Light in, Prying Eyes Out.

By Katie Laird

RISMEDIA, Tuesday, May 30, 2017— Editor's Note: This was originally published on RISMedia's blog, Housecall. See what else is cookin' now at blog.rismedia.com:

Want to let light in while keeping your nosy neighbors out? Special types of light-filtering window treatments enable you to illuminate your home with natural light while preventing others from viewing your personal space. Ultimately, these window shades may prove to be exceedingly valuable, particularly for homeowners who are searching for high-quality window treatments that are both stylish and practical.
 
Benefits
In addition to offering maximum privacy from passersby and neighbors, light-filtering window shades provide many benefits, including:
 
Energy Savings: The U.S. Department of Energy points out properly installed window shades offer some of the "simplest, most effective window treatments for saving energy."
 
Improved Insulation: Some light-filtering window shades have been shown to act as both insulation and air barriers, and control air infiltration more effectively than other types of window treatments.
 
Exceptional Value: Homeowners can enjoy light-filtering window shades that consist of UV-resistant and antimicrobial materials for superb quality, maintaining their value over time.
 
Eco-Friendly Styles: Some light-filtering window shade options are partly constructed from biodegradable materials.
 
Unparalleled Convenience: Light-filtering window treatments can be motorized or manual, allowing for ease of use both day and night.
 
Types of Light-Filtering Window Shades
Light-filtering window shades provide varying degrees of light infiltration. The most popular options include:
 
Cellular Shades
Cellular shades deliver year-round insulation and privacy. Meanwhile, they are constructed to allow small amounts of light to enter a room. Typically, cellular shades are sold in single or double thickness. They are available in multiple vibrant colors, along with various cell sizes and fabric styles to match your home decor.
 
Cellular shades also boast immense durability. They include an aluminum headrail and bottomrail and take only minutes to set up in any living space.
 
Roller Shades
Roller shades are easy to use and come in a wide range of lifts to complement any home's decor. Light-filtering roller shades are top choices for many homeowners, as these shades block visibility into your personal space. In addition, blackout roller shades are great choices for those who prefer extra privacy and will help you maximize light control consistently.
 
Roman Shades
For those who want to add a hint of luxury to th eir decor, there may be no better option than Roman shades. Top-down/bottom-up Roman shades allow you to control whether light will enter from the bottom or from above. The versatile options in fabric range from every color of the rainbow, as well as prints.
 
If you require additional privacy, select Roman shades that feature a thermal liner. Or, if you need total or near-total darkness (like in a bathroom or media room), Roman shades with a blackout liner may prove to be ideal.
 
Pleated Shades
Pleated shades are available with light-filtering and room-darkening liners, maximizing light control and privacy needs. With a light-filtering liner, pleated shades can deliver daytime light transmission indoors. To maximize privacy, use pleated shades with a privacy liner, so that only minimal shadows are visible from the outdoors.
 
On the other hand, a blackout liner offers maximum light obstruction. This liner may serve as a great selection in a child's bedroom or other settings where complete darkness is needed.
 
Vertical Cellular Shades
Ready to take your vertical window treatments to the next level? Thanks to vertical cellular shades, you can block harsh sunlight from entering large windows and patio doors.
 
Vertical cellular shades have been shown to deliver year-round insulation, sound absorption and ultraviolet protection. Moreover, they can include blackout fabric to provide you with the total privacy you need to get a great night's sleep. Keep in mind that the blackout fabric of vertical cellular shades features an opacity that prevents light from filtering through at all times.
 
Vertical cellular shades are ideal in climates with extreme hot and cold temperatures and can be specified to stack on either side, split down the middle or stack in the center for added convenience.
 
Examine your window treatment options closely, and you're sure to find window shades that match your personal style and budget perfectly, while offering privacy from prying eyes.
 
Katie Laird is the director of Social Marketing for Blinds.com

Tax Reform Could Deliver a Tax Hike for Homeowners

RISMEDIA, Thursday, May 25, 2017— While tax reform proposals swirling around Washington, D.C., promise lower tax bills for American families, recently released estimates indicate that many middle-income homeowners may actually see a tax increase if those proposals go through.
 
The study, "Impact of Tax Reform Options on Owner-Occupied Housing," illustrates the effects of a tax plan that echoes certain elements of the "Better Way for Tax Reform" or "Blueprint" proposal released last year, as well as the White House tax reform outline released in April, to which the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) responded.
 
While most individuals would see a tax decrease under such a proposal, the study estimates that many middle-class homeowners could in fact see a net average tax increase. Homeowners with adjusted gross incomes between $50,000 and $200,000 would see their taxes rise by an average of $815. The study also estimates that combined tax savings from claiming the mortgage interest deduction and real estate property tax deductions would drop 82 percent between the 2018 and 2027 period.
 
“"Tax reform and lower rates are worthy goals, but only if we can achieve them in a fiscally responsible way," says NAR president Bill Brown. "Balancing tax reform on the backs of homeowners isn't an option."
 
The study, which was commissioned by NAR and prepared by PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), estimates that this tax increase would result from the interaction of several provisions in the reforms under consideration. For many homeowners that currently benefit from the mortgage interest deduction, the elimination of other itemized deductions and personal exemptions would cause their taxes to rise, even if they elected to take the increased standard deduction. For others, the elimination of the state and local tax deduction alone would result in higher federal income taxes.
 
In addition to increasing taxes on many middle-income homeowners, the report finds that such a proposal could cause home values to fall by an average of more than 10 percent in the near term. In areas with higher property taxes or state income taxes, the drop could be even greater. Although the study doesn't directly analyze the "Better Way for Tax Reform" plan or the recent White House outline, it examines a proposal with many similar elements.
 
Those elements include lowering and consolidating marginal tax rates to only three rates, setting a top income tax rate of 33 percent, doubling the standard deduction, eliminating all itemized deductions (other than charitable contributions and mortgage interest) and personal exemptions, eliminating the alternative minimum tax, and capping the tax rate on pass-through business income at 25 percent.
 
