(BPT) - Open floor plans, mini-mansions, micro homes - some home design styles and elements shift with the currents of consumer tastes. However, others stand the test of time because they’re enduringly useful. Attics or lofts, for example, are a staple of American home design, remaining in demand even as the way we use them has evolved.

In bygone eras, attics served largely as storage space - but those were the days before the growth of the self-storage industry. Modern homeowners can stash their stuff outside their home, opening up a range of other possible uses for their attics, from master suites, extra bedrooms or home office to workout rooms and craft centers.

Homeowners are as eager as ever to convert attics, and the trend isn’t limited to people buying older homes. Many builders are incorporating attics into new construction to please buyers who want the flexibility of finishing the space as they like later on. If you’re considering an attic conversion, here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

Light from above

Some attics are constructed with windows, others have none. Whether your attic has a small window or solid walls, skylights and roof windows are the go-to choice for bringing natural light and fresh air into an attic space. The direct access to the roof means it’s easy to add no-leak skylights like those made by Velux America. Energy Star-qualified, solar-powered, fresh-air skylights provide ample natural light, privacy (an advantage in bedrooms and bathrooms), and ventilation (also great for bathrooms and kitchens). Programmable remote controls make it simple to open and close fresh-air skylights, and to operate solar-powered blinds that allow you to decide just how much or how little light enters the room.

Skylights are a great aesthetic fit for attics too, and can help large or small attic spaces feel brighter and bigger. JoAnne Haynes, project designer for the O’More College of Design Alumni Show House, utilized skylights for the attic conversion on that project and says that it was an amazing transformation. “It went from a dark, black, unusable space to a wonderful, well-lit multi-purpose room.”

Adding skylights to your attic conversion is a cost effective way to upgrade both the appearance and functionality of the space. The latest solar-powered models, which close automatically in case of rain, along with solar-powered blinds, are eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit on the products and installation costs. To learn more, visit www.whyskylights.com.

Bedrooms and bathrooms are things of beauty

With more families housing multiple generations under the same roof, additional bedrooms and bathrooms are popular objectives of attic conversions. Homeowners with very large attics can convert the space into a dream master suite, complete with a spacious bedroom and full bathroom. If your home already has a great master, or if your attic space is more modest, you can still convert even a small attic into an extra bedroom or a half bath.

According to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report, a master suite addition recoups more than 64 percent of its cost when you resell the home. A bathroom addition returns more than 56 percent of your investment.

Homeowners are getting inspired about attics

While extra bedrooms and bathrooms are a great way to use attic space, they’re by no means the only ones! If you have all the bedrooms and baths you need, you can still benefit from an attic conversion to increase your home’s functional living space. Whether you’re adding a family room, workout space, home theater or craft room, that unused space in your attic is the perfect way to create a specialty space without giving up any other room in the house.

Your decorating options are as unlimited as your imagination, too. Some homeowners choose to take advantage of an attic’s naturally rustic look, and leave ceiling beams exposed. Others work within the limitations of a low-ceiling attic to create cozy, right-sized playrooms or bedrooms for kids. Still others put a creative twist on the attic’s original function - storage - to move their wardrobes out of their master suites, allowing them to reclaim walk-in closet space for other uses.

Americans have been finding value in attics for generations. If your attic is currently serving as storage space, it may be time to clean it out - and start envisioning the many ways you can brighten and freshen up the space to work better for your family and lifestyle.

Fifty-two-year-old Richard Henri Fecteau was convicted by jury of 23 felony real estate fraud charges involving grand theft, recording false documents, and illegally acting as a foreclosure consultant. The jury also found true a white-collar crime enhancement.

Between 2011 and 2014, Fecteau ran a foreclosure rescue company called Team Fecteau. He directed homeowners to deed their properties to a trust. The names of people who had recently filed for bankruptcy were then named as co-trustees of the trust, along with Fecteau himself, which had the effect of placing an automatic stay against foreclosure of the property. This protection is granted under federal bankruptcy laws. Fecteau would often tell the homeowners not to have any further contact with the banks or lenders and that he would handle all further negotiations regarding their mortgages. Homeowners were also directed not to pay their mortgages and make monthly payments to Fecteau for his service.

