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May 26, 2017

Freddie Mac: Mortgage rates now sit at lowest level in 2017

Freddie Mac Rates as of 5/25

VIA HousingWire.Com BY: Brena Swanson

30-year mortgage rate falls below 4%

As forecasted, mortgage rates continued to drop in the latest Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey. And not only did rates drop, but they now sit at their lowest mark of the year.

Last week, mortgage rates fell slightly, but remained above the 4% mark. Freddie Mac Chief Economist Sean Becketti said at the time, “The 30-year mortgage rate fell three basis points this week to 4.02%. However, this week’s survey closed prior to Wednesday’s flight to quality.”

The latest survey results showed that the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.95% for the week ending May 25, 2017. This is down from last week when it averaged 4.02%, but up from 3.64% a year ago. 

The 15-year FRM averaged 3.19%, down from last week when it averaged 3.27%. In 2016, the 15-year FRM averaged 2.89%. 

In addition, the 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage averaged 3.07% this week, falling from last week’s 3.13%. A year ago at this time, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.87%.

“As we predicted, the 30-year mortgage rate fell seven basis points this week in a delayed reaction to last week’s sharp drop in Treasury yields. The survey rate stands at 3.95% today, a new low for the year,” said Becketti about this week’s rates.

Posted in Mortgage
May 25, 2017

This Regulatory Change Means a Credit Score Boost for 12 Million Americans

Credit Being Given

VIA The Motley Fool BY Sean Williams

Whether you realize it or not, your credit score and credit report will play an important role in your life -- and I'm not just talking about your ability to get a home loan or open a new credit card. Though most Americans probably associate their credit scores with buying a home, their credit report can have so much more bearing than they realize.

Your credit report is a gateway to opportunity (or peril)

For example, your credit report can be a puzzle piece that determines whether you get the apartment or house you want to rent or the job of your dreams. It's commonplace for landlords to request a peek at your credit report. If they see any accounts sent to collections, repossessions, or a history of late payments, you could be denied an apartment or house to rent.

Likewise, employers may request a look at a prospective employee's credit report to size up your character. If you have few black marks on your credit report, it could demonstrate to an employer that you're responsible. If you have multiple issues, it may be a red flag.

The same can be said for insurance companies and utility accounts. Insurers have found through statistical studies that consumers with poor credit are costlier than those with excellent credit, therefore people with bad credit tend to be charged higher premiums. Utilities, such as for water and electricity, can't deny service to a customer because of their credit history, but they can request a hefty deposit before starting service if your credit report is filled with black marks.

Traditionally, FICO scores are the most popular credit score measure. Ranging from a low of 300 to a high of 850, the higher your score, the more leverage you'll have when negotiating for a loan. Push your credit score into excellent territory (750 and higher) and you'll potentially even have lenders fighting for your business.

This regulatory change means a credit score boost for millions of Americans

According to data from FICO, which was aggregated by Bankrate, the average credit score across America hit an all-time high of 699 in April 2016. The approximate range of a "good" credit score is 700 to 749, putting Americans on the precipice of hitting the "good" credit score mark of 700 for the first time ever.  

However, a change in regulations expected to take effect around the beginning of July at the three credit reporting bureaus -- Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian -- will likely push the average American's credit score north of 700 .

According to the Consumer Data Industry Association, which represents the aforementioned credit reporting bureaus, most tax liens and civil judgments (e.g., a creditor taking a borrower to court over an unpaid debt) will be removed from people's credit scores by roughly July 1. In order for a tax lien or civil judgment to remain on a credit report, it would have to list three data points: a person's name, their address, and either their Social Security number or date of birth. It's uncommon that tax liens or civil judgments contain all three or four of these data points, meaning an expected 12 million people will see these negatives removed from their credit reports. As a result, just under 11 million Americans are expected to see up to a 20-point improvement in their credit score, while around 700,000 Americans could see a 20-to-40-point improvement in their FICO score.

Why make the move now, you wonder? It just so happens that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a report earlier this month highlighting a number of shortcomings at the three credit reporting bureaus. One of those deficiencies was a need to improve standards for public-records data by using improved identity-matching criteria.

Long story short, millions of Americans could appear considerably more creditworthy to lenders in the second half of 2017.

Three key credit score takeaways

This regulatory change is great news for about 12 million people, but it also brings a few important credit score points into greater focus.

