RE/MAX 440
Cheryl Goedeke
701 W. Market Street
Perkasie, PA   18944
Phone: 267-664-2288
Office Phone: 215-453-7653
Fax: 267-354-6833
email: cheryl@remax440.com
Cheryl Goedeke

My Blog

Tips for Working with Professional Landscapers

April 18, 2013 3:10 am

If you're trying to sell your home this spring, working with a professional can boost your home's curb appeal and attract possible buyers to the door. As any landscaper wil tell you, the condition of your lawn can have a big effect on the value of your home. If you plan on hiring some help, here are a few tips to help you get the biggest bang for your buck.

Talk to several landscapers before deciding to hire one. Scheduling consultations with multiple landscapers is important. Have them come survey your property and make recommendations on what needs to be done. Use them as consultants, helping you narrow down the work that needs to be done versus extra frills you would like to add to the process. For smaller tasks such as mowing, weeding, gardening or raking, you may want to consider hiring a local teenager or family member in order to save money.

Request estimates. Now that you know what it is you want to have done, request an estimate from at least three of the consultants you met with. Depending on the company, costs could range greatly and the differences could be thousands of dollars. According to the Consumers' Checkbook, a tree-removal job could cost anywhere from $1,935 to $6,300 and lawn care could range from $229 to $805. Finding out what each company will charge you for the job is crucial to staying on budget.

Don't be hasty when it comes to saying 'yes.' If your landscaper suggests an add-on of any sort, think it through before OK-ing it. Oftentimes, the landscaper you hire will recommend various fertilizers, treatment or sprayings, but make sure there is a good reason and necessity for it. The more your landscaper provides, the higher your bill will be.

Quite possibly the most important step: Don't pay until the job is finished. If possible, pay nothing until the job is fully completed. If the landscaper requires a payment, do so with a credit card. If the job isn't finished to your satisfaction, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company. By not paying up front, you also have more leverage in terms of ensuring that the job is completed the way you want it. Keep this in mind while you're hiring professional help.

Hiring a professional landscaper can improve your curb appeal by leaps and bounds. However, keep these tips in mind to make sure you get the most for your money.

Source: Chicago Tribune, Consumers' Checkbook

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Deep Clean Forgotten Areas of Your Home

April 17, 2013 3:08 am

(Family Features) Common household items can suffer from the wear and tear of everyday use, but a few simple cleaning tricks will help keep them in good condition and extend their lifespan, saving you money and angst in the long run. Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

Dryer: Make sure to empty the dryer’s lint trap on a regular basis. Keeping this often forgotten area lint-free will increase the efficiency of a standard tumble dryer by allowing warm, moist air to flow freely out of the appliance as clothing dries.

Additionally, keep in mind that some brands of dryer sheets can leave an invisible film on the lint trap. To test yours, run water through it - if it holds water, it’s suffering from build-up. If this is the case, scrub it with a stiff brush and soapy water every six months.

Carpet: Vacuum at least once a week to remove the dust and debris that settles in carpet fibers on a regular basis. If you have shedding pets, or family members w ho suffer from allergies, you may need to vacuum more frequently. Deep clean your carpet at least twice per year to remove the dirt, stains and allergens vacuums can leave behind.

Shower Head: If the water pressure in your shower is less than ideal, chances are your shower head is suffering from mineral deposits that inevitably accumulate over time. To promote better water flow, remove the shower head from the wall, if possible, and soak in white vinegar for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse thoroughly in the sink, reattach to wall and turn on the water to observe your shower head working at its best again.

If you can’t remove the shower head from the wall, bring the solution directly to the problem: slip a rubber band tightly over the shower head, fill a plastic bag with white vinegar and submerge the shower head until all holes are covered. Secure in place with the rubber band and soak 15 to 20 minutes before removing.

Refrigerator: Commonly overlooked, the refrigerator’s condenser coils – often located in the back on older units and beneath the doors on newer models – are instrumental in allowing the appliance to cool properly. Since dust, grime and pet hair can build up on the coils, it’s important to clean them twice a year to ensure your refrigerator is running as efficiently as possible. To do this, unplug the unit for safety, then locate the condenser coils. Vacuum them with the wand attachment of your vacuum, going back over any stubborn areas with a stiff brush if needed. If there’s still grime left, you can use a rag and warm, soapy water, but make sure to let the coils dry completely before plugging the unit in again.

