10 Lessons to Learn as the Housing Market Recovers

10 Lessons to Learn as the Housing Market Recovers.

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Earth-friendly crafts and activities

Earth-friendly crafts and activities

(ARA) – Nature offers many beautiful gifts and wonders to explore, and parents can help get kids outside to discover them when they step away from the television or computer screen. Here are a few fun ways to encourage your children to explore nature.

A growing trend
As more Americans are discovering every year, gardening is a great way to enjoy nature. Kids will enjoy starting plants from seed or picking out starter plants at the nursery and watching them grow and develop. Even a small container garden on a balcony or patio can yield tomatoes for salsa, flowers for an entire season or strawberries galore. Cook up your favorite recipes with home grown ingredients and donate any excess produce to local food banks.

For the more adventurous gardener, help your kids plant a “vertical garden.” In the style of famed French artist and botanist Patrick Blanc, grow your flowers and vegetables in a fun new way. Try filling a canvas hanging shoe organizer with a light-weight potting mix and filling each pocket with one of your favorite plants. Have fun using tomatoes, bell peppers, marigolds, strawberries, vinca vines or impatiens. Poke a drainage hole in each pocket and hang the entire organizer on your back fence or balcony. Water daily, and in just a few weeks you will be enjoying your own living art piece.

Find a local community garden or gardening co-op and volunteer with your family to help with weeding, watering, planting or harvesting.

Nature’s bounty
Yard waste? Not when you can re-use and repurpose. Find the beauty in what nature provides by creating new uses for things that would otherwise be considered waste. Large sticks make great garden stakes for plants that need a little extra support, like tomatoes. Smaller sticks can be written on or carved into (by an adult) for an inexpensive way to label plants in the garden or pots.

How about using leaves for gift tags or place cards? Kids will love writing names on the leaves with a little paint and a fine-tipped brush or metallic pen. Then, simply punch a hole in one end and tie with a decorative piece of raffia or ribbon for a personalized touch to any gift or place setting. Flowers from your pots or garden don’t have to fade away – they can be easily dried for use in homemade potpourri, candles or soap.

Give a worm a job
Many of us know that composting is a great way to reuse what Mother Nature has given us. Even a small compost bin will fill up quickly with kitchen scraps and yard waste. This waste can be used produce a nice compost mix for next year’s garden – especially if you add some red worms to the compost bin. Worms are nature’s little composters. They make composting more fun, interesting and efficient by breaking down organic matter into nutrient-rich vermicast allowing your family to compost kitchen scraps easily, and reduce the amount of garbage produced each year. Red worms can be purchased inexpensively from many garden centers or online outlets. A small bin will require about 2 pounds of red worms to get the job done.

The art of recycling
Recycling is a great way to reduce waste. It’s likely you already have a recycling bin next to the garbage can. Chances are, however, that your kids do not see those recyclables as art – it is time to change their minds. Reusing and recycling everyday objects not only reduces waste but, with a little imagination, can also provide hours of creative fun. Make something together that will bring years of enjoyment to your home or landscape.

Make a bottle tree to enhance the garden or balcony. Since the invention of bottles, people have found ways to use them as decorations. Used as a way to explore the beauty of glass or ward off (or attract) spirits, bottle trees have been “planted” across the planet in various forms for thousands of years. To build your own bottle tree, collect colorful glass bottles from your recycling bin or from friends, family or even local restaurants. For a “tree” form, use steel re-bar, sturdy wire, wood, fallen limbs or dying trees. Simply remove labels from bottles and wash out. Then, hang the bottles from your form – use your bottle tree purely as a decoration or as a nice support for vine-like plants such as morning glory or tomatoes.

Preserving nature in photos
A digital camera may not seem like a device to get your kids outside, but they can be acquired quite inexpensively and are a great tool with which to view nature and animals. Go on walks in the yard, neighborhood, a local park or zoo and click away. Zoom in or change the angle of the camera for new perspectives. By simply changing the way that we look at things like flowers, animals, trees and even bugs, cameras provide an up-close and personal view of the world that you would not otherwise get to see.

Use your photos for great screen savers on the computer, make photo collages or print them out for uniquely fantastic artworks to frame. Any way you use them, you will have preserved a little piece of nature and will have great memories for years to come.

Once you and your kids start exploring nature together, you will discover hours of fun for the entire family. Mother Nature may more to offer than you realized.

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AG Says Don’t Let “Phishing” Scams Hook You

With the recent possible theft of millions of email addresses from a Dallas-based advertising company, several large companies behind brands such as Chase, Best Buy and Verizon worry that hackers may target their customers to obtain account log-in information.
 
For that reason, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued this consumer alert today to warn Arkansans to watch for attempts by con artists to retrieve their personal information via fraudulent email messages. This scheme is referred to as “phishing.”
 