First, given the number of changes that could be ongoing at the credit reporting bureaus in the weeks and months to come, it's important that you stay on top of your personal credit report and examine it for errors at least once annually. A 2013 Federal Trade Commission study found that one in five people have an error on their credit reports, which can drag down your score, hurt your ability to get a loan, and possibly increase your loan costs via higher interest rates and fees. You can view your credit report from all three bureaus for free once annually at AnnualCreditReport.com. Being proactive now can save a lot of hassle later.

Second, don't forget the basics of what FICO is looking for when calculating your credit score. Sure, 12 million Americans are set to receive the gift of a credit boost, but that still doesn't beat the basics that really dictate your FICO score. Though FICO keeps its precise formula a closely guarded secret, here are the five factors that matter, along with their relative weighting in determining your credit score:

  • Payment history (35%)
  • Credit utilization (30%)
  • Length of credit history (15%)
  • New credit accounts (10%)
  • Credit mix (10%)

As you can see, just paying your accounts on time and keeping your total credit utilization under 30% account for a combined 65% of your credit score. Beyond that, keeping good-standing accounts open for a long time, restraining yourself from opening too many new accounts, and proving your ability to handle both installment and revolving accounts make up the remaining 35%.

Finally (and this is for you investors out there), be mindful that this sudden increase in credit scores doesn't mean that consumers' credit habits have improved one iota. Consumers' credit habits are unlikely to change between today and July 1, meaning lenders could find themselves at a higher risk of loan defaults as these tax liens and civil judgments are removed from people's credit reports.

5 Simple Tips to Skyrocket Your Credit Score Over 800!

Increasing your credit score above 800 will put you in rare company. So rare that only 1 in 9 Americans can claim they’re members of this elite club. But contrary to popular belief, racking up a high credit score is a lot easier than you may have imagined following 5 simple, disciplined strategies. You’ll find a full rundown of each inside our FREE credit score guide. It’s time to put your financial future first and secure a lifetime of savings by increasing your credit score. Simply click here to claim a copy 5 Simple Tips to Skyrocket Your Credit Score over 800.

 

Sean Williams has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Posted in Finance
May 24, 2017

Scented laundry products release carcinogens, study finds

Washing machine_Legs

VIA CBS News BY Ryan Jaslow

(CBS) Scented laundry detergent and dryer sheets make laundry smell great - but do they cause cancer?

A small study suggests scented laundry items contain carcinogens that waft through vents, potentially raising cancer risk.

"This is an interesting source of pollution because emissions from dryer vents are essentially unregulated," said lead author Dr. Anne Steinemann, professor of civil and environmental engineering and of public affairs at the University of Washington, said in a written statement. "If they're coming out of a smokestack or tail pipe, they're regulated, but if they're coming out of a dryer vent, they're not."

Previous studies have looked at what chemicals are released by laundry products, since manufacturers don't have to disclose ingredients used in fragrances or laundry products.

Needless to say, these researchers weren't thrilled with what they found.

For the study - published in the August issue of Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health - researchers enlisted two homeowners to volunteer their washers and dryers, which the team scrubbed clean beforehand. The researchers ran a regular laundry cycle for three scenarios in each home: once without any detergent, once with a scented liquid laundry detergent, and the last with both scented detergent and a leading brand of scented dryer sheets.

Their analysis found more than 25 "volatile" air pollutants - including the carcinogens acetaldehyde and benzene.

Benzene causes leukemia and other blood cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. Acetaldehyde has been shown to cause nasal and throat cancer in animal studies.

Steinemann thinks agencies focus too much on limiting other pollution sources when they should look closer to home.

"We focus a lot of attention on how to reduce emissions of pollutants from automobiles," she said. "And here's one source of pollutants that could be reduced."

The American Cleaning Institute, however, Steinemann's study, calling the findings "shoddy science" that didn't take into account many factors like washing machine brands, different load cycles, and non-scented products.

"Consumers should not be swayed by the sensationalist headlines that may come across the Internet related to this so-called research," the Institute emailed CBS News.

Posted in Health
May 23, 2017

How long can Orange County housing stay expensive? (Hint: A long time)

OC Mansion CDM

VIA OCRegister.com By  

Are the finances of Orange County homebuying out of whack?

