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 Real Estate Blog 
Monday, May 31 2010

The near-record low mortgage rates seen during the past few weeks may not be around much longer.

Signs of improving economic conditions could lead Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke to raise key interest rates, driving up mortgage rates, says Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Pierpont Securities LLC.

The evidence includes more consumers are paying their bills on time. Past-due accounts at American Express declined 34 percent compared to a year ago, and Target Corp. reported its lowest delinquency rate in two years during the second quarter.

In another sign of economic improvement, fewer banks reported tightening lending standards this month, one reason consumer borrowing rose for the second time in three months.

“If lending standards start to stabilize, that’ll be another reason to remove the emergency measures, including the zero rate,” says Jay Bryson, a senior global economist at Wells Fargo Securities LLC in Charlotte, N.C., who formerly worked at the Fed in Washington.

Source: Bloomberg, Bob Willis and Anthony Feld (05/28/2010)

Posted by: Rolando Trentini AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Sunday, May 30 2010

Private mortgage insurance is unavoidable for some homeowners, but don’t pay PMI premiums a day longer than required by your lender.


Private mortgage insurance provides protection to a lender in case you default on your home loan. Unless you make a 20% downpayment on a house, you’ll most likely be required to purchase PMI. PMI premiums on a median priced home ($198,100 in 2008) can run between $50 and $100 per month, according to the Mortgage Insurance Companies of America.


PMI might be unavoidable, but it isn’t eternal. Knowing exactly when you’re entitled to cancel coverage can save you a bundle. If you own a median priced home, you’ll pocket between $600 and $1,200 for each year’s worth of premiums you can avoid. That extra cash can be used to pay down your principal instead.

When PMI is cancelled automatically

Though often maligned, PMI plays an important role. Many aspiring homeowners, especially first-time buyers, simply can’t afford to put down 20% on a house. Without the safeguard offered by PMI, lenders would be reluctant to extend mortgages to low-equity purchasers.

For many borrowers, the coverage is short-lived. The Mortgage Insurance Companies of America, the industry trade group, estimates that 90% of homeowners are done paying PMI premiums, which are tax-deductible for some, within five years.

If you purchased a house since 1999 and are still paying PMI, you probably fall under the Homeowners Protection Act (HPA) of 1998. Your lender is required to automatically cancel your insurance once you’ve paid down your mortgage to a 78% (0.78) loan-to-value ratio, or LTV. Put another way, once you have 22% equity built up. Many lenders will treat pre-HPA loans in a similar fashion. Call to confirm.

To calculate your LTV, divide the outstanding loan amount by the original price of your home. If you have a $190,000 mortgage on a house you purchased for $200,000, the LTV is 95%. You’d need to get the mortgage balance down to $156,000—78% of the original value—to qualify for automatic cancellation of PMI.

When you need to request cancellation

You don’t necessarily have to wait for automatic cancellation. When your LTV hits 80%, you can petition your lender to end its PMI requirement. The process can take several weeks. Your lender isn’t obligated to grant your request, but you’ll bolster your case if you have a good payment history.

Start by calling your lender, not the PMI provider. You’ll probably need to make a formal request in writing and pay out of pocket for an appraisal. The average cost of an appraisal is $362, according to a 2009 survey. Your lender will usually select the appraiser.

Although an appraisal is conducted primarily for the benefit of the lender to confirm that your property hasn’t declined from its original value, a high appraisal can work to your advantage. As your property value increases, whether due to a general uptick in real estate prices or specific home improvements, your LTV decreases.

Justine DeVito Tenney, a CPA and financial planner with Weiser LLP in Lake Success, N.Y., points out that even if you don’t meet the 78% or 80% milestones, you can get PMI cancelled when you hit the mortgage midpoint. On a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, that would occur after 15 years of payments. This can come into play for certain high-risk loans that call for a longer PMI period.

A way around PMI premiums

In search of a PMI loophole? Look for so-called piggyback loans, also known as 80/10/10 or 80/15/5 loans. Basically, the home lender finances 80% and immediately gives you a second loan for 10% to 15%. You put down 5% to 10%. No PMI is required.

This alternative has traditionally been available for homebuyers with minimal capital but excellent credit. In tight lending environments, however, this arrangement is harder to come by. And even when piggyback loans are available, the extra interest you usually pay on the second mortgage may actually cost more than PMI premiums. Do the math.


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Saturday, May 29 2010

If you’re renting out your home, it might not be covered by homeowners insurance, so look into landlord insurance instead.


Maybe you’re moving up to a bigger home and holding on to your former residence as a rental property. Or maybe you’ve tried to sell your home without success. Whatever the reason, if you’re thinking about renting out your home, you need to look into landlord insurance.

Homeowners insurance covers your house if it burns down, your possessions if there’s a break-in, and medical and legal bills if someone gets hurt on your property. Problem is, homeowners insurance might not offer protection if you decide to rent out your home. Landlord insurance does. Set aside half a day to research policies.


Renting out your home raises risks

Homeowners insurance typically covers owner-occupied, single-family residences, says John W. Saunders, president of Slemp Brant Saunders, an independent insurance brokerage in Marion, Va. When your home doesn’t meet that definition because it’s being rented out regularly, it’s no longer covered.

Most homeowners policies will cover an occasional short-term rental if, say, you’re going away for a few weeks, says Dave Millar, a partner at Riley Insurance Agency in Brunswick, Me. “But if you have a summer home you’ve decided to use as an income property and are putting different people in there every week,” he explains, “that’s a lot higher risk for the insurance company.”

The risk is also higher for both you and your insurer when you rent out your home on a full-time basis. You have an increased responsibility for injuries on the property, whether to your tenants or your tenants’ guests, says Bob O’Brien, vice president of Noyes Hall & Allen Insurance in South Portland, Me.

Insurers also experience more claims on tenant-occupied properties because tenants typically don’t care for properties as well as owners would. Renters are less likely to either identify or report maintenance needs, says O’Brien, and may be unfamiliar with a home’s systems like the location of the water shut-off.

Look into landlord insurance

When you decide to become a landlord, inform your insurer and ask about a specific landlord insurance policy, sometimes known as a dwelling fire policy or special perils policy. Coverage from a basic landlord policy isn’t quite as broad as a homeowners policy, says O’Brien, but it includes big risks like fire, wind, theft, and ice damage.

There are several levels of dwelling fire policies: DP-1, DP-2, and DP-3. The higher the number, the better the coverage. “A DP-3 policy might provide replacement cost on the house and theft of contents coverage for your belongings,” says Millar.

Expect to pay about 25% more for landlord insurance than you did for homeowners insurance, according to the Insurance Information Institute. In recent years the average cost of homeowners insurance was $822 a year. Tack on 25%, and that would put the average annual premium on landlord insurance at about $1,025.

A landlord policy covering a one-year rental for a home in Maine insured for $370,000 and personal property for $10,000 would cost $1,170, for example, says Millar. Expect to pay even more if you allow short-term rentals. The same insurance for the home if rented by the week for 12 weeks during a year would be $2,170.

Other insurance policies to consider

Landlord insurance typically covers the house itself, other structures on the property such as sheds, the owner’s possessions (but not the tenant’s possessions), lost rental income if the house is damaged and uninhabitable, and some liability protection for the owner in case of injury or a lawsuit. Policies vary, however, so read the fine print. If lost rental income isn’t included, you might be able to add the coverage for an additional $50 a year, says Saunders.