“While phishing schemes are not new, con artists continue to come up with new ways to trick consumers into handing over sensitive information. An information breach such as what occurred with the firm in Dallas can give these con artists a huge pool of targets to attempt to con,” McDaniel said. “The email address by itself is not the sort of personalized information which will lead to identity theft, but it does give the identity thief an advantage in his scheme to ’phish’ for what he needs to steal your identity.”
 
Many phishing schemes contact random people via email designed to look like it comes from an entity, such as a bank, with which the consumer regularly does business. If the “phisher” can  convince the consumer to log in to what looks like a valid website account with his user name and password, the fraudulent site captures the information, enabling the person behind the scheme to access the real accounts.

If con artists have the actual email addresses of bank or retail customers, which is the threat posed by the recent information breach, they will be able to be much more convincing in their efforts because they will know that their target does have an account with a specific business.
 
“If you suspect there is a problem with your email account or if you get one of these emails, do not panic and do not reply with your personal information,” McDaniel advised.
 
Instead, to avoid falling for a phishing scam, use these tips:
    • Do not give sensitive information in response to an unsolicited request for it.
    • Independently contact the bank or retailer identified in the email to confirm that the email does not come from that entity.
    • Delete the “phishing” email.
    • If you have questions or concerns about an email you suspect is a “phish” or any other email message, contact the Public Protection Department of the Attorney General’s Office with questions or concerns at 501-682-2341 or 800-482-8982, or by filing a complaint online at www.ArkansasAG.gov .

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Snowfall Aside, Arkansas Housing Market Holding Firm for Year

 
Like February 2011 Arkansas Realtors® Association Monthly Housing Report on Facebook

Arkansas Housing Market Holding Firm for Year

The Arkansas REALTORS® Association reported today that Arkansas home sales saw a slight slowdown in February after seeing a 13 percent increase in the number of Arkansas homes sold in January 2011 as compared with the same period last year.  According to today’s report, Arkansas home sales saw an almost 6% decrease sold in February as compared with the same month last year while the average price of homes sold in the 42 county area covered by the report experienced an increase of more than 1.5 percent to $136,300.

The following is a link to the full report in Excel format http://dl.dropbox.com/u/12295076/February2011%20Housing_FINAL.xls

The National Association of Realtors® reported on March 21 that existing home sales in the South fell 10.2 percent and that the median home price in the South was $134,600.  The following is a link to the full news release from NAR: http://www.realtor.org/press_room/news_releases/2011/03/feb_decline

“As is typical for the first quarter of any year, Arkansas home sales are sluggish,” said Amy Glover Bryant, Director of Communications for the Association.  “However, for the year to date the report reflects increases, though small, in the areas of units sold, home values and average home prices.  We see this as an encouraging sign when you take in to consideration that during the same period last year the federal government was rolling out the first-time home buyer tax credit.  In short, we are holding our own.”

A number of Arkansas counties experienced strong gains in the number of homes sold in February 2011 including Faulkner, Arkansas and Boone which saw 42 percent, 80 percent and 31 percent increases in the number of homes sold, respectively.

Representatives of the Arkansas Realtors® Association will be available throughout today to discuss the Arkansas numbers.  To set up an interview,
please contact Amy Glover Bryant, Director of Communications at 501.225.2020 or at 501.786.9415.  

As always, please keep in mind that this is an approximation of the Arkansas housing market based on the information provided to the Association at the
time of the report’s distribution.  Data is provided by REALTORS® reporting through participating multiple listing services in Arkansas and while deemed
reliable is not guaranteed.

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House to House: Six Ways To Identify A Loan Modification Scam

In last week’s column I discussed a fairly new and dangerous threat has arisen for homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments and may be at risk of foreclosure – opportunistic companies. They often refer to themselves as a “foreclosure consultant”, “mortgage consultant,” and market themselves as a “foreclosure service”, “foreclosure rescue agency” or “loan modification company”. They count on homeowners being vulnerable and desperate.

These companies claim they can assist homeowners facing foreclosure with options that allow them to keep their property, refinance or modify an existing mortgage, repair credit or help “buy more time.” In reality, these “options” are intended to convince you to take the wrong steps so they can take your money and possibly your home. Remember the old saying, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a new rule that bans the acceptance of an advance fee by mortgage relief/loan modification services until the homeowner has a written offer from their lender or servicer that they decide is acceptable. The Mortgage Assistance Relief Services (MARS) Rule is designed to protect homeowner from mortgage relief scams that have persisted during the current mortgage crisis.

