5 Ways To Use Your Dead Christmas Tree

January 3rd, 2014

5 Ways To Use Your Dead Christmas TreeThe holiday season is coming to an end. It’s time to pack up the stockings, and take the ornaments off the tree.

That tree was a beautiful Christmas decoration, but now that the evergreen is turning brown, and its needles are falling all over the carpet, you realize it’s time to get it out of the house.

But don’t just throw it away. You have several options. Here are five interesting ways to use your dead Christmas tree.

It’s For The Birds

Keep the tree in its stand and set it outside. You can put some birdhouses in it, or surround it with bird seed. The birds will appreciate your Christmas tree long after you’re tired of looking at it. Take off the tinsel first!

It’s For The Fish

If you (or your neighbor) has a pond, just drop the tree overboard and give it a proper sailor’s burial. A dead Christmas tree is the ultimate home for fish.

The fish can sleep easy behind the branches, and you can sleep easy, knowing your beloved tree is still getting some use. It’s a big help to those trying to keep a pond stocked for fishing.

It’s For The Plants

A dead Christmas tree can be an excellent gardening tool. Cut branches and place them around your perennials to help keep them warm. If you’ve been vacuuming up all those fallen needles, spread them around the garden.

They make great mulch. Better yet, rent a wood chipper, and chop up the whole tree. That’s even greater mulch. If you’re not a gardener, there are several organizations that will accept your tree as a donation.

Burn Baby Burn

Another option is simply use your tree as firewood. Evergreens are great for bonfires and outdoor fireplaces. They ignite really easily. But don’t burn them indoors! The creosote buildup can be dangerous.

Get Crafty

If you’re craving a more creative approach, there are several great dead Christmas tree craft ideas out there. Some people chop up the trunk and use cross sections as planters.

You can also paint a coat of polyurethane on some small sections, and use them as coasters. You could even attempt to make some homemade potpourri. The possibilities are endless.

The fate of your dead Christmas tree is in your hands. You can burn it, make a habitat for animals, make some mulch, or even make some coasters.

The important thing is not to let it end up in a landfill. These dead trees have so many better uses than rotting with the trash.

Tips For Selling Your Home In The New Year

January 2nd, 2014

Tips For Selling Your Home In The New Year Many people think that selling a home after the holidays and during the Winter season is a bad idea. Most people are not in the home buying mood, because they are thinking about the holidays.

Also, buyers will think that you are desperate and they will give you offers that are less than list price.

Advantages Of Selling Your Home Now

However, there are some advantages to selling your home over the holidays and into the new year. There will be less homes on the market, so there won’t be as much competition.

Also, buyers will likely be on their holidays from work, so they will have much more time to view properties and look around at homes.

Another factor is mood – buyers will generally be feeling more cheery and relaxed over the holidays, which will result in them being more likely to make the decision to buy a home.

A home can have a really romantic and cosy feeling during the winter season, which could make a buyer fall in love with it.

When You Are Selling Your Home During The Winter Season, Here Are Some Tips To Keep In Mind:

  • Choose a good real estate agent who will be able to communicate with you well and find the right buyers for your house.
  • Price the house realistically. This time of year, it helps to be competitive. You might even get buyers competing, which will push the price up as they bid against each other.
  • Make sure that you have all of the paperwork in order, including an energy performance certificate, fittings and fixtures list and much more.
  • Give your home a little makeover so that it gives a great first impression. Touch up the paintwork, rearrange the furniture and remove clutter.
  • Giving a sense of airy lightness is important, especially in the winter months. Make sure that your windows let in plenty of natural light.
  • Be flexible. You might need to be able to accommodate last minute viewings or viewings at strange times, so keep your schedule open.
  • Serve seasonal drinks and snacks at your open house, such as mulled wine, eggnog and cookies, to put your buyers in a good mood.
  • Have your moving company chosen and ready to go in advance, in case there is the possibility of a quick sale.

These are just a few tips to keep in mind for selling your home over the holidays. For more helpful tips, contact your trusted real estate professional.

New Home Sales Show Healthy Year-Over-Year Increase

December 31st, 2013

New Home Sales Show Healthy Year-Over-Year IncreaseThe holiday season and winter weather slowed home sales in November. Last week, the NAR reported that sales of existing homes had slumped to their lowest level in nearly a year, but this was not unexpected.  

