Monday, April 30, 2012

How To Clean Your Outdoor Gas Grill In Less Than 30 Minutes

Keep a clean grillRegardless of your hometown's climate, outdoor gas grill cooking can be a four-season endeavor. Just remembe to keep your grill clean.

According to Weber's annual GrillWatch Survey, less than 40% of grill owners clean their equipment with any bit of frequency, and 6 percent admit they've never cleaned their grill at all.

There are three main reasons to keep a clean grill. The first is that a clean, well-maintained grill will have a longer useful life than a dirty, sloppy one. Grills can be expensive and it's often less costly to maintain them than to replace them.

The second reason to keep a clean grill is for sanitary reasons. Over time -- especially when exposed to the elements -- a grill's finish can deteriorate and/or retained cooked foodstuffs. This can create a breeding ground for germs and disease.

And, lastly, a clean grill helps cooked foods taste better.

So, whether you've cleaned your equipment recently or never at all, it's always a good time to freshen up your grill. Here's how to do it, quickly :

  1. Remove the grates. Soak them in soapy water. Scrub foodstuffs using a wire brush. Allow to dry.
  2. Remove loose debris from bottom of grill.
  3. Using soapy solution, scrub grill's surfaces, grill pans, and grease trays. Don't forget the lid.
  4. Clean outside of grill with mild soap solution, treating rust areas with cooking oil.
  5. Look for broken, cracked or faulty equipment, specifically burners and ignitors. Replace as necessary.

Then, as a last step, re-assemble your grill and turn its burners to high for 10 minutes. This will burn off excess water in the grill and help to sanitize it.

Cleaning a gas grill is a 20-30 minute process. The results, however, are long-lasting. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Pending Home Sales Index Crosses The 100 Barrier

Pending Home Sales 2010-2012

After a series of worse-than-expected data last month, the housing market appears to be back on track.

The Pending Home Sales Index posted 101.4 in March, a four percent gain from the month prior and the index's highest reading since April 2010 -- the last month of that year's federal home buyer tax credit.

A "pending home" is a home under contract to sell, but not yet closed. The Pending Home Sales Index is tracked and published by the National Association of REALTORS® monthly.

The March report marks the index's first 100-plus reading in nearly two years.

To home buyers and sellers throughout Utah , this is statistically significant because the Pending Home Sales Index is normalized to 100, a value corresponding to the average home contract activity in 2001, the index's first year of existence. 2001 was an historically-strong year for the housing market.

The March 2012 Pending Home Sales Index, therefore, puts current market activity on par with market activity from 2001.

You wouldn't know it from reading this week's papers, though. There have been stories about how the Case-Shiller Index put home values at new loans; and how the Existing Home Sales figures unexpectedly dropped off; and how the New Home Sales report was a laggard.

But this is why the Pending Home Sales Index can be so important.

What makes the Pending Home Sales Index different from those other data points is that the Pending Home Sales Index is a "forward-looking" housing market indicator.

Unlike most data which aims to tell us how the housing market performed at some point in the past, the Pending Home Sales Index attempts to tell us how the housing market will perform at some point in the future. 

80% of homes under contract close within 2 months. Many more close within months 3-4. Therefore, on the strength of the March Pending Home Sales Index, we should expect a strong April and May nationwide

If you're shopping for homes right now, consider taking advantage while the market remains somewhat soft. Mortgage rates are low and home prices are, too. It can make for a good home-buying conditions.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Simple Explanation Of The Federal Reserve Statement (April 25, 2012)

Putting the FOMC statement in plain EnglishThe Federal Open Market Committee voted to leave the Fed Funds Rate unchanged within its current target range of 0.000-0.250 percent Wednesday.

For the fifth consecutive month, the Fed Funds Rate vote was nearly unanimous. Just one FOMC member, Richmond Federal Reserve President Jeffrey Lacker, dissented in the 9-1 vote.

The Fed Funds Rate has been near zero percent since December 2008. It is expected to remain near-zero through 2014, at least.

In its press release, the Federal Reserve noted that the U.S. economy has been "expanding moderately" since the FOMC's last meeting in March. Beyond the next few quarters, the Fed expects growth to "pick up gradually". 

This key phrase will likely be repeated by the press. It suggests that the economy is no longer contracting; instead moving along a path of slow, consistent expansion.  

