De-Stressing Tips for the Holidays

It’s easy to get caught up in overspending during the holidays from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, but if you want to make it less stressful and more merry, here’s some tips to save money.

Christmas CardsLimit the mailed cards and you send. Instead send eCards that you can personalize and send to each person. To me they add more impact as they have music and are interactive. Plus, think of the trees you are saving by not mailing cards!

If still want to mail a card, make it a postcard instead, remember they require less postage than a regular card!

For friends and family that live out of the area make a brief phone, they would probably much rather hear your voice than receive a card in the mail.

Wrapping Paper & Gift TagsBe creative! Wrap the gift for the individual. Use magazine pages for small gifts. If it’s for a ‘foodie,’ wrap it in sheets from food catalogs. If it’s for the fashion conscious use something from a style magazine. Old magazines can be bought at thrift stores or libraries for usually 50 cents or less.
Make your own gift tags by cutting a small piece of matching wrapping paper and folding it in half.  This way you won’t waste the scraps of paper that are too small to wrap a gift, but too large to toss away.

Decorations Go old school. Pop some popcorn and some dried cranberries to string up on the tree or throughout the house! Just don’t eat it all while you are stringing it.

Decorate your house by bringing the outside in using pine cones and pine branches.  Sprinkle with a few drops of pine scented oil if you have it on hand to keep the scent fresh.

Buy tree ornaments that have meaning to you, not just because they are in bulk at a great price. Our Christmas tree is a memory tree covered in items from past vacations or special times with family. Some are actual ornaments, others are small items that we’ve glued ribbon to like sea shells or unique key chains that show the name of the place we visited. .

FoodWe’re all busy during the holidays, so maximize your cooking time. If you make a casserole make two and freeze the second one. 

Use the grocery ads when you shop and save by buying what’s on sale. Remember the key to shopping at markets, never shop when you are hungry as you’ll tend to buy junk you don’t need for your health or for your wallet.

Entertainment - Relax at home with a good movie instead of going out. Rent something with a holiday theme at one of the DVD movie kiosks or any of the online services. You’ll save on the snacks as well and may even try something a little more healthy.

Get to know your town. Take a drive around your town, or nearby neighborhoods to see their Christmas lights. Play Christmas music in your car to add to the festivity.  

Sing a song!  Many churches and groups even have caroling get-togethers join in!

Sit around a warm fire, or cozy up in the living room with blankets and hot cocoa.  Have everyone take turns saying how they have been blessed throughout the year. Being thankful shouldn’t end in November, keep the spirit going!

All the Best for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Fall is Here and Winter is on the Way. Are you Ready?

Tips to Help You Save Money

Having survived a hot summer, you’re probably looking forward to cooler days. But winter can also be a real drain on your energy dollars if you’re not careful. So as you soak up the pleasures of autumn, take a few moments to prepare your home for the inevitable visit from Old Man Winter. Follow these guidelines so you can hang on to more of those hard-earned dollars.

Get some help from Mother Nature.
One of the cheapest and most effective heaters is right outside your window: say hello to Mr. Sun. Make a habit of opening drapery on your south-facing windows during the day and let the sunlight warm things up for you. Just make sure to close your curtains at nighttime and on cloudy days to avoid the chill from those cold windows.

Dial in the savings with your thermostat.
You might be surprised how much cooler your home can be without causing discomfort. Experiment by turning down the thermostat a couple of degrees and see if anyone in your family really notices. When you’re asleep or away from the house, turn down your thermostat. Dialing it back 10 to 15 degrees per day for eight hours can save 10% on annual heating bills. If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, installing one can make this task a whole lot simpler and probably pay for itself within the first year.

Don’t pour money down the drain or send it up the chimney!
Up to 25% of home energy bills go to heating water – before it goes down the drain. Turn your water temperature down to the “warm” setting (120┬║) and save money while reducing the risks of scalding someone. Also, close the damper when your fireplace is not being used. Leaving it open is like opening a window in the middle of winter. All that warm air you’re paying for goes right up the chimney.

If you have any other money savings tips, let me know. I'll be happy to pass them on.

Changes in Credit Risk Scoring

Evidence is growing that more borrowers will be approved for a mortgage without increasing risk to lenders through more sophisticated credit risk scoring that uses alternative data, such as unsecured credit and property history in consumer credit report analysis, according to a new report by the CEB TowerGroup.

“Traditional credit data and analytics continue to be relevant, but are not sufficient to satisfy the consumer credit reformation of today,” says the CEB TowerGroup’s senior research director, Craig Focardi. “As a result of the changes in consumer behavior, lenders cannot revert back to their prior mortgage underwriting policies. Too much damage has already been done to the market, consumers, shareholders and investors.”

CEB TowerGroup evaluated data from a joint analysis conducted by CoreLogic and FICO that compares the FICO® Score used by most lenders today with a new score launched in July that evaluates the traditional credit data from national credit data repositories and the unique alternative credit data contained in the recently launched CoreScoreTM credit report. The analysis of 300,000 mortgage applications found that 3,100 more applicants would receive a qualifying credit score of 700 and approximately 70 percent of a sample population saw their credit score improve.

The report included a joint analysis by CoreLogic and FICO that found that enhancing the process of determining risk with new alternative data and analytics would allow lenders to approve loan applications that might otherwise be denied, or deny problem loans that might otherwise be approved. Both outcomes would help consumers and the market itself, says Tim Grace, senior vice president of Product Management at CoreLogic.