Short supplies of available homes and rising mortgage rates have increased pent-up demand for homes have kept some buyers on the sidelines.

Improvement In The Labor Market

4.90 existing homes were sold in November; this was lower than the 5.13 million existing homes sold in October, as well as lower than expectations of 5.00 million existing home sales in November.

Existing home sales for November 2013 were also 1.20 percent lower than for November 2012; this is the first time in 29 months that existing home sales were lower year-over-year.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist for NAR, described the slow-down in sales as a “clear loss of momentum.” The outlook for 2014 is better, as analysts expect continued improvement in the labor market. 

The pent-up demand for homes will ease as homeowners begin to list their homes for sale as home prices increase. Mr. Yun also noted that prices for existing homes are increasing at their highest rate in eight years.

The national median home price of existing homes rose to $196,000 in November, which represents a year-over-year increase of 9.40 percent. There was a 5.1 month supply of previously homes available at the current sales rate.

Housing Market Continues To Progress Over Long Term

The Census Bureau and HUD report that 464,000 new homes were sold in November. This was 2.10 percent lower than October’s rate of 474,000 new homes sold. This represents an increase of 16.60 percent as compared to the 398,000 new homes sold in November 2012.

The national median home price for new homes in November was $270,900; with an average new home price of $340,300. The seasonally-adjusted estimate of new homes for sale in November was 167,000; this reading represents a 4.30 month supply of new homes for sale.

While home builder confidence is up and recent labor reports indicate improving job markets, the Fed’s decision to taper its quantitative easing program in January is generating some uncertainty as mortgage rates will likely rise as the Fed winds down the QE program.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week – December 30, 2013

December 30th, 2013

What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week- December 30, 2013The University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index was improved for December at 82.5, after the November reading was adjusted from 82.5 to 75. Analysts noted that consumers were relieved when legislative gridlock ended.

Durable goods orders reached their highest level since May with November’s reading of + 3.5 percent. Without the volatile transportation sector, the reading for November was +1.2 percent.

This could be a sign of economic recovery for manufacturing, as more orders are being placed. Economists expected an overall increase of 2.0 percent for overall durable goods orders.

The U.S. Commerce Department provided housing markets with good news with its New Home Sales report for November. 464,000 new homes were sold in November against expectations of 440,000 new homes sold.

This expectation was based on the original reading of 444,000 new homes sold in October, which has been revised to 474,000 new homes sold. The latest reading for October is the highest since July of 2008.

While rising mortgage rates slowed home purchases during the summer, analysts note that home buyers seem to be adjusting for higher mortgage rates by purchasing smaller homes in less costly areas.

Home Builder Confidence recently achieved its highest reading since 2005, a further indication of overall economic recovery and housing markets in particular.

After Wednesday’s holiday, the Weekly Jobless Claims report came in with a reading of 338,000 new jobless claims filed. This reading was lower than expectations of 345,000 new jobless claims and significantly lower than the previous week’s report of 380,000 new jobless claims.

This was the largest decrease in new jobless claims since the week of November 17, 2012. After seasonal volatility associated with the holidays, analysts expect new jobless claims to decrease at a slower rate in early 2014,

Freddie Mac released its Primary Mortgage Market Survey on Thursday. Although some economic analysts had expected a jump in mortgage rates after the Fed announced its plan to begin tapering its monthly securities purchases in January, mortgage rates showed little change.

The average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage rose by one basis point to 4.48 percent with discount points unchanged at 0.70 percent. Average 15-year mortgage rates also rose by one basis point to 3.52 with discount points moving up from 0.60 to 0.70 percent.

The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage rose by 4.00 basis points to 3.00 percent, with discount points unchanged at 0.40 percent.

2014 shows promise of a steady economic improvements, and given the latest New Home Sales report, it’s possible that improving housing markets will continue leading the way.

What’s Ahead

As with last week, this week’s schedule of economic events is reduced due to the New Year holiday. Pending home sales for November will be released Monday, Tuesday’s economic reports include The Case/Shiller Housing Market Indices and the Consumer Confidence report.

After the holiday on Wednesday, Thursday’s scheduled reports include the Weekly Jobless Claims and Freddie Mac PMMS on mortgage rates. Construction Spending will also be released. There is no housing or mortgage-related economic reports set for release on Friday.

