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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

Cost of Owning and Operating a Vehicle Continues to Increase

April 30, 2012 2:44 am

AAA recently released the results of its annual 'Your Driving Costs' study, revealing a 1.9 percent rise in the yearly costs to own and operate a sedan in the U.S. The average costs rose 1.1 cents per mile to 59.6 cents per mile, or $8,946 per year, based upon 15,000 miles of annual driving.

"The average driving cost for 2012 is up due to relatively large increases in fuel and tire costs, and more moderate increases in other areas," said John Nielsen, AAA director of Automotive Engineering and Repair. "Those increases were offset by a decrease in depreciation resulting in an overall increase of 1.9 percent."

"Some driving costs fluctuate at different times during the year, such as what we have experienced with fuel prices since the middle of February," explained Nielsen. "However, AAA's use of a consistent methodology for its study allows an accurate comparison of driving costs from year to year, and the figures can reliably be used to compare different categories of vehicles."

Nielsen continued, "AAA understands that high fuel prices are a real concern for consumers, and those in the market for a new vehicle may want to be cautious and determine projected operational costs based on varying levels of fuels costs. To assist consumers in determining their individual driving costs, the AAA 'Your Driving Costs' brochure contains a worksheet that can be filled out and personalized for a specific area, driver and vehicle.

Fuel Costs Up 14.8 Percent
The cost of fuel had the largest percentage increase from 2011 to 2012, rising 14.8 percent to 14.2 cents per mile on average for sedan owners. The average cost of regular grade fuel (used by most of the study vehicles) rose 16.6 percent, from $2.880 to $3.357 per gallon. Several vehicles included in the 'Your Driving Costs' study had increases in fuel economy, resulting in the overall average fuel cost increase being slightly less. The fuel costs in the 2012 study were calculated using the national average price for regular, unleaded gasoline during the fourth quarter of 2011.

Tire Costs Up 4.2 Percent
The cost of tires ranks second highest among the factors that rose from 2011 to 2012, increasing by 4.2 percent to one cent per mile on average for sedan owners. The rise in cost can be attributed to higher costs for natural rubber, and the increased cost of oil used in tire production and transportation from factory to distributors across the country. A collateral factor is a trend for manufactures to equip new cars with premium-grade tires rather than mid-grade tires.

Depreciation Drops 4.9 Percent
Depreciation costs were up slightly in 2011, but for 2012 the trend has reversed with depreciation falling across the board by nearly five percent. This change may be a consequence of reduced new car sales over the past few years, which has resulted in a relative shortage of good used cars on the market, driving up their value. This is good news for those in the resale market as their vehicles will retain a greater portion of their purchase cost.

Maintenance Costs Up 0.7 Percent
Maintenance costs are slightly higher in the 2012 'Your Driving Costs' study with an increase of 0.7 percent to 4.47 cents per mile on average for sedans. Factors contributing to the increase include higher prices for oil and more manufacturers now requiring synthetic or synthetic-blend motor oils. Although the use of these oils often comes with extended service intervals, the higher cost of the oil combined with increased maintenance operations at each service (which adds to the time required) can combine to increase overall vehicle maintenance costs.

Insurance Costs Up 3.4 Percent
Average insurance costs for sedans rose 3.4 percent (or $33) to $1,001 yearly. Insurance rates vary widely by driver and driving record, issuing company and geographical region. AAA insurance cost estimates are based on a low-risk driver with a clean driving record. For 2012, this group saw a small increase that offset a decrease experienced in 2011. Quotes from five AAA clubs and insurance companies representing seven states showed across the board increases for all sedan sizes, with large cars having the biggest increase.

62nd Year of 'Your Driving Costs' Study
AAA has published 'Your Driving Costs' since 1950. That year, driving a car 10,000 miles per year cost 9 cents per mile, and gasoline sold for 27 cents per gallon.

