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Michael Gillis

Michael Gillis
701 W. Market Street  Perkasie  PA 18944
Phone:  215-469-0213
Office:  215-453-7653
Fax:  267-354-6911

My Blog

Survey Shows Consumer Attitudes More Positive

March 19, 2012 1:02 am

A new survey shows that Americans’ concerns about key economic and housing issues are beginning to subside.

Fannie Mae’s February 2012 National Housing Survey shows that consumer attitudes have stabilized across most indicators—including personal finances, housing, and employment—compared to late summer and fall of 2011. The survey polls 1,003 Americans via telephone interview to assess their attitudes toward owning and renting a home, mortgage rates, homeownership distress, the economy, household finances, and overall consumer confidence. Homeowners and renters are asked more than 100 questions used to track attitudinal shifts.

The survey shows that the most dramatic change revolves around the economy—35 percent of Americans now feel that the economy is on the right track, up 19 percentage points since November, and 57 percent think the economy is on the wrong track, down 18 percentage points since November.

Americans’ confidence about personal financial situations, household income, and household expenses, as well as attitudes about homeownership and renting is holding at steady levels. Also important to note, Americans’ concerns about losing their job in the next 12 months has stabilized since the late fall, with 76 percent of Americans saying they are not concerned in February 2012, compared to 70 percent in November 2011. Fannie Mae believes that the recent pick-up in the pace of hiring over the past few months is directly responsible for alleviating consumer concerns about unemployment.

Here are some additional highlights from this important survey:
  • Only 12 percent of respondents believe that their personal financial situation will worsen in the next 12 months, a 3 percentage point drop from January and the lowest value in over a year.
  • 33 percent say their expenses have increased significantly over the past 12 months, a 3 percentage point decrease from last month and the lowest level in the past 12 months.
  • 28 percent of respondents expect home prices to increase over the next 12 months (consistent with last month), while 15 percent say they expect home prices to decline (down 1 percentage point since last month).
  • 10 percent of Americans say that mortgage rates will go down in the next 12 months, a 2 percentage point increase from last month.
  • The percentage of respondents who say it is a good time to sell rose by 3 percentage points to 13 percent, the highest level in over a year.
  • 45 percent of respondents think that home rental prices will go up, a 2 percentage point increase from last month.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Moviegoing Goes Viral with New App

March 16, 2012 1:00 am

Popular online movie site Fandango announced that it has launched a new Facebook timeline app that makes movie-going more social than ever. The new app, called "Movies with Friends," allows fans to share their movie-based activities and recommendations on their Facebook timeline and News Feed, while seeing their Facebook friends' movie picks via an activity bar on Fandango's website. The feature will also provide fans the choice to actively share information about their movie-going plans and invite others to join them, facilitating movie-going with friends in real time.

"Movies with Friends" is an opt-in app that allows users to share up-to-the minute film information, including:
  • Movies they've rated and reviewed on Fandango, from "Must Go" to "Oh No!"
  • Movies they want to see, indicated by the "I'm In!" button
  • Movie trailers, clips and celebrity interviews they have just watched
  • Articles they've read on Fandango's "Freshly Popped" blog
The launch of the Movies with Friends app follows on the heels of Fandango's best-selling January and February in the company's nearly-12-year history. Fandango recently announced new ticketing agreements with Regency Theatres, and with AMC Theatres, adding 3,000 new AMC screens to its extensive network of movie theaters across the country, now numbering a total of nearly 20,000 screens. Fandango's 30 million unique visitors regularly account for a significant percentage of opening weekend tickets sold nationwide, and the company is already reporting hundreds of sold-out showtimes for the March 23rd release of "The Hunger Games."

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New Index Shows Rental Markets Heating Up

March 16, 2012 1:00 am

Median rents rose 3 percent from January 2011 to January 2012 while home values declined 4.6 percent during that period, according to the January Zillow® Real Estate Market Reports.

The newly released Zillow Rent Index (ZRI) showed year-over-year gains for 69.2 percent of metropolitan areas covered by the ZRI. By contrast, only 7.3 percent of metro areas covered by the Zillow Home Value Index (ZHVI) saw home values rise. All in all, 70 percent of markets saw an increase in rents, while 7 percent logged home value increases.

"While it seems that rents are rising at the expense of home values, the opposite is true,” explains Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Stan Humphries. “A thriving rental market will stimulate home sales as investors snap up low-priced inventory to convert to rentals. That, in turn, will lower the number of homes on the market, which will eventually help put a floor under the value of all homes. Moreover, rising rents increase demand as buying becomes more attractive than renting because of low purchase prices and higher rents."

