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Should You Switch Home Insurance Companies?

With any luck you’ll purchase homeowners insurance and never actually need it. But if you never think about or reassess your coverage, you may be throwing money away. Not only should you take the time to examine the coverage you have, but consider finding a new company if your current insurer no longer meets your needs. Why should you think about switching your insurance?

Your rates keep going up. If your insurance rate is going up, but you aren’t making any significant improvements to your home or your policy, it might be time to shop around. At least call your insurance company to determine the reason behind the rate hike.

Even if your rates aren’t going up, you may hear about lower rates with other agencies. Do your research and find out if another company might be a better fit for you.

You’ve had a life change. According to the Insurance Information Institute, when you’ve had a life change (birth, death, divorce) in your family, you should alter your will, life insurance, and yes, even your homeowners insurance. Call for estimates from other companies before negotiating with your own in order to guarantee that you’re still getting the best available rate.

Comparable residences are insuring for less. Insurance rates aren’t usually the topic of discussion at neighborhood barbecues. If it does come up, though, you may find that comparable residences on your street are being insured for substantially less than your own. It may be because of upgrades or items within their home, but you won’t know if you don’t ask.

Customer service is falling short. There’s more to quality insurance than the lowest available rate. If you are receiving sub-par customer service, can’t ever get an agent on the phone, or have to haggle over claims, you might need to consider switching your home insurance. Don’t forget that your insurance company needs you just as much as you need them — don’t settle for lackluster service.

You’re remodeling. If you’re making changes to your residence, you’ll need to contact your home insurance agent. Even adding a home security system can lower your rate. Don’t like the new numbers they throw at you? Shop around for a better rate!

You can get a deal for combining your coverage. You may be using three different companies for your auto, home, and life insurance coverage. However some companies will offer a discounted rate for combining your policies. If you find a reputable company that will insure all your items in one place, you may want to consider switching agencies.

 

Get Asking Price For Your Home!

How to Get Your Asking Price as the Housing Market Improves

Posting the first annual increase in five years, home values rose slightly over this time last year, reports Zillow, the online real estate site.  This is good news for homeowners who have been waiting to put their houses on the market. Before you do, a few simple spruce-ups can help get your asking price.

“The housing market’s recovery continues to show tremendous variation market by market. Sixty-nine of the 157 markets covered by the Zillow Home Value Forecast are expected to see increases in home values over the next year, with the largest increases expected in the Phoenix metro (9.9 percent) and the Miami metro (6.1 percent),” said Zillow on its website. “We believe that 96 out of the 157 markets have already hit a bottom in home values, including Boston, Miami and Phoenix.”

Improve the view. No matter where you live, it pays to keep your home well-maintained. Curb appeal is the first thing to consider. As the saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Look at your entryway. Is the paint peeling or faded? Are your shrubberies overtaking the sidewalk? Take the time to scrape away any old paint and apply a new coat. Sherwin-Williams Duration Gloss, our top-rated semi-gloss is the only one in our exterior paint tests that has a primer built-in. After the equivalent of nine years’ worth of exposure, the Sherwin-Williams was still looking very good and would be a good choice for painting a front door.

Whack the weeds. As for that overgrown walkway, a capable string trimmer can help you vanquish the vines and weeds in no time. In Consumer Reports’ string trimmer tests, the top-rated gas models were best at slicing through tall grass and weeds. But if you don’t like the hassle of a gas-powered unit, several light duty electric models, including the Homelite UT41110, at $30 a CR Best Buy, were very good or better at this job.

Neutralize garish rooms. Sprucing up the paint inside the house also makes your home more attractive, especially if you’ve painted some rooms bright colors that might not appeal to the average buyer. The best course of action is to choose white, off-white or another neutral color. “Safe colors like this will appeal to most people, increasing the odds that your home will sell,” advises the Paint Quality Institute. And it’ll cost you well under $100. Check our top-rated interior paints for the best choices.

