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Brandon Farber

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  1. Brandon Farber

    10 Clever Uses for Hydrogen Peroxide

    In Your Kitchen 1. Clean your cutting board and countertop. Hydrogen peroxide bubbles away any nasties left after preparing meat or fish for dinner. Add hydrogen peroxide to an opaque spray bottle — exposure to light kills its effectiveness — and spray on your surfaces. Let everything bubble for a few minutes, then scrub and rinse clean. 2. Wipe out your refrigerator and dishwasher. Because it’s non-toxic, hydrogen peroxide is great for cleaning places that store food and dishes. Just spray the appliance outside and in, let the solution sit for a few minutes, then wipe clean.3. Clean your sponges. Soak them for 10 minutes in a 50/50 mixture of hydrogen peroxide and warm water in a shallow dish. Rinse the sponges thoroughly afterward.4. Remove baked-on crud from pots and pans. Combine hydrogen peroxide with enough baking soda to make a paste, then rub onto the dirty pan and let it sit for a while. Come back later with a scrubby sponge and some warm water, and the baked-on stains will lift right off. In Your Bathroom 5. Whiten bathtub grout. If excess moisture has left your tub grout dingy, first dry the tub thoroughly, then spray it liberally with hydrogen peroxide. Let it sit for a little while (it may bubble slightly), then come back and scrub the grout with an old toothbrush. You may have to repeat the process a few times, depending on how much mildew you have, but eventually your grout will be white again. 6. Clean the toilet bowl. Pour half a cup of hydrogen peroxide into the toilet bowl, let stand for 20 minutes, then scrub clean. In Your Laundry Room 7. Remove stains from clothing, curtains, and tablecloths. Hydrogen peroxide can be used as a pre-treater for stains — just soak the stain for a little while in 3% hydrogen peroxide before tossing into the laundry. You can also add a cup of peroxide to a regular load of whites to boost brightness. It’s a green alternative to bleach, and works just as well. Anywhere in Your House 8. Brighten dingy floors. Combine half a cup of hydrogen peroxide with one gallon of hot water, then go to town on your flooring. Because it’s so mild, it’s safe for any floor type, and there’s no need to rinse.9. Clean kids’ toys and play areas. Hydrogen peroxide is a safe cleaner to use around kids, or anyone with respiratory problems, because it’s not a lung irritant. Fill an opaque spray bottle with hydrogen peroxide and spray toys, toy boxes, doorknobs, and anything else your kids touch on a regular basis. You could also soak a rag in peroxide to make a wipe. Outside 10. Help out your plants. To ward off fungus, add a little hydrogen peroxide to your spray bottle the next time you’re spritzing plants. Use a 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide added to one gallon of water for your plants.
  2. Dishes in the sink, toys throughout the house, stuff covering every flat surface; this clutter not only makes our homes look bad, it makes us feel bad, too. At least that’s what researchers at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF) discovered when they explored in real time the relationship between 32 California families and the objects in their homes. The resulting book, “Life at Home in The Twenty-First Century,” is a rare look at how middle-class Americans use the space in their homes and interact with the things they accumulate over a lifetime. Our over-worked closets are overflowing with things we rarely touch. Related: Tiny Change, Big Impact: Organize a Small Closet in a Weekend (video) It turns out that clutter has a profound affect on our mood and self-esteem. CELF’s anthropologists, social scientists, and archaeologists found: A link between high cortisol (stress hormone) levels in female home owners and a high density of household objects. The more stuff, the more stress women feel. Men, on the other hand, don’t seem bothered by mess, which accounts for tensions between tidy wives and their clutter bug hubbies. Women associate a tidy home with a happy and successful family. The more dishes that pile up in the sink, the more anxious women feel. Even families that want to reduce clutter often are emotionally paralyzed when it comes to sorting and pitching objects. They either can’t break sentimental attachments to objects or believe their things have hidden monetary value. Although U.S. consumers bear only 3% of the world’s children, we buy 40% of the world’s toys. And these toys live in every room, fighting for display space with kids’ trophies, artwork, and snapshots of their last soccer game. Although “Life At Home” documents the clutter problem, the book offers no solutions. But there are some simple things you can do to de-clutter your home and raise your spirits. Adopt the Rule of Five Every time you get up from your desk or walk through a room, put away five things. Or, each hour, devote five minutes to de-cluttering. At the end of the day, you’ve cleaned for an hour. Be Ruthless About Your Kitchen Sink Pledge to clear and clean your kitchen sink every day. It takes a couple of seconds more to place a dish in the dishwasher than dump it in the sink. A clean sink will instantly raise your spirits and decrease your anxiety. Put Photos Away Return to yesteryear when only photos of ancestors or weddings earned a place. Put snapshots in a family album, which will immediately de-clutter many flat surfaces. Unburden Your Refrigerator Door Researchers found a correlation between the number of items stuck to the fridge door and the amount of clutter throughout the house. Toss extra magnets, file restaurant menus, and place calendars in less conspicuous places. Test Whether You'll Miss It Fill a box with items you don’t love or use. Seal the box and place it in a closet. If you haven’t opened the box in a year, donate it (unopened!) to charity. LISA KAPLAN GORDON is an award-winning, Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer who contributes to real estate and home improvement sites. In her spare time (yeah, right!), she gardens, manages three dogs, and plots to get her 21-year-old out of her basement.
  3. Brandon Farber