In addition, the Fed acknowledged that "strains in global financial markets" continue to pose "significant downside risks" to long-term U.S. economic outlook. This is in reference to the sovereign debt concerns of Greece, Spain and Italy, and the potential for a broader European economic slowdown.

The Fed's statement included the following notes :

  1. The housing sector remains "depressed"
  2. Labor conditions have "improved in recent months"
  3. Household spending has "continued to advance"

Also, with respect to inflation, the Fed said that the higher oil and gasoline prices from earlier this year will affect inflation "only temporarily", and that inflation rates will return to stable levels soon.

At its meeting, the Federal Reserve neither introduced new economic stimulus, nor discontinued existing market programs. The Fed re-affirmed its intentions to hold the Fed Funds Rate at "exceptionally low" levels through late-2014, and to buy mortgage-backed bonds in the open market.

Immediately following the FOMC's statement, mortgage markets improved slightly, pressuring mortgage rates lower in South Jordan and nationwide.

The FOMC's next scheduled meeting is a two-day event slated for June 19-20, 2012.

New Home Sales Revised Higher In February; Slip 7% In March

New Home Sales 2011-2012Sales of new homes ticked lower in March, unexpectedly.

Based on Census Bureau data, the number of new, single-family homes sold in March slipped 7 percent from February -- the largest one-month drop in more than a year. 

On a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis, buyers in Utah and nationwide purchased 328,000 newly-built homes last month. The decrease in sales from February to March can be attributed, in part, though, to a massive upward revision in February's figures.

Last month, the Census Bureau had reported 313,000 new home sales in February on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis. This month, those sales were re-measured to be 353,000 -- an increase of 13 percent.

January's sales were revised higher, too.

The long-term trend in the market for new homes remains "up". This is no more apparent than when we look at the available new home inventory.

At the close of March, just 144,000 new homes were available for purchase, down 2,000 from the month prior and representing the most sparse new home housing supply since at least 1993, the year that the Census Bureau starting tracking such data. 

At the current pace of sales, the new home housing stock would be sold out in 5.3 months. A six-month supply is believed to represent a market in balance.

For new home buyers in Draper , March's New Home Sales report does not represent a housing market pull-back. It may represent opportunity, however.

From October 2011 to February 2012, housing data was uniformly strong. Home sales were higher, home supplies were lower, and confidence was rising. In March, it was the reverse. This is normal because growth is rarely linear. 

In any market, it's a few steps forward and a single step back, and housing is likely showing a similar pattern. With mortgage rates still low and builder confidence down, it's a terrific time to shop new construction.

There are deals to be found for buyers who seek them out. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Fed Starts A 2-Day Meeting Today. Make A Strategy.

Fed Funds Rate vs Mortgage Rates 1990-2012

The Federal Open Market Committee begins a 2-day meeting today in the nation's capitol. It's the group's third of 8 scheduled meetings this year. Mortgage rates are expected to change upon the Fed's adjournment.

Led by Chairman Ben Bernanke, the FOMC is a 12-person, Federal Reserve sub-committee. The FOMC is the group within the Fed which votes on U.S. monetary policy. "Making monetary policy" can mean a lot of things, and the action for which the FOMC is most well-known is its setting of the Fed Funds Funds.

The Fed Funds Rate is the overnight interest rate at which banks borrow money from each other. It's one of many interest rates set by the Fed.

However, one series of interest rates not set by the Fed is mortgage rates. Instead, mortgage rates are based on the prices of mortgage-backed bonds and bonds are bought and sold on Wall Street.

There is little historical correlation between the Fed Funds Rate and the common, 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate.

As the chart at top shows, since 1990, the Fed Funds Rate and the 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate have followed different paths. Sometimes, they've moved in the same direction. Sometimes, they've moved in opposite directions. 

They've been separated by as much as 5.29 percent at times, and have been as near to each other as 0.52 percent.

Today, that spread is roughly 3.65 percent. It's expected to change beginning 12:30 PM ET Wednesday. That's when the FOMC will adjourn from its meeting and release its public statement to the markets.

The FOMC is expected to announce no change in the Fed Funds Rate, holding the benchmark rate within in its current target range of 0.000-0.250%. However, how mortgage rates in and around Draper respond will depend on the verbiage of the FOMC statement. 

