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Common Red Flags to Watch Out for When Searching for Your Dream Home

May 10, 2012 4:00 pm

More often than not, sellers don’t always disclose everything that may be wrong with their home when going through the selling process. While no house is ever as “perfect” as it may appear, a little due diligence on the part of you and your agent can ultimately save you headaches down the road.

Start by taking a look around the neighborhood and see if other real estate signs litter the lawns nearby. Go to the local stores and see if any are closing down or have been vandalized. If you notice that a lot of people are looking to leave the neighborhood, there’s probably a reason why. You may have found a great home, but if it’s in a bad neighborhood, it’s going to affect the value.

You also need to pay close attention to the way the exterior of the home has been treated. If you see extra layers of roofing, boards near walls, plants growing out of the gutters or lots of cracks in the pavement, chances are not much care went into maintaining the property.

While you’re outside, look at the yard grading. If the yard slopes toward the house, it could cause a serious water problem with water running down the foundation walls or into the basement. Scour the foundation for damage as bulges or cracks bigger than one-third of an inch can mean the house has serious structural issues.

Don’t be afraid to use your nose—as well as your eyes—to uncover potential red flags. If you smell sewage, gas or anything else that’s unpleasant, it could be because of some serious issues. If you are getting close to making the decision to buy, it might be a smart idea to hire a plumbing company to send a camera through the pipes to determine if there are any blockages or breaks.

When it comes to the inside of the home, one of the most important things to look at is the wiring. Be sure to flip the light switches to make sure they work and check the fuse box to see what condition it’s in. In addition, ask if the electric has been updated in the last 10 years, because that’s something that can be costly to fix once you move in.

Last but not least, check for bugs, ants and traps hidden in the corners or under baseboards. A savvy home seller won’t leave mousetraps out, but they often forget about the little roach motels. While little creatures in the house shouldn’t immediately scare you away, if you see a lot of ants—especially carpenter ants around wood—it could be a sign that there’s a problem.

Remember, the job of the home seller is to make the house as attractive as possible and hide all of its faults. With a little detective work, you can save a lot of time and money in the long run and make sure the house is good enough to become your home.

Contact our office today to learn more about warning signs that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Out of the Box Ideas That Take the Stress Out of Saving for a Down Payment

May 10, 2012 4:00 pm

For those dreaming of owning a home, the thought of coming up with money for a down payment is enough to scare many perspective buyers away. However, even if you don’t have the necessary funds for a down payment in the bank, there are other options that you should take into consideration to come up with the money you need to put a down payment on your dream home.

The easiest way to get a down payment for a home is to borrow against one’s retirement account. Many people have been investing in a 401(k) plan or traditional IRA for years, and first-time homebuyers may borrow up to $10,000 for their down payment without incurring a penalty. For those who are self-employed—or if your employer allows it—you can also borrow up to $50,000 from your current 401(k) and pay yourself back over five years at a low interest rate.

In addition, you can do some research and look for down payment assistance grants. Down payment assistance and community redevelopment programs offer affordable housing opportunities to first-time homebuyers, low-income and moderate-income individuals and families who wish to achieve homeownership.

Family is another option that you may want to take into consideration when it comes to securing funds for a down payment. Sure, you may be too proud to want to ask for money, but if your family can help you and your family move into your dream home, isn’t it worth it? If you do get help from a family member, the lender will ask you to sign a form called a gift letter, attesting to the relationship. The lender may also require your parents to explain where they got the money and prove that they are financially able to make such a gift.

If you’re still not finding the money to put together for a down payment, there’s always the creative lease/purchase agreement. Homeowners who can’t sell their homes in this market will be more amenable to cutting a deal with buyers and may be willing to take part in a lease/purchase agreement, where you rent the home you want to buy and a percentage of your rent is applied toward the down payment. If you go this route, make sure you get a contract outlining all the details so both parties are safe.

Adding a down payment option to your wedding registry is gaining popularity among those just starting out in life together. Several mortgage companies allow those getting married to set up a down payment registry. What a great way to celebrate the joining of two people in holy matrimony than to help them buy a house.

If none of these things will work for your specific situation, there’s always the old fashioned “saving for a rainy day” tactic. Try putting aside 10 percent of your paycheck each week and make an effort to bring a lunch to work instead of going out. If you’re married, use the money you would spend on birthday, anniversary and Christmas presents and put that toward your down payment. You might also need to forget that vacation this year. It may seem like a lot, but the sacrifice will be well worth it when you’re living in your new home.

