three month numbers show the region gaining 0.2 percent, and pushing that to a positive 1 percent to end the year. The Midwest is expected to drop -0.6 percent over the next three months, but move into positive territory with a 0.7 percent gain by December.

Easy Fixes for Common Door Problems

If you have some doors around your house that aren't working quite right, don't despair. There are a number of quick and easy fixes that will take care of whatever's sticking, squeaking, swinging or otherwise ailing your doors.

The door binds in the upper corner of the jamb: This is a common complaint, since the weight of the door wants to pull it down at an angle from the top corner, opposite the upper hinge. This causes the door to bind against the jamb in that corner. To fix it, remove one or two of the screws that hold the hinge to the jamb.
Replace these screws with new ones that are long enough to reach all the way through the jamb and into the stud behind the jamb; predrill new pilot holes through the existing holes in the jamb to make it easier to drive the screws. These new, longer screws will pull the jamb back up against the stud and take the angle out of the door frame, relieving that pinch point in the corner.

The door binds against other parts of the jamb: First of all, ask yourself when this started happening. Is it only in the winter? If so, it's probably due to seasonal swelling, which happens when the wood absorbs moisture from the air. Check to see if the door is being directly exposed to moisture, such as a drip from a leaky gutter, or perhaps it's constantly shaded by overhanging trees and rarely dries. If you can identify the cause of the seasonal moisture, correct it.

Be careful about planing a door during the winter: When it dries out again, it'll be undersized for the opening.
If the binding isn't seasonal, look for stress cracks in the drywall or moldings around the door. This can indicate settling issues, which may be caused by shifts in the home's foundation, or simple drying of the wood framing, especially in newer homes.

If the settling doesn't continue and the binding doesn't worsen, you can relieve the bound area by tapping against the frame with a hammer and a block of wood, or by removing the door from its hinges and planing it a little. If the settling is worsening, consult with a contractor or structural engineer.

Door won't stay latched: If the door won't stay latched, or if it needs to be pushed hard to get it to latch into the strike plate, first look at the way the door is fitting in the jamb. If you see that it appears to be leaning down at the upper corner, try installing longer screws as described above.

Otherwise, it's a matter of readjusting the strike plate. Site the latch to see where it's hitting the strike plate, to try to determine if the plate needs to move up or down. If necessary, try coating the latch with lipstick or crayon and then closing the door -- the resulting marks on the strike plate will help indicate where it's hitting.
If only a small adjustment is needed, try grinding the opening in the strike plate to make it larger as needed. Use a small file or a rotary tool with a metal grinding bit. If a larger adjustment is needed, unscrew and remove the strike plate, then reposition it on the jamb and reinstall it. You may need to chisel the jamb slightly to accept the plate in its new position.

Screws are coming out: If the screws that hold the hinges are coming out of the jamb, or you've had to reposition the strike plate and the screws want to go back into the old holes, you need to create new wood for the screws to grab into. This is easily done by drilling out the old screw holes to the size of a standard hardwood dowel, typically 3/8 inch. Apply glue to the dowel, insert it into the hole, allow it to dry, then cut it off flush with the surrounding surface. Drill a new pilot hole into the dowel, and reinsert the screws.

Door swings and won't stay open: This is caused by a door that's out of plumb in its opening. To correct it, you need to insert a small amount of shim between the back of the hinge and the door jamb -- usually the bottom hinge. To do that, loosen the hinge screws almost all the way, so that you have some play between the hinge and the jamb.

Insert a piece of wooden shim or other material, such as small pieces of plastic laminate, behind the hinge, then retighten the screws. You may need to adjust the amount of shim to get the door to swing correctly, and you may also need to add a small amount of shim to the center hinge as well.

The door latch hits the strike plate: This is caused by a strike cylinder that's worked loose, or by a loose doorknob. If the strike cylinder that goes into the edge of the door is held in place with a small rectangular plate and two screws, first try tightening the screws. If they'll tighten and hold OK, that will pull the cylinder back into the door and hold it. If the screws won't hold, then you'll need to install dowels as described above.

Many newer doors have strike cylinders that are drive-in, meaning they're held in place by a friction fit in the hole that's drilled in the edge of the door, rather than by screws. They're also held by tension on the doorknob, which is what the strike cylinder is connected to. First, loosen the screws holding the doorknob, so that you have a little play in the knob. Set a block of wood against the strike cylinder, and tap it with a hammer to drive it back into the door until it's flush with the door's edge. Finally, securely tighten the doorknob's screws to hold the knob and cylinder in place.

The door hits the wall: You need a door stop. There are three types of door stops available, depending on the situation. The simplest is a solid or flexible stop with a screw on one end and a rubber cap on the other, which is screwed into a pilot hole that's drilled into the door or into the baseboard.

Another style is a hinge stop, which is used when you want to stop the door before it can open far enough to contact a stop on a wall. To install this type of stop, remove the top or center hinge pin, slip it through the hinge stop, then reinstall the pin in the hinge. The hinge stop has an adjustable rod that screws in and out to contact the door at different points, allowing you to stop the door's swing exactly where you want it.

The third type is called a floor stop. Floor stops are attached directly to the floor, and are the strongest of all the stops, making them especially well suited for commercial applications. On the downside, because they sit directly on the floor, they can sometimes be in the way. Floor stops typically have a long pin that fits into a predrilled hole in the floor for strength, along with a screw that secures it to the floor.

Source: By Paul Bianchina - Inman News®