How To Clean Your Outdoor Gas Grill In Less Than 30 Minutes

Keep a clean grillRegardless of your hometown’s climate, outdoor gas grill cooking can be a four-season endeavor. Just remembe to keep your grill clean.

According to Weber’s annual GrillWatch Survey, less than 40% of grill owners clean their equipment with any bit of frequency, and 6 percent admit they’ve never cleaned their grill at all.

There are three main reasons to keep a clean grill. The first is that a clean, well-maintained grill will have a longer useful life than a dirty, sloppy one. Grills can be expensive and it’s often less costly to maintain them than to replace them.

The second reason to keep a clean grill is for sanitary reasons. Over time — especially when exposed to the elements — a grill’s finish can deteriorate and/or retained cooked foodstuffs. This can create a breeding ground for germs and disease.

And, lastly, a clean grill helps cooked foods taste better.

So, whether you’ve cleaned your equipment recently or never at all, it’s always a good time to freshen up your grill. Here’s how to do it, quickly :

  1. Remove the grates. Soak them in soapy water. Scrub foodstuffs using a wire brush. Allow to dry.
  2. Remove loose debris from bottom of grill.
  3. Using soapy solution, scrub grill’s surfaces, grill pans, and grease trays. Don’t forget the lid.
  4. Clean outside of grill with mild soap solution, treating rust areas with cooking oil.
  5. Look for broken, cracked or faulty equipment, specifically burners and ignitors. Replace as necessary.

Then, as a last step, re-assemble your grill and turn its burners to high for 10 minutes. This will burn off excess water in the grill and help to sanitize it.

Cleaning a gas grill is a 20-30 minute process. The results, however, are long-lasting. 

Pending Home Sales Index Crosses The 100 Barrier

Pending Home Sales 2010-2012

After a series of worse-than-expected data last month, the housing market appears to be back on track.

The Pending Home Sales Index posted 101.4 in March, a four percent gain from the month prior and the index’s highest reading since April 2010 — the last month of that year’s federal home buyer tax credit.

A “pending home” is a home under contract to sell, but not yet closed. The Pending Home Sales Index is tracked and published by the National Association of REALTORS® monthly.

The March report marks the index’s first 100-plus reading in nearly two years.

To home buyers and sellers throughout AZ , this is statistically significant because the Pending Home Sales Index is normalized to 100, a value corresponding to the average home contract activity in 2001, the index’s first year of existence. 2001 was an historically-strong year for the housing market.

The March 2012 Pending Home Sales Index, therefore, puts current market activity on par with market activity from 2001.

You wouldn’t know it from reading this week’s papers, though. There have been stories about how the Case-Shiller Index put home values at new loans; and how the Existing Home Sales figures unexpectedly dropped off; and how the New Home Sales report was a laggard.

But this is why the Pending Home Sales Index can be so important.

What makes the Pending Home Sales Index different from those other data points is that the Pending Home Sales Index is a “forward-looking” housing market indicator.

Unlike most data which aims to tell us how the housing market performed at some point in the past, the Pending Home Sales Index attempts to tell us how the housing market will perform at some point in the future. 

80% of homes under contract close within 2 months. Many more close within months 3-4. Therefore, on the strength of the March Pending Home Sales Index, we should expect a strong April and May nationwide

If you’re shopping for homes right now, consider taking advantage while the market remains somewhat soft. Mortgage rates are low and home prices are, too. It can make for a good home-buying conditions.

A Simple Explanation Of The Federal Reserve Statement (April 25, 2012)

Putting the FOMC statement in plain EnglishThe Federal Open Market Committee voted to leave the Fed Funds Rate unchanged within its current target range of 0.000-0.250 percent Wednesday.

For the fifth consecutive month, the Fed Funds Rate vote was nearly unanimous. Just one FOMC member, Richmond Federal Reserve President Jeffrey Lacker, dissented in the 9-1 vote.

The Fed Funds Rate has been near zero percent since December 2008. It is expected to remain near-zero through 2014, at least.

In its press release, the Federal Reserve noted that the U.S. economy has been “expanding moderately” since the FOMC’s last meeting in March. Beyond the next few quarters, the Fed expects growth to “pick up gradually”. 