Once they’re on your radar, these simple cleaning tips are easy to incorporate into your routine. With a little time and upkeep, you’ll find the items you use on a daily basis are in better shape than ever before.

Source: Bissell

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Consumer Spending Index on a Steady Course

April 17, 2013 3:08 am

The Deloitte Consumer Spending Index (Index) ticked down slightly in March, but has remained relatively steady with a reading over 4.0 the past five months. The Index tracks consumer cash flow as an indicator of future consumer spending.

"The drastic ups and downs among factors including wages, home prices and unemployment claims have subsided, delivering more stability to the Index, which remains at a level consistent with real personal consumption growth of around 2 percent at an annual rate," said Patricia Buckley, director, economic policy and analysis, Deloitte Services LP, and author of the monthly Index. "Rising real home prices and small but steady consumer spending increases are among factors suggesting the country may be poised for growth this year, should the economy avoid negative impacts from Europe's financial troubles or the debt ceiling debate this summer."

The Index, which comprises four components — tax burden, initial unemployment claims, real wages and real home prices — fell slightly this month to 4.12 from a reading of 4.37 the previous month.

"Consumers have maintained their level of spending in recent months and retailers should be encouraged by the economic signals," said Alison Paul, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and retail & distribution sector leader. "However, retailers do not have the wind entirely at their backs this month: Consumers with their tax refunds may be a welcome sight in April, but the month will come without the usual Easter holiday to boost sales. Retailers should simultaneously focus on consumers' pent up demand and tax refunds, coaxing shoppers to leave behind the winter's chill and replace the items that were on the back burner, while giving them a promotional incentive to combine those purchases in the retailer's store."

Highlights of the Index include:

Tax Burden: The tax burden moved down only slightly from the previous month, but was up 2.01 percent on a year-over-year basis.

Initial Unemployment Claims: Claims moved down to 355,750 in February, a 3.1 percentage point decrease from a year ago.

Real Wages: Hourly real wages modestly dipped to $8.74 from the previous month, but remain relatively flat from the previous year.

Real New Home Prices: Real new home prices moved up 0.6 percent to $106,027.

Source: Deloitte

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Low Inventories Driving Permit Growth

April 17, 2013 3:08 am

While recent economic reports suggest that home building took a pause at the beginning of 2013, leading indicators point to more growth for housing in the months ahead.

Per data from the Census Bureau, housing starts were down 8.5 percent in January. However, all of the loss was in the multifamily segment, where construction fell from an unusually high annualized rate of 365,000 in December to a steadier 277,000 rate in January. On a year-over-year basis, starts of multifamily units in properties with five or more units remain up 35 percent. Single-family starts were virtually unchanged in January at a 613,000 rate, up 0.8 percent from December.

Narrowing in on the custom home building market, roughly defined as owner-built or owner-hired contractor-built homes, quarterly Census data indicate a declining market share as other forms of home building pick up. As of the end of 2012, custom home building fell to a quarterly total of 30,000 starts, placing the one-year moving average of market share of total single-family starts at 24 percent. This is down from the cycle high of 31.5 percent set during 2009, although the share remains elevated compared to historical conditions.

The NAHB Housing Market Index (HMI) continued its pause in February with an index value of 46, down one point from the December and January level of 47. Builders remain just shy of the 50 mark, at which a majority of builders are optimistic versus those that are not. Nevertheless, the index rose consistently from April to December 2012 as builders saw more serious buyers in their models and offices.

Consistent with this long-run improvement of building conditions, housing permits continued their steady increase to a high not seen since mid-2008. The Census Bureau reported total permit activity was up 1.8 percent and the rise was evenly spread across single-family, up 1.9 percent and multifamily, up 1.5 percent.

New home sales increased significantly in January, with the months’-supply measure of inventory dipping to the lowest value in eight years as housing demand continues to return. The Census Bureau reports that on an annual seasonally-adjusted basis, new homes sold at a 437,000 pace in January, up 15.6 percent from December and 28.9 percent from a year ago. The improvement was broad based in all four Census regions. The surge in sales and already low inventories reduced the months’ supply to 4.1, the lowest since March 2005.