Driving costs are also affected by how well your vehicle runs. Performing regular maintenance not only ensures fuel-efficient operation but can help prevent costly vehicle repairs that can add to your total ownership cost.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Green Building Materials to Inspire Spring Remodeling Projects

April 30, 2012 2:44 am

Now that the warm weather has arrived, homeowners are ready to tackle their to-do lists and take on home remodeling projects that were put on hold throughout the winter months. If you’re ready to turn your dreams into reality, it’s important to not only focus on the project’s design, but to also pay attention to the materials used.

While new techniques and radically re-thought living concepts are responsible for many green building advancements, it is the materials themselves that have the biggest impact.

General contractor BetterBuilders recommends these popular green building materials to help inspire and focus your spring home remodeling projects:

Decking Materials
Building a new deck to expand and improve the living area during more temperate months is a time honored spring remodeling project. Several decking alternatives feature composites made from a blend of waste wood fiber and recycled plastics. These do well in regards to durability and reuse, but are still made from petroleum products. Hardwoods will be the most natural, but can come with the added cost of depleting a limited resource, while incurring inordinate transportation costs. Perhaps the best bet is to research hardwood alternatives available in your area, or by going with a softer wood that can be preserved with stains containing low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Exterior Siding Materials
Re-siding a home can do a lot for its overall aesthetic. Once again, using old-growth hardwood would seem like the way to go, but unless it is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), it isn't deemed sustainable. Metal siding, while less than ideal, is very reusable with some made almost entirely from recycled material. Fiber-cement is an economical compromise between the two, featuring the look of wood while consisting of recycled cement and wood fibers.

Roofing Materials
Most roofing materials leave something to be desired in at least one of the major categories in green building. This is mainly due to weight and production locations. Clay and slate tiles are both low energy input products and very recyclable, but their weight makes shipping distances prohibitive when trying to account for environmental impact. Metal roofing on the other hand is lighter and recyclable, but can account for an increase of metals in ground water. Do your research to see how local resources can affect your decision.

Flooring Materials
Hardwood flooring is ideal if it is FSC certified and from a local source. Rising in popularity are green alternatives, bamboo and cork flooring, because of their rapidly renewable sources. They are available in a variety of different shapes and colors, as well as many different installation options.

Refurbish and Reuse
Of course, the best way to make sure your spring remodeling projects are adhering to sustainability guidelines, like those issued by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), is to refurbish and reuse materials you already have. Refinishing cabinets that have been cleaned of toxic adhesives or reconditioning stainless steel tubs and sinks for a kitchen remodel works best of all. The less energy used in acquiring new materials, the better off you are.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Housing Outlook Continues to Brighten, Say Economists

April 30, 2012 2:44 am

Mirroring the uneven economic recovery, the housing market is expected to move in a slow, gradual upward path in 2012, while encountering its share of speed bumps along the road, according to economists participating in yesterday’s National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) construction forecast webinar on the housing and economic outlook.

While the latest monthly housing data have shown signs of a slight softening, NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe said this is more reflective of typical month-to-month volatility in the numbers and unusual seasonal factors than they are an indication of any significant downward trend in the broader housing market.

“The aggregate information suggests we’re just in a pause mode right now in terms of these measures,” said Crowe, who noted this could partly be the result of an early spring that brought much better weather than usual into the picture at the start of this year and pulled some housing activity forward.

Pointing out that less volatile quarterly data have continued to show modest improvement in key housing indicators such as builder sentiment, new-home sales and housing production, Crowe said the “housing outlook continues to slowly brighten.”

Crowe noted that numerous other fundamentals remain positive for housing at this time, including demographic factors (with pent-up household demand expected to ramp up and echo-boomers heading into their prime household formation ages), historically favorable mortgage rates that are not expected to move higher than 5 percent by the end of next year, more than 100 local markets currently listed on the NAHB/First American Improving Markets Index, and the fact that house price-to-income ratio has now returned to its historical average of about three-to-one versus the nearly five-to-one to which it had previously risen during the height of the housing boom.

However, he cautioned that housing still continues to face formidable challenges of its own such as rising foreclosures, persistently tight lending standards for homebuyers and builders and difficulties in obtaining accurate appraisals. Moreover, disappointing job growth numbers in March and uncertainty in the European economy are undermining prospects for a vigorous recovery.

