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Buying or Selling a Home? 5 Must-Reads to Aid the Process

July 2, 2013 5:48 pm

When it comes to buying or selling a home, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of information available via your agent, family members, friends and even your neighbors. While taking everything in may seem like an uphill battle, a trip to your local library may be worthwhile.

Here are five best-selling books that you might want to pick up to help get a better handle on what you’re going through.

“House Selling for Dummies”/ “Home Buying for Dummies”: These popular books are both on their fourth editions and touch on some basic tips that everyone should know, but don’t always do. Eric Tyson and Ray Brown offer a ton of time-tested advice and updated strategies for buying or selling a home within the current market conditions. Additionally, “The For Dummy” books are available in a wide range of topics, covering everything from getting a mortgage, home-buying kits and even short sales.

“100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask”: Things are changing fast in residential real estate, and this book will bring you up-to-date. Whether you’re a first-time buyer, first-time seller, or haven't bought a home in at least five years, real estate expert Ilyce R. Glink has complied answers from top brokers around the country addressing all of the current trends homebuyers need to stay on top of to find the home of their dreams. Not only does the book include great reference sections on contracts, resources, and real estate terms, it also has mortgage payment tables in the back.

“Holmes Inspection: The Essential Guide for Every Homeowner, Buyer and Seller”: Mike Holmes, star of the popular Canadian home improvement show, “Make it Right,” explains how to spot problems and gives you the information you need to judge a house wisely during an inspection. From the mechanicals (furnace, electrical and plumbing) to the “envelope” (floors, walls, doors and windows) to issues of location, this book includes real case studies, red flag sidebars and hundreds of photographs regarding what to look out for.

“Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home”: Written by legal experts Ilona Bray, Alayna Schroeder and Marcia Stewart, this book is filled with interesting facts, real-life stories and insights, and common pitfalls to avoid when buying a home in today’s market. It’s essentially a guide from A-Z on securing the right mortgage, selecting the right agent, and ultimately finding your dream home.

“The 106 Common Mistakes Homebuyers Make (and How to Avoid Them)”: Author Gary Eldred has compiled the experience of hundreds of homebuyers, real estate agents, home builders, and mortgage lenders to create a guide to keep people from making errors in the home-buying process. Topics addressed in this book include underestimating utilities and other costs, researching selling prices and not trusting your agent.

For more information about real estate related reading material, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


From House to Home - The Right Tools Help New Homeowners Transform Their Space

July 2, 2013 5:48 pm

Once all the papers are signed and it’s time to move into your new home, one of the first things most new homeowners do is compile a list of projects that need to be completed. Whether it's hanging photos, installing speaker cables—or anything in between—ensuring you have the right tools for the job is the first step toward successfully turning your new house into a home.

While most people could probably find a hammer and some screwdrivers somewhere among their possessions, things such as a drill, leveler, ratchets, electrical tape and different size screws and nails will most likely need to be bought in order to easily complete the projects you have in mind.

Once you’ve determined which tools are necessary to complete the projects on your wish list, a trip to your local hardware store is a must. Now that you’re a homeowner, it’s time to look past keeping your tool collection in a junk drawer and organize your tools in an easy-to-find manner. Therefore, the first thing you should put in your cart is an actual toolbox.

If you don’t already own a hammer and different sized screwdrivers (both flat and Phillips head), now’s the time to buy a nice set. From hanging artwork to replacing batteries in smoke detectors and many other ordinary fix-it-up opportunities, you’ll be amazed at how often these items come in handy.

Next on the list should be pliers and wrenches, as these are good for tightening shelves and cabinets and many small plumbing jobs you might do in the bathroom. There’s also a special tool that is used to turn a small knob on the garbage disposal to help fix any blockages, so make sure you have one of those, too.

A tape measure is another great tool for new homeowners. If you’re thinking about buying new furniture and accessories and want to ensure everything will fit into the space, a tape measure will undoubtedly come in handy. When it comes to buying a good tape measure that won’t break or tear easily, a few extra dollars will go a long way.

A drill is important as well, and there are lots of options out there. To save hassle, go with a cordless, reversible drill and add on a package of different sized bits so you’ll never have any problems hanging or loosening things.

Extension cords are one of those items you won’t think about until needed, so it’s a good idea to pick up a few so that you’re prepared should you need one down the road. Not only do they come in handy at parties, they are also good to have during the holiday season. In addition, they can be a lifesaver when it comes to rooms in your home where electrical outlets aren’t where you need them.

Other things you should buy include a utility knife and blades for cutting exact edges, a saw for cutting wood, vice/clamps to stabilize items you’re cutting, wire cutters to get rid of unnecessary wires and wall hangers in different sizes to make sure you can hang things of all weights.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help at the hardware store, either. Let them know you’ve just moved into a new home as they may be able to suggest additional tools that will help make projects around the home much easier.