In general, if the Fed acknowledges that the U.S. economy as in expansion; growing from job growth and consumer spending, mortgage rates are expected to rise. If the Fed shows concern about domestic and global economic growth, mortgage rates are expected to fall. 

Any time that mortgage markets are expected to move, a safe play is to stop shopping your rate and start locking it. Today may be one of those times.

Monday, April 23, 2012

America's 20 Best Small Towns

America's Best Small TownsAmerica is stuffed with world-class "big cities"; New York, San Francisco and Chicago make for three great examples. But beyond the biggest cities, there are some wonderful small towns, too. highlights 20 of them on its website.

Focusing on cities with 25,000 residents or fewer, the publication ranked areas high in "culture"; towns with high concentrations of museums, public gardens, art galleries and other cultural assets including resident orchestras. 

The author states "big cities and grand institutions per se don't produce creative works; individuals do. And being reminded of that is fun".

The Top 10 Small Towns in America, as judged by :

  1. Great Barrington, Massachusetts
  2. Taos, New Mexico
  3. Red Bank, New Jersey
  4. Mill Valley, California
  5. Gig Harbor, Washington
  6. Durango, Colorado
  7. Butler, Pennsylvania
  8. Marfa, Texas
  9. Naples, Florida
  10. Staunton, Virginia

Other notable cities on the list include Princeton, New Jersey; Beckley City, West Virginia; and Siloam Springs, Arkansas.

The website provides an in-depth review of each of its twenty listed cities, including historical notes and quotes from key community members. It makes for good reading by local residents and visitors, alike.

Review the complete rankings online.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Existing Home Sales Slip In March

Existing Home Sales In March, for the second straight month, home resales slipped nationwide.

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, March 2012 Existing Home Sales fell to 4.48 million units on a seasonally-adjusted annualized basis -- a 3 percent drop from February.

An "existing home" is a home that's been previously occupied or owned.

The weaker-than-expected Existing Home Sales data is the third such housing report this month to suggest a lull in the spring housing market. Earlier this week, homebuilder confidence slipped for the first time in three months and March Single-Family Housing Starts fell, too.

The news wasn't entirely bad for home resales, however. Although total home units sold decreased, so did the number of homes available for sale. There were just 2.37 million homes for sale nationwide in March, a 2 percent drop from the month prior.

At the current pace of sales, therefore, the entire nation's home resale stock would "sell out" in 6.3 months. This is the second-fastest pace since the housing market's April 2007 peak.  

A 6-month supply is widely believed to represent a market in balance between buyers and sellers.

The March Existing Home Sales data shows that -- despite record-low mortgage rates nationwide -- buyer activity in South Jordan is slowing, and seller activity may be slowing, too.

So long as the two forces remain in balance, home prices should do the same. This is the law of Supply and Demand at work. 

However, if home sales continue to slide and home inventory builds, buyers may find themselves with an edge in negotiations. 

If you're planning to buy a home in 2012, the long-term housing trend is still toward recovery. This season may be a good time to look at your options. Talk to your real estate agent to see what's available. Low mortgage rates may persist, but low home prices may not.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Nevada Relinquishes "Top Foreclosure State" Title

Foreclosures March 2012

According to foreclosure-tracking firm RealtyTrac, foreclosure filings fell to 199,000 in March 2012, a 17 percent decrease from March 2011. Last month marks the first time since July 2007 that foreclosure filings numbered less than 200,000 on a monthly basis -- a span of nearly 5 years.

The generic term "foreclosure filing" is used to group all types of foreclosure activity into a single reading. It includes default notices, scheduled auctions, and bank repossessions. 

As in most months, foreclosure density varied by region. 6 states accounted for more than half of the nation's repossessed homes in March.

  • Florida : 13.6 percent of all bank repossessions
  • California : 12.0 percent of all bank repossessions
  • Georgia : 8.0 percent of all bank repossessions
  • Michigan : 7.5 percent of all bank repossessions
  • Arizona : 6.5 percent of all bank repossessions
  • Illinois : 6.4 percent of all bank repossessions

At the other end of the spectrum, North Dakota and Washington, D.C. were home to the fewest bank repossessions, with 0.03% and 0.02% of the national total, respectively.