Existing home inventory is down as well. Per the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), existing home sales increased 0.4 percent in January from a downwardly revised level in December, and were up 9.1 percent from the same period a year ago. Total housing inventory at the end of January decreased 4.9 percent from the previous month to 1.74 million existing homes for sale. At the current sales rate, the January 2013 inventory represents a 4.2-month supply compared to a 4.5-month supply in December, and a 6.2-month supply of homes a year ago. The January housing supply is the lowest since the 4.2-month supply reported in April 2005.

And the NAR Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) foreshadows more growth. A forward-looking indicator based on signed contracts of existing home sales, the PHSI increased 4.5 percent in January 2013 to 105.9, up sharply from the downwardly revised 101.3 in December. The January 2013 PHSI was 9.5 percent higher than the same period a year ago and is the highest since April 2010 when the home buyer tax credit was expiring. Prior to the tax credit, the last time the PHSI was this high was the 107.9 level reached in February 2007.

Home sales are certainly receiving a boost from continued improved housing affordability conditions. Low interest rates helped produce a slight gain in nationwide housing affordability amid relatively stable house prices in the final quarter of 2012. The NAHB Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) rose to 74.9 percent, up from 74.1 percent in the third quarter. The HOI is the share of new and existing homes sold in a quarter affordable to a family earning the median income. An HOI of 74.9 means that 74.9 percent of all homes sold in the last three months of 2012 were affordable to families earning the national median income ($65,000).

Low inventories and improved housing demand conditions inevitably mean home prices are rising. The monthly Federal Housing Finance Agency national price indexes were 1.4 percent for the last quarter of 2012 and 5.9 percent for the year. The quarterly Case-Shiller national indexes were up 2 percent for the quarter and 7.3 percent for 2012.

Rising prices are also likely connected to improved foreclosure statistics. For example, recent data from the Mortgage Bankers Association National Delinquency Survey indicated that the foreclosure starts rate fell to 0.7 percent at the end of 2012, the lowest reading since the first half of 2007 and the largest quarterly decline ever recorded in the survey. However, rising home prices may affect the housing affordability and the level of investor and cash-buyer housing demand in the months to come.

Home prices are not the only costs going up. Recent Producer Price Index data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show the prices for certain building materials have risen sharply. Gypsum prices rose 12 percent in January from December, mirroring a steep increase at the beginning of 2012, and are now 27 percent above year-ago levels. The pattern of price increases for wood products has more closely reflected improvements in the housing market. Producers of gypsum and OSB have blamed the recent price increases on reduced productive capacity (mothballed plants and equipment) following the long drought in housing.

Amid these market updates, NAHB recently took a deeper dive on a few analytical topics. New research examines the role that the wave of recent refinancing activity has had on household mortgage debt burdens. In fact, refinancings now account for 72.5 percent of all mortgage applications. Since 2010, the share of such refinanced mortgages that yield a lower loan amount has exceeded those that produce at least a 5 percent larger amount. Combined with lower interest rates, these actions have been part of the deleveraging process that has helped heal household balance sheets.

In another review, NAHB economists examined bond market growth and the role of asset-backed securities, finding that between 1980 and 2007, mortgage-related and asset-backed securities accounted for the majority of growth in the U.S. bond market.

Finally, NAHB recently published the Remodelers’ Cost of Doing Business Study, a nationwide survey of residential remodelers detailing information regarding income statements and balance sheets for 2011. Among the findings of the report, the average residential remodeling company collected about $1.1 million in total revenue and reported a 3 percent net profit margin.

Source: NAHB blog, Eye on Housing

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Americans Hold Dangerous Misperceptions about Risks of Heavy Drinking

April 15, 2013 3:04 am

At-risk drinking (four or more drinks per day for men; three or more for women) is common in the U.S. but many people don't consider it a problem. According to a recent national survey of American adults released this month by Screening for Mental Health, Inc., a nonprofit provider of mental health screening programs, half of all men and one-third of women had at least one at-risk drinking episode in the last year. Furthermore, one-fifth of Americans believe that regardless of how much a person drinks, it isn't a problem unless there are negative impacts on their personal relationships or work performance.