At least by one measure, a home purchase’s financial hit to a typical household budget is nearing the insanity of the housing bubble of a decade ago. And these recent costs are even on par with the late 1980s housing boom, when inflation is factored into the equation.

A strong job market and a shortage of homes to buy has created rising home prices. Toss in higher interest rates and you get one estimate of recent homebuyers’ monthly payments at a nine-year high. CoreLogic says a typical buyer in March who financed their Orange County purchase would be paying $3,228 a month on the mortgage. CoreLogic arrives at the estimate by studying public details on each purchase mortgage made.

That’s a jump of $266 a month or 9 percent in a year. And it’s up $1,280 a month, or 66 percent, since the cyclical bottom in December 2011. (Yes, that was the time to buy!)

This recent jump in house pricing — and CoreLogic’s math includes newly built and existing single-family homes, townhomes and condos — is certainly a jolt to any house hunter’s budget. But it’s not unfamiliar territory for the Orange County market.

CoreLogic stats show between June 2004 and February 2008 this measure of homebuyer payments ran above March 2017’s level. But that era’s housing market — clearly overheated by easy lending terms — soon collapsed into the Great Recession.

Then factor inflation into the math. That makes housing costs in the middle of last decade look even sillier: One-third higher at that insanity’s peak vs. the latest costs. Ouch!

Curiously, when you look at inflation-adjusted mortgage payments back even further, you learn that 1989’s inflation-adjusted house payment for a buyer basically equaled today’s costs.

In those days, a booming local economy had a few dark clouds on the horizon. Unemployment had dipped below 4 percent, much like it has done lately. Plus, another similarity to 2017: a burgeoning local slow-growth movement threatened a needed supply of new residences.

Yes, the Orange County price tags looked leaner. The median selling price for all residences in 1989 peaked at $218,000. For March 2017, it was $665,000. Yet local paychecks were being stretched three decades ago, too. Orange County’s median household incomes ran around $40,000 as the 1980s ended. Today, it’s pushing $90,000.

Yes, home prices have essentially tripled. Incomes grew, but not as much. But I didn’t instantly recall this tidbit: the typical rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage 28 years ago was slightly above 10 percent. That is T-E-N percent. And some folks complain we’re now above 4 percent.

Three decades of inflation also has roughly doubled the costs of everyday goods. To jog your memories: In 1989, postage stamps were a quarter; gasoline ran about a buck a gallon, and a movie ticket would often cost you $4. Another “bargain” of that day: After the second stock market crash in two years, the Dow Jones Industrial Index fell to just above 2,000 in late 1989. It’s above 20,000 this month.

So, an Orange County buyer’s typical house payment in June 1989 was $1,679 — roughly half of 2017. But converted into today’s dollars to account for inflation, that payment translates to $121 more a month than the average payment this March.

Additionally, many late 1980s buyers took on added risks with the popular mortgages of the day. To save money, adjustable-rate loans were almost half of 1989’s financed purchases In March 2017, just 1-in-6 buyers used adjustable financing.

History reminds us that the late 1980s real estate upswing ended poorly, too. Aggressive lending by failing savings and loans led to overbuilding. U.S. defense-spending cutbacks, spurred by Soviet Russia’s demise, hit Southern California hard, eliminating numerous good-salaried jobs. Homebuying shrank as prices went limp, taking most of the 1990s to regain any serious momentum.

Orange County housing has been expensive for a really long time, and the affordability headaches created often lead to much suffering inside and outside of the ownership game. 

Even in an advancing economy, housing’s no sure bet. So … is today’s market a just little out of balance or amid a mania that is overpricing deals and priming the market for another tumble?

 

Posted in Market Analysis
May 22, 2017

8 Popular Tips That Cost Homeowners More in the Long Run

Architect Design_Pen

BY Amy Howell HIRT   VIA HouseLogic.com

You’re always on the lookout for smart ideas and hacks to manage your home (and save money!) — whether that means listening to the wisdom of your parents who’ve owned a home longer than you’ve been alive, or scouring every corner of the internet for savvy tips.

But just because a tip has been pinned, shared, and Instagrammed thousands of times doesn’t make it smart. Here are eight tips (myths, really) that most people believe are good advice, but instead will cost you cash you don’t need to spend:

Myth #1: Lemons Are Great for Cleaning Garbage Disposals

What it could cost you: A plumber’s visit (and maybe a new disposal)

Proceed with caution when it comes to this well-circulated DIY fix. Citric acid is a natural deodorizer, but plumbing experts say it can corrode the metal in your disposal. That tough lemon peel can also damage the grinding components and clog your pipes. Next thing you know you’re Googling reviews for plumbers.