The report, titled “Enhanced Credit Data and Scoring: Deeper Insight into Mortgage Applicants,” notes that consumers used to pay mortgage debts first, but because of the recent financial crisis some consumers now treat paying other debts, such as credit card bills and car payments, as a higher priority to maintain personal financial liquidity.

Key findings in the CEB TowerGroup report include:
• Alternative credit information can support loan applicants with newly established credit files with good credit, those with minimal information in their traditional credit files but with good alternative credit payment histories, and long-time renters with no serious payment issues.
• More complete loan applicant, property and related information will bring greater transparency and efficiency to the mortgage lending markets and help reduce risk.
• The new FICO/Corelogic score is more accurate than the prior FICO® Score in identifying the riskiest loans improving lenders ability to discern consumer credit risk at origination. For applicants identified as the riskiest 10 percent of the lending population (those most likely to become past due on their mortgage loan), it identified 10 percent more seriously delinquent mortgage loans – loans 90 days or more past due.
For more information, visit [2].

Repeat Buyers Driving the Real Estate Market

Across most of the country, home prices remain affordable and rents continue to rise. And while today's investors are helping the housing recovery, they're not completely responsible. Data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) suggests that traditional repeat buyers are driving today's market.

According to a recent joint survey by and Memphis Invest, 39 percent of investors plan to buy more properties over the next 12 months than they did over the last year. Twenty-six percent of investors plan to purchase the same number of properties.

"Though housing markets are changing across the nation, investors are still seeing great opportunities. Hundreds of thousands of foreclosures and short sales are coming to market and rents are continuing to improve in most markets, creating a positive environment for the nation's 2.81 million residential real estate investors," Joshua Dorkin, founder and CEO of, said in a press release.
"They will certainly continue to be major player in the nation's housing economy for the foreseeable future," he added.

According to the survey, one out of eight -- or 28.1 million Americans -- either consider themselves to be residential real estate investors or own residential investment properties today, according to the survey. That high number is not surprising when you consider many homeowners are renting out properties they'd rather sell.

NAR data shows investors accounted for an average 22 percent of the market share from 2003 to 2011.
There are perks to investors taking an active interest in today's real estate market. With millions of Americans actively investing in real estate, billions of dollars are being poured into repairs. The results of the survey reveal that real estate investors are spending more than the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to rehabilitate neighborhoods.

Recent NAR data suggests that investors absorbing the over-supply of inventory helped stabilize the housing market. Residential real estate investors have spent more than four times the amount of money HUD's Neighborhood Stabilization Program has to repair foreclosed and short-sale homes, according to the Invest survey.

At a median expenditure of $7,500 per property owned, investors are spending a total of $9.2 billion per year to repair the damage caused by foreclosures. By comparison, Congress has authorized a total of about $7 billion for the Neighborhood Stabilization Program over the past four years.

Chris Clothier, a partner with Memphis Invest, believes investors are improving neighborhoods and driving local economies. They are purchasing properties that would otherwise sit vacant for months, dragging down area home prices, and using local electricians, plumbers and labor to update the homes. "Those dollars provide jobs and put money into local economies. It's clear that investors are the ones who are risking their own money to improve and stabilize neighborhoods for new owners or tenants," Clothier said in a press release.

Investor activity has benefited the housing market, but there's a downside too. "Investors have been largely purchasing with all-cash, which puts first-time buyers at a significant disadvantage," Walter Molony, a NAR spokesman, said in an e-mail. "Both investors and entry-level buyers have been focused on low price ranges, with investors winning the deals since they don't have a need for financing."
So while the Invest survey shows investors planning to continue purchasing and rehabbing property, NAR data shows the overall investor market share is on the decline. The drop started in March, and since April investor market share has averaged 18 percent -- below its long-time average of 22 percent.

Investors certainly help fuel the housing recovery, but NAR data shows they aren't the driving force. "First-time homebuyers are also below their long-term average with housing shortages in the low price ranges and a headwind of tight credit," notes Molony. "At present, the market is being driven by an increase in traditional repeat buyers."

Source: MoneyWatch

Commercial Real Estate Outlook in 2013

The commercial real estate outlook for 2013 is looking brighter, with modest gains in leasing, rents, and pricing forecasted in PwC US and the Urban Land Institute’s latest report, “Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2013.”

The commercial market is moving forward “bit by bit,” says Stephen Blank, ULI’s senior resident fellow for real estate finance. “Nothing indicates a quick turnaround for commercial real estate, but it is improving. Those who are patient and willing to rethink their expectations and adapt to market realities are expected to come out ahead this year.”

According to the report, recent job creation will likely increase absorption and push down vacancy rates in the office, industrial, and retail sectors. The apartment sector is forecasted to continue to have strong demand, according to the survey.

“With the outlook for commercial real estate continuing to improve in 2013, investors are expected to allocate substantial sums of capital to the real estate asset class, according to our survey respondents,” says Mitch Roschelle, U.S. real estate advisory practice leader with PwC. “As yield in bonds and other financial instruments tighten in a still-volatile market, commercial real estate’s income producing and total return attributes offer investors potentially attractive risk-adjusted returns.”

The five markets with the best commercial real estate outlook for 2013, according to the report, are:
  1. San Francisco
  2. New York
  3. San Jose, Calif.
  4. Austin, Texas
  5. Houston
Source:  RISMedia