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New Roofing Options Allow Homeowners to Cut Energy Bills

by Kathleen Lynn, North Jersey Media Group

When Scott Harris and Sarah Jack did a major renovation of their 1925 Teaneck, N.J., colonial in the summer of 2009, they kept the environment in mind—for example, choosing kitchen counters made of cement and recycled glass. They thought about solar roof panels, but rejected that idea when they were told they’d have to chop down a towering tree that shades their back yard and house. Instead, they installed a green, or living, roof. The greenery absorbs and filters rainwater, as well as adding insulation, which cuts heating and cooling costs.

For most homeowners, the biggest environmental impact of a roof is simply that it keeps the environment out. But there are innovations that aim to make the roof over your head an important tool in the effort to save energy and reverse global warming. And we’re not just talking about solar panels. There are cool roofs that reflect, instead of absorb, the sun’s rays; roofs made with recycled material; and green or “living” roofs, like the one on the Harris-Jack house.

While the number of energy-saving options is growing fast, these roofs tend to be significantly more expensive than the traditional asphalt shingle roof. As a result, homeowners have been slow to adopt them.

But Harris, a graphic designer, and Jack, a publishing executive, made the leap—choosing a green roof partly for energy savings, and partly for aesthetics. “We wanted to do something to see if we could save on energy bills,” said Harris. “But it’s nice just to look out at it. Now when people come to visit, we have to bring them upstairs to look at the roof.”

Their green installation, on a flat section of roof at the rear of their house, consists of shallow trays holding a light, rocky soil and a mix of sedums, a drought-resistant, low-maintenance plant.

It was the first residential roof installed by Rob Schucker of R&S Landscaping in Midland Park, N.J., who also created a rooftop garden at Hackensack University Medical Center. He got interested in green roofs several years ago. “I was flying out of Newark, and I looked down and just saw this sea of black asphalt roofs,” Schucker said. “It just struck me: ‘Wow, we’ve really impacted this New York-New Jersey area. What would it look like if these black surfaces were all green?’”

The cost of green roofs ranges from $15-$35 a square foot—significantly more than a simple asphalt roof. The roofs require a structure strong enough to hold the plants and soil, even when the soil is saturated after a rainstorm. And some homeowners worry that if such a roof develops a leak, it would be more difficult to fix—though using trays lessens that concern.

But green roofs tend to last much longer, because the vegetation protects the roof structure from drastic changes in temperature, according to Jennifer Souder, a research manager at the Center for Green Building at Rutgers University. “They can be a hard sell, because this is money you have to pay now,” she said. “But over the long period, they can be cost-effective.”

Green roofs can also help the environment by reducing storm water runoff, which washes pollutants into the state’s waterways. And they can dramatically reduce the so-called urban heat island effect—the tendency of built-up, paved areas to be hotter than rural, natural areas. Souder said a test on roofs in Queens found that on a hot day, the air above a black roof registered 170 degrees; above a white roof, 115 degrees; and above a green roof, 85 degrees.

Though green roofs are still unusual, the industry grew 16% in 2009, according to the organization Green Roofs for Healthy Cities. They’ve been used on a number of public buildings, including Chicago City Hall.

Environmental concerns are also giving a boost to metal roofs, which make up an estimated 11% of the residential re-roofing market, up from about 4% a decade ago, according to the Metal Roofing Alliance, a trade group.

Metal roofs cost two to three times what an asphalt shingle roof costs, according to the alliance. But the group points out that metal roofs are lighter than asphalt shingles, and last decades longer.

They typically include at least 28% recycled material, and can be recycled at the end of their useful lives. In addition, the roofs can be coated or painted to reflect sunlight, which reduces the home’s air conditioning costs. Some are Energy Star-rated, which entitles homeowners to a federal tax credit of up to $1,500 (which expires at the end of the year).

Bob LeSauvage had a very simple reason for choosing a metal roof on his Mahwah, N.J., home: “I’ll never have to think about doing a roof again—and the next guy who owns the house probably won’t, either,” he said. The steel roof LeSauvage had installed on his 1930s-vintage home last summer has a 50-year warranty.