The better way: Turn on the disposal and, while running cold water, dump in two or more trays of ice cubes. Despite the clamor, this will safely dislodge buildup on the walls and the impellers, which grind up the food. Use vinegar to deodorize.

Myth #2: Use Duct Tape to Seal Ductwork

What it could cost you: Pricier energy bills

Despite its name, don’t rely on duct tape to seal leaks in your HVAC’s ductwork. Testing by the U.S. Department of Energy found it deteriorates over just a few years (hot air from the HVAC system degrades the glue), letting conditioned air escape without doing its job.

The better way: Use duct mastic (a gooey substance kind of like caulk that dries after applied) to seal metal and flexible ductwork, and use it along with a layer of fiberglass mesh for gaps larger than 1/16 of an inch wide. Use gloves with metal ducts because the edges can be sharp, and mastic is messy stuff.

Myth #3: Bleach Will Banish Mold

What it could cost you: A threat to your health, plus hundreds of $ (even thousands)

Although bleach can kill mold on non-porous surfaces, it isn’t effective on absorbent or porous materials — you know, the places it loves to lurk, like grout, caulk, drywall, insulation, and carpet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Instead, it just bleaches it so you can’t see it. And diluted bleach can feed future mold growth (yikes!) because only the water will be absorbed, which mold just loves.

The better way: Use a commercial anti-fungal product to take out mold at its roots. And only tackle mold removal yourself if the area is less than 10 square feet and you use protective gear, such as a respirator and chemical-resistant gloves. Otherwise, call in a mold remediation specialist who’ll know how to remove it without spreading it’s yucky (and potentially harmful) spores.

Myth #4: Change Your HVAC Filter Every Month

What it could cost you: Around $100 a year

Although the air filter should be changed regularly to keep your home’s HVAC system operating efficiently, this piece of advice is more of a convenient general rule that could cause you to throw away perfectly good filters (and money!).

“The harsh truth is that it’s easier to say, ‘Do it every month’ and know that means people might do it every three or four months,” says homeowner advocate Tina Gleisner of Home Tips for Women.

The better way: The Department of Energy recommends checking, but not necessarily changing, your air filter every month. Change it if it looks dirty, replacing it at least once every three months.

Myth #5: Buy a Rinse Aid for Spot-Free Dishes

What it could cost you: Dollars instead of cents

Most dishwashers now come with a built-in dispenser for commercial rinse aids, plus a free sample to get you started. So now you’re hooked (spot-free glasses every time!), and it has become a regular item on your shopping list, even if it does cost almost $4 for 8 ounces.

The better way: If you’ve never tried, run your dishwasher without a rinse aid. If your water is soft, your dishwasher may deliver spot-free sparkle without any extra help. But if you’re still seeing spots, just fill the rinse-aid dispenser with plain white vinegar (less than a 50 cents for 8 ounces).

Money Tip: Rinse aid does help dishes dry faster, which stops those annoying wet drips from top rack to bottom when you unload. But instead of spending money, unload the bottom rack first while letting the top rack air dry.

Myth #6: Home Improvement is Always a Good Investment

What it could cost you: Thousands of dollars in disappointment

Dreaming of diving into your own pool or adding a second bath to put an end to those morning squabbles? That’s the beauty of owning your own home, you can renovate to make all your dreams come true. And you’ll get money back on most any improvement you do, but don’t expect it for all improvements. FYI: A new bath returns 52% of its cost.

The better way: First off, your own happiness matters, so by all means, follow your remodeling bliss if you’re financially able. But if payback is important, do some research and talk to a REALTOR® who knows what buyers are seeking in your market. The Remodeling Impact Report from The National Association of REALTORS® (the sponsor of HouseLogic) is a fantastic resource to get the scoop on what projects will boost your equity the most. For example, it points out that small projects such as an insulation upgrade, refinishing floors, and even seeding your lawn will recoup almost all, and in some cases more than, your original investment.