Also consider an umbrella policy that provides additional liability protection beyond the limits of your landlord policy. “If you’re talking about owning more than one house, and your net worth is starting to build up, then you should consider an umbrella policy,” says O’Brien. You can usually get an additional $1 million worth of liability coverage for $250 to $300 a year.

Finally, O’Brien advises that you require tenants to buy renters insurance that protects their own property. Remember, landlord insurance only covers the owner’s property. In recent years, the average cost of renters insurance has run $182 annually.


Posted by: Rolando Trentini AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, May 28 2010

Observers of Tri-State home sales have something to smile about.

A report from the Evansville Area Association of Realtors reveals home sales in Vanderburgh, Warrick, Posey and Gibson counties continue to climb, well after federal tax incentives for buyers expired at the end of April.

Chris Dickson, president-elect of the association, said the number of single-family homes in the four-county area were up 18.7 percent the first 21 days of this May, compared to the first 21 days of May 2009.

The increase was slightly higher than the 17.6 percent increase in sales for all of last month, compared to April 2009, he said.

“Clearly the tax credits had their intended effect. They ‘primed the pump’ and got the housing market going,” said Dickson, a real estate agent with ERA 1st Advantage Realty.

“We expect the increased activity to continue, because buyers who did not find the perfect home in April are still looking.”

For statistic lovers, a total of 241 homes were sold in the four counties in the first 21 days of this May, compared with 203 homes sold during the same period in 2009.

Dickson said the median sale price continues to also increase, up 11.2 percent so far this May, compared to May of last year.

He said the current median sale price was $123,500 vs. $111,000 a year ago.

“The overall volume and contribution to the economy has increased by 33.4 percent. Over $34.3 million worth of homes were sold in the first 21 days of this May, compared to $25.7 million during the first 21 days of last May.”

Dickson said that although the tax credits are no longer available for everyone, they are still available for people in the U.S. military.

“Also, there is plenty of FHA and conventional mortgage money available,” he said.

“Interest rates are still at historic lows. Interest rates for a 30-year fixed rate are available for around 5 percent.”


Posted by: Rolando Trentini AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, May 27 2010

While being a landlord certainly has its cons, tops among its pros are the tax deductions for rental homes enjoyed by owners.

From finding tenants to fixing faucets, renting out a home can be a lot of work. Yet perhaps the biggest reward for being a landlord isn’t the rent checks, but rather the considerable tax deductions for rental homes.

The tax code permits most owners of residential rental properties to offset income by writing off numerous rental home expenses. IRS Publication 527, “Residential Rental Property,” has all the details.


Writing off rental home expenses

Many rental home expenses are tax deductible. Save receipts and any other documentation, and take the deductions on Schedule E. Figure you’ll spend four hours a week, on average, maintaining a rental property, including recordkeeping.

Here are some of the most common deductible expenses for rental homes, according to the IRS. You can usually take these write-offs even if the rental home is vacant temporarily. In general, claim the deductions for the year in which the expenses are incurred:

  • Advertising
  • Cleaning and maintenance
  • Commissions paid to rental agents
  • Homeowner association/condo dues
  • Insurance premiums
  • Legal fees
  • Mortgage interest
  • Taxes
  • Utilities

Less obvious deductions include expenses to obtain a mortgage, and fees charged by an accountant to prepare your Schedule E. And don’t forget that a rental home can even be a houseboat or trailer, as long as there are sleeping, cooking, and bathroom facilities.

Limits on travel expenses

You can deduct expenses related to traveling locally to a rental home for such activities as showing it, collecting rent, or doing maintenance. If you use your own car, you can claim the standard mileage rate of 55 cents per mile (in 2009).

Traveling outside your local area to a rental home is another matter. You can write off the expenses if the purpose of the trip is to collect rent or, in the words of the IRS, “manage, conserve, or maintain” the property. If you mix business with pleasure during the trip, you can only deduct the portion of expenses that directly relates to rental activities.

Repairs vs. improvements

Another area that requires rental home owners to tread carefully is repairs vs. improvements. The tax code lets you write off repairs—any fixes that keep your property in working condition—immediately as you would other expenses. The costs of improvements that add value to a rental property or extend its life must instead be depreciated over several years. (More on depreciation below.)

Think of it this way: Simply replacing a broken window pane counts as a repair, but replacing all of the windows in your rental home counts as an improvement. Patching a roof leak is a repair; re-shingling the entire roof is an improvement. You get the picture.

Deciphering depreciation

Depreciation refers to the value of property that’s lost over time due to wear and tear. In the case of improvements to a rental home, you can deduct a portion of that lost value every year over a set number of years. Carpeting and appliances in a rental home, for example, are usually depreciated over five years.

You can begin depreciating the value of the entire rental property as soon as the rental home is ready for tenants, even if you don’t yet have any. In general, you depreciate the value of the home itself over 27.5 years. You’ll have to stop depreciating once you recover your cost or you stop renting out the home, whichever comes first.

Depreciation is a valuable tax break, but the calculations can be tricky and the exceptions many. Read IRS Publication 946, “How to Depreciate Property,” for additional information, and use Form 4562 come tax time. Consult a tax adviser.

Profits and losses on rental homes

The rent you collect from your tenant every month counts as income. You offset that income, and lower your tax bill, by deducting your rental home expenses including depreciation. If, for example, you received $9,600 rent during the year and had expenses of $4,200, then your taxable rental income would be $5,400 ($9,600 in rent minus $4,200 in expenses).

You can even write off a loss on a rental home as long as you meet income requirements, own at least 10% of the property, and actively participate in the rental of the home. Active participation in a rental is as simple as placing ads, setting rents, or screening prospective tenants.

If you’re married filing jointly and your modified adjusted gross income is $100,000 or less, you can deduct up to $25,000 in rental losses. The deduction for losses gradually phases out between income of $100,000 and $150,000. You may be able to carry forward excess losses to future years.

Let’s say you take in $12,000 in rental income for the year but your expenses total $15,000, resulting in a $3,000 loss. If your income is less than $100,000, you can take the full $3,000 loss. By deducting $3,000 from taxable income of $100,000, a married couple filing jointly would cut their tax bill by $750.

Tax rules for vacation homes

If you have a vacation home that’s mostly reserved for personal use but rented out for up to 14 days a year, you won’t have to pay taxes on the rental income. Some expenses are deductible, though the personal use of the home limits deductions.

The tax picture gets more complicated when in the same year you make personal use of your vacation home and rent it out for more than 14 days. Read our story about tax deductions for vacation homes for an explanation.

Donna Fuscaldo has written about personal finance for more than 10 years at the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswires, and Fox Business. She one day hopes to own a vacation home in the Catskills of New York.


Posted by: Rolando Trentini AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, May 26 2010

Renting out your house can be a smart financial move, as long as you calculate your costs carefully.


You have a single-family house you’d like to rent out. Perhaps you’re temporarily relocating for work, or maybe you inherited your childhood home from your parents, and you’re not quite ready to part with it yet.


Renting can be a profitable choice, but it requires an investment of time, money, and organization to make it work. Here’s how to determine whether renting out your house is worth the cost.

Calculate your monthly expenses

You want to charge at least enough to cover your monthly outlay. So the first step is to use our free downloadable worksheet to calculate your costs. Start with regular expenses like mortgage, maintenance, and homeowners association dues.

You may also need to upgrade your insurance coverage. Your agent can advise you about adding landlord insurance, a special type of policy that covers rental properties. As a rule, landlord insurance costs about 25% more than standard homeowners insurance.