How To Build An Outdoor Fire Pit

December 27th, 2013

How To Build An Outdoor Fire PitWith most of the country easing into full-on winter weather, last-minute outdoor projects need to happen soon. And what better way to enjoy a cozy holiday season than by drinking hot chocolate and roasting marshmallows at your very own outdoor fire pit.

In one weekend, the steps below can help you build an outdoor fire pit and get you fired up about the cold!

Determine The Size And Location

The first order of business is to choose where to build your outdoor fire pit. You want to make sure it’s not too close to the house or overhanging trees.

Once you’ve found the spot, lay out a ring of stones and mark it with a shovel before you dig the hole. You’ll want it to be between 35-45 inches in diameter. This will allow a roaring fire, but it will also feel cozy and intimate.

Dig The Pit And Make A Trench

Make a hole six inches deep within the circle your marked using your stones. You want the sides to be straight and the bottom flat. Then dig down an extra six inches around the perimeter.

This trench should be wide enough to fit a ring of stone blocks that will be the base of your wall. Fill the six-inch deep trench with drainage gravel until it’s level with the center of your pit.

Lay The Stone Blocks

Lay out the stone blocks on top of the gravel. Place the first one and use a level to make sure it’s sitting squarely. Set the second block next to it and so on. Use a level to ensure everything is even.

For the second layer, squirt masonry adhesive in a snaking pattern and center a block on top of the seam of the first layer. Build up the wall until it’s about one foot above ground level.

Finish It Off

Fill the pit with gravel until you reach ground level. The gravel will help the base of the walls set straight. If you want to cover the outside of the pit walls with stone cap pieces, then try to fix them together like a puzzle using masonry adhesive.

Then you can either build a fire on top of the gravel or insert an iron campfire ring into the center. Once you’re finished, then it’s time to bundle up and get those marshmallows roasting!

Keep That Heat Inside, Insulate Your Windows For The Winter

December 26th, 2013

Keep That Heat Inside, Insulate Your Windows For The WinterDid you know that, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, 10% of air leaks out of the average house through the windows? Also, an estimate by Energy Star states that homeowners could save an annual 7-15% on their energy bills by replacing their own windows with more efficient models.

If you live in an old home, it might not be possible to replace all of the windows in your home. However, there are still many simple and cheap things that you can do that will help to insulate your windows.

Apply Rubber Weather Sealing

At your local hardware store you will be able to find some inexpensive strips of rubber weather sealing that is self adhesive. You can cut a long strip down to fit your window and then peel it off and stick it to the frame in order to close gaps and keep out drafts.

This is a cheap solution, but it can be very effective and it will not affect the appearance of the windows. Be very careful when you peel off the rubber strips later, as they can leave a stick residue.

Keep Some Draft Snakes Around As Pets

What is a draft snake? It is a soft plush fabric tube that you can use on a window sill or also underneath your doors to prevent cold air from creeping into your home.

They are sold online or you can make your own by filling a tube of fabric with rice or beans. They are cheap and simple, but of course they will only insulate the window sill and not the rest of the glass.

Add Insulating Window Film

Another option for insulating your windows in the winter is to use insulating window film. This is a transparent product that sticks directly to your window and gives them an extra layer of protection.

This means that your windows will not be perfectly transparent, as the film will affect the view somewhat, so you might only want to use them in some parts of the house.

These are just a few simple ways that you can insulate your windows and save money on your energy bill this winter at your home. For more helpful tips, contact your trusted real estate professional.

5 Tips On Safely Hanging Those Christmas Lights

December 24th, 2013

5 Tips On Safely Hanging Those Christmas LightsChristmas lights can be the most festive of holiday decorations, but actually putting them up can be a huge pain. With these easy step-by-step instructions, you can safely hang Christmas lights outside your house in no time. That way you can get back to what’s important, family time.

Buy Your Lights

You’ll need Christmas lights of course. There are a lot of options. You can get colorful lights or classic white lights. There are icicle lights, blinking lights, classic large bulb lights, and more. Just pick whatever looks good. Remember that consistency is important.

Pick one or two types and stick with them. Also remember to measure your roof, bushes, trees, or whatever you plan to cover with lights. Without proper measurements you won’t know how many lights to buy.

Test The Lights

Be sure to test the lights before you hang them up. Nothing is more frustrating than hanging up all the lights and finding that they don’t work. There are several testers that you can buy or you can even make your own, but I recommend simply plugging in each strand individually before you hang them up.