Myth #7: Put Dryer Sheets in Air Vents for a Sweet Smell

What it could cost you: Higher energy bills and a potential fire hazard

Social media PSA: Thousands of pins and shares do not mean a remedy is smart or safe. If you follow this popular hack, you’ll block the flow of air in your vents, making your HVAC system work harder and increasing your energy costs. The blockage even can pose a fire risk when the furnace is pumping out hot air. 

The better way: If fragrant air is what you’re after, there are no shortage of options available that won’t burn your house down. Give each room — or each day — a signature scent with all-natural scented candles, sprays, oils, and aromatherapy devices. If you’re seeking a scent to mask an offensive odor, however, it’s important to find and remove the source. Some stinky suspects — like mold, mildew, sewage, and gas leaks — can carry health risks.

Myth #8: Product Warranties Will Save on Repair Costs

What it could cost you: $50 to $100 or more

The last time you bought a major appliance or even a hand mixer, you were probably offered a warranty or service plan. While marketed to cover repair costs, these contracts typically cost more than you would ever spend to fix an item. And keep in mind that most manufacturers offer at least a 90-day warranty anyway.

The better way: Maintain the appliance as recommended by the manufacturer, and smartly stash the dollars you would spend on a warranty in a repair fund instead. Also, buy with a major credit card, such as AmEx or Visa. Many credit card companies extend product warranties (for free!) up to a year or so. Might be worth checking to see if yours does. 

Posted in Tips and Advice
May 4, 2017

7 Repairs to Make Before Selling Your Home

Painting Home

VIA CRS.com BY: Michelle Huffman

You want to sell your home quickly and profitably, but you may have a few repairs to make first. But how do you know which repairs are worth doing, and which ones are better left to the buyer? Here are a few tips:

Focus on the exterior. First impressions are lasting impressions, so be sure the outside of your home is clean and inviting. Paint or replace shutters that are faded or worn, update landscaping and make sure your front entrance is welcoming to visitors.

Play it safe. Fix items that are a clear safety risk or environmental issue, such as broken steps, electrical issues, water damage, rotten or chipped flooring or a leaky roof, which can spook buyers. You can save money on large repairs by getting competitive bids from businesses in your community, then your CRS can strategically include the repairs in your home’s listing.

Think small. Minor flaws can be seen as huge problems when potential buyers are examining the space—for every $1,000 of perceived defect, the buyer will ask for a $3,000 to $5,000 reduction of the asking price. Replacing or repairing worn woodwork, caulking in bathtubs and showers, faded wallpaper, marred walls and stained ceilings, loose knobs, sticking windows and broken light switches are all ways to make your home more appealing.

Decide when to go big. Once you know what repairs or upgrades are needed, it’s time to decide what’s actually worth fixing. For example, if your kitchen cabinets are very beat-up or outdated, it may be worth replacing them. However, since buyers tend to tweak cosmetic details to their own tastes, cabinets that are in relatively good shape can be resurfaced instead. Upgrades that are almost always worth it are hardwood flooring, roofing and insulation, which reap 95 percent returns on investment or higher. When in doubt, talk with your real estate agent about features that maximize your ability to sell in your area.

Keep it clean. Buyers may see the surface condition of your home as a sign of what’s underneath. Keep windows, floors, walls and other surfaces clean. Steam clean carpeting and other fabrics, and, if needed, hire a cleaning service to ensure the place is always tidy.

Provide quotes. Items such as energy enhancements or major appliances are best left to the buyer, but you can provide quotes to help them budget if they want to replace or upgrade in the future.

Inspect it. If you are still unsure about some features of your home, consider getting a pre-inspection or talking to a real estate agent about a pre-listing inspection.

 

When deciding to selling your home, guidance from a qualified real estate agent is invaluable. Not all agents are created equally though, so when you turn to sell, contact a Certified Residential Specialist. These agents have advanced education, training and experience and are certified as the best real estate agents in the business.

Posted in Real Estate
April 22, 2017

Headed to the beach? Watch out for big waves, rip currents, stingrays, red tide, closed tide pools

The Wedge

VIA OC Register BY: 

A body boarder at the Wedge rides a wave past a skim boarder who wiped out in Newport Beach on Friday, April 21, 2017. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register/SCNG)

All the ingredients for a busy beach weekend are coming together: temperatures in the 90s driving crowds to the coast; big waves drawing surfers; and spring-breakers looking to soak in the last days of their vacation in the sun and sand.