Contact our office today to learn more about transforming your new house into a home.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Short Sales Increasingly Popular Among Military Personnel

July 2, 2013 5:48 pm

For military personnel across the board, short sales are becoming an increasingly popular option as permanent change of station orders cause them to relocate. To help with this growing trend, the National Military Short Sale Referral Agency was created this past January to make it easier for members of the military to sell a home via a short sale transaction.

“It is important that the military member, wherever stationed, be expeditiously connected with a local short sale expert to help alleviate what in many cases is extreme hardship with paying a mortgage on a former home, yet facing housing costs at the new duty station,” said Dennis Blackmore, a veteran who created the referral agency. “Taking advantage of the government’s once in a lifetime short sale opportunity for military members should not be overlooked.”

The National Military Short Sale Referral Agency will help conduct the research for the military member to ensure a real estate agent is responsive to all issues and concerns, including checking on experience, references and personal contact.

Additionally, the military rolled out a program last year that considers transferring to a new duty station a hardship, and it makes it easier for a short sale to proceed.

“It is in everyone's interest for the men and women serving in our armed forces to focus on the important job they are doing defending our country, rather than worry about the maintenance and leasing of a property in another jurisdiction,” Edward J. DeMarco, acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, said in a release.

The Homeowners Assistance Program (HAP) through the Department of Defense (DOD) is another way to help with short sales.

The program authorizes the Secretary of Defense to provide financial aid to eligible military civilian, certain overseas employees, and non-appropriated fund employee homeowners who have served or have been employed at or near military installations which the DOD has ordered to be closed or whose operations have been significantly reduced and where real estate values have declined because of the announced closure or realignment.

HAP is subject to the availability of funds as appropriated by Congress to the DOD for the program and will cease when all funds are expended.

Congress expanded HAP when they passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and now, nearly every military personnel involved in a short sale can get financial help through HAP if they find themselves upside down when they must sell because of a mandatory permanent transfer.

For more information related to short sales and military personnel, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Moving Day Blues: Keep Your Four-Legged Friend Happy and Healthy as You Transition to Your New Space

July 2, 2013 5:48 pm

Packing up your belongings and moving into a new space is an exciting time in anyone’s life. But the entire process—from start to finish—can be overwhelming when it comes to the family pet. While cats and dogs are comfortable with routine and thrive in familiar surroundings, placing them in a new environment may cause behavioral changes, loss of appetite or just plain old sadness.

When it comes to helping your four-legged friend adjust to its new home, pet experts agree that the best thing to do is to try and follow the same routine you had in place when living in your former home. This includes walking your dog at the same time, feeding your pet at the same time and using the same bowl and brand of food that you have always used.

In addition, when you first arrive at your new house, create a pet-friendly space filled with your pet’s favorite blanket and toys and spend some time with them to help them get comfortable. Make sure they know where their food is, and for cats, where the litter box is located.

Even pets like birds, rabbits or guinea pigs can be affected by a move. Therefore, it’s important to spend some time with them, making sure they’re aware that you’re not leaving them.

Before making a move with a pet, you should get all of its records from your veterinarian in case any problems arise once you’ve arrived at your new place. Additionally, according to the Humane Society, equipping your pet with a microchip can provide an extra level of protection in case your pet loses his collar and tags in your new neighborhood. Be sure to check with your vet about the various options available.

It’s also important to find a new vet once you’ve moved, as well as the nearest pet store. Dog owners should not only investigate the closest dog parks, but also local dog walkers and daycare options in case the need arises.

A happy and healthy pet will undoubtedly ensure a smooth move, so be sure to keep their needs in mind when a move is made.

For more tips on moving with pets, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Simple Bathroom Renovations to Help Your Home Stand Out

July 2, 2013 5:48 pm

From increasing your property’s curb appeal to staging your home to attract a larger pool of potential buyers, the list of things that require attention before putting your home on the market may seem endless. While the bathroom may be the first area that gets overlooked, it’s often one of the most important spaces when it comes to helping your home stand out.

After all, a bathroom is a place where one starts each morning and ends each night. Not only is it a place for grooming, it can also be a homeowner’s sanctuary—a space for relaxing in a hot bath, escaping the stresses of daily life for a few moments.

In addition, studies have shown that updating a bathroom before putting a house on the market is one of the best ways to increase a home’s resale value. There are plenty of small fixes that are easy to implement, such as replacing the lighting with decorative fixtures or adding a new shower curtain, however, there are a few larger and not-too-expensive renovations that should be considered, too.

For instance, the bathroom is a prime place to start putting those environmentally friendly devices to work. Installing fixtures that save water, such as a low-flow showerhead, a low-flow faucet aerator, and a dual-flush toilet, can save thousands of gallons of water each year and attract an energy-conscious buyer. The addition of energy-efficient windows is another easy option, since bathroom windows are typically on the smaller side. Also, adding natural stone countertops and flooring, which help keep the space cool during the summer and warm during the winter, is another fix that is both decorative and energy efficient.