According to the MARS Rule, mortgage relief companies must disclose that they are not associated with the government and that their services have not been approved by the government or a consumer’s lender; that the lender may not agree to change loan terms; and that consumers could lose their homes or damage their credit ratings if told to stop paying their mortgage. The MARS Rule also prohibits several common advertising tactics used by mortgage relief services and requires companies to have reliable evidence to support any claims about the benefits or effectiveness of the services they provide.

 “The good news for homeowners facing foreclosure is that legitimate avenues for relief exist,” McDaniel said.  “If a homeowner is having difficulty keeping up with mortgage payments, that homeowner should contact his or her lender to negotiate a modified payment plan. All lenders and servicers have a legal obligation to offer remediation services.”

 The National Association of REALTORS® and its partner NeighborWorks America, a national, nonprofit organization created by Congress to provide financial support, technical assistance and training for community-based revitalization efforts, have identified the following six red flags to indicate that you may be dealing with a loan modification scammer:

A company/person asks for a fee in advance to work with your lender to modify, refinance or reinstate your mortgage. They may pocket your money and do little or nothing to help you save your home from foreclosure.

A company/person guarantees they can stop a foreclosure or get your loan modified. Nobody can make this guarantee to stop foreclosure or modify your loan. Legitimate, trustworthy HUD-approved counseling agencies will only promise they will try their very best to help you.

A company/person advises you to stop paying your mortgage company and pay them instead. Despite what a scammer will tell you, you should never send a mortgage payment to anyone other than your mortgage lender. The minute you have trouble making your monthly payment, contact your mortgage lender.

A company pressures you to sign over the deed to your home or sign any paperwork that you haven’t had a chance to read, and you don’t fully understand. A legitimate housing counselor would never pressure you to sign a document before you had a chance to read and understand it.

A company claims to offer “government-approved” or “official government” loan modifications. They may be scam artists posing as legitimate organizations approved by, or affiliated with, the government. Contact your mortgage lender first. Your lender can tell you whether you qualify for any government programs to prevent foreclosure. And, remember, you do not have to pay to benefit from government-backed loan modification programs.

A company/person you don’t know asks you to release personal financial information online or over the phone. You should only give this type of information to companies that you know and trust, like your mortgage lender or a HUD-approved counseling agency.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of a loan modification scam, the Arkansas REALTORS® Association urges you to please take action by doing any or all of the following:

Call the Homeowner’s Hope Hotline at 1-888-995-HOPE (4673).
Call the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357)

Contact Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s Consumer Hotline at (501) 682-2341 or (800) 482-8982. Consumers may also visit McDaniel’s website, http://www.arkansasag.gov.

♦♦♦

House to House is distributed weekly by the Arkansas Realtors® Association.

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House to House: Loan Modification Scams Proliferating

With the national foreclosure rate persistently high, many homeowners have turned to loan modification or foreclosure “rescue” companies for help – only to realize they’ve been scammed. Anyone can become a victim of a loan modification scam. Every day, scam artists prey on unsuspecting homeowners who are facing foreclosure. These homeowners are losing thousands of dollars and their homes—lured by the promise of loan modification help.

“The best way to prevent yourself from falling victim to a scam is to be educated about the scammers’ tactics and be ready to say ‘No’ to any deal you’re unsure about,” says Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. “We encourage consumers to ask questions, go online to check the legitimacy of the party you’re dealing with, or contact our Consumer Protection Division if they are concerned.”

Common Loan Modification Scams

According to the National Association of REALTORS® and its partner NeighborWorks America, a national, nonprofit organization created by Congress to provide financial support, technical assistance and training for community-based revitalization efforts, the following are some of the most common loan modification scams out there today.

Phony Counseling or Foreclosure Rescue Scams
The scam artist poses as a counselor and tells you he can negotiate a deal with your lender to modify your loan or save your house—if you pay him a fee first. The fee may be called a processing fee or administrative fee. He may even tell you not to contact your lender, lawyer or housing counselor—that he’ll handle all details. He may even insist that you make all mortgage payments directly to him while he negotiates with the lender. Once you pay the fee, or a few mortgage payments, the scammer disappears with your money.

Fake “Government” Modification Programs
Some scammers may claim to be affiliated with, or approved by, the government, or they may ask you to pay high, up-front fees to “qualify” for government mortgage modification programs. The scammer’s company name and Website may sound like a real government agency, but the Website may end with .com or .net instead of .gov. You may also see terms like “federal,” “HAMP,” “MHA,” “HARP” or other words related to official U.S. government programs.

Contact your lender first. Your lender will be able to tell you if you qualify for any government programs to prevent foreclosure or modify your loans. And you do not have to pay to benefit from these programs.

