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Money Matters: Simple Tips to Save for a Down Payment

September 13, 2013 6:06 pm

Recent studies have shown that the No. 1 reason keeping people from moving forward with a home purchase is the fact that they don’t have enough money saved up for a down payment. Even though there are lenders who require less for a down payment—although at a higher mortgage rate—many people still have a hard time coming up with the necessary funds.

You can’t count on a lower down payment, either. Lenders remain risk averse and prefer to loan money to borrowers who share as much of the risk as possible. A recent Federal Reserve Senior Loan Officer Survey found that only 8 percent of banks loosened mortgage credit conditions in the first half of 2013, and the larger down payment option remains the industry-underwriting staple.

For those dreaming of buying that perfect home, coming up with a down payment is inevitable. While saving a large chunk of money may seem next to impossible, a few key tips will have you on your way toward owning that dream home.

The first thing you should do is write up a budget so that you can see where your money goes each month. Knowing exactly what you’re spending—and where—makes it easier to cut costs.

By seeing where your hard earned dollars are going each month, you may be more inclined to put your daily coffee money or gym membership dues into a savings account. Another simple way to save money is by making a conscious decision to bring your lunch to work on a daily basis, in addition to trading restaurant meals for home-cooked food.

Another simple way to earn a little extra money that can ultimately be used toward a down payment is to clean up all the “treasure” you’ve been holding onto and host a garage sale. Now’s the time to get rid of that lamp you haven’t used in years or even that collection of comics you’ve been hanging onto since you were a kid. Not only will you be able to bring in some extra cash, you’ll also get a jump start on de-cluttering your place.

Additional ways to save money include spending nights in instead of going off to the movie theater, a concert or an expensive dinner. Cancel your newspaper and magazine subscriptions and read everything online. Stop buying music and books for your tablet and visit the library instead.

You may even want to think about getting a second job, especially as the holidays roll around and you can take advantage of extra hours. This doesn’t have to be a permanent thing, but sacrificing a little free time for a year or so will be worth it when you can start relaxing in your own home.

For more money saving strategies, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


5 Questions You Can't Afford to Ignore When Choosing a Real Estate Agent

September 13, 2013 6:06 pm

Choosing a real estate agent to represent you through the home-selling process is just as important as staging the space to attract prospective buyers and listing it for the right price so that it sells in a timely manner. While you may have heard nothing but good things about an agent from your friend down the street, it’s still a good idea to put in some time interviewing agents so that you end up choosing one who’ll have your best interests at heart throughout the process.

Before agreeing to hire an agent, here are five questions you should ask.

1. Do you work alone or with a team? Nowadays, many agents work as part of a team, therefore, you’ll want to know going into the process if the person you hire will be the one doing the work or if the support team will be showing the house and handling the marketing of your home. You may like a particular agent because they have a trustworthy quality that you think will help when it comes to getting your home sold, but if they farm the work off on people you haven’t met—who may not have as much of an interest in your particular transaction—it might put a damper on the process. On the other hand, having more people working for you is never a bad thing, as long as everyone is sticking to your agreed upon game plan.

2. What is your marketing plan for selling my home? This one question will provide an in-depth look at what your agent plans to do in order to get your home sold. In today’s competitive market, just holding an open house and placing the home in the MLS isn’t enough. You’ll also want to ask about their online presence and whether or not they’ll be incorporating videos into their marketing strategy. In addition, find out if there’s anything unique they’ll be doing to get the word out about your house. Try to find someone with a diversified approach who does what it takes to get the home sold while maintaining a clear vision for getting what you want out of the relationship.

3. How does your compensation work? Before hiring an agent, you should understand the percentage they’ll get when they sell your home. This percentage will vary depending on location and market trends, and sometimes you can even negotiate a smaller number. In a hot market, commissions might dip lower because homes are easier to sell. Conversely, in a weak market, an agent might be less likely to budge on their fee. Along with commission, it’s also important to discuss an agent’s cancellation policy.

4. How often will you communicate with me? Some sellers like hearing from their agent all the time via phone calls, while others would prefer just a quick text to update them on the progress. Let your agent know what you want and see how well they communicate back. They should have the tools to communicate on your terms, whether that be every day or not quite as often. Just make sure you express your wants and needs.

5. How many listings do you currently have? You may find an agent who has everything you’re looking for, however, be sure to take into account that they may have a dozen other properties in your neighborhood that they’re representing. If this is the case, how certain are you that they will be putting your home above the others? It’s not to say that a good agent can’t handle multiple listings, but you should decide if this is something that’s important to you. In the end, you’ll want to work with the agent who will put your home at the top of their list.