“No one is anticipating that an upward path for housing will run in a straight-line trajectory,” said Crowe. “The economy is in an uneven recovery and we can expect some corresponding ups-and-downs in the housing market in the months ahead. However, NAHB believes that on the whole, we can expect a slow and gradual recovery in housing starts, home sales and the overall housing market in 2012.”

Starts and Sales on Upward Path
New-home sales are expected to climb from a record-low of 305,000 units in 2011 to 357,000 this year and 505,000 in 2013. Existing single-family sales are expected to follow suit and rise from 3.8 million last year to 4.4 million in 2012 and 5.4 million next year.

Housing starts are also anticipated to move in the same upward trajectory, Crowe said, with single-family housing production increasing from 434,000 units last year to 503,000 this year and a more solid 660,000 in 2013.

On the multifamily side, starts posted a healthy 55 percent increase in 2011 over 2010.

“A lot of newly formed households have become renters, so we need more rental units,” Crowe said. “We don’t expect to see the same rate of increase moving forward, but we should continue to see a healthy recovery.”

NAHB is anticipating that multifamily starts will rise from 177,000 units last year to 216,000 in 2012 and 235,000 in 2013.

With many households choosing to stay in place and remodel their homes rather than move, residential remodeling is expected to rise 12 percent this year and another 7.9 percent in 2013.

U.S. Economic Outlook
Delving into the economic forces that housing will be contending with in the next two years, Chris Varvares, senior managing director and co-founder of Macroeconomic Advisers, LLC, projected growth in the gross domestic product of 2.6 percent this year and about 3.3 percent in 2013.

Citing a number of risks to this outlook, Varvares said the “eurozone is the 800 pound gorilla in the room,” and if Spain or Italy face a financial default, the effects could spill over into the U.S.

Soaring oil prices and the standoff with Iran over its nuclear stance could also unnerve financial and commodity markets.

In the U.S., he said that the payroll tax holiday, emergency unemployment benefits, and the Bush-era tax cuts are all due to expire at the end of the year. So if Congress does not act, he said we could be “hitting a fiscal cliff.”

On the plus side, he said that increasing household formations, rising real incomes, steadily upward payroll growth and a bullish stock market will contribute to the current economic expansion.

Turning to the housing front, Varvares said, “we believe we have hit the trough in home prices” and expects prices to be flat this year and to rise 1.5 percent in 2013.

He anticipates 514,000 single-family starts in 2012 and 751,000 next year. Multifamily housing production should hit 221,000 this year and 238,000 in 2013.

“Our long-term analysis suggests that given the demographics, we need to build roughly 1.6 million units a year over the next decade to meet demographic demand for housing,” said Varvares. “Obviously, we are now well below that. We do believe we will see a fairly nice run in 2013 and beyond as we need to build those units.”

Conditions Vary by State
Looking at various state statistics behind the national numbers, Robert Denk, NAHB’s assistant vice president for forecasting and analysis, noted a range of conditions across the country and differences among the states in the amount of distress suffered during the recession and the headway that is being made in recovering.

Housing nationwide bottomed out at an average 27 percent of normal production, which he defines as the residential building that occurred in 2000 to 2003, before the housing boom.

The hardest hit states—such as California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona—bottomed out at between 10 percent and 15 percent of normal production, while better states, in sharp contrast, declined to 50 percent of normal production.

Denk said that housing prices are drifting back to near-normal in many states. The number of states where house prices now exceed their historic trend are continuing to recede, joining the states where prices are in the normal range.

Some states however, such as Arizona and Nevada, have seen an overcorrection of boom prices and will take longer to get back to normal.

Nationally, he said prices have dropped back to normal. “What we are seeing is stabilization of house prices across the country, back to nearly their historical averages,” he said.

Most states saw their foreclosure rates jump from an average of 0.5 percent during the period before the boom to a peak of nearly 1.5 percent in the third quarter of 2009, but there were those—such as California, Arizona, Florida and Nevada—where foreclosures increased by a factor of four, five or six times normal.

