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U.S. Home Prices Accelerated In February as Sales Rise

The Gilmer Free Press

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. home prices climbed at a faster pace in February than the previous month, driven by higher sales and a limited supply of available houses.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 5% in February from 12 months earlier, S&P said Tuesday. That is up from a 4.5% pace in January.

Faster sales likely drove the price gain. Signed contracts to buy homes jumped in February, yet the number of Americans listing their homes for sale remains low. That has led to bidding wars in some cities.

Home prices are increasing at a more sustainable pace than in the past two years, when they rose at a double-digit pace for 14 straight months. Yet some economists warn that the ongoing increases may price many would-be buyers out of the market, particularly as pay gains remain weak.

All 20 cities in the index reported year-over-year price gains in February. Home prices in Denver jumped 10%, the most of any city, followed by San Francisco with 9.8%. Denver is one of two cities, along with Dallas, where prices have surpassed their previous peak during the housing boom. Prices nationwide are 10% lower than the July 2006 peak.

Some areas may remain below their bubble peaks for years. Home prices in Las Vegas plunged nearly 62% during the housing bust and are still 41.5% below their previous peak, S&P said.

The Case-Shiller index covers roughly half of U.S. homes. The index measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. The February figures are the latest available.

Home sales rose at a healthy 6.1% pace in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.19 million, the National Association of Realtors reported last week. That suggested the housing market may be returning to solid ground as the spring buying season gets underway.

Yet there aren’t many homes on the market. Nationwide, the number of homes for sale is equal to 4.6 months of sales, below the six months that is typically available in a healthy housing market.

Building more new homes would help boost supply, but home construction has been weak. Developers are focused increasingly on building apartments and more expensive homes for wealthier buyers. Home builders began work on new houses and apartments at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 926,000 in March, down 2.5% from the previous year.

One factor pushing up prices is a steady decline in so-called “distressed” sales, which include foreclosures and short sales. Short sales occur when the seller owes more on a home mortgage than the house is worth. Both usually sell at steep discounts to traditional home sales.

Real estate data provider CoreLogic said Tuesday that distressed sales fell to 13.5% of all sales in February, down from 16.5% a year earlier. Fewer lower-priced distressed sales push up overall prices.

That figure has dropped precipitously since it peaked at 32.4% in January 2009, during the worst of the housing bust and recession.

Still, the figures also show that the housing market is not yet back to normal. Distressed sales made up just 2% of all sales before the housing bust, CoreLogic said.

Cell Phones for Kids

The Gilmer Free Press

To make the correct call, though, do the math to be sure you are ready for far-reaching consequences. After all, it’s not just a one-time purchase that parents are agreeing to, but a stiff monthly charge that could last for many years to come.

If you get your 12-year-old a plan that costs, say, $50 a month, that will set you back $4,200 though age 18. And that’s not even including any ancillary costs like equipment and upgrades, repairs and app purchases. Data overages, especially if your kids are heavy video watchers, could inflict significant extra damage.

Indeed, 23% of households report paying much more for their kids’ phone plans than they originally expected, according to a study by the National Consumers League.

That doesn’t have to be the case if you are thoughtful about how your decisions will affect household finances. Here are some suggestions:


1. Start with baby steps

A basic cell with phone and texting capability can be very reasonable indeed; Sprint, for instance, offers a ‘WeGo’ starter phone for only $9.99 a month.

There are also prepaid plans available, with varying restrictions on minutes and data, and low-cost handsets. T-Mobile, for instance, offers a $40-a-month prepaid plan with unlimited talk, text and data on its own network, and 1 GB of nationwide LTE data. With hard limits in place, parents are essentially saving themselves from any unwanted bill surprises.

Consider it something of a trial period: If your kids prove responsible with their new gadgets, and aren’t constantly calling or texting their buddies late into the night, then you can talk about graduating to more elaborate phones and plans.

When you are all ready, every major carrier offers a version of a family share plan, like Verizon’s More Everything and AT&T’s Mobile Share Value. Additional lines cost less money than standalone packages, but contracts are often involved.

At that point the training wheels are off - and if you are sharing your family data package with your teenager, be prepared to blow through some usage limits.


2. Have the money talk

“The question that must always be discussed is, ‘Who will pay for what?‘“ says Mark La Spisa, a planner with Vermillion Financial in South Barrington, Illinois. “It’s critical to talk about it in advance of a child receiving their first phone.“

For an 8- or 9-year-old, it is unfair to expect anything beyond a token contribution. But teens who have their own income from part-time or summer work can start chipping in to cover part of the bill.