For more information about choosing a real estate agent, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


A Strategic Approach to Real Estate Contracts and Deadlines

September 13, 2013 6:06 pm

Whether you’re buying or selling a home, adding deadlines to the real estate contract process is a tricky subject. After all, if someone makes an offer on your house, you may think they’ll go to any lengths to buy it. On the other hand, a buyer may think that just because they’re putting a bid on a house that’s been sitting on the market, their bid will be accepted regardless of what it is.

That’s why many real estate agents discourage their clients from putting a deadline within the contract because when they aren’t met, it becomes a frustrating endeavor.

And what happens if you place a deadline on your offer and the seller doesn’t meet it? Are you automatically going to withdraw your bid? Probably not. Bluffs don’t play very well in the real estate game, so if you set a deadline and then no consequences come from not meeting it, you may find the rest of the negotiations going the other person’s way.

Additionally, when you place an offer that must be decided on by 9:00 p.m., this will be seen by the other party (buyer or seller) as a hard-sell. While it might seem like a good negotiating strategy on your end, it might be the exact opposite from the perspective of the other party. If you want to include deadlines like this in your offer, you must be willing to walk away if they aren’t met.

That doesn’t mean the deal can’t be worked out down the line, but if you’re not going to stand by your deadline, it’s probably better to leave them out of the equation altogether. Speediness is the essential strategy here on both sides of the transaction.

When in the midst of a seller’s market, it may make sense for a seller to set a deadline for reviewing all offers, as this will alert all interested buyers that they need to have their best offer in to compete with any other offers. This type of deadline is actually helpful because buyers can view other homes and put together a bid before the deadline, understanding that the seller isn’t going to make a decision prior to it being submitted.

For buyers, negotiation techniques typically recommend that you add a drop-dead date so that the seller can’t shop your offer or drag things out forever. This will protect you from losing out on other homes that might interest you.

If you’re making an offer in the evening, be sure to make the expiration early the next afternoon so no competing offers are likely to roll in. Have your agent express that there are other homes on your list that you’re just as happy with, that you’re ready to make an offer on. In this case, a deadline can be used to your advantage.

Contact our office today to learn more about the pros and cons associated with incorporating deadlines into real estate transactions.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


In this Edition: Down Payments

September 13, 2013 6:06 pm

Our lead story in this month’s Home Matters, brought to you through our company's membership in RISMedia’s Real Estate Information Network® (RREIN), examines the do’s and don’ts of incorporating deadlines into real estate contracts. Other topics covered this month include five questions you must ask before hiring an agent and the importance of understanding the true financial commitment associated with purchasing a home. We hope you enjoy this month’s edition of Home Matters and as always, we welcome your feedback. Email us anytime!

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Clean Your House Naturally and Avoid Toxic Cleansers

September 13, 2013 2:33 am

It's time to tackle the annual home cleaning. But just because you're thoroughly washing, scrubbing and disinfecting your home, it doesn't mean you need to turn to cleansers with harsh ingredients and chemicals. In fact, you can easily clean using inexpensive products already in your kitchen, such as vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice. Use these tips to clean your home naturally.

Start seeing clearly
: Are your windows coated with a layer of grime? A solution of two teaspoons of white vinegar and one liter of warm water can be used to gently remove dust or dirt from all glass surfaces including windows and mirrors.

Freshen up the fridge: In addition to food spills, your refrigerator takes on odors from all the different foods stored throughout the year. Discard old items and be sure you are regularly cleaning out the fridge. Help reduce odors year-round by keeping a box of baking soda in the fridge at all times, replacing it every 30 days for best results.

Reawaken your wardrobe: Start the season feeling good in clothes that smell fresh. Even when carefully stored, clothing can still be exposed to dust, and may require a good washing before wearing. Add a cup of baking soda to your next wash to naturally boost the power of your detergent. The combination will help balance PH levels to leave clothing cleaner and fresher. You can also freshen non-washable items like gym shoes, bags and sports equipment by sprinkling baking soda inside.

Renew the everyday rooms: Avoid the fumes of harsh kitchen and bathroom cleaners by naturally cleaning surfaces with baking soda. A sprinkle of baking soda on a damp sponge will clean counters, stainless steel sinks, microwaves, ovens and much more without scratching. For tough grease, mix vinegar and lemon juice to leave your surfaces like new.

