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What You Need to Know Before You Say 'Yes' to a Homeowners Association

December 7, 2012 5:02 pm

If you’re in the market for a new home, you may have noticed that some of the houses you’re interested in looking at are part of a homeowners association—or HOA. Before you cross these types of homes off your list, it’s important to understand exactly what an HOA is.

In its simplest form, an HOA is a formal legal entity that has been created to maintain common areas and has the ability to enforce deed restrictions. An HOA can be very strict or have just a few basic rules and guidelines for people to follow.

If you’re interested in making an offer on a house within an HOA community, it’s important to know the rules and what you are required and expected to do as a member. The last thing you want is to move in and find out you’re not allowed to run your home business out of your new space or have a certain pet because of a rule you didn’t know about.

The most important aspect of an HOA that one needs to be aware of is the amount of money that it will cost you. You should review the assessment fees charged and understand if they are collected monthly, quarterly or yearly. The money owed can range from a small amount to thousands of dollars each year depending on what the policy says.

The money collected is often used to build and maintain pools, tennis courts, golf courses, trails, parks and numerous other amenities for all homeowners to enjoy. Be sure to ask about the HOA’s reserve fund as well. This will give you a good idea as to the possibility of fees being raised.

Be aware that some homeowner associations can dictate the color your house can be painted, what your landscaping looks like and even if you can put up decorations at holiday time. Again, read all the rules and regulations beforehand.

Some homeowner associations are built as gated communities, which offer peace of mind and an added sense of security. Keep in mind that gated communities will keep solicitors out, but will also require permission for any guests who happen to stop by.

The HOA will have a board in charge of spending funds, making rules and settling disputes. The process works well as long as those serving have the best interests of the homeowners at heart, but conflicts can arise. You should ask around to see about any ongoing disputes before becoming a part of an HOA. Major conflicts will typically show up in the minutes of an HOA meeting, which should be available to view.

Before you buy a home in an HOA, make sure you research how homes have sold in the area over the past few years. If there are a lot of homes for sale and few are actually being sold, it may indicate that the neighborhood has a bad reputation and the HOA is not living up to all the advantages it should offer.

For more information regarding HOA’s, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Meet the Neighbors: Why You Should Look Beyond Square Footage When Choosing a Home

December 7, 2012 5:02 pm

Searching for your dream home can be a daunting task, however, it’s important to take your time and do some homework before you even consider making an offer. Today, finding a new place to call home goes way beyond square footage, number of bedrooms and whether the home is located in a good school district. In fact, one thing many buyers often overlook is the need to scope out the neighborhood—and even the potential neighbors.

Many agents suggest walking around the block of a home you may be interested in buying to see if there’s a fit. If there are people outside, you may want to stop and say hello and ask them about their thoughts on the neighborhood.

Walking around a neighborhood and talking to neighbors will give you a good idea as to the area and what people love most about calling it home. It will also help you figure out whether people of similar age live in the area, which is great information to know before you make an offer on a home.

If you’re really interested in getting to know the neighborhood—and the neighbors—before you make an offer on a home, don’t be afraid to knock on a few doors and ask a few questions. Tell any current homeowners that you’re considering moving in and want to get a feel for what the neighborhood’s like. Be sure to ask about crime, emergency response, traffic, noise and anything else that would matter to you.

When scoping out the neighborhood, be on the lookout for swing sets or basketball hoops, especially if you have children of your own. These items are a sure sign that the neighborhood is full of other children for yours to play with.

In addition to learning about who lives in the neighborhood, you may also want to find out if there are any block parties, a neighborhood watch or any other social gatherings that everyone takes part in. It never hurts to have this information at your disposal to help you make a decision.

You’ll also want to learn about the best restaurants, churches, schools and shops in the area. Most people you talk to will be happy to share their favorite establishments.

Be sure to talk to as many people in the area as you can, and don’t be afraid to ask your REALTOR® questions about people living nearby.

You may be surprised how much you can find out from simply walking through a neighborhood. If you don’t like the information that you’re gathering, it could help you from making the mistake of buying a home in a neighborhood where you won’t be happy.

For more information about choosing the neighborhood that’s right for you, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Don't Let the Excitement of Purchasing Your First Home Keep You From Getting the Best Deal

December 7, 2012 5:02 pm

While buying your first home can be an exciting adventure, the process also comes with a lot of questions. What can you afford? How do you get financing? How do you find the perfect home? Are you really ready?

A good real estate agent will be able to answer these questions and guide you through the process to make it as painless and stress-free as possible, which is why choosing the correct agent is a must for any first-time buyer. When choosing a real estate agent to work with, consider the area in which you want to buy. A local agent will be more familiar with the area and can recommend specific neighborhoods that will suit the specific lifestyle you’re looking for.