If you’re renting the house furnished, make sure you’re covered for the personal possessions you leave behind. Jane Cline, the insurance commissioner of West Virginia, tells owners to prepare a detailed inventory of household items. If you’re renting the house unfurnished, figure in the costs of moving and storing your items.

Check out prospective tenants

As a practical matter, you’ll have to formally check out your prospective renters., an information and service site for landlords, suggests a variety of background checks: credit reports, eviction reports, and criminal background reports. None of these is expensive, but you must get your prospects’ permission. charges $8.95 for an eviction report. A combined credit and eviction report is $14.95. If you want to be especially careful, a countywide criminal report costs $29.95.

Account for maintenance and upgrades

Even with the most scrupulous checks, you can’t be completely sure renters will take good care of your home. Eva Rosenberg, an enrolled agent in Northridge, Calif., advises that if you’re not within easy driving distance of your rental property, you’ll need to arrange for someone else to keep an eye on the place, even if it’s just to make sure the lawn is mowed. If the tenants are neglecting upkeep, you’ll want to know about it sooner rather than later, since it could be a warning sign of trouble down the line.

Of course, even if the renters are conscientious, problems can crop up: boilers will fail; roofs may leak; washing machine hoses can burst. If household systems or appliances need repair or replacement, you’re better off spending the money up front, before the fix becomes an expensive emergency.

You may also want to invest in some of the “extras” that Sue Peters, a broker in Wellfleet, Mass., recommends adding to attract a tenant willing to pay a higher fee. She suggests spending money on air conditioning, expanded-channel cable TV, and a Wi-Fi network.

Don’t want the headaches? Hire a property manager

You can save yourself a lot of time and effort if you engage a management company to oversee the property and take care of the details. Some firms charge a percentage of the rental fee, others a flat monthly fee, based on the extent of services. Joe Aimone of GoRenter in Phoenix, Ariz., says his firm offers a variety of services, starting at as little as $50 a month, including general maintenance, rent collection, and—if necessary—eviction.

A management company can help you figure out how much to charge, find and vet tenants, and prepare a lease. It will also pay the real estate taxes on your behalf and present you with an annual 1099 form. Many management companies maintain 24-hour emergency lines and a roster of approved service people, so they can take care of plumbing or electrical problems and bill you later. A property manager will also see that driveways and sidewalks are shoveled, so you don’t find yourself with an unpleasant claim against your liability insurance.

Expect to pay a management company 8% to 10% of the annual gross rent, on average, with a $50 to $85 monthly minimum.

Keep scrupulous records

Whether or not you use a management company, you’ll have to keep extensive business records. DeDe Jones, CFP, CPA, in Lakewood, Colo., advises owners to save receipts for any expenses and to file them carefully.

The IRS treats maintenance expenditures, like a new hot-water heater, differently from capital improvements, such as a new deck or patio, so you’ll want to consult a tax professional. Meanwhile, keep the two types of receipts separate to make tax prep easier. You’ll have to file Schedule E on Form 1040, which can also serve as a template for the kinds of records you’ll need.

Finally, because of the complex tax and liability issues involved, many financial experts suggest forming a corporation when you become a landlord. An attorney can advise you about whether incorporating makes sense in your situation.

Richard J. Koreto has been editor of several professional financial magazines and is the author of “Run It Like a Business,” a practice management book for financial planners. He and his wife own a pre-Civil War house in Rockland County, New York.


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Tuesday, May 25 2010

The Indiana Association of REALTORS® (IAR) today released its "Indiana Real Estate Markets Report" for the month of April as a continuation of its "Indiana is Home" project.

The Report, found online at, was the first-ever county-by-county comparison of existing single-family home sales in Indiana. In March, statistics on other types of existing, single-family home sales - condominiums, duplexes, townhomes, mobile homes, etc. - was added to the report.

IAR obtains the data directly from 26 of the state's 27 Multiple Listing Services (MLSs), including the Broker Listing Cooperative® (BLC®) in central Indiana. To date, the Report represents 98% of the housing market statewide and 91 of 92 Indiana counties.

Statewide, April sales of all types of existing, single-family homes increased 28.4% from the same month last year; median prices saw an increase of 13.7%.

This is the seventh consecutive month that there has been an increase in median prices over the previous year.

"April showed continuation of an expected spring surge due to the federal tax credit," said Karl Berron, Chief Executive Officer. "While the increase in sales is positive, the best news is that inventory is trending down and there seems to be a broad stabilization in home prices, demonstrating that the tax credit did its job to preserve housing wealth."

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Thursday, May 20 2010

If you live in the Midwest, here are maintenance jobs you should complete in spring and summer to prevent costly repairs and keep your home in top condition.

Certain home maintenance tasks should be completed each season to prevent structural damage, save energy, and keep all your home’s systems running properly. What maintenance tasks are most important for the Midwest in spring and summer? Here are the major issues you should be aware of and critical tasks you should complete. For a comprehensive list of tasks by season, refer to the to-do lists at the end of this article.


When spring arrives in the Midwest, it’s time to clean up your home and yard from the ravages of winter. As the weather warms, you can also accomplish some routine maintenance tasks that are much more agreeable when the sun is shining.

Key maintenance tasks to perform

Check your gutters and downspouts. “Stuff accumulates even after your fall gutter cleaning,” says Frank Lesh, president of Home Sweet Home Inspection Co. in Indian Head Park, Ill. “Pine needles especially, which fall all year long and are difficult to remove.” Children’s toys, he says, also find their way into gutters between cleanings, as well as nails and other debris from the roof. Look for any signs of wind or ice damage—has the gutter pulled away from the house, or bent so that there are depressions where water can stand? You can usually repair damage yourself for under $50 by adjusting or reattaching brackets and gently hammering out bent areas.

Lesh also recommends examining your downspouts for blockages. “You can’t see inside them,” he says, “so tap them with a screwdriver handle to see if they sound hollow.” If the ends run underground, where animals can build nests or winter debris can become trapped, your best bet is to put a garden hose in the gutter and see where the water discharges. If you have a blockage, you’ll have to disassemble or dig up part of the downspout until you locate it.

Inspect your roof for winter damage. This is best done from a ladder, but if you’re allergic to ladders, use a pair of binoculars to check your roof from your yard. Look for loose and missing shingles. If anything looks unusual, investigate further yourself or call a roofing contractor.

Take a close look at your chimney. “Do this even if the winter was mild,” Lesh says. “High winds, rain, and snow can damage a chimney. Look for cracks, missing mortar, loose bricks or boards, and signs of rot.” If any of those things are present, call a chimney sweep certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America for a repair estimate. If the metal flashing and the cap on a chimney are galvanized, Lesh says, check to see if they look brownish, which means they’re rusting and should be replaced. Also, make sure the cap is still present but hasn’t collapsed and covered the flue opening, which could cause a dangerous carbon monoxide buildup inside the house. Expect chimney repairs to start around $200.

Examine your drainage. Make sure soil slopes away from your foundation at least 6 vertical inches in the first 10 feet on all sides of the house and that there are no areas of standing water. If you have properly sloped foundation drainage but still have areas of standing water, consider a landscaping solution, such as a swales (contoured drainage depressions), berms (raised banks of earth), terraces, or French drains (a shallow, gravel-filled trench that diverts water away from the house).