PwC estimated that roughly 35 million households will claim the mortgage interest deduction in 2018, three quarters of which have incomes between $50,000 and $200,000. According to NAR, roughly 70 percent of those eligible for the MID claim it in a given tax year.
 
"A tax reform proposal that hikes taxes for homeowners is a raw deal, and consumers know it," Brown says. "Leaders in Washington who are driving tax reform have shown every indication that they have the best of intentions, and we're hopeful they’ll consider our study as this process plays out in the months ahead."

Tips to Keep Your Air Conditioner Running Smoothly

RISMEDIA, Thursday, May 25, 2017— Summer will be here before we know it. Make sure you and your home stay cool all summer long:
 
Tip 1: Check your system in advance.
About a month before the weather heats up, turn on your air conditioning and let it run for 30 minutes to see if it is working properly.
 
Tip 2: Keep the area around your unit clean.
Sweep away any dirt, leaves or debris that may have accumulated around your air conditioning unit. Also, trim back any plants or shrubs to allow proper air flow.
 
Tip 3: Check for bent condenser fins.
If any of the fins on your unit's condenser are bent, you can straighten them out using a tool called a fin comb, available at major hardware stores. Be sure to turn off the power to the unit before inspecting or straightening the condenser fins.
 
Common AC Problems and Simple Fixes
 
Problem: The air conditioner isn't making cold enough air.
 
Try This: Keep the area around the exterior condensing unit clear of leaves, shrubbery, twigs and debris to make sure the air around the unit is circulating freely and nothing is falling inside the unit. If your unit sits in full sun, try creating some shade around it to help it cool more efficiently. Check the unit's suction line (large line) for signs of wear and replace any worn insulation.
 
Problem: You want to maintain a comfortable temperature in your home as inexpensively as possible.
 
Try This: Install a programmable thermostat to help keep costs down and to lower wear and tear on your air conditioning system. You can program the thermostat to let the heat rise during the hours that you are away from the home, and then lower the room temperature when people are present. In addition to maximizing convenience and comfort, a programmable thermostat can also help you save on electricity costs. You can find programmable thermostats in most hardware and home stores.
 
Problem: Your electric bills are higher than you expected and you're not sure your AC system is cooling as efficiently as it should.
 
Try This: Check your cooling filters each month while the system is in use and replace when needed. Clogged filters can impede airflow as well as allow dirt to enter the system, which can potentially cause damage. Regularly replacing your air conditioning filters is an easy way to increase your unit's efficiency and avoid costly repairs.
 

New Home Sales Stumble in April

RISMEDIA, Wednesday, May 24, 2017— New-home sales stumbled in April, with sales of new, single-family homes down 11.4 percent to 569,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The average new-home sales price was $368,300, while the median was $309,200. New-home listing inventory was 268,000—5.7 months supply.
 
New-home sales plummeted 11.4 percent in April—bad news, especially for first-time and lower income buyers," says Joseph Kirchner, senior economist at realtor.com®. "This month's drop in home sales and the stagnation in new-home inventory will continue to exacerbate the national inventory shortage, which will result in even higher prices and lower affordability. A short supply of new homes means more competition and higher prices for everything else. Buyers will have even more difficulty finding a suitable home to purchase—and they've been having enough trouble as it is.
 
"April data also show the percentage of homes under $200,000 decreasing from 16 to 12 percent," Kirchner says. "This exacerbates a persistent trend away from the sale of affordable new homes. The percentage of new homes under $200,000 since November has dropped by about a third since the previous two years. Builders are focusing on the mid- to upper-price ranges, which is reflected in the lack of affordable new homes on the market. Without more affordable options, millennials and other first-time buyers will continue to face challenges getting into their first homes."
 
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

HOA Basics: What to Know Before You Buy

By Pat Setter

RISMEDIA, Tuesday, May 23, 2017— (TNS)—Before signing on the dotted line for your new home, make sure you know what your homeowners association fees are and what they cover. Because most new planned communities have HOAs whether you're buying a detached home, condo or townhome, factoring in that added cost is a necessary part of your home-buying budget.
 
Depending on the amenities, HOA fees can be a big bite out of the budget. Monthly fees typically range from $150 on the very low end up to $850.
 
What does that payment cover each month? That depends on where you live.
 
The most basic HOAs maintain the common areas of a community. That can be landscaping, but it can also include a recreation center, a pool and walking trails. The general rule is, the more amenities, the higher the fees. Some high-end condominium complexes have everything from concierges to 24-hour security as well as fitness centers, spas, saunas and conference rooms.
 
Associations in a condominium or townhome complex will cover most things outside the individual units, such as the roof, paint, elevators, heating and air conditioning in common areas, and pest control. The HOA should also have insurance for the exterior of the building.
 
City services such as trash removal, water and sewage are also commonly covered by HOAs and, oftentimes, cable services will be included with the fees. The dues in planned, single-family-home communities often include security in gated communities.
 
In addition to maintenance and amenities, HOAs also have rules, called covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs) that all homeowners must follow. That can be anything from how many cats you can own and what color you paint your house to whether your kids can play in the street or you can have a boat in the driveway. HOAs are responsible for enforcing these rules and often pay a professional property management company to communicate with the homeowners and make sure everyone is in compliance. Property management companies are also responsible for the community's day-to-day operations and maintenance.
 
Be aware that HOAs are able to levy special assessments for major repairs, if needed.
 
Before buying a home, research these three key elements:
 
1. Financial Health of the HOA
Make sure the HOA is properly funded. Request a copy of financials available to homeowners. Check out how often dues have been increased over the years.
 
2. Maintenance Responsibility
What is the HOA's responsibility and what is the homeowner's responsibility?
 
3. CC&Rs
Understand the rules before you buy.
 
The more you know, the easier it is to make the right decision.
 

