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October Checklist for a Smooth-Running Home

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From the first crisp mornings spent raking leaves, to the last exciting days preparing for trick-or-treaters, October is usually a busy month around the house. Work your way through the tasks on our checklist, and by the end of the month you’ll have your home winter-ready—and a bit more beautiful, to boot.

1. Clean rain gutters after leaves fall. Leaves and other debris that clog your rain gutters can cause leaks, so it is best to get to this chore as soon as possible after most of the autumn leaves have fallen. If your home is more than one story, hire a pro.

2. Repair roof and siding. If you see any damaged areas to your roof, siding or shingles, it is important to take care of the problem before winter storms come through.

3. Scrub and store outdoor furniture and tools. Rather than leave furniture out in bad weather, put it away in a shed or the basement. This month, also aim to clean your gardening tools and put them away neatly.

4. Give your porch a makeover. Sweep away the summer sand, refresh pots with fall flowers, clean front windows and use a broom or soft brush to clean up siding. An armful of decorative gourds and pumpkins makes an easy display that will last all month.

5. Shut off outdoor faucets and roll hoses. Freezing temperatures can damage hoses and water pipes, so be sure to shut off faucets and empty hoses of water before the first big freeze.

6. Check safety devices. Every home should have a carbon monoxide detector, as well as smoke detectors positioned throughout the house. Take a moment to test that yours are in working order, and change batteries if needed.

7. Sort and store clothing. Shift warm-weather clothes and accessories to an out-of-the-way closet in bins with tight-fitting lids. And be sure to store only freshly laundered items—bugs are attracted to dirty clothes but usually leave clean garments alone.

To view original article visit: http://fnhw.us/2aTjfY4

Homeowners Ask: Is It Too Early for an End-of-Season Cleanup?

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The answer is no!

Summer is coming to a close, and for homeowners, now is the time to conduct property maintenance ahead of the change of season. Get a head start on winter weather with these end-of-season projects:

Remove thatch build-up. Thatch prevents moisture, oxygen and sunlight from reaching soil, potentially inhibiting the growth of (and harming) the lawn.

Perforate the lawn to allow air, fertilizer and water to strengthen its roots and reduce compacted soil.

Feed the lawn with a slow-release fertilizer to allow grass to soak up nutrients that will help it recover from summer heat and stress.

Store the lawn mower. Consult the owner’s manual for best practices when disposing of unused gasoline and storing.

Plant spring bulbs, like daffodils and tulips, if the climate permits. (Planting too early can cause them to sprout before winter!)

Water shrubs and trees once they go dormant (but before the ground freezes). Use a root irrigator or soaker hose.

Stow hoses. Inspect the hoses thoroughly before putting them away for the winter – check for leaks around connectors, and drain all water out of the hose.

High-Tech Homes One of Most Requested Changes

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Powered by convenience, houses are turning high-tech and wired with the latest options for contemporary living. Many homeowners are requesting the ability to access their homes’ security and services from a tablet or smartphone, even when they are miles away.

There are a number of ways to turn your home today into the house of the future.

Connect everything. The first step to a high-tech home takes place behind the scenes by adding low-voltage wiring. Telephone, intercom, alarm systems, audio, video, data, HVAC and networking capabilities can all be connected through wiring and cabling infrastructure within the home.

Enhance security. Many high-tech homeowners are replacing costly security systems and monitoring services with surveillance cameras that can be controlled, along with entry and garage doors, with a single system via smartphone.

Lighten up. LED lights are extremely energy efficient and a great product for a great price. Many companies have created cool lighting systems that provide solutions, such as geofencing technology, to provide lighting control with just a tap on a smartphone screen.

Control the kitchen. A number of appliance manufacturers have joined the wireless trend by providing apps that allow for wireless control, one of which a homeowner can use to start and pre-heat the oven. Another recently announced technology can even check the contents of the refrigerator while the homeowner is still at the grocery store.

Take it outside. Smartphone-operated flat-screen televisions and surround-sound systems continue to be popular outdoor living upgrades. Embellish it all with a fire table or an outdoor fireplace.

