What’s Bad for the Stock Market May Be Good for Homebuyers

Keys to a new houseSince the financial crisis in 2008, the housing market has seen little stability. However, according to the M Report, The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) International Center on Housing Risk found that both the share and volume of first time homebuyers has consistently increased year-over-year during December.

The AEI’s First-Time Buyer Mortgage Share Index showed that first-time buyers accounted for an estimated 56.7% of existing home purchase mortgages with a government guarantee in December of this past year. This is a 1.2% increase over December’s share of 55.5% in 2014.

AEI attests this trend to improvements in the labor market, riskier mortgage lending, as well as decreasingly lower mortgage rates.

Edward Pinto, co-director of AEI’s International Center on Housing Risk, explained that “strong demand, in combination with shortness of supply, is driving home prices up faster than incomes and inflation.”

The Federal Housing Administration’s (FHA) share of first-time buyers amounted to just over 80%, Freddie Mac’s share was approximately 40%, while Fannie Mae’s share of first-time buyers has steadily been around 43.5% in December.

The Fiscal Times reports that one of the main driving forces behind this decrease in mortgage rates is a result of the plummeting United States stock market.

On Friday of last week, the average rate of the common 30-year fixed mortgage dropped down to 3.75% from over 4% just the week before.

“Just when it looked like 2016’s already impressive drop in rates might be running out of steam, we’re starting the day with the biggest improvement of the year, thanks to the ongoing rout in equities and oil,” said Matthew Graham, editor of Mortgage News Daily.

This drop in rates is not only beneficial to buyers due to lower monthly payments, but it also helps borrowers qualify for more homes for sale.

Mortgage rates were actually expected to rise throughout 2016, which makes this drop unexpected — a pleasant surprise for some, but not for all.

All-Natural Charcoal Deodorant Takes Marketplace by Storm

armpitTwo childhood friends have graduated from lemonade stands to sold-out stock on their latest invention: all natural deodorant.

Jessica Edelstein and Sarah Ribner appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank in December. The new year has proven incredibly successful for them, and they have since seen a boom in sales for their product PiperWai.

Their online store has started a wait-list for the deodorant, stating an overwhelming demand has left them without enough stock. However, they hope to catch up soon.

Both graduates of the University of Philadelphia, the two women decided to take a stab at natural deodorant after realizing there was a huge lack of natural deodorants on the market.

Inquistr.com reported that after tinkering with the formula, they found a combination that looked promising. To test it, Edelstein gave Ribner a jar to take with her on a service trip to South America. After using it for a few days in blazing heat, Ribner realized the product did work and kept her smelling fresh throughout the day.

According to The Temple News of Temple University, the women realized the special ingredient was activated charcoal. Activated charcoal is believed to be good for gastrointestinal health and is extremely absorbent.

“Charcoal can absorb a thousand times its own moisture because of its large surface area,” Edelstein said. “We did a lot of research before adding the ingredient to the formula.”

Not only is charcoal great at absorbing and neutralizing the odor-causing bacteria in sweat, but it also goes on clear and doesn’t stain clothes as other deodorants do. While the product doesn’t act as an antiperspirant and won’t stop excessive sweating, it is marketed as a way to neutralize the odors caused by sweat.

“While neutralizing the perspiration once it appears is a great approach to removing the smell and feeling one gets from sweating, neutralizing it is only covering up or negating a symptom that is already present. A more direct or effective approach is to prevent the sweat from appearing, or stopping it,” said Christopher J. Ligi, Director of Sales with Hidrex USA, LLC.

Ligi added that other alternatives already exist for treating excessive sweating.

“A safe, healthy, and natural approach for someone suffering from excessive sweating is iontophoresis, which uses a mild electrical current through water to greatly reduce the activity of an over-active sweat gland. These iontophoresis machines have been widely used in Europe for over 35 years to treat excessive sweating, or hyperhidrosis, but only recently became available in the Americas,” Ligi said.

Still, once Edelstein and Ribner were able to present their product to the panel of Shark Tank, they were offered two investment deals, eventually settling on an offer for $50,000 in exchange for 25% equity in the company.

The team hopes to release a stick version of the deodorant in the near future.

