Tips for a Beautiful Lawn and Garden

Whether you have a green thumb or you’re barely able to keep a cactus alive, it never hurts to review a little helpful advice for giving your home some great curb appeal. Here are a few tips to keep your lawns green and your gardens lush:

Soil is everything
For around $12, you can purchase a soil testing kit at your local garden center. This will tell you the pH levels of your soil and help you to correct any imbalances.

Choose your plants wisely
Pick plants that will thrive in your yard’s particular environment. Sunlight, shade, moisture, and exposure to the elements are all factors that should be considered.

Sketch out any landscaping ideas
Whether you’re planting a garden or hiring a landscaper, putting your ideas on paper first is never a bad idea. Remember, it’s a lot easier and cheaper to erase than it is to replant.

Feed the lawn
After your lawn’s initial springtime growth spurt or after mowing it several times, fertilize your lawn with a high-quality, slow-release nitrogen fertilizer. Be sure to follow the instructions on the label, and take any necessary precautions if you have small children or pets.

Equip yourself properly
Aside from getting your lawnmower ready for action, you may want to take an inventory of your gardening tools. Here are the top ten tools every aspiring gardener should own: a gardening trowel, a spade, a shovel, a hoe, pruning sheers, a 5-gallon bucket, a wheelbarrow, a hose, a watering can, and gloves.

Mortgage Market Update 04-29-14

Annual home price gains are beginning to slow due to rising mortgage rates along with difficulties in qualifying for a mortgage, reports the Case Shiller 20-city Index in February. The Index fell to 12.9%, just below the 13% expected and down from the 13.2% recorded year-over-year in January. The 12.9% is down from a recent high of 13.7% with 13 of the 20 tracked cities posting lower annual rates.

The Conference Board reported this morning that its Consumer Confidence Index fell in April to 82.3, down from the 83.9 registered in March. The 82.3 missed expectations of 83.2. The Conference Board said that consumers assessed current business and labor market conditions less favorably than in March. However, consumers do not see the economy or the labor markets losing the momentum that has been building up over the past several months.

The U.S. homeownership rate fell to its lowest level in nearly 19 years due to rising mortgage rates and higher home prices. The Census Bureau reported that the homeownership rate fell to 64.8% in the first quarter of 2014, down from the 65.2% in the final quarter of 2013. That is the lowest rate since the 64.7% recorded in the second quarter of 1995. The rate peaked at 69.2% in June 0f 2004.

Mortgage Market Update

Consumers views on economic conditions surged in April to its highest reading since July, as reported by the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan’s final reading on Consumer Sentiment. The Index rose to 84.1, above the 82.6 expected. Consumer expectations rose to 74.7 in April from 70.0 in March.

A recent study of U.S. manufacturing shows that the sector has grown more competitive with factories in China, Brazil and most of the globe’s other major economies. In China, rising energy costs and wages have cut into the edge that China has held on most other manufacturing nations. Labor costs have soared by 187% in the last decade in China, while the U.S. has seen an increase of only 27%. In addition, China’s currency has risen more than 30% against the dollar, which make its goods produced and sold abroad more expensive to purchase.

The closely watched Monthly Employment Report will be released next Friday on May 2 and will be scrutinized by traders and investors around the globe. It is expected that employers added 210,000 new workers in April. Last December and January job growth averaged just 114,000 per month, which was due in part to the harsh winter weather. February and March averaged a more robust 194,000 per month and the sector will have to continue to create at least that amount to get back to more healthy levels.

Mortgage Market Update 04-17-14

Americans filing for first time unemployment benefits are hovering near seven-year lows as employers are slowing the pace of layoffs. The Labor Department reported that Weekly Initial Jobless Claims came in at 304,000, below the 312,000 that was expected. The 304,000 is up from 302,000 in the prior week, which was the lowest level since September of 2007. The four-week moving average of claims, which irons out seasonal abnormalities, dropped by 4,750 to 312,000.

Manufacturing in the Philadelphia region picked up this month and comes after a weak reading from New York State released earlier in the week. The Philly Fed Index surged to 16.6 this month, well above the 8.6 that was expected and up from the 9.0 registered in March. Within the report it showed that the employment component rose to 6.9 from 1.7, while the average workweek also increased.

Oil prices continue to move higher due to the ongoing tensions in Ukraine and as a brighter looking U.S. economy signaled an uptick in demand for energy. Higher oil prices are pushing prices higher at the pump and with the onset of the spring and summer driving season, the national average price for a regular gallon of gasoline is at $3.65, up from $3.52 a month ago.

Mortgage Market Update 04-14-14

Consumers across the nation stepped up spending in March after dismal spending in the beginning of the year, due to the severely harsh winter weather. Retail Sales rose by 1.1% last month, the biggest gain since September 2012, while February’s 0.7% rise was revised up from 0.3%. Retail Sales account for 1/3 of consumer spending and consumer spending accounts for about 2/3s of the U.S. economy.

Home loan lending declined in the first quarter of 2014 due to rising interest rates and home prices. Total lending came in at about $226 billion, the lowest level since 1997 and less than one-third of the 2006 average. Home loan rates are up from the best levels seen early in 2013 after the Federal Reserve began to taper its massive stimulus program. Wells Fargo recently reported that its home-loan originations fell to $36 billion in the first quarter after it exceeded $100 billion for seven straight quarters through June 2013.

Banking giant Citigroup reported first quarter earnings of $3.9 billion or $1.30 per share, easily beating the $1.14 per share estimated by Thomson Financial Research. The gains were due in part to solid performances from its consumer and international businesses. In addition, the bank also grew both loans and deposits, while holding the line on its expenses.

Mortgage Market Update 04-08-14

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) reported this morning that its small business optimism index rose 2 points to 93.4. The gains reversed the declines seen in February, but has failed to breach the 95 level that has capped the Index during the economic recovery. Six of the components improved, two were unchanged and two were lower. A spokesman for the NFIB said “the economy is at least crawling forward and not heading in reverse.”

The spring home buying season is underway and recent data has showed that the housing market has softened a bit. However, Fannie Mae released its National Housing Survey for March yesterday showing that consumer attitudes have continued to move in a positive direction in the past year, which could signal a pickup in home buying and selling activity this spring. The survey revealed that respondents who say it is a good time to sell rose to 38% from 26% at the same time last year.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported its JOLTS (Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey) today showing that there were 4.2 million job openings on the last day of business in February, up from the 3.9 million in January. The BLS went on to say that there were 4.6 million hires in February, little changed from January. Over the 12 months ending in February, the number of hires (not seasonally adjusted) changed little for total nonfarm, total private, and government.