Use An Automatic Stirrer To Keep Foods From Burning And Pots From Scorching

January 31, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Kitchen Gadgets 

Ardenté Gourmet StirrerIt doesn’t take much effort to stand over a pot and “stir continuously”, as called for in some recipes. It can be tedious, though, and once a chef stops stirring or leaves a pot unattended, the recipe is sure to ruin.

Enter the automatic stirrer.

With its self-adjusting, self-centering blades, the Ardenté Gourmet Stirrer latches on to the side of most kitchen bowls, and does that stirring for you. The machine’s constant blade-turning protects your milk-based recipes from burning; your sauce-based recipes from charring; and your temperate-sensitive sugars from caramelizing.

While it does its job, you’re freed up to tend to other tasks in the kitchen, or to spend time with family around the house.

It protects your pots from scorching, too.

The Ardenté Gourmet Stirrer runs on 4 C batteries and can be run continuously, or intermittently. Its blades run at different heights to promote consistency, and are dishwasher-safe for easy clean-up.

You can buy the automatic stirrer in white or black on Ardenté’s website, or on Amazon. It retails for $59.95.

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New Home Sales Reach 8-Month High

January 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: New Home Sales 

New Home Supply (Dec 2009 - Dec 2010)Sales of new homes rose sharply in December, posting a 17.5 percent gain from the month prior.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, New Home Sales climbed to 329,000 in December, besting November by close to 50,000 units on a seasonally-adjusted annual basis.

Last month’s reading is an 8-month high for New Home Sales, and the latest in a series of signals that housing is improving in Mason and around the country.

Note that December’s Existing Homes Sales and Building Permits reports also showed marked gains last month, climbing 12 percent and 6 percent, respectively.

Furthermore, an interesting pattern is emerging in the price points of home sales. The highest levels of relative growth are occurring within the “move-up buyer” segments. Entry-level price points are lagging the market, as a whole.

December’s New Home Sales data breaks down by price point as follows:

  • Homes under $200,000 : 36% of the market (-9% from November)
  • Homes between $200,000-$299,999 : 32% of the market (+7% from November)
  • Homes between $300,000-$499,999 : 27% of the market (+7% from November)

Luxury homes accounted for less than 5% of the newly-built home market, suggesting that Ohio homeowners are either not “buying new” as frequently, or are choosing to renovate their existing properties instead.

The 2010 housing market finished on a tear, and that momentum is carrying forward into 2011. Expect the spring season to show strongly, putting pressure on home prices to rise.

Coupled with rising mortgage rates, the long-term cost of homeownership is unlikely to be as low as it is today.

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A Simple Explanation Of The Federal Reserve Statement (January 26, 2011 Edition)

January 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: FOMC 

Putting the FOMC statement in plain EnglishToday, the Federal Open Market Committee voted 10-to-0 to leave the Fed Funds Rate unchanged within its target range of 0.000-0.250 percent.

In its press release, the FOMC noted that since December’s meeting, economic growth is ongoing, but at a pace deemed “insufficient” to make a material impact on the jobs market. In addition, the Fed said household spending “picked up” late last year, although it continues to be held back by joblessness, tight credit and lower housing wealth.

This is similar to the language used in the FOMC’s November and December 2010 statements.

Also like its last two statements, the Fed used this month’s press release to re-affirm its plan to keep the Fed Funds Rate near zero percent “for an extended period”, and to keep its $600 billion bond market support package in place.

And finally, of particular interest to Oakley home buyers and mortgage rate shoppers, for the second straight month, the Federal Open Market Committee’s statement contained an entire paragraph detailing the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate of managing inflation levels, while fostering maximum employment. 

The Fed acknowledges progress toward this goal, but calls that progress “disappointingly slow”. Inflation is too low right now, and joblessness too high.

Over time, the Fed expects both measurements to improve.

Mortgage market reaction to the FOMC has been positive since the statement’s release. Mortgage rates in Cincinnati are unchanged, but poised to improve.

The FOMC’s next scheduled meeting is a 1-day event, March 15, 2011.

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The Home Price Index Shows Flat For November

January 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Home Price Index 

Home Price Index from peak to presentHome values were reported unchanged in November 2010, on average, according to the Federal Home Finance Agency’s Home Price Index

We say “on average” because the government’s Home Price Index is a data composite for the country. The index doesn’t measure citywide changes in places like Madeira , nor does it get granular down to the neighborhood level to measure places like Mt Lookout.

Instead, the Home Price Index groups state data in 9 regions with each regions having as few as 4 states in it, and as many as 8.

Not surprisingly, each of the regions posted different price change figures for the period of October-to-November 2010.

A sampling includes:

  • Values in the Pacific region rose +1.2%
  • Values in the New England region rose +0.3%
  • Values in the Mountain region fell -1.9%

The complete regional list is available at the FHFA website.

That said, none of these numbers are particularly helpful to today’s home buyers and sellers and that’s because everyday people don’t buy and sell homes on the Regional Level. We do it locally and the government’s Home Price Index can’t capture data at that level.

It’s a similar reason to why the Case-Shiller Index is irrelevant to buyers and sellers.