Nationally, foreclosure rates have dropped back down to an average of 1 percent, and while they remain a problem in most markets, they are at crisis proportions in only a few, Denk said. He added that Texas and Florida have roughly the same number of mortgages, but Florida has four times as many foreclosures.

The protracted housing recovery now underway will bring housing starts to 40 percent of normal production by the fourth quarter of this year and 55 percent of normal by the end of 2013.

Getting back to normal considerably faster will be oil states Texas and Oklahoma; coal and natural-gas producing Wyoming and Montana; and Iowa, supported by agricultural commodities.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Top 5 Dog and Cat Breeds for Families with Children

April 27, 2012 2:42 am

Choosing to welcome a pet into a home with children can be an overwhelming commitment, but knowing the characteristics that are common to certain cat and dog breeds can aid in the decision making process and help families find the breed that best fits their lifestyle. While just about any breed can be raised to be a loving and affectionate pet, has pulled together the following top 10 kid friendly dogs and cats.

Top 5 Dog Breeds for Kids

1. The Bulldog:
Known for its sturdy build, the Bulldog is an excellent choice for families with children who like to roughhouse. A docile, friendly and loyal breed, the Bulldog will not retaliate to the poking and prodding of little children. Not overly active, this breed can live comfortably in a house with a sprawling backyard or in a small apartment.

2. The Vizsla: A lesser known breed, the Vizsla has a gentle disposition and manner perfect for living with children. Loyal, quiet and affectionate, the Vizsla breed is extremely obedient and can pick up on tricks and commands quickly. Another benefit appreciated by many Vizsla owners is that they lack the common "eau de dog" that many breeds possess.

3. The Golden Retriever: The most popular dog breed in America, the Golden Retriever is smaller than the Labrador Retriever but they share similar personalities. Golden Retrievers are known for being confident, smart, loyal and kind, qualities appreciated by families with children. Needing plenty of exercise, this breed is best suited for active families who can take their dog with them on outings.

4. The Bull Terrier: Known to be friendly and loving, the Bull Terrier was bred to be a companion dog and is an excellent breed to own if your children are learning to handle a dog for the first time. Bull Terriers are built with a high threshold for pain so they can withstand a few tugs of their tails from little hands.

5. The Newfoundland: A large dog, the Newfoundland, or "Newfie," is known to love and protect the children in the family. Gentle, kind, intelligent and patient, this dog is easily trained and enjoys human companionship. An active breed, Newfies need a daily walk or romp in the backyard.

Top 5 Cat Breeds for Kids

1. The Birman:
A social cat, the Birman loves to love his human family. Not a stereotypical "scaredy-cat," this breed will run up and greet new guests in your home rather than hide in a different room. However, the Birman is not an active breed of cat, preferring to lounge around instead of play.

2. The Ragdoll: Named for the limp position it assumes when you pick it up, the Ragdoll breed is a great choice for a child-friendly pet. Although this breed is soft-voiced and gentle, they enjoy playing games and running around with their human families, only to be followed by long periods of relaxation afterwards.

3. Himalayan: Quiet yet active, this breed of cat enjoys a daily game of laser tag and then plenty of quiet and relaxing time afterwards. An indoor breed, Himalayans will bond and love their family for their entire lives.

4. Maine Coon: One of the oldest companion cat breeds, the Maine Coon is naturally familiar with human temperaments and is adaptive to our needs. A patient breed, Coons are very calm around even the most rambunctious of children, and can help them expel their energy by playing active games of fetch and catch.

5. Exotic Shorthair: Known for its easygoing and laid back personality, Exotic Shorthairs are quiet and loving. Greeting you at the door when you come home and curling up with you as you watch TV, all this breed needs is affection.

Having pets in the family can create entirely new adventures and experiences for children, as well as teach them responsibility. Before welcoming a pet into your home, research what breeds best match your family's lifestyle.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Fixed Mortgage Rates Hold Near Record Lows

April 27, 2012 2:42 am

Freddie Mac recently released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average fixed mortgage rates down slightly and hovering just above their record lows as markets waited for the Federal Reserve's monetary policy announcement. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.88 percent and has been below 4 percent all but one week in 2012. The 15-year fixed, a popular refinancing choice, averaged 3.12 percent.