So far, he’s very happy with it. There’s a layer of insulation between the wood and the metal, which muffles the sound of rain—though he said the acorns falling from a nearby tree do seem to make more noise than they did on the old roof.

Metal is not the only material that is recycled for roofs; roofs can be made out of recycled rubber and plastic, including old tires, carpet and bottles, and made to look like slate or wood shakes.

Even asphalt shingles, the workhorse of the roofing world, are getting an energy-saving twist. Asphalt roofs are the lowest-cost option, typically running $80-$100 per “square”—a roofing industry measure that’s equal to 100 square feet. That comes to about $1,000-$1,200 for a 1,200-square-foot roof on a Cape Cod (not including installation charges). Larger houses, of course, cost more.

Because the asphalt shingles are affordable, they cover eight of every 10 homes in the U.S., according to the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association.

But there are some new developments here, too—notably energy-saving “cool” roofs, which incorporate reflective granules to reduce the heat that comes into the attic.

GAF Materials Corp. of Wayne, N.J., one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of roofing materials, estimates that such roofs can cut homeowners’ cooling costs by 7-15%.

Cost, however, is an issue. The cool shingles cost at least 40% more than regular shingles, according to Tim Williams, director of marketing at East Rutherford, N.J.-based Allied Building Products. Many homeowners like the idea of saving energy, but are reluctant to spend the extra money, he said.

Dean Logan, president of Complete Roof Systems in Dumont, N.J., said the reflective shingles don’t offer much benefit, especially considering their cost. He said homeowners who want to save energy would be better off spending money on insulation under the roof.

The Right Decisions Can Save Money During a Move

by Gregory Karp, Chicago Tribune.

Moving a residence is often fraught with high emotions and involves a to-do list a mile long. So, it's tempting to give only passing attention to hiring a mover and the related incidental costs.

That could be a mistake — for your wallet and your peace of mind.

Moving can be quite expensive. A typical full-service interstate move costs about $4,300, while the same in-state move might cost about $2,500, according to the American Moving & Storage Association.

And while the moving industry has many fine companies, it is notorious for fraud and dirty tactics by so-called rogue movers.

Here are tips on making your move with lower costs and less hassle.

CHOOSE A TYPE OF MOVE: You have three basic choices: do-it-yourself, full service and a relatively new hybrid of the two. Going it alone is cheapest, costing the rental price of a truck, gasoline, packing materials and, perhaps, pizza and beer for friends you rope into helping.

With full-service moves, moving within a state is charged by the hour, while moving across state lines is charged by weight and mileage.

With a hybrid move, a mover will drop off a large container at your home for you to pack. It will then load the container onto a truck, drive the belongings to your new location and drop off the container for you to unload. Because you're doing the manual labor of packing and unpacking, it's far less costly than a full-service move.

HIRE A QUALITY MOVER: If you hire help, get at least three price quotes and do homework. Seek recommendations by talking with family and friends, even your Facebook circle. Investigate a company's reputation with the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org), Yelp.com and possibly the paid-membership site Angie's List (angieslist.com). Check a company's complaint history at the federal government site, ProtectYourMove.gov.

"People think a good reputation equals expensive, but that's not true," said Laura McHolm, co-founder of NorthStar Moving in Los Angeles. "You don't get a good reputation by overcharging people."

For interstate moves, a company's ProMover certification with the movers association is a good sign. The organization in January 2009 started screening movers based on seven criteria. It kicked out some 220 of 3,100 members over the past two years because they didn't measure up, said spokesman John Bisney. See "Find a ProMover" at Moving.org.

"The old rubric 'You get what you pay for' is true more often than not," Bisney said.

Look for two things: A full-service mover should visit your home in person, not give a quote over the phone or online, and should provide a written estimate, experts say.

DECLUTTER: No matter what type of move you're making, taking less stuff is cheaper and less hassle. Set up a staging area, perhaps in a garage, with various piles, such as throw out, recycle, donate and sell.

