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First-Time Buyers: How to Turn the Largest Investment You'll Ever Make Into the Best Decision of Your Life

September 9, 2011 12:09 pm

Purchasing a new home can be a huge undertaking, especially if you are in the market for your first home. That’s why it’s important to have an experienced real estate agent by your side to guide you along the way.

Almost every first-time buyer feels hopelessly confused in the beginning, but it’s important to remember that you hold the power and you shouldn’t feel forced into making a decision you are not comfortable with.

“In the world of real estate sales, you are the most important person in the entire process,” said John Adams, who has written six books on the process of buying and selling a home. “It’s easy to think everyone else carries more weight than you. The seller owns the house and has all the money. The agent talks fast and has an answer for everything. The lender may decline your loan application, and on and on. But the truth is that you, the buyer, are the one person in this transaction who makes it all happen. If you decide not to buy, the entire process comes to a grinding halt.”

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, the number of first-time home buyers rose to a record high 50% of all home sales last year, which can be greatly attributed to the first-time buyer tax credit which began in 2009.

For those looking to continue the upward trend in 2011, first-time buyers should consider a number of things to make the buying process as smooth a transition as possible.

First-time buyers need to look at their financial situation and crunch the numbers to see if now is the right time to buy. Chances are, the numbers they see today will be the best they will see for some time, which is why so many are considering homeownership.

Still, understanding the money that goes into a home purchase is important. The biggest mistake new buyers make is underestimating the costs of buying a house and maintaining it over time.

First-time buyers need to understand that it takes more than just the downpayment to purchase a home. When buying a home, one needs to consider the closing costs and future expenses that will come with the new property.

“As renters, people are accustomed to paying rent and basic utilities. As homeowners, you’ll also pay for water, sewer and trash collection,” said Ilyce Glink, author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask.” “Then there are property taxes, homeowners insurance and homeowners association dues, plus yard care, snow removal and other expenses unique to your location.”

Many experts agree that homeowners should have 1-3% of their homes’ purchase price in savings for improvements and surprise expenses. Mortgage experts also say it’s wise to have at least six mortgage payments in the bank after closing.

While those numbers may not be feasible for everyone, if you are spending above your means on a new home, you may quickly find yourself in financial trouble.

Inspections are also important for the first-time buyer, as they list repairs that will be needed for the home. A buyer should put together a short-term and long-term plan based on the inspection so they know how much money they will need in the months and years ahead.

Buying a home is one of the largest investments you’ll make and if it’s done wisely, it can be one of the best decisions of your life. Your real estate agent will help you do it right by providing you with a realistic price point for your home purchase and a clear understanding of monthly financial requirements.

For more information on purchasing your first home, contact our office today.

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In this Edition: First-Time Buyers, Bathroom Remodeling, Real Estate Apps

September 9, 2011 12:09 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)® - Leading Companies Providing Leading Information – examines what first-time buyers need to know before making a home purchase. We also bring you some other timely pieces this month on choosing the perfect neighborhood, how single buyers can take advantage of today's market, and more. As a benefit of our membership in RREIN, you will receive these relevant, powerful real estate articles each month that you’ll find timely and helpful in your real estate interests and pursuits. We hope you enjoy this month’s edition of Home Matters and as always, we welcome your feedback. Email us anytime!

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The Degrees Most Likely to Land You a Job

September 8, 2011 10:57 pm

Will someone in your household be beating the pavement soon in search of employment? Read on. Higher education publication The Best Degrees has published a report of the top 51 degrees based on job potential in the current U.S. economy. The study set out to identify the best degrees for students seeking both strong job opportunities and high earnings.

While most studies have concentrated solely on wage potential, this research also evaluated the volume of job seeker competition within each field along with a candidate's probability of securing a job offer following graduation. The published report effectively matches college degrees to the current needs of the U.S. economy. Data was compiled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U.S. Department of Labor.

According to this report, the Master in Business Administration degree with a concentration in Technology Management offers the best overall job potential in the current economic environment.