Fraudulent Car Inspection Stickers Leave Unsafe Cars on the Road

In New York State, cars must pass an annual inspection to remain on the road. It is a precaution of safety for the driver as well as others on the road to ensure a car is functioning properly. If your car is past the inspection date, you might get pulled over and ticketed.

Many people put off their inspection as long as possible for a host of different reasons. Maybe they know their car will not pass inspection; if they cannot afford to make the necessary repairs, they avoid inspection and simply just hope law enforcement officials will not notice. Whatever the case, several motorists try to delay car inspections until they absolutely have no choice but to remedy the situation.

In an effort to avoid them even further, a new criminal method has arisen. Cars that cannot pass inspection remain on the road with stickers that are either fake or obtained through fraud. By making counterfeit inspection stickers, a person can avoid actually going through the inspection process while tricking law enforcement into thinking they have.

CBS New York reported that last summer, police in Babylon found 93 fake inspection stickers on cars on Long Island. Having a fake sticker is not only dangerous if your car is unfit to drive, but now it is considered a felony.

Earlier this month, New York State Police stopped a Putnam County man for speeding. When the cop pulled the man over, he found one of those infamous fake stickers. He charged the man for a fraudulent offense.

“Someone being prosecuted with a felony for having a fake sticker, I think, is a very strong deterrent,” said AAA spokesman Robert Sinclair.

People like Sinclair understand the importance of car inspections. Say a car has bad brakes — the car would not pass a standard inspection, thus requiring the driver to have them repaired. If the motorist continues driving with bad brakes, they are prone to more accidents.

How are people acquiring these fake stickers? There are several different sources.

For instance, CBS 2 found ads on the internet selling inspection stickers for $80. It is uncertain whether they are stolen stickers or if they are fabricated by counterfeiters.

Another source said many people try to bribe the workers at inspection stations with cash to pass their car anyway, despite the condition.

The article from CBS reports that the stickers are so valuable, many inspection stations have to keep them locked up.

Law enforcement officials continue to keep an eye out for fake stickers: they say the color fades on the counterfeit ones after just a few weeks on the windshield.

Apple Is Raising the Price of Apps in Select Locations

It’s just the way it goes. In order to cover the cost to develop an app, mobile designers will often offer an ad-free version for a small fee or a free version that has ads. However, iOS users may find that they’re paying more than they remember apps costing soon.

Apple is increasing the price of its mobile applications and in-app purchases in seven countries in response to currency fluctuations.

In an email sent to iOS app developers, Apple said that it needs to tweak and update the App Store’s prices sometimes, which is exactly what it’s doing in Canada, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, and South Africa.

“Subscriptions will not be interrupted in Canada, New Zealand, Mexico and Singapore. Shortly before their existing subscription renews, subscribers in these territories will receive an email from us to let them know about the price increase with the option to turn off their subscription. Subscribers in Russia and Africa will need to resubscribe at the new price,” said Apple in the email. “Israel will not be impacted, as auto-renewable in-app purchase subscriptions are not supported there.”

In the Canadian and New Zealand app stores, there are two new pricing tiers available. For example, Canada’s lowest Tier 1 pricing will increase from $1.19 CAD to $1.39 CAD, as Next Web reports.

While some may think that these price changes simply reflect currency fluctuations and normalize prices, they also can benefit developers. As <em>ZDNet</em> reports, VAT charges in Romania have now dropped from 24% to 20%, but app prices remain unchanged, which gives developers a little more for their content.

If you’re interested in your territory’s price changes, you can check them all out in Apple’s spreadsheet, which is available online. The price changes listed are based against the fluctuating US dollar.

Botox Could Do Much More Than Eliminate Wrinkles

Botox InjectionBotox may be useful for more than simply reducing wrinkles. As Temple Daily News of Bell County, TX, reports, Botox treatments have been found to greatly reduce headaches due to the injection’s ability to stop muscles from contracting.

Karen Williams, nurse practitioner and director of the headache clinic at Olin E. Teague Veterans’ Medical Center in Temple, has been working closely with about 250 patients suffering from severe headaches, anxiety, and depression.

One patient in particular who has shown great improvement is Conjevaram Phillips, a veteran combat medic who served multiple tours in Iraq from 2009 to 2014.

