Low cost upgrades can cut energy bills

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By Greta Guest

RISMEDIA, October 15, 2010–(MCT)–Jodie Mekled is looking forward to cheap utility bills this winter.

The retail worker from Sterling Heights, Mich., could pay as little as $40 a month for natural gas thanks to energy-efficient home improvements made through Habitat for Humanity.

The nonprofit group recently completed a rehab on a foreclosed home in Sterling Heights that Mekled will close on and move into this month with her two sons. She was living with her parents when she found out about the city’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program and applied.

The 900-square-foot home has achieved LEED certification, which measures how well a house performs in eight areas including water efficiency, materials selection, indoor environmental quality and innovation. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

It’s the first LEED-certified home the Macomb County, Mich., Habitat for Humanity has built.

The home features bamboo flooring on the first floor, spray cellulose to insulate the walls, recycled paper countertops, bamboo cabinets in the kitchen, a solar tube in the kitchen ceiling that reflects light from the sun and moon into the home and low-flow plumbing.

“I love the bathroom. I love my kitchen,” said Mekled, 41, who helped retrofit the home through hundreds of volunteer hours. The bathroom features recycled glass tile and porcelain tiles.

Brandon McCullough, field operations manager for Macomb County Habitat for Humanity, said less-expensive energy upgrades are becoming more common. Such improvements include added insulation, rain barrels and compact fluorescent light bulbs.

McCullough said the three-bedroom, one-bath home was in bad shape. It had to be stripped down to the studs.

“It’s cool because you take a blighted house in the neighborhood and make it into something cool,” McCullough said.

Features such as the solar tube installed in the kitchen ceiling help reduce the electric bill without costing much. The tube retails for $160. A tankless hot water heater cost about $565 for the unit and $500 to $1,000 to install. It reduces energy use by not having to constantly heat a tank of water.

The rain barrels collect about 300 gallons of water from the roof that is then used to water the landscaping. The 55-gallon drums were purchased online and then fitted with spigots from Lowe’s, McCullough said.

While new homebuilding has slowed, some builders continue to have success in green building, said Rich Kogelschatz, owner of Heartland Builders in Rockford, Mich. He has been building energy-efficient homes since 2002 and builds six to nine a year.

“I can tell you that my customers want it and are coming to me for it,” he said.

Using an energy-efficient feature like an insulated foundation costs about $1,000 to $1,500, he said. Adding an energy recovery ventilator is about $1,500. It brings fresh air into a house, which is important when it is sealed tightly.

He said energy-efficient windows and appliances are almost standard today for most builders. But features such as a geothermal system are more expensive, ranging from $6,000 to $10,000 and are in just half of the homes Kogelschatz builds.

Geothermal heat pumps collect natural heat from the earth through a series of pipes called a loop. Fluid circulates through the loop and carries the heat to the house.

The system pays for itself within five years based on average utility bills.

“Our customers ask for it, so it isn’t a tough sale,” Kogelschatz said.

Federal tax credits for buying an energy-efficient product or renewable energy system for your home are available. Here are some examples of what’s covered by the various credits. For more information, go to www.energystar.gov.

The tax credit gives you 30% of the cost up to $1,500 for:

  • biomass stoves
  • heating, ventilating, air-conditioning
  • insulation
  • roofs (metal and asphalt)
  • water heaters (non solar)
  • windows and doors

The credit expires Dec. 31 and applies only to existing homes and principal residences.

A tax credit of 30% with no upper limit is for:

  • geothermal heat pumps
  • small wind turbines
  • solar energy systems

The credit expires Dec. 31, 2016, and applies to new and existing homes. Principal residences and second homes qualify, but not rental properties.

(c) 2010, Detroit Free Press.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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HAFA Relief

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Some of the pain of short sales may start to wain. The potential salve comes from the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives (HAFA) program. It is designed to help homowners who couldn’ keep their home under the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP)

If the program works as planned, listing, selling and closing will get streamlined and documents will get streamlined for all parties, making short sales less excruciating than they are now for all parties. This new program runs until 12/31/2012.

HAFA eligibility is as follows:

  • Property must be borrower’s principal residence
  • It must be a first lien mortgage originated prior to 1/1/2009
  • The mortgage is delinquent or delinquency is reasonabley foreseable
  • The unpaid principal balance is no more thatn $729,750 for single family residences. Higher limits for duplexes or multi family properties.
  • Borrower’s total monthly mortgage payment exceeds 31 percent of their gross income
  • After notification of potential HAFA eligibility, borrower have 14 days to request HAFA consideration.
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Adventures of a Real Estate Agent

Most people think Realtors don’t do too much for their money and just put a sign in their yard or fill out some paperwork and get paid thousands of dollars. So, I wanted to start an article entitled “Adventures of a Real Estate Agent” I will have some funny and some not so funny stories of the real life things that have happened over the years.  I hope you enjoy them. Well, here we go.