Brighten the bathroom. Outdated kitchens and bathrooms are typically the chief complaint of prospective home buyers. But you don’t have to invest in an entire remodel to improve their appearance. Here again paint can do wonders but so can replacing the countertops, sink or floor. Bathrooms have replaced kitchens as the most remodeled room in the home because they tend to be smaller and you don’t have to buy all those appliances. As we reported in our Bathroom remodeling guide, small details can make a big difference. Stain-resistant grout, framed mirrors and a heated towel bar are just some ideas.

Kick the kitchen up a notch. For the kitchen, you don’t need a bottomless budget to get a top-notch kitchen. In the luxury look for less, we suggest top-rated affordable alternatives to pricey appliances, countertops, flooring and more. But be forewarned, poor planning and shoddy workmanship are two of the costliest mistakes homeowners make when undertaking a remodeling project. If you’re about to embark on one, best to invest a few months going to showrooms and talking to professionals.

Let’s Automate the Transaction Now

At Real Estate Connect San Francisco last week, a session was held dubbed “How Millennials Shop for Homes.” The panel included three 30-something homebuyers: Greg Pasquali, Brittany Ashlock and Martin Ringlein. This articulate threesome was determined to be homeowners, though they were each a tad cynical about the risk and the woes of home buying.

One thread throughout the discussion was their desire for digital documents and an easier transaction.

For 15 years, Inman News has been preaching the importance of automating the transaction with digital documents and an easier transaction process. While there are signs that the process is improving, this panel was a reminder of how arcane the transaction still is.

Many of the woes can be blamed on government requirements and unruly documentation that bureaucratic rules require. As Ringlein said, “I didn’t even read the documents.” That seems like a practical response to the ridiculous requirements put on homebuyers and sellers in the process.

But it is also an unfortunate outcome.  Pasquali thought it absurd that he had to submit a letter confirming that the driver’s license he submitted was really his and the forms he just signed were really his signature. The absurdity of this requirement is anyone who would commit fraud by signing someone else’s name would be willing to do it again with this inane requirement.

Most of the documentation foisted on homebuyers and sellers is the result of an overreaction to bad behavior by lenders, builders, Realtors and scam artists during the savings and loan crisis in the 1980s and the subprime loan fiasco in the last decade.

But another problem is the number of Realtors who do not use digital documents.  The industry needs to use its clout to remove some absurd regulatory requirements and to automate the transaction with easy-to-use digital documents.

This year’s Inman Innovator Award went to DotLoop CEO Austin Allison.

This is our small of way of saying: Come on, gang, let’s automate the transaction now and get rid of unnecessary documents. It is hurting consumers, housing markets and the industry.

 

LONDON (AP)

Legally blind archer Im Dong-hyun set the first world records of the London Olympics, breaking his own record in the 72-arrow mark and helping South Korea set a team record in the ranking round on Friday.

Im broke the record he had set in Turkey in May by three points with a score of 699, hours before the 2012 Games official opening ceremony.

”This is just the first round, so I will not get too excited by it,” said Im, who has 10 percent vision in his left eye and 20 percent in his right.

 

Im Dong-Hyun

RECORD BREAKER

Find out more about Im Dong-Hyun, the legally blind archer who set the first two world records of the London Olympics.

 

He combined with Kim Bub-min and Oh Jin-hyek, smashing the record for 216 arrows with a total 2,087. That was 18 better than the mark South Korea set in May.

The 26-year-old Im has said that when he looks at the targets, he sees colors with blurred lines between them. He does not wear glasses in competition, saying he relies on distinguishing between the bright colors of the target.

He won gold medals in the team event at the 2008 Beijing and 2004 Athens Olympics.

Spectators hoping to catch a glimpse of the action were turned away from Lord’s cricket ground.

Preliminary rounds were listed as non-ticketed, so several thousand spectators showed up at the venue expecting to get in for free.

A spokeswoman for the London Games organizing committee said tickets were not advertised or sold for the qualifying events and ”we have always made it clear” that the early competitions were not open for spectators.

Homebuilder Confidence Rises 6 Points for July

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index showed builder confidence in the single-family housing market reached its highest level in nearly a decade in July. According to the report, the index increased six points to a reading of 35 during the month, indicating sentiment in the new-home sector is strong.