Take a look at your siding. Has any of it come loose or begun to rot? Repair any damaged sections before moisture has a chance to set in. No matter what your siding is made of (wood, vinyl, brick), it may need a spring cleaning. The best DIY method for any kind of siding is a bucket of soapy water and a long-handled brush. A power washer is not recommended and should only be handled by a professional cleaning contractor. If you choose to have your siding professionally cleaned, expect to pay $300–$500 depending on the size of your home.

Schedule your biannual HVAC appointment. Get ready for the air conditioning season with your spring tune-up. If your system wasn’t running well last season, be sure to tell your contractor, and make sure he performs actual repairs if necessary rather than simply adding refrigerant. “He shouldn’t just charge it up,” Lesh says. “That will work for a while, but it won’t last. Freon lasts forever—if your system is low, there’s a leak somewhere, and he should tell you specifically what he’s going to check to fix it.” Expect to pay $50–$100.

Your contractor’s maintenance checklist should include checking thermostats and controls, checking the refrigerant level, tightening connections, lubricating any moving parts, checking the condensate drain, and cleaning the coils and blower. Duct cleaning, while it probably won’t hurt anything, is not necessary; be wary of contractors who want to coat the inside of the ducts with antimicrobial agents, as research has not proven the effectiveness of this method and any chemicals used in your ducts will likely become airborne.

On your own, make sure your filters are changed and vacuum out all your floor registers.

Check your GFCIs. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that you do this once a month, and it’s a good idea to incorporate it into your spring maintenance routine. GFCIs (ground fault circuit interrupters) are electrical outlets that protect you from deadly electrical shocks by shutting off the power anytime even a minimal disturbance in current is detected. They feature two buttons (“test” and “reset”), and should be present anywhere water and electricity can mix:  kitchens, bathrooms, basements, garages, and the exterior of the house.

To test your GFCIs, plug a small appliance (a nightlight, for example) into each GFCI. Press the test button, which should click and shut off the nightlight. The reset button should also pop out when you press the test button; when you press reset, the nightlight should come back on.

If the nightlight doesn’t go off when you press the test button, either the GFCI has failed and should be replaced, or the wiring is faulty should be inspected. If the reset button doesn’t pop out, or if pressing it doesn’t restore power to the nightlight, the GFCI has failed and should be replaced. These distinctions can help you tell an electrician what the problem is—neither job is one you should attempt yourself if you don’t have ample experience with electrical repair.

Spending a weekend or two on maintenance can prevent expensive repairs and alert you to developing problems before they become serious. Be sure to check out the comprehensive seasonal to-do list following this article, and visit the links below for more detailed information on completing tasks or repairs yourself.


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Wednesday, May 19 2010

— A Los Angeles couple came through, helping Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari raise $12,000 for Nashville, Tenn.-area flood relief.

Last week the theme park put its management team (15 people) on the auction block, with the highest online bidders winning various tickets, perks and free time with theme park officials, from park President Will Koch on down.

Nine of the 15 auctions were won by Robb and Elissa Alvey, who run the Web site ThemeParkReview along with a coaster enthusiast group called Club TPR.

The West Coast couple plan to bring a group of roller coaster enthusiasts to Holiday World in August, taking advantage of free tickets, behind-the-scene tours, front-of-the-line access to rides and other special offerings.

Proceeds from the online bidding, which ended Monday, will be donated to the American Red Cross for Nashville area relief efforts.

The online auction raised just over $6,000, which was matched by Holiday World, according to park spokeswoman Paula Werne.


Posted by: Rolando Trentini AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, May 18 2010

As I said last month, pended transactions (signed contracts for sales not yet closed) for March were great.  Pended transactions for April were simply off the chart.  I believe that pended transactions for March and April combined were the best two month period in local MLS history.  As a result, inventory was just over 7 month’s supply.  I think the important questions, as a result of the past two months performance, are what does this mean and where are we going?

I think we know several things and we can draw some conclusions.  First, closed transactions during May and June will be excellent.  This will continue to keep inventory levels relatively low especially compared to unusually high levels we saw at the beginning of the year.  I also believe that the homebuyer tax credits that expired at the end of April were clearly a factor in these remarkable sales numbers.  The key question is: how big a factor were the tax credits?  If average pended transactions for May-July are only down 25% from April’s spectacular numbers the housing market is in excellent condition.  If pended transactions are down closer to 50% then we still have to wait for a fuller recovery.  I believe that the number will be between 30-40%.  That indicates that things have definitely improved and we are moving in the right direction, but we still have room for improvement.

Two other bright spots are an improvement in closed transactions over $200,000 and an improvement in sales price to list price percentage.  For homes over $200,000 sales are up 31.3% in the first four months of this year compared to the same four months last year.  Sales price to list price in April was 95.83%, the highest percentage in almost two years.  This is another sign of our improving market.

 School will be out soon and I’m looking forward to a great summer.  It’s easy to look for homes anytime, regardless of the weather, at

Posted by: Rolando Trentini AT 03:31 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, May 18 2010
Housing starts rose 5.8 percent in April to an annual rate of 672,000 units, the highest level since October 2008, the Commerce Department said Tuesday.

Single-family home starts rose 10.2 percent, while multifamily starts declined 18.6 percent, reversing the trend from previous months.

New building permits, a gauge of future activity, declined 11.5 percent to an annual rate of 606,000, the lowest level since October 2009, Commerce also reported.

Source: Reuters News, Lucia Mutikani (05/18/2010)
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Monday, May 17 2010

Jasper-based German American Bancorp Inc. (Nasdaq: GABC) says it has completed the purchase of two Evansville-area Farmers State Bank branches. The deal expands German American's presence to Evansville and Newburgh.

German American Bancorp, Inc. (Nasdaq:GABC) announced its banking subsidiary had completed its purchase of two Farmers State Bank offices in or near Evansville, Ind.

By this purchase, which is expected to be accretive to German American's earnings per share upon completion of a transition period during the 12 months following the closing of the transaction, German American has expanded its geographic footprint to the Southern Indiana markets of Evansville and Newburgh in Vanderburgh and Warrick Counties, respectively.

German American acquired approximately $51 million of deposits and approximately $44 million of loans at the closing of the transaction, plus the real estate and leasehold improvements at the two branch locations and miscellaneous assets.

Schroeder continued, "We welcome Doug Diekmann, as Market President, and his Evansville team, who will further enhance our growth opportunities under the German American brand. We believe that customers will be very receptive to our comprehensive banking, insurance and investment lines of business and the personalized delivery that is a hallmark of our community banking roots."

About German American

German American Bancorp, Inc. is a NASDAQ-traded (symbol GABC) financial services holding company. German American, through its principal banking subsidiary German American Bancorp, now operates 30 retail banking offices in 12 contiguous southern Ind. counties. The company also owns a trust, brokerage and financial planning subsidiary, operated from its banking offices, and a full service property and casualty insurance agency with seven offices throughout southern Ind.

Source: German American Bancorp Inc. & Inside INdiana Business

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Sunday, May 16 2010

Appraisers and real estate agents offer advice for curb appeal that preserves value and attracts potential buyers.

Curb appeal has always been important for homesellers. With the vast majority of today’s homebuyers starting their search on the Internet, the appearance of your property is more critical than ever. You only have a few seconds to catch their attention as they scroll through listings online to get them to stop and take a closer look.

But the role of curb appeal goes beyond just making a good first impression. The way your house looks from the street can impact its value. It can also shorten the time it takes to sell your house.