Credit Confused? What to Know About Your Score

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Credit-confused? You’re not alone. Most of us have trouble understanding the impact some actions may have on our credit scores, though many of us do know the basics.

Just half of those surveyed recently by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and VantageScore Solutions know that their lender must inform them about the lender’s use of a credit score in the mortgage application process, for instance, and less than half of those surveyed wrongly believe that marital status is a factor in the calculation of credit scores.

Many of us also underestimate the consequences of a low credit score, the survey found: only one-fifth of those surveyed know a low score can increase the cost of a loan.

Some of us are even in the dark when it comes to non-creditor use of our credit scores. Half of those surveyed did not know that utility companies may factor scores into the decision on the initial deposit for service, and one-third did not know that home insurance providers and landlords might also factor scores into their decisions.

“The good news is that consumers understand the basics of credit scores, such as the importance of making loan payments on time,” said Stephen Brobeck, CFA’s executive director, in a statement. “The bad news is that this knowledge is limited and, each year, can cost them hundreds of dollars in fees on services and additional interest on consumer loans.”

In addition to making loan payments consistently and on time, checking credit report(s), keeping credit card balances low and refraining from opening new credit accounts are all credit-wise actions, according to CFA.

Source: Consumer Federation of America (CFA)

Report: Investment Home Prices Beat Traditional Home Prices in July

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Median prices for investment housing are growing at a faster rate than owner-occupied home prices in July, according to the new home sales reports. Prices for investment housing – both financed and all-cash – jumped 7.1 percent to $213,300, while the median price for owner-occupied homes increased 4.0 percent to $274,500 in July.

“Investor demand for single-family rentals (SFRs) remains strong, as evidenced by the overall decline in cap rates in July,” explains Steve Hovland, a real estate research analyst. Cap rates for all types of investment housing dropped 50 basis points to 5.1 percent, cash cap rates retreated 60 basis points to 6.0 percent and leveraged investment cap rates declined 20 basis points to 4.4 percent.

“Overall, the housing market remains solid, although we’ve started to see evidence of moderating price growth nationwide,” says Hovland. “This slower price growth is correlated to the seasonality of the housing market: we are coming off a frenzied spring buying season that is beginning to cool.” Although home prices are expected to decline in the fall months, the overall supply/demand imbalance will keep values elevated and many first-time buyers on the sidelines. As a result, downward pressure on the already record-low home-ownership rate will persist through the end of the year.

Freddie Mac Sees Home Prices Rising in 2016 and 2017

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yellow bungalow

Despite the stock market recovering all of its losses — oh and hitting new all-time highs — Freddie Mac believes that the international concerns from the slowing growth in China and the U.K.’s Brexit vote have played a major role in driving mortgages lower.

Freddie Mac’s most recent Primary Mortgage Market Survey showed that the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to a rate of 3.41%. This is within striking distance of an all-time low. Freddie Mac also said that this should boost housing activity, particularly refinancing activity.

Freddie Mac’s latest economic and housing price outlook is still calling for growth on both fronts (housing and economy). The forecast calls for growth to rebound in the second half of 2016, with gross domestic product (GDP) rising 1.9% in 2016 and then rising 2.2% in 2017.

Where this gets interesting for new home buyers is that Freddie Mac now forecasts lower-than-expected mortgage rates. The monthly forecast said:

In light of recent global pressures, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage forecast has been revised down for both 2016 (by 30 basis points) and 2017 (by 50 basis points) to 3.6 percent and 4.0 percent, respectively. … Based on these low mortgage rates, expect the refinance share of originations to rise to 49 percent for 2016, 8 percentage points above last month’s forecast. This translates to about $100 billion more in originations, bringing the total for 2016 to $1,825 billion. The house price appreciation forecast for 2016 remains at 5.0 percent, and in 2017, 4.0 percent.