Also consider who the phone is really benefiting. If it is mainly for the parents’ peace of mind, that’s one thing. But if it is only for their enjoyment, and parents are not deriving any benefit at all, then “then they should be footing the bill,“ says personal-finance expert Gail Vaz-Oxlade, author of “Money Rules”.


3. Resist the lure of the constant upgrade

For her own kids, Vaz-Oxlade pays the bills, because she wants to get in touch with them. But she draws the line at hopping on the “hamster wheel” of getting them the latest-and-greatest gadgets on the market. That’s just throwing away money, in her opinion.

As a result she, her son and her daughter are all still using trusty iPhone 4s they got a few years ago.

Guidelines: Before You Buy a Home

The Gilmer Free Press

Before you shop for a home, allow a Realtor to prepare you for the process.

Did you know, if you cannot buy a home in cash, you will need help with financing a loan? First, you should find out if you are credit worthy. Credit is one key component to obtaining a loan. The history on your credit will reveal:

1. How often you pay your bills.

2. The amount of debt you owe.

3. The length of credit history reflecting how often you use your accounts and how many accounts you have open.

4. Recent credit inquiries.

5. The amount of available credit you have.

Did you know you can run a free credit report? Why do lenders require paperwork to determine your debt and income? What is the difference between loan pre-qualification and loan pre-approval? Ask a Realtor. A Realtor will prepare you for your appointment with a lender.

When you receive your lender pre-approval, you are ready to shop for a home.

Discuss your top priorities with a Realtor when buying a home. What is important to you? Is it the location, school district, size of home, condition of home, pricing, neighborhood? These reasons are custom to each individual and their needs.

Establishing a relationship with a Realtor will help your Realtor understand your needs so he or she can find the right fit. Did you know your Realtor can add you to the automated Multiple Listing Service so you can have real-time access to homes available in your neighborhood based on your search criteria? Yes, you already have access using several websites, but where do they obtain their information? It starts with the agent entering information on the Multiple Listing Service. Once that information is submitted, then it becomes public information.

Why not start with the resource – the Realtor?

What do you do when you find a home? Your Realtor will review the offer terms and help you determine the fair market value. Time lines are also important to review as you will be held accountable to perform. In a multiple offer marketplace with a high demand to purchase homes, your Realtor can assist you to put your best foot forward. Understanding the negotiation process before you get there will empower you to make good decisions for a smooth transaction.

When you enter into contract, what are your rights? As a buyer, you deserve to exercise your due diligence in verifying information, condition and discovering as much about your home purchase as possible. Your Realtor has a fiduciary duty to disclose all known facts and guide you through the process using utmost care, integrity, honesty and fair dealings.

What about escrow? What purpose does this serve? Do you need title insurance? If so, why? These are questions you should ask your Realtor. The breakdown on the escrow process as well as the necessary steps to achieve prior to getting the keys to your new home should not be a mystery. Just ask a Realtor.

Ask yourself, are you ready for the next step? Contact a local Realtor for assistance.

Recalls This Week: Blowers, Bike Hooks, Mattresses, Toys

The Gilmer Free Press

A line of bike hooks that can unexpectedly detach from their mounting are among this week’s recalled consumer products. Other recalls include mattresses that failed flammability standards and truck and motorcycle toys with excessive amounts of lead.

Here’s a more detailed look:


BIKE HOOKS

DETAILS: Husky Securelock vertical bike hooks used with a Husky Trackwall garage storage system. The 3 inch by 3.5 inch black metal plate is mounted to the grooves in the Trackwall and the bike’s tire is attached to a hook protruding from the plate. There are no markings on the hook. The Trackwall has “Husky” printed on the lower left corner. The hook holds up to a 35 pound bike. They were sold at Home Depot stores nationwide from April 2011 to March.

WHY: The mounted bike hooks can unexpectedly detach, allowing the bike to fall and posing an injury risk to bystanders.

INCIDENTS: 22 reports of the bike hooks falling from the mounted Trackwall, including 12 reports of property damage to bicycles and/or nearby vehicles. No injuries have been reported.

HOW MANY: About 105,000 in the U.S. and 15,000 in Canada.