Builder confidence increased by solid margins in every region of the country in July as views of current sales conditions, prospects for future sales and traffic of prospective buyers all improved.

The rise in confidence, along with record low mortgage rates and favorable home prices, the market for home buying is in great shape and could potentially lead to a recovery.

The index also showed positive signs for future sales, as the component measuring that figure increased 11 points.

Surprising Factors Affect Home Insurance Rates

Your home will obviously play a role in the price of your homeowners insurance. Stone front or vinyl siding? Your insurance agent will want to know all the details about what the company is insuring. More than that,  expect your insurance agent to ask questions about personal factors that will play a role in your final insurance rate.

Pets

Your home insurance rates may increase if you own pets. Some insurance companies may also require proof of pet breed, especially if you own a dog breed deemed “aggressive” or an exotic animal. Some agents and companies may even ask for pictures of your pets in order to finalize your rate.

Risky fun

If you have children, you may also have a swing set or a backyard trampoline. What fun! Your insurance agent won’t think so. These fun activities can be dangerous, so your insurance agent will see red and you’ll send them more green.

Credit rating

Your credit score will impact your homeowners insurance, so don’t be surprised if poor credit means a higher insurance premium. Insurance agents assume that if you haven’t been able to manage your money in the past, you’re a higher risk in the present. Do take the time to establish a good credit history now — you’ll need it when you purchase your home and get insured.

Lifestyle

Expect an insurance agent to ask some questions about your lifestyle when you nail down your rate. If you’re a smoker, you may have a higher rate because of an increased risk of fire and damage to the home.

Age and homeownership history

If you’re young and have just purchased your first home, your insurance rate may be higher than people who are long-time homeowners or older and well established in the community. Similarly some insurance agencies will offer a reduced rate to retired individuals.

Location

Where you live and local weather conditions will impact your homeowners insurance rates. A nearby fault line, proximity to a hurricane-prone coast line, or a flat prairie region where tornadoes often strike will all affect your insurance rates. If you can’t control where you live, do listen to the Insurance Information Institute and take necessary precautions that will help keep your rate as low as possible (new windows, storm doors, etc.). Not sure what changes you can make to your home to reduce your rate? Ask your agent!

 

Cities Where Paychecks Stretch the Furthest

When we think of places with high salaries, big metro areas like New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco are usually the first to spring to mind. But wages are just one part of the equation: High prices in those East and West Coast cities mean the fat paychecks aren’t necessarily getting the locals ahead. When cost of living is factored in, most of the places that boast the highest effective pay turn out to be in the less celebrated and less expensive middle part of the country.

No. 1: Houston

In first place is Houston, where the average annual wage in 2011 was $59,838, eighth highest in the nation. What puts Houston at the top of the list is the region’s relatively low cost of living, which includes such things as consumer prices and services, utilities and transportation costs and, most important, housing prices: The ratio of the median home price to median annual household income in Houston is only 2.9, remarkably low for such a dynamic urban region; in San Francisco a house goes for 6.7 times the median local household income. Adjusted for cost of living, the average Houston wage of $59,838 is worth $66,933, tops in the nation.

No. 2: Silicon Valley

Only two expensive metro areas made the top 10 list. One is Silicon Valley (San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara), where the average annual wage last year of $92,556, the highest in the nation, makes up for its high costs, which includes the worst housing affordability among the 51 metro areas we considered: housing prices are nearly 7 times the local median income. Adjusted for cost of living, that $92,556 paycheck is worth $61,581, placing the Valley second on our list.

No. 3: Detroit area

One major surprise is the metro area in third place: Detroit-Warren-Livonia, Mich. This can be explained by the relatively high wages paid in the resurgent auto industry and, as reported earlier, a huge surge in well-paying STEM (science, technology, engineering and math-related) jobs. Combine this with some of the most affordable housing in the nation and sizable reductions in unemployment — down 5% in Michigan over the past two years, the largest such drop in the nation.