Sean Becketti, chief economist at Freddie Mac, said:

With the U.K.’s decision to exit from the European Union, global risks increased substantially leading us to revise our views for the remainder of 2016 and all of 2017. Nonetheless, the turbulence abroad should continue to create demand for U.S. Treasuries and keep mortgage rates near historic lows; thereby, allowing home sales to have their best year in a decade, along with a boost in refinance activity.

Freddie Mac’s forecast for unemployment, factoring in June versus May data, is now called to average 4.9% in 2016 and 4.8% in 2017.

All in all this is one of those reports that could have been titled “Let The Good Times Roll.”

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Screened-in Porches a Hot Commodity during Summer Selling Season

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For those looking to purchase a home, screened-in porches are quickly becoming a feature that can’t be overlooked. Not only do they provide protection against insects, they also offer shade from the sun and shelter from the rain, while letting inhabitants feel as though they’re savoring the natural world outside. Even more appealing is the fact that screened-in porches decrease ground temperatures, saving homeowners from spending an arm and a leg on cooling costs during the hot summer months.

Screened-in porches also go a long way toward reducing the amount of sunlight that reaches adjacent interior rooms. Additional levels of comfort can easily be incorporated into the space by adding recessed lighting, pendant lights and ceiling fans.

For those getting ready to put their home on the market, adding screens to an existing porch can go a long way toward attracting a larger pool of prospective buyers. In addition to helping your home stand out from the competition, taking the time to add screens to an existing structure will more than likely pay off when the home is sold.

If your property doesn’t currently have a screened-in porch – or you recently bought a spot that lacks this alluring amenity – you may want to consider incorporating one into the space if you have the room. However you decide to proceed, keep in mind that adding a porch won’t do anything to increase the total square footage of the home.

While there are numerous options to be considered when deciding which materials you’ll use to build a porch from the ground up – or add to an existing structure – experts suggest designing the porch in three phases: flooring, exterior materials and interior trim. Everything from pressure-treated Yellow Southern Pine to vinyl and up-cycled composites can be considered.

Before you get started, it’s important to carefully consider the positioning of the door so that it best suits your specific needs. For instance, you can build your screened-in porch with a door that leads directly into the house, or you can position the door to allow for easy entry from a pool or outside dining area. In most instances, aluminum doors are recommended because wood doors tend to warp over time.

You’ll also want to consider how you’d like the ceiling to look. Flat ceilings will provide an interior room feel, while vaulted or cathedral ceilings will allow for better ventilation.

If you’re not up to the task of building a screened-in porch with your own two hands, hiring a professional contractor will take the work out of the process. Not only will a contractor be up-to-date in regard to zoning laws, they can also deal with any issues that might pop up along the way.

Survey: Saving a Top Priority For Millennials, but Impulse Spending a Major Barrier

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One in three millennials (34 percent) ranked saving as their No. 1 goal for the year – ahead of living a healthy lifestyle (20 percent), paying off debt (19 percent), and losing weight (14 percent). But while saving was a top priority, a majority of millennials attributed their lack of saving to impulse buying (65 percent).

According to a recent survey from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the Ad Council, for older millennials – those born between the early 1980s and early 1990s – saving is crucial as they work toward major milestones in their lives. When asked what they were saving money toward, respondents sought to secure their future by saving for an emergency fund (40 percent), saving for retirement (22 percent) or starting a family (15 percent). They also reported saving for larger purchases like a vacation (36 percent), a new house (27 percent), a car (26 percent), home improvements (20 percent), or a wedding (8 percent).

To provide Americans aged 25 to 34 with the tips and tools to take control of their personal finances, AICPA and the Ad Council’s national advertising campaign, Feed the Pig, is continuing to collaborate with new partners to deliver this critical content in a relevant and engaging way.

“Many young adults think saving is impossible,” says Gregory Anton, CPA, CGMA, chair of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. “While low salaries and high debt levels can certainly be barriers to saving, the key is to create a budget and stick to it. Establishing a disciplined saving strategy early in life and avoiding missteps will reap substantial long-term dividends.”