"If you really love those go-go boots from the 1960s but will never wear them again, take a picture of them and get rid of them," McHolm said. For many items, use the rule of thumb, "If you haven't used it in a year, you probably don't need it."

BE FLEXIBLE: Like airline fares, moving rates depend on when you book. The busiest time for movers, and thus the most expensive time for consumers, is summer weekends near the 15th and 30th of the month.

If you have time flexibility, ask what rates would be for different days or seasons. If you have extreme flexibility, ask about moving standby: waiting until the mover has extra space and needs to fill a truck.

SAVE ON BOXES: Buying new boxes from a moving company is the most expensive choice. Ask if you can buy used boxes from your moving company. NorthStar, for example, gives customers 25 percent off used boxes and then refunds 25 percent if they return boxes in usable condition.

Cheaper yet is finding free boxes, ideally from somebody who just moved. Ask your real estate agent to connect you with other clients who recently moved. Or look on Craigslist.org. Specialty boxes, such as wardrobe boxes, might be cheaper to purchase at a do-it-yourself moving store, such as U-Haul, than from your mover.

SAVE ON PACKING MATERIALS: If you're packing yourself, fill suitcases, laundry baskets and plastic containers with unbreakable items. Use pillows, scarves and towels to wrap fragile belongings. And you might as well empty your paper shredder into a box to add cushion.

MAIL BOOKS: If you have many books, pack them yourself and ship them at the postal media mail rate. It might be cheaper than paying a mover. A 70-pound box would cost less than $30. You can't send anything with advertisements, so magazines are out. Search USPS.com for "media mail."

CONSIDER CONSOLIDATION: For long-distance moves, ask about consolidating your stuff on a truck with other people's. Most homeowners can't fill a full-size moving van. You might have to be flexible on delivery dates and times, but consolidation can be cheaper. "Most times it's a huge price difference," McHolm said.

INSURE IT: Check your homeowner's or renter's insurance policy to determine whether it provides coverage for your belongings while in transit. If not, you'll probably want more than the basic free valuation coverage a full-service mover provides. The standard valuation is 60 cents per pound per item. That means breaking a 10-pound, $1,000 stereo system would net you $6. You'll want full replacement-value insurance, which reimburses you what it will cost to replace broken items. But don't necessarily buy that insurance from the moving company. Moving insurance is likely cheaper from a third party, such as MovingInsurance.com, McHolm said.

Be aware that you probably cannot get insurance on boxes you packed yourself. A mover must pack them.

BE PREPARED: Plot out where furniture and boxes will go. The less time movers spend rearranging, the less expensive it will be.

In urban areas, reserve a space or two in front of your new home for the moving truck by parking your own vehicle there ahead of time. If the movers have to park too far away to unload, you could incur a "long carry" surcharge, McHolm said.

STAKE YOUR CLAIM: If you're moving for a job, negotiate the best relocation package you can. Unreimbursed expenses might be tax-deductible. For details, see Publication 521 Moving Expenses at IRS.gov.

TIP: Tipping each mover $3 to $5 per hour is customary, said Stephen Coady, marketing manager for Gentle Giant Moving Co. in Somerville, Mass.

For in-depth information on choosing a mover, see the free, downloadable "Make a Smart Move" available at Moving.org.

MOVING RIPOFFS:

—Furniture nabbing. A mover essentially holds your belongings hostage, demanding a higher payment to release them.

—Lowballers. Beware of lowball price quote. They could end up costing you as the mover adds various surcharges.

—Instant quotes. Be wary of phone or Internet estimates. Get written, in-home estimates.

—Large down payment. Be suspicious of carriers seeking large deposits. They might take the money and run. Legitimate movers require no deposit or a small "good faith" down payment.

Fixer-Upper Financing: 203k Program Provides Buyers with Renovation Funds

by Eve Mitchell, Contra Costa Times

The word “as-is” can indeed be one scary phrase. Especially when buying a home in today’s market where foreclosures and short sales that need fix-up work are plentiful.

But a little-known Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan program that’s been around since 1978 can help take the sting out of “as-is.” Only 219 borrowers took advantage of the FHA’s 203k program in 2009. Not that many lending and real estate professionals are aware of the program, say observers.