Keep Eyes off Your Prize

Keep Eyes off Your Prize: Why Multi-Factor Authentication Is a Real Estate Must

By John Harris and Lisa Mihelcich

RISMEDIA, Thursday, May 11, 2017— There's no time to waste in today's real estate market. For clients to successfully win a bidding war, transaction documents have to move faster than the competition. That's why real estate professionals across the country are turning to digital tools like e-forms and electronic signatures to close more deals in less time.
 
Taking the digital plunge is a business-savvy move for real estate professionals—and a convenience for clients. Yet it often comes with a concern that typically isn't top of mind when signing real estate documents the old-fashioned way with paper and ink: security. How do we know who's viewing and accessing the information over the internet?
 
The Fear Factor
According to Symantec, 429 million identities were reported exposed in 2015. In the same year, there were 781 data breaches tracked—an 8.1 percent increase over 2014, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center.
 
These statistics are relevant to any industry and any person using digital technology. But when real estate documents are executed digitally, there's an elevated sense of urgency. Real estate documents—like property contracts, rental agreements, leases and others—are high-stakes items that may contain sensitive personal information that could be dangerous in a hacker's hands. A data breach or unauthorized access could open the door to costly litigation or settlements—and at the very least hurt a realty organization's business and reputation. 
 
This doesn't mean the industry should reverse its digital momentum, but it does mean that real estate professionals should be smart with their digital tools and use identity-authentication measures to assure only intended parties can access documents and data online.
 
The Multi-Factor
Multi-factor identity authentication adds layers of digital barricades around information before a person can gain access to documents or e-sign them. It confirms a person's identity using at least two methods.
 
Typically, multi-factor authentication will combine email verification (requiring a person to correctly log into his or her email account with a username and password) with one of the following:
 
Text message (SMS) verification – Requires a person to submit a one-time unique, random PIN code received via text message
 
Shared secret questions – Requires a person to answer personal questions, which are known by both parties, once he accesses the portal link via email. The answers can be supplied by the institution, such as a client identification number, or by the person, such as the street of a childhood home.
 
Knowledge-based authentication –
 Requires a person to provide a correct Social Security number and date of birth before accessing documents. The person then must answer multiple-choice questions about himself based on detailed information available from public databases.
 
Hard token authentication – Requires a person to use a personally identifiable key fob or a security token to access electronic documents or e-signature transactions
 
Biometric authentication – Requires a person to match his or her biological traits to what has been stored on file, such as a fingerprint or voice
 
The Best Factor
The strongest types of multi-factor authentication require a person to correctly present something she knows with something she has or something she is.
 
Okay
Email authentication + shared secret questions
OR
Email authentication + knowledge-based authentication
 
These combinations are both based on a person's knowledge. While both measures are strong forms of authentication, they don't provide a physical element of authentication that adds an additional dimension to security.
 
Good, but Impractical
Email authentication + hard token authentication
 
This seems like a good combo because it combines something you know with something you have, but giving each client their own identity authentication token is cumbersome and may not fit into your budget. Also, what happens if you lose that token, or you just don't have it with you?
 
Awesome
Email authentication + text-message authentication
 
Given the ubiquity of smartphones today, this is one of the most convenient methods for pairing something you have (your mobile phone and the one-time code sent via text) with something you know. Not only is this pairing very user-friendly, it's also highly effective. It requires that a person know his email password; then he verifies he was the same person who accessed that email once he receives the code via a text message sent to his phone and he correctly inputs it into the website.
 
It will be up to professionals and their organizations to discern the method of authentication that is right for their clients, but two security checkpoints are always better than one, especially when those two checkpoints are ones to which people have easy access. This keeps clients from becoming burdened by security protocols and ensures documents can move quickly, easily and securely through the digital transaction and e-signing process.
 
John Harris is the chief technology officer at SIGNiX, the first independently verifiable digital signature company in the U.S. that makes signing documents online safe, secure, and legal for any business. For more information, please visit www.signix.com or on Twitter @signixsolutions.
 

Lisa Mihelcich is the chief operating officer at zipLogix™, a Fraser, Mich.-based technology company created by, owned by and working for real estate professionals to improve productivity and efficiency industry-wide. For more information, please visit www.ziplogix.com

    HOA Basics: What to Know Before You Buy

    RISMEDIA, Tuesday, May 09, 2017— (TNS)—Before signing on the dotted line for your new home, make sure you know what your homeowners association fees are and what they cover. Because most new planned communities have HOAs whether you're buying a detached home, condo or townhome, factoring in that added cost is a necessary part of your home-buying budget.
     
    Depending on the amenities, HOA fees can be a big bite out of the budget. Monthly fees typically range from $150 on the very low end up to $850.
     
    What does that payment cover each month? That depends on where you live.
     
    The most basic HOAs maintain the common areas of a community. That can be landscaping, but it can also include a recreation center, a pool and walking trails. The general rule is, the more amenities, the higher the fees. Some high-end condominium complexes have everything from concierges to 24-hour security as well as fitness centers, spas, saunas and conference rooms.
     
    Associations in a condominium or townhome complex will cover most things outside the individual units, such as the roof, paint, elevators, heating and air conditioning in common areas, and pest control. The HOA should also have insurance for the exterior of the building.
     
    City services such as trash removal, water and sewage are also commonly covered by HOAs and, oftentimes, cable services will be included with the fees. The dues in planned, single-family-home communities often include security in gated communities.
     
    In addition to maintenance and amenities, HOAs also have rules, called covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs) that all homeowners must follow. That can be anything from how many cats you can own and what color you paint your house to whether your kids can play in the street or you can have a boat in the driveway. HOAs are responsible for enforcing these rules and often pay a professional property management company to communicate with the homeowners and make sure everyone is in compliance. Property management companies are also responsible for the community's day-to-day operations and maintenance.
     