In addition to impulse buying and lack of budgeting, an overwhelming majority of young adults say that their current salary (84 percent), having too many bills (81 percent), paying down debt (79 percent) and not establishing a personal budget (62 percent) are impediments to saving more. Regardless of the reason, almost half (44 percent) of those surveyed did not pay their full credit card balance each month or borrowed money from friends or family. Forty-one percent had less than $100 in their checking account, 30 percent paid a late or overdraft fee, and 23 percent missed a bill payment.

Over half (55 percent) of the young adults surveyed admitted that they were impulse shoppers, defined as making an unplanned purchase of $30 or more on a daily or weekly basis. Impulse buyers are more likely than those who never or rarely make an impulse purchase to have carried a balance on their credit card (45 percent vs. 35 percent) and have paid a late or overdraft fee (31 percent vs. 21 percent).

The Internet is viewed as a positive by millennials as an overwhelming majority (92 percent) agree that it has made it easier to get the best deal and 88 percent agree that they comparison shop for the lowest price before making a purchase. However, approximately one in four (28 percent) have seen a big ticket item they purchased for a lower price than they paid in the past year – underscoring the importance of being diligent when shopping for big ticket purchases.

“The good news is that millennials are internalizing the message that saving is important, but they still need help creating habits that stick,” says Ad Council President and CEO Lisa Sherman. “We’re excited to collaborate with partners like Facebook and Games for Change to create new tools and content that will help make saving easier and more accessible for millennials.”

The Feed the Pig website offers a range of interactive tools, including calculators, podcasts and free subscriptions to weekly saving tips via email and text message to help foster positive saving habits.

To date, the Feed the Pig campaign has received more than $382 million in donated media through the Ad Council’s model. The CPA profession launched a unified financial literacy initiative, 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy, 12 years ago. The effort brought together the AICPA, state CPA societies, and individual CPAs to address financial illiteracy.

Source: AICPA; The Ad Council

Brexit Vote Drives Down Mortgage Rates, Results Show

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Slow growth in China and the Brexit vote in the U.K., have played a major role in driving down mortgage rates, according to Freddie Mac’s recently released monthly Outlook for July. In the most recent Primary Mortgage Market Survey, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.41 percent, just slightly above the all-time record low. This is likely to result in a boost in housing activity, particularly refinance, as homeowners take advantage of the current low rates.

“With the U.K.’s decision to exit from the European Union, global risks increased substantially leading us to revise our views for the remainder of 2016 and all of 2017,” says Sean Becketti, chief economist, Freddie Mac.

“Nonetheless, the turbulence abroad should continue to create demand for U.S. Treasuries and keep mortgage rates near historic lows; thereby, allowing home sales to have their best year in a decade, along with a boost in refinance activity.”

Results lead experts to expect growth rebound in the remaining quarters of 2016 to show GDP at 1.9 and 2.2 percent in 2016 and 2017. In light of recent global pressures, the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage forecast has been revised down for both 2016 (by 30 basis points) and 2017 (by 50 basis points) to 3.6 percent and 4.0 percent, respectively.

Based on these low mortgage rates, expect the refinance share of originations to rise to 49 percent for 2016, 8 percentage points above last month’s forecast. This translates to about $100 billion more in originations, bringing the total for 2016 to $1,825 billion.

With June’s much-improved employment report over May’s release, expect unemployment to average 4.9 percent in 2016 and 4.8 percent in 2017.

The house price appreciation forecast for 2016 remains at 5.0 percent, and in 2017, 4.0 percent.

For more information, visit www.freddiemac.com.

5 Ways to Save Money and Energy This Summer

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Home improvements may improve the value of your home, but they often cost you a lot more. What if you could improve your home and save money at the same time? Summer is one of the best times of year to make some changes around your home that can help save energy, and therefore, save you money as well. These five home projects are designed to help make your home more energy efficient – even during one of the most energy-heavy times of year – so you can save and enjoy your home more this summer.

