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Updated: Tuesday, March 26, 2019

How to DIY Abstract Art

Yes, you can scour the internet for abstract art in every color, shape, and size, and yoursquo;ll pay a pretty penny for a lot of it. Or, you can D-I-Y your A-R-T. Itrsquo;s easier than you think to create something that looks like you dropped some serious cash to dress up your walls, and you might even have a good time while yoursquo;re at it. Here are a few ideas to get your juices flowing.

Create dimension

Ever see those abstract paintings that have texture and dimension and wonder how they got such a layered look? This tutorial uses a clever trick to approximate the look of ldquo;elevated brush or painting-knife strokesrdquo;: tissue paper Who ever thought an item you use to blow your nose could be so beautifully useful.

Get the right tools

Yoursquo;ll need a canvas, some paint, and at least one paintbrush, obviously, to make your art. But incorporating some other tools can give it a unique, professional look. Drywall spatulas give this painting nbsp;its textural flair without the brush strokes. Varying the usage and pressure of the spatulas and paint brush allow you to create as muchmdash;or as littlemdash;texture as you want.

Pass the alcohol

The alcohol inks, to be exact. If you havenrsquo;t heard of this before, itrsquo;s about to become your favorite craft item. ldquo;Alcohol inks are an acid-free, highly-pigmented, and fast drying medium to be used on non-porous surfaces,rdquo; said Create for Less.

While the finished product of this abstract art looks complicated, itrsquo;s actually a simply process, and one that creates cool-looking art that can be done and hung in a matter of minutes. Watch the tutorial to see how easy it is, but beware: Yoursquo;re dealing with fire here, so, if yoursquo;re accident prone, you might want a chaperone.

And more alcohol

Using rubbing alcohol to blur the lines helps create the ldquo;splash effectrdquo; on this painting. It looks like fluffy clouds to us. One thing is for sure: No one will ever know you did this yourself

Go all Jackson Pollock

Your masterpiece may not end up in the Museum of Modern Art MoMA, but itrsquo;ll sure become the centerpiece of your space Get your splatter on and create a piece yoursquo;ll love.nbsp;This tutorial shows you how. It also shows you how to create your own canvas, but, unless yoursquo;re super keen on this part of the DIY experience, you can save yourself some time and hassle, and maybe even an injury, by picking up a finished, framed canvas at a store like JOANNs, Michaels, or Hobby Lobby.

Dont restrict yourself to just paint

Canrsquo;t find the perfect shade for your art? Tint it yourself This dreamy abstract painting is part paint, part food coloring

Think outside the lines

Animal print is the inspiration for this spotted art. Black and gray paint on a white background keeps it neutral, and the gold-sprayed framed provide a pop. Do like the artist and use watercolors to ldquo;vary the depth of the spots to make it look more natural.rdquo;

Make it fancy

A little touch of metallic takes this art to the next level. This cool painting uses golf leaf, but you can also experiment with metallic paint if yoursquo;d rather.

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Septic or Sewer: Whats the Difference?

All of these functions >

1. Sewer system

2. Septic system

Sewer systems are different than a septic system because one >

Why Many Homeowners >

A sewer system requires no maintenance, but youll need to pay monthly fees for using the system. Local governments allow the homeowner to hook up the local sewer system, which will ensure all of your waste is gone forever.

Youll pay monthly, but you never have to worry about septic system costs and repairs.

Sewers can become clogged and they may backup over-time. This happens when neighbors and others in the community are flushing wet wipes or pouring grease down their drains. When major blockages occur, everyone is impacted.

You may not pay for the unclogging upfront, but your fees may rise to cover the expenditures.

Why Homeowners are Moving Back to Septic Systems

A septic system is your own system, and this is a tank system thats often able to hold 1,000 gallons of water. The three-layer system connects to the home, and the system is placed in the ground on the homes property.

Often seen as an eco-friendly option, you wont pay monthly fees to use your septic system.

Clogging of the system is also your fault. If the system becomes clogged, this is due to your actions: i.e. youre flushing items that cannot breakdown in the system.

Septic systems can be costly to install, and all of the maintenance and repair fees must be paid by the homeowner.

But "sewer betterment" fees are often imposed on homeowners, with some fees being in the 10,000 range. This may include fees for installation and repairs. When these fees are considered, this is often higher than the cost to install a septic system on the land.

Septic systems do need to be pumped, and this can cost 200 - 300 every 3 ndash; 5 years.

Concrete tanks can last 40 years with proper maintenance, while steel tanks have a lifespan of 15 ndash; 20 years.