Last week I received a phone call from the buyer’s agent on a rural property that we have listed way out in the country in Sutter County. The buyer’s agent told me that his buyer had called him and told him that there was someone with a truck at my listing “just cleaning out the place” His buyer was very concerned that by the time escrow closed in two weeks all they would be buying would be the shell of a home, with no appliances or anything else.

Well, of course my husband Steve was playing golf all day, and just walked in the door as I am getting off the phone with this agent. I tell my husand all about it and tell him to drive out there and check it out! Now, my studly husband is 66 years old and weighs about 150 lbs. Don’t get me wrong he is my hero, but if he were to come up to a group of young muscular guys I don’t think he would be able to do much physically. So, off he goes as fast as he can to our rural listing. His parting words were “Call the police” .  So, I call the 411 to get the phone number for the Sutter County Sherriffs.  I call the number and it rings and rings. Must be the main office number. So, I call 411 back and tell them I need a different number. They give me that number and I call and the same thing. Ok, now what? I call 911. She says “What’s your emergency” and I give her the 3 second story and tell her I need the number to the Sutter County Sherrif Department. She gives me the number. I call and get someone right away. I tell the lady all about it and tell her my 66 year old husband is on his way out there and she wants to know what kind of car he drives. So I give her all the information. She says she will send someone out there as soon as she can.  No guarantee when. Ok, I say and hang up.

In the meantime I call my husband and tell him the sherriffs are going to check it out and to be careful. My parting words, “I Love you honey, be careful. Call me when you get there” I guess I figure if he is on the phone with me and he walks into a bad situation he will be safer.

Well, he calls me when he pulls into the mile long driveway out in the middle of nowhere of our listing and almost immediately behind him are 3 count em 3 Sutter County Sherrif cars! The Sherrifs went into the properties first and checked them out. No one was there at the moment but they had been there. The property was still in good shape, they hadn’t destroyed anything or removed anything,  just made themselves some lunch and used the bathroom facilities. If you an believe that.

My husband thanked them all for coming out there and helping him check everything out. They said they would do a drive by every once in a while when they could.  The sheriff tells Steve, “Hey you look pretty good for a 66 year old.”

So, thanks to the Sutter County Sheriffs, my studly husband saves the day once again. Gotta love that man!

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Looking for something to do this weekend?

Saturday July 31st from 10:00 am to 2:00 PM

Realty World The Justice Team is hosting a Family Fun Day at Lonetree Park in Rocklin. There will be a bounce house, games with prizes for the kids, water play, face painting and a drawing for gifts for the adults. We even have hot dogs and chips. It’s all FREE so bring your kids, your grandkids, your neighbors kids and lets all have a good time. The address is Lonetree Park, 6101 West Oaks Blvd, Rocklin, CA 95765.

Hope to see you there!

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MPower energy loan program officially discontinued

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Well it is now official. The MPower program in Placer County, CA is officially stopped indefinitely. This was a great idea that just couldn’t make it. The MPower energy efficient program would lend you money to do certain energy efficient and you would pay it back with your tax bill, twice a year. There was basically no income qualifying but you had to have equity in your home. 

 The lenders did not want to give approval for the Mpower lien to go in front of their lien. The MPower loan would be a tax lien so it would have priority over the existing loans.

So for now, it is officially discontinued. That is really too bad. A great program and a great idea.  

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Kitchen remodels are on the comeback

By Jean Patteson

RISMEDIA, July 12, 2010–(MCT)–The explosion of remodeling shows on TV and makeover spreads in magazines has whetted America’s appetite for glamorous rooms brimming with the latest furnishings, appliances and color schemes.

Kitchen remodels are among the most popular, according to a report in the just-published August issue of Consumer Reports and online at consumerreports.org. And the economic slowdown means there are outstanding deals on everything from cooktops to countertops. It also means kitchen designers and building contractors are eager for work and willing to negotiate.

But bargain prices and good looks aren’t everything, said Celia Kupersmzid Lehrman, Consumer Reports’ deputy home editor.

“When remodeling a kitchen, functionality is every bit as important as style. Fortunately there are many products that look good and work well,” she said.

The design of your kitchen is every bit as important as what goes into it, said Jim Spence of Spence & Vaughn Fine Kitchen and Bath in Maitland, Fla.

The most functional design is based on the “work triangle” — the relationship between the prep area, the cooking area and the sink, he said. Ideally, the distance between them should never be less than four feet or more than nine feet. Of the three areas, the most-used is the sink.