Also noteworthy is that the RealtyTrac report revealed that Nevada relinquished its title as Top Foreclosure State after 62 consecutive top-ranking months. In March, 1 in every 301 Nevada homes received some form of a foreclosure filing. The March rate was a nation-topping 1 in 300 in neighboring Arizona.

For Draper home buyers, today's foreclosure market represents an interesting opportunity. 

Homes purchased while in the various stages of foreclosure can often be bought at lower prices relative to homes not in foreclosure. It's one of the reasons why foreclosed homes now account for 20 percent of all home resales

However, don't confuse less expensive for less costly.

Foreclosed homes are often sold "as-is" and may be in various stages of disrepair. Fixing a foreclosed home to make it habitable could wipe out the money saved on its price tag. Your best real estate "deal", therefore, may be a non-distressed home in sound, move-in ready condition.

If you're buying foreclosures -- or even considering it -- be sure to talk with a real estate agent first. The process of buying a foreclosed property is different from buying a "regular" home. You'll want somebody experienced on your team.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Single-Family Housing Starts Slip 0.2% In March

Housing Starts Tuesday, the government released its March 2012 New Residential Construction report. 

The report is made up of three sections, each related to a phase of the "new home" market. The report's first part is Building Permits; the second is Housing Starts; the third is Housing Completions.

Of the three sections, it's Housing Starts that gets the most attention from the press -- mostly because, of the triad, it's the simplest for a layperson to understand. However, the manner in which Housing Starts data is reported can be misleading.

Today's newspapers offer up an excellent example.

According to the Census Bureau, total Housing Starts fell by 6% in March as compared to the month prior. 654,000 units were started on a seasonally-adjusted annualized basis.

For Housing Starts, it's the lowest reading in 5 months, a statistic suggesting that the housing market may have lost some momentum. Much of the press covered the story from a "housing is slowing" angle.

A few published headlines include : 

Although these headlines are accurate, they tell just half of the story.

Housing Starts did drop in March, but if we remove a subset of the data -- structures with "5 or more units"; a grouping that includes condominiums and apartment buildings -- we're left with Housing Starts for single-family residences only. It's this data that matters most to buyers in South Jordan and nationwide. 

Few home buyers buy entire apartment buildings. Most buy single-family homes. 

In March, single-family Housing Starts were down 0.2% from the month prior, or just 1,000 units on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis.

That's hardly a drop at all.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Homebuilder Confidence Slips 3 Points In April

NAHB Housing Market IndexFor the first time in 3 months, homebuilder confidence has slipped. 

As measured by the National Association of Homebuilders, the Housing Market Index dropped three notches in April to a reading of 25. The report measures homebuilder confidence in the newly-built, single-family housing market. 

When the Housing Market Index reads 50 or better, it reflects favorable market conditions. Readings below 50 reflect unfavorable conditions.

According to the scale, not since April 2006 have housing market conditions have been deemed "favorable" but, recently, homebuilder confidence has picked up. Between September 2011 and March 2012, confidence doubled.

April's reading remains that second-highest since 2007.

So what does "builder confidence" mean? The formula is a little bit tricky.

The Housing Market Index is actually a composite figure. It's the combined result of three separate surveys sent to homebuilders monthly. The surveys ask about current single-family sales volume; projected single-family sales volume over the next 6 months; and current home buyer "foot traffic".

The NAHB compiles the results into the Housing Market Index.

In April, builder responses worsened on all 3 questions :

  • Current Single-Family Sales : 26 (-3 from March 2012)
  • Projected Single-Family Sales : 32 (-3 from March 2012)
  • Buyer Foot Traffic : 18 (-4 from March 2012)

At first glance, the data reveals a weakening market for newly-built homes and this may be true; we won't know for another few months whether April's confidence setback is an historical blip or the start of a trend. The change in builder psyche, though, is a change that today's new home buyers in Draper can exploit.

Two months ago, builders expected 2012 to be a banner year for home sales. Today, they're not so sure.

Buyers of new construction, therefore, may find it easier to negotiate with builders for price reductions, "free upgrades", and/or other concessions. Plus, with mortgage rates still resting near historical lows, financing a newly-built home is cheaper than at any time in recorded history.

The Spring Buying Season is underway. For buyers of new construction, there are deals to be found.

Monday, April 16, 2012

How To Use Newspapers To Kill Garden Weeds

Kill weeds with newspapersApril 22 is Earth Day, a day to raise awareness about, and to celebrate, the Earth's natural environment. It's also a day for people of South Jordan to do something good for the planet.