Last year, Tom Meyer found a classic Oakland, Calif., home built in 1925 near Mills College he liked a lot. As a short sale it was priced right and about half the original asking price. Trouble was, the place needed some fix-up work—foundation improvements, dry rot work, a new roof over the garage and other improvements.

With the help of the FHA’s 203k renovation financing loan program, Meyer folded about $100,000 worth of repairs and improvements into his $422,000 mortgage. He had bought the home for $320,000. “I would not be able to pay a contractor $100,000 and buy a house at the same time,” said Meyer, who works in corporate media at Shaklee’s Pleasanton headquarters. “It had been essentially allowed to start falling apart over the last 20 years.”

He had rented in San Francisco for 25 years before moving into his new digs last September with his girlfriend, Cathy Keating. “We like old houses, and a great benefit of this program is that it helped us keep a beautiful but deteriorating house from deteriorating further. With the work we did, we expect it to still be standing and beautiful 80 years from now,” he said.

Renovation financing through the 203k program allows the costs of needed repairs and improvements to be included in the FHA federally-insured loan amount instead of having the buyer come up with cash or a separate loan to do the work.

“This is a perfect loan for an as-is situation,” said Kristine Marr, a loan officer with Prospect Mortgage in Lafayette, Calif. “It’s not a new loan program, although I think it’s going to have a lot more use today because we have so many foreclosures and bank-owned properties. You go into lots of homes and see people have yanked out stoves and ovens and fixtures and sinks.”

The work has to be done within six months after escrow closes. Borrowers have the option of putting up to six months of mortgage payments on the end of the loan if they don’t want to live in the house while the work is being done.

“Renovation financing is a program that allows you to not only finance the purchase of a home but finance any repairs and/or improvements. It provides buyers with a responsible way to purchase a fixer-upper property,” said Luis C. Munoz, who helped Meyer with the loan and is a renovation loan specialist with the Oakland branch of Mason-McDuffie Mortgage Corp. Munoz also gives presentations about the program at monthly home ownership workshops sponsored by the Unity Council, an Oakland-based nonprofit.

At a time when equity loans are hard to get, the program can also be used as a refinancing vehicle for borrowers who want to do repairs and improvements, provided the value of the home is greater than the value of the loan. “At the same time as you refinance, you pop in the extra dollars you need for whatever you want to do,” Marr said.

FHA home loans require certain health and safety standards be met and that needed repairs identified during the inspection process be completed before escrow closes. However, minor repairs and improvements costing between $5,000 and $15,000 can be done after escrow closes for borrowers who opt for a streamlined repair program.

A 203k loan can help buyers finance both minor and major repairs and improvements. It can also help buyers compete with investors when bidding for short sales and foreclosures, said Sheri Powers, director of the Homeownership Center at Unity Council.

The loans can also be used to pay for improvements such as new appliances, second-story additions, remodeled kitchens and bathrooms, and skylights, just to name a few examples. “Property repairs cost money and they want to make sure people using their loan program are going to be in the home in long run and not just the short run,” Powers said.

The loans have become more popular since home prices started falling and FHA lending limits were raised a couple years ago but are still a tiny sliver of overall FHA loan volume. Last year, 203k loans accounted for 219 mortgages in the Bay Area, compared to 35 in 2008, one in 2007 and none in 2005 and 2006, according to Department of Housing and Urban Development statistics. “It’s making a comeback,” said Powers.

Marr said that 203k financing is not for everyone. A buyer will have to work with contractors and may have to wait several months before moving in, she said. And there is no guarantee they won’t be outbid by an investor for the property. “A lot of listing agents are preferring the investors, because the investors tend to be all cash or 50% cash. That’s always hard to compete with,” she said.

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Photo of Laurel Sweeney Real Estate
Laurel Sweeney
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Nutshell Realty
1209 State Route 213, PO Box 452
High Falls NY 12440
Office: 845-687-2200
Toll Free 877-468-5783
Fax: 845-687-4162

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