This key phrase will likely be repeated by the press. It suggests that the economy is no longer contracting; instead moving along a path of slow, consistent expansion.  

In addition, the Fed acknowledged that “strains in global financial markets” continue to pose “significant downside risks” to long-term U.S. economic outlook. This is in reference to the sovereign debt concerns of Greece, Spain and Italy, and the potential for a broader European economic slowdown.

The Fed’s statement included the following notes :

  1. The housing sector remains “depressed”
  2. Labor conditions have “improved in recent months”
  3. Household spending has “continued to advance”

Also, with respect to inflation, the Fed said that the higher oil and gasoline prices from earlier this year will affect inflation “only temporarily”, and that inflation rates will return to stable levels soon.

At its meeting, the Federal Reserve neither introduced new economic stimulus, nor discontinued existing market programs. The Fed re-affirmed its intentions to hold the Fed Funds Rate at “exceptionally low” levels through late-2014, and to buy mortgage-backed bonds in the open market.

Immediately following the FOMC’s statement, mortgage markets improved slightly, pressuring mortgage rates lower in Cornville and nationwide.

The FOMC’s next scheduled meeting is a two-day event slated for June 19-20, 2012.

New Home Sales Revised Higher In February; Slip 7% In March

New Home Sales 2011-2012Sales of new homes ticked lower in March, unexpectedly.

Based on Census Bureau data, the number of new, single-family homes sold in March slipped 7 percent from February — the largest one-month drop in more than a year. 

On a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis, buyers in AZ and nationwide purchased 328,000 newly-built homes last month. The decrease in sales from February to March can be attributed, in part, though, to a massive upward revision in February’s figures.

Last month, the Census Bureau had reported 313,000 new home sales in February on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis. This month, those sales were re-measured to be 353,000 — an increase of 13 percent.

January’s sales were revised higher, too.

The long-term trend in the market for new homes remains “up”. This is no more apparent than when we look at the available new home inventory.

At the close of March, just 144,000 new homes were available for purchase, down 2,000 from the month prior and representing the most sparse new home housing supply since at least 1993, the year that the Census Bureau starting tracking such data. 

At the current pace of sales, the new home housing stock would be sold out in 5.3 months. A six-month supply is believed to represent a market in balance.

For new home buyers in Sedona , March’s New Home Sales report does not represent a housing market pull-back. It may represent opportunity, however.

From October 2011 to February 2012, housing data was uniformly strong. Home sales were higher, home supplies were lower, and confidence was rising. In March, it was the reverse. This is normal because growth is rarely linear. 

In any market, it’s a few steps forward and a single step back, and housing is likely showing a similar pattern. With mortgage rates still low and builder confidence down, it’s a terrific time to shop new construction.

There are deals to be found for buyers who seek them out. 

The Fed Starts A 2-Day Meeting Today. Make A Strategy.

Fed Funds Rate vs Mortgage Rates 1990-2012

The Federal Open Market Committee begins a 2-day meeting today in the nation’s capitol. It’s the group’s third of 8 scheduled meetings this year. Mortgage rates are expected to change upon the Fed’s adjournment.

Led by Chairman Ben Bernanke, the FOMC is a 12-person, Federal Reserve sub-committee. The FOMC is the group within the Fed which votes on U.S. monetary policy. “Making monetary policy” can mean a lot of things, and the action for which the FOMC is most well-known is its setting of the Fed Funds Funds.

The Fed Funds Rate is the overnight interest rate at which banks borrow money from each other. It’s one of many interest rates set by the Fed.

However, one series of interest rates not set by the Fed is mortgage rates. Instead, mortgage rates are based on the prices of mortgage-backed bonds and bonds are bought and sold on Wall Street.

There is little historical correlation between the Fed Funds Rate and the common, 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate.

As the chart at top shows, since 1990, the Fed Funds Rate and the 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate have followed different paths. Sometimes, they’ve moved in the same direction. Sometimes, they’ve moved in opposite directions. 

They’ve been separated by as much as 5.29 percent at times, and have been as near to each other as 0.52 percent.