Phillips has long battled PTSD, which causes him extreme stress, anxiety, headaches and back pain.

However, he has been seeing Williams for the past two years to receive a combination of treatments, including Botox injections, acupuncture, and cranial electrotherapy stimulation. His condition has improved so much over that time that he has been able to significantly reduce the amount of prescription medications he uses.

“The stress level comes down. It’s amazing and that’s why I never miss an appointment,” Phillips said. “I used to have headaches every day. I’ve completely stopped taking the Maxalt.”

Williams says that she sees many cases of patients with headaches that stem from post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

The Botox injections are administered every 12 weeks, spaced at multiple points around the cranium.

Williams has even received strong support from Temple’s neurology department who have also begun using acupuncture, cranial electrotherapy stimulation, and Botox treatments.

“Botox is approved for the treatment of chronic migraine headaches,” said Dr. Janis P. Campbell, Dermatologist at Laser Rejuvenation Clinic & Spa of Calgary. “In our hands patients may find headaches totally relieved or they may have reduced frequency or severity. Many patients also find reduction of tension headaches when they receive botox for their frown lines. Other uses for botox include treatment of excess sweating, most commonly on the underarm region, hands, feet or forehead, as well as alteration of scarring following surgeries in areas of high mobility.”

Reducing headaches is not the only hidden secret botox holds. According to Teen Vogue, Botox has also shown promising results in ridding acne.

The idea of using the botulinum toxin to treat acne stemmed from its use to help control hyperhidrosis, an excessive sweating condition caused by nervousness and stress, by blocking nerves that control sweat glands.

A small patient study conducted by a plastic surgeon in Chicago claimed that his Botox patients experienced a reduction in oil production and pore size, two factors that can lead to acne.

Energy Efficient Improvements Could Be as Beneficial to Finances as They Are to the Environment

There's high demand for energy efficiency With the recent focus on environmental conservation, homeowners retrofitting their houses to be more energy efficient are not just benefiting from lower utility bills, but also from the return on investment, according to the Press Enterprise.

California has, in particular, seen these benefits since the introduction of Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing, which helps homeowners pay for energy efficient improvements.

PACE financing, such as the Home Energy Renovation Opportunity (HERO) program, is designed to allow homeowners to pay for water and energy-saving projects, such as replacement windows and renovations to reduce harmful emissions. After a resell, the new owners would then take over the remaining balance, but also experience the improvement benefits.

Since 2011, the HERO program has financed over $1 billion in projects throughout California.

A recent study of HERO homes sold since 2011 by leading national housing economist Laurie Goodman and co-author JunZhu, found that energy efficient PACE improvements increase a home’s value enough to cover 100% of the alterations.

The study showed that the recovery rate of energy efficient homes exceeded the rate of traditional home improvements, including kitchen and bathroom remodels, at an average of 58% to 66%.

“Illinois has enacted PACE-enabling legislation and there is a PACE program in development in Chicago. It’s a great program for any state, it creates jobs, promotes economic development, and protects the environment. Homeowners will only gain from PACE,” said Peter Kiwior, owner of Pro-Home Services, a program that helps pay for new heating and cooling systems, replacement windows, solar panels, insulation, and more.

But homeowners are not the only ones feeling the financial benefits of energy efficient improvements. Bloomberg Business reports that the desire to retrofit old and drafty homes has turned these services into a $20 billion U.S. industry.

California is now poised to cut building energy use in half by 2030. Buildings account for up to 39% of carbon dioxide emissions, which the U.S. Green Building Council says exceeds both transportation and industrial uses.

The majority of the market focus has been on constructing new energy efficient homes. However, Cliff Majersik, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation, a Washington nonprofit that promotes more efficient buildings, said, “If you really want to move the needle on climate change, you can’t ignore the 99 percent of buildings that are already there.”

Even though both California and New York have now taken the lead in encouraging energy efficient home improvements through rebates and tax breaks, California was the first to implement efficiency standards all the way back in 1978. Since then, the state has lowered electricity bills by $74 billion.

As the United States redoubles its efforts in reducing greenhouse gases, California’s benefits are expected to replicate nationwide.