First-time buyers should also have a good handle on the money involved in purchasing a home. It’s always a good idea to meet with a financial advisor to truly understand what you can afford. If you want to figure it out yourself, be sure to make a comprehensive list of every possible expense. Don’t rely on your lender to figure out a total for you, as lenders look at your debt-to-income ratio, and not necessarily at your day-to-day spending habits.

Once you know what you can afford, make sure the bank agrees. This can be accomplished by getting pre-qualified for a loan. The pre-qualification process is not a guarantee that the lender will offer you funding, but it does take into consideration your credit score and income level in order to determine how much the lender might be willing to offer through a mortgage program. The next step is getting a pre-qualified letter so that when you find a home you love, you have proof that you can get the loan.

While it may seem like a good deal is easy to come by these days, it’s crucial that you do your homework before jumping at the first lender who offers you a deal. Talk with several lenders before you decide which one can best serve your needs. Be sure to disclose the fact that you’re a first-time buyer, as this could potentially make a difference in the types of programs a lender offers you.

First-time buyers should also look into programs that are specifically designed to lend a hand with benefits such as down-payment assistance and no closing costs. Some even offer first-time buyers competitive interest rates designed to make borrowing easier. Be sure to understand what’s out there to help you before making a final decision.

As a first-time buyer, it’s important to work with an agent who is familiar with programs and lenders who specialize in working with buyers who are getting ready to purchase their first home. This will give you the best chance of finding your dream home at the best possible price.

If you’re a first-time buyer looking to purchase a home, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Take the Stress Out of Preparing for Moving Day by Starting Early

December 7, 2012 5:02 pm

Packing up your entire house can be an overwhelming process that involves a lot of pieces that need to be put into place to ensure a seamless moving day that goes off without a hitch. From gathering supplies to hiring a moving company—and everything in between—preparing for moving day shouldn’t be left until the last minute. While you may have already removed a lot of items from your home to stage it for showings, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before the big day arrives. And waiting for the last minute can be a big mistake.

When it comes to packing for moving day, start collecting boxes early. Be sure to visit your neighborhood stores (especially book stores) and ask them to set boxes aside for you. In addition to asking friends and relatives for leftover boxes, check out sites such as Craigslist and Freecycle, as these are great places to find people who have recently moved and are looking for a way to unload boxes.

It’s also important to stock up on tape, bubble wrap and other packing supplies to ensure a safe move for all your goods.

Once you have all the necessary supplies, begin packing a little each day. As you get started, you’ll be surprised at how slow the process really is. It’s also a good idea to label the outside of every box—as you pack it—so that you know exactly what’s inside. You may even want to keep a detailed list on your computer so that everything’s accounted for.

If you plan on hiring a moving company, be sure to arrange for one early on in the process. This will ensure that you have plenty of time to get quotes and estimates, as well as the best deal. The last thing you want is to pay extra because you didn’t give the movers enough time to prepare. If you’re concerned about transporting valuables such as important papers, jewelry and family keepsakes, buy a safe so that you can store these items. It’s also a good idea to pack anything valuable in your own car, rather than on the moving truck.

In addition to getting everything packed, you’ll also need to change your address. This involves contacting the post office, the IRS, friends and family, utility companies and even magazines/newspapers that you are currently subscribed to. Take care of this early so that you aren’t stressing about getting it done as the moving van pulls into your driveway.

Before you head out of town, take the time to pick up any medical and dental records, x-rays and prescription histories. These are important to have on hand so that you can provide them to your new doctor. It’s also important to look into whether your current bank has a branch in your new city/town. If not, you’ll need to set up an account at a new bank and close your current account before you leave.

Don’t forget to return library books and any items that you may have borrowed from your neighbors. Last but not least, be sure to leave time to say goodbye to everyone.

There’s a lot that goes into packing up and leaving a home, but with some careful planning and foresight, you can make your move as smooth as possible.

For more information about preparing for moving day, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


In this Edition: First-Time Homebuyers, Homeowners Associations

December 7, 2012 5:02 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 not waiting until the last minute to pack your belongings and prepare for moving day. Other topics covered this month include why it’s important to get to know the neighbors before making an offer on a home and how technology can help your home stand out among the competition. 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.


Five Money Tips to Make Your Holidays Merry, Bright...and Affordable

December 7, 2012 5:58 am

The 2012 holiday shopping season is underway and shoppers and budget-minded consumers should be reminded that it's never too late to start planning for an affordable holiday season and debt-free New Year. Now is the time to get together with family and friends and discuss a game plan for the remainder of the season.