Today, that spread is roughly 3.65 percent. It’s expected to change beginning 12:30 PM ET Wednesday. That’s when the FOMC will adjourn from its meeting and release its public statement to the markets.

The FOMC is expected to announce no change in the Fed Funds Rate, holding the benchmark rate within in its current target range of 0.000-0.250%. However, how mortgage rates in and around Cornville respond will depend on the verbiage of the FOMC statement. 

In general, if the Fed acknowledges that the U.S. economy as in expansion; growing from job growth and consumer spending, mortgage rates are expected to rise. If the Fed shows concern about domestic and global economic growth, mortgage rates are expected to fall. 

Any time that mortgage markets are expected to move, a safe play is to stop shopping your rate and start locking it. Today may be one of those times.

America’s 20 Best Small Towns

America's Best Small TownsAmerica is stuffed with world-class “big cities”; New York, San Francisco and Chicago make for three great examples. But beyond the biggest cities, there are some wonderful small towns, too.

Smithsonian.com highlights 20 of them on its website.

Focusing on cities with 25,000 residents or fewer, the publication ranked areas high in “culture”; towns with high concentrations of museums, public gardens, art galleries and other cultural assets including resident orchestras. 

The author states “big cities and grand institutions per se don’t produce creative works; individuals do. And being reminded of that is fun”.

The Top 10 Small Towns in America, as judged by Smithsonian.com :

  1. Great Barrington, Massachusetts
  2. Taos, New Mexico
  3. Red Bank, New Jersey
  4. Mill Valley, California
  5. Gig Harbor, Washington
  6. Durango, Colorado
  7. Butler, Pennsylvania
  8. Marfa, Texas
  9. Naples, Florida
  10. Staunton, Virginia

Other notable cities on the list include Princeton, New Jersey; Beckley City, West Virginia; and Siloam Springs, Arkansas.

The Smithsonian.com website provides an in-depth review of each of its twenty listed cities, including historical notes and quotes from key community members. It makes for good reading by local residents and visitors, alike.

Review the complete rankings online.

Existing Home Sales Slip In March

Existing Home Sales In March, for the second straight month, home resales slipped nationwide.

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, March 2012 Existing Home Sales fell to 4.48 million units on a seasonally-adjusted annualized basis — a 3 percent drop from February.

An “existing home” is a home that’s been previously occupied or owned.

The weaker-than-expected Existing Home Sales data is the third such housing report this month to suggest a lull in the spring housing market. Earlier this week, homebuilder confidence slipped for the first time in three months and March Single-Family Housing Starts fell, too.

The news wasn’t entirely bad for home resales, however. Although total home units sold decreased, so did the number of homes available for sale. There were just 2.37 million homes for sale nationwide in March, a 2 percent drop from the month prior.

At the current pace of sales, therefore, the entire nation’s home resale stock would “sell out” in 6.3 months. This is the second-fastest pace since the housing market’s April 2007 peak.  

A 6-month supply is widely believed to represent a market in balance between buyers and sellers.

The March Existing Home Sales data shows that — despite record-low mortgage rates nationwide — buyer activity in Sedona is slowing, and seller activity may be slowing, too.

So long as the two forces remain in balance, home prices should do the same. This is the law of Supply and Demand at work. 

However, if home sales continue to slide and home inventory builds, buyers may find themselves with an edge in negotiations. 

If you’re planning to buy a home in 2012, the long-term housing trend is still toward recovery. This season may be a good time to look at your options. Talk to your real estate agent to see what’s available. Low mortgage rates may persist, but low home prices may not.

Nevada Relinquishes “Top Foreclosure State” Title

Foreclosures March 2012

According to foreclosure-tracking firm RealtyTrac, foreclosure filings fell to 199,000 in March 2012, a 17 percent decrease from March 2011. Last month marks the first time since July 2007 that foreclosure filings numbered less than 200,000 on a monthly basis — a span of nearly 5 years.

The generic term “foreclosure filing” is used to group all types of foreclosure activity into a single reading. It includes default notices, scheduled auctions, and bank repossessions. 