In the short term, national monthly rents declined slightly from December 2011 to January 2012, falling 0.3 percent to $1,218. Home values fell 0.5 percent during the same period to $146,200.

Additionally, foreclosures ticked up slightly in January. Foreclosure re-sales also rose on both a month-over-month and year-over-year basis. Nearly one-in-five (19.5 percent) of homes sold in January were foreclosure re-sales.

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Seniors and Young Adults to Play Big Role in Housing

March 16, 2012 1:00 am

Aging baby boomers and their echo boomer children will significantly impact trends in the nation’s housing market over the next 20 years. In a new report released by the Bipartisan Policy Center, “Demographic Challenges and Opportunities for U.S. Housing Markets,” researchers at the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), The Urban Institute, and the University of Southern California analyze key demographic trends and their likely influence on housing and homeownership in the U.S.

Over the next two decades, the aging baby boomer generation will swell the nation’s senior population by 30 million. That demographic shift will likely help increase the supply of housing, since people over age 65 typically release much more housing than they absorb.

“The Northeast and Midwest are most likely to see a large number of older homeowners selling their homes to younger homeowners as the baby boomers age,” explains NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “This increased supply could mean additional buying opportunities for echo boomers. That generation will absorb 75-80 percent of the available inventory of owner-occupied housing by 2020.”

The echo boom generation includes nearly 65 million people born between 1981 and 1995. NAR’s analysis illustrates the potential impact of economic and housing policy on this generation’s demand for housing as they come of age.

“Housing, jobs and the economy are inextricably connected,” says Yun. “A strong recovery with favorable housing market conditions would encourage substantial growth in echo boomer households, which would help absorb the current vacant inventory and stabilize conditions for residential construction. Under a reasonable ‘middle’ recovery scenario, approximately 12 million new households will be formed over the next decade, requiring construction of up to 15 million new housing units.”

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Saturday St. Patrick's Day Poses Increased Risk

March 15, 2012 7:00 am

Newly released data on offenders monitored 24/7 for alcohol consumption shows that when St. Patrick's Day falls on a Saturday, drinking violations increase 25 percent over the average for the rest of the year—and that's for offenders who know they're being monitored and whose consequences are often time in jail.

According to Denver-based Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS), which monitors 14,000 DUI and other alcohol-involved offenders each day, the newly released data shows that when the St. Patrick's Day Holiday falls on a Friday or Saturday, violation rates skyrocket 25 percent over the average for the rest of the year. The study looked at holiday drinking for the last seven years.

The data underscores the challenges of the holiday for law enforcement as well as the risks posed by problem drinkers. The additional risks that go with a weekend St. Patrick's Day are no surprise to law enforcement, who are already warning celebrants of the additional measures they can expect to see over the holiday weekend this year. According to the Colorado Department of Transportation Interagency Task Force on Drunk Driving (ITFDD), regardless of the day of the week, St. Patrick's Day sees the second-highest rate of DUI arrests in the state, right after Halloween.

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Appraisal Institute Advises US Sentencing Commission to Require Appraisals

March 15, 2012 7:00 am

Speaking at a hearing in Washington, D.C., the Appraisal Institute recently urged a federal judicial agency to require the use of real estate appraisals when calculating loss in mortgage fraud cases. The Appraisal Institute is one of the nation's largest professional associations of real estate appraisers.

In prepared written testimony, Appraisal Institute President Sara W. Stephens, MAI, told the U.S. Sentencing Commission, "We believe the Commission should adopt a special rule for determining the fair market value of real property if the mortgaged property has not been disposed of by the time of the sentencing. However, this rule should require use of real estate appraisals prepared by qualified appraisers in accordance with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice, as opposed to tax assessments, to ensure fairness and consistency."

Stephens explained that the Appraisal Institute and the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers oppose the proposed amendments to the federal Mortgage Fraud Sentencing Guidelines because the amendments propose using tax assessments, and not real estate appraisals, to determine fair market value when the property in question has not been sold.

"Real estate appraisals prepared by qualified real estate appraisers in accordance with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice are clearly preferable to tax assessments for the circumstances described in the amendments," Stephens said in her written testimony.

She said that condition and quality inspections are necessary as part of a credible and thorough valuation of a property, noting that tax assessments do not include such inspections. She also said tax assessments rely on public records data, which can be inaccurate and therefore reduce the reliability of the valuation.