Once the homeowners signed the first deed to Fecteau, he or his employees would then file additional grant deeds using the same scheme of adding names of people in bankruptcy to the deeds. There was no intent to transfer any true interest in the property to these individuals as their names were removed as trustee each time a new deed was recorded. Fecteau did not actually negotiate with lenders to take any action towards saving the homes of his unsuspecting clients. He continued this scam with some of the homeowners for several years.

Once the scheme was no longer effective and most of Fecteau’s clients lost their homes to foreclosure, Fecteau would then employ another scam to illegally obtain money from the properties. Fecteau and an employee filed false mechanic liens against those same properties hoping that the foreclosing lenders would settle the liens when they resold the properties.

Fecteau faces a sentence of more than 18 years in state prison. Sentencing is scheduled for June 3rd, 2016, in Department 16 before the Honorable Marjorie Koller.

This case was investigated and prosecuted by the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Real Estate Fraud Unit.

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Mythbusting the Adjustable Rate Mortgage

Brandpoint  |  2016-03-30

(BPT) - In pop culture, myths can sometimes be mistaken for truth. Common ones, like, “don’t swim for a half hour after eating,” or “we only use 10 percent of our brain,” are false even though they’re widely taken for fact.

The adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) earned a bad rap after the 2006 housing crisis. The problem was, before the crisis, many borrowers were able to qualify for more home than they could actually afford by using interest-only, No Income Verification or No Ratio ARM products. When the housing market tanked and many houses lost value, some homeowners with rising mortgage payments either foreclosed or walked away from their properties.

Fast forward 10 years to today. The ARM is back to show potential homebuyers it’s not the villain of the housing market. It’s time to debunk the myths that give ARMs the “bad guy” reputation it doesn’t deserve.

MYTH: ARMs are unstable and aren’t a good option while the Feds are raising rates.

This myth stems back to the days of the 2008 recession. It’s like saying, “dial-up is the fastest way to access the Internet,” it’s just not true anymore. All ARM loans have annual and lifetime caps, so there’s built in protection. If stability is what you’re concerned with, consider an ARM with a longer adjustment period. For example, Navy Federal Credit Union’s 5/5 ARM adjusts only once over the initial 10-year period.

Interest rates rise and fall in cycles. Even if rates are increasing now, that doesn’t mean they won’t be on the downturn when you arrive at your potential adjustment point. Many ARM mortgage holders never refinance to a fixed rate because the many ups and downs of the market happen in-between their adjustment points. Refinancing is always an option for those with ARMs. Just remember to calculate closing costs on your refinance to make sure you’re actually improving your situation. Research and the guidance of a trusted lender will be the winning combo for saving money over the life of your mortgage.

MYTH: ARMs are only for people who want to be in a home for a few years.

Not true. ARMs have fixed intro periods that can vary from one to even 15 years. If you think you’ll own that home for five or six years, a fixed mortgage rate may have a higher interest rate over that span. So why spend the extra money associated for the added security of a fixed rate?

“The potential savings on an ARM, can range from $10,000 to $20,000, compared to a 30-year, fixed rate jumbo mortgage,” said Katie Miller, Navy Federal vice president of Mortgage Lending. “That’s enough money for a down-payment on a car, or part of your child’s college tuition.”

Again, it pays to plan for various scenarios based on how long you plan to own the home.

MYTH: Rates only rise when you have an ARM.

The term “adjustable” gives the misconception ARMs are unstable. The ARM is very similar to a fixed-rate mortgage; both offer a 30-year term with no prepayment penalty and early payoff options, among other similarities.