1) Maintain Your HVAC Unit
Your HVAC and AC unit need to be serviced each year, usually sometime in the spring or summer. Doing so can not only help ensure that it’s working when the temperatures hit their peak, it can also help save you money as well. Air conditioning maintenance helps ensure your unit is working at peak efficiency by keeping it clean and replacing any worn parts. This quick, yearly visit by a technician will help ensure your AC unit is working the way you want it to, when you want it to.

Cost
The cost of annual air conditioning maintenance averages out to around $100, but can go as high as $150, if you wait until the days are at their hottest.

Tips to Save Even More
Your AC’s filter is your best defense against dirt building up inside. Make sure you change it regularly to help the unit run more efficiently, which will help keep your monthly bills down.

DIY or Not?
Your HVAC unit should always be inspected and maintained by a qualified technician.

2) Repair Window Leaks
Did you know that even if your window isn’t leaking water when it rains, it could still be leaking air and raising your energy bills? Poor air seal or a large gap around your windows can account for as much as 40 percent of the money you use to heat and cool your home – a significant amount that just flies right out the window. Replacing your windows can help fix the air seal and save you a lot of money on your energy bills each month thereafter.

Cost
The average cost to replace your windows is about $830 for a vinyl sash window, but can go as high as $2650 for a wooden bay window replacement.

Tips to Save Even More
Replace only the worst windows first, then use caulk to seal up the edges of the other windows to help stop energy loss while you wait to replace them all.

DIY or Not?
Window replacements should be carried out by professionals, but you can seal up air leaks yourself in the meantime.

3) Install an Attic Fan
The attic is often overlooked as one area that is responsible for a lot of the heat gain in your home. Attics often become superheated in the summer months with the combination of rising heat from below and the sun beating down from above. Installing an attic fan can help drop the temperature in your attic, which will prevent heat transfer back down into the rest of your home, making it more comfortable and lowering your energy bills.

Cost
The average cost of installing an attic fan is around $275 for a fan that can cool up to 2,500 square feet. Total costs can go as high as $321 for a fan that can cool 3,000 square feet.

Tips to Save Even More
Install a solar powered fan, which will cool your attic and won’t cost anything to run.

DIY or Not?
Attic fans should always be installed by a licensed electrician to minimize the risk of electric shock.

4) Install Window Shades
A lot of people assume that installing draperies is enough to give you the privacy and light blocking that you need. But if you live in a climate that sees a lot of sun in the summer months, drapes alone may not be enough to stop solar heat transfer through your windows. Installing window shades can help dramatically reduce the heat gain in your home, keeping things cool and comfortable inside, while helping to keep your energy bills down.

Cost
The average cost of installing window shades is around $500 to $600 for eight honeycomb shades. Total costs range from $250 for eight roller shades to $650 for eight Roman shades.

Tips to Save Even More
Make sure that your shades have a white, reflective surface on the side facing the windows to ensure that they will truly block the light and heat from entering your home.

DIY or Not?
You can easily install shades yourself with minimal tools and a few hours of time to save even more money.

5) Insulate Your Attic
The vast majority of homes are under-insulated, which means that a lot of the money you spend to heat and cool your home is going to waste. Attics in particular are in great need of extra insulation, because of the heat gain from the sun beating down on your roof, which can lead to your whole home rising in temperature. Adding some attic insulation will help keep your whole home cooler and more comfortable all summer long, resulting in lower AC bills.

Cost
The average cost to insulate an attic is around $897 for blown-in cellulose insulation in a 1,500 square feet space. Total costs range from $617 for R-13 roll insulation installed DIY to $1501 for R-19 roll insulation.

Tips to Save Even More

  • Insulate the underside of your roof deck as well as your attic to help block additional heat transfer.
  • Use the highest R-factor insulation that you can afford to get the most energy savings.

DIY or Not?
It is possible to install roll insulation yourself, but blown-in insulation should be done by a professional.

Save Energy, Save Money
No one likes to take on projects during the dog days of summer, but these five projects can help make your home a lot more comfortable and energy efficient once you’re done. Take on these five projects any time this summer to help get the most out of this time of year. To find out more about what things cost on typical home improvement projects, be sure to visit both of these Cost Guides.