Even if your bathroom is on the smaller side, there are several things you can do to optimize the space and make it appear larger than it really is. One option is to replace the vanity with a designer pedestal sink, which will add intrigue to the room while taking up less space. You may also want to consider adding large floor tiles and painting the walls a light color to give the illusion of space. Switching out the current bathtub for one that is smaller, but more unique, is another quick fix that’ll add mass appeal.

If you’re looking for something really different, try hanging an entire row of plants along one wall. Or, incorporate multiple mirrors or even a chandelier into the space. Decorative glass, stone tile and extra-wide wall tiles remain popular options in 2013, according to home stagers.

Incorporating unconventional decorating themes will help your bathroom stand out while attracting a larger pool of prospective buyers.

For more bathroom renovation ideas, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


In this Edition: Short Sales

July 2, 2013 5:48 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 importance of updating the bathroom as you prepare your home to be listed on the market. Other topics covered this month include how having the right tools on hand can help new homeowners turn their house into a home and tips to keep the family pet happy and healthy throughout the moving process. 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.


Barbecue Bliss: Keeping Bacteria at Bay

July 2, 2013 4:30 am

Summer brings out barbecue grills—and bacteria, which multiply in food faster in warm weather and can cause foodborne illness (also known as food poisoning). Following a few simple guidelines can prevent an unpleasant experience.

Wash your hands
Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. If you're eating where there’s no source of clean water, bring water, soap and paper towels or have disposable wipes/hand sanitizer available.

Marinate food in the refrigerator
Don’t marinate on the counter—marinate in the refrigerator. If you want to use marinade as a sauce on cooked food, save a separate portion in the refrigerator. Do not reuse marinade that contacted raw meat, poultry, or seafood on cooked food unless you bring it to a boil first.

Keep raw food separate
Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood in a separate cooler or securely wrapped at the bottom of a cooler so their juices won’t contaminate already prepared foods or raw produce. Don't use a plate or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood for anything else unless you wash them first in hot, soapy water. Have a clean platter and utensils ready at grill-side for serving.

Cook food thoroughly
Use a food thermometer to make sure food is cooked thoroughly to destroy harmful bacteria. Partial precooking in the microwave oven or on the stove is a good way to reduce grilling time—just make sure the food goes immediately on the preheated grill to finish cooking.

Keep hot food hot and cold food cold
Keep hot food at 140°F or above until served. Keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill, or wrap well and place in an insulated container.

Keep cold food at 40°F or below until served. Keep cold perishable food in a cooler until serving time. Keep coolers out of direct sun and avoid opening the lid often.

Cold foods can be placed directly on ice or in a shallow container set in a pan of ice. Drain off water as ice melts and replace ice frequently.
Don’t let hot or cold perishables sit out for longer than two hours, or one hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90°F. When reheating fully cooked meats, grill to 165°F or until steaming hot.

Transport food in the passenger compartment of the car where it’s cooler—not in the trunk.

Put these items on your list:
These non-food items are indispensable for a safe barbecue.
• food thermometer
• several coolers: one for beverages (which will be opened frequently), one for raw meats, poultry, and seafood, and another for cooked foods and raw produce
• ice or frozen gel packs for coolers
• jug of water, soap, and paper towels for washing hands
• enough plates and utensils to keep raw and cooked foods separate
• foil or other wrap for leftovers


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Risky Drinking Can Put a Chill on Your Summer Fun

July 2, 2013 4:30 am

Summer is a wonderful time for outdoor activities with family and friends. For many people, a day at the beach, on the boat, or at a backyard barbecue will include drinking alcoholic beverages. But excessive drinking and summer activities don't mix. Drinking impairs both physical and mental abilities, and it also decreases inhibitions—which can lead to tragic consequences on the water, on the road, and in the great outdoors. In fact, research shows that half of all water recreation deaths of teens and adults involve the use of alcohol.

Swimmers can get in over their heads.
Alcohol impairs judgment and increases risk-taking, a dangerous combination for swimmers. Even experienced swimmers may venture out farther than they should and not be able to make it back to shore, or they may not notice how chilled they're getting and develop hypothermia. Surfers could become over-confident and try to ride a wave beyond their abilities. Even around a pool, too much alcohol can have deadly consequences. Inebriated divers may collide with the diving board, or dive where the water is too shallow.