There are lots of ways to help the environment, including by reducing your net electricity usage, by conserving fresh water supplies, and by planting trees. You can also reduce the use of chemicals and pesticides in your home's garden or yard.

One such trick is replace chemical-heavy pesticides used for weed killing with your local newspaper instead. Newspapers can be effective in killing weeds, and preventing new ones from growing, while also protecting the Earth from contaminants.

The method is basic -- use a wet newspaper "carpet" blocks both sunlight and oxygen from reaching the soil, starving weeds that have already grown, and those that have yet to break soil.

Here's how to do it :

  1. Confirm that your newspaper uses soy-based ink -- most local dailies do.
  2. Stack a dozen pieces of newsprint and thoroughly wet it
  3. Place the wet pages on the area affected by weeds
  4. Cover the wet pages with a thin layer of mulch

That's it. Over several weeks, the covered weeds will decompose into the soil, providing nourishment to other plants and vegetation. If you find that the initial newsprint stack "failed", repeat the above steps, doubling up on the number of news pages and mulch.

Make sure that your newsprint is the "standard" newsprint, too. Avoid glossy circulars and coupon pages which use different paper and often use less Earth-friendly ink.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Mortgage Rates Fall For Third Straight Week

Freddie Mac Mortgage Rates

After a brief surge north of 4 percent last month, mortgage rates have settled down, near their lowest levels of all-time.  

According to Freddie Mac's weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey, for applicants willing to pay 0.7 discount points plus a complete set of closing costs, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate fell to 3.88 percent this week.

0.7 discount points adds $700 to your mortgage closing costs for each $100,000 borrowed.

Mortgage rates are down this week on "safe haven" buying. The move is triggered by Wall Street's concern that Spain and Italy will have trouble servicing their respective sovereign debt. In response, investors are selling risk-heavy assets and using the proceeds to purchase U.S. government-backed bonds.

This creates demand for mortgage bonds which, in turn, pressures mortgage rates lower.

The storyline is similar to what transpired in Greece last year, and, at least for now, it gives South Jordan home buyers reason to cheer. So long as economic uncertainty remains, mortgage rates may stay low.

Of course, like all things in real estate, though, mortgage rates are local. Rates offered by banks varied by region.

Freddie Mac's survey of 125 banks showed the following regional breakdown :

  • Northeast Region : 3.88% with 0.8 discount points 
  • West Region : 3.85% with 0.8 discount points
  • Southeast Region : 3.91% with 0.8 discount points
  • North Central Region : 3.89% with 0.6 discount points
  • Southwest Region : 3.90% with 0.8 discount points

The best mortgage "deals" are currently available to North Central Region residents. The most expensive loans are for those in the Southeast.

Relative to history, though, all mortgage rates look inexpensive. Conforming 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates have never been as low as they are today. It's a bonus for home buyers because cheap mortgage rate yield cheap mortgage payments. Home affordability remains near all-time highs.  

If you're unsure of whether now is a good time to buy or refinance, the answer is yes. Talk to your loan officer to review your mortgage options.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tax Tips : What To Do With Your Tax Refund

The typical U.S. taxpayer will receive roughly $3,000 in federal income tax refunds this year -- an average of $250 per month. So, what would you do with an extra $250 monthly? This segment from NBC's The Today Show offers some advice. 

Whether you've already filed your annual taxes for 2011, filed an extension, or will squeak by on the deadline, you could probably be doing more with your taxes. The above video shares some tips. It's four minutes of solid insight on tax refunds, tax withholdings, and reducing your household's overall "bad debt". There's something for everyone.

Among the points covered in the tax refund piece :

  • Consider changing your personal payroll exemptions so your 2012 refund is $0
  • Remember that refunds are not "free money" -- it's your money. Spend wisely.
  • Use your tax refund to fund retirement accounts

Advice is also shared about how to use your tax refund to fund a reserve account, or emergency fund. As a homeowner or home buyer in Draper , applying tax refunds to a savings accounts in this manner can go a long way. When you're a homeowner, maintenance costs can be sudden and unexpected. A furnace can explode, for example; or, a roof could spring a leak. Having money set aside for crisis is essential.

Having a savings account will also improve your household's long-term financial stability. 