The top ten rankings include:

1. M.B.A. in Technology Management
2. Ph.D. in Computer Science
3. B.S. in Software Engineering
4. M.A. in Education Administration
5. M.S. in Geoscience
6. Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science
7. Bachelor's Degree in Databases
8. Master's Degree in Operations Research
9. Bachelor's Degree in Computer Networks
10. Bachelor's Degree in Nursing

Not surprisingly, the report reveals a strong demand for degrees in technology, computers, and healthcare, according to Dee Barizo, editor of The Best Degrees. Additional highlights of the report include:

• Several highly ranked two-year associate degrees
• Relative absence of degrees in finance
• High potential of bachelor's degrees without additional graduate school

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This Fall, Think Spring

September 8, 2011 10:57 pm

For many, gardening chores are winding way down as vegetables are harvested and fall approaches. However, the gardening experts at Lifetime Gardens, Inc. say it should be quite the opposite, pointing to cooler fall weather as the perfect time of year to prepare your garden for spring. A little work now will keep your raised garden beds springing up green all year long. Here are some tasks to address over the next couple of months:

Cleaning
• Clean out all dead plant debris like leaves, vines, stalks, and roots.
• Fill holes from harvested plants with compost and mix it in. Typically, one trowel full of compost for each square foot is a good guideline.

Planting
• After adding compost, replant the space. One advantage of raised garden beds is that soil stays warmer in the fall and warms earlier in the spring than a traditional garden, which extends the growing season and can help plants mature faster.
• Vegetables - Root crops like parsnips, turnips, carrots, and red beets can be planted now. Cover with straw when frost threatens or snow falls to extend harvest all winter. Cool weather crops like spinach, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, and peas can also be planted in the fall.
• Flowers - Flowers improve the overall beauty of a garden and improve pollination. Plant flower bulbs including tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, daylilies, and crocus for vibrant color next spring. Bury large bulbs 4 to 8 inches deep and small bulbs 2 to 4 inches deep.

Covering
• To further extend the growing season, consider covering raised beds with clear plastic to capture heat like a greenhouse to protect crops from frost.

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Bankrate: Record Low Mortgage Rates Continue

September 8, 2011 10:57 pm

The benchmark conforming 30-year fixed mortgage rate set a new record for the third consecutive week, dropping to 4.35 percent, according to Bankrate.com's weekly national survey. The average 30-year fixed mortgage has an average of 0.38 discount and origination points.

The average 15-year fixed mortgage remained at 3.48 percent while the larger jumbo 30-year fixed rate set a new low of 4.86 percent. Adjustable rate mortgages were mixed, with the average 5-year ARM ticking higher to 3.1 percent while the 7-year ARM slid to another record low of 3.21 percent.

A lackluster jobs report brought mortgage rates down for a sixth consecutive week. Fears of a looming recession or prolonged economic malaise have enhanced the appeal of long-term Treasury securities, with yields venturing into record-low territory. Fixed mortgage rates and yields on mortgage-backed bonds are closely related to yields on 10-year Treasury notes. While the Federal Reserve may take steps to further reduce these long-term interest rates in hopes of bringing mortgage rates still lower, expanding the pool of eligible refinancers would make the low mortgage rates more impactful on the economy.

The last time mortgage rates were above 6 percent was Nov. 2008. At the time, the average 30-year fixed rate was 6.33 percent, meaning a $200,000 loan would have carried a monthly payment of $1,241.86. With the average rate now 4.35 percent, the monthly payment for the same size loan would be $995.62, a difference of $246 per month for anyone refinancing now.

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10 Ways to Slash Your Food Bill