The rest

Most of the rest of the top 10 are relatively buoyant economies with relatively low costs of living. These include Memphis (fourth), Dallas-Fort Worth (fifth), Charlotte, N.C. (sixth), Cincinnati (seventh), Austin, Texas (eighth), and Columbus, Ohio (10th). These areas all also have housing affordability rates below 3.0 except for Austin, which clocks in at 3.5. Similar situations down the list include such mid-sized cities as Nashville (11th), St. Louis (12th), Pittsburgh (13th), Denver (15th) and New Orleans (16th).

The Secret to Getting a Mortgage/Refinance Rate near 3%

The headlines are buzzing: Mortgage interest rates have dropped to 3.875 percent for a 30-year fixed rate loan. Can you get a 3.875 percent interest rate? First, you have to understand that not every lender offers a loan carrying a super-low interest rate, and only people with the best credit need apply.

But there’s more to the story. If you want to land the best loan with the best rate and terms, you’ll need two things: credit and cash.

Your credit

Many borrowers don’t understand the direct link between your credit and your loan. The better your credit history and the higher your credit score, the lower your interest rate and the better your terms.

If you’ve missed some payments – or even if you’re only 30 days late on one bill – your credit history is tarnished, your credit score reduced, and your interest rate will be far higher.

Your cash outlay

But don’t forget about cash. These days, lenders want to see you walk through the door with at least 20 percent to put down on the property. If you don’t have at least 20 percent equity (if you’re refinancing) or 20 percent in cash for your down payment, your interest rate will be higher.

For example, if your credit score is 760 to 850 and you have at least 20 percent equity, you’re in the highest credit tier, which means you might qualify for an interest rate at 3.282 percent on a 30-year fixed rate loan or less than 3 percent on a 15-year fixed rate mortgage.

But if your credit score drops into the second-highest tier (700 to 759), you might only qualify for a 30-year loan at 3.504 percent. To be sure, a loan at 3.5 is still a historically amazing rate. In fact, today’s interest rates are so low that you might qualify for a loan below 4 percent even if your credit score is a 660. But you may need to have as much as 50 percent in equity or for your cash down payment.

The right lender

The key to finding a great loan with a terrific interest rate is finding the right mortgage lender to give it to you. But here’s where it gets a little sticky. There are plenty of lenders who don’t want your business. They might be overweighed with bad real estate loans, or they might not need any loans from people with less than perfect credit scores, even if you have plenty of equity in the property.

But instead of telling you they don’t want your business, they’ll just quote you an interest rate or loan terms that are, shall we say, less than palatable. By comparison, these quotes will look downright expensive.

Of course, if you don’t shop around for a lender, you won’t know that you’re being quoted an interest rate that’s too high or offered a loan program that doesn’t make sense for your finances. So talk to a variety of lenders and make sure you understand exactly what you need to do to close on a loan that offers an interest rate for less than 4 percent.

The Biggest Growth Spots in the Next 20 Years

DAILY REAL ESTATE NEWS | WEDNESDAY, JUNE 27, 2012

Small to mid-sized cities will likely be the “biggest winners in the housing market two decades from now,” predicts Stan Humphries, Zillow’s chief economist. Some of these cities will be near large metro areas while some may be more distant and include small to mid-sized cities in college towns too, Humphries adds.

Humphries says market “winners” in the next 20 years will likely be places like Austin, Texas; Savannah, Ga.; Athens, Ga.;  Rochester, N.Y.; Boulder, Colo.; Madison, Wis.; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Spokane, Wash.

“Why do I think that these communities are going to fare better than rest?” Humphries writes in an article for Business Insider.“The suburbs and exurbs around large coastal metros like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Miami, and DC have grown in large part because of strong job creation in these markets paired with rising home prices close to the urban core. New arrivals coming to these markets in search of jobs often end up living in the suburbs or exurbs to find affordable housing. Or they rent housing in the urban core until they marry and have children, moving out in order to find a bigger home they can afford.”

Humphries acknowledges that the increase in commuting costs could threaten more home owners moving away from urban cores. But he predicts that a growth in smaller manufacturing firms “will make smaller metros more economically viable.”

“If energy costs do rise, I’d definitely bet on the increased dispersion of firms to suburbs and beyond versus the proposition of more migration of people from these areas into the urban core,” Humphries notes.

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