"Septic systems should be inspected and pumped a minimum of once every three to four years. You may not be experiencing any problems now, but a full septic tank may allow unwanted solids to flow into the drain field, which is the part of the system that consists of a distribution box and a series of connected pipe," explains Apollo Drain.

Septic systems also offer the benefit of being able to build a home in a remote area, which may not have a sewer system connection close by. But when sewer systems are close to the home, theyre often chosen because they can handle large amounts of waste at a time. During storm periods where heavy rains occur, sewer systems are able to handle the water with much greater ease than a septic system.


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FHA High Balance Home Loans

FHA loans are easier to save up for because the minimum down payment is only 3.5 of the sales price. Credit requirements are lower for FHA loans. The minimum credit score for an FHA loan is 580 whereas a minimum credit score for a conventional loan is 620 for most programs.

However, FHA does issue home loan limits which will vary based upon the location of the property. FHA loans nationally are set at 65 of the conforming loan limit for the area. The current conforming loan limit for 2019 is 484,350. That puts the FHA loan limit at 314,827 for a single family home and higher for multi-unit properties.

Each fall when the Federal Housing Finance Agency, or FHFA reviews the median home values for the entire country, they compare those numbers with the previous year. Because the 2017-2018 review showed an increase in values the conforming loan limit was increased accordingly for 2019. Since the conforming limit went up so too did the FHA limit.

But what about areas where the property values are much higher compared to the rest of the country? In many places, mostly coastal in high-density urban areas, the 314,827 is simply too low to finance a home. However, many of these areas are officially labeled a ldquo;high costrdquo; and higher conforming and FHA loan limits are also adjusted to address these areas. In high cost areas, there are ldquo;high balancerdquo; FHA loans that allow borrowers to take advantage of the FHA loan program instead of taking out a higher-cost jumbo mortgage.

In high cost areas the maximum FHA loan is set at 150 of the national conforming loan limit. This can put the maximum FHA loan as high as 726,525. For an owner-occupied fourplex the maximum FHA high balance loan limit is 1,397,400.

If someone is shopping for a home and not sure if the area is deemed high cost, a quick phone call to a loan officer can help. The loan officer will need the exact location of the home, including the county, in order to research the maximum loan limit. Note that maximum high balance limit is not automatically 726,525 for a single family home. It can be lower than that while higher than the standard FHA minimum.

Underwriting guidelines for FHA high balance loans are mostly the same for a traditional FHA mortgage. The home must be owner-occupied, income and employment history is verified and minimum credit scores will be reported along with verifying there are sufficient funds available for the down payment, closing costs and cash reserves. In areas deemed high cost, the FHA high balance mortgage deserves a look.

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Why Home Buyers Should Hire a Professional

To negotiate todays challenges, you need a real estate sales professional to help you close the deal. A good real estate professional understands current market conditions. He or she has house-by-house neighborhood experience and can help you obtain the right home at the best price and terms.

Your agent can help you find a home quickly. Not only do real estate agents have access to the local multiple listing service, they also share knowledge of homes coming onto the market with their colleagues. Your real estate professional will tell others about your requirements for a home so they can also be on the lookout for you.

In fact, networking is one of the biggest industry advantages. Many homes are bought and sold without a sign ever going into the yard. But, for buyers to be shown the latest homes on the market, or to hear about homes about to come onto the market, there has to be a strong >

If you want to be the buyer positioned to make first and best offers on the most desirable homes, make certain your agent knows you are committed. How do you show youre serious? There are several ways.

Get prequalified with a lender. Share your financial records so you know exactly how much home you can buy. Your agent wont go over your limit because it would be a waste of time to show you homes you cant afford to buy.

Work with only one agent. You can do this by signing a buyers representation agreement, if its customary in your area. If not, show your loyalty by telling other agents you may meet at open houses or socially that you are represented and give them your agents name.

Dont shop for homes without your agent. If you want to look at open houses or builder homes, invite your agent to go along. If your agent cant go, make sure you register your agents name with builder sales reps and open house sellers agents.

Be loyal. Real estate professionals work primarily on commission. If the deal of the century is about to come on the market, who do you think your agent will tell first - the buyer with five other agents or the buyer who is loyal? If youre playing agents against each other thinking youll get people to work for free and that youll have your pick of homes to choose, youre wrong. Agents talk, and theyll find out theyre working for the same buyer. If you want great service, show appreciation, confidence, and commitment.

Once you find the house you want, the work really begins. Youll have to navigate negotiations, loan approval, sellers disclosures, inspections with environmental and structural reports, and so on. From helping you make a reasonable offer, to providing for the discovery and disclosure of material facts, your agent can help protect your interests.