As in most months, foreclosure density varied by region. 6 states accounted for more than half of the nation’s repossessed homes in March.

  • Florida : 13.6 percent of all bank repossessions
  • California : 12.0 percent of all bank repossessions
  • Georgia : 8.0 percent of all bank repossessions
  • Michigan : 7.5 percent of all bank repossessions
  • Arizona : 6.5 percent of all bank repossessions
  • Illinois : 6.4 percent of all bank repossessions

At the other end of the spectrum, North Dakota and Washington, D.C. were home to the fewest bank repossessions, with 0.03% and 0.02% of the national total, respectively.

Also noteworthy is that the RealtyTrac report revealed that Nevada relinquished its title as Top Foreclosure State after 62 consecutive top-ranking months. In March, 1 in every 301 Nevada homes received some form of a foreclosure filing. The March rate was a nation-topping 1 in 300 in neighboring Arizona.

For Sedona home buyers, today’s foreclosure market represents an interesting opportunity. 

Homes purchased while in the various stages of foreclosure can often be bought at lower prices relative to homes not in foreclosure. It’s one of the reasons why foreclosed homes now account for 20 percent of all home resales

However, don’t confuse less expensive for less costly.

Foreclosed homes are often sold “as-is” and may be in various stages of disrepair. Fixing a foreclosed home to make it habitable could wipe out the money saved on its price tag. Your best real estate “deal”, therefore, may be a non-distressed home in sound, move-in ready condition.

If you’re buying foreclosures — or even considering it — be sure to talk with a real estate agent first. The process of buying a foreclosed property is different from buying a “regular” home. You’ll want somebody experienced on your team.

Single-Family Housing Starts Slip 0.2% In March

Housing Starts Tuesday, the government released its March 2012 New Residential Construction report. 

The report is made up of three sections, each related to a phase of the “new home” market. The report’s first part is Building Permits; the second is Housing Starts; the third is Housing Completions.

Of the three sections, it’s Housing Starts that gets the most attention from the press — mostly because, of the triad, it’s the simplest for a layperson to understand. However, the manner in which Housing Starts data is reported can be misleading.

Today’s newspapers offer up an excellent example.

According to the Census Bureau, total Housing Starts fell by 6% in March as compared to the month prior. 654,000 units were started on a seasonally-adjusted annualized basis.

For Housing Starts, it’s the lowest reading in 5 months, a statistic suggesting that the housing market may have lost some momentum. Much of the press covered the story from a “housing is slowing” angle.

A few published headlines include : 

Although these headlines are accurate, they tell just half of the story.

Housing Starts did drop in March, but if we remove a subset of the data — structures with “5 or more units”; a grouping that includes condominiums and apartment buildings — we’re left with Housing Starts for single-family residences only. It’s this data that matters most to buyers in Cornville and nationwide. 

Few home buyers buy entire apartment buildings. Most buy single-family homes. 

In March, single-family Housing Starts were down 0.2% from the month prior, or just 1,000 units on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis.

That’s hardly a drop at all.

Homebuilder Confidence Slips 3 Points In April

NAHB Housing Market IndexFor the first time in 3 months, homebuilder confidence has slipped. 

As measured by the National Association of Homebuilders, the Housing Market Index dropped three notches in April to a reading of 25. The report measures homebuilder confidence in the newly-built, single-family housing market. 

When the Housing Market Index reads 50 or better, it reflects favorable market conditions. Readings below 50 reflect unfavorable conditions.

According to the scale, not since April 2006 have housing market conditions have been deemed “favorable” but, recently, homebuilder confidence has picked up. Between September 2011 and March 2012, confidence doubled.

April’s reading remains that second-highest since 2007.

So what does “builder confidence” mean? The formula is a little bit tricky.

The Housing Market Index is actually a composite figure. It’s the combined result of three separate surveys sent to homebuilders monthly. The surveys ask about current single-family sales volume; projected single-family sales volume over the next 6 months; and current home buyer “foot traffic”.

The NAHB compiles the results into the Housing Market Index.