In honor of the season, here is a five-step plan to help keep your finances in check:

1. Dial down the holidays. Consider asking family and friends to downsize the holidays to something less commercial, with fewer purchased gifts, more valuable time spent together and a "less is more" sentiment. You'll be well on your way to a very meaningful holiday that doesn't evolve into overwhelming financial stress in early 2013.
2. Start saving and budgeting now. Set a specific and reasonable amount for each person on your "must-buy-for" list. Before you start socking the money away, make certain the amount won't impact your ability to manage your existing monthly expenses.
3. Consider making your own gift. Gifts made from inexpensive materials can go a long way in showing someone you care because people do understand the value of your time. It can be extremely meaningful to your relationship and to the holiday, not to mention light on the pocketbook.
4. Don't end up shopping at the gas station. As the old holiday joke goes, wait until the last minute and you'll be shopping at the 24-hour GasMart. Have a plan and stick to it. Plan your shopping early on. If you wait until the last minute, you may end up spending more just to get the shopping done quickly.
5. Save on wrapping. Inexpensive wrapping paper (even a brown paper bag or color Sunday comics), combined with a nice bow or a well-placed flower, pine cone or holiday ornament, works wonders for adding significance to an inexpensive gift. If you don't have a talent for wrapping, find someone who does and ask for their help.

Source: GreenPath Debt Solutions

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Don't Bring Cybercrime Home for the Holidays

December 7, 2012 5:58 am

Cybercrime is on the rise and the holidays are no exception. In fact, this holiday season may prove to be the biggest ever for cybertheft. Hackers observe no holidays, instead using them as yet another theme to entice and trick computer users into letting them into their networks. Compounding this, many retailers and other businesses conduct more transactions and process more credit cards during the holidays than at any other time of the year, which makes breaking into any company's networks all the more lucrative and enticing, regardless of size.

Here are a few strategies for keeping the cyber-grinches out:

• Know what is happening on your network. With good security monitoring architecture in place, if a network incident occurs, you would be able to go back and trace when and how the breach happened and detect if any sensitive data was stolen. Network recording devices, such as full packet capture appliances, quickly establish the facts and timeline of any incidents and provide the forensic evidence necessary to pursue prosecution.

• Beware of holiday e-cards, even if received from a trusted sender. Unbeknownst to the sender, holiday-themed screensavers, e-cards and other free digital content from the Internet may contain malicious spyware, malware and trojans. Downloading these digital "freebies" onto your office computers can open your network up to intrusion and exploitation by cybercriminals who have no intent of spreading holiday cheer.

• Encourage employees to keep their holiday Internet shopping activities at home. Seemingly benign and legitimate retail sites may be fronts for disseminating malware, compromising both computers and networks. Hackers are fully aware that even a short-lived exploit on a busy website can bring high exposure. Hackers even go so far as to hide their malicious payloads in paid-for advertisements. Remember: a firewall cannot keep malicious programs out if an insider invites them in.

• Review what your business liability insurance covers and what to expect from lapses in PCI and other regulatory compliance. Standard business insurance does not cover the costs and liabilities resulting from data theft and a breach of your credit card processing system can result in suspension of your merchant account.

The reality is that business losses from cybercrime overtook losses due to physical theft for the first time in 2010, and 2012 stands as no exception, with a growing list of breach victims in all industries.

Cybercrime is on an upward trend and the question now is not whether an intrusion will happen, but when you will need to respond to a cyber-event. Businesses cannot afford to put cybersecurity off until the new year.

Source: IPCopper, Inc.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


HARP Enhancements Continue to Bolster Program

December 7, 2012 5:58 am

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) released its September Refinance Report, which shows that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans refinanced through the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) accounted for nearly one-quarter of all refinances in the third quarter of 2012. More than 90,000 homeowners refinanced their mortgage in September through HARP with more than 709,000 loans refinanced since the beginning of this year. The continued high volume of HARP refinances is attributed to record-low mortgage rates and program enhancements announced last year.

Also in the report:

• Since the program’s inception in 2009, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have financed more than 1.7 million loans through HARP.

• In September, half of the loans refinanced through HARP had loan-to-value (LTV) ratios greater than 105 percent and one-fourth had LTVs greater than 125 percent.

• In September, 19 percent of HARP refinances for underwater borrowers were for shorter-term 15- and 20-year mortgages, which help build equity faster than traditional 30-year mortgages.

• HARP refinances in September represented 45 percent of total refinances in states hard hit by the housing downturn–Nevada, Arizona, Florida and Georgia–compared with 21 percent of total refinances nationwide.

• Also in September, HARP refinances for borrowers with LTV ratios greater than 105 percent accounted for more than 70 percent of HARP volume in Nevada, Arizona and Florida and more than 60 percent of the HARP refinances in California.