Forensic Loan Audit
The scammer who may be called a forensic or mortgage loan “auditor” offers to review your mortgage loan documents to determine whether your lender complied with state and federal mortgage lending laws. The scammer will usually require that you pay a fee to start the process. The scammer may say you can use the audit report to avoid foreclosure, accelerate the loan modification process, reduce your loan principal, or even cancel your loan.

There is no proof that a forensic loan audit can save your home from foreclosure although it’s conducted by a licensed, legitimate and trained auditor, mortgage professional or lawyer. Even if you sue your lender and win, your lender is not required to modify your loan to make it more affordable. If you cancel your loan, you will have to return the borrowed money, which may result in you losing your home.

Bait-and-Switch
The scam artist convinces you to sign documents for a “new loan modification” that will make your existing mortgage current. This is a trick. You actually just signed documents that surrender the title or deed of your house to the scam artist in exchange for a “rescue” loan. Thoroughly read any document before you sign it.

Rent-to-Own or Leaseback Scheme
A scammer urges you to surrender the title or deed of your home as part of a deal that will let you stay in your home as a renter and then buy it back in a few years. He may tell you that surrendering the title will permit a borrower with a better credit rating to get new financing—and keep you from losing your home. However, the scammer may have no intention of ever selling the home back to you.

But the terms of these deals usually make buying back your home impossible. Worse yet, when the new borrower defaults on the loan, you’re evicted.

Short Sale Scam
Scammers, sometimes called “short sale negotiators” or “short sale processors,” may promise to expedite a short sale and usually require you to pay a fee, which is illegal in many states. Some scammers may even include surcharges or hidden fees before the transaction closes, which are also illegal in many states. The scammer may also misrepresent the value of the home to the lender.

A short sale may be a legitimate option for a homeowner in default or homeowner who is current yet the value of the home has fallen — if the lender agrees to the short sale. Homeowners should work with a REALTOR®  since the law requires that the person be properly licensed to negotiate the short sale with your lender.  Arkansas homeowners can verify licenses with the Arkansas Real Estate Commission by visiting their website at http://www.arec.arkansas.gov.

Bankruptcy to Avoid Foreclosure
The scammer may promise to negotiate with your lender or get refinancing on your behalf if you pay a fee up front. Instead of contacting your lender or refinancing your loan, he pockets the fee and files a bankruptcy case in your name—sometimes without your knowledge.

A bankruptcy filing often stops a home foreclosure, but only temporarily. Filing bankruptcy stops any collection and foreclosure while the bankruptcy court administers the case. But, eventually you must start paying your mortgage, or the lender will be able to foreclose.

You could lose the money you paid to the scammer and your home. Worse yet, a bankruptcy stays on your credit report for 10 years, which makes it difficult to obtain credit, buy a home, get life insurance or even get a job.

Next week, I’ll focus on 6 signs you can look for to indicate you may be dealing with a loan modification scammer.

***

House to House is distributed weekly by the Arkansas Realtors® Association.

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Arkansas Housing Market Holding Firm for Year

The Arkansas REALTORS® Association reported today that Arkansas home sales saw a slight slowdown in February after seeing a 13 percent increase in the number of Arkansas homes sold in January 2011 as compared with the same period last year.  According to today’s report, Arkansas home sales saw an almost 6% decrease sold in February as compared with the same month last year while the average price of homes sold in the 42 county area covered by the report experienced an increase of more than 1.5 percent to $136,300.

The following is a link to the full report in Excel format http://dl.dropbox.com/u/12295076/February2011%20Housing_FINAL.xls

The National Association of Realtors® reported on March 21 that existing home sales in the South fell 10.2 percent and that the median home price in the South was $134,600.  The following is a link to the full news release from NAR: http://www.realtor.org/press_room/news_releases/2011/03/feb_decline

“As is typical for the first quarter of any year, Arkansas home sales are sluggish,” said Amy Glover Bryant, Director of Communications for the Association.  “However, for the year to date the report reflects increases, though small, in the areas of units sold, home values and average home prices.  We see this as an encouraging sign when you take in to consideration that during the same period last year the federal government was rolling out the first-time home buyer tax credit.  In short, we are holding our own.”

A number of Arkansas counties experienced strong gains in the number of homes sold in February 2011 including Faulkner, Arkansas and Boone which saw 42 percent, 80 percent and 31 percent increases in the number of homes sold, respectively.

Representatives of the Arkansas Realtors® Association will be available throughout today to discuss the Arkansas numbers.  To set up an interview,
please contact Amy Glover Bryant, Director of Communications at 501.225.2020 or at 501.786.9415.  

As always, please keep in mind that this is an approximation of the Arkansas housing market based on the information provided to the Association at the
time of the report’s distribution.  Data is provided by REALTORS® reporting through participating multiple listing services in Arkansas and while deemed
reliable is not guaranteed.

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