But be warned – there also will be dangerous waves and rip currents, closed access to tide pools, and rocks, and you might encounter red tide that can make the water a funky brown color or a stingray that can turn a beach day into a bad day.

And if you do go in the water, expect a bit of toe-numbing – the water is forecast to be in the upper 50s and low 60s.

Huntiington Beach-based Surfline.com is calling for waves in the 4- to 6-foot range, with occasional 7-footers, through Sunday, before the swell starts to drop on Monday. The largest waves will be found in Huntington, Newport and the Wedge, and areas of San Clemente, according to Surfline chief forecaster Kevin Wallis.

Laguna Beach lifeguards by Friday had put up “yellow flags,” meaning moderate conditions, with reports of waves in the 3- to 5-foot range.

Marine Safety Lt. Kai Bond said waves were expected to grow by Saturday. “It’s not a time to learn to do anything,” he said. “Know your limitations.”

Bond said the big waves will likely prompt a closure of tide pools because of hazards big waves can pose for people standing on rocks.

Looking out of the lifeguard headquarters window, Friday, Huntington Beach Marine Safety Lt. Claude Panis saw a sea of people starting their weekend early.

“With the weather prediction, it has driven everyone to the coast, he said. “We’re getting (spring breakers) out getting their last chance at the beach and nice weather.”

Newport lifeguards reported an uptick in stingray injuries the past month, with four reports on Friday. “It’s just that time of year,” said Newport Beach Battalion Chief Brent Jacobsen.

County beach lifeguards were preparing for the busy weekend, OC Lifeguard chief Jason Young said. Extra staff will be added to watch the coast, but there will not be as many lifeguards on duty as during summer.

“We’re going to be strapped pretty thin,” Young said. “If it’s a summer crowd, we’ll be feeling it.”

He said lifeguards may put up red flags.

“The rips are pulling really hard. Red flags mean that to the best of our ability, everyone will be interviewed before they enter the water, and they need to prove they have experience,” he said.

Rocky areas that line the ocean will be closed to the public, he said.

“Just stay off the rocks during this whole weekend. It’s going to be a danger,” Young said.

Beachgoers may come across something that hasn’t been seen for a few years – a red tide from an algae bloom that has been showing up sporadically at some beaches, causing the water to turn a rusty reddish brown. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the red tide, also called “harmful algal blooms,” happen when colonies of plants that live in the sea grow out of control, producing toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds.

Though human illness is rare, the blooms produce a toxin that kill fish and can make shellfish dangerous to eat.

Areas of south Laguna Beach and Dana Point had reports this week of red tide that turned the ocean a rusty red; Doheny State Beach mid-week had brownish water, but had cleared up by Friday. Surfer Justin Cote reported a thick red tide down in Encinitas in San Diego on Friday.

“It’s been flaring up in different areas, intensified and then clearing and coming back,” said Young.

He said the red tide can be irritating to some people, especially those spending a long time in the water, but it’s not considered a health hazard unless the Orange County Health Care Agency puts out a warning, he said.

“It can be a little stinky though,” he said. “It can put some people off.”

Posted in Life Style
April 20, 2017

Yard Tips So You’ll Never Have to Water Again

Landscaping Crystal Ball

VIA House Logic BY: Stacey Freed

If you hate watering (or yard work in general), try these drought-inspired ideas that’ll work in any climate.

When you’re parched, you grab a glass of water. When your yard feels the same way, it’s not quite so self-sufficient. It needs your help.

But you hate watering. Such a waste of time when you could be working, or at the gym, or grilling a healthy meal. (OK, OK, binge-watching the latest Netflix hit — but still!)

Even if you have an irrigation system, the water bills alone make you want to permanently disable it.

So, how do you get to have a beautiful, lush yard — yet not waste money or time on watering it? Take a cue from homeowners out west who know how to survive heat waves. You’d be surprised how well their ideas will work in less dry conditions. Here are a few drought-inspired ideas to try:

Replace Plants With (Surprise!) a Water Feature

While that may seem counterintuitive, it makes sense when you think about it. Especially when you consider the newest generation of water features: the pondless water feature.

It’s essentially a waterfall with “a below-ground reservoir covered by rock or stone. The water circulates … so it isn’t evaporating, ” says Neil Bales, vice president of Lawns of Dallas.

