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Playing with Light - Brighten Up Your Space and Create an Inviting Atmosphere for Prospective Buyers

June 7, 2013 5:42 pm

With all the tasks that go into preparing a home for a showing, many sellers often overlook the effect that light has on creating an inviting atmosphere for prospective buyers. In fact, even if you have natural light streaming in through the windows, it’s also a good idea to take advantage of the various light sources within the home.

As any real estate agent will tell you, a home looks more inviting when the lights are on. Not only do lights prevent harsh shadows from the sun and brighten dim areas, they also add dimension to rooms and bring out all the best features that you’ve worked so hard to clean and get ready for the showing.

In addition to brightening up a space, lighting experts reveal that lights can play tricks with the mind, helping to enhance the physical size of a room or hide any shortcomings. For example, if a room is on the smaller side, you can “push” one wall open by washing it with light. If a room is on the narrower side, illuminate the wide sides of the room to give it size.

When it comes to lighting, there are three areas that must be considered. General lighting, which provides the majority of light to a room; accent lighting, which highlights and draws attention to certain aspects of the home; and task lighting, which helps light a specific area to help complete a particular task.

For example, high-hats or recessed down-lights are a great choice for ceilings. For bedrooms, additional lighting can be added to the space by incorporating floor lamps or table lamps. Bathrooms should have vanity lights next to the mirror and the kitchen should have strong task lighting, with down-lights shining on countertops and the sink.

You should also include decorative lights in the living room, dining room and any other rooms with something to highlight. Chandeliers make a great light source, especially if they have bright light emanating from them.

If you’re in the process of getting your house ready for sale, be sure to purchase new light bulbs for all lamps and lighting fixtures. Go with higher wattages and crisp white light, and stay away from any tints. You may also want to think about removing (and saving) florescent LED lights and installing brighter bulbs.

The same is true with exterior lights. Flip them on before prospective buyers show up so that they can see everything your house and yard has to offer.

When it comes to lighting, it’s important to remember that strong lighting can make a home memorable and desirable.

To learn more about incorporating light into your space, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Seller Concessions Ease Financial Burden Associated with Home Purchase

June 7, 2013 5:42 pm

As anyone who has purchased a home can tell you, buying a house is an expensive proposition. From saving for a down payment to setting aside money for closing costs and everything else associated with a home purchase, your bank account is undoubtedly feeling strained. If you find yourself in this situation and you’ve already been approved for a loan, seller concessions may help when it comes to alleviating the final cost.

These concessions can either be a set dollar amount or percentage of the purchase price that a seller agrees to contribute to the buyer to help the closing go smoothly and keep the sale from lingering while the buyer tries to find the extra money.

It’s always a good idea to talk with your real estate agent about your desire for a seller concession before making an offer on a home. Your agent can then put these concessions in the sales contract so that you don’t catch the seller by surprise when asking for concessions later on.

In some cases, your mortgage lender can include your need for a seller concession in their pre-approval letter, although this could scare people off from accepting your offer.

A conventional loan contract generally allows sellers to offer assistance with the buyer’s closing costs up to three percent of the total price of the property. The FHA allows up to six percent of the price and VA allows up to four percent.

The good news for sellers is that they’ll be able to deduct some of their concession money from their taxes. For example, discount points and real estate taxes most often will be tax deductible.

For buyers, it’s important to remember that you must use all the money offered by the seller, as anything not applied toward closing costs will be credited back to the seller. To keep this from happening, the money can be applied to home owner’s insurance, taxes or even dues for an HOA. The remaining concession can also be used to buy down the interest rate, lowering one’s payment and saving thousands of dollars over the life of a loan.

Seller concessions are beneficial to both parties in the transaction as they help when it comes to closing a sale quicker while giving the buyer some funds to buy things for their new home. When used properly, seller concessions can be the difference between closing a home sale and losing one.

To learn more about seller concessions, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


In this Edition: Real Estate Comps

June 7, 2013 5:42 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 how seller concessions are beneficial to both parties within a real estate transaction as they help when it comes to closing a sale quicker. Other topics covered this month include tips to give your home a competitive edge in today’s market and how to successfully stage your dining room to create a memorable look. 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.