In April, builder responses worsened on all 3 questions :

  • Current Single-Family Sales : 26 (-3 from March 2012)
  • Projected Single-Family Sales : 32 (-3 from March 2012)
  • Buyer Foot Traffic : 18 (-4 from March 2012)

At first glance, the data reveals a weakening market for newly-built homes and this may be true; we won’t know for another few months whether April’s confidence setback is an historical blip or the start of a trend. The change in builder psyche, though, is a change that today’s new home buyers in Sedona can exploit.

Two months ago, builders expected 2012 to be a banner year for home sales. Today, they’re not so sure.

Buyers of new construction, therefore, may find it easier to negotiate with builders for price reductions, “free upgrades”, and/or other concessions. Plus, with mortgage rates still resting near historical lows, financing a newly-built home is cheaper than at any time in recorded history.

The Spring Buying Season is underway. For buyers of new construction, there are deals to be found.

How To Use Newspapers To Kill Garden Weeds

Kill weeds with newspapersApril 22 is Earth Day, a day to raise awareness about, and to celebrate, the Earth’s natural environment. It’s also a day for people of Sedona to do something good for the planet.

There are lots of ways to help the environment, including by reducing your net electricity usage, by conserving fresh water supplies, and by planting trees. You can also reduce the use of chemicals and pesticides in your home’s garden or yard.

One such trick is replace chemical-heavy pesticides used for weed killing with your local newspaper instead. Newspapers can be effective in killing weeds, and preventing new ones from growing, while also protecting the Earth from contaminants.

The method is basic — use a wet newspaper “carpet” blocks both sunlight and oxygen from reaching the soil, starving weeds that have already grown, and those that have yet to break soil.

Here’s how to do it :

  1. Confirm that your newspaper uses soy-based ink — most local dailies do.
  2. Stack a dozen pieces of newsprint and thoroughly wet it
  3. Place the wet pages on the area affected by weeds
  4. Cover the wet pages with a thin layer of mulch

That’s it. Over several weeks, the covered weeds will decompose into the soil, providing nourishment to other plants and vegetation. If you find that the initial newsprint stack “failed”, repeat the above steps, doubling up on the number of news pages and mulch.

Make sure that your newsprint is the “standard” newsprint, too. Avoid glossy circulars and coupon pages which use different paper and often use less Earth-friendly ink.

Mortgage Rates Fall For Third Straight Week

Freddie Mac Mortgage Rates

After a brief surge north of 4 percent last month, mortgage rates have settled down, near their lowest levels of all-time.  

According to Freddie Mac’s weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey, for applicants willing to pay 0.7 discount points plus a complete set of closing costs, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate fell to 3.88 percent this week.

0.7 discount points adds $700 to your mortgage closing costs for each $100,000 borrowed.

Mortgage rates are down this week on “safe haven” buying. The move is triggered by Wall Street’s concern that Spain and Italy will have trouble servicing their respective sovereign debt. In response, investors are selling risk-heavy assets and using the proceeds to purchase U.S. government-backed bonds.

This creates demand for mortgage bonds which, in turn, pressures mortgage rates lower.

The storyline is similar to what transpired in Greece last year, and, at least for now, it gives Sedona home buyers reason to cheer. So long as economic uncertainty remains, mortgage rates may stay low.

Of course, like all things in real estate, though, mortgage rates are local. Rates offered by banks varied by region.

Freddie Mac’s survey of 125 banks showed the following regional breakdown :

  • Northeast Region : 3.88% with 0.8 discount points 
  • West Region : 3.85% with 0.8 discount points
  • Southeast Region : 3.91% with 0.8 discount points
  • North Central Region : 3.89% with 0.6 discount points
  • Southwest Region : 3.90% with 0.8 discount points

The best mortgage “deals” are currently available to North Central Region residents. The most expensive loans are for those in the Southeast.

Relative to history, though, all mortgage rates look inexpensive. Conforming 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates have never been as low as they are today. It’s a bonus for home buyers because cheap mortgage rate yield cheap mortgage payments. Home affordability remains near all-time highs.  

If you’re unsure of whether now is a good time to buy or refinance, the answer is yes. Talk to your loan officer to review your mortgage options.