Homeowners in Texas and other drier areas love these because they’re like Mother Nature’s air conditioner. They cool the air around them, and they’re practically no maintenance. You don’t have to mow them or weed them. 

If you want to stay completely away from water, Bales also suggests getting a water feature look without the water by designing “a dry creek bed with stones that can provide an aesthetic look and be functional in spots where there might otherwise be plants, and the need to irrigate.”

Skip the Finicky Plants — Seek Hardy, Local Stock

In the West and Southwest, despite the lack of natural water, yards are still full of color and texture. “There’s a lot of beauty and movement,” says Bales.

Each region has its own native or “adapted plants,” as Barry Troutman prefers to call them. Troutman is the technical advisor for the National Association of Landscape Professionals, so he knows his stuff.

“People waste water; plants do not,” he points out. “Plants are adapted to protect the water they have.”

Native plants thrive because they are used to the natural state of the region. “You can see these things growing in the wild on their own,” Bales says. “So if you introduce it into your own landscape, it will be more durable.” 

A note on newly planted plants: This is when you don’t want to skimp on watering. New plants need more water to help establish strong roots. Those roots will help it acclimate to less and less water as it matures, Troutman says.

Add Some Hardscaping

OK, running barefoot on the lawn is nice, but what about the romantic evening around the fire pit, eating with family and friends in the outdoor kitchen, or soaking up rays on a patio lounge chair?

“In a lot of areas in Texas, lawn sizes are getting reduced and patios are increasing,” Bales says.

More hardscapes — stone walls, gravel paths, paved patios — mean less area that needs to be watered.

And (bonus!), according to the “Remodeling Impact Report: Outdoor Features” from the National Association of REALTORS®, which produces HouseLogic, new patios, outdoor fireplace, and fire pits are among the top-10 projects for appealing to homebuyers and adding value for resale.

But make sure hardscape areas drain into the right places, warns Troutman. “Be careful you don’t create saturated areas where plants can’t grow,” he says.

You may have to call in a professional to make sure hardscape and the adjacent landscape have proper drainage, either by the way the land is sloped or by installing drains in the ground, Bales says.

Try the Newest Generation of Fake Grass

“It’s come a long way in how it looks,” says Bales, who has real grass in his front yard and turf in his backyard. “Many brands look and feel like natural grass.”

Bales recommends researching turf products that “hold up well, look good over time, and have a good feel on your bare feet.” Then find a contractor who knows how to install synthetic turf properly.

“What’s underneath it matters,” he says. There needs to be a deep sub-base that’ll last like a concrete patio but allow natural water through.

Troutman cautions that synthetic turf and pavers, if in direct sunlight, can get “really hot and reflect the heat onto your home. It can raise the cost of your air conditioning bill.” He suggests mitigating the heat by creating shaded areas with trees or a pergola.

Plant Some Cacti and Succulents

Cacti — the camels of the plant world — are synonymous with Southwest gardening, but turn out to be pretty hardy elsewhere as well. Cacti and some succulents can add color, flowers, and texture to lawns.

“You don’t want them to have wet feet, though,” Troutman says. “They need to be well drained, in open sun with air movement around them.”

He suggests using cholla cacti, which are hardy enough to grow even in Canada, and succulents such as hens and chicks and Parry’s agave.

Posted in Life Style
April 19, 2017

World Faces Largest Humanitarian Crisis Since 1945, U.N. Official Says

 Starving Child

VIA NPR BY: 

Acutely malnourished child Sacdiyo Mohamed, 9 months old, is treated at Banadir hospital in Somalia on Saturday. Somalia's government has declared the drought there a national disaster.

Mohamed Sheikh Nor/AP

The world is facing its greatest humanitarian crisis since 1945, says the United Nations humanitarian coordinator, Stephen O'Brien.

O'Brien told the U.N. Security Council on Friday that more than 20 million people across four countries in Africa and the Middle East are at risk of starvation and famine.

"We stand at a critical point in our history," he said. "Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death."

He called the crisis the largest in the history of the U.N., which was founded in 1945, and was specific in his request to the council: "$4.4 billion by July" to combat extreme hunger in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and northeast Nigeria.

"All four countries have one thing in common. Conflict," he said. "This means that we, you, have the possibility to prevent and end further misery and suffering... It is all preventable. It is possible to avert this crisis, to avert these famines — to avert these looming human catastrophes."