Bet on a BBQ: After the inside of your home is looking spic-and-span, get your grill ready to prevent bad tasting hot dogs and hamburgers from ruining your next BBQ. Sprinkle baking soda on a damp brush, then scrub away any residue and rinse clean. For really difficult stains, make a paste with three parts baking soda to one part warm water and use a wire-bristled brush to work away at grime and grease stains.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Shopping on a Dime? How to Maximize Savings at Discount Stores

September 13, 2013 2:33 am

Bargain hunting for some new fall favorites? Follow the below tips, provided by, to get the most out of your bargain shopping.

Write a list and avoid "browsing": Be aware of marketing tactics - A crucial way to not overspend is to learn how to spot a store's marketing gimmicks. Items are placed in certain locations deliberately and there is a proven science to shopping. Learn the layout of your store and stick to a pre-written shopping list.

Never shop tired or hungry: Shopping on an empty stomach or when tired is the number one way for consumers to buy more than they need. The discipline required to successfully bargain hunt requires a clear head.

Make sure that you definitely want to shop there before paying for membership: Check it out a few times before you sign on the dotted line. Visit the store to see if it is suitable.

Share a membership with a friend or family member: Cut costs even more by having a communal membership, thereby splitting the membership fee.

Use a smaller cart: If you choose a bigger cart, you will fill it up and buy more. A smaller cart means that you are limited to buying less, therefore, saving more. This is a psychological trick that can save precious dollars and avoid over-shopping.

Pay in cash: Estimate the cost of what items need to be bought and bring the exact amount in cash.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


New Opportunities Open Up for First-Time Homebuyers

September 13, 2013 2:33 am

In the coming year, more than 1.5 million consumers will purchase their first home. How do they do it -- and how can you be one of them?

"First-timers now represent nearly 30 percent of all existing home purchasers," said Ray Brousseau, executive vice president of a nationwide lender. "That's a big percentage, but it could be a lot higher because there are many ways first-time purchasers can finance with little down and little hassle."

Many of these buyers are able to afford a new home because they know that the mortgage marketplace has two separate ways to help them: First, there are traditional loan options. Second, there are more than 1,500 mortgage assistance plans for buyers purchasing a first home.

No Need For 20 Percent Down

The big barrier for many first-time buyers is cash. It takes cash for a down payment, and it takes cash to close. Lenders are generally looking for buyers with 20 percent down, but given that the typical home sells for more than $200,000, there are a lot of first-time homebuyers who have not accumulated the $40,000 or more that lenders prefer.

The good news: There are many ways around the 20 percent requirement with traditional loan options.

"It doesn't take a lot of up-front cash to buy a home today," said Brousseau. "FHA and conventional financing are all available with little down, while VA borrowers can qualify for mortgages that require no down payment."

The way such programs work is that they substitute insurance for the 20 percent down that lenders would otherwise want:

• Conventional loans are available with as little as 3 percent down plus what is called "private mortgage insurance" or PMI.

• FHA mortgages require an up-front mortgage insurance premium (MIP), plus an annual MIP based on the outstanding loan balance. Mortgages backed by the FHA are available nationwide and typically require just 3.5 percent down.

• VA financing is available for those with qualifying service, such as military personnel, as well as officers in the Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). VA loans are available with nothing down. There is an up-front "guarantee" fee, but no annual insurance cost.

"Instead of $40,000 for a down payment, many borrowers can get a $200,000 loan with $6,000 or $7,000 down, or even nothing down if VA-qualified," Brousseau said. "That means qualified first-time homebuyers can buy a house today instead of waiting years to save 20 percent down."

Mortgage Assistance Plans

According to, there are more than 1,500 assistance plans administered by more than 1,000 agencies nationwide for would-be buyers, many aimed specifically at first-time purchasers.

In looking at these programs it's important to understand what the term "first-time buyer" means. It typically does not mean someone who has never owned a home; instead the usual definition for program qualification purposes is someone who has not had title to a home during the past three years.

This definition is important because it provides a way for people to re-enter the housing marketplace. For instance, suppose the Smiths owned a home and sold it to move to a job in a new community. Three years later they are "first-time" purchasers under the guidelines used by most assistance plans.

"Another important point about mortgage assistance programs is that many are specifically designed to encourage local home purchases by public-sector employees such as teachers, police, firefighters, nurses, and corrections workers," said Brousseau. "There are millions of people who qualify for such assistance."

The benefits available through mortgage assistance plans vary. For instance, borrowers may be able to get financing at below-market interest rates. Down payment grants may be available, essentially meaning that little or nothing down will be required. Another approach includes programs that offer tax credits.

Mortgage interest is generally deductible, but a "tax credit" is arguably more valuable. With what are called "mortgage credit certificates" or MCCs, borrowers can deduct directly from their actual tax bill. For instance, if you have $8,000 in mortgage interest you might be able to directly reduce your taxes by $1,600 while the remaining $6,400 can be treated as an itemized deduction.