    Home Values Cooling Off

    While home value appreciation in some of the hottest housing markets is beginning to decelerate, some of the nation’s more affordable markets, especially in the South, are picking up speed, according to the December Zillow Real Estate Market Report, released Thursday. San Jose, California, and Seattle, Washington, have hit the brakes harder than any other major market, while Atlanta, Georgia, pulled ahead. Home value appreciation in San Jose slowed from 16.8 percent in December 2017 to 9.9 percent in December 2018. In Seattle, home values grew at a pace of 12.4 percent in December 2017 and slowed to a rate of 5.0 percent in December 2018. On the other hand, home values in Atlanta accelerated from 8.1 percent in December 2017 to 13.2 percent in December 2018. Seven markets experienced double-digit rent growth in December with Atlanta leading the pack. Atlanta was followed by Las Vegas, Nevada; Indianapolis, Indiana; Dallas, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Tampa, Florida; and Kansas City, Missouri. Outliers aside, national home value appreciation “seems stabilized at an arguably aggressive pace,” according to Skylar Olsen, Director of Economic Research and Outreach at Zillow. Nationally, home values rose 7.6 percent over the year in December, similar to the previous year’s 7.4 percent growth. The national median home value as of December was $223,900. Olsen clarified, “The exceptions to the rule are the metros that saw the fastest appreciation over the past few years, where home values far outpaced incomes.” In total, home value appreciation slowed down in 19 of the 35 largest markets in December, according to Zillow. Rents also increased in December, rising at their fastest rate since June. The national median rent in December was $1,460, up 1.4 percent from a year ago. The largest increase in rents took place in Orlando, Florida, where rents rose 6.4 percent over the year. Riverside, California, followed with a 5.3 percent increase in rents. While overall home prices continued their upward trajectory, housing inventory backpedaled. After three months of growth, inventory retracted 0.4 percent on an annual basis in December, which according to Olsen is an indication to buyers “that the pendulum hasn’t fully swing in their favor for this year’s home shopping season.” Despite the national contraction, Zillow noted that a few markets “that were starved for homes for sale are seeing big gains, led by San Jose (up 47.6 percent), Seattle (up 32.9 percent) and San Diego (up 32.2 percent).” About Author: Krista Franks Brock Krista Franks Brock is a professional writer and editor who has covered the mortgage banking and default servicing sectors since 2011. Previously, she served as managing editor of DS News and Southern Distinction, a regional lifestyle publication. Her work has appeared in a variety of print and online publications, including Consumers Digest, Dallas Style and Design, DS News and DSNews.com, MReport and theMReport.com. She holds degrees in journalism and art from the University of Georgia.
  4. Brandon Farber

    Economy Shifts The Balance of Housing

    What can we expect in the way of inflation, job losses, and spending? Pretty much the same as last year, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The bank's Center for Microeconomic Data released the December 2018 Survey of Consumer Expectations this month, and it turns out that consumer expectations, in general, remained flat, even though some subsets were a little more scattered. Median home price change expectations declined to 3 percent in December, marking the sixth consecutive decline since June. But within the overall household finance realm, there was much to notice. While median expected household income expectations declined to 2.9 percent, median household spending growth expectations remained unchanged at 3.5 percent. Perceptions of credit access improved by 2 percent (to 28) from a year earlier; at the same time, about 1 percent fewer (21.7 percent) of respondents said they expect improving conditions in credit access. About 35 percent expect credit access to get tougher. The most notable change in what to expect from the varied economic sectors was a worsening idea of what might become of the stock market. “The mean perceived probability that U.S. stock prices will be higher 12 months from now than they are today decreased to 39.6 percent in December,” the report stated. That's the lowest level since October of 2016. Slightly more people in December said they expect to be worse off financially, possibly fueled by a drop in the number of people who said the government could avoid growing debt. That said, confidence in the current labor market remained essentially flat, though 3 percent more people said the job market will be worse off a year from now. Almost 36 percent of people said unemployment will be worse a year from now, even as fewer people said they worry about actual job losses. Even if a job is lost, nearly the same number of people – just north of 58 percent – said they wouldn't be worried about being able to find a new one. Meanwhile, median inflation expectations at the one-year horizon remained unchanged at 3 percent. Inflation uncertainty–or the uncertainty expressed by respondents regarding future inflation outcomes–also remained unchanged. About Author: Scott Morgan Scott Morgan is a multi-award-winning journalist and editor based out of Texas. During his 11 years as a newspaper journalist, he wrote more than 4,000 published pieces. He's been recognized for his work since 2001, and his creative writing continues to win acclaim from readers and fellow writers alike. He is also a creative writing teacher and the author of several books, from short fiction to written works about writing.
  5. Brandon Farber