The intro rate period (usually a lower rate) and potential rate changes (up or down) over the life of the loan is what makes an ARM unique. Knowing your cap and what the difference in payments are over the life of the loan protects you, even if rates are on a roller coaster. Knowledge is power as an ARM holder. That “power” helps you make necessary calculations to figure out a yearly breakeven point should your interest rate increase and your introductory rate savings begin to decrease. Check out an ARM vs. Fixed-rate Mortgage Calculator to see if this type of mortgage works for you

Like any myth, do your research before accepting it at face value. If you add up the ARM’s initial savings plus the cost to refinance, an ARM is hard to beat from a financial standpoint, and that, is the truth.

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5 Tips to Help You Make the Most of This Year's Real Estate Season

Brandpoint  |  2016-03-30

(BPT) - Spring is here! This season of new beginnings also marks the start of the year’s busiest real estate period. According to the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, the housing market in 2016 is set to be quite active with a 3 percent increase in total home sales compared to the previous year. If you’re planning to enter the housing market this year, buying or selling a home is a big decision and you can count on plenty of competition. To ensure you make the correct home buying or selling decisions, it’s important to do your research and arm yourself with valuable information.

“Selling or purchasing a home is one of the biggest and most important transactions many consumers will make in their lifetime,” says Tim Haynes, president of American Home Shield (AHS). “It’s important for everyone involved to make smart decisions that will help a home stand out in a competitive real estate market, and at the same time, protect against costly breakdowns.”

For both home buyers and sellers, AHS recommends preparing for what will happen vs. what might happen. A home warranty not only helps protect a home's systems while it’s on the market, but also helps provide buyers with additional confidence in their purchase. For an already financially stretched homebuyer, it’s important to know that a home warranty covers what homeowners insurance doesn’t – the repair/replacement of home system appliances.

To help you make the most of the spring home season American Home Shield offers these tips.

  • Sellers: improve curb appeal. First impressions matter. Take your home’s exterior from drab to fab. Trim shrubs, mow the lawn and remove all dirt/debris from around the outside. Make sure the house numbers, mailbox and lighting fixtures near the front door look inviting. Add plants and comfy furniture to the porch for a welcoming touch.

  • Sellers: optimize the space. Add the illusion of extra square footage by using the same paint in a lighter shade across rooms to create a seamless transition. Remove family photos and any customized decorations so the buyer can picture living in the home. Be sure to keep the master bedroom gender neutral. Lastly, have a professional cleaner shine the home, especially often-neglected areas like carpets, ceiling fans and baseboards to make a bigger impact.

  • Buyers: do your homework. Narrow your home search to particular areas and neighborhoods that appeal to you with regard to housing prices, school districts and work commuting times. Determine your budget and stick to it. Familiarize yourself with the real estate market and your rights as a homebuyer. Know your credit score and take steps to improve it, if necessary.

  • Buyers: ask the right questions. Don’t be afraid to directly ask the seller “what’s wrong with the house?” Ask to see disclosure forms around any issues with the house and check the age/condition of major home systems, like heating, plumbing, electrical and air conditioning — this can cut your costs in the long run. Additionally, an independent professional home inspection is highly recommended. This is an investment that can pay for itself many times over, especially if hidden defects are found.

American Home Shield is the nation’s largest home warranty company, servicing homes for over 45 years offers tips to arm and has a trustworthy network of over 3,000 contractors. For more information and helpful home buying and selling tips from American Home Shield, visit www.ahs.com or the Home Matters Blog and YouTube Channel, which have hundreds of maintenance tips, videos and content for homeowners to help protect homes from the inside out.

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Selling Your Home? Let the Bidding Wars Begin

Brandpoint  |  2016-03-17

(BPT) - No wonder you’re thinking of selling your home - it’s a “seller’s market” right now. The housing supply has dwindled, creating more demand for fewer homes.

At the same time, according to Realtor Tammy Reinke, buyers’ expectations are higher than ever. They’ve become accustomed to model-perfect homes.

What’s the upshot? “Sellers have a choice,” says Reinke. “You can win the price war - or win the beauty contest.” By winning the beauty contest, you’ll gain pricing leverage. And if your home shows well, it can even spark a bidding war - generating offers that exceed your asking price.