Additional details from the PMMS include:
-30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.88 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending April 26, 2012, down from last week when it averaged 3.90 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.78 percent.
-15-year FRM this week averaged 3.12 percent with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.13 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.97 percent.
-5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.85 percent this week, with an average 0.6 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.78 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.51 percent.
-1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.74 percent this week with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.81 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 3.15 percent.

Source: Freddie Mac

Published with permission from RISMedia.


March Pending Home Sales Rise, Signaling Another Step in the Right Direction

April 27, 2012 2:42 am

Pending home sales increased in March and are well above a year ago, another signal the housing market is recovering, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.
The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, rose 4.1 percent to 101.4 in March from an upwardly revised 97.4 in February and is 12.8 percent above March 2011 when it was 89.9. The data reflects contracts but not closings.

The index is now at the highest level since April 2010 when it reached 111.3.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said 2012 is expected to be a year of recovery for housing. "First quarter sales closings were the highest first quarter sales in five years. The latest contract signing activity suggests the second quarter will be equally good," he said.

"The housing market has clearly turned the corner. Rising sales are bringing down inventory and creating much more balanced conditions around the country, which means home prices will be rising in more areas as the year progresses," Yun said.

The PHSI in the Northeast slipped 0.8 percent to 78.2 in March but is 21.1 percent above March 2011. In the Midwest the index declined 0.9 percent to 93.3 but is 16.9 percent higher than a year ago. Pending home sales in the South rose 5.9 percent to an index of 114.1 in March and are 10.6 percent above March 2011. In the West the index increased 8.7 percent in March to 108.0 and is 9.0 percent above a year ago.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Air Travel on the Rise in 2012 as Americans Flock to the Skies

April 26, 2012 2:40 am

TripAdvisor®, one of the world’s largest travel sites, recently announced the results of its annual air travel survey of more than 1,000 U.S. respondents. Americans are flocking to the skies this year as 91 percent of respondents said they plan to fly domestically in 2012, compared to 84 percent that did last year. International flights are also on the rise, with 65 percent planning a flight out of the country, up from 55 percent in 2011.

Mobile Use Takes Off
There has been a significant increase in mobile device usage for air travel among survey respondents.

-Nearly half of all fliers now use a smartphone to check flight status, up from 30 percent in last year’s survey.
-30 percent report using a device to check-in to a flight, up from 17 percent.
-Use of tablets and iPads in-flight are up 15 percent, with more than one in four travelers now calling theirs a carry-on essential.

Fliers seem skeptical about the need to shut off their beloved mobile devices.

-58 percent question whether shutting off electronic devices during takeoff and landing is really necessary.
-40 percent can remember a time when they’ve left their devices on during flight (accidentally or intentionally).

Anti-social in the Air
When it comes to flying, the majority of travelers have no interest in socializing.

-76 percent of travelers prefer to keep to themselves while in-flight.
-Only 9 percent expressed interest in trying a “social seating” program that allows fliers to choose a seatmate based on social network profiles.
-40 percent would pay extra to sit in a designated “quiet” section of the plane.

Not even a presidential candidate could get some fliers to come out of their shell: 33 percent would not choose to sit next to Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, or Newt Gingrich, if given the opportunity.

Calling for More Comfort
Twenty-two percent of survey participants don’t enjoy a single thing about air travel, and most travelers cite legroom and seat comfort (or lack thereof) as their biggest complaint.

-41 percent believe that more legroom is the biggest improvement airlines can make, with 30 percent citing more comfortable seating. However, 71 percent aren’t willing to pay for extra legroom on domestic flights less than four hours long.
-On flights longer than four hours, however, 35 percent would shell out $25 for more legroom.

Frequent Flier Favorites
Travelers like their frequent flier programs and, when it comes to booking, brand does matter.