Source: FHFA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Expert Tips for Getting the Sold-Out Toys Your Kids Really Want

December 6, 2012 5:56 am

Every parent or grandparent wants to make the holidays a special time, one that the beloved children in their lives will always remember. Be the holiday hero by getting the gifts they really want – those super popular toys making headlines across the country. Of course, the hottest holiday toys quickly sell out. With a few smart shopping strategies, you will be able to get the gifts they really want without a lot of hassle.

Your children or grandchildren are sure to squeal with delight when they tear open their presents and find a Nintendo Wii U, a Disney Doc McStuffins doll or a Furby in one of the hardest-to-find colors. How were you able to get the toys that your friends and neighbors could not get? You followed some simple shopping strategies for locating high-demand items:

Visit the manufacturer's website
The first step to tracking down a popular toy is to find out where the toy can be found. Each manufacturer's website will list where its toys are sold. Contrary to popular belief, not every major retailer carries all the popular toys of this year. Some manufacturers have exclusive agreements with certain retailers, while other manufacturers may stock at smaller toy stores as well as large retailers.

Call early and be courteous
Call when the store opens so you can speak with a department manager before peak shopping hours. Be courteous and ask if a toy is in-stock. If possible, ask for the item to be held for you. If you are told it is out of stock, do not be shy about asking when the store receives its shipments. On that day, call the store and ask if your item was in the shipment. Better yet, be there for when the store opens.

Use technology to your advantage
The Internet has changed the way people shop for holiday gifts. If you are having trouble tracking down a special toy visit, a free resource that helps people find the most popular toys. You can create a free profile and set up toy-availability alerts in three easy ways: email, text message or Internet browser notification. Free alerts can save you time and reduce holiday stress, notifying you as soon as your needed item is back in-stock at many major online retailers such as and

Online discussion boards are another valuable resource for holiday shoppers. A quick search and you will find a number of different online forums, where people chat about the season's top toys, where they found them and other unique shopping topics.

Finding that perfect holiday toy does not have to be an impossible mission when you utilize a few smart shopping strategies. From calling stores in the morning to free online product alerts, you will make this the most memorable holiday yet.

What are the top toys this holiday season? Here are a few of the most popular:

1. Nintendo Wii U
2. Furby – 2012 Collection
3. Disney Doc McStuffins Time For Your Check Up Doll
4. Monster High Werecat Sister Doll Pack – Meowlady and Purrsephone
5. LeapFrog LeapPad2 Explorer Learning Tablets
6. Monster High Ghouls Rule Doll – Abbey Abominable
7. Skylanders Giants Character Packs (Series 2)
8. Lalaloopsy Holiday Collector Edition Doll – Ivory Ice Crystals
9. LEGO Minecraft (21102)
10. Playskool Sesame Street LOL Elmo


Published with permission from RISMedia.


What to Do with Your Old Electronics

December 6, 2012 5:56 am

(Family Features) Mobile phones, laptops, tablets, game consoles, cameras – electronic devices are a big part of American life. In fact, Americans own an average of 24 electronic products per household, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. With technology changing so rapidly and new “it” devices hitting the market every few months, a lot of those devices get discarded quickly. That adds up to a lot of potential e-waste.

In fact, a recent survey sponsored by RadioShack found:

• More than 90 million American adults 18 and over have unused technology products lying around the house.
• As part of that pile of retired tech, a third of mobile phone users report owning unused phones — and more than half of those with unused phones own two or more.

Some unused electronics just collect dust, but many get thrown away. The Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent report showed that nearly 1.8 million tons of e-waste was simply trashed. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to keep old electronics out of the waste stream.

Donate. Donations give schools, nonprofits and lower-income families access to equipment they might not otherwise afford. Before donating, check with the organization to see what they need.

Trade Up. If you are ready to upgrade to something new, try a program that lets you swap retired technology for store credit toward your purchase. Simply bring eligible working electronics and accessories to a participating store or log on to for appraisal information. When you complete your trade in a store, you’ll immediately receive the appraised value in the form of a store gift card (except where prohibited by law). Trade-ins may also be completed via mail by requesting a free shipping label available on the program website. In that case, a store gift card for the trade-in value will be mailed after the product is received. There’s even a free Trade & Save app available to appraise your unused technology using iOS and Android devices. Products traded in are refurbished or recycled.

Recycle. Electronics in nonworking condition should be recycled. Check or to find a recycling center near you. Many states have regulations about disposing and recycling electronics. Learn more about your state’s laws at

Don’t Forget the Batteries. Recycling your rechargeable batteries is another easy step you can take. Retailers like RadioShack also recycle rechargeable batteries. To date, the company has collected more than 5 million pounds in rechargeable batteries through Call2Recycle (

Don’t let your old electronics gather dust or add to the waste stream. It just takes a few simple steps to put your devices to better use.

Source: RadioShack

Published with permission from RISMedia.