    Be aware that HOAs are able to levy special assessments for major repairs, if needed.
     
    Before buying a home, research these three key elements:
     
    1. Financial Health of the HOA
    Make sure the HOA is properly funded. Request a copy of financials available to homeowners. Check out how often dues have been increased over the years.
     
    2. Maintenance Responsibility
    What is the HOA's responsibility and what is the homeowner's responsibility?
     
    3. CC&Rs
    Understand the rules before you buy.
     
    The more you know, the easier it is to make the right decision.
     

    Builder Confidence in Boomer Market Takes a Dive

    RISMEDIA, Monday, May 08, 2017— Home builder confidence in the single-family 55-plus housing market took a dive in the first part of the year, according to the National Association of Home Builders' (NAHB) recently released 55+ Housing Market Index (HMI). The Index reading for the first quarter of 2017 was 55—down from 67, a post-recession high, in the fourth quarter of 2016. An above-50 reading indicates more builders have a positive outlook than a negative one.
     
    "Although builder sentiment in the 55-plus housing sector is down from the previous quarter, overall confidence is still in positive territory and builders remain optimistic about the market," said Dennis Cunningham, chairman of the NAHB's 55+ Housing Industry Council, in a statement.
     
    Home builders' expectations regarding present and expected single-family home sales in the 55-plus market both fell in the first quarter, down to 62 and 68, in order, while expected homebuyer traffic fell 15 points to 34. Home builders' expectations regarding present multifamily condominium sales in the 55-plus market stayed unchanged at 50, while expected sales fell five points to 47 and expected homebuyer traffic rose two points to 37.
     
    "We saw an unusually high 55-plus single-family HMI in the fourth quarter of 2016 due to a post-election surge in optimism," said Robert Dietz, chief economist at the NAHB. "As this wears off, confidence is returning to a more sustainable level. Although builders are struggling with shortages of labor and lots, as well as higher lumber prices, market conditions on balance remain favorable, and we expect solid growth in the 55-plus housing sector."

    Flood Insurance Critical for a Vibrant Housing Market

    By Sarah Young

    RISMEDIA, Tuesday, May 02, 2017— Each year, the federal government spends billions of dollars on disaster relief to flood victims—all at taxpayer expense. While floods claim more lives and property than any other natural disaster, it's important to note that flood disasters have been declared in every state in the past five years alone. Floods are not only coastal issues, either—they can occur along rivers, lakes and creeks. In fact, 25 percent of flood losses come from outside "flood zones." If more properties were insured for flood damage, fewer owners would turn to taxpayers for disaster relief after the next major flood.
     
    The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is up for renewal in 2017, provides an insurance market alternative to taxpayer-funded disaster relief. NFIP flood insurance is purchased by homeowners through private insurance companies, but is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which sets rates and coverage terms. The NFIP averts billions of dollars in property damage each year because communities must adopt and enforce flood building codes and standards as a condition for joining the NFIP. Flood insurance is required for a federally related mortgage where there's a 26 percent chance of flooding over 30 years (i.e., a 1 percent annual risk).
     
    From 1986-2005, the NFIP was self-sufficient, bringing in more premiums than it paid out. Then Hurricane Katrina struck, and the program has had to borrow $25 billion from taxpayers in order to cover several catastrophic loss years in a row. The program wasn't designed for losses of this magnitude and is now making minimum interest payments of $400 million per year at an average of 50 basis points. Terminating the program will not wipe away the debt; therefore, a major focus of reauthorization will involve pushing as much risk to the private market as possible.
     
    When the NFIP was created, there was no private market, but now, several private flood insurance companies are writing first-dollar coverage in higher-risk flood zones. These private companies will charge rates that better align with the individual property risk, while the NFIP charges national average rates that are too high for some and too low for others. On the other hand, private companies will not be able to insure all 5 million NFIP properties, so they'll be more selective, which may lead to raising rates or dropping coverage after floods. Also, the NFIP considers this a "coverage lapse," so properties won't be eligible for a lower rate if they leave the program and a private market policy doesn't work out.
     
    When REALTORS® arrive in D.C. for NAR's Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo, they'll encourage federal lawmakers to renew and strengthen the long-term viability of the federal flood insurance program, as well as maintain funding to update and improve the accuracy of flood maps. The NFIP program must be reauthorized every five years, and NAR urges Congress to reauthorize the program before it expires at the end of September 2017. REALTORS® also support the creation of a vibrant private flood insurance market to provide a variety of products to property owners looking to meet their individual flood insurance needs. NAR supports the Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act, which unanimously passed the House of Representatives but was not considered by the Senate, as a solid first step in the development of private market options for property owners.
     
    Sarah Young is the director of Real Estate Services for the National Association of REALTORS®.
     

    This column is brought to you by the NAR Real Estate Services group.

    Appraisers: Adding Value Not as Costly as You Think

    RISMEDIA, Tuesday, April 25, 2017— Adding value to your home is not as costly as you think.
     
    According to The Appraisal Institute, a national association of real estate appraisers, home improvements that err on cost-effective tend to be the most worthwhile—in fact, studies show that the highest returns are often on lower-cost renovations.
     
    "The latest research shows that home improvements with a relatively low cost are most likely to generate a positive cost-to-value ratio," said Jim Amorin, president of The Appraisal Institute, in a statement. "Spending big dollars on major renovations doesn't necessarily equate to a dollar-for-dollar return. In short, cost doesn't necessarily equal value."
     
    No matter the scale of the project, homeowners should take into account their neighborhood before breaking ground, the Institute cautions.
     
    "Projects that move a home well beyond community norms are typically not worth the cost when the owner sells the property," Amorin said.
     
    Homeowners with questions about their specific project can consult the Institute's Remodeling & Rehabbing brochure, a free resource on home improvement, or a real estate appraiser.
     