FOR MORE: Call Waterloo Industries at 800.833.8851 from 8 AM to 5 PM ET Monday through Friday, or visit www.homedepot.com and click on “product recalls.”


WOMEN’S SCARVES

DETAILS: Gena Accessories women’s silk scarves that measure 64 inches long by 18 inches wide. They were sold in black, brown, burgundy, camel, fuchsia, green, grey, lavender, light blue, light green, light pink, orange, red, turquoise, white and yellow at boutiques in New York City and online at Amazon.com, GenaAccessories.com and Scarfand.com from January 2007 through February for about $12.

WHY: The scarves don’t meet the federal flammability standard.

INCIDENTS: None reported.

HOW MANY: About 9,400.

FOR MORE: Contact Gena Accessories Inc. at 866.974.4362 from 9 AM to 6 PM EDT Monday through Friday or email .


BABY BLANKETS

DETAILS: The Sensory Grab Garb blanket is a 6-inch square of soft fabric with crinkle paper inside and ribbon tags in the middle of each of the four sides. One side of the blanket contains a white satin ribbon tag with the words “Goochie Goo Garbs” on it. The polka-dot ribbon tags are black, blue, green, pink or red ribbons with white polka-dots. The blankets come in a variety of child themed patterns including shapes, animals and superhero themes. Only the 6-inch square Sensory Grab Garb blankets with colored polka-dot ribbon tags attached to the side of the blanket are included in the recall. They were sold in children’s stores in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Pennsylvania from July 2014 through March for about $10.

WHY: A wire-edged ribbon can become exposed, which may cut children.

INCIDENTS: One report of a child that was scratched by the wire that came out of the ribbon.

HOW MANY: About 125.

FOR MORE: Call Goochie Goo Garbs collect at 480.773.1808 from 10 AM to 4 PM MT Monday through Friday, email at or go online at www.goochiegoo.com and click on “Recall Notice” tab.


BLOWER VACCUUMS

DETAILS: Homelite 12 amp electric blower vacuums with model numbers UT42120, UT42120A and UT42121. Model numbers are located on a label on the left side of the red motor housing. The blower vacuums are red and black. “Homelite BlowerVac 2 Speed Powerful 220 MPH” is printed on the side of the motor housing and on the black plastic blower tube. They were sold at Home Depot and Direct Tools Factory Outlets stores nationwide and online at www.homedepot.com from January 2010 through March.

WHY: The blower vacuum can overheat, spark and catch on fire posing fire and burn hazards.

INCIDENTS: 1,369 reports of blower vacuums sparking, smoking or burning, including one report of a minor injury.

HOW MANY: About 823,000 in the U.S. and 41,000 in Canada.

FOR MORE: Call Homelite Consumer Products at 800.597.9624 from 8 AM to 5 PM EDT Monday through Friday, or visit www.homelite.com and click on “Safety Notices” for more information.


BLOWERS

DETAILS: Expert Gardener 12 amp electric blower vacuums with model numbers 20254EG, 20254EGA, 20254EGB, 20254EGBC, 20254EGC and 21254EG. Model numbers are located on a label on the left side of the motor housing. The blower vacuums are green and black. “Expert Gardener” and “Blower Vac 2 Speed Quiet 150 MPH Powerful 220 MPH” are printed on the side of the green motor housing and on the black plastic blower tube. They were sold at Walmart stores nationwide and online at www.walmart.com from January 2012 through March 2015.

WHY: The blower vacuum can overheat, spark and catch on fire posing fire and burn hazards.

INCIDENTS: 16 reports of blower vacuums sparking, smoking or burning. No injuries have been reported.

HOW MANY: About 225,000 in the U.S.

FOR MORE: Call OWT Industries at 800.597.9624 from 8 AM to 5 PM EDT Monday through Friday, or visit www.expertgardenertools.com and click on “Safety Notices.”


BIKE FENDERS

DETAILS: This recall includes all Civia aluminum bicycle fenders sold separately and for all Civia Hyland bicycles sold with the fenders as original equipment. The recalled fenders are round, designed for use with 700c wheels and tires and have the Civia logo on the front and rear sides of each fender. Fender sets came in black, blue, green, olive, red and silver. Hyland bicycles came in blue, green, olive and red. The bikes have “Hyland” on the top tube, “Civia” on the down tube and the Civia logo on the seat tube. They were sold bicycle retailers nationwide and online from April 2008 through March 2013 for about $60 per Civia fender set and between $1,200 and $4,500 for Civia Hyland bicycles.