Boaters can lose their bearings.
According to research funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol may be involved in 60 percent of boating fatalities, including falling overboard. And a boat operator with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over 0.1 percent is 16 times more likely to be killed in a boating accident than an operator with zero BAC. According to the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, alcohol can impair a boater's judgment, balance, vision, and reaction time. It can also increase fatigue and susceptibility to the effects of cold-water immersion. And if problems arise, intoxicated boaters are ill equipped to find solutions. For passengers, intoxication can lead to slips on deck, falls overboard, or accidents at the dock.

Drivers can go off course.
The summer holidays are some of the most dangerous times of the year to be on the road. When on vacation, drivers may be traveling an unfamiliar route or hauling a boat or camper, with the distraction of pets and children in the car. Adding alcohol to the mix puts the lives of the driver and everyone in the car, as well as other people on the road, at risk.

Stay hydrated and stay healthy.
Whether you're on the road or in the great outdoors, heat plus alcohol can equal trouble. Hot summer days cause fluid loss through perspiration, while alcohol causes fluid loss through increased urination. Together, they can quickly lead to dehydration or heat stroke.
But this doesn't have to happen. At parties, make at least every other drink a nonalcoholic one. If you're the host, be sure to provide plenty of cold, refreshing nonalcoholic drinks to keep your guests well hydrated. If you know you'll be driving, stay away from alcohol. And remember, there's no shame in taking a cab or sleeping on a friend's couch if you feel at all unsure if you should be driving.

Summer will end, but consequences can endure.
You can have fun in the sun and still be safe. Avoiding beverages that cause mental and physical impairment while piloting a boat, driving a car, exploring the wilderness, and swimming or surfing is a good place to start. Be smart this summer—think before you drink, and make sure that you and your loved ones will be around to enjoy many summers to come.

Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Help More than 2. 3 Million Homeowners Keep their Homes

July 2, 2013 4:30 am

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac completed more than 130,000 foreclosure prevention actions during the first quarter of 2013, bringing the total foreclosure prevention actions to nearly 2.8 million since the start of conservatorship in 2008. These actions have helped more than 2.3 million borrowers stay in their homes, including nearly 1.4 million who received permanent loan modifications. The results are detailed in the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s first quarter 2013 Foreclosure Prevention Report, also known as the Federal Property Manager’s Report.

The quarterly report has information on state delinquencies and an updated, interactive Borrower Assistance Map for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgages, with information on delinquencies, foreclosure prevention activities and Real Estate Owned (REO) properties.

Also noted in the report:

-Serious delinquency rates dropped from 3.3 to 3.0 percent at the end of the quarter.

- The number of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac borrowers who are more than 60 days delinquent declined 11 percent in the first quarter to the lowest level since the first quarter of 2009.

- Half of troubled borrowers who received permanent loan modifications in the first quarter had their monthly payments reduced by more than 30 percent.

- More than one-third of loan modifications completed in the first quarter included principal forbearance.

- Over 30,000 short sales and deeds-in-lieu were completed in the first quarter, bringing the total to more than 476,000 since the start of conservatorship.

- Third-party sales and foreclosure sales continued a downward trend in the first quarter while foreclosure starts increased.

- A new streamlined modification initiative, announced during the first quarter, will take effect on July 1. Although numbers are not available yet, the program is expected to help eligible homeowners who have missed at least three monthly payments modify their mortgage by eliminating administrative barriers associated with document collection and evaluation.

Source: FHFA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Don't Let Plants Poison Your Gardening, Landscaping Project

July 1, 2013 4:28 am

If you are gardening or working around your property and come into contact with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, it can take a few hours to several days after exposure to the sap for signs to show.

Poison Ivy can be found throughout the United States except in Alaska, Hawaii, and parts of the West Coast, according to the FDA. Each leaf has three glossy leaflets, with smooth or toothed edges.

Poison Oak grows as a low shrub in the eastern United States, and in tall clumps or long vines on the Pacific Coast. Fuzzy green leaves in clusters of three are lobed or deeply toothed with rounded tips.

Poison Sumac grows as a tall shrub or small tree in bogs or swamps in the Northeast, Midwest, and parts of the Southeast. Each leaf has clusters of seven to 13 smooth-edged leaflets.

All three plants undergo color changes throughout their growing season and may also sport small clusters of light colored berries.
The FDA's tips for prevention are as follows:

• Wash your garden tools and gloves regularly. If you think you may be working around poison ivy, wear long sleeves, long pants tucked into boots, and gloves.
• Wash your pet if it may have brushed up against poison ivy, oak, or sumac. Use pet shampoo and water while wearing rubber gloves, such as dishwashing gloves. Most pets are not sensitive to poison ivy, but the oil can stick to their fur and cause a reaction in someone who touches them.
• Wash your skin in cool water as soon as possible -- the sooner you cleanse the skin, the greater the chance that you can remove the plant oil or help prevent further spread.
• Use topical over the counter (OTC) "Ivy Block" if you know you will come into contact with the poisonous plants.

Published with permission from RISMedia.