    Existing-Home Sales March On at Highest Pace in 10-Plus Years

    RISMEDIA, Monday, April 24, 2017— Existing-home sales leaped to their highest pace in 10-plus years in March, reaching a robust level of activity not seen since February 2007, according to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR).
     
    Existing-home sales totaled 5.71 million last month, a 4.4 percent increase from February and 5.9 percent increase from one year prior. Inventory increased, as well, by 5.8 percent to 1.83 million—though still 6.6 percent below one year prior.
     
    "The early returns so far this spring buying season look very promising as a rising number of households dipped their toes into the market and were successfully able to close on a home last month," says Lawrence Yun, chief economist at NAR. "Although finding available properties to buy continues to be a strenuous task for many buyers, there was enough of a monthly increase in listings in March for sales to muster a strong gain. Sales will go up as long as inventory does."
     
    Inventory is currently at a 3.8-month supply—no different from February, according to NAR. Existing homes averaged 34 days on market in March, 11 fewer days than in February and 13 fewer days than one year prior. Non-distressed homes took 32 days to sell. All told, 48 percent of homes sold in March were on the market for less than one month.
     
    The metropolitan areas with the fewest days on market in March, according to data from realtor.com®, were San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif. (24 days); San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif. (25 days); Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash. (28 days); Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, Colo. (28 days); and Vallejo-Fairfield, Calif. (31 days).
     
    The median existing-home price for all types of houses (single-family, condo, co-op and townhome), at the same time, was $236,400—a 6.8 percent increase from one year prior. The median price for a single-family existing home was $237,000, while the median price for an existing condo was $224,700.
     
    "Last month's swift price gains and the remarkably short time a home was on the market are directly the result of the homebuilding industry's struggle to meet the dire need for more new homes," Yun says. "A growing pool of all types of buyers is competing for the lackluster amount of existing homes on the market. Until we see significant and sustained multi-month increases in housing starts, prices will continue to far outpace incomes and put pressure on those trying to buy."
     
    Single-family existing-home sales came in at 5.08 million in March, a 4.3 percent increase from 4.87 million in February and a 6.1 percent increase from 4.79 million one year prior. Existing condo and co-op sales came in at 630,000, a 5 percent increase from both February and one year prior.
     
    Twenty-three percent of existing-home sales in March were all-cash, compared to 15 percent by individual investors. Six percent were distressed.
     
    Existing-home sales in the Northeast posted a strong 10.1 percent gain in March to 760,000, with a median price of $260,800. Existing-home sales in the Midwest showed a similar path, up 9.2 percent to 1.31 million, with a median price of $183,000.
     
    Existing-home sales in the South and West covered less ground in March, with sales in the South rising 3.4 percent to 2.42 million, with a median price of $210,600, and sales in the West falling 1.6 percent to 1.22 million, with a median price of $347,500.
     
    First-time homebuyers comprised 32 percent of existing-home sales in March.

    "The spring housing market is off to an early and strong start," says realtor.com Senior Economist Joseph Kirchner, Ph.D. "With existing-home sales for March at the highest level since the 2008 recession, the limited number of homes that are on the market are likely to move fast. One of the most notable trends is the divide between affordable and premium homes. Over the last year home sales under $100,000 fell 7.1 percent while sales between $500,000 and $750,000 went up by 32.1 percent, due to builders' focus on the higher-end market."

    He adds, "The biggest opportunity in the spring housing market may be the temporary drop in mortgage rates. This is the time for homebuyers who have identified a home to purchase to pull the trigger and lock in a low rate."

    "REALTORS® in most markets are saying interest from first-timers is up this year, but competition is stiff for listings in their price range," says NAR President Bill Brown. "The best advice is to lean on the guidance of a REALTOR® throughout the home search and be careful about stretching the budget too far. Don't get frustrated by losing out on a home and know the right one will eventually come along in due time." 
     

    Mortgage Delinquencies Lowest in 10 Years

    RISMEDIA, Wednesday, April 19, 2017— Mortgage delinquencies of 30 days or more, or in early stage delinquency, are at their lowest level in 10 years, according to CoreLogic's new Loan Performance Insights Report—a key check of the health of the housing market and the overall economy. Approximately 5 percent of mortgages, including those in foreclosure, were 30 days or more delinquent in January 2017, 1.1 percentage point less year-over-year.
     
    "The 30-plus delinquency rate, the most comprehensive measure of mortgage performance, is at a 10-year low and rapidly declining," said Frank Martell, president and CEO of CoreLogic, in a statement on the report. "While late-stage delinquencies remain in the pipeline in selected markets, early-stage delinquency performance is stellar and the lowest it's been in two decades. The continued improvement in mortgage performance bodes well for the health of the market in 2017.".
     
    Mortgages that are 90 days or more delinquent are following the trend, at a rate of 2.5 percent in January, down from 3.2 percent the year prior.
     
    Less than 1 percent of mortgages transitioned to the early stage of delinquency in January, according to the report. The transition rate was 1.2 percent in January 2007, and topped out at 2 percent in November 2008.
     
    "Steady job and income growth, combined with full-doc underwriting, has led to low early-stage delinquencies," said Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. "January's 0.9 percent transition rate for current to 30 days late is lower than a year ago and much lower than the 1.5 percent average from 2000 and 2001, during which the foreclosure rate was, conversely, lower than it is today."

    Buying a New House? 5 Things to Check Before Moving in

     

    RISMEDIA, Tuesday, April 18, 2017— Editor's Note: This was originally published on RISMedia's blog, Housecall. See what else is cookin' now at blog.rismedia.com:

    Buying a new house is an exciting process that marks a new chapter in life. For many people, it's fun to shop around and tour different properties. When you're serious about purchasing a home, there are a few important parts of the property to check before you move in.
     