Find the Perfect Retirement Destination

June 7, 2013 5:02 am

Searching for the perfect active adult community to enjoy during retirement creates all sorts of questions. Do you want to live somewhere else? If so, where? Do you want warmth and sunshine? Do you want to stay close to family? Do you want a condo or single family home? With questions like these, doing your homework is important, and so it's best to start early.

According to research conducted by ProMatura, a global market research and advisory firm specializing in 50+ consumers, active adult home buyers visit an average of 4.6 active adult communities before making a final purchase decision, and they visit the community that they ultimately choose an average of 3.8 times before making that final decision. Unless you’re Lori Rust and her husband Kevin Jordan.

Lori and Kevin began their search for the best retirement location at age 50. Six years, six states and thirty-five communities later, they believe they have found “home.” The two, living in Denver, Colo. at the time their search began, thought about the longevity of their careers and what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives.

“We’re both analytical people,” says Jordan, who is now working in real estate sales. “We needed to take the emotion out of the process and focus on things that would enhance our lives, and so we created a list of important characteristics and applied a weighted score.”

It wasn’t an easy process. Kevin, a New York native, wanted to be close to the action with cultural and retail offerings, while Lori, who grew up in Montana, wanted open spaces, beautiful views and clean air. “We started with a blank canvas,” says Kevin. We were willing to consider most everywhere in the country. We looked at the Carolinas, Florida, Texas, California and Arizona. We had to decide what areas would we enjoy, and then drill down to what state, what area, what community, and then the home. It ultimately has less to do with the house and more to do with everything else,” he notes.

Also among their many considerations were a warm climate, access to quality golf and the ability to get on the course during peak season. Plus, they wanted a good value that allowed them to live within their means and still enjoy the extras. And, they wanted to be in an area attractive to fellow baby boomers.

For this couple, as they looked ahead to the next phase of their life, being in an area appealing to aging baby boomers was important. They knew they wanted to be working and interfacing with this huge demographic, the first of the 78-million boomers began turning 65 last year. Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 and 10,000 a day are now turning 65.

“When researching communities, one of the most illuminating things you can do is talk to the people who live there. You’ll learn more than you can imagine,” says Lori.

Below are some more important things to go over when searching for the perfect retirement destination:

-What are your weather and climate preferences?
-If interested, is there quality golf and the ability to get tee times in peak season?
-What is the average age of the residents?
-What is the proximity to commercial services, culture and restaurants?
-Is the cost of living reasonable?
-How well-built is the home?
-Do the onsite amenities, if any, match your lifestyle needs?

Source: ProMatura

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Real Estate Spending Trends - Grounds, Lawn and Landscape Care

June 7, 2013 5:02 am

A new U.S. online survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of PLANET, the national trade association of landscape industry professionals, shows that consumers are looking to increase spending on hardscapes (outdoor kitchens, patios, decks, water features, and walkways) and other specialized services (irrigation and lighting). Hardscaping is comprised of outdoor living spaces and paved, non-living components of a landscape.

The study surveyed 2,219 adults ages 18 and older, of whom 1,830 have a lawn or landscape. Consumers were asked about their spending on professional lawn and landscape services from lawn care and landscape maintenance to tree care, water features, and outdoor lighting.

Overall Spending Trends

While overall consumer spending is expected to remain steady in most categories, landscape maintenance (mowing, edging, leaf cleanup) will see a modest increase in spending ($700 on average in the coming year vs. $600 in the past year), while spending will increase to hire a professional for hardscapes and specialty services ($2,300 on average in the coming year vs. $1,680 in the past year).

“Despite the sluggish economy, our core landscape maintenance services are holding steady, while consumers are deciding to increase their investment in projects that encourage ‘staycations’ and outdoor entertaining, and ultimately improve the resale value of the home,” said PLANET CEO, Sabeena Hickman, CAE, CMP.

Who is spending the most on landscape services?