We asked real estate agents, appraisers, home stagers, landscape designers, and home inspectors which curb appeal projects offer the most value when your house is on the market, both in terms of its marketability and dollars. Here is what they told us:

1. Paint the house.

Hands down, the most commonly offered curb appeal advice from our real estate pros and appraisers is to give the exterior of your home a good paint job. Buyers will instantly notice it and appraisers will note it on the valuation.

“Paint is probably the number one thing inside and out,” says Frank Lucco, managing partner of Houston-based IRR-Residential Appraisers and Consultants. “I’d give additional value for that. If you’re under two years remaining life (on the paint job), paint the exterior because it tends to show wear badly.” 

Just make sure you stay within the range of accepted colors for your market. A house that’s painted a wildly different color from its competition will be marked down in value by appraisers.

2. Have the house washed.

Before you make the investment in a paint job, though, take a good look at the house. If it’s got mildew or general grunge, just washing the house could make a world of difference, says Valerie Torelli, a California real estate agent with a background in accounting.

Before she puts a house on the market, Torelli often does exterior makeovers on her clients’ homes, a service she pays for herself to get higher selling prices. Overall, she says her goal is to spend less than $5,000, with a goal of generating an extra $10,000 to $15,000 on the sale price.

Torelli specifies pressure-washing—a job that should be left to professionals. Pressure washing makes the house look “bright and clean in addition to getting rid of unsightly things like cobwebs, which may not be seen from the yard but will detract from the home’s cleanliness when seen up close,” she says.

The cost to have a professional cleaning should be a few hundred dollars—a fraction of the cost of having the house painted.

3. Trim the shrubs and green up the yard.

California real estate agent Valerie Torelli says she puts a lot of emphasis on landscaping, such as cutting down overgrown bushes and replacing them with leafy plants and annuals mulched with beautiful reddish-brown bark. “It runs me $30 to $50,” says Torelli. “Do you get a return on your money? Absolutely. It sucks people in.”

You also don’t want bare spots. Take the time to fertilize the yard, throw out some grass seed, and if need be, add some sod.

4. Add a splash of color.

It could be a flower bed of annuals by the mailbox, a paint job for the front door, or a brightly colored bench or an Adirondack chair. “You can get a cute little bench at Home Depot for $99,“ Torelli notes. “Spray paint it bright red or blue and set it in the yard or on the front porch.”

It’s not a bad idea, but don’t plan on getting extra points from an appraiser for a red bench, says John Bredemeyer, president of Realcorp in Omaha. “It’s difficult to quantify, but it does make a home sell more quickly,” Bredemeyer says. “Maybe yours sold a couple weeks faster than the house down the street. That’s the best way to look at these things.”

5. Add a fancy mailbox and house numbers.

An upscale mail box and architectural house numbers or an address plaque can give your house a distinctive look that stands out from everyone else on the block. Torelli makes them a part of her exterior makeovers “I’ve gotten those hand-painted mailboxes,” she says. “A nice one runs you $40 to $50.” Architectural house numbers may run as high as a few hundred dollars.

6. Repair or clean the roof.

Springfield, Va.-based home inspector and former builder Reggie Marston says the roof is one of the first things he looks at in assessing the condition of a home. He’ll look at other houses in the neighborhood to see if there are a lot of replaced roofs and see if the subject house has one as well. If not, he’ll look for curls in the shingles or missing shingles. “I’m looking at the roof for end-of-life expectancy,” he says.

You can pay for roof repairs now, or pay for them later in a lower appraisal; appraisers will mark down the value by the cost of the repair. That could knock thousands of dollars off your appraisal. According to Remodeling Magazine’s 2009-2010 Cost vs. Value Report, the average cost of a new asphalt shingle roof is more than $19,000.

“Roofs are issues,” Lucco says. “You won’t throw money away on that job. You gotta have a decent roof.”

Stains and plant matter, such as moss, can be handled with cleaning. It’s a job that can often be done in a day for a few hundred dollars, and makes the roof look like new. It’s not a DIY project; call a professional with the right tools to clean it without damaging it.

7. Put up a fence.

A picket fence with a garden gate to frame the yard is an asset. A fence has more impact in a family-oriented neighborhood than an upscale retirement community, Bredemeyer says, but in most instances, appraisers will give extra value for one, as long as it’s in good condition. “Day in a day out, a fence is a plus,“ Bredemeyer says. Expect to pay $2,000 to $3,500 for a professionally installed gated picket fence 3 feet high and 100 feet long.

8. Perform routine maintenance and cleaning.

Nothing sets off subconscious alarms like hanging gutters, missing bricks from the front steps, or lawn tools rusting in the bushes. It makes even the professionals question what else hasn’t been taken care of.

“A house is worth less if the maintenance isn’t done,” Lucco says. “Those little things can add up and be a very big detractor. When people say, ‘I’d buy it if it weren’t for all the deferred maintenance,’ what they’re really saying is, ‘I’d still buy it if you reduce the price.’”


Posted by: Rolando Trentini AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Saturday, May 15 2010


The recession has changed the consumer’s approach to remodeling and appliance shopping as well as how to pay for those improvements, says Mark Karas, president of the National Kitchen and Bath Association.

“Any remodel now is budget-driven,” Karas said. “You really have to take a look at what the client is looking at overall.

“I just sold a kitchen to a relative. We’d been trying to plan for five or six years. Just before the holidays, first the oven went, then the microwave, then the dishwasher—those were the signals.”

With the real estate market still in turmoil, Karas said, consumers are taking a more careful approach. He said emphasis is still on kitchen and bath remodeling (“You always get your money back no matter what you spend on a kitchen or bathroom”) but now, in addition to pricing fixtures and contractors, consumers are pricing the home equity loans they’re using to finance them, with some banks offering financing as low as 3.9 percent.

“The rich are always going to be rich so can they do (a remodeling job) out of pocket, maybe. Middle-class homeowners are more likely to go to home equity loans,” said Karas, who also is the general manager of Adams Kitchens in Stoneham, Mass.

“It’s funny. A very good friend of mine is a banker. He just told me people used to come in and they would be told the rate is X and they would go for the loan. Now people are shopping for home equity loans just like they shop for a car. Even bank loyalty is gone.

“Interestingly, we’re in a totally different mindset when it comes to money, projects, and buying. Everybody just takes a totally different approach today.”

At the recent Kitchen and Bath Industry Show in Chicago, Karas said the feeling was the economy is coming back, but coming back slowly. Nonetheless, there’s a cautious optimism out there, he said.

As for trends at the show, there was much more emphasis on Energy Star appliances.

“More people are trying to get their products out there,” he said. “Everybody has Energy Star in their lines but not everything is Energy Star. The emphasis now is on looking good, working great and still being Energy Star efficient.”

For example, General Electric introduced its new Hybrid Water Heater, which is billed to cut residential energy usage by more than half. The unit “talks” to the utility grid, powering down or delaying operations during peak periods when prices are highest. GE plans to expand the technology to refrigerators, microwaves and ranges.

Another emerging trend, Karas said, is greater use of LED lighting, both in appliances and for general use. He acknowledged the bulbs are much more expensive than incandescent or compact fluorescents, but they last 20 years and produce no heat. Karas estimates the reduced energy costs pay for the bulbs in three to five years.

“I’m converting my own showroom to LED. … The basic cost is 20 percent higher,” he said. “I just replaced xenon bulbs which were putting out 150 watts; the LED is putting out 30.”

He said you get the same amount of light from a 75-watt hallogen bulb that you get from a 22-watt compact fluorescent and a 16-watt LED. And LEDs have the added advantage of not having the environmental concerns associated with compact fluorescents.