"These findings reinforce just how important National Alcohol Screening Day is," said Douglas G. Jacobs , M.D., associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and medical director of Screening for Mental Health, Inc. "Despite public opinion, at-risk drinking increases your chances of developing alcohol use disorders—such as alcoholism—as well as other physical and mental health problems. In the U.S., about 18 million people have an alcohol use disorder. The screenings allow individuals to assess their drinking habits and have an opportunity to connect with local support resources."

The telephone poll, conducted by Anderson Robbins Research, surveyed 1,000 American adults between March 22 and 28 and gathered information on drinking habits, opinions, and perceptions. Interviews were conducted by professional interviewers. Respondents were randomly selected for inclusion in the survey and were interviewed on cell phones and landlines.

Other key findings include:

• Seven in 10 respondents (68 percent) said they'd be likely to speak with a health care provider if they thought they might have a problem with alcohol, but this drops to just half (51 percent) among those who had the most at-risk drinking episodes (20+ times) in the past year.

• One-fifth (20 percent) feel that drinking heavily is a phase that many kids go through, but that it will not hurt them in the long run. However, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), people who started drinking before age 15 were 50 percent more likely to become alcohol dependent as adults. The same was true to a lesser extent for those who started drinking between ages 15 and 17.

• At-risk drinking is highly correlated with age and gender. Men under age 35 are the most likely (71 percent) to report at-risk drinking and women over age 55 are the least likely (21 percent).

• Over three-quarters (77 percent) of Americans think pregnant women should avoid alcohol altogether, while one-fifth (20 percent) think an occasional glass of wine is fine. According to NIAAA, no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy. Consuming any kind of alcohol can potentially harm an unborn child.

Source: Screening for Mental Health

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Gas Heat Pumps - the Next Generation Boiler?

April 15, 2013 3:04 am

Gas heat pumps (both gas engine and absorption systems) are a well-proven product in the commercial building and industrial sector. Gas heat pumps could play a major role in the residential heating market in the future.

The first products have already entered the residential market (8 million boilers are sold across Europe every year), and some predict a golden future for the technology - but the market is at an embryonic stage today, with the first products only just hitting the market and many more still under development.

"The technology is full of potential," says Lindsay Sugden, head of Delta-ee's heat pump research. "We see serious effort from major industry players to bring more products to market, which will create serious competition for gas boilers. Sales today are only just getting going. Successful product launches and falling costs will be critical if sales volumes are to reach tens of thousands of units a year by 2020."

New in-depth research on gas heat pumps by Delta-ee, which analyses the current market and outlook for residential scale gas heat pumps in Europe, indicates that the best potential for gas heat pumps lies in markets such as the UK, The Netherlands, Germany, France and Italy.
"Four of the five biggest boiler companies in Europe have either developed their own gas heat pump, or are working with a specialist manufacturer to offer one," says Sugden. "Of course this isn't the only low carbon technology the heating industry is backing, but it's in the mix - and also being backed by several major European utilities."

Four reasons why gas heat pumps may have a strong future:

• Lower energy bills: A GHP will provide lower running costs than a condensing gas boiler - improvements in efficiency over time will increase these savings. But the capital cost will have to fall substantially from current or future low volume production levels to provide a compelling customer proposition.

• Consumer and installer acceptance: Gas is familiar and trusted, particularly in gas-dominated markets like the Netherlands, UK and parts of Germany - making gas heat pumps a more straight-forward sale than some other low carbon options - as well as relatively straightforward to install compared to many other low-carbon heating options.

• Retrofitability: New GHPs poised for launch in the next year provide a relatively good fit with residential heating systems - relatively compatible with current heat distribution systems, and relatively compact in size.

• Low carbon credentials: GHP can give carbon reduction relative to a gas boiler by 30 percent, and uses refrigerants with low or zero global warming potential.

Hurdles which will need to be overcome first

Robust, reliable products working at a high efficiency and at low enough prices is a must - further investment is required for several products to reach the market, and product developers must reach desired specifications. Awareness of gas heat pumps amongst policy makers and other stakeholders is low. This will need to change to ensure the technology is integrated into incentive frameworks, standards and wider government policy. Installers will need to have confidence in the product, and be trained to install it. And existing or new supply chains and distribution networks will need to incorporate the technology or be built.

