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Protect Your Investment and Your Family - Get Your Home Ready for Winter

The rains are coming, the mornings are getting chilly, and winter isn't too far away. It's time once again for my annual checklist of important things that I recommend you do to get your home ready for the coming change of seasons.

On the inside

  • Check smoke detectors: Change your smoke detector batteries, and check for proper operation. Also, check the date on the bottom of the smoke detector. Smoke detectors have a life span, and if yours is more than 10 years old, it may not work properly in a fire, so replace it with a new one. Also, make sure you have a smoke detector at each sleeping room, and one centrally located on each level of the home.
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector: If you have a furnace, fireplace, water heater, or other appliance that's fueled by propane or natural gas, or if you have an attached garage, install a carbon monoxide detector. They just plug in, and you can get them inexpensively from most home centers and other retailers. If your existing carbon monoxide detector is more than 5 years old, replace it with a new one.
  • Check gas appliances: Speaking of gas appliances, consider having your utility company or heating contractor inspect flues, fittings, and other components of your natural gas or propane appliance and heating systems for potential problems.
  • Change furnace filters: Always put in new furnace filters in the fall. It's a simple and inexpensive way to add to your home's efficiency and your family's comfort.
  • Check and seal heating ducts: Crawl a little, save a lot. Check the ducts in your attic, basement, and crawl space for gaps between ducts and fittings, and seal them with a quality metallic tape, not regular duct tape, which doesn't last. Also, check to be sure that all of the ducts are off the ground and adequately supported.
  • Check insulation levels: Increased insulation can make a huge difference in both your comfort and your heating bills, so don't put off having your insulation levels inspected. Call your local utility company or building department to learn what levels are optimum for your area. Check the attic, underfloor, kneewalls, skylight shafts and ductwork. Upgrade underinsulated areas as needed, either as a do-it-yourself project (home centers and hardware stores have all the supplies you need) or with the help of a licensed insulation contractor.

On the outside

  • Check the roof: A roof that leaks not only has the potential to cause significant structural damage, it also wets insulation, which causes a drop in the insulation's ability to resist heat loss. Examine roofing shingles and flashings, and repair or replace them as needed. It's much easier and safer to take care of these problems now than during winter's ice and rain.
  • Seal masonry surfaces: Apply a sealer to concrete driveways and walkways, brick patios and other exterior masonry. Masonry sealers prevent water from penetrating into cracks and crevices where it can freeze and cause serious damage. You can find sealers at home centers, paint stores and masonry supply retailers. Apply with a brush, roller or sprayer.
  • Check weatherstripping: Gaps around doors and windows waste expensive heated air and create chilling interior drafts. Check and replace or adjust weatherstripping and door sills to create an airtight seal. Everything you need can be found at home centers, hardware stores and many other retailers.
  • Handle yard chores: Many plants require pruning this time of year, and lawns should be fertilized with a fall/winter fertilizer to feed them through the winter and get them ready for a fast green-up when spring returns. Clean up all your yard tools and put them away for the season.
  • Close foundation vents: You should have opened your foundation vents for the summer to allow any accumulated crawl space moisture to escape, so now's the time to close them up again for winter freeze protection. Also, install exterior faucet covers.
  • Trim trees: Overhanging trees deposit debris on your roof, scrape and damage shingles, promote the growth of mildew, and, worst of all, have the potential for devastating damage if they snap during a wind storm. Consider having a professional tree service inspect overhanging trees, and safely cut them back as needed.

Foreclosure Activity Drops Substantially

Foreclosure filings — including default notices, scheduled auctions, and bank repossessions — were reported on 180,427 U.S. properties in September, according to RealtyTrac. The total number of filings last month was down 7 percent from August, down 16 percent from September 2011, and was the lowest monthly total recorded by RealtyTrac since July 2007.

The foreclosure tracking company says the decrease in September helped pull Q3 2012 numbers down to make it the lowest quarterly reading since the fourth quarter of 2007.

Foreclosure filings were reported on 531,576 properties during the third quarter of this year, a decrease of 5 percent from the second quarter and a decrease of 13 percent from the third quarter of 2011. It marks the ninth consecutive quarter of annual declines in foreclosure activity.

According to RealtyTrac’s report, one in every 248 U.S. homes received a foreclosure filing during the July-to-September period. The company says U.S. foreclosure starts in the third quarter decreased both from the previous quarter and a year ago, reversing the rise seen in new foreclosures during the second quarter.