    The Neighborhood
    You should feel comfortable with the quality of the neighborhood, which will influence the value of your home. Look at the condition of the other homes and check to see if people are loitering at different times of the day. The house should also be in proximity to your job, or nearby schools if you have children. Some individuals who don't have a family may want to purchase a home in a good school district due to the impact that it'll have on the value of the property.
     
    Storage Space
    The storage space that is available in the home influences how much clutter will be left out in the open. Look for plenty of storage space that is available in the bedroom closets or in the kitchen to ensure that you can comfortably fit everything that you own without feeling cramped.
     
    Plumbing System
    Run the faucets to inspect the water pressure and ask the owners if the pipes are insulated. Hire professionals to check if the radiators are working and if the hot water tank needs to be replaced soon.
     
    The Roof
    The roof is one of the more costly features of the home and protects the interior setting from damage due to environmental elements. Hire a professional roofer to determine the lifespan of the roofing material and if it needs any repairs. The tiles or shingles should be secure on the roof deck, and there shouldn't be any leaks present.
     
    Sufficient Drainage
    Many buyers make the mistake of overlooking the drainage on the property, but it can cause issues if not in good shape. Insufficient drainage can lead to severe structural problems in the home.
     
    Although it can be easy to fall in love with a house, there are several areas to check before making an offer to ensure that you won't run into problems down the road. By taking the time to inspect each part of the property, you can have peace of mind knowing you're making a good investment.

      Ranch-Style and Other Homebuyer Wishes This Season

      RISMEDIA, Thursday, April 13, 2017— Real estate season is underway, and house hunters have one goal in mind: a ranch-style home.
       
      According to a recent survey by realtor.com®, ranches are the most in-demand style of home this year, with 42 percent of homebuyers eyeing a rambler in their search for a home. A distant 28 percent of homebuyers—the second highest share in the survey—are in the market for a contemporary.
       
      Younger homebuyers, however, have a tendency toward a row house or townhouse—a proclivity that wanes with age, when preferences shift to a single-family home.
       
      Type of home aside, three-quarters of homebuyers are on the hunt for a two-bathroom home, and over half are out for three bedrooms, according to the survey.
       
      Homebuyers, especially younger ones with young children, are also prioritizing a big backyard in their search—an attribute that parlays into more privacy, one of the top motivations for home-buying. Another motivation, held primarily by millennial homebuyers and homebuyers aged 35 to 44, is changing family needs, such as having children. Homebuyers aged 45 and older are more motivated by retirement.
       
      A remodeled kitchen is another choice feature for homebuyers, with 80 percent ranking the kitchen as one of their three favorite rooms in their home. A garage, a living room and a master bedroom are also high on homebuyers' lists.
       
      What are homebuyers not looking for? In the rearview are a guest house, a man cave, a mother-in-law suite and solar panels.
       
      "The insights from our most recent consumer survey provide a glimpse into what buyers are looking at today," says Sarah Staley, housing expert at realtor.com. "While we often think of dream homes as being big and bold, that's not what we're hearing from potential buyers today. These insights can help guide potential sellers in deciding which rooms or features to invest in before listing their homes."
       
      View more from the survey at research.realtor.com/spring-home-shoppers/

      Homeowners Say No to Cookie Cutter Curb Appeal

      RISMEDIA, Monday, April 10, 2017— Homeowners are saying no to cookie cutter curb appeal and instead saying yes to landscapes that set them apart from their neighbors, according to findings from the 2017 U.S. Landscaping Trends Survey recently released by Houzz. Thirty-three percent—the majority—of those surveyed reported personalization as their motivation for completing an outdoor improvement.

      "Home renovation activity is benefiting from the significant increase in home sales in 2015 and 2016, which is reflected in our findings on motivations for starting a landscape project," said Nino Sitchinava, principal economist at Houzz, in a release about the survey.
       
      Forty-one percent of those surveyed are aiming for a landscape that is "extremely" or "very" different. A sheer 6 percent of those surveyed who are completing or have completed outdoor improvements have landscapes that are "identical" to those of their neighbors—36 percent had landscapes similar to those of their neighbors before completing their improvements.
       
      A distinct landscape, oddly, can make its owner more likely to interact with his or her neighbors, despite their differing tastes. Eighteen percent of those surveyed interacted more with their neighbors following completion of an outdoor improvement.
       
      How are homeowners making their landscapes stand out? "Attractant" plants, low maintenance plants and native plants are all popular add-ons, in the form of beds or borders, perennials and/or shrubs, according to the survey.
       
      "Since housing inventory has remained low, recent homebuyers likely consider their homes less than ideal, leading them to prioritize upgrades like outdoor projects more than ever, with emphasis on low maintenance," Sitchinava said.
       
      Some homeowners are dead set on separating their landscapes from those of their neighbors—in some cases with no lawn at all. Twenty-six percent of those surveyed are removing or have removed their front lawn, and 5 percent are replacing or have replaced it with a synthetic alternative.
       
      What goes into differentiating your landscape? According to the survey, an outdoor improvement can take three to six months to plan and three to five-and-a-half months to execute—and 63 percent of those surveyed are planning to hire a professional to help make the improvement.

      5 Ways to Upgrade Your Home Without Blowing Your Budget

      By Dan Ketchum

      RISMEDIA, Friday, April 07, 2017— (TNS)—Everyone wants to turn their house into their dream home, but that's often easier said than done. Whether you're upgrading your space or gearing up to sell, renovating your home is a big financial decision. After all, it's not only the place you live—it's most likely your largest investment.
       
      "So how much does a home remodel cost?" you ask. If you have a home equity line of credit, or HELOC, you have a higher degree of flexibility. That's because when you choose a HELOC to finance your upgrades, you're embracing the financial fluidity of borrowing against your home's available equity.
       
      "With a home equity line, you have the access to the money you need to finance a remodel, plus the flexibility to re-utilize the line for other needs as they arise," says Jon Giles, senior vice president in the home equity division at a major bank.
       