A service of YellowBrix, Inc.

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Friday, May 14 2010
Real estate can be an engine or a brake for the U.S. economy. And today, it's mostly slowing things down.

"The housing market, since it was the epicenter of the crisis, is also central to the feeble recovery," says Ethan Harris, an economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Everything is interconnected: Employment is closely tied to construction spending, which is 25 percent below what it was in 2006. And because property values remain low, many people are mired in debt and can no longer rely on home equity to help them out of it.

The decline in property values is also preventing small businesses from using equity to expand. And lower property values mean lower property taxes, which dents government spending on everything from teachers to police officers.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, Conor Dougherty (05/10/2010)
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Thursday, May 13 2010

With the housing recovery still fragile, it’s hard to look ahead with anything but caution. However, the long-term prospects for the market are “incredible,” FHA Commissioner David Stevens told REALTORS® yesterday in the opening forum of the 2010 NAR Midyear Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo.


Young households today represent a demographic block larger than even the baby boomers, and their entry into the housing market promises to help build “an incredible real estate market in the future,” said Stevens. But first the housing market must move from recovery to stability and then to long-term growth, and that will only happen if investors regain confidence in the mortgage market. And for that to happen, the mortgage market must be reformed to reward transparent financing structures.

Stevens credited NAR’s role in helping Congress and the administration stabilize the market through its support of a “mosaic” of pragmatic policies, such as:

• The Federal Reserve’s $1.25 trillion dollar investment in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage backed securities, which helped keep interest rates historically low.
• The home buyer tax credit, which has so far been taken by 2.2 million households for $16 billion in total returns
• The federal government’s foreclosure prevention efforts, which have helped 1.1 million households.

That mix of programs has led to today’s housing recovery but the job won’t be finished, he says, until the federal government steps out of the picture and the market stands on its own. “We constantly talk about exit strategy,” Stevens said, referring to the administration’s goal of unwinding its mortgage-market interventions.

To help protect the recovery, Stevens urged REALTORS® while they’re in Washington this week to convince lawmakers to pass FHA reform legislation under consideration in the House as soon as possible. That legislation, H.R. 5072, would enable FHA to lower the upfront mortgage insurance premium and instead fold a higher annual premium into the loan, a change that would align FHA with the approach used in the private sector. The legislation would also give FHA more tools for clamping down on bad lenders.

The changes in the mortgage insurance premium are needed to help FHA improve its financial picture and restore its reserves to its congressionally mandated level. Not having the authority it needs to change its premium structure “is costing FHA $300 million a month in money it’s not getting,” he said.

“You are the recovery,” he told the packed room of REALTORS®. “Now we’ve got to finish the job.”


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Wednesday, May 12 2010


Add wallpaper - With wallpaper’s recent comeback, a slew of beautiful choices are available to jazz up any room. Look for oversize patterns to create a sophisticated and dramatic look.

Tile your backsplash - Transform your kitchen with a new backsplash. This easy DIY project will add sophistication to your space. Consider small tiles on a mesh backing for the easiest installation.

Add or upgrade your molding - From grand crown molding to handsome baseboards, millwork can really elevate a room. If you want to add extra architectural interest, consider adding a chair rail or wainscot.

Make a new headboard - Two salvaged windows are a great alternative to an ordinary headboard. Find windows that measure approximately the width of your mattress. Remove the glass and install fiberboard or foam board to cover the backs. Cut fabric or wallpaper remnants to fit each section and adhere with spray adhesive.




Spring temperatures draw us outdoors. If you’re like many homeowners, you can’t wait to head outside to assess lawn maintenance needs and plan what plants to add to the landscape.

Collect and Use Debris - Get out your lawn mower and mulch up leaves that have blown into your yard over the winter. They are nature’s fertilizer, so don’t send them to the landfill.

Plan to Fill In - Think about which areas will receive full sun and which will be partially or fully shaded. Remember that the best plants for your yard are usually natives that have adapted to the particular soil and climate in your area. The natural relationship to your environment makes them worth the extra effort it might take to find them.

Where to Shop for Native Plants – Large retail garden shops don’t always offer plants that are best for the local area. Familiar flowers fill their greenhouses, but these aren’t always the best for you because they may not thrive in local soils without many hours of feeding and watering.

Take a little extra time to learn from knowledgeable local vendors about the varieties of plants that will thrive in your yard. In the long run, you will save money and time as plants that spread by roots and seed will come back next year to reward your efforts.



Begin by gathering up your docs. Pull out stray files, snatch the latest round of bills, and empty that overflowing kitchen or office drawer stuffed with papers you've been meaning to get to for ages. Sort everything into six piles:

           Monthly Bills, Bank Statements, and Pay Stubs

           Investment Statements (pension updates, 401(k) statements, brokerage and fund statements, and so forth)

           Tax Returns and Supporting Docs

           Policy Documents & Deeds (insurance docs, home deed)

           Warranties and User Manuals

           Forever Docs (things like marriage license, will, birth certificate)

Next, create a folder for each type of document and add new papers as they come in. Then create folders within the folders: Take ongoing bills, for example. Store all gas bills in one folder, electricity bills in another, cable bills in a third, and so on. If possible, keep all folders in a fireproof, water-resistant file cabinet or box; if not, a drawer or shelf will do.

It's an entirely different ball game for the forever docs. Because of their importance, they must be put in a portable fire- and water-resistant home safe or file container—something that you can grab at a moment's notice. Why not a bank deposit box? Because you don't have access 24/7. If, God forbid, you die or become incapacitated, your relatives may not be able to access it; besides, the maintenance fee is a waste of money compared with the onetime cost of buying    a safe.




24  unpeeled, large raw shrimp

1/2  cup  Mojo de Ajo

24  (6-inch) wooden skewers

Garnishes: lime wedges, fresh cilantro

   sprigs, coarse sea salt



Peel shrimp, leaving tails on; devein, if desired. Combine shrimp and Mojo de Ajo, tossing to coat. Let stand 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, soak wooden skewers in water 30 minutes.

Remove shrimp from Mojo de Ajo, discarding marinade. Thread 1 shrimp onto each skewer.

Grill, covered with grill lid, over medium-high heat 1 to 2 minutes on each side or just until shrimp turn pink. Garnish, if desired.



When searching for a home service agreement, check to see if plumbing stoppages are included. Sometimes they are not covered at all, and other times you may have to pay extra. With a Home Buyers Warranty VI® home service agreement, plumbing stoppages are covered under the standard coverage.

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Tuesday, May 11 2010
On Arbor Day the city of Evansville announced a new ordinance requiring developers to include trees and green spaces in large, newly built parking lots.

It's called the "Landscaped Islands Ordinance" which was signed by Mayor Weinzapfel in March.

"Large parking lots are a common part of the landscape of cities across the country. What we are ensuring with this ordinance is that new parking lots in our community will include green space to make these areas more visually appealing and lessen their negative impact on our environment," said Weinzapfel.

Officials say landscaped islands help reduce heat and the amount of storm water run-off.

Under the new ordinance, new developments with parking lots having 30 spaces or more will be required to have landscaped islands, one island for every 15 spaces. Developers will also have to plant trees in the islands when the parking lot is 60 spaces or more.

Violators could face $500 fines. There are also incentives for developers who plant trees on the islands.