Buyers and sellers are natural adversaries. Agents must be skilled negotiators and problem solvers, as well as anticipate problems before they happen. Pride, ignorance, or stubbornness can get in the way of a fair deal for both sides.

Your agent will share your risk, and will make sure you go into any home purchase with your eyes wide open. Take advantage of the greatest homebuying resource available -- your own real estate agent.

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How to Beat Sellers Stress

Three things are certain in life: death, taxes ... and undue stress caused by moving. Whether or not you use the services of a Realtorreg; to help you wade through the uncertain waters of the buy-and-sell process, moving is stressful, period. And theres not much you can do to avoid it. And were not just talking about packing and paperwork. Moving is an emotional process. If youre not calming down your nervous children, youre trying to reassure yourself that youll meet people in your new neighborhood, that you bought the best house within your means, and that your kids new schools will measure up.

Its easy to forget while were dealing with all of these jitters that moving actually can represent an exciting adventure, a growth opportunity and the prospect of new beginnings. Once the dust settles after your move, youre entering one of the most memorable times of your life. With any luck, youve recruited a Realtorreg; whos familiar with the obvious stresses as well as the insidious and subsequently more detrimental ones. Depending upon your >

Its important to remember throughout the entire selling and buying process, however, to reserve time for yourself and your family. Its not a waste of time, but rather an insurance policy for your sanity and continued happiness. Stress is sneaky, as weve all discovered. It can eat away at us during what are supposed to be the happiest of times, because after all, any major change in life is stressful. If its supressed, it can wreak havoc both emotionally and physically and spread throughout the family. And theres nothing worse than moving a grumpy family across the country. For the sake of your continued family unity, keep in mind the following stress->

First, remember that its perfect normal to feel unsure of your decision right now. Youve just made a major commitment, and all of us experience those last-second "What on earth did I just do" worries after signing contracts and making life-changing decisions. Instead of becoming overwhelmed with "what ifs" and dread, reframe this decision as a prime opportunity to begin your lives in a new environment. The old saying "When one door closes, another one opens" definitely applies here. Trust that your Realtorreg; is looking out for your best interests, ask as many questions as you need to throughout the entire process thats part of what your Realtorreg; is paid for, and look forward to the adventure that lies ahead of you.

If you can, keep an emergency fund in case you run into any unexpected costs. One example: If your buyer comes forward after a home inspection is completed and requests a series of repairs prior to move-in, youll be prepared. Chances are good that you wont necessarily agree with the buyers requests, but at least you wont face the additional stress of being short the money for repairs if you plan ahead and save some extra cash no set amount -- just as much as you can handle. A goal you might try to shoot for would be in the range of 2,500. Its probably in your best interests not to try to guess what the buyer will want to repair, and then fix it ahead of time. Thats because buyers have a habit of isolating areas of your home that you never considered having repaired, and not even noticing the ones you expected them to pinpoint. So save yourself any expenses until youve determined their requests.

And while were on the subject of finances, try to anticipate and prepare for the initial expenses youll face upon move-in. Resign yourself to the fact that during the moving process, youre going to feel as if youre holding your wallet upside down, and everyone -- movers, contractors, buyer, etc. -- is sitting underneath, catching the windfall and demanding a larger share. Keep in mind that this is an investment for the good of your family, and that these costs are a one-time inevitability.

Remind yourself of why youre moving in the first place. A job transfer, or is it a voluntary choice? Obviously, whether or not you had some degree of control over the decision will affect your outlook. Regardless of your answer to that question, round up as much information as you can about your new hometown. What kinds of cultural offerings does the town/city offer? What are its landmarks and natural attractions? Research some possible day trips you might take with the family once youre settled. Is your new hometown near state borders, giving you the opportunity to explore different regions of the country without much effort?

Envision your new home. Where will you place the furniture? Remind yourself of the homes primary selling points. Will you have more space? More closets? A large backyard and/or swimming pool? What does your new streetlook like? Do a lot of young families reside there? If so, your children are likely to be reassured by that knowledge. As often as possible, try to picture yourself and your family fully adapted to your new environment.

Remember to have a little fun occasionally. Youre still allowed, even if you feel as if you dont have a penny left to your name. Take the family out to dinner, to a movie or a picnic -- anything that gets all of you out of the house and away from boxes, paperwork, emotions and all of those pre-move concerns. Keep a regular "date" to get out together -- for example, every Friday night leading up to the move. Take your mind off your stress for a few hours, and remind yourself that your family members are experiencing many of the same emotions. Like misery, stress often loves company, so enjoy your time together and remember that this stress wont last forever. Regardless of what youre feeling now, the move will happen and everything will eventually fall into place. Journeying into the unknown is what makes life rewarding, so trust in your Realtorreg;s expertise and in your familys resilience, and look forward to the journey ahead.