Get Some Clips

You’ll also need clips to help attach the lights to the roof or the gutter. I recommend buying the more expensive clips. The cheap ones break, and cause more frustration than they’re worth. Make sure you measure the thickness of your gutter as well. The clips come in different sizes.

Automatic Timers Are Your Friend

Finally, you’ll need surge protector with a built-in timer. It’s important to turn off the lights during the day to save energy and keep your bulbs from burning out, but unless you want to be plugging and unplugging your lights all the time, get a timer. They’re cheap, easy to use, and convenient.

Find A Friend

Hanging lights by yourself is a bad idea. It requires a lot of climbing up and down the ladder and that can be dangerous. Have someone else hand you the lights up the ladder, and hold it steady so you can focus on clipping on the lights.

Also, hang them up during the day. They might look prettier at night, but you can wait. Putting them up at night can be a risky venture.

Christmas can be the happiest time of the year, and the lights and decorations are a big part of that. Don’t think of hanging lights as a chore. Get the whole family involved and make it a Christmas activity.

Just be sure you have all your materials ahead of time, you’ve measured out how much you need, and you’ve got a timer to turn them off and on for you. That way when it’s time to hang up the lights, it will take no time at all.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week – December 23, 2013

December 23rd, 2013

What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week- December 23, 2013According to December’s NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, home builder confidence rose by four points to a reading of 58; this surpassed the consensus of 56 and November’s reading of 56.

November Housing Starts were released Wednesday and also exceeded expectations and the prior month’s reading. 1.09 million housing starts were reported for November against expectations of 963,000 and October’s reading of 889,000 housing starts.

Building permits issued in November came in at 1.01 million and fell short of October’s reading of 1.04 million permits issued. November’s reading exceeded expectations of 990,000 permits issued.

The week’s big news emerged after the conclusion of the Federal Reserve’s FOMC meeting. The committee announced that it would begin tapering the Fed’s $85 billion purchases of securities. The taper was modest; the Fed will reduce its rate of purchases to $75 billion monthly, with a split of $40 billion in Treasury securities and $35 billion in mortgage-backed securities.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke gave his final press conference as Fed chair. He noted that the FOMC was confident that the economy would continue to improve at a moderate rate and that the Fed would continue monitoring economic and financial developments to guide future adjustments in its monthly purchase of securities.

Mortgage rates were expected to rise after news of the Fed’s tapering of its quantitative easing program, as the program was intended to hold down long-term interest rates and mortgage rates.

Mortgage Rates, Jobless Claims Rise

Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey confirmed expectations of higher mortgage rates. Average mortgage rates ticked upward by five basis points to 4.47 percent for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage; the average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage rose by eight basis points to 3.51 percent.

Discount points for a 30-year mortgage were unchanged at 0.70 percent for a 30-year mortgage and dropped from 0.70 to 0.60 percent for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage. The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage rose from 2.94 percent last to 2.96 percent with discount points unchanged at 0.40 percent.

Weekly Jobless Claims came in at 379,000 and were higher than projections of 338,000 and the prior reading of 369,000 new jobless claims. Although the reading was the highest since March, analysts attributed the higher reading to changes in work schedules during the holidays.

Sales of existing homes slipped to their lowest levels in close to a year. The NAR reported that existing home sales fell from 5.12 million in October to 4.90 million in November.

Projections were set at 5.00 million sales for November, but a shortage of available homes and rising mortgage rates were seen as reasons for fewer sales. The approaching holiday season and cold weather typically contribute to a lull in home sales during the winter months.

What’s Ahead

This week’s scheduled economic news is light due to the Christmas holiday, but Monday’s releases include consumer spending, personal spending and the University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index.

New Home Sales for November will be released Tuesday. The week’s scheduled news will conclude with Weekly Jobless Reports on Thursday, as no further economic news is scheduled for Friday.

4 Safety Tips For Your Christmas Tree

December 20th, 2013

4 Safety Tips For Your Christmas Tree It’s Christmas time, it’s Christmas time – which means it’s time to get a tree for your home. Whether you get a real tree or an artificial one, it’s also time to think about Christmas tree safety.

Prevent A Fire Hazard

There’s a potential fire hazard that comes with real trees, a danger that’s lessened with artificial trees, but artificial trees have their own safety issues. 

For instance, those that spin on their bases shouldn’t be left to rotate on their own. Make sure the motor is turned off whenever you leave the room.