Stephens also noted that reassessment periods vary widely by jurisdiction, and that some jurisdictions have not reassessed property in several decades. "In these cases, if a tax assessment is used in the calculation of a mortgage fraud sentence, it is likely to overstate the loss to the bank, and potentially inflate the sentence of someone convicted of mortgage fraud," she noted, adding that fairness requires use of a real estate appraisal.

Stephens also said that assessed value may not conform to market value. And she said the two appraisal organizations recommend that the Commission establish a special rule relating to the qualifications of real estate appraisers. "We suggest those performing these appraisals have earned a designation from a nationally recognized professional appraisal association who awards the designation based on demonstrated competency that requires approved classroom training in appraisal practice, experience requirements, and preparation of a demonstration appraisal report or appraisal review report or a comprehensive qualifying examination," she said in her written testimony.

Section 1079A of the Dodd-Frank Act requires the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review and, if appropriate, to amend the federal sentencing guidelines applicable to mortgage fraud and financial institution fraud offenses and to consider whether the guidelines appropriately account for the potential and actual harm to the public and the financial markets from those offenses.

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How to Spot a Mortgage Scam

March 15, 2012 7:00 am

While the landmark $25 billion National Mortgage Settlement was just announced last month, scammers have wasted no time capitalizing on the vulnerability of desperate homeowners.

The settlement with the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers was signed by federal and state officials Feb. 9, and will provide assistance for homeowners in order to compensate for the faulty foreclosure practices offered by mortgage servicers following the housing market crash. According to the nonprofit credit-counseling agency Money Management International (MMI), although real compensation is still months away, there have already been numerous reports of scam operations popping up across the country.

“While the government has been cracking down on foreclosure scams, it is important for you to remain diligent in keeping your personal information safe,” advises Jo Kerstetter, vice president of education and community relations for MMI.

Kerstetter offers the following tips to help avoid a scam:
  • Don’t panic. Mortgage scams are effective because the scammer is able to exploit the fear of a person who is in a desperate, vulnerable state. Don’t let fear cause you to make irrational decisions.
  • Never act under pressure. Don’t sign a contract or disclose information before doing your research. You can always request to receive any information in writing.
  • Trust your gut. If someone is offering you something that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Stay informed. Make sure you obtain detailed information about your foreclosure deadlines. If you want to know if you qualify under the Settlement, contact your bank or loan servicer directly.
  • Don’t release any personal financial information. If you are contacted by someone who claims to be from your financial institution and wants you to “confirm” or help them identify your personal account information, it is likely a scam. Rather than releasing information, ask for their contact information and tell them you’re going to call them back.
  • There is no fee involved in the National Mortgage Settlement. If you are contacted in any way from someone asking for money in return for a speedy settlement payment, they are scamming you.
For more information about mortgage assistance relief scams, visit FTC.gov. If you have questions or concerns about your mortgage loan, consider meeting with a HUD-certified housing counselor to discuss your options.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Americans Making Changes to be More Energy Efficient at Home

March 14, 2012 7:00 am

While the vast majority of Americans say that they are knowledgeable about energy sources, many are not actually making the necessary changes nor monitoring their own usage.

According to the results of a recent Harris Poll, majorities of Americans are doing some basic things like turning off lights, televisions or other appliances when not in use (82 percent), replacing incandescent bulbs with fluorescent ones (58 percent), using power strips (56 percent), looking for ENERGY STAR labels when replacing appliances (55 percent) and using low watt bulbs (54 percent). But there are other things majorities of Americans are not doing. 

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,056 adults surveyed online between February 6 and 13, 2012 by Harris Interactive. 

Less than half of Americans have installed a programmable thermostat (37 percent), sealed gaps in floors or walls around pipes or electric wiring (34 percent), installed low-flow faucets (29 percent), energy efficient windows (28 percent) or added insulation to an attic, crawl space or accessible exterior windows (27 percent). And just one in ten U.S. adults (11 percent) have conducted a home energy evaluation or audit. 

There are certain regional differences as well. For example, over half of Southerners (55 percent) change their air filters monthly in comparison to just 27 percent of Easterners and 28 percent of Westerners. Three in five Westerners (59 percent) use low wattage light bulbs compared to just 48 percent of Easterners and, two in five of those living in the West (40 percent) have installed low-flow faucets compared to just 25 percent of those in the East and 23 percent in the Midwest. 