Men outpace women when it comes to hiring professional landscape help over the past year (39 percent vs. 32 percent), and younger adults, ages 18 to 34, stand out as most likely to have hired professionals for the building of outdoor living spaces, patios, and walkways over the past year (9 percent vs. 3 percent of those age 35+).

In general, 35 percent of those with a lawn/landscape have hired professionals to do lawn and landscape services over the past year, with those in the South (38 percent) and West (40 percent) being more likely to have hired a professional than those in the Midwest (29 percent.)

Why do consumers find value in hiring landscape services?

The most often cited reasons for hiring a professional for lawn/landscape services are as follows: “They don’t have the knowledge, skills or physical ability” (42 percent), and “they don’t have the right equipment” (42 percent) to do the landscape work themselves.

Interestingly, younger adults (18 to 34) were more likely than their older counterparts to say “don’t have the patience” as a reason to hire a professional.

“Eighteen to 34 year olds might be more digitally connected than their parents, but they are still putting a high priority on outdoor entertainment areas. They are looking to landscape professionals to take on work that is not only time-consuming, but also requires a high degree of expertise to be done well,” added Hickman.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Easy Ways to Tackle Interior Project Planning

June 7, 2013 5:02 am

Home remodeling and redecorating can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it can also be an awful lot of hard work. Among the many areas of focus for project work are stages of planning, getting any required licenses or permits, interviewing subcontractors and getting proposals with bids, looking over materials and making selections and making sure the entire project is on track and remains that way through completion. And many people find enjoyment as well as fulfillment with making material selections: choosing just the right color combinations and patterns, the best products and service for the budget and top quality providers to help build your projects. Consider the following suggestions when planning your interior project plans:

1) Budgeting Basics--Start by seeing if you have to completely remodel or if perhaps you can redecorate instead, and save money and time. Remodeling often means ripping apart old structures and then building new ones; like for extra space for a new window or set of shelves or a new room, ceiling or floor. However, with redecorating, you can frequently add simple new structures to those in your existing environment like a new bookcase, new curtains and plush carpeting, or new textured ceiling paint with all paper plus new hanging pictures and plush cushions.

2) Contractors, Invoices, Project Materials and More—Next, you will have a lot of decisions to make: which project materials to buy, which vendors to use, which subcontractors to hire, how to agree to payments, how to handle problems and other important issues and emergencies along the way, etc. So start a project notebook with an accompanying folder specifically for this project. Keep all important documents, receipts, bids, business cards, designs, paint colors, fabric swatches and other info there, to ensure that everything is in one place.

3) Project Parts - Some areas of your project may have sub-categories or basic design elements that will involve work with different areas of focus for each part. For example, you may be remodeling one floor, so you'll have several main areas of focus under this heading like: bedroom walls, hallway and bedroom floors, all window treatments, upgraded lighting and new wood furniture. Use dividers in your notebook, extra folders or extra see-through sleeved pocket folders that fit into your binder to handle these separate areas of focus, so you can concentrate on specific tasks within each area.

With the proper planning, you can choose the easiest and most affordable redecorating or remodeling options that best suit your home's needs.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


4 Things Parents Should Know before Paying for College

June 6, 2013 4:58 am

From $20,000 to $65,000 a year – that’s the tuition cost for one year of college, says John McDonough, a money expert who helps retirees and parents plan for their families’ futures.

“For the 2012–2013 academic year, the average cost for an in-state public college is $22,261. A moderate budget for a private college averaged $43,289,” says McDonough, CEO of Studemont Group College Funding Solutions. “But for elite schools, we’re talking about three times the cost of your local state school. Either way, your kid’s higher education can easily shoot into six figures after four years.”