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Ask the HOA Expert: Rental limitations, Board Meeting Minutes, Increased Interest

Answer: Hardship provisions are meant to be exceptions to the rule so the fact that there are ldquo;too many rentalsrdquo; is immaterial. Members of the US military are entitled to an exemption due to deployment. If the board is unwilling to grant your hardship exception, an attorney letter on your behalf will help.

Question: We are a self-managed HOA. Over the years, the board has only distributed minutes of the annual meetings. Should we be sending minutes of board meetings and if so, should we wait until they have been approved?

Answer: Distribute minutes clearly marked DRAFT within two weeks after each meeting along with the caveat that they are subject to additions and correction at the next meeting. Distributing DRAFT minutes is important since there may be action items that will take place before the next meeting and members need to be informed before the fact, not after. Get email addresses for distribution purposes to eliminate cost and improved efficiency.

Question: The board has begun to charge 12 interest on past due balances. This is in conflict to the governing documents which state 8 per annum.

Answer: The board cannot institute a collection policy that contradicts the governing documents. Only an appropriate vote of the members as defined by the governing documents can change or eliminate the stated percentage.

For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to

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Spring Cleaning with an Eye Toward ROI

ldquo;Spring cleaning is the perfect opportunity for home owners to de-clutter and organize their home,rdquo; said Keller Williams. ldquo;It is an especially important task for home owners who currently have their home listed or plan to list in the near future. Taking the time to spruce up the home can help increase value and make a good impression on potential buyers.rdquo;

Clean out your closets

Whatrsquo;s one thing everyone always wants more of: closet space Buyers will open every door and look through every closet to assess whether or not their stuff will comfortably fit inside. Pack up your out-of-season stuff to make it look more airy, and not only will you impress buyers, but yoursquo;ll get a jumpstart on your packing.

Clean out your kitchen cabinets

Theyrsquo;ll go through these too, and if therersquo;s clutter or anything looks sloppy, poorly organized, or out of place, it may give them pause. You donrsquo;t want a buyer questioning whether the house is in good shape because your dishes were mismatched or you had too many junk drawers.

Clean out your garage

Yoursquo;re moving anyway, so you might as well get the garage nice and tidy now. The impression you make here could make a difference in getting a sale or staying on the market.

Spruce up your front yard

ldquo;Prepare the lawn and trees: Itrsquo;s time to bring out the lawn mower and plant nice flowers for a better curb appeal,rdquo; said Keller Williams. While yoursquo;re at it, lay down a fresh layer of mulch, which gives the yard a ldquo;done,rdquo; well-cared-for look, and make sure your door, doormat, and front windows are clean and inviting. Nothing is more important than the first impression your home makes. If the front yard and exterior look shabby, potential buyers may not even venture inside.

Get your yard in order

Outdoor living is more important than ever, and buyers are looking for a space where they can envision themselves >

Concentrate on the kitchen and bathrooms

Even if yoursquo;re not making updates, you can make these key spaces look brand-new with a good scrubbing. Use stainless steel cleaner to make your appliances shine and remove all fingerprints. For bath fixtures, ldquo;Simply add a squirt of a mild soap to a bowl of warm water,rdquo; said The Pink Plumber. ldquo;Use a soft cloth or nonabrasive sponge and clean the fixtures well, rinsing with warm water. Use an old, soft toothbrush to clean any crevices that are hard to get to with the cloth or sponge. Rinse the fixtures well with warm water and dry thoroughly with a soft cloth.rdquo;

Steam clean the carpets

Dirty, dingy, or smelly carpets are a real turnoff. You may not notice theyrsquo;ve lost their luster because yoursquo;re seeing them every day, but they wonrsquo;t likely get past a potential buyer. A good cleaning can make them look new and smell fresh.
ldquo;Old grime, pet dander, settled moisture, and other particles can all serve to not just make your carpet dirty but also to weigh it down and cause the fibers to stick to each other,rdquo; said Kaufman Realty amp; Auctions. ldquo;When yoursquo;re done and the carpet dries, it will be softer and fluffier than ever.