Here are three top “beauty” tips to set your home apart from other contestants, and set yourself up for a fatter settlement check.

1. Dirt’s a deal-breaker: Make a clean sweep

“Buyers want to see a clean home,” says Reinke. “And the first thing to deal with is stained carpets and ceilings.”

Stained carpets should be cleaned or replaced. Stained ceilings deserve your attention, too. They can scare off prospective buyers who fear that ceiling imperfections might be a sign of bigger problems.

“If you’ve got a stained popcorn ceiling, don't bother trying to spot paint over it, it doesn’t work,” Reinke says. Even professionals find it difficult to match the original finish and color. In addition, flocked or heavily textured ceilings are best replaced because they look so outdated.

Instead, consider installing ceiling tiles or panels directly over the offending ceiling, using a simple DIY track-and-clip system. To weigh all your ceiling replacement options, pop some real popcorn and settle back with the Armstrong Ceiling video guide to ceilings for lots of ideas and inspiration.

2. Declutter de house

Buyers can’t picture themselves in your home if they can’t see past your piles of stuff. “There’s a difference between clutter and an intentional collection,” says Tiffany Little, a senior interior design at Albion Associates.

Pull together different items - like pottery or framed photography - using a common design element like color, similar patterns, texture or materials. “It’s OK to leave some surfaces empty, and to create a display of personal mementos in a stylish, organized manner in other areas,” says Little. “This makes the personal items even more special.”

3. Spark design interest

So you’ve cleaned and decluttered, but now your rooms seem blah and uninviting. Nothing enlivens a space like a splash of color. Toss some bright new pillows on the sofa or add tasteful artwork or accessories to complement your color scheme.

Paint adds personality, too, but choose your colors carefully so your wall palette flows naturally from room to room. “I like using a neutral color palette for larger rooms - from ivory tones to values of grey,” says Little. She adds mid-tone colors to smaller rooms, while selectively using vivid or deeper colors as accents with accessories and artwork throughout the home.

Finally, don’t forget to add texture, whether with a woven area rug or sculptural wire baskets. “Texture adds great dimension and depth to a room,” says Little.

“I especially love the look of Armstrong Ceilings decorative metal ceiling panels in textured tin or copper as accents above a kitchen island. This turns the ordinary, smooth sheetrock ceiling into a wow factor. By adding this textured ceiling color in with a few of the dishes, or countertop items, it unifies the room’s palette,” she added.

With a bit of primping, your home can win the ultimate beauty contest and attract a buyer who’s willing to meet your price, or even pay a premium to call it their own.

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Buy Or Sell, Termites Should Be Top-Of-Mind During Spring Real Estate Season

Brandpoint  |  2016-03-17

(BPT) - Spring is here, and it’s the perfect time to sell or buy a home. Whether you’re putting your home on the market, or shopping for a new house for your family, you have a lot to think about - and termites should be near the top of your list. Just as swarms of homebuyers will start circulating through neighborhoods with the arrival of spring, the warmer weather also brings out termite swarms. A termite infestation can quickly turn your dream home sale or purchase into a living nightmare.

“Termites cause about $5 billion in damage every year, and when you consider that they’ve been around since the days of the dinosaurs, it’s probably safe to say they’ve done more damage to human homes than any other critter on earth,” says Cindy Mannes, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA). “Fortunately, we’ve come a long way in detecting and treating termite infestations over the millennia!”

Worldwide, about 2,000 termite species munch on wood, destroying walls, floors and wallpaper in homes, and also damaging forests. They are present in 70 percent of countries around the world, and they outnumber human beings by a ratio of 10 to one. The most common termite species in the U.S. are Formosan termites, dampwood termites, drywood termites and subterranean termites, the last of which are the most destructive because they eat non-stop.

A professional inspection is the best way to detect the presence of termites, but you can watch for warning signs as you are house hunting or getting yours ready to put on the market. Signs include:

  • Mud tubes may appear around the outside of a house. Termites use these tubes to reach a food source. Typically, these tubes look like a thick line of dirt on the foundation of a home.