For more tips on how to save for a down payment, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Keep Miscommunication at Bay: Establish What Stays and What Goes from the Get-Go

May 10, 2012 4:00 pm

Believe it or not, after months of searching for the perfect home, agreeing to a price and going forward with the deal, a sale can fall apart over a disagreement about something as simple and trivial as curtains.

If you’re in the process of getting your home ready for sale, it’s important that you are very clear from the start about what you are taking with you and what you are leaving behind. The general rule is that if something is attached to the structure or the ground, it is real property and stays with the house. In other words, if removing the item would ruin or disfigure the walls—or if you need a tool to remove it—it stays.

Legally, these items are known as fixtures and typically include everything permanently attached to the property such as a fence, built-in appliances, ceiling fans, flowerbeds and shrubs.

Conversely, if you can disconnect, unhook, or detach an item from the home with bare hands, it’s free to leave when you do. Items that fall into this category include furniture, potted plants, free-standing appliances and even an outdoor grill. These items should never be assumed to be part of the sale.

In order to avoid any possible confusion about what is and isn’t part of the sale, a good rule of thumb is to remove any fixtures you plan on taking with you before showing the home. Replacing these items is an even better option, as they can provide a bargaining chip when negotiating price since you would be willing to let them stay with the house.

While every real estate agent has a story about a deal falling through because of an argument about what a buyer thought was staying, it’s important to take the time to walk through each room in your home with your agent and make a list of everything you’ll be taking with you.

If you decide to leave an item such as the curtains or chandeliers, or you’re open to leaving behind some of the outdoor furniture, it may just help with a sale. People like the notion of getting something for free, and a savvy agent will hint to a perspective buyer that they may be able to get the seller to throw in that great wall unit, knowing full well it would be more of a headache for you to take it out.

It’s also common for perspective buyers to see a piece of furniture, billiards table or antique lamp that they really want, and many will go as far as asking that the item be part of the sale. Unless the item is really important to you, don’t let something insignificant like this stop a sale in its tracks. Instead, use it to get the price you want and then buy a new one when the sale is complete.

Be sure to put down in writing all the things that are staying and going and take care of these issues in the beginning so that there’s no miscommunication come closing day.

For more information about getting your home ready for sale, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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In this Edition: Down Payments, Curb Appeal

May 10, 2012 4:00 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 taking the time to discuss what is and isn't included in the sale of your home will not only keep miscommunication at bay, but will also pave the way to a successful sale. Other topics covered this month include common red flags to watch out for when you're searching for a home and various listing contracts you can take advantage of when you're ready to sell. 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.


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Record Summer Forecasted for International Air Travel

May 10, 2012 5:32 am

Airline passengers can expect full flights this summer thanks to an improving economy and a record number of people traveling internationally.

In its annual summer forecast, Airlines for America (A4A), the trade association for leading U.S. airlines, predicted that from June through August, U.S. airlines will carry an average of 2.24 million travelers globally every day. Total passenger volumes remain 5 percent below the summer 2007 all-time high of 217.6 million.

A4A also expects a record number of people to travel internationally. Of the 206.2 million total passengers expected to travel on U.S. airlines this summer, 26.8 million will be traveling on international flights. This estimate surpasses last summer's record of 26.3 million passengers flown on international flights. Domestically, 179.4 million passengers are expected to fly this summer, comparable to summer 2011.

The good news for travelers, says A4A, is that airfares have not kept pace with the inflation rate, which rose 31 percent since 2000. Over the same period, average domestic airfares, per the Department of Transportation, rose just 9 percent, or 15 percent including optional ancillary services – less than half the rate of U.S. inflation.

A4A encourages passengers to consult its resource page for recommended travel tips. In particular, travelers are advised to keep in mind the following:
  • Review the website of the airline on which you are flying for respective policies, amenities, customer-service plans and flight-operation alert notifications.
  • Before departing to the airport, be sure to check the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airport delay map.
  • Remember that TSA requires that air travelers follow its 3-1-1 Rule for liquids, gels and aerosols in carry-on bags when passing through security checkpoints.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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95 Million Americans Use Social Media to Shop

May 10, 2012 5:32 am

According to a new study, "SocialShop," released by Leo Burnett/Arc Worldwide, 42 percent of Americans are using social media to shop – this equates to nearly 95 million social shoppers in the U.S. – and that number continues to rise. In fact, when asked how often social media is used to shop today versus a year ago, almost 73 percent of people confirmed they are using it more.

SocialShop – a national quantitative and qualitative research study – looks at social media usage from the eyes of a shopper to understand the influence each respective platform has on a person's buying behavior.