-52 percent subscribe to frequent flier programs and find them valuable.
-58 percent say the brand of airline is important when considering which flight to book.
-15 percent say that racking up frequent flier miles is the most enjoyable thing about air travel.
-Of the 20 percent of fliers who order an alcoholic drink on-board, 42 percent favor wine.
-Singapore Airlines tops most people’s wish lists, with 17 percent saying they haven’t yet flown with this global carrier but would like to.

Top 5 Favorite U.S. Airports:
1. Orlando International Airport, Fla.
2. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Ga.
3. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Texas
4. San Francisco International Airport, Calif.
5. Charlotte Douglas International Airport, N.C.

Additional Air Travel Tidbits
-More than half plan to participate in TSA’s pre-check program.
-The three most popular months for air travel this year are May, October and September.
-27 percent would choose one airline over another if the flight offered Wi-Fi.
-45 percent are concerned that rising gas prices will cause air fares to increase, so they plan to book travel plans early.
-43 percent consider airplanes to be the most germ-laden travel location, more so than hotel rooms and public transportation.

“As air travel becomes more stressful, fliers flock to mobile technology,” says Bryan Saltzburg, general manager of TripAdvisor Flights. “In-flight Wi-Fi, powerful new mobile devices and other tech carry-on essentials allow fliers to create a more relaxing and enjoyable flying experience.”

Source: TripAdvisor

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Survey Reveals Misconceptions Prevent Homeowners from Going Solar

April 26, 2012 2:40 am

Results of a recent nationwide poll assessing Americans’ beliefs about the desirability and costs of installing a home solar system indicate that 97 percent of Americans overestimate the cost of going solar, while nearly 8 out of 10 of those who do not already have solar panels say they would install solar if cost were not a factor. The study was commissioned by Sunrun, a home solar company, and conducted online by Harris Interactive® in February 2012 among 2,211 U.S. adults, of whom 1,475 were identified as homeowners.

Americans Vastly Overestimate the Cost of Installing a Solar System
While only 3 percent accurately understand that installing solar can cost less than $1,000 upfront, 4 out of 10 U.S. adults (40 percent) think it requires $20,000 or more in upfront costs, grossly overestimating the true cost of installing a home solar system.

The Myth That Solar Is Cost Prohibitive Prevents Homeowners from Installing Panels
The vast majority of Americans are concerned about rising home energy costs from utility companies—95 percent of U.S. adults who do pay and/or are aware of their utility costs cited their rising utility rates as a concern—yet homeowners remain paralyzed by misconceptions about what it costs to install solar. The survey indicates nearly 8 out of 10 (78 percent) U.S. homeowners who do not already have solar panels would install solar if cost were not a factor, and 44 percent would go solar within the next year if they knew cost were not a factor.

“The widespread myth that solar is too expensive is a remnant from the time when buying costly panels for tens of thousands of dollars was the only option,” said Sunrun President and co-Founder Lynn Jurich. “Fortunately that era is over. Misinformation is the root of the problem, and this data can help increasing numbers of homeowners get educated and opt into solar.”

Solar Is a Smart Financial Choice
Not only does solar power service cost consumers little or nothing upfront, but according to the National Renewal Energy Laboratory (NREL) it can also allow homeowners to “save money the very first month, rather than breaking even a decade later after an initial investment.”

“When it comes to money matters, ignorance is rarely blissful. When it comes to solar money myths, misinformation actually prevents U.S. homeowners from making smarter financial decisions,” said Manisha Thakor, Harvard MBA and former portfolio manager turned bestselling author and financial literacy advocate. “Solar power service has become something any homeowner should now consider as part of a modern investment portfolio, if it’s available to them. Among other benefits, it offers homeowners the unprecedented ability to plan and predict one of their largest household expenses for years to come: energy. Consumers can direct any savings from solar to other top financial priorities like paying off debt or investing in retirement.”

Solar Service Eclipses Other Forms of Home Solar
Though many Americans don’t realize there is a way to go solar without the high upfront costs, solar power service—also known as third-party-owned solar—has become the preferred way for consumers to go solar in the nation’s leading solar markets. In California for example, according to data from the California Solar Initiative (CSI), about three-quarters of those going solar choose solar power service.