“We’ve been waiting for the other foreclosure shoe to drop since late 2010 … but that other shoe is instead being carefully lowered to the floor and therefore making little noise in the housing market —- at least at a national level,” said RealtyTrac VP Daren Blomquist.

“Make no mistake, however,” Blomquist added, “the other shoe is dropping quite loudly in certain states, primarily those where foreclosure activity was held back the most last year.”

A number of judicial foreclosure states — including Florida, Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey, and New York –- registered substantial year-over-year increases in foreclosure activity, whereas non-judicial foreclosure states such as California, Georgia, Texas, Arizona, and Michigan posted sizable declines.

Mortgage Settlement - Are You Due a Refund?

More than 432,000 Californians who lost their homes to foreclosure may get money through a historic mortgage settlement between 49 states and major banks, the state Attorney General's Office said Tuesday.

Eligible borrowers may receive at least $840, but the exact amount depends on how many people submit claims, said Nick Pacilio, a spokesman for the AG's office. The higher the number, the smaller the claim amount will be.

Consumers who receive letters were chosen because their homes were foreclosed upon between Jan. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2011, and because they had home loans serviced by the banks named in the $25 billion mortgage settlement. They are Ally/GMAC, Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo.

The deal, approved in court five months ago, required those lenders to provide relief to homeowners in the form of principal reductions, loan refinances, restitution and short sales. The relief was the answer to allegations that mortgage servicers reviewed and approved loan documents without proper review, abuse also known as robo-signing.

Borrowers should expect to receive packets by mail starting this week and through Oct. 12. Packets include a claim form that should be filled out and details about the settlement.

The Attorney General's Office has urged borrowers to fill out the claim form and return it by Jan. 18, either by mail or at

Those with questions can call (866) 430-8358 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT Monday through Friday, or send questions by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Pacilio, the AG's office spokesman, warned of possible scams related to this process. The paperwork being sent out does not ask for financial information, such as bank account or Social Security numbers.

Instead, consumers should see a simple form with checkboxes next to three common scenarios -- unable to pay mortgage because of financial hardship, loan modification was mishandled, and the mortgage servicer made errors during the foreclosure process.

Borrowers should check the box next to the situation that applies. Reparations will not vary by situation, Pacilio said.

The agency that was set up to oversee the mortgage settlement will review the claims. Payments are expected to be sent out by mail in the middle of 2013.

This review is different from another review process that provides free independent audits for borrowers who were in the foreclosure process in 2009 or 2010. Homeowners in this process may also receive compensation or other remedies if reviewers find any financial harm caused by one of the 14 participating lenders.

Final parts of California Homeowner Bill of Rights signed into law

By Justin T. Hilley

Gov. Jerry Brown, D-Calif., signed the final parts of the California Homeowner Bill of Rights into law this week.

Brown signed senate bill 1474, giving the California attorney general’s office the ability to use a statewide grand jury to investigate and indict the perpetrators of financial crimes involving victims in multiple counties.

Assembly bill 1950 extends the statute of limitations for prosecuting mortgage related crimes from one year to three years, granting the Department of Justice and local district attorneys the more time to investigate and prosecute mortgage fraud.

He also signed assembly bill 2610, which requires purchasers of foreclosed homes to give tenants at least 90 days-notice before starting eviction proceedings. If the tenant has a fixed-term lease, the new owner must honor the lease unless the owner demonstrates that certain exceptions intended to prevent fraudulent leases apply.

"California has been the epicenter of the foreclosure and mortgage crisis," said Attorney General Harris said in a statement. "The Homeowner Bill of Rights will provide basic fairness and transparency for homeowners, and improve the mortgage process for everyone."

In July, Brown signed the three other components of the legislation into law.

One of them provides tools to local governments and receivers to fight blight caused by multiple vacant homes in neighborhoods. It gives local governments the ability to impose up to a $1,000 fine for code violations. It must give owners, including banks, at least 14 days to start fixing the alleged violation and 30 days to complete the correction before issuing the fine.

If an investor or homeowner buys a property that was foreclosed on at any point since Jan. 1, 2008, the local government must give at least 60 days to remedy any violations found since taking title. The law does give room to provide less time "if deemed necessary."

The two other bills provide protections for borrowers and struggling homeowners, including a restriction on dual-track foreclosures. The bills also guarantee struggling homeowners a single point of contact at their lender with knowledge of their loan and direct access to decision makers.

(Source: HousingWire)

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