From Facebook and Twitter to YouTube and Groupon, people of all ages are using social networking sites and other user-generated content platforms as shopping tools. In fact, SocialShop found 42 percent of social shoppers are using Facebook more than they were a year ago, while 55 percent of shoppers are utilizing daily deals more and 46 percent of shoppers have increased engagement on review sites and forums.

For brands, using social media in the wrong way can have a negative impact on relationships. Forty-four percent of social shoppers said they had stopped interacting with brands on Facebook due to lack of relevant or valuable posts.

Within SocialShop, researchers identified six shopper archetypes reflecting the needs and habits of today's social shoppers:

Savvy Passionista - The Social Trendsetter
The Savvy Passionista is a heavy social shopper using social media channels to broadcast the latest trends and stay connected with favorite brands. Savvy Passionistas are indulgent and use social channels to express feelings and stay relevant and "in-the-know."

Opportunistic Adventurer - The Daily Dealaholic
Opportunistic Adventurers are on a mission to score fun and unexpected deals. With impulsive social shopping tendencies, this shopper demands timely and relevant deals.

Quality Devotee - The High Maintenance, High Standards Shopper
Quality Devotees use social media to shape purchasing decisions, validate choice and to feel empowered when making a purchase. No matter the time or research involved, Quality Devotees will find the best product available.

Strategic Saver: The Black Belted Negotiator
Strategic Savers use social media to comparison shop and spend time deal-digging only for their favorite brands.

Efficient Sprinter: The Few Dollars Shorter, Several Minutes Richer Shopper
Efficient Sprinters want to save time and use social media to select items that are considered most popular to simplify their shopping process.

Dollar Defaulter: The Dollar Sign Connoisseur
The Dollar Defaulter has just one social shopping goal: find the cheapest alternative. With utilitarian shopping needs, Dollar Defaulters choose only the lowest prices and do not feel loyal to specific brands.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Reclaiming Your Bedroom

May 10, 2012 5:32 am

Our bedrooms are supposed to be our safe havens – our private sanctuaries. Yet more often than not, they’re home to piles of laundry to put away, dusty work-out equipment, and mismatched shoes. How can one relax in that environment?

Thanks to some great strategies from author Julie Morgenstern via HGTV.com, your bedroom can soon become the zen-like environment it was intended to be. Here are Morgenstern’s top tips for organizing and reclaiming the boudoir:
  1. Under-bed Storage. Sliding or rolling under-bed storage bins serve as a wonderful extension of your closet space. Use them to rotate seasonal items, store bigger, bulkier items like backpacks, purses and blankets, or house a change of sheets. These items will remain nicely hidden with the help of a bedskirt. Be sure to label the bins to avoid frantic and messy searching.
  2. Put Shoes in Their Place. One of the quickest fixes to a bedroom closet overrun with shoes is to invest in a shoe rack. Morgenstern recommends an expanding tiered shoe rack below your clothes as opposed to an over-the-door hanging shoe bag. Once you have a clear visual on just how many shoes you actually own, odds are you’ll realize it’s time to give some away.
  3. Control Jewelry Chaos. A hanging jewelry organizer can help tame that tangled mess of necklaces and earrings on your bureau. These organizers usually come with or snap onto a hanger and have plenty of clear pockets to keep items free and clear of each other.
  4. Create a Reading Nook. That lovely chair you have in your room was not meant to be adorned with dirty laundry and back-logged magazines. Morgenstern says it’s time to rescue your reading chair by adding the proper organization, such as a side table with drawers or shelves for your reading materials, journal or e-reader. If you’re a magazine and/or newspaper fan, a magazine rack would work best
  5. Make Your Bed Every Day. So simple yet so tempting to blow off. Treat your bed as the sanctuary it is by positioning it for use every day, says Morgenstern. If you spend three minutes each morning to tuck and fold, you'll develop a habit of keeping order in the room, which may translate into motivation for picking up the pile of clothes on the floor.
  6. Put Specialty Garments in Storage. If your wedding dress or special occasion fur is taking up space in your primary closet, have it professionally cleaned and boxed, then put it away in an attic or basement.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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'Million Messages in May' Launches to Save Lives

May 9, 2012 5:32 am

The National Organizations for Youth Safety® (NOYS®), joined by celebrities from around the world, announces the launch of the "Million Messages in May" campaign, in support of Global Youth Traffic Safety Month™ observed annually in May. 

Traffic crashes are the No. 1 killer of youth in the U.S. and throughout the world. The campaign's mission is to draw attention to Youth Traffic Safety by generating the transmission of one million traffic safety messages in May via Facebook, Twitter, email and texting. 