Source: Delta Energy & Environment

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A Record Number of Homeowners Are Starting Their Own Vegetable Gardens This Spring

April 15, 2013 3:04 am

According to Hometalk, a social network dedicated to home and garden projects, more American homeowners are starting their own vegetable gardens this spring. According to the Garden Writers Association Foundation (GWAF) 2013 Winter Gardening Trends Research Report, "The number of households growing edible plants is expected to increase by 11.3% for 2013." According to a survey by The National Gardening Association, food gardening in the U.S. is on the rise.

Factors such as the rising price of food crops, concerns about food crop safety, and a new rise in digital gardening information have contributed to the upsurge of households growing edible plants. From university extension service websites to interactive gardening forums, more information and better information about growing vegetables are free and accessible. While the same old gardening challenges persist, like insect control and soil chemistry, Internet gardening information gives first time gardeners a leg up. Of course, gardening books always existed, but a homeowner would have to go to the library or book store to seek out a gardening book, which means that he'd already need to be interested in starting a vegetable garden. The Web, through social networks and viral blog posts, has introduced the idea of DIY vegetable gardening to the desktops of people who would never have considered it.

"Vegetable gardening is one of the most popular topics on Hometalk. Nothing compares to the excitement of seeing your hard work bear fruit (or vegetables!) so naturally, gardeners are inclined to share those success stories with like-minded people," says Miriam Illions, the director of Community Development on Hometalk.com. "Through these posts, you learn the specifics of how they achieved their success. You can then implement great ideas that might take you years to figure out through trial and error on your own."

Source: HomeTalk

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Protect Young Eyes in the Technology Age

April 14, 2013 9:02 am

(Family Features)—Whether it’s a tablet with an educational purpose or a big screen displaying the latest video game, the use of electronic technology is skyrocketing among kids. In fact, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, children ages eight to 18 spend more than seven and a half hours with electronics every day.

Unfortunately, all of that screen time can cause eye fatigue, and ultimately have an impact on your child’s overall vision and eye health.

To view things closer, our eyes automatically adjust by drawing inward; our pupils get smaller to focus, and our eye muscles adjust so we can see a clear image. As a result, extended use of electronic screens can cause tired, blurry or irritated eyes.

Intense focus on a video screen also leads to a diminished blink rate, which can result in eye injuries.

Although there is no scientific evidence that computers and handheld electronic devices directly cause vision problems, using these devices wisely can help prevent eye fatigue and strain, as well as associated headaches, blurred vision and dry eyes.

To help protect your child’s vision, consider these tips from Ameritas, a leading provider of dental, vision and hearing care plans:

Know that prolonged use of electronic devices can exacerbate underlying eye conditions, so electronics should be used in moderation. Limit screen time to two hours or less a day (including watching TV, playing video games and using mobile phones).

Encourage intentional blinking while electronic devices are in use to help refresh eyes with natural moisture that helps prevent bacterial infections, dry spots and corneal breakdown.

Reduce additional eye strain by managing glare from windows and using low-watt bulbs in light fixtures.

Keep computer screens 20 to 28 inches away from the face.

Practice a rule of 20s to give eyes a rest. Every 20 minutes, ask your child to look at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds before refocusing attention up close again.

Move around and change positions periodically while using a device.

Watch for signs of eyestrain while electronic devices are in use, such as squinting, frowning at the screen or rubbing eyes.

If vision problems or discomfort arise, schedule an appointment with an eye doctor for a professional evaluation.

When taking into account time at the office in front of a computer screen, many adults regularly use electronic devices for as long as, or even longer than, their children. Following the same advice not only sets a good example, but it can help protect your own eye health.

Source: www.ameritasinsight.com

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Avoid Common Mistakes to Keep Aggressive Garden Monsters at Bay

April 14, 2013 9:02 am

Before putting spade to soil this spring, take care to avoid common garden mistakes. Plunging headlong into horticulture without thinking can lead to runaway lamb's ears, weeds gone wild or unwelcome garden guests and pests.