Along with worrying about rising tuition prices, parents also fear for their own futures if their retirement savings are drained by children’s college costs, McDonough says. Only 14 percent, for example, are very confident they’ll have the money to live comfortably in retirement, he says, citing a 2012 survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

“Families feel they’re faced with conflicting goals, but there are numerous ways to pay for college while investing in your future retirement,” says McDonough, who offers insights for parents to keep in mind while planning for their child’s education:

The ROI of a college education: At a time when so many American families are financially strapped, college is an especially stressful topic because parents know higher learning will help their kids succeed. College graduates earn 84 percent than those with only a high school diploma, according to Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Here is how earning breaks down over one’s life time, based on education: a doctoral degree-holder will earn $3.3 million over a lifetime; $2.3 million is estimated for a college graduate; those with only a high school diploma can expect $1.3 million.

Move retirement assets to qualify for grants: Most parents know about the 529 savings account, but that’s not necessarily the best or only option. Reallocating your retirement assets, such as 401(k)s, can better position a child to qualify for grants and scholarships. This legal and ethical maneuvering may be the single most important factor when considering how to pay for college.

Know your student’s strengths and weaknesses: Consider independent and objective analysis of your future college student. Assessment might include a personality profile and a detailed search for a future career. Also think about a more nuts-and-bolts approach, including scholarship eligibility, SAT and ACT prep courses, review of admissions essays and an in-depth analysis of chances for enrollment in a student’s top four choices of colleges.

Make a checklist of financial aid forms: In order to maximize a fair price of higher education, remember there is plenty of data to review. McDonough recommends a checklist with a timeline and notable deadlines. Be ready to troubleshoot the “alphabet soup” of data forms: FAFSA – Free Application for Federal Student Aid; CSS profile – College Scholarship Service; SAR – Student Aid Report; and more. Think about this process as a second job, or find professional help you can trust.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Fannie Mae Takes Additional Steps to Streamline Short Sale Process

June 6, 2013 4:58 am

Fannie Mae introduced a new tool to help real estate professionals successfully close short sales. Listing agents are now asked to register accepted short sale offers with Fannie Mae to provide greater transparency into the process and allow Fannie Mae to proactively work with the mortgage servicer to finalize the sale. This process is the next step in Fannie Mae’s effort to work more collaboratively with real estate agents on short sales.

“Fannie Mae recognizes the very important role real estate professionals play in the short sale process and we want to work closely with them to get short sales done,” said Jay Ryan, vice president for real estate sales, Fannie Mae. “Our objective is to help stabilize neighborhoods by completing short sales as close to fair market value as possible. We believe this new process will help ensure all parties are in communication early on and are able to come to an agreeable and appropriate sales price. At the end of the day, Fannie Mae wants to get short sales done so that we can prevent foreclosures and help neighborhoods recover.”

Moving forward, agents are asked to provide short sale offer information, such as the property address, MLS listing information, offer details, and subordinate lien information, through Fannie Mae’s website. Agents will also be asked to upload scanned copies of the sales contract, estimated net sheet or HUD-1 settlement statement and borrower authorization form. REALTORS are also encouraged to proactively reach out to Fannie Mae early in the short sale process to request list price guidance to aid in marketing efforts.

Agents who have challenges such as valuation disputes, delays by servicers or uncooperative subordinate lien holders may also use the short sale escalation process on the website to request assistance. Once a case is escalated, Fannie Mae will directly engage with the agent or servicer to address challenges. Since the escalation tool was announced in February 2013, over 10,000 short sale cases have been submitted and successfully closed. In 2012, Fannie Mae completed 73,528 short sales.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Two-thirds of Engaged Couples Express Negative Attitudes Toward Discussing Money

June 6, 2013 4:58 am

The recent poll hosted on the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) website revealed that 68 percent of respondents held negative attitudes toward discussing money with their fiancé, with 5 percent indicating the discussion would cause them to call off the wedding.

“It is telling that two people who intend to spend the rest of their lives together would see a conversation about money as so disconcerting,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC. “The ability to have open and honest discussions is key to a successful marriage. With many brides and grooms walking down the aisle in June, regardless of how difficult it may be, the conversation about personal finances is one that should be neither ignored nor postponed. As a matter of fact, to increase the odds of making ‘happily ever after’ a reality, the discussion should take place before the ‘I do,’ not after.”