When planning a remodel, determining your budget is one of the first steps. The National Kitchen & Bath Association calculates the average kitchen remodel costs between 10 percent and 20 percent of the home’s value. But obviously, the extent of the makeover determines its cost. In its latest issue, Consumer Reports takes top-performing products and creates three design schemes: a do-it-yourself makeover for $5,000; a plan that costs $15,000 (the average spent on a kitchen remodel); and a full-scale renovation for $50,000.

Determining your priorities is another key step, said Phil Johnson, a partner at Spence & Vaughn and a certified kitchen designer.

“Do you love to cook? If so, now might be the time to consider professional-style appliances,” he said. “Do you have a large family? Consider how best to accommodate them in your new space. Think about the things you love in your old kitchen — and the things you dislike.”

In addition, Johnson recommends the following steps for a successful remodel:

—Do your homework. Watch TV remodeling programs, clip appealing pictures and articles from magazines, attend remodeling seminars, visit home shows and parades of homes. Consult with a kitchen designer who is a member of the NKBA, who has the training and experience to avoid many of the things that can go wrong with a remodeling project.

—Visit a showroom. Examine the options in cabinets, countertops, appliances, flooring, plumbing and lighting. Decide what you want — and can afford.

—Schedule a home visit. The designer/installer need to measure the kitchen and adjacent rooms, and make a note of existing walls, doors and windows, electrical supplies, ceiling height, attic access, type of wall construction, plumbing details, etc.

—Finalize the project. The design is refined, construction plans are completed, appliances and supplies are ordered — and the initial deposit is paid.

—Survive the dust, noise and workers. With proper supervision, the disruption can be kept to a minimum. Make sure materials are ordered and on the way before beginning the tear-out. Clear a space in the garage for workers’ tools and supplies and items removed from the old kitchen. And communicate regularly with the designer/installer.

The August issue of Consumer Reports identifies these four rules for a successful kitchen remodel:

Don’t rush. There are many kitchen products that combine value, performance and good looks. Take time to meet with professionals, browse the Internet and visit showrooms and home centers. Haste can be costly. Changing your mind after the project is started typically adds about $1,500 to the cost of a kitchen project.

Size matters. In addition to being expensive, oversized kitchens can be exhausting to work in and keep tidy. A more compact kitchen often functions better. The National Kitchen & Bath Association website, nkba.org, provides guidelines for optimal space between appliances, cabinets and islands.

Beware of budget busters. Leave a 10 percent to 15 percent cushion for surprises, such as unexpected structural repairs. Avoid settling for a cheap option, thinking someday you will replace it with something you really want. Chances are that will never happen.

Get it in writing. When using a professional for a remodel, the written contract should list each phase of the project; every product, including the model number; and copies of each contractor’s license, and workers compensation and liability insurance to confirm they are current. Call references and, if possible, visit them.

reprinted with permission (c) 2010, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Congress passed the $8,000 tax credit extension!

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Congress passed an extension of the closing deadline for the Homebuyer Tax Credit, the Homebuyer Assistance and Improvement Act (H.R. 5623). The extension applies only to transactions that have signed contracts in place as of April 30, 2010, that have not yet closed. The legislation is designed to create a seamless extension; the new closing deadline for eligible transactions is now September 30, 2010. There will be no gap between June 30 and the date the President signs the bill into law. Extending the tax credit closing deadline will help provide additional stability to real estate markets across the nation.

Great news for those that were not able to make the cut off of June 30th due to the backlog this created.

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7 Things all borrowers should know about FHA loans

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“We have seen home buyer interest in FHA loans go from practically zero three years ago to upwards of 87 percent today,” said Christopher Gardner, founder and president of FHA Pros, LLC. “Despite this rapid rise in popularity, many buyers still do not fully understand the benefits of these loans, and we believe it’s time to change that.”

1. FHA Loans Are Not Only For Lower-Income Borrowers. FHA loans are available to everyone. In fact, even Bill Gates can get one. There is no maximum income restriction associated with FHA loans. Borrowers do need to substantiate income and assets by submitting proper documentation. This requirement ensures that borrowers are well-vetted and truly able to afford their future homes.

2. FHA Loans Are Not Only For First-Time Buyers. Many people believe FHA loans are available only to first-time homebuyers. This is not the case. Whether borrowers are making their first home purchase or their fifth, they can look to FHA loans as a home financing option.

3. FHA Loans Are Not Just Small Loans; In Fact, Loan Amounts Can Be As High As Almost $800,000. The government recently raised the maximum loan amount from its original cap of $362,790 to $793,750 as a way to help stabilize the housing market. The amount a buyer can borrow varies from county to county. Later this summer, condo buyers interested in FHA loans can visit www.checkfhaapproval.com to instantly identify FHA-approved condo associations and review maximum loan amounts for a given location.