Even though safety precautions are more necessary with real Christmas trees, sometimes you can’t resist the fresh pine smell filling your home. Should you decide to go with a real Christmas tree, here are some safety precautions that should be followed to avoid fire hazards.

Safety Precautions For That Tree Of Yours

1. Place the tree as far from any heat sources as possible. While it may seem picturesque to have your tree close to the fireplace, the heat can dry out the tree and make it more susceptible to burning.

2. Fresh cut the tree. While you may have cut the tree down before bringing it home, you still need to cut a little bit more off the bottom just before you put it in the Christmas tree stand. This gives the tree a better ability to absorb the water in the stand, which stops it from drying out.

3. Don’t let the water run out. It’s important to stress that your Christmas tree needs to stay moist and green. To check for dryness, lightly grab the end of a branch and pull on it. If several needles come off, it’s time to take it down. 

4. Don’t burn the tree to get rid of it. A dry tree blaze is hard to control, and pine generates a lot of creosote that can catch fire. There are safer ways to dispose of your tree including recycling your Christmas tree. To learn more about safe disposal of your tree, contact your local city or state.

Have fun decorating your home and tree and for Christmas. Just remember to be safe as you celebrate the season! If a new home is on your Christmas list, contact your trusted real estate professional today.

Fed Minutes Predicts Tapering Of Quantitative Easing Program

December 19th, 2013

Fed Meeting Minutes Display Strong Signs Of Economic ReceoveryHousing Starts exceeded expectations and also beat October’s reading of 889,000. November housing starts were posted at 1.09 million against a consensus of 963,000.

This reading is more in line with the NAHB/Wells Fargo Home builder Market Index, which reached a four month high with December’s reading.

With that threat resolved and a new federal budget passed, builders can now proceed without worrying about setbacks caused by government shutdowns and legislative gridlock.

Building permits issued in November were slightly lower at 1.01 million than October’s reading of 1.04 million. Viewed as an indicator of future construction, and ultimately, available homes, it is not unusual for construction and permits to slow during the winter months.

FOMC Statement And Chairman Bernanke’s Last Press Conference

Throughout 2013, strong signs of economic recovery have led to predictions of the Federal Reserve tapering its quantitative easing program.

As each FOMC meeting approached, analysts predicted that the Fed would start reducing its $85 billion purchases of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities.

The asset purchases are part of the government’s quantitative easing program that was implemented to keep long-term interest rates and mortgage rates low.

The cut finally came on Wednesday as the FOMC made its customary post-meeting statement. Effective in January 2014, the Fed will reduce its monthly purchases by $10 billion.

The QE purchase will be split between $40 billion in Treasury securities and $35 billion in MBS. The Fed expects that the economy will continue recovering at a moderate pace.

The FOMC statement noted that the Fed will continue monitoring inflation, which remains below the Fed’s target rate of 2.00 percent, and the national unemployment rate, which remains above the Fed’s target rate of 6.50 percent.

The statement noted that asset purchases are not on a predetermined course, and that the Fed will continue to closely monitor labor market conditions, inflation pressure and economic developments in the U.S. and globally.

The Fed did not change its target federal funds rate of 0.00 to 0.25 percent, and would not do so at least until unemployment falls to 6.50 percent. Changes to policy accommodation are made with the Fed’s dual goal of achieving an inflation rate of 2.00 percent and achieving maximum national employment goals.

Bernanke Press Conference

Mr. Bernanke repeated key points of the FOMC statement, and noted that “highly accommodative monetary policy and waning fiscal drag” is helping with the economic recovery, but that the economy has much farther to go before it can be considered fully recovered.

Mr. Bernanke said that FOMC members saw the unemployment rate dropping from 7.00 percent in November 2013 to 6.30 to 6.60 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014. Improving labor markets and rising household spending were cited as signs of economic recovery.

Mr. Bernanke mentioned concerns about the high unemployment and underemployment rates and said that the Fed’s benchmarks for unemployment and inflation would not automatically trigger reductions in its QE asset purchases.

He also said that the committee did not expect to adjust the target federal funds rate immediately after the national unemployment rate reaches 6.50 percent. 

Mr. Bernanke repeated that the Fed’s actions regarding monetary policy and QE would be dependent on in-depth review of ongoing financial and economic developments, but said that further tapering of QE purchases is likely if the economy stays on its present course of moderate improvement.