September 7, 2011 4:57 pm

The biggest nemesis to many a household budget is the seemingly ever-growing grocery bill. While many food-related cost increases are beyond our control, there are many strategies and habits you can develop to help bring your food bill down, in addition to the traditional and somewhat cumbersome coupon-clipping process. Try putting the following into action:
Plan ahead – Plan meals based on what’s on sale…and what’s currently about to go bad in your fridge. Make it a point to use the ingredients that you already have on hand and that may otherwise go to waste.
Look around – The highest priced items on store shelves are usually at chest level. Look up or down to find less expensive brands or unadvertised specials.
Leave the kids home – Those little hands can add many dollars in unneeded items piling up in your food basket. If you must keep the kids in tow, allow them to choose one item only.
Shop the perimeter – The most value is found on the store’s perimeter – fresh produce, dairy, meats and breads. Avoid the middle aisles if you can. That’s where the priciest items are.
Don’t shop when hungry or tired – When you’re hungry, everything looks too tempting. And when you’re tired, you just want to get out of the store fast and will make quick decisions.
Stock up on items when on sale – Something like butter can be stored in the freezer for up to six months. Pack the butter in an airtight container so it doesn’t take on the flavor of whatever else you’re freezing.
Buy generic/private label products – Private label products have come a long way. Give them a try to find out which you like best.
Take a quick inventory – Before leaving for the store, take a quick look through the fridge, cabinets and freezer. Chances are, something on your list is already buried in the freezer or hiding on the top shelf of the cabinet.
Make meals in advance – Prepping a meal in the crock pot or doubling a recipe and freezing half will have an impact on your food budget. Many dollars are wasted at grocery stores and restaurants on last-minute meals.
Shop wholesale clubs with caution – The big-box warehouse stores can take a big toll on your wallet. What seems like a great deal often ends up going to waste. Only shop there for items you truly use in great abundance.

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5 Ways to Master Work/Life Balance

September 7, 2011 4:57 pm

After the economic fall-out of the past few years, the American Dream is no longer about big cars and big houses, but rather achieving work/life balance. According to Kate Raidt, author of The Million-Dollar Parent: How to Have a Successful Career While Keeping Your Family a Top Priority, true happiness and fulfillment today comes from doing fun, exciting things – not having fun, exciting things.

So, how do we achieve the perfect work/life balance? Here are five important “must-dos” Raidt says are essential to successfully living the “New American Dream:”

1. Live below your means. The only way to have time and energy to do the things most important to you (time with kids, travel, church, service, reading, exercise or just relaxing) is to spend less time at work and more time with life. The higher your monthly expenses are, the more you feel the pressure to be at the office.
2. Your job must be a good “vehicle.” Any job that sucks you dry emotionally or physically is not a good vehicle toward work/life balance because when you leave the office, you are too drained to do the things you really love to do. Raidt says to ask yourself the following questions: “Am I able to leave work behind when I drive home? Do I have a boss who builds me up and doesn’t tear me down? When I come home, am I energized to spend time with my kids?” If you can answer “yes” to these questions, then you have a job that helps nurture a work/life balance.
3. Am I running my career and life, or is someone running it for me? Work with a company who is willing to help you build your own work schedule in order to achieve life balance.
4. Turn off your cell phone before you walk in the front door. Let’s face it—as wonderful as technology is, it has become a major drain on our time and attention. Emails, text messages, Facebook, YouTube, games and apps are killing the New American Dream, says Raidt. More than a few minutes a day with technology will kill quality time with your kids, distract you from exercising and derail any goals you set for yourself.
5. Carve out time (daily) for the things most important to you. If your children are your priority, then carve out quality time for them every day—and do not let anything or anyone get in the way. Schedule everything else (including work) around your priorities.
Source: www.swparents.com

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Economic Recovery Tracked in 12 Metro Areas

September 7, 2011 4:57 pm

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) recently released its first NAHB/First American Improving Markets Index (IMI), a new economic index revealing metropolitan areas that have shown improvement for at least six months in three key economic areas: housing permits, employment and housing prices.

The list of metropolitan areas includes:

• Alexandria, LA
• Anchorage, AK
• Bangor, ME
• Bismarck, ND
• Casper, WY
• Fairbanks, AK
• Fayetteville, NC
• Houma, LA
• Midland, TX
• New Orleans, LA
• Pittsburgh, PA
• Waco, TX

“Despite the challenging conditions in the national economy and housing sector, there are areas throughout the country where we are seeing pockets of improvement,” says Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Reno, Nevada. “Housing conditions are local, and do not always reflect the national picture. We created this new index to shine a light on those housing markets across the country that have stabilized and have begun to show signs of recovery.”