As a reminder, in most years, federal income tax is due April 15. However, with Tax Day falling on a Sunday and with the federal government closed for a holiday the following Monday, U.S. taxpayers in Utah and nationwide get a reprieve until Tuesday, April 17, 2012.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Top 10 Cities In Which To Raise A Family

Great places to raise a familyLooking for a great place to raise a family? Forbes Magazine has a list that may help you.

Titled "The Best Cities For Raising A Family", Forbes has compiled and analyzed data from America's 100 largest metropolitan areas, accounting for seven lifestyle factors including cost of living, commuting ease, school quality, crime density, and home affordability.

Given these selection criteria, it's no surprise that Grand Rapids, Michigan took top honors. The area's low median income is offset by an extremely low cost of living and a school system that's among the best in the nation. Nearly 90% of the homes in Grand Rapids are affordable families earning the median income -- the seventh-highest affordability ranking in the country -- and commutes are quick.

Since the housing peak, home prices are down just 12% in Grand Rapids -- a figure below the national average.

The complete Top 10 list for the Forbes "The Best Cities For Raising A Family" piece were:

  1. Grand Rapids, Michigan
  2. Boise, Idaho
  3. Provo, Utah
  4. Youngstown, Ohio
  5. Raleigh, North Carolina
  6. Poughkeepsie, New York
  7. Omaha, Nebraska
  8. Ogden, Utah
  9. Cincinnati, Ohio
  10. Worcester, Massachusetts

Now, before you make a home-buying decision based on the Forbes report, remember that real estate is a local market and even city-wide statistics can be too broad to be helpful to everyday home buyers in South Jordan. Even within Grand Rapids, there are some neighborhoods that outperform in terms of home valuations and school quality, for example; and some areas from which a daily work commute may be more cumbersome. 

For accurate, real-time housing data for any of the above markets , be sure to ask a real estate professional.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Homes Get More Affordable On March Jobs Data

Unemployment Rate

Americans continue to get back to work.

Last Friday, in its Non-Farm Payrolls report for the month of March, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced 120,000 net new jobs created, plus combined revisions in the January and February reports of +4,000 jobs.

The March report marks the 18th straight month of job growth nationwide -- the first time that's happened in 5 years.

The Unemployment Rate dipped in March, too, falling one-tenth of one percent to 8.2%. This is its lowest national Unemployment Rate since February 2009.

Clearly, the jobs market is moving in the right direction. Yet, after the Non-Farm Payrolls report was released Friday morning, stock markets dropped and bond markets gained -- the opposite of what a casual market observer would expect.

It happened because, although job growth was strong, Wall Street decided it just wasn't strong enough. The market expected 200,000 jobs created in March at least and the actual reported figure fell short.

Lucky for you, Wall Street's pain is Main Street's gain. After the jobs report was released, mortgage rates immediately dropped to a 3-week low, making homes more affordable in Utah and throughout all 50 states.

The market's reaction is an excellent example of how important jobs data can be to home affordability -- especially in a recovering economy.

The economy shed 7 million jobs between 2008-2009 and has since added more than half of them back. Wall Street pays close attention to job creation because more working Americans means more consumer spending, and more consumer spending means more economic growth.

Rate shoppers caught a bit of a break on the March payroll data. By all accounts, the labor market recovery in underway and, as it improves, higher mortgage rates are likely nationwide. For now, though, there's a window for low mortgage rates that buyers and would-be refinancing households can try to exploit.

If you're actively shopping for a home or a mortgage, today's mortgage rates may be at "last chance"-like levels. Once rates rise, they're expected to rise for good.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Build Your Own Rain Barrel To Save Money, Environment

Rain barrelAccording to the EPA, during summer months, lawn and garden watering account for roughly 40% of a typical home's water use.

It's a statistic that reminds us how "green lawns" can be wasteful to both the environment and household budgets  -- especially with drought conditions expected and water costs rising in many U.S. municipalities.

As a homeowner in South Jordan , to help Mother Nature and your wallet, consider added a rain barrel to your home.

A rain barrel is a rain-capturing system that collects and stores water runoff from your roof. Often attached to a home's gutter system, a standard rain barrel collects and holds 55 gallons of water which can then be reused to water plants, wash cars, and clean driveways among other uses. Because the water is natural (i.e. not treated with chlorine or lime), it's also ideal for window washing.    