Controlling Energy Usage at Home
One way utilities around the country are helping households control energy costs is with Smart Meter technology. Yet just one in five Americans (21 percent) say they have been contacted by their utility or co-op about this or other energy efficiency tools. It seems to be used more in the West as one-third of those living there (32 percent) have been contacted compared to just 16 percent of Midwesterners. 

If they could control their home energy use and lower energy costs with a computerized dashboard in their home, almost half of Americans (48 percent) say they would be likely to install such a dashboard in their home, even with the understanding that they would have to proactively manage their energy use. Three in ten (31 percent) are neither likely nor unlikely to install this and one in five (21 percent) are unlikely to do so. This likelihood is a little soft as just 13 percent are very likely to install this dashboard and one-third (35 percent) are somewhat likely to do so. 

One reason this dashboard may work is that Americans would prefer to control their energy usage. If they were allotted a maximum amount of energy for daily use that varies during peak energy usage periods, seven in ten U.S. adults (69 percent) would prefer to manage that energy distribution themselves while only 9 percent would prefer to have their utility manage their energy use; one in five (22 percent) are not sure.

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Mobile Technology Key to Apartment Hunting

March 14, 2012 7:00 am

A new survey reveals that when it comes to hunting for their next apartment, renters are accessing property information on the go using smartphones and tablets to search and browse online.

The Mobile, Search and Renters study from Apartment Finder, revealed that 97 percent of apartment seekers who used a mobile device in their search process considered it a valuable tool, with 48 percent asserting it as “essential” and 49 percent stating it as “helpful.” The national study of over 1,500 renters also reveals that mobile leads convert, as 73 percent of mobile device users contacted someone to view an apartment based on their search. The growth potential in mobile search usage is significant, with 85 percent of non-users stating they’d consider using a mobile device in their next apartment search. 

The Apartment Finder Mobile Renters study found that the activities conducted most often from a mobile device were:
• 72 percent viewed photos and videos of apartments
• 68 percent found details, price, description, amenities and contact information
• 59 percent searched by city
• 53 percent inquired for more information about an apartment community
• 45 percent located an apartment community with GPS
• 36 percent downloaded an apartment search app
• 24 percent shared listing information with friends and family 

Apartment Finder offers a suite of mobile marketing tools to help apartment communities reach renters on the go through a mobile-enabled website, ApartmentFinder.com, free integrated iPhone and Android applications, QR codes and text codes. These digital options help connect advertisers with apartment seekers with greater speed and convenience than ever before.

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Employment Outlook Brightens

March 14, 2012 7:00 am

According to the latest report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 3.5 million job openings on the last business day of January 2012, unchanged from December 2011. The hires rate (3.1 percent) and separations rate (3.0 percent) were little changed over the month. The job openings rate has trended upward since the end of the recession in June 2009. (Recession dates are determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research.)

This release includes estimates of the number and rate of job openings, hires, and separations for the nonfarm sector by industry and by geographic region for January 2012. The release also includes 2011 annual estimates for hires and separations. The annual totals for hires and quits increased in 2011, while the annual total for layoffs and discharges decreased.

Job Openings
The number of job openings in January was 3.5 million, unchanged from December. Although the number of job openings remained below the 4.3 million openings when the recession began in December 2007, the number of job openings has increased 45 percent since the end of the recession in June 2009.

In January, the hires rate was essentially unchanged at 3.1 percent for total nonfarm. The hires rate was little changed over the month in all industries and regions. The number of hires in January was 4.2 million, still below the 5.0 million hires at the beginning of the recession (December 2007) but up 13 percent since the end of the recession (June 2009).

Over the past 12 months, the hires rate (not seasonally adjusted) was little changed for total nonfarm and total private but increased for government. The hires rate rose over the year in mining and logging; arts, entertainment, and recreation; and state and local government. The hires rate fell over the year in federal government. In all four regions, the hires rate was little changed over the year.

Net Change in Employment
Large numbers of hires and separations occur every month throughout the business cycle. Net employment change results from the relationship between hires and separations. When the number of hires exceeds the number of separations, employment rises, even if the hires level is steady or declining. Conversely, when the number of hires is less than the number of separations, employment declines, even if the hires level is steady or rising. Over the 12 months ending in January 2012, hires totaled 50.2 million and separations totaled 48.3 million, yielding a net employment gain of 2.0 million. These figures include workers who may have been hired and separated more than once during the year.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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