    2018 Natural Disaster Damages Exceed $1 Billion

    The United States experienced 11 natural disaster events that exceeded $1 billion in damage during 2018, according to data released by CoreLogic.While the wildfires scorched the West Coast of the U.S., hurricanes Michael and Florence battered the Gulf and East Coast. From typhoons and cyclones to earthquakes, natural disasters in the past year ravaged places such as Indonesia, Japan, and Alaska. Volcanoes made the news in Hawaii, expanding the island’s terrain. Per CoreLogic report, a total of 11 western states in the U.S. had at least one wildfire that exceeded 50,000 burned acres; the leading states being California and Oregon. The number of acres burned the past year is the eighth highest in U.S. history as reported through November 30, 2018. The report also noted that 1,000-year flood events took place in Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin. Out of Dallas, Texas, and Colorado Springs, Colorado experienced severe convective storms with large hail. A total of 82 tornado outbreaks ravaged several parts of Western Louisiana and Arkansas, all the way down to Southern Florida, and up to Western Virginia. In addition to the data on damages exceeding $I billion in the U.S. alone, quoting data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, CoreLogic stated that last year’s count of billion-dollar events is a decline from the previous year. Both 2017 and 2018 have tracked far above the 1980-2017 annual average of $6 billion in total dollar amount in one year, it indicated. Over 1,600 significant flood events occurred in the U.S. in 2018, wherein 59 percent of which were flash flood-related. The residential and commercial flood damage caused by Hurricane Florence in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia is projected to be at $19 billion to $28.5 billion—out of these, roughly 85 percent of residential flood losses were uninsured—according to CoreLogic. The damage caused by the 2018 Atlantic Hurricane season that saw 15 named storms resulted in landfall along the U.S—making 2018 the third back-to-back season of above-average hurricane activity in the Atlantic, the report noted. “No one can stop a hurricane in its tracks or steady the ground from an earthquake, but with more information and an understanding of the risk, recovery can be accelerated and resiliency can be attained,” said Howard Botts, VP and Chief Scientist - Insurance and Spatial Solutions at CoreLogic. About Author: Donna Joseph Donna Joseph is a Dallas-based writer who covers technology, HR best practices, and a mix of lifestyle topics. She is a seasoned PR professional with an extensive background in content creation and corporate communications. Joseph holds a B.A. in Sociology and M.A. in Mass Communication, both from the University of Bangalore, India. She is currently working on two books, both dealing with women-centric issues prevalent in oppressive as well as progressive societies. She can be reached at donna.joseph@thefivestar.com.
  6. Brandon Farber

    The Right Path for FHA?

    The latest American Enterprises Institute Housing Market Indicators released its data on October 2018 with a focus on the National Mortgage Risk Index. The report, released on January 28, includes data on mortgage risk, house price appreciation, and home sales. “FHA’s and the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection’s pro-cyclical policies are continuing to drive home prices higher for entry-level buyers and are exposing buyers to an unsustainable home price boom,” noted Edward Pinto, Codirector of the AEI’s Center on Housing Markets and Finance. “As these policies since late-2012 have needlessly driven up low price tier homes by an additional $23,000, it is time both took counter-cyclical steps to protect homebuyers,” he added. The report found that mortgage risk jumped in October with all indices setting new series’ highs for the month. The composite Purchase National Mortgage Risk Index (NMRI) recorded an increase of 0.4 percentage points from Oct. 2017. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) index set a new series’ high at 28.2 percent. Refi NMRI also set a new series’ high, primarily due to a higher Cash-Out Refi NMRI, it indicated. According to AEI data, the higher NMRI indicates that agencies continue to increase leverage to maintain levels of mortgage activity and in furtherance of their “affordable housing” mission. The report noted that FHA continues to loosen and Fannie’s purchase risk index in Oct. 2018 at 1.4 percentage points outpaced that of Freddie’s. The report also pointed out that over the last 3 years, a shift towards higher DTIs has primarily driven the NMRI higher. “Reports of the end of current housing boom are exaggerated,” said Tobias Peter, Senior Research Analyst at AEI’s Center on Housing Markets and Finance. “Inventories remain mostly tight, especially for entry-level homes, access to credit continues to be expanding, especially for first-time buyers, and mortgage rates have recently fallen below 4.5 percent again. All this points to a continuation of the boom at lower price points,” he added. Shedding light on FHA lending, the report found that FHA’s credit box is wide and therefore credit for entry-level buyers is not tight. FHA continues to add high-risk borrowers with their risk index climbing through risk layering. Compared to 2017, the agency purchase volume declined this October. A decline of 3.9 percent was recorded in purchase volume by count compared to 2017—a rise in volume from 37 percent in October 2013. The report attributes the decline to the increase in mortgage rate to over 4.5 percent earlier in the year. Per AEI Housing Market Indicators, maintaining purchase volume continues to be reliant on further agency credit easing— seen as needed to offset headwinds from gradually rising interest rates as a result of a slightly less accommodative monetary policy, and rapid home price increases. Read the full report here.
  7. Brandon Farber