Over the past 12 months, marketshare for solar power service climbed steadily in California and reached about 75 percent of the home solar market in February 2012. Similarly, to date in 2012, solar power service share of the Massachusetts market is over 80 percent.

Source: Sunrun

Published with permission from RISMedia.


REALTOR Nationwide Open House Weekend to Bring Buyers and Sellers Together

April 26, 2012 2:40 am

Potential homebuyers rely on open houses to help them find the home of their dreams. This weekend buyers can have a greater chance of doing just that during REALTOR® Nationwide Open House Weekend, which is organized by state and local REALTOR® associations across the country. This Saturday and Sunday, April 28-29, REALTORS® from coast to coast will host thousands of open houses while engaging consumers on the benefits of homeownership and bringing buyers and sellers together.

"REALTOR® Nationwide Open House is a fantastic opportunity for those interested in homeownership to connect with a REALTOR® who can offer expert guidance and advice on the home-buying process," said National Association of REALTORS® President Moe Veissi. "During the weekend, REALTORS® will be on hand to answer questions about the local housing market and provide insights into the social and financial benefits of homeownership. Open houses are also a great way for potential buyers to get a feel for what is available in their local market."

According to NAR's “2011 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers,” 45 percent of all buyers used open houses as a source in their home search process. This figure suggests the value of open houses even in the Internet era. In addition, buyers in the Northeast region are significantly more likely to use open houses, followed by those in the Midwest region. Women are more likely to use open houses than men, as are buyers who were not born in the U.S. or whose primary language is not English. Older buyers rely more on open houses than younger buyers, and buyers with higher incomes are also more likely to visit open houses.

NAR's most recent housing affordability index indicates that homeownership is even more attractive now, with affordability conditions reaching their highest level since recordkeeping began in 1970. The index, which is based on the relationship between the median home price, median family income and the average mortgage interest rate, reached 206.1 in January, the first time the index broke the two hundred mark. The higher the index, the greater the household purchasing power. The current index indicates that the typical family has roughly double the income needed to purchase a median-priced home.

"For buyers who can qualify for a mortgage and are willing and able to take on the responsibilities of homeownership, now is a very good time to become a homeowner," said Veissi. "And for those consumers, REALTOR® Nationwide Open House is a great way to kick off the home-buying season and learn more about housing issues and the local real estate market."

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Top 10 Cities for Affordable Vacations

April 25, 2012 2:40 am, a national website that highlights more than 500 of America’s best places to live, recently released a list of the top 10 cities for affordable vacations.

A great trip shouldn't be a financial hardship, but finding the right destination to maximize travel dollars can be a real chore. editors narrowed down the list of 500 cities to destinations offering both value and a variety of attractions and entertainment options that appeal to families and single vacationers alike. Cities were ranked by the quality and quantity of unique, free activities—both indoors and out—and by the availability of discounts on otherwise pricey attractions.

“Great family vacations don't have to be expensive,” says Nancy Schretter, managing editor of the Family Travel Network. “Get the whole family together to help plan the vacation and decide on your own definition of family fun. Then enlist the kids' help (if they're old enough) in searching the Internet for cities that have attractions that match your family's interests.”

Schretter also suggests traveling during the off season to take advantage of hotel and attraction price breaks. Be sure to download free coupon and discount books online, and check individual attractions’ websites for special rates. If you’re traveling with children, choose restaurants where kids eat free and look for hotels or other places to stay that offer free breakfast, kitchens and more room to spread out.

Whether your ideal vacation is hiking a snow-capped mountain, milling around museums or downing cheesy concessions at a minor league park, this list of top cities for the best affordable vacation destinations gives travelers plenty of choices.

Top 10 Cities for Affordable Vacations:

1. Louisville, Ky.
2. Minneapolis, Minn.
3. San Antonio, Texas
4. Chattanooga, Tenn.
5. Greenville, S.C.
6. Tulsa, Okla.
7. Boulder, Colo.
8. Athens, Ga.
9. Tempe, Ariz.
10. Rogers, Ark.

Published with permission from RISMedia.