Online Dating Experts Give Tips to Help Users Stay Safe on the Internet

As online dating continues to surpass real-life interactions as the preferred option for many singles, some relationship experts are giving users tips to help them stay safe on the internet.

According to Bustle, over 40% of singles in the U.S. currently use online dating services. Considering the variables that go into meeting a stranger on the internet, experts are preaching safe dating online to any user who will listen.

Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., a contributor to Psychology Today, recommends that new online daters take it slow when it comes to revealing personal information. Until a user meets their match face-to-face, they can never be sure of who they’re talking to.

“It is best to use your first name only during initial conversations and provide more detailed personal information only after you’ve met in person and gotten to know one another well,” said Orbuch. “Legitimate online daters will understand the reasons for doing this and will be doing the same themselves.”

Shani Silver of XOJane.com suggests taking new pictures for online dating profiles that do not reveal where a user works or lives. By using a fresh set of photos, a potential fraud online will have no way of tracing them back to the user.

“It is my opinion that your online dating images should be used only for online dating. Take a separate set of images, selfies, whatever and only use them in your online dating profiles,” said Silver.

Other advice from the experts included waiting at least one week to meet a match face-to-face, as well as planning a first date in a well-lit public location.

While some dating websites already require users to take these precautionary measures, there has been a growing demand for online dating resources that prioritize user safety.

As the holiday season winds to a close, lonely singles may want to use these helpful tips now before they miss their chance at love. According to Esquire, the week after New Year’s Day is the most popular time for online dating every year.

Last year, OkCupid saw a 40% increase in messaging during the weekend after New Year’s Day. Also, Match.com sees a 60% spike in activity from Christmas to Valentine’s Day.

“Users who sign up during the first week of January will find their partner an average of two weeks faster than those who sign up later, taking an average of just 10 weeks compared to an average of 12 weeks throughout the year,” said Shannon Smith, spokesperson for Plenty of Fish.

While online daters may be in a rush to find post-holiday companionship, dating experts are hopeful that singles will heed their advice to avoid an awkward or unsafe encounter.

With Cancellations Up, Paris Will Likely Hold Greatest Vacation Value During 2016

Many travelers have decided to cancel their vacations to Paris following the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks — but for anyone who’s still looking for the perfect 2016 vacation, Paris might just be the perfect spot for this very reason.

As Skift recently reported, Paris has seen a sudden drop in tourism over the past two months. For the first time since 2011, an annual survey from Travel Leaders Group found that Paris wasn’t among the top 10 international travel destinations for 2016. Although there hasn’t been a significant drop in trip cancellations, around 10% of travel agents said that clients were delaying trips to Paris, while 6% of travel agents said they had cancelled at least one Paris vacation for a client.

Nevertheless, planning a trip to Paris might just be the smartest decision that travelers can make right now. As the Los Angeles Times noted, city tourism officials in Paris saw a significant drop in activity immediately following the attacks and there’s still some concern that the city will take a hard hit during 2016 due to the lack of visitors.

Many people have stated, however, that they are still planning to visit Paris “to send a message of defiance” and to support the Parisian community in the wake of such a tragedy.

It just so happens that France is in the middle of several projects and developments, many of which will come to fruition throughout 2016. Many museums have begun using free apps to provide visitors with audio guides, and also for online ticketing options. The Carnavalet Museum, which features extensive exhibits on French history, is undergoing renovations during 2016.

Parisian officials just began cleaning out the popular tourist spot, the Canal St-Martin, and this will be completed in approximately three months. For travelers hoping to venture outside of Paris, a new direct express bus line easily connects to Vaison-la-Romaine, where visitors can see ancient Roman ruins.

And no visit to the City of Light is complete without stopping by the Eiffel Tower, which recently underwent a $38 million renovation on its first level and now includes shops, dining options, and a multimedia presentation about the history of the monument.

“Whether it’s a show of defiance or not, tourists are currently booking their trips for the summer, which is an early jump never seen before,” said Alley Bradley, Managing Director for Paris Copia. “Already, we’ve seen higher demand for our Paris vacation apartment rentals for the summer months.”