Rain barrels can be purchases at most hardware or garden stores, or online via, for example. Or, they can be hand-built.

To install your rain barrel, first find a location for it, either under a downspout or near one. Make sure to select a stable location because water weighs roughly 8 pounds per gallon. A full rain barrel will weigh over 400 pounds, therefore, so be sure the ground beneath the it is solid and flat.

Next, if your rain barrel is hand-built, use PVC piping to reroute falling water into the mouth of the barrel itself, making sure to create a water-tight seal between the piping and the downspout. Or, if you're using a store-bought rain barrel, follow the manufacturers instructions to "connect" the rain barrel to the downspout.

And, as the last step, be sure that the mouth of the rain barrel is protected from outside debris such as leaves, flowers and bugs. A formal lid or a covering made of wire mesh makes for a suitable protective cover. Most store-bought rain barrels will be sold with a covering.

That's it. Just remember that basic maintenance will be needed. Water caught by a rain barrel should be used regularly to prevent "standing water" and protective screens should be cleaned regularly.

For a step-by-step guide to building your own rain barrel at home, click here.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Jobs Report Due Friday; Mortgage Rates Expected To Change

Non-Farm Payrolls estimateIf you're out shopping for a home this week, or trying to lock a mortgage rate, with Friday comes home affordability risk. Consider locking your mortgage rate today.

The March Non-Farm Payrolls report is due for release Friday morning and mortgage rates are expected to move. Unfortunately for the home buyers and rate shoppers of Draper , we can't know in which direction that will be.

The prudent play may be to lock your mortgage rate today.

On the first Friday of each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its Non-Farm Payrolls report. More commonly called "the jobs report", the release is a bona fide market-mover, month after month. 

Depending on how the March jobs data reads, FHA and conforming mortgage rates could rise -- or fall -- by a measurable amount post-release. This is because today's mortgage market is closely tied to the economy, and the economy is closely tied to job growth.

The connection between jobs and mortgage rates is basic.

More workers leads to higher levels of consumer spending nationwide and consumer spending accounts for the majority of the U.S. economy.

In addition, when more workers are paid, more taxes are paid, too. Local, state and federal governments collect more monies when payrolls are rising which, in turn, benefits projects that purchase new goods and services, and, in many cases, results in the hiring of additional personnel.

Job creation can be a powerful, self-reinforcing cycle. 

Between 2008 and 2009, the economy shed 7 million jobs. It has since recovered half of them. Friday, analysts expect to count another 200,000 jobs created. If the actual number of jobs created exceeds estimates, look for stock markets to gain and bond markets to lose. This leads to higher mortgage rates -- especially with the Federal Reserve zeroed in on the labor market.

If the actual number of jobs created in March falls short of expectations, however, mortgage rates may fall.

Unfortunately, by the time the report is released, it will be too late to act on it. The release is made at 8:30 AM ET and bond markets are closed for Good Friday.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Fed Minutes Causes Mortgage Rates To Rise Suddenly

FOMC Minutes March 2012The Federal Reserve has released the minutes from its last FOMC meeting, a 1-day affair held March 13, 2012. Mortgage rates in Utah are rising on the news.

For the un-indoctrinated, 3 weeks after it meets, the Federal Open Market Committee, the sub-group within the Federal Reserve that votes on U.S. monetary policy, publishes its meeting minutes.

Similar to the minutes from a corporate event, or condominium association meeting, the Fed Minutes recounts the conversations and debates that transpired throughout the meeting.

The Fed Minutes is a lengthy publication, often filling 10 pages or more. By contrast, the more well-known publication from the FOMC -- its post-meeting press release -- tends to span 6 paragraphs or less.

The extra detail contained within the Fed Minutes is Wall Street fodder, especially given the current economic uncertainty. Investors look to the Federal Reserve for clues about what's next for the U.S. economy.

Lately, the minutes has made an out-sized impact on mortgage rates. The Fed's words continue to swing the mortgage-backed bond market.

Today is no different.

March's Fed Minutes is a dense one and markets are reacting. The text shows a central bank softly divided on future U.S. economic policy, and in debate about whether existing market stimulus should be removed.

The Fed has said that it's expecting high levels of unemployment and low levels of inflation in the coming months, an outlook that leaves little reason to introduce a third round of stimulus. This is the primary reason why mortgage rates in Draper have been climbing since the Fed Minutes' release.