November’s Case-Shiller Index showed home values down 1 percent in November, but that conclusion is a composite of just 20 cities nationwide — and they’re not even the 20 largest cities. Philadelphia, Houston and San Jose are conspicuously absent from the Case-Shiller list.

So why are reports like the Home Price and the Case-Shiller Index even published at all? Because, as national indicators, they help governments make policy, businesses make decisions, and banks make guidelines. Entities like that are national and require data that describe the economy as a whole. Home buyers and sellers, by contrast, need it locally.

Since peaking in April 2007, the Home Price Index is off 14.9 percent.

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The Fed Meets Today. What It Means To Mortgage Rates.

January 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: FOMC 

Fed Funds Rate vs Conforming Fixed Rate (2000-2010)The Federal Open Market Committee begins a 2-day meeting today in Washington D.C. It’s the group’s first meeting of 2011 — one of 8 scheduled for the year.

The Fed meets every 45 days, on average. Its last meeting was December 14, 2010.

Rate shoppers and home buyers should make a note. Mortgage rates and home affordability could change dramatically beginning tomorrow afternoon.

Because Wall Street watches FOMC meetings closely, so should you. The meetings provide insight on the future of U.S. monetary policy, as told by the nation’s central banker. Investors make trades based on the FOMC’s commentary which is one reason why mortgage rates tend to undulate through the hours leading up to the FOMC’s adjournment, and the days immediately after.

Wall Street is shifting old bets, and placing new ones.

A terrific example of this is what happened after the Fed’s November 3, 2010 meeting.

In its post-meeting press release, the Federal Reserve announced a new, $600 billion, market-bolstering plan dubbed “QE2”. Wall Street had widely expected the Fed to create the program, but had underestimated its size.

Starting a $600 billion program sparked fears of a Fed-led inflation run, which, in turn, caused mortgage markets to deteriorate in a hurry. In the 3 days following the program’s announcement, mortgage rates spiked to multi-month highs and have not since recovered.

QE2 marked the beginning of the end of the Refi Boom and low rates. Today, conforming rates in Ohio are relatively low as compared to higher, but are much higher than they were prior to the FOMC’s November 2010 meeting.

Then, December’s FOMC meeting did little to change the direction of rates. We shouldn’t expect that January’s will, either. After the FOMC’s 2:15 PM ET adjournment Wednesday, mortgage rates should resume climbing, as they have done for the past 10 weeks.

If you’re shopping for a mortgage rate, therefore, the prudent move is to lock prior to Wednesday’s FOMC adjournment because, after once the Fed’s outlook is released, it will be too late. 

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How To Keep Your Granite Countertops From Getting “Cloudy”

January 24, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Home How To 

Cleaning granite countertopsGranite is a popular “finishing choice” for homeowners in Madeira because of its good-looks and its strength. A well-maintained granite counter-top boasts natural beauty and outlasts most other finishes.

But granite is also natural rock, mined from the earth. It’s porous and highly absorbent.

Therefore, if your home features granite in its kitchen, its bathrooms, or other living spaces, you’ll want to make sure the counter-tops are cared for to prevent staining and/or clouding over time. 

The first step is to seal your countertops every 12 months — 6 months in areas of heavy use.

Sealing a counter-top is akin to applying polyurethane to hardwood flooring; it protects the material’s natural traits, while keeping out “the elements”. Specifically, sealing granite creates a non-porous layer on the surface that is impenetrable to juice and grease, as examples.

Sealant can be purchased at a local hardware store, or on Amazon.com. Prices start around $10. Just make sure you’re following the manufacturer’s application instructions. Sealant won’t work if applied improperly.

Then, once sealed, avoid harsh cleansers. Instead, opt for a warm sponge and mild detergent. Cleaning with soap will help leave a reflective finish on the surface that will not strip the seal. Using soap also prevents the “cloudy counterspy” condition that’s so common with granite.

And, lastly, every day, take preventative measures to keep your granite shining. Just because a countertop is sealed, that doesn’t mean it’s immune to damage. Use coasters under beverages, put hot plates under dishes, and clean up spills as they happen. 

A granite counter-top will last years will proper care.

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Home Supplies Plummet, Putting Pressure On Prices To Rise

January 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Existing Home Sales 

Existing Home Supply 2009-2010Existing Home Sales surged 12 percent last month, closing 2010’s housing market with strength. An “existing home” is a home that cannot be categorized as new construction; a resale.

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, seasonally-adjusted, annualized Existing Home Sales figures climbed by more than a half-million units in December as compared to November. It’s the 3rd straight month of home resale improvement nationwide.

Sales volume is now as high as it’s been since May 2010 — just after the federal home buyer tax credit’s expiration.

In addition, the number of months needed to sell the complete, current home inventory at the current pace of sales fell by 1.4 months, tying December for the biggest one-month home supply improvement in 2 years.

It’s yet another signal that the housing market is in recovery. Not that this data should surprise anyone. November’s Pending Home Sales report told us to expect it two weeks ago.

Broken down by buyer-type, home sales split as follows:

  • First-time home buyers : 33% of all sales
  • Repeat buyers : 47% of all sales
  • Real estate investors : 20% of all sales

Cash buyers represented 29 percent of all transaction, down 2 ticks from November. This may suggest that mortgage guidelines are loosening — another sign of economic improvement.