In Yemen alone, he said the number of people who don't know where their next meal will come from, has increased by 3 million since January.

NPR has reported extensively on the famine problem in the region, most recently last week, when Somalia's prime minister said 110 people died of hunger in a single region over a two-day period. He guessed that more than 6 million people in his country, or just about half the population, are faced with a food shortage because of a deepening drought.

In South Sudan, two counties are in a "phase five" famine situation, according to a determination rating system our Goats and Soda team looked into last month. That's the worst possible rating, and it means at least two out of every 10,000 people are dying of hunger there every day. Overall, 42 percent of the population in South Sudan is estimated to be food insecure.

The country has been entrenched in civil war since December 2013.

"The situation is worse than it has ever been. The famine in South Sudan is man-made," O'Brien said Friday. "Parties to the conflict are parties to the famine – as are those not intervening to make the violence stop."

And in Nigeria, the fallout from fighting with extremist terror group Boko Haram has left pockets of the country decimated, as NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reported last month.

"Northeastern Nigeria will probably get worse because the lean food and farming season is coming up between June and August," she said.

"When I was in Nigeria I saw it for myself: pin-thin children being taken care of because there isn't the food to feed them."

Posted in Health
April 18, 2017

What Really Makes a Property Appreciate

Success

VIA RealtorMag/Realtor.org

A home’s value generally appreciates 3 percent to 4 percent every year, which is attributed mostly to population growth and inflation. However in 2016, homeowners saw appreciation jump to an average of 6.3 percent.

Realtor.com®’s research team sought to find out what would boost a home’s value even more and what home features buyers may be willing to pay more for. Researchers analyzed millions of listings on realtor.com® from 2011 to 2016 to calculate the annual price growth rate of homes with certain features.

Here are some of the clear winners in housing appreciation: 

Small homes: Homes smaller than 1,200 square feet appreciated by an average rate of 7.5 percent a year for the past five years. On the other hand, larger homes of 2,400 square feet or more rose by 3.8 percent a year. The smaller-home demand is being driven by millennials wanting to enter the market with a more affordable starter home and baby boomers who are looking to downsize, realtor.com® notes. Further, smaller homes are in shorter supply, which is prompting prices to increase more due to the high demand, says Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel, a real estate appraisal firm.

Two-bedroom homes: Homes with two bedrooms appreciate at a rate of 6.6 percent a year, compared to homes with five bedrooms that appreciate at 4.3 percent a year, realtor.com®’s research team found.

Open floor plans: Homes with open floor plans appreciate 7.4 percent a year. It’s the hottest appreciating home feature that realtor.com® studied (see side for full list). As for features like stainless steel and granite, Miller says those amenities don’t really add any value to a home. "Those are what I call 'have-to-have' features,” Miller says. “A home needs to have them in a competitive market. But they don't add long-term value. … Ten years from now, when you update your kitchen, they'll be replaced."

Modern and contemporary homes: Modern and contemporary architectural styles have the highest potential for appreciation, increasing at about 7.7 percent annually. This style of home is known for simple, geometric shapes, and large windows. Newly constructed modern homes also tend to be energy efficient. Bungalows and Traditional are the next highest appreciating styles at 6.5 percent and 5.6 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, niche styles like Craftsman bungalows and Victorians are among the lowest appreciating architectural styles, at 3.7 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively. Researchers speculate that may be due to some of the maintenance responsibilities in staying true to the home’s historical architecture that is often connected to these styles of homes.

Green space views: Homes with a park view appreciate at 7.9 percent a year, realtor.com®’s research team found. "[They] hold value over a longer period of time, and they recover quickly from a downturn," says Michael Minson, a real estate pro in San Francisco at Keller Williams. "Buyers appreciate the tranquility and outdoor activities. They like being close to nature." Indeed, homes with mountain views appreciated on average by 5.1 percent, and homes with a lake view at 4.9 percent. Ocean views appreciated the least of the “home views” studied, at just 3.6 percent a year. Recent storms may have spooked buyers from oceanfront properties as well as the fact that the highest-cost homes tend to be along the ocean, realtor.com®’s research team notes.

Source: “Appreciation Sensation: The Real Factors That Boost Your Home’s Bottom Line,” realtor.com® (April 17, 2017)

 

Posted in Market Trends