Since mid-March, mortgage rates dropped on speculation that the Federal Reserve would introduce a mortgage bond purchase program this quarter. Today, those expectations have reversed.

According to the minutes, the Federal Reserve believes that additional market stimulus would only be necessary "if the economy lost momentum", or if inflation remained too far below 2 percent per year. Currently, Core PCE -- the Fed's preferred gauge of inflation -- is running slightly below 2 percent.

The Federal Reserve's next scheduled meeting is April 24-25, 2012 -- its third of 8 scheduled meetings this year.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums Increasing April 9, 2012

FHA MIP increasingPlanning to use an FHA-backed mortgage for your next home loan? You might want to get your application in gear today.

Beginning next week, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is changing the way it charges mortgage insurance to U.S. homeowners. For the fourth time since 2010, FHA mortgage insurance premiums are rising for all FHA-backed homeowners.

For FHA Case Numbers assigned on, or after, Monday, April 9, 2012, there are two planned changes.

First, FHA Upfront Mortgage Insurance Premiums (UFMIP) will increase by 75 basis points to 1.75%, or $1,750 per $100,000 borrowed. Upfront Mortgage Insurance Premium is paid at closing, and typically added to an FHA borrower's loan size.

The current UFMIP rate is 1.000 percent.

Second, annual FHA mortgage insurance premiums are rising. All new FHA-backed loans will be subject to a 10 basis point increase in annual mortgage insurance premiums, costing homeowners an extra $100 per $100,000 borrowed per year.

The new FHA annual mortgage insurance premium schedule follows :

  • 15-year loan term, loan-to-value > 90% : 0.60% MIP per year
  • 15-year loan term, loan-to-value <= 90% : 0.35% MIP per year
  • 15-year loan term, loan-to-value <= 78% : 0.00% MIP per year
  • 30-year loan term, loan-to-value > 95% : 1.25% MIP per year
  • 30-year loan term, loan-to-value <= 95% : 1.20% MIP per year

In addition, for loans above $625,500, beginning with FHA Case Numbers assigned on, or after, June 11, 2012, there will be an additional 25 basis point increase in annual MIP.

To calculate your monthly MIP obligation as a FHA homeowners, multiply your starting loan size by your insurance rate from the list above, then divide by 12.

Note that the FHA mortgage insurance changes apply to new FHA Case Numbers only. If you have an FHA mortgage approval in-process, or an existing FHA home loan, you are not subject to the new MIP schedule. To avoid paying the FHA's new MIP schedule, therefore, begin your FHA mortgage application today.

Once your FHA Case Number is assigned, you're locked in to today's lower premiums.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Spring Cleaning Shortcuts

Spring Cleaning ShortcutsIt's April in South Jordan and warmer weather is coming. It's Spring Cleaning season. Do you have a checklist?

In some households, spring cleaning is an annual ritual, taking anywhere from a full day to an entire week to complete. Room-by-room, foot-by-foot, dust, dirt and grime are replaced with cleanliness and shine.

No matter in which way to you choose to tackle your chores, though, the people at Real Simple have you covered. The magazine's website provides a thorough, detailed walk-through of the most common spring cleaning tasks. It also offers a "shortcut" series.

For example, the section of cleaning area rugs and rooms with wall-to-wall carpeting is a chore Real Simple lists as lasting "a morning". The shortcut version, however, is noted to take just 10 minutes.

Some of the other areas covered in the Real Simple spring cleaning guide include :

  • Windows (4-6 hours long version; 15 minutes each "shortcut" version)
  • Curtains (30 minutes per panel long version; 10 minutes per panel "shortcut" version)
  • Upholstery (25 minutes per piece of furniture long version; 5 minutes per piece of furniture "shortcut" version)

You'll need tools for your spring cleaning tasks including special cleansers, sponges, rags and vacuums. In some cases, you may want to rent equipment from a local hardware store. For example, deep-cleaning an area rug with a steam cleaner may be more time-effective than scrubbing it clean by hand.

Then, after completing the above chores, remember to flip your mattresses, change your air filters, and test your smoke alarm batteries.

Keep track of what you've done, and what's left to do, with this classic, 3-page Spring Cleaning Checklist from Martha Stewart.