So, take note, Mason home buyers. This spring, along with mortgage rates, home values should rise, too. Expect less “bang for your buck” as the housing recovery takes hold here in Oakley and across the nation.

The best deals of the year may be the ones made this month.

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Building Permits Surge In December; Signals A Strong Spring Housing Market

January 20, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Housing Starts 

Housing Starts 2007-2010

Each month, in conjunction with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Census Bureau releases its New Residential Construction report. The report is comprised of several sections, one of which counts the number of homes that have “broken ground” in Ohio and nationwide.

They’re called “Housing Starts” and, by most measures, they faded quickly as 2010 came to a close.

According to the Census Bureau’s report, Housing Starts of single-family homes fell to 417,000 units on a seasonally-adjusted, annual basis. The figure marks a 9 percent drop-off from November, and is the lowest reading since May 2009.

Not surprisingly, the press went bearish on housing post-release:

  • U.S. Home Building Stuck Near 50-Year Lows (AFP)
  • Housing Starts Slowed Sharply In December (New York Times)
  • Housing Starts Fall In December To One-Year Low (Bloomberg)

Despite being truthful, these headlines are somewhat misleading. They each ignore a key element of December’s New Residential Construction report — Building Permits. Building Permits rose 6 percent to an 8-month high last month.

A building permit is a local-government certification that authorizes home construction. 

Permits are a precursor to Housing Starts with 82% of homes starting construction within 60 days of permit-issuance. More permits in December, therefore, should lead to more Housing Starts in January and February.

It’s unclear whether permits were up because the economy was improving, or because builders raced to beat new building code for 2011. Regardless, expect additional “new home” supplies this spring which would ordinarily help home prices drop if not for the normal surge in spring buyers to gobble those new homes up.

Look for home prices to stay flat, but with rising mortgage rates contributing to higher costs of homeownership overall.

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Home Builders Slowed By Economy, But Seeing More Foot Traffic

January 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Homebuilders 

National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index (Nov 2009-Dec 2010)Homebuilder confidence held firm for the second straight month this month, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

The monthly Housing Market Index registered 16 out of a possible 100. January’s reading is three points higher than the 2010 low-point, set in September, and in-line with last year’s average reading.

According to the NAHB, the market for newly-built, single family homes remains relatively weak “following a below-expectations finish in 2010”. Builders expect a better 2011.

The Housing Market Index dates to 1985. It’s a composite of surveys which gauge the builders’ perceptions of the new home-buying market.

There are 3 surveys and they ask:

  1. How would you rate market conditions for sales of new homes today?
  2. How would you rate market conditions for sales of new homes 6 months from now?
  3. How would you rate the foot traffic of prospective buyers of new homes?

The answers are then collated and weighted, and used to produce the Housing Market Index.

In January, market conditions for current and future sales were deemed to be flat. Foot traffic is seen as increasing. For homebuyers of new homes in Mason , this data may foretell of more bidding wars in the months ahead.

More active buyers means more competition for homes. It may also mean fewer concessions from builders as confidence starts rising.

If you’re in the market for a newly-built home, watching the Housing Market Index may be sensible. Each builder is different, of course, but as the overall market sentiment falls, buyers can be more likely to get “a deal”. That’s not the case once confidence is rising.

The HMI is plateaued. If it resumes rising later this year, expect new homes to get more costly.

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Is This Home Renovation Going To Be Worth It?

January 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Home Improvement 

Remodeling valueHome remodeling projects can add function to a home, but don’t always add value. Consider the latest report from Remodeling Magazine. 

In it, the average cost of 35 projects are evaluated for the value they retain at the time of resale. Function beats flash, it seems, in today’s housing market.

Expansive kitchens and custom vanities are returning less value to homeowners in Madeira  on a percentage basis than energy-efficient doors and windows, for example.

A sampling of Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs Resale report shows the following cost recovery, by project:

  • Attic Bedroom Remodel : 79.90 percent cost recovery
  • Bathroom Addition : 74.90 percent cost recovery
  • Bathroom Addition (Upscale) : 72.80 percent cost recovery
  • Home Office Remodel : 63.40 percent cost recovery
  • Minor Kitchen Remodel : 85.20 percent cost recovery
  • Major Kitchen Remodel : 75.90 percent cost recovery
  • Roofing Replacement : 73.90 percent cost recovery
  • Window Replacement (Wood) : 85.30 percent cost recovery

Overall, “green” projects are returning a high percentage of costs to remodeling homeowners — especially for respect to homes that are “over-improved” with respect to the neighbors.

CNNMoney.com hosts a “Will This Renovation Pay Off?” calculator on its website, based on the data from Remodeling Magazine’s annual report. It may be a helpful guide for you. That said, before starting a home improvement project, regardless of whether your goal is increase your home’s resale value or to improve its function, be sure to talk with a real estate agent that knows your neighborhood well.

At worst, you’ll gain insight to what’s “typical” for your area to work into your plan, and, at best, you’ll keep yourself from over-improving your home.

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