    How the Shutdown Impacted Housing

    How the Shutdown Impacted Housing in Daily Dose, Featured, Government, News 5 days ago The end of the longest shutdown in the history of the nation is finally in sight with President Trump announcing on Friday that he had agreed to reopen the federal government for three weeks. During this time, he said that negotiations on the border wall would continue with the Congress. "I am very proud to announce today, that we have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government," Trump said. "As everyone knows I have a very powerful alternative but I didn't want to use it at this time. Hopefully, it will be unnecessary." Trump said that if the Republicans and Democrats could not reach an agreement on the wall funding by the February deadline, he was ready to renew the confrontation or declare a national emergency to bypass Congress altogether. Thanking the 800,000 federal workers, many of who worked for federal agencies like the Department of Housing and Urban Development, who have been on furlough or are working without pay during the shutdown, Trump said that these workers were "incredible patriots." According to The New York Times, the President's announcement "paved the way for Congress to quickly pass Spending Bills that Trump would sign to restore normal operations at a series of federal agencies until February 15 and begin paying the federal workers who have been furloughed. The plan does not include money for the wall that the President and demanded initially. HUD Reopens One of the many federal agencies that have been affected by the shutdown in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which recently issued guidelines on what lenders and borrowers could do to address their concerns. The guidelines, in the form of frequently asked questions (FAQ), give lenders and servicers a sense of the business they could and couldn't do with HUD during the shutdown. They include questions on the departments that would be open, submitting FHA mortgage insurance premiums, submitting loans for approvals as well as packages for condo approvals, payments to borrowers, FHA monitoring, and guidelines related to REO/HUD home sales. Speaking to NPR at an annual Point-In-Time headcount survey in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson had said that the longer the shutdown goes, the harder it would be on federal employees. "These federal workers, I mean, yes I know we're going to give them back pay, but that doesn't take care of the interest if they borrow money," Carson said. Around 95 percent of HUD employees have been furloughed and those who have been called back to work without pay were "working around the clock" to make sure Americans who rely on HUD for housing assistance don't get evicted, Carson told NPR. The end of the shutdown, even if it seems to be temporary is likely to give much relief not only to federal workers but also to tenants who were housed through HUD and landlords who work with the agency to provide housing to low-income households. The shutdown had already started affecting those housed through HUD, as well as independent landlords who were working with government employees unable to pay their rent. While none of the 1,175 rental contracts that were not renewed by HUD due to the shutdown were likely to affect low-income tenants, according to the National Housing Conference (NHC), this could have changed if the shutdown extended past February. NHC said that HUD staff was working with landlords across the country to ensure this does not happen. Additionally, contracts were being paid with available funds, and landlords were being told to use their reserves to cover operating expenses. Taking Steps to Help Borrowers A number of financial institutions including the GSEs stepped up their efforts to provide relief to borrowers during the shutdown. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac issued an additional set of guidelines for lenders to help them assist borrowers, especially federal workers, whose income was affected by the government shutdown. In a joint letter to lenders, the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) said that with the shutdown extending for a longer than anticipated time, they were "concerned about the impact that continued income interruption may have on borrowers' ability to meet their mortgage payment and other monthly obligations." The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has also called on all approved mortgagees and lenders to assist federal workers and contractors impacted by the shutdown. “In accordance with its longstanding policy, FHA expects mortgagees to assist borrowers experiencing a loss of income to the greatest extent possible by extending special forbearance plans to borrowers impacted by the shutdown, and fully evaluating borrowers for available loss mitigation options to avoid foreclosure whenever possible,” FHA Commissioner Brian Montgomery said. Bank of America reached out to clients who may be impacted by the partial federal government shutdown to make them aware of its Client Assistance program. “We know the partial federal government shutdown is affecting many of our clients, and we want them to know that we are here to help,” said Aron Levine, Head of Consumer Banking, Bank of America. “Our Client Assistance Program is available to individuals affected by the shutdown for personalized financial assistance, tailored to their specific situation and financial needs.” Chase has also offered hardship programs to customers who have been affected by financial strain, unemployment, or natural disasters. The bank has said that it will automatically waive or refund overdraft and monthly service fees on Chase checking and savings accounts if an employee’s salary from an affected federal agency was direct-deposited into the account in November 2018. “We’re here for our government worker customers whose pay may be disrupted,” said Thasunda Duckett, CEO of Consumer Banking at Chase. “We all hope this will be resolved soon.” Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-California), Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee sent a letter to the heads of the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and National Credit Union Administration, urging them to consider the needs of consumers who may be experiencing temporary financial hardship in meeting credit obligations as a result of the shutdown. “This is important to ensure that customers can meet loan payments and avoid high fees and other penalties that they may otherwise incur,” Waters wrote in her letter. “Through no fault of their own, some affected federal employees and others, such as federal contractors, may be unable to pay all their bills on time because of the shutdown.” About Author: Radhika Ojha Radhika Ojha, Online Editor at the Five Star Institute, is a graduate of the University of Pune, India, where she received her B.A. in Commerce with a concentration in Accounting and Marketing and an M.A. in Mass Communication. Upon completion of her masters degree, Ojha worked at a national English daily publication in India (The Indian Express) where she was a staff writer in the cultural and arts features section. Ojha, also worked as Principal Correspondent at HT Media Ltd and at Honeywell as an executive in corporate communications. She and her husband currently reside in Dallas, Texas. She can be reached at Radhika.Ojha@DSNews.com
  8. 3 Simple Steps You Can Take to Halt Junk Mail in 2019 Start the new year by stopping unwanted mail from clogging your mailbox and trash can. Here's how. 1. Stop prescreened offers If you receive but don’t want preapproved offers for credit cards or insurance — also known as prescreened offers — visit OptOutPrescreen.com and opt out of these offers. 2. Opt out with your financial institutions Federal law also allows financial companies like banks to share their customers’ information with certain third parties for specific purposes. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) details this on its “Privacy Choices” webpage. Privacy notices that you should receive from your financial institutions at least annually also detail the institutions’ information sharing practices as well as opt-out instructions. The Data & Marketing Association (DMA), a trade group formerly known as the Direct Marketing Association, maintains a consumer website called DMAchoice.orgto help you manage the direct mail that you receive. According to the site, direct mail includes: Credit offers Catalogs Magazine offers Other mail offers “You can request to start or stop receiving mail from individual companies within each category — or from an entire category at once,” the website says. Registering with DMAchoice.org is not free, though. It entails a $2 processing fee
  9. Brandon Farber