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Monday, May 10 2010

Unmarried women accounted for 21% of home purchases in 2009, while unwed males were 10% of the buyers, according to a National Association of Realtors report in November. It's a dramatic shift from 1981, the first year the numbers were tracked, when single women and men each accounted for 10% of home sales.

Still, some industry professionals have been slow to take note of females' robust activity. Single women have held steady at the 20 % mark for more than five years, yet when the Urban Land Institute hosted its annual real-estate conference in late April, analysts had to remind the audience to expect big numbers from young, single female buyers.

"I've given some of my [home-building] clients lessons on how to be gender friendly," said Brooke Warrick, president of the market research firm American Lives. He reminded sellers to treat young women as viable buyers, not bystanders, by doing something as simple as handing them a brochure when they enter a for-sale home.

His advice to real-estate developers: "Make sure to pay enough attention to these women. You want these women."

These women tend to stake their claim on homes in the 1,700-square-foot range predominantly in the Washington, D.C., California and Texas markets, Warrick said.

After segmenting the market, Warrick noticed that young women, especially those rooted in secure industries like health care, make more money than their male peers.

Though not quite rooted in a stable industry, freelance video producer Sara Barger, 26, pursues buying homes as a way to safeguard her net worth.

26-year-old owns three homes

Earning roughly $90,000 a year, the American University graduate bought her third Washington property in three years in January when she closed on a four-bedroom $350,000 foreclosed townhouse in Columbia Heights. Barger rents out three of the bedrooms as well as her two condominiums to supplement her income and subsidize her monthly $5,866 mortgage, condo and tax expenses. After her rental income, she ends up owing about $625 a month, including utilities.

"I think people put way too much emphasis on the long term," Barger said of the ease with which she approaches purchasing. "You have to look at it the same way as a 401(k). It's a gamble, but it's something tangible. At least I can get some utility."

Relatives contributed $5,000 to Barger's first two purchases. Her father loaned her $50,000 for the third and she repays him in $1,000 monthly installments. She said that buying properties that needed work was one of her strategies, as was working a full-time job throughout college.

Barger's broker, David Bediz of Coldwell Banker subsidiary Dwight & David, began to see women taking a more active role in real estate five years ago. But he said the company's 20-something clients are still pretty much split evenly down the gender line.

From the 1920s almost through to the present, the predominant female homeowners were widowed seniors, according to Richard Sylla, financial historian at New York University's Stern School of Business.

Although pop culture tends to portray women as eager shoppers, women may have taken the lead in home purchases in recent years because of their thrifty habits, some say.

"Men are much more interested in consumption," said Walter Molony, a spokesman for the National Association of Realtors.

Barger said she observed such indiscretion in spending among her male friends, noting that quite a few who have hit 30 are now reeling in the debt they racked up in their early 20s.

"The last three boyfriends I had, I've broken up with because they were dirt broke," Barger said. "I don't need you to pay for me. I need you to go out and do things."

Inspired by women's interest in personal finance, in January 2009 Amanda Steinberg established, a free newsletter tailored to teaching women how to manage their money. Steinberg said her readership doubled to 20,000 in the last three months and that their interests lie mostly in protecting their assets. Of the eight topics offered in a recent preference poll, 79% of 500 respondents checked off "saving" as one they would like to read more about, whereas 45% chose "frugal shopping."

Steinberg said she's pretty sure she knows why her readers are swiping less and budgeting more. "I think it's the fact that more and more women realize that a man is no longer the financial plan."


Posted by: Rolando Trentini AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Sunday, May 09 2010

Many people would be thrilled just to get the chance to step inside the palatial Plaza Hotel in New York City's Midtown East neighborhood, at Fifth Avenue and Central Park, for a mere peek.

But few individuals get to participate hands-on in providing linens and specially designed floral arrangements for a large party in the famous ballroom of the French chateaulike luxury hotel, known for its exquisite decor, its elegance and its location.

Steve Biever, an Evansville award-winning florist, enjoyed such an experience this past January. He and his wife, Becky, own a floral and gift shop, It Can Be Arranged, at 4313 Morgan Ave.

A client in Evansville, familiar with Biever's quality of floral designs, hired him for the New York gala, given for several hundred guests.

Biever's loose and airy contemporary arrangements of white hydrangea, curly willows and leonitis roses, set in 31-inch-tall fluted vases on 25 tables, turned out to be more effective than Biever could have ever imagined.

"Waiters called home, and their wives came with cameras, taking pictures of my arrangements," he said.

Future brides, New York professionals in flower arranging and other people, smitten by Biever's work, swirled about him with inquiries.

Biever said he expects to get some clients from the experience, though that wasn't his intent for taking part.

"It's only been a short while. I expect some might call. I talked with three different brides-to-be," he said.

To ensure that he would have everything he needed at his fingertips in New York to produce the arrangements, Biever and his son, Dustin, brought all the supplies, including the fresh flowers, from Evansville.

When it comes to operating his business, Biever practices the same precision and goes about it with the same caring attitude.

"Our weddings for this year are pretty much booked out, except for a few dates that are still open," Biever said.

"We only do one wedding a week. We want to give full attention to the bride. It's her special day. The last thing a bride needs to know is we're doing two or three weddings on the same day and aren't giving her the total attention she deserves."

Biever, a floral designer for 25 years, most recently was employed at Snodgrass Floral Co. Inc., before he started his own business about three years ago. Having a shop of his own was a longtime dream, he said.

Biever decided to try it after he won an Indiana People's Choice First-Place Award in the Indianapolis Lawn and Patio Show three consecutive years — 2006, 2007 and 2008.

"I think there's a time for everything. What I learned, both good and bad, through other companies I worked for has all helped me," he said.

His shop is not a typical flower shop. It is also stocked with cheese balls, soups, gourmet baskets, a line of prom and cocktail purses, Tiffany vases, angel figurines and religious merchandise.

Biever and his family picked the Morgan Avenue location for its closeness to the Lloyd Expressway and other major roads for jump-starting the business' deliveries across Evansville and into Warrick County.

Getting the facility ready for opening was a combined effort by him and his family and friends, including Bible groups who helped with painting and other tasks.

Though best known for his cutting-edge designs, Biever offers both contemporary and traditional arrangements, made with live and artificial flowers.

He receives fresh floral shipments nearly every day from South America, Holland, California, Canada and other locations as well as tulips from Terre Haute, Ind.

"Tulips are the biggest thing there," he said. "They're of really nice quality."

Biever said his clientele base had been building over the past 25 years. "People who have liked my style have followed me all along, including some from day one."

But there is a constant need to grow the base, he said, and he manages that in a variety of ways, including giving free floral demonstrations to 4-H groups, garden clubs and other organizations.

"It's also a nice way to give back to the community," he said.

The free demonstrations don't bring new customers instantly. But over time he notices an increase from such events, he said.

Biever's dream today is that some day both of his sons, Nicholas, 30, and Dustin, 28, and wife can work full time in the business, if they would like to do that.

Biever was inducted into the American Institute of Floral Design in 1999.

"This is the cream of the crop. It's like receiving a doctoral degree in forestry," he said.


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Thursday, May 06 2010

The state says all 92 counties have met federal air quality standards for the first time since passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970. Governor Mitch Daniels says the Indiana Department of Environmental Management has been working toward this point for several years. That includes wiping out a backlog of expired air permits.

Governor Mitch Daniels today announced that air quality in all 92 Indiana counties in 2009 met all applicable federal air quality standards, the first time this has been achieved since the passage of the 1970 Clean Air Act. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) has designated that Lake and Porter counties and Lawrenceburg Township in Dearborn County, the last three areas in Indiana that were in “nonattainment,” have been designated as “attainment” with the 1997 8-hour health-based ozone standard.