To jumpstart the viral push, Million Messages in May spokespersons Tayler Malsam, 23, driver of the NASCAR® Nationwide #19 G-Oil Toyota Camry, and Bryton James, 25, an Emmy winning star of CBS' daytime drama "The Young & The Restless," were joined by a powerhouse lineup: NBA Stars , Chase Budinger, Stephen Curry, Corey Maggette, Anthony Tolliver and Nolan Smith; Actors, Tatyana Ali, Noah Munck – iCarly; Christa Orecchio - National Nutrition Expert; and pro skateboarder, Greg Lutzka. Collectively, since May 1, through tweets and Facebook posts, these celebrities have already helped NOYS send over 5 million messages. 

The "Million Messages in May" campaign is designed to use star power and social networking to encourage NOYS' supporters to share safe driving messages via the top networking platforms in the world. 

"On average, people spend around 6 to 7 hours a month social networking. Imagine the impact it could have on saving lives if everyone sent a traffic safety message, even just once a day, while chatting, tweeting, or Facebooking," said James. 

"We want everyone to 'do what you do' to save lives," said Malsam. "Send and forward messages, ask your friends to stay focused, avoid distractions. Don't text and drive, and be sure to buckle up," said Malsam. 

According to NOYS Executive Director, Sandy Spavone, "the Million Messages in May social networking campaign supports the goal of Global Youth Traffic Safety Month, which is to engage and empower teens to develop and implement youth-led teen traffic safety projects that provide peer-to-peer education, support enforcement efforts, and advocate for stronger teen driving safety laws. The NOYS coalition hosts this global campaign.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Creating a Storm Preparedness Kit

May 9, 2012 5:32 am

We’ve already seen a substantial dose of severe weather this spring and The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is encouraging Americans to be prepared with the right emergency kit.
According to Consumer Reports, federal authorities recommend keeping the following in your emergency kit, which represents a three-day supply of necessities. If your family has special needs—i.e., small children, life-threatening allergies, elderly grandparents—your kit should be tailored accordingly: 

• One gallon of water per person per day, for drinking and sanitation
• Non-perishable food and a manual can opener
• A battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA weather radio with tone alert and extra batteries
• Flashlight and extra batteries
• First aid kit
• Whistle to signal for help
• Filter mask or cotton t-shirt, to help filter the air
• Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
• Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
• Plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
• Important family documents in a waterproof container
• Items for unique family needs, such as daily prescription medications, infant formula or diapers 

Experts also advise families to create an emergency plan that outlines how families will communicate in the event of a crisis, including where everyone will gather. Keep in mind that text messages will often get through when a phone call will not. 

Consumer Reports suggests adding a power inverter to your emergency supply kit, a shoe-box sized gizmo that can be connected to your car's 12-volt system and convert direct-current (DC) power into the alternating-current (AC) power required to run a refrigerator or sump pump. Although not as powerful as a standby generator, it can get you through an outage and doesn't need gas.

Source: consumerreports.org

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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79 Percent of Refinancing Homeowners Maintain or Reduce Mortgage Debt

May 9, 2012 5:32 am

The recently released results of Freddie Mac’s first quarter refinance analysis show that refinancing continues to be a favorable option for homeowners seeking to strengthen their fiscal house. 

According to the report, in the first quarter of 2012, 79 percent of homeowners who refinanced their first-lien home mortgage either maintained about the same loan amount or lowered their principal balance by paying-in additional money at the closing table. Of these borrowers, 58 percent maintained about the same loan amount, and 21 percent of refinancing homeowners reduced their principal balance; the share of borrowers that kept about the same loan amount was the highest in the 26-year history of the analysis. 

"Cash-out" borrowers, those that increased their loan balance by at least 5 percent, represented 21 percent of all refinance loans; the weighted average cash-out share during the 1985 to 2008 period was 50 percent. 

The median interest rate reduction for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was about 1.5 percentage points, or a savings of about 27 percent in interest rate, the largest percent reduction recorded in the 27 years of analysis. Over the first year of the refinance loan life, the median borrower will save about $2,900 in interest payments on a $200,000 loan. 

The net dollars of home equity converted to cash as part of a refinance, adjusted for inflation, was at the lowest level in nearly 17 years (since the third quarter of 1995). In the first quarter, an estimated $5.3 billion in net home equity was cashed out during the refinance of conventional prime-credit home mortgages, down from $7.0 billion in the fourth quarter and substantially less than during the peak cash-out refinance volume of $83.7 billion during the second quarter of 2006. 

Among the refinanced loans in Freddie Mac's analysis, the median prior loan life was 4.3 years. One-half of the loans that were paid-off had been in place from between three and seven years, that is, had been originated between 2005 and 2009.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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