    7 Effective Ways to Cut Clutter in 2019

    Are you feeling a little overwhelmed by the post-holiday excess around you? Have the past several years of your family’s success with Santa left your closets, garage, attic and office filled to the rafters? If so, it might be time for some creative clutter-busting strategies. Start by letting three questions cut through your material clutter. With each item you consider, ask yourself: Do I love it? Do I use it? Will I ever need it? Here are seven ways to kick off the new year right by kicking the clutter habit now: 1. Target one area at a time It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff that most of us live with. Instead of diving right in and burning out quickly, focus on one area of your home or office at a time. Because a little positive reinforcement never hurts, start with the easiest areas first. Declutter: A chest of drawers A hall closet One kitchen cupboard A single drawer in your desk Then, move on to the next spot. If it helps, make a list of all the clutter hot spots that need attention and check each one off as you calm the chaos. 2. Get rid of one item per day If taming the clutter in your environment seems like an impossible task, start slowly. Decide to rid yourself of just a single item per day, but be determined and relentless. As the weeks and months pass, you’ll begin to notice and enjoy the extra elbow room your efforts have created. Build on your success by accelerating the clutter-busting schedule and letting go of two or three items each day. 3. Adopt a zero-accumulation rule To achieve and maintain a clutter-free home or office, adopt a zero-accumulation habit. For every new item that comes into your space, make sure one item goes out. Donate or sell usable items, and toss what’s left. For a more aggressive approach, try a one-in, two-out rule and watch those prodigious piles and cramped closets slowly disappear. 4. Think inside the box(es) The four-box method is a tried-and-true way to quickly get a handle on large amounts of clutter while still ensuring that each item is consciously considered. To begin, get four large boxes and assign each box one of these labels: Donate Sell Trash/recycling Keep but relocate This system will prevent you from just moving piles around and help you sort what’s needed from what’s not. When you finish organizing one area, empty the boxes according to their labels and start over. 5. Do the dozen Choose a regular time each week or month for a “12-12-12” decluttering project. Here’s how it works: Find a dozen items in your home or office to donate, a dozen to toss or recycle and a dozen to return to their proper places. In short order, you’ve gone through at least 36 items and rid yourself of 24 of them. MoneyTalksNews.com Kentin Waits
  10. Brandon Farber