"EPA congratulates Indiana on the significant progress it has made to bring the entire state into attainment with the health-based ozone standard,” said U.S. EPA Acting Regional Administrator Bharat Mathur. “By putting in place effective control measures, Indiana has helped ensure that its residents breathe cleaner air."

Daniels praised the work of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) over the past five years when he made the announcement at a Gary Chamber of Commerce luncheon event.

“Wiping out a huge backlog of out-of-date, expired air permits means that more than 400 companies now have permits with far tighter air quality standards,” said Daniels. “Today is an historical first, and a major milestone. But this is a limbo contest; each time we get under the bar, we know that soon we’ll be aiming for one that’s even lower.”

In 2004, 23 counties and one township in Indiana were designated as “nonattainment” and did not meet the 8-hour ozone standard set by U.S. EPA. All 92 counties, including the areas redesignated today, measured air quality that met the 1997 8-hour ozone standard by the close of 2008.

Additional permitting restrictions are required in nonattainment areas, making it difficult for businesses to expand or open new facilities. Air permits in attainment areas do not allow activities that might push the area over those standards.

“U.S. EPA’s recognition of Indiana’s air quality means a better quality of life for Hoosiers,” said IDEM Commissioner Thomas Easterly. “We should be proud of our achievements, but we need to continue taking steps every day to reduce air emissions.”

Some emission-control requirements, such as the Clean Air Car Check program and reformulated fuels, will continue in Lake and Porter counties to preserve air quality improvements.

Indiana’s air quality has steadily improved over recent years as state and federal programs reduced emissions from vehicles and industries. IDEM expects ozone levels to continue their downward trend as new programs currently in place are implemented.

The U.S. EPA redesignation for air quality improvements in Lake County, Porter County, and Lawrenceburg Township in Dearborn County will become effective upon publication in the Federal Register.

Source: Indiana Department of Environmental Management & Inside INdiana Business

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Wednesday, May 05 2010

The backyard will be the summer entertainment hot spot as Americans seek affordable ways to spend time with family and friends. But your outdoor party can be spoiled quickly if unwelcome insects show up.

More than half of backyard revelers have moved a party indoors due to mosquitoes, and 46 percent have left a party to escape the pests, according to a new survey from the makers of OFF! PowerPad Lamp and Lantern.

Create an unforgettable party within a tight budget with these five tips from Natalie Ermann Russell, author of “The Outdoor Entertaining Idea Book:"

1. Keep decor simple: Save money on decorations by making the most of the greenery and foliage that surround you. Simple potted plants as center pieces create an elegant setting at little cost, and they’ll last much longer than cut flowers.

2. Set a realistic menu: Give yourself a break by creating a menu that is realistic for your budget and your schedule. To get the best prices, focus on foods that are in season and check out your local farmers’ market for deals. Using produce from the farmers’ market also makes for less work -- the flavors of these foods are so intense and beautiful, they’re at their best when prepared simply. For example, a pasta primavera with blanched farmers’ market veggies can be assembled quickly, and is super colorful and so delicious.

3. Invite guests to pitch in: The beloved potluck is making a comeback. Your friends and family will enjoy contributing to the event, but be sure to be specific about what you need so that you end up with a good variety of foods. And establishing a theme can make it even more fun. For instance, call it the Fresh from the Farmers’ Market Potluck, where each person brings a dish to highlight a different fruit or vegetable that’s in season.

4. Keep away mosquitoes for less: OFF! PowerPad Lamp can repel mosquitoes from an area of up to 15 by 15 feet -- the size of an entire patio -- for less than $10. It would take 15 citronella candles at a cost of up to $60 to protect this same area.

5. Plan right: The fear of running out of food often drives hosts to prepare twice as much food as they need -- at twice the cost. Know your head count beforehand and shop accordingly. A general rule of thumb is to plan for six to eight ounces per person of the main protein (e.g., steak, fish, chicken) and one to two ounces of a side dish like rice or pasta.

Use these simple and affordable tips to entice your guests to linger at your next outdoor party. For more information about how to combat mosquitoes, visit

Courtesy of ARAcontent


Posted by: Rolando Trentini AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, May 04 2010

Evansville Cotton Mill

Mead Johnson has been an Evansville institution since 1915, but the site of this world-renown company goes back even further.   The premises was originally that of the Evansville Cotton Mill.  The expanding mill moved from downtown to just west of town at the foot of St Joseph Ave in 1875.  The main building had a tower that is clearly visible in many pictures and housing was built to the south for its workers.  In 1910, however, the plant ceased operations and closed.

The mill sat vacant for a while until E. Mead Johnson's company bought it in 1915.  Mead Johnson Co was located in New Jersey, but moved to Evansville to be close to its corn supply.  The company remodeled the buildings, installed new equipment, and began manufacturing baby food products by March of 1916.  Tremendous growth followed as have several additions over the years.  In the 1940s, offices were built on the southwest corner of St Joseph Ave and Pennsylvania St (now the Lloyd Expressway), and sometime around 1990 new offices were built on the southeast corner.  Much of the original building has been subsumed, but you can still make out the base of the tower looking along Ray Becker Parkway (see slideshow).  Mead Johnson Nutritionals is still going strong as a company and is presently expanding once again, ever committed to making Evansville its home.

Evansville Cotton Mill / Mead Johnson at


Posted by: Rolando Trentini AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, May 03 2010

Taking Emergency Action Series – Tornadoes

With all the severe weather we are having, we thought it would be a good idea to go over some emergency action plans. It never hurts.


A tornado is a violent storm with spiraling wind, often accomplished by hail, wind, and rain. Strong tornadoes can sweep houses off foundations, destroy brick buildings, and toss cars. The noise of a tornado has been described as a roaring sound – like a train far away.


In case of a tornado:


Grab your emergency kit and NOAA weather radio id you have time.


In homes or small buildings, take shelter in an interior part of the lowest level, including basement, hallways, and interior bathrooms.


In public areas, like schools or shopping centers, go to pre-designated shelter areas. Interior hallways on the lowest floor are best. Stay away from windows.


In high-rise buildings, go to interior small rooms or hallways on the lowest floor possible with no windows. If you can see outside, you are not safe.


In vehicles or mobile homes, leave them and take shelter in a substantial structure. If there is no shelter, lie flat in the nearest ditch with your hands shielding your head and neck.


Stay away from windows, doors, and outside walls. Try to protect your head.


Get under something sturdy or lie in the bathtub. Cover yourself with a blanket.



Do not wait! Prepare for tornadoes:


Have your home inspected and make sure it can withstand high winds.


Attach wind straps and tie-downs to reinforce your home or business.


Construct a “safe room” in your home. These are specially designed to protect you from tornadoes.


Install safety film over windows. This transparent covering helps protect you from flying debris.


Reinforce or replace garage doors and double entry doors to withstand high winds.


Brace gable framing to reinforce your roof.


Remove loose objects close to your home, such as trashcans, yard debris, or anything that can be picked up by a tornado. Inspect large trees and limbs that are close to your home.


Construct your home with insulated concrete forms. They make your home much stronger and more energy efficient.

This preparedness pamphlet from the Red Cross will help you to prepare better for any emergency. You can download a copy here:



Source: Indiana Department of Homeland Security


Posted by: Rolando Trentini AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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