The NFCC recommends the following Do’s and Don’ts for that much-needed financial conversation:

Don’t spring the conversation on the other party. Instead, set a time to talk that is convenient for each.

Do make it a casual conversation about a serious subject, respecting the fact that each person has valid opinions and concerns.

Do be honest about the current financial situation. If the courtship phase of the relationship has painted a financially unrealistic picture, it’s time to be honest about what the long-term lifestyle will look like.

Do probe to understand long-held financial attitudes, often present since childhood and likely ingrained by observing how parents addressed money issues.

Do acknowledge that one may be a saver and one a spender, understanding that there are benefits to both approaches and agreeing to learn from each other’s tendencies.

Don’t hide income or debt. This is known as financial infidelity. Instead, in the spirit of openness, bring financial documents, including a recent credit report, pay stubs, bank statements, insurance policies, existing debt obligations and investments to the table.

Don’t point the finger of blame. That’s a real conversation stopper.

Do make a plan in advance to deal with any skeletons that come out of the financial closet. Such surprises can potentially compromise access to future credit. Now is the time to deal with surprises.

Do construct a budget that includes savings. When just getting started, money is often tight, making it tempting to delay beginning to save. However, when every cent counts, it is even more important to have a financial safety net in the form of savings.

Do decide which person will be responsible for paying the monthly bills. It is likely that one spouse will be a good fit for this task, while the other finds it burdensome.

Do allow each person to have independence by setting aside money to be spent at his or her discretion.

Do decide upon short-term and long-term goals. It’s appropriate to have individual goals, but having family goals is important, too.

Do talk about loaning money to family members and friends. Decide if it’s something each is comfortable with, or should be avoided.

Do talk about caring for aging parents, and how to appropriately plan for their financial needs, if necessary.

“The fact of the matter is that people bring financial baggage into a relationship, but often don’t deal with it until problems arise. Baggage can come in the form of a poor credit rating, significant debt, or no experience managing money. Regardless of the issue, the time to address money differences is up front, before the financial bottom falls out. Court records show that financial stress is one of the main causes of divorce. Taking action now could prevent a disaster later,” continued Cunningham.

For professional assistance bringing two incomes, two lifestyles and two financial attitudes together, or for help in working through financial problems that have never been addressed, consider an appointment with a certified consumer credit counselor at an NFCC Member Agency. To find the agency closest to you, call (800) 388-2227, or en Español call (800) 682-9832), or go online to

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Create Your Own Summer Vacation Hot Spot Right at Home

June 5, 2013 3:08 am

Not going away this summer? Home can be the perfect place for summer fun, as long as you’re ready for the heat. With summer around the corner, it’s not too late to revamp your house into an excellent summer hang-out spot. With a few minor changes and additions, you’ll be enjoying some fun in the sun in no time.

Be ambitious – add a new deck. Choosing the right material is the most important factor when building a deck. Synthetic decking materials and tropical hardwoods (like mahogany) are initially pricier, but they are also easier to maintain and more durable. Traditional wood decks cost less initially, but require way higher maintenance such as annual cleaning and resealing maintenance. This may get expensive over time.

If you already have a deck, try some simple care techniques. Give it a close inspection for cracked boards or protruding nails. Cut back nearby trees or bushes to prevent mold and rotting. Sweep and wash the deck; afterwards, when it’s completely dry, follow that up with some sealer or stain. A beautiful deck is a great spot for patio furniture, tanning and grilling. Build a deck and get great use out of it. It will only help your resale value.

If you have a pool, consider chlorine alternatives. Chlorine is the standard because it’s cheap and keeps pools clean by sanitizing, oxidizing and deterring algae. On the flip side, it has a strong odor, reddens eyes and causes allergic reactions in some swimmers. Alternatives include bromine, ionizers, water ozonators or PHMB. They may be a little more expensive, but if you have an allergic child, one of these choices can keep the entire family swimming. With these major summer necessities out of the way, it’s time to accessorize. Volleyball nets and reclining pool floats are great additions as well.

Fire up that grill and start cooking! Summer’s on its way.

Published with permission from RISMedia.