      Clearly, it's a popular option. According to a recent survey by the bank, 64 percent of people said they have or would use a HELOC for home renovations or improvements. You can borrow multiple times if you need to, or borrow any amount you want on a secured credit line with interest that's typically tax deductible.
       
      Here's a tour of potential home improvements.
       
      Liven Up the Landscape
      Landscaping is among the three most effective home improvements you can do to generate the biggest return on your money. It creates curb appeal in spades, and also helps prevent expensive potential damage, like fallen tree limbs and mold. Think of it as a safety net mixed with some green marketing that can increase your house's value by up to 5 percent.
       
      Average Cost: You can put in some attractive curbing for a little over $1,000, or invest in the whole front-lawn package for about $3,400.
       
      Revive the Driveway
      Assessing your driveway nets you a double benefit. One, it's a utilitarian feature that just about everyone needs to protect that other big investment: the car. Two, a cracked driveway tanks your curb appeal, and can even make way for unsightly weeds.
       
      Average Cost: To repair a driveway, you're looking at about $1,500, or a little over $3,800 for a new one.
       
      Freshen Up Your Exterior Paint
      If you're like the 41 percent of survey respondents whose property value has stagnated over the last year, giving the exterior of your home a fresh look could make a world of difference.
       
      You just can't beat the cost effectiveness of exterior paint. Plus, it has a leg up on the limited color and texture options of siding—if you can imagine a paint color, it exists.
       
      Average Cost: Heartier exterior paints exceed the cost of interior options, but not by much—the national average cost to paint a house is a little over $2,500, though you should account for about $1,500 more if you have a two-story.
       
      Revitalize Your Roof
      Whether you're playing catch out front or just cruising by, it's pretty hard to miss a roof. That could be why the National Association of REALTORS® named replacing a home's roof as the home renovation with the single greatest cost recovery in 2015—this project usually recoups about 105 percent of its price tag.
       
      Average Cost: About $7,600
       
      Gear Up the Garage
      The garage door probably isn't the go-to improvement when you think about upping your curb appeal, but it does take up a whole lot of exterior visual space, and for that reason alone, it's totally worth a slice of that HELOC. Replacing the often-neglected garage door can net you a nearly 93 percent return on investment, on average.
       
      Average Cost: This upgrade usually only runs about $730 to $1,400.

      Ranking the Best Markets for Single-Family Rental Investors

      RISMEDIA, Wednesday, April 05, 2017— A single-family rental can be a profitable investment—given the right conditions.
       
      The markets ripe for single-family rental investment, based on ATTOM Data Solutions Q1 2017 Single-Family Rental Market report, are:
       
      1. Clayton County, Ga. (23.7 percent gross rental yield)
      2. Baltimore, Md. (23.6 percent)
      3. Bibb County, Ga. (23.5 percent)
      4. Monroe County, Pa. (20.6 percent)
      5. Saginaw County, Mich. (18.8 percent)
       
      The gross rental yields in the top five counties surpass the average, 9.0 percent, according to the report.
       
      "While good returns on single-family rentals are hard to come by in high-priced coastal markets and in some other housing hot spots such as Denver and parts of Dallas, Austin and Nashville, solid returns on single-family rentals will continue to be available in many parts of the Southeast, Rust Belt and Midwest for investors purchasing in 2017," says Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM Data Solutions.
       
      "Single-family rentals should continue to yield strong returns in many parts of the country going forward given the market undercurrents of low rent-ready housing inventory and low homeownership rates. Average fair market rents increased in 2017 in 86 percent of the markets we analyzed even while average wage growth outpaced rent growth in 67 percent of markets—a recipe for sustainable growth in the rental market."
       
      The markets with the most potential for high gross rental yields in the future, comparing average weekly wage growth to fair market rent growth, are:
       
      1. Trumbull County, Ohio (17.2 percent)
      2. Saint Lawrence County, N.Y. (17.1 percent)
      3. Richmond County, Ga. (16.6 percent)
      4. Broome County, N.Y. (16.4 percent)
      5. Lucas County, Ohio (14.5 percent) 
       
      Millennials, in addition, are key players in the single-family rental market. The markets best suited for single-family rental investments for millennials, according to the report, are:
       
      1. Saint Clair County, Mich. (14.5 percent)
      2. Jackson County, Mich. (13.4 percent)
      3. Saint Louis County, Minn. (11.8 percent)
      4. Jackson County, Mo. (11.2 percent)
      5. Cleveland County, Okla. (9.7 percent)

      10 Tips for Homebuyers and Sellers This Spring

      RISMEDIA, Saturday, April 01, 2017— Spring is here, and so is spring home-buying and -selling. Buyers and sellers preparing to take action this season should put those plans into play now—according to Zillow Group's Report on Consumer Housing Trends, the No. 1 regret for both buyers and sellers is "not starting their home search or prepping their home to sell soon enough."
       
      "This spring, both buyers and sellers should be prepared for fast-moving sales, intense negotiations, and even bidding wars," says Jeremy Wacksman, CMO at Zillow Group. "Home shoppers and sellers are motivated to become more strategic and knowledgeable about what's happening in their neighborhood. Understanding whether you are in a buyer's or a seller's environment will help you manage your expectations and will give you insight into what you're going to need to bring to the table in order to close the deal."
       
      For buyers, that means:
       
      Keep your options open. More than half (52 percent) of homebuyers surveyed in the report said they also considered renting, and more than one-third (37 percent) of first-time buyers seriously considered continuing to rent. Savvy shoppers should have a Plan B in place, hoping to buy if it works out, but willing to sign a lease for a home if they don't make a deal by the time they need to move.
       
      Be realistic with your budget. Once you set it, stick to it. First-time home buyers are more likely to exceed their budget than repeat buyers (39 percent versus 26 percent), according to the report. Before you meet with a lender to determine how much mortgage you'll be approved for, take a good look at your individual finances and spending preferences to determine the monthly payment range that you feel you can comfortably afford. (Use Zillow's mortgage calculator to help with you with the math.)
       