4. FHA Loans Are Not Affiliated With The Section 8 Housing Program. While both programs are administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), FHA loans have nothing to do with low-income subsidized housing. FHA loans are simply mortgages insured by FHA. This insurance provided by the federal government allows lenders to lend more freely by assuring them that they will be repaid in the event of default. Most traditional lenders, including Wells Fargo & Co., JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup are able to provide FHA loans to their customers.

5. FHA Loans Are Often More Affordable Than Conventional Loans. While FHA loans typically offer the same interest rates as other loans, borrowers benefit from a much lower down payment of as low as 3.5 percent.

6. FHA-Approved Condo Developments Are More Desirable To Buyers. With 87 percent of home buyers indicating that they plan to use FHA loans, condo associations that are not FHA approved are missing out on a significant pool of prospective buyers. Under rules in place since February 2010, an entire condominium development must now apply to HUD and be granted FHA approval before a buyer can purchase a unit in an association with an FHA loan or before an existing unit owner can refinance into an FHA loan.

Due to the general unwillingness of today’s lenders to extend credit with respect to conventional loans, many borrowers find that FHA is their best bet. Lenders don’t mind lending when the federal government (FHA) assures them of repayment.

Homeowners associations (HOAs) should note that although FHA-insured mortgages might be easier to obtain, they are not “risky” loans, due in large part to the strict “full documentation” requirements placed on borrowers.

Individual buyers or sellers can initiate the approval process or current owners can encourage their HOA to apply. More information about the FHA- approval process is available at www.getfhaapproval.com.

7. FHA Loans Are Assumable. In addition to lower down-payment and credit-qualifying requirements as compared to conventional loans, FHA loans are assumable. This means that when a seller with an FHA loan sells his or her property, the loan and its financing terms (interest rate) can be transferred to the new buyer. This unique feature will certainly make a property more valuable in times of rising interest rates.

(reprinted with permission)

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Rent or buy? What works best for you?

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First time home buyers have a lot to consider this summer when making the decision to rent or buy a home: interest rates are at all-time lows and prices are at or near their lowest in years.

Still, deciding whether to buy a home or rent an apartment can be a complicated decision. How do you know what’s right for you? Potential buyers should ask themselves several key questions before making this important decision.

1. What will monthly costs be, and can I afford the payments?
Keeping mortgage payments under 30 percent of your monthly income is a good rule of thumb. If you can’t keep mortgage payments below that, you may be better off renting for awhile.

2. What other debt do I have?
Total rent or mortgage payments plus credit obligations should not exceed 35 to 40 percent of monthly income. Talk to your lender and they will help you get ready to buy a home. 

3. What is my credit score? Can I qualify for a good interest rate?
A high credit score indicates strong creditworthiness, and that qualifies you for better interest rates on a mortgage. Maxing out on your credit lines and paying bills late will lower your credit score. The impact of a credit score on interest rates can be significant. For instance, a borrower with a score of 760 could pay nearly two percentage points less in interest on a mortgage than someone with a score of 620. Lower interest rates also mean lower monthly payments. If your credit score is low, you may want to delay buying a home until you can improve your score. Work with your lender, they can tell you what to do to improve your credit score. Don’t have a lender? Ask your Realtor, they can refer you one or more lenders that they work with.

4. How much will taxes, monthly maintenance, or other fees cost?
Owning a home means you’ll have to pay real estate taxes and other costs like insurance and maintenance. On the other hand, owning a home brings big tax savings at the end of the year. 

5. How many years will I stay here? Generally, the longer you plan to live someplace, the more it makes sense to buy. You’ll build equity in your home and have the satisfaction of knowing it is yours and you can paint or redecorate any way you want. There have also been studies that show children do better in school if the parents are homeowners.

If you need any help with this decision, your Realtor or Lender can provide you with a Rent vs Buy analysis form.  

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MPower Loans in Placer County, CA on HOLD

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If you remember I was writing about a wonderful energy efficient loan program where you could purchase solar, heating and air conditioning units and other energy efficient items for your home and pay for them in your property tax bill. This is the MPower Loans in Placer County, CA. It’s a great program as the energy efficient loan is amortized out the life of the item you are purchasing. Say a heating and air conditioning unit will be amortized out over 20 years. So you have 20 years to pay if off and you are billed with your property taxes. Great idea right?

Well, there is a problem. Since the property taxes take precedence over any voluntary loans, aka your existing lender, you have to get your existing lender to approve the MPower loan to be in first position, instead of your existing lender. So, what do you think the chances of that happening are? Slim and none. The banks are not allowing MPower loans to be first so everything is on hold until there is some kind of solution to this issue.

It is a shame because it is a great program. MPower has written letters to several Congressmen and the Vice President of the United States to see if they can get some kind of an approval from these existing lenders that are insured with Fannie Mae. I will keep you posted as to any new developments.

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