"Given low interest rates and a firming housing sector, this is a terrific time to consider entering the real estate market," said Brousseau. "With today's financing choices, many buyers can own their own home a lot quicker than they might have thought."

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Global Study Reveals Americans are Planning to Travel More Domestically, but Steady Their Spending in 2014

September 12, 2013 2:33 am

TripAdvisor® announced the results of a recent survey called the TripBarometer. The survey reveals the leading travel and hospitality industry trends, according to over 19,000 travelers and over 10,000 accommodation business owners around the world. The study is conducted twice a year, and the results are analyzed independently by research firm Edelman Berland.

Themes from this season's TripBarometer include:
• Travelers vary considerably in their economic outlook, with those from emerging markets far more optimistic about the global economy.
• While U.S. travelers aren't planning to increase travel budgets next year, they are planning to travel more frequently and closer to home to discover the sights America has to offer.
• Despite the lack of confidence many travelers feel about the global economy, U.S. hoteliers remain confident about future profitability.
• Travelers are using credit to fund their holidays, particularly in emerging markets.

Travelers Plan to Lower Their Budgets
• Only one-third of U.S. travelers are optimistic about the economy.
• Americans are the least likely to spend more on travel in 2014 compared to other regions.
• Sixty-one percent of global travelers and 65 percent of U.S. travelers plan to spend the same amount or less in 2014.
• Travelers in emerging markets are the ones who plan to spend more.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Survey Reveals Nation's Exercise Habits

September 12, 2013 2:33 am

While many people say that they want to get in better shape and exercise more, how many are really doing it? To help showcase how, when and where Americans are working out, Timex released the results of a survey detailing the nation's exercise habits. The Timex/ survey reveals that while the perception may be that most Americans are not exercising, the reality is that 73 percent of respondents are working out at least once a week.

Key highlights of the survey include:

• Twenty-nine percent spend between 30 minutes and one hour on their physical activities and 18 percent are spending between one and two hours exercising.
• Sixty-one percent of respondents don't go to a gym to exercise. If they do go to the gym, they want to stay close—only 11 percent drive more than 15 minutes to their exercise destination.
• Working out at lunch may not be for everyone, but 27 percent of respondents are finding time to get in a workout during the work day.
• When it comes to finding time to exercise, it is apparent that many in America are not "morning people," as nearly half of Americans say that they don't exercise in the morning. For those that do work out in the morning, 6 a.m. is the most popular time.
• The most popular type of exercise is running (18 percent), followed by lifting weights (13 percent) and biking/hiking/outdoor activities (13 percent).
• Once Americans finish exercising, it is time to hit the showers. Forty-three percent of survey respondents spend at least 10-15 minutes in the shower, 25 percent spend a whopping 20-30 minutes and 10 percent spend more than a half-hour.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Prepare Your Yard and Garden for Winter

September 12, 2013 2:33 am

As temperatures drop and autumn colors arrive, a new season of gardening is upon us. In order to properly prepare your lawn and garden for the colder months ahead, you should be thinking about fall cleanup procedures so that you can enjoy your yard once the warm weather returns.

"Fall is the most important gardening season," says Elizabeth Licata, gardener-in-chief for Troy-Bilt®. "Tasks like cleaning up the garden are really about creating the beginnings of a productive garden for the next season."

By creating a fall to-do list, you can make fall cleanup easy and manageable. Troy-Bilt suggests that you do the following:

Clear away dead debris by getting rid of plants that have stopped blooming or have been killed by the lack of warm weather. Remove dead limbs on trees and trim overgrown areas.

Make sure to fertilize your lawn. As we usher in fall, and the cooler weather and rainfall associated with the season, reduce the height on your mower to two or two-and-a-half inches. Fertilize, reseed and repair bare spots before winter hits and you can maximize your green potential for next spring. Water the lawn one inch per week to saturate fertilizer and stimulate root growth.

Removing leaves often is also a crucial step. If leaves pile up, it can suffocate your grass, therefore killing it. Leaf blowers, especially backpack leaf blowers, can provide comfort and get the job done quickly and efficiently.

Spreading compost
over your yard is a great way to provide nutrients. The natural soil bacteria and microorganisms in the compost will treat the soil and grass, making it healthier and more bountiful for the next season. You can collect waste materials such as grass clippings, leaves and leftover fruits and veggies from your own garden to create your own organic compost.

By following these simple steps, you’re guaranteeing a lush and lavish yard for seasons to come.

Published with permission from RISMedia.