  • Tap on wood near the floor, such as baseboards or even wood floors themselves. If the wood sounds hollow when tapped it could mean termites have softened the wood.

  • Termites also leave a bit of themselves behind as evidence. You may see small piles of feces that resemble sawdust near a termite nest. Discarded wings near doors or on windowsills can indicate a swarm has occurred and the swarmers have entered the home.

    Termites swarm to create new nests. Winged “swarmers” leave the original nest and go in search of new digs where they can establish a colony. You may see swarmers on windowsills or near doors and think they’re flying ants. You can tell the difference by their wings. While both flying ants and termite swarmers have front and back pairs of wings, on termites both pairs are the same length. On ants, the back wings will be much shorter than the front ones.

A professional termite inspection remains the best way to detect the presence of termites, yet 52 percent of American homeowners have never had their homes inspected, according to an NPMA survey. Termite detection, remediation and control isn’t something you can do yourself.

“A termite inspection should be a part of any home buying or selling process, although not all states require one for the sale or purchase of a home,” Mannes says. “However, when you consider the cost-benefit of having an inspection done, it’s well worth the investment. Termites can cause thousands of dollars in damage to a home and more importantly can compromise the structure’s stability and safety. So, it’s best to act quickly if a problem is suspected.” To learn more about termite prevention or to find a licensed pest professional in your area, visit www.pestworld.org, the education website of the NPMA.

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The Financial Solution You've Been Looking For Might Be Right Under Your Roof

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-24

(BPT) - What would you do with a little extra money? Chances are, you thought of something pretty fast — and you probably had more than one idea. Whether you’re looking to improve your home, pay off outstanding debt or take a vacation, a little cash can go a long way and you can find the money without changing jobs or cutting expenses. The answer lies within the walls around you in your own home.

The housing bust of 2007-09 was a rough time for many homeowners, but today’s market has shown signs of continued recovery and as it does, homes continue to increase in value. Sixty percent of homeowners report equity in their homes has increased since 2013, and almost half expect their equity will increase even more this year, according to research from loanDepot. And as that equity continues to grow, more and more homeowners are realizing that capitalizing on it can be a valuable tool to support their financial stability.

“Homeowners who bought during the housing boom are regaining equity many thought was lost forever, yet too many are not aware of the equity they have gained or they are unclear about how to determine changes in their equity,” says Bryan Sullivan, chief financial officer of loanDepot. “People who bought after the housing boom when prices were low are realizing homeownership can be a great investment and asset leveraged through equity to realize many dreams. Whether they choose to leverage their home equity now or reserve it for future needs, millions of homeowners have choices today not available just a few years ago.”

To better understand how homeowners would leverage additional funds from a home equity loan, loanDepot surveyed 1,000 homeowners to get their responses. The most common uses for funds from a home equity loan included:

  • Remodeling projects. The majority of respondents, 39 percent, said they would reinvest the money acquired by their loan into making further improvements to their home, continuing to support its value.

  • Consolidating high interest debt. For homeowners with significant debt obligations, a home refinancing loan can offer the opportunity to pay down that debt and replace it with a home loan that features a more favorable interest rate.

  • Save for retirement. More than 17 percent of those surveyed said they would use the money to bolster their current retirement package or even start a retirement fund.

  • Pay down student loans. College was a wonderful part of your life, the loans — not so much. Nine percent of respondents said they would use the money to be done with those payments once and for all.

  • Take a trip. If that dream trip seems to always be just slightly out of your financial reach, a home equity loan can help. Nearly five percent of respondents said they would use the additional money for vacation and travel purposes.

Learn more about taking out a home equity loan

Everyone could use a little extra money and finding it is easier than you may think, you just have to capitalize on your home’s inherent value. To learn more about obtaining a second mortgage and the flexibility such equity would offer you, visit www.loanDepot.com/homequity today or watch this video.

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