    2019 Bathroom Design Trends

    WHITE AND GREY MARBLE Photo: Simon Upton; Design: Jean-Louis Deniot "White and grey marble continue to be strong, popular materials into 2019 for bathrooms and kitchens alike. They are classic and timeless, can go from traditional to modern in terms of aesthetics, and are also great for resale. Man-made materials, such as quartz and porcelain tiles that look like natural stones, are also workhorses from a durability perspective and will continue to be popular in the new year." — Ariel Okin Nicole Franzen/Sarah Elliott “Pewter and gunmetal is the trend we are loving. It’s not as harsh as pure black or specific as brass or gold, but it gives fixtures some texture and depth.” – Highlyann Krasnow
  11. Run through this checklist of fixes to make your house cozier and your heating more affordable this year. 1. Install weatherstripping Check your home’s exterior doors for cold air leaks. Do this from inside the house. The high-tech approach is to use a laser infrared thermal gun to detect cold drafts. The low-tech way is to move a lit candle around the door frame; the flame will blow toward you when there is a draft. Seal a drafty door by installing foam or felt weatherstripping inside the door frame. Ask at your hardware store for the correct products and installation instructions. Related: 15 Minutes to Open an IRA Account... Cost: $10 to $20 per package for most standard products. 2. Install a door sweep Use a door sweep to stop drafts from entering your home under an exterior door. A sweep is a flexible piece of rubber or plastic that’s held to the door’s lower edge by a strip of aluminum. Cost: $5 to $35. 3. Seal attic air leaks Find and seal gaps that could be allowing as much as 30 percent of your heated or cooled air to leak outdoors. These leaks can add up to $300 a year to heating and cooling costs, HouseLogic says. Pull back attic insulation to find and seal cutouts in drywall for electrical fixtures, pipes, fans and outlets. Also check wiring, chimneys, flues, vent stacks and ducts, and seal them on the inside. Use caulk to fill smaller gaps and pressurized expanding foam for bigger openings. Cost: Caulk costs about $2 to $3 per tube. Expanding polyurethane foam runs less than $5 for a 12-ounce can. 4. Close the damper Heated or cooled air flies up the chimney when you leave the fireplace damper open. Make it a habit to shut the flue after the fireplace has cooled. Cost: $0 5. Add attic insulation Insulation keeps warm air inside in the winter and expensively cooled air inside in the summer. “Typically, houses in warm-weather states should have an R-38 insulation in the attic, whereas houses in cold climates should have R-49,” says This Old House, explaining how to install batting-type insulation. Related: Two Savings Accounts That Pay 10x What Your Bank Pays Insulating an attic, basement or crawl space is moderately difficult, and beginners should hire a professional. If you do, ask if you can perform parts of the job to reduce the cost. Admittedly, insulating is not a cheap job. But the payback can be huge, and you may find rebates and financial incentives. See Energy.gov’s guide to sources and to a calculator to estimate the return on an insulation investment. Cost: Prices vary, depending on factors such as insulation type, local labor costs and size of the attic. 6. Install a programmable thermostat A programmable thermostat can save up to $180 a year on fuel costs, according to EnergyStar. The thermostat can save fuel by automatically lowering (or raising) your home’s temperature while you’re away. It also keeps temperatures consistent, saving fuel. Do not use a programmable thermostat with a heat pump unless the thermostat is meant for use with heat pumps. Cost: Wi-Fi-enabled “learning” thermostats are expensive — $250 and up. Simpler programmable thermostats — here’s an array offered by Lowe’s — start at about $70. 7. Set the temperature manually — and leave it You can enjoy fuel savings for free simply by setting your thermostat to one temperature in the morning, another at night and otherwise leaving the thermostat alone. If you’re chilly, put on a sweater and warm socks instead of raising the heat. Learn more in the article “10 Ways to Stay Warm and Win the Thermostat Wars.” EnergyStar.gov offers more tips to save using a manual thermostat. Cost: $0. 8. Seal furnace ducts Heating ducts typically waste 20 to 30 percent of the heated air they carry, losing it to leaks and poor conduction, says EnergyStar. Leaky heat ducts mean higher utility bills and a house that’s harder to keep warm. Appliances like water heaters and furnaces can cause the buildup of dangerous gases like carbon monoxide through a process called backdrafting, according to EnergyStar. Sealing leaks can reduce this risk, but before you start the job ask a heating contractor if you need to have a combustion safety test done first. You won’t be able to reach all of the ducts — some are hidden in walls, ceilings and floors. But you can improve performance by sealing exposed ducts in the attic, crawl space, unfinished basement and garage. Focus on the places where ducts, vents and registers meet floors, walls and ceilings. Use mastic sealant or metal tape, which are more durable than duct tape, to seal the seams and connections. Cost: Cheap. A 10-foot roll of 3M rubber mastic tape costs $12 or less. 9. Replace furnace filters monthly Dirty furnace filters reduce furnace efficiency and push up heating bills. They also shorten the life of a furnace. Check and replace the furnace filter monthly in winter or every three months while the system is in operation. Your owner’s manual will tell you where it’s located. Hold the filter up to the light: If you can’t see light through it, you need a new one. Pleated filters work best because they trap more dirt particles. Cost: Prices vary. Angie’s List says filters cost: $1 each for flat fiberglass $10 each for pleated and polyester $25 each for high-efficiency varieties 10. Keep your furnace running smoothly Servicing your furnace regularly helps you catch problems before expensive breakdowns, prolong the furnace’s life and keep it running more efficiently. Newer furnaces need professional servicing every two years. Older units require annual servicing. Check your furnace’s manual to see which specific steps are recommended. Ask friends and colleagues for names of good technicians. Find one or two you trust and stick with them. Cost: This is not a DIY job. You’ll pay $80 to $150, says home inspector and Zillow blogger Reuben Saltzman. 11. Insulate the hot water heater Save on fuel by wrapping older water heaters in a blanket of insulation, an easy DIY project that even a beginner can do. Your utility company has instructions. When insulating a gas or propane water heater, do not cover the burner access. Do not insulate: Pre-insulated water heaters. These are newer units with factory installed insulation of R-16 or better (check the manufacturer’s label) under the metal shell. Water heaters located where the added heat is welcome. Water heaters whose manual or paperwork warns against insulating. Tankless (on-demand) water heaters. Cost: $20 to $30. Or possibly free: Ask your utility company for any rebates, discounts or freebies. Some utilities offer free insulation and may even install it. 12. Lower the hot water temperature Hot water heaters typically are set at 140 degrees. Lower the temperature on yours to 120 for fuel savings. You’ll reduce the chance of accidental burns, and the water still will be plenty hot for bathing, washing clothes and doing dishes. Cost: $0. 13. Plug household leaks Grab a tube of caulk, a can of spray foam gap-sealer, a pencil and notepad. Tour your home, inside and out, including the basement, to find and fill cracks and gaps in siding, windows and foundation. Note locations of problems you can’t fix right away. Use caulk for small cracks and the foam sealer for bigger gaps. Inside the home use a candle flame or digital thermometer to find where cold air is entering. Pay attention to door frames, windows, skylights, chimneys and vents. Also check openings around appliance vents, electrical and plumbing fixtures and furnace ducts and check the top of basement walls where the foundation meets wood. Cost: Caulk costs $2 to $3 per tube or less. Expanding polyurethane foam costs under $5 for a 12-ounce can. Dummies.com tells which product to use where. 14. Insulate hot-water pipes Insulate the hot-water pipes in your basement or crawl space by snapping foam sleeves on them. You’ll find pre-slit, hollow-core, flexible foam pipe insulation at hardware stores. Make a note of your pipes’ diameters and lengths, and bring the measurements when you shop. Exposed pipes waste heat by cooling the water as it runs through them. Be sure to include pipes between the hot-water tank and wall. Also insulate cold-water pipes for the first 3 feet after they enter the house. Cost: Prices and products vary, but a 6-foot piece of half-inch foam insulation can be found for $2 to $3. 15. Set ceiling fan blades for winter Set fan blades to move clockwise in winter, and run fans slowly. The idea is to lift cool air to the ceiling and push heated air down where you can enjoy it. Some fans have a remote control or remote switch. Otherwise, use a ladder and manually adjust the small toggle switch on the fan body. Now set the thermostat a notch lower and enjoy the warmth. Cost: $0. 16. Use your window coverings It’s surprising how much insulation curtains, drapes, shades and even mini blinds can provide. Draw window coverings at night and when you’re away to conserve heat in the home. In hot weather, draw window coverings in the morning to keep the house cool, saving money on air conditioning. Cost: $0. Author: Marilyn Lewis moneytalksnews.com
  12. Brandon Farber