WHY: The fender mounting bracket can break or bend, posing a fall hazard to the rider.

INCIDENTS: One report in which a customer said a bracket broke and suffered a spine injury and nerve damage.

HOW MANY: About 1,000.

FOR MORE: Call Civia Cycles at 877.311.7686 from 8 AM to 6 PM CT Monday through Friday or online at www.civiacycles.com and click on “Safety Recall.”


MOWERS

DETAILS: Toro’s 2015 22-inch walk-behind power mower has a red base on four wheels, a black motor and handle, and a white bag attached for catching the clippings. A black plate on the front of the mower says “Toro Recycler 22.” Model number 20337 and a serial number are located on a decal affixed to the rear of the machine. Recalled mowers have serial numbers ranging from 315000101 to 315000983. They were sold at hardware, lawn and garden stores nationwide in February and March.

WHY: Mowers were assembled with an incorrect blade driver and blade combination, which can cause the blade to break, resulting in an injury hazard.

INCIDENTS: None reported.

HOW MANY: About 800 in the U.S. and 100 in Canada.

FOR MORE: Call Toro at 844.521.2384 between 8 AM and 5 PM CT Monday through Friday or visit www.toro.com and click on “Product Recall” at the bottom right-hand side of the page.


MATTRESSES

DETAILS: The rebuilt mattresses and mattresses with foundations made by San Pedro Manufacturing. They come in twin, full, queen and king sizes and have a white federal tag and yellow state tag with “San Pedro Manufacturing Company, 1041 La Grange Blvd, Atlanta, Georgia 30336″ sewn at the foot of the mattress. All mattresses sold separately and all mattress and foundation sets are being recalled. They were sold at A1 Mattress and Furniture, Affordable Furniture, Beds Beds Beds, Bruce Furniture and Thrift, Checkouts, Christian Outreach, Fowlers Furniture, Greenbrier Furniture, Larry Rhodes, Mattress and Furniture Outlet, Mattress and Furniture Warehouse, Mattress Barn, Save Big Mattress and Unclaimed Freight from May 2013 through January 2014.

WHY: The mattresses and foundations fail to meet the mandatory federal open flame standard, posing a fire hazard.

INCIDENTS: None reported.

HOW MANY: About 4,800.

FOR MORE: Call San Pedro Manufacturing at 855.997.0300 from 10 AM to 4 PM ET Monday through Friday.


UTILITY VEHICLES

DETAILS: Yamaha Viking utility vehicles. This recall involves 2015 model YXC700DF (Viking VI), YXC700DHFH (Viking VI Hunter), YXC700PF (Viking VI EPS) and YXC700PHFH (Viking VI EPS Hunter) side x side vehicles. Model numbers can be found on the owner’s manual. The letter F in the 10th position of the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) indicates that the vehicle is 2015 model. The VIN is stamped on the frame behind the left rear wheel. The “Viking VI” model name is printed on the left side of the front hood. The vehicles come in Realtree (multicolor), hunter green, red and steel blue.

WHY: The rear wheels can loosen and cause the rear end of the vehicle to wobble or the rear wheels to come off and cause the vehicle to crash.

INCIDENTS: None reported.

HOW MANY: About 3,500.

FOR MORE: Call Yamaha at 800.962.7926 anytime or go to www.yamaha-motor.com , click on “Outdoors” tab, and then click on “Recalls” in the Corporate Links menus.


TRUCK AND MOTORCYCLE TOYS

DETAILS: Plastic Wheelies semi-truck with six motorcycles toy and Wheelies push-along motorcycle toys. The semi-truck has a dual-level trailer that carries six motorcycles and comes in red and purple with multi-colored motorcycles. The truck has the item number Item # TAG66767 and SKU# 752249 printed on the packaging. The Wheelies push-along motorcycle is red with a rider in black with silver accents. The product has item # TBG04323 and SKU# 752251 printed on the package. They were sold at Cycle Gear stores and online at www.cyclegear.com from November 2014 through December 2014.

WHY: The toys contain excessive levels of lead, which is a violation of the federal standard for lead content.

INCIDENTS: None reported.

HOW MANY: About 155.

FOR MORE: Call Cycle Gear at 800.292.5343 from 8 AM to 5 PM ET Monday through Friday or visit www.cyclegear.com and click on “Recall Notices” at the bottom for more recall information.

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