“By examining key indicators of home prices, employment and housing permits data, we are using a comprehensive, but conservative method in determining which markets are improving,” says NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “Last year at this time, there was not a single market that showed improvement using these criteria, and now we can point to 12 examples of growth.”

“It’s not surprising that many of the states represented are energy rich areas,” adds Crowe. “Those are the regions still experiencing relatively strong employment, supporting housing demand.”
The IMI is designed to track housing markets throughout the country that are showing signs of improving economic health. The index measures three sets of independent monthly data to get a mark on the top improving Metropolitan Statistical Areas: employment growth from the Bureau of Labor Statistics; house price appreciation from Freddie Mac; and single-family housing permit growth from the U.S. Census Bureau. A metro area must see improvement in all three areas for at least six months following their respective troughs before being included on the improving markets list.

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20-Somethings Fearful of Their Financial Future

September 6, 2011 4:57 pm

Financial reality is especially harsh for 20-somethings nationwide as a mere 23% rate themselves as totally independent, according to a survey by The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. The survey sought insights into the financial mindset of 20-somethings within Generation Y, which is projected to outnumber all population segments by 2017.

Worse yet, only 18% of 20-29 year-olds, whose adult lives began amid the 2008 Great Recession, are confident they will have enough money to live comfortably when they are ready to retire.

The study compares the responses within the age group and reveals their financial concerns are mounting in the early years of adult life. For example, 26% of 22-23 year-olds feel optimistic about their personal financial future and 20% are confident about having enough money for a comfortable retirement. Only 14% of their older peers, at ages 28-29, agree on both points.

Here are a few important tips to help Millennials feel more in control of their financial future:

Don't panic. Time is on your side. You're still young, and it's important that you're thinking about your financial future, but don't beat yourself up for not meeting your own expectations. Try to think positively about your financial goals.

Avoid debt traps. Not all debt is bad, but seriously consider interest rates to be sure you don't accumulate high-interest debt that can keep you from using that money to save or invest.

Pay yourself first. Establish a regular savings program. A 401(k) plan through your employer is a great place to start.

Budget and track spending. It sounds easy, and very basic, but this can be one of the most difficult things to do consistently. Make use of online money management tools, such as PNC Virtual Wallet®, that can help you better manage spending, payments and savings.

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Trust Your Neighbors - It's Good for You

September 6, 2011 4:57 pm

Here’s an easy way to improve your health: trust your neighbors. A new study from the University of Missouri shows that increasing trust in neighbors is associated with better self-reported health.
Eileen Bjornstrom, an assistant professor of sociology in the MU College of Arts and Science, found that people reported better health when they trusted their neighbors.

“I examined the idea of ‘relative position,’ or where one fits into the income distribution in their local community, as it applies to both trust of neighbors and self-rated health,” explains Bjornstrom. “Because human beings engage in interpersonal comparisons in order to gauge individual characteristics, it has been suggested that a low relative position, or feeling that you are below another person financially, leads to stress and negative emotions such as shame, hostility and distrust, and that health suffers as a consequence. While most people aren’t aware of how trust impacts them, results indicated that trust was a factor in a person’s overall health.”

In the study, Bjornstrom examined the 2001 Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey. Contrary to expectations, she found that respondents with a higher income, relative to their community, were more likely to be distrustful of their neighbors. Simultaneously, while taking into account factors such as level of education, income, and age, people who reported that “their neighbors can be trusted” also reported better health on average.

“I was surprised about the direction in which relative position was linked to distrust. If affluent individuals are less likely to trust their poorer neighbors, it could be beneficial to attempt to overcome some of the distrust that leads to poor health,” Bjornstrom advises. “It is possible that shared community resources that promote interaction, such as sidewalks and parks, could help bridge the neighborhood trust gap, and also promote health and well-being. Residents of all economic statuses might then benefit if community cohesion was increased. Additional research can address those questions.”

Bjornstrom believes that further study needs to occur in different contexts to provide greater insights, such as research on relative position in the workplace or among social networks.

Bjornstrom’s study, “The Neighborhood Context of Relative Position, Trust and Self-Rated Health,” appears in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

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