      Get your financing squared away early. Plan to meet a few lenders four to six months ahead of when you're planning to buy to ensure you can make a competitive offer quickly when you find your dream home. The majority (82 percent) of buyers get pre-approved, with 77 percent getting pre-approval from a lender before finding a home on which they are interested in placing an offer.
       
      Find an agent with a winning track record. Take the time to find an agent who has expertise in fast negotiation, leveraging escalation clauses, and winning bidding wars. Only 46 percent of buyers got the first home on which they made an offer, according to the report, demonstrating that competition is now part of the process. Use search tools, like Zillow's Agent Finder, to choose an agent based on sales and listing activity, area of expertise and reputation.
       
      Communication is key. Make sure your preferred method—and frequency—of communication matches that of your agent. One-third (33 percent) of all buyers surveyed in the report preferred phone calls with their agent over emailing (21 percent) or texting (15 percent). Buyers can use the agent reviews on Zillow to learn more about prospective agents and their clients' experiences. 
       
      And for sellers:
       
      Start early and be strategic. Sellers consider putting their home on the market for five months before they list it—but the top seller regret is that they wished they spent more time prepping for the sale. Many cities have a magic window in the spring when homes have a higher likelihood of selling quickly for more money.
       
      Work with an agent from the start. The vast majority (90 percent) of sellers surveyed in the report who sold quickly and for more than list price worked with an agent, and two out of three (58 percent) began working with an agent at the very beginning of their selling journey.
       
      Pay attention to your online curb appeal. The majority of buyers begin their search online. Sellers who sold their home for more than list price made imagery and home information available online: 48 percent had professional photos taken of the home; 30 percent shot video footage; and 21 percent shot drone footage. Zillow's video walk-throughs give sellers an easy way to show home features that are hard to capture in photos.
       
      Home improvements can be a worthwhile investment. Sellers who fetched above list price tackled home improvements before listing their home, being 50 percent more likely to take on a large project like modifying an existing home plan and 20 percent more likely to renovate a kitchen than the average seller. 
       
      Don't be afraid to try again. In many markets, nearly half of listing views occur in the first week the home is on the market. Twenty-six percent of those who sold above list price took their home off the market once to adjust the sales price, opting to start anew, rather than letting the home languish on the market with minimal activity. 
       

      Size Matters: Most Americans Dissatisfied with Home's Square Footage

      By Zoe Eisenberg

      RISMEDIA, Friday, March 31, 2017— Editor's Note: This was originally published on RISMedia's blog, Housecall. See what else is cookin' now at blog.rismedia.com:

      When it comes to a home's square footage, Americans seem to have a Goldilocks mindset: too big, too small, jussstttt right. At least, this is the consensus from a recent Trulia/Harris Poll study. The study, which surveyed over 2,000 American homeowners, found that most folks want a different sized home than the one they're in now; however, they don't necessarily want to go bigger. Today's average new home size is over 2,700 square feet, 57 percent larger than homes built about 40 years ago. It's undeniable that homes are getting larger. But interestingly enough, just because the average home size is getting larger doesn't mean everyone is looking for more square footage. In fact, 60.6 percent of those questioned were looking to downsize. It seems more space doesn't necessarily mean more comfort.

       
      Below are some key findings from the survey:

      • As expected, age matters when it comes to size. Only 26 percent of baby boomers surveyed would upsize their homes, whereas 46 percent of millennials would like to add more square footage.
      • Only 32 percent of those surveyed would choose a home the same size as the one they're currently living in if they decided to move within a year.
      • Out of survey respondents currently living in homes larger than 2,000 square feet, only 39.4 percent would choose a larger home, compared to 60.6 percent looking to downsize.
      • One interesting takeaway from the study is based on income. It seems the more affluent hope to minimize their square footage, whereas those with smaller incomes want to score more space. Seem backwards? It isn't. Fifty-three percent of those making more than $150,000 a year hope to downsize, whereas 65 percent of those making under $150,000 say that would snag a bigger spot if given the chance. 

       

      Prepare for a Real Estate Rush This Spring

      RISMEDIA, Thursday, March 30, 2017— Homebuyers this spring will meet out-of-this-world prices and unsparing competition—a real estate rush.
       
      According to Clear Capital's recently released Home Data Index (HDI) Market Report, the national median days on market is 43 days, down from an 85-day stretch seen in January 2012. Days on market in Denver, Colo., Lincoln, Neb., and Raleigh, N.C., are coming in under two weeks, while days on market in Fresno, San Francisco and San Jose, Calif., and Portland, Ore., and Seattle, Wash., are finishing in under three weeks.
       
      "Along with an increase in temperatures, the spring season also brings out the buyers and an increase in demand to the housing market, which most often translates to faster price growth and a decrease in marketing times," says Alex Villacorta, vice president of Research and Analytics at Clear Capital. "But what's great news for homeowners—particularly those looking to get out of negative equity or sell outright—is unfortunately bad news for prospective buyers. This springtime uptick in demand is likely to put buyers in a major time pinch in areas where marketing time is already lightning fast."
       
      Home price growth in the first quarter of 2017 was 0.9 percent, according to the report, with quarterly growth across regions between 0.8 percent and 1 percent. Prices grew 1.8 percent quarterly in San Antonio, Texas, making it the fastest growing metropolitan market, while quarterly prices in San Jose, Calif., remained at a standstill, posting no growth.
       
      "This situation, coupled with the already precarious affordability situation for buyers, can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts for the market as a whole, one where buyers rush to purchase homes at or above asking price in fear of waiting too long and losing out—pushing prices up and pulling marketing times even lower," Villacorta says. "Buyers will need to remain vigilant this spring and constantly keep their eyes peeled for new supply entering the market, and, most importantly, be wary of rushing to purchase at sky-high prices."