Bradley added, “Paris routinely hosts world-class events throughout the year and that’s one of the major draws to the City of Light. This year, France will host the final round of the 15th UEFA European Football Championships, and 12 matches will be played in Paris alone. A revered European football event, the UEFA Euro 2016 is a spectacle that draws thousands of tourists to the city who take part in festivities both inside and outside the stadium.”

In addition to the city’s various developments, as the Chicago Tribune reported, the value of the U.S. dollar is around 15% stronger than the euro compared to currency values at the beginning of 2015. This means that vacationing in a country like France will be much more affordable.

Researchers Create Marriage Counseling Computer to Identify Problems in Relationships

counseling or sales pitchIt seems as if everything is “going digital” these days, and therapy is no exception. Now, couples can figure out what’s wrong with their marriage with the help of a computer.

According to the Wall Street Journal, researchers at the universities of Southern California and Utah have invented a computer program that analyzes the speech of couples to diagnose problems in marriage counseling.

The computer can predict the future of a marriage by focusing on the tone and inflection of a husband and wife during therapy. As part of the project, researchers used the computer to analyze 74 distinct acoustic features of each person’s voice.

While common elements of speech like volume and pitch were considered, the computer also rated more specific components of couples’ voices. One of the more abstract elements of speech analyzed was “jitter and shimmer,” which one researcher described as a measure of shakiness.

Poor communication is a primary cause of many divorces, and The Stir recently reported that honing one’s speaking and listening skills is the first step in repairing a broken marriage.

“The most common thing that motivates couples to seek counseling is fear that the marriage will not endure and last,” said Fran Walfish, a psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, CA. “Something is not going right, and there’s usually a communication breakdown.”

The researchers from USC and Utah claim that the computer achieved nearly 78% accuracy when predicting whether recovery would occur in a marriage. However, they added that the technology was merely created to help human marriage counselors rather than replace them entirely.

According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists via Guide Doc, over 97% of couples surveyed said that they got the help they needed in marriage counseling.

Changing the dynamic of a relationship takes time and effort, so failing couples who see this new technology as a quick and easy way to save their marriage may be disappointed.

“I agree that this is only a limited assessment tool and not a replacement for in person counseling. You gain a lot by meeting with a therapist for couple’s counseling,” said Steve Weinman, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Founder of Family First Therapy. “When couples come to my office for face-to-face sessions, it gives them the opportunity to work on the core issues of their relationship in addition to communication skills. Also, physical interactions such as handholding, where they sit, etc., is important in couple’s therapy, something that can’t be achieved with the computer.”

It will still be a few years before any couples see the new computer during counseling sessions, but researchers have already considered ways to integrate the technology into homes right now.

One possibility is converting the computer into a smartphone app or device that is placed in the home to analyze conversations between couples. However, researchers are currently focusing finding ways for the technology to help therapists before introducing it to the public.

Rushwork’s Newest Product: Camera Tally System

photo lenses and equipment on white backgroundRushworks, one of the leading technology production companies focusing on television and streaming options, recently announced a new addition to their line of products — a camera tally system that supports both Lumens and 1Beyond PTZ cameras, according to the government news source GovernmentVideo.com.

Up to eight small LED tally indicators are supported by the new system. It will feature an illuminated tally representing the currently selected program input on the VDESK and REMO integrated PTZ multicamera TV production systems.

“Both the Lumens and 1Beyond PTZ cameras are excellent performers and very cost-effective,” said Rush Beesley, President of Rushworks. “But neither include a tally light on the camera, which of course is necessary in news and similar production venues where the on-camera participants need to be aware of which camera is currently selected. We just added this simple functionality to make the cameras viable in this production sector.”

The system’s eight-port tally distribution box will be able to connect to VDESK and REMO via USB cords, and will use CAT5 cables for each of the camera tallies. The CAT5 cable is typically used for networks and mulit-line phone systems; it has a maximum frequency of 100 MHz and can transmit up to 10/100/1000Mbps.

Depending on the cable being used, the speed and overall efficiency of system networks can be affected. CAT5 is an industry standard in many ways.

This new system has the potential to affect many different industries across the board. VDESK and REMO solutions are currently utilized in areas, such as city and state governments, court systems, school districts, houses of worship, radio stations, news production, and entertainment venues among others.