    Is the Housing Market Overheating?

    The housing market might experience a downturn, but it won't affect homeownership as much as the last housing crisis did, according to a study titled Where are We Now with Housing: A Report, by the Florida Atlantic University College of Business. The study investigated and compared the current status of U.S. housing at the national level with that of housing at the peak of the last cycle in July 2006. It revealed that while national housing prices were slightly overheated, residential real estate markets were experiencing minimal downward pressure on the demand for homeownership. "Understanding where housing stands today relative to the last cycle’s peak creates more informed real estate consumers and perhaps a less bumpy ride this time around as the nation enters another housing cycle peak," said Ken Johnson, the author of the study and co-author of the Beracha, Hardin & Johnson Buy vs. Rent Index (BH&J). To compare home prices and their impact on demand, the study investigated scores of the CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Index and the BH&J. It found that housing prices were at 7.3 percent above their long-term pricing trend compared to 31 percent at the peak of the last housing cycle. In terms of downward pressure on housing demand, the study found that at the end of the last cycle the BH&J Index indicated an extreme downward pressure on homeownership with a score of 1.00. Comparatively, this time around, the index reflected a score of 0.039 suggesting only minimal pressure on homeownership demand. "It looks like we're in for more of a very high tide, as opposed to a tsunami, as residential prices peak in this latest cycle," Johnson said. "At a minimum, we can expect flatter housing price growth. At worst, we could experience price declines slightly below the long-term pricing trend." Author: Radhika Ojha Radhika Ojha, Online Editor at the Five Star Institute,
  13. Brandon Farber