Following are practical tips from the gardening experts at Preen.com:

• Invasive plants. What might look like a find (so pretty and such a fast grower) may actually be a garden monster. Invasive plants are spread by runners or underground stems. Aggressive and extremely difficult to remove, these plants spread to choke out other plants. Offenders include chameleon plant, lamb's ear, lily-of the-valley and goutweed. To grow desirable invasives like mint or bamboo, plant in deeply-lined beds or large pots.

• Weeds gone wild. Weeds are the ultimate invasives, adapted to the local habitat and greedy for territory. To stop them, tackle their seeds. Remove existing weeds before they go to seed (each plant can produce thousands). Then apply a layer of mulch and sprinkle a weed preventer such as Preen on top. Mulch blocks the sunlight that weed seeds need to sprout. Preen stops the seeds in the mulch itself from sprouting for up to three to four months, plus those brought in by wind and birds.

• Inviting trouble. Some plants are more than pretty—they're attractive. Those allergic to bee stings should avoid bee-magnets such as buddleia bushes or monarda (aka bee balm), zinnia or salvia flowers. Where deer are abundant, avoid offering deer-candy such as hostas, tulips, yews and azaleas. Holly and euonymous shrubs don't attract bees as pollinators, they attract flies.

• Right plant, wrong place. Read labels. That adorable shrub won't look so cute by the house when it grows to 10 feet tall and eight feet wide. Labels detail light and water needs, so shade-loving Impatiens don't die in full sun, and geraniums, which like dry soil, won't rot in wet places.

• More is not always better. Except during droughts, more plants are killed by too much water than not enough. Most established plants prefer about one inch of rainfall or irrigation every week or so. Too much water can cause rot or weak growth. Also, too much fertilizer won't make plants more robust; it can burn and kill them.

Source: Preen.com

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Consumers' Positive Housing Attitudes Withstand Fiscal Concerns

April 14, 2013 9:02 am

Consumer confidence in the housing recovery remains firm in the face of budget sequestration and other fiscal policy concerns, according to Fannie Mae’s March 2013 National Housing Survey results. Although more Americans indicate greater pessimism regarding their personal finances and the economy, they continue to demonstrate optimism across key housing market measures. The share of consumers who believe home prices will go up in the next year held steady at 48 percent, the all-time survey high. Also reaching a survey high, 26 percent of respondents believe now is a good time to sell a home—nearly twice the share compared to the same time last year.

“Despite an uptick in concern expressed about the direction of the economy, it appears consumers believe that the housing recovery will march on,” says Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae. “Housing sentiment remains unshaken from the highs of the last few months. At the same time, perhaps driven by the experience of the past several years, consumers remain cautious in their housing outlook. While the survey shows a string of 17 positive one-year-ahead home price expectations through March, the average expected gains have remained below 3 percent. By comparison, main measures of national home prices in early 2013 posted year-over-year gains of at least double or triple that figure.”

Survey Highlights

Homeownership and Renting

• The average 12-month home price change expectation fell slightly from last month’s survey high to 2.7 percent.
• At 48 percent, the share of respondents who believe home prices will go up in the next 12 months held steady at the survey high, while the share who believe home prices will go down remained at the survey low of 10 percent.
• The percentage of respondents who think mortgage rates will go up increased to 46 percent, the highest level since May 2011, while those who think they will go down dipped slightly to 6 percent.
• Twenty-six percent of respondents say it is a good time to sell a house, up 1 percentage point over February and the highest level since the survey’s inception in June 2010.
• At 4.1 percent, the average 12-month rental price change expectation increased 0.2 percent over February.
• Fifty percent of those surveyed say home rental prices will go up in the next 12 months, holding steady at the highest level since the survey’s inception for the third straight month.
• The share of respondents who said they would buy if they were going to move fell 3 percentage points to 64 percent.

The Economy and Household Finances

• At 35 percent, the share of respondents who say the economy is on the right track decreased 3 percentage points from February.
• The percentage of respondents who expect their personal financial situation to get worse over the next 12 months rose by 4 percentage points to 21 percent.
• Twenty percent of respondents say their household income is significantly higher than it was 12 months ago, a slight decrease from last month.
• Thirty-two percent reported significantly higher household expenses compared to 12 months ago, a slight increase over February.

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