    A Peek into National Home Price Trends

    The latest American Enterprise Institute National Housing Market Indicators Report indicated a 6.6 percent of a steady rise in house prices appreciation in the low price tier, which is about 27 percent of the market. Among the high price tier that comprises about 9 percent of the market, prices appreciated at a rather gradual pace at 1.7 percent. The market by price tier and by metro areas revealed that it is becoming more bifurcated, pointing out to a possible likelihood of a continued housing boom. AEI indicated that buyers are moving away from larger cities, shifting the demand to smaller or medium-sized areas, wherein HPA has lagged behind. According to the report for Q3 2018, the national house price boom continued in November 2018, even though at a slow pace at 25 quarters currently. According to its House Price Appreciation (HPA) index, 73 metro areas recorded an increase of 5 percent in November 2018 on an annual basis—a decline from 7.4 percent around the same period the previous year. There was a slight pullback in the purchase transactions during the most recent quarter, on the demand side, per the report. Sales transactions of 6.37 million were reported for the four quarters ending in Q3 2018. However, sales transactions declined by 0.6 percent in the third quarter—marking the 1st quarter of decreasing sales since 2014, the report pointed out. Despite this, the national seller’s market continued and now stands at 75 consecutive months, it found. On the inventory side, the month’s inventory in the 73 large metros stood at 3.6 months—data that is indicative of a strong seller’s market. There was a modest rise in the month’s inventory for the low (up 0.4 months to 2.8 months) in terms of price tiers. Low-med reflected an upward trend at 2.6 months. The med-high is at 4.2 months while the high stood at 7.6 months, both reflecting a considerable increase despite the cyclical lows, the report said. The report pointed out a continued rise in mortgage risk in September 2018. The composite Purchase National Mortgage Risk Index (NMRI) was up 0.4 percentage point from September 2017, it indicated. The report also found a pull back on home prices in the high-cost segment outside of the reach of government agencies, which tend to be more affected by rising mortgage rates, and in high-cost metros, especially on the West Coast. Author: Donna Joseph Donna Joseph Five Star Institute
  14. Brandon Farber

    Homeowners Feel the Shutdown’s Impact

    As the partial government shutdown enters its second week, its effects are not only being felt on federal agencies but also on the housing market as federal employees go without pay for the second consecutive week. This is, in turn, is affecting their ability to repay loans. According to the latest estimates, around 800,000 workers are either on furlough or required to work without pay. This includes employees of federal institutions like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Federal Contractors Losing Out On Friday, FEMA posted a stop work order that is likely to impact many open contracts. According to the Washington Post, in a note to federal contractors Bobby McCane, Head of FEMA's Contracting Activity said, "Any work done after the receipt of this notice is at your own risk and will not be reimbursed. I thank you for your assistance during this funding lapse." While many of the contractors affected by the FEMA shutdown are deep-pocketed tech companies and large government services firms such as AT&T and IBM, the Post said that small businesses and contractors were feeling the shutdown more sharply as they relied on these contracts to provide a large portion of their annual revenue. Effect on Borrowers The effects of the shutdown are now being felt on the housing market too as banks and credit unions announce assistance programs to help affected borrowers working in the government to tackle loan repayments. For example, Wells Fargo has said that it will work with "individuals and business banking customers whose income is disrupted as a result of the shutdown." Additionally, the bank has said that it has set up phone lines to help mortgage, loan, and credit customers who might qualify for forbearance or other payment assistance programs based on their individual circumstances. Chase has also offered hardship programs to customers who have been affected by financial strain, unemployment, or natural disasters. The bank has said that it will automatically waive or refund overdraft and monthly service fees on Chase checking and savings accounts if an employee’s salary from an affected federal agency was direct-deposited into the account in November 2018. “We’re here for our government worker customers whose pay may be disrupted,” said Thasunda Duckett, CEO of Consumer Banking at Chase. “We all hope this will be resolved soon.” About Author: Radhika Ojha Radhika Ojha, Online Editor at the Five Star Institute,
  15. Brandon Farber

    Here is your 2019 Tax Calendar!

    2019 Tax Calendar: 2019 and all of its tax deadlines are upon us! Below is a quick guide of the most important dates to keep in mind this calendar year. January 15th: due date to pay 4th quarter estimated taxes. January 31st: Due date to send out 1099s and W-2s to recipients. Due date to file 1099s/1096s with amounts in Box 7 and W-2s/W-3s with the IRS. February 28th: due date to file 1099s/1096s that do not have amounts in Box 7 if you are paper filing. March 15th: Due date to file S-Corp (1120S) and partnership (1065) returns Due date to elect S-Corp status for existing corporations or LLCs. April 1st: due date to file 1099s/1096s that do not have amounts in Box 7 if you are filing electronically. April 15th: Due date to file individual (1040), trust (1041), and C-Corp (1120) returns. Last day to make HSA contributions and contributions to the majority of retirement plans. Due date to pay 1st quarter estimated payments. May 15th: due date to file most nonprofit returns (Form 990). June 17th: due date to pay 2nd quarter estimated payments. September 16th: Due date for extended S-Corp and partnership tax returns. Due date to pay 3rd quarter estimated payments. October 1st: due date for extended trust returns. October 15th: Due date for extended individual tax returns and C-Corp returns. November 15th: due date to file extended nonprofit returns.
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