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Realty Times Remembers Long-Time Contributor, Bob Hunt

It is with great sadness and reflection that we announce the passing of Bob Hunt, a long-time Realty Times contributor, former director of the National Association of Realtorsreg;, author of Ethics at Work and Real Estate the Ethical Way. A graduate of Princeton with a masters degree from UCLA in philosophy, Hunt served as a U.S. Marine, Realtorreg; association president in South Orange County, director of the California Association of Realtorsreg;, and was an award-winning Realtorreg;. For the last 20 years Bob has been a weekly contributor to our website, educating agents and brokers alike as an expert in his field; we thank Bob for his many years of dedication to our publication. We will miss his colorful and sage advice. Our hearts are with his family at this very difficult time.nbsp;

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March Real Estate Roundup

Freddie Macs results of its Primary Mortgage Market Surveyreg; shows that "mortgage rates have dipped quite dramatically since the start of the year and house prices continue to moderate, which should help on the homebuyer affordability front. The combination of improving affordability and more inventory than the last few spring selling seasons should lead to improved home sales demand."

bull; 30-year fixed-rate mortgage FRM averaged 4.28 percent with an average 0.5 points for the week ending March 21, 2019, down from last month when it averaged 4.35 percent. A year ago, at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.45 percent.

bull; 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.71 percent with an average 0.4 points, down from last month when it also averaged 3.78 percent. A year ago, at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.91 percent.

bull; 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage ARM averaged 3.84 percent this week with an average 0.3 points, the same as last month when it averaged 3.88 percent. A year ago, at this time, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.68 percent.

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Alarm Bells Sound as HELOC Loans Increase in Canada

A recent survey found that many consumers donrsquo;t understand how home equity lines of credit HELOCs work and are at risk of over borrowing.

The survey, by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, says most survey respondents scored less than 50 per cent on a knowledge test of HELOCs, and that more than 25 per cent of those who have the loans made interest-only payments on them. Although 62 per cent of these people said they intend to pay off their loans within five years, FCAC says thatrsquo;s overly optimistic. More than three million Canadians have a HELOC and owe an average amount of 65,000.

ldquo;These results point to a pressing need for financial institutions and FCAC to help Canadians realize that not using HELOCs responsibly can have serious repercussions on their financial well-being,rdquo; says Lucie Tedesco, commissioner of FCAC. ldquo;Without a repayment plan, consumers may carry debt longer than anticipated and slip into patterns of behaviors that trap them on a treadmill of debt.rdquo;

HELOCs are loans that are secured by the borrowerrsquo;s residential property. Financial institutions sell products that combine HELOCs with traditional mortgages, called a ldquo;readvanceable mortgagerdquo;.

DBRS Limited reports that since 2017, HELOC balances have been growing at a faster rate than mortgages. HELOCs are the largest type of non-mortgage debt, more than double that of car loans or credit cards.

Used responsibly, HELOCs can save consumers thousands of dollars compared to other kinds of loans. Most of them are tied to a bankrsquo;s prime lending rate, which is currently below five per cent. Compare that to credit cards, which can be 25 per cent or more. HELOCs are flexible ntilde; you can borrow as much as you want up to your credit limit and pay it back any time you wish with no prepayment penalty.

FCAC says most HELOCs are used for home renovations, but 22 per cent of borrowers used them to pay down other debt such as high-interest credit-card balances.

Most consumers donrsquo;t have much money available in case of an emergency and HELOCs can be used for a quick, short-term loan if the need arises. Some have used the loans to put toward other financial investments and purchasing property.

ldquo;HELOCs provide borrowers with flexibility, as they make it easy to borrow and do not have a fixed schedule of principal payments,rdquo; says DBRS in a report. ldquo;However, this flexibility also permits borrowers to leverage up easily. It also allows households to carry this debt for prolonged periods of time without having to make a principal payment as these loans, unlike mortgages, are non-amortizing.rdquo;

If you have a HELOC tied to your mortgage but want to switch the mortgage to a different lender, you will have to pay off the HELOC completely. If you miss payments on your HELOC, the lender could take possession of your home.

As with all loans, interest rates can go up and your lender may reduce your credit limit. It can also ask you to repay the loan at any time.

FCAC says if you are applying for a HELOC, ask your lender are whatrsquo;s required to qualify, whatrsquo;s the best interest rate they can give you, how much notice you will get before an interest rate increase kicks in and what fees apply.

So far most Canadians have been handling their household debt well, but some figures just >

While the numbers are still small, Equifax Canadarsquo;s vice president Bill Johnston says, ldquo;The worm is turning in the Canadian credit market. Bankruptcies are up 15 per cent in the last half of 2018 and the small increase in delinquency rates mask some underlying weakness. Rising delinquency is likely to become the norm in 2019.rdquo;

DBRS worries that since consumers can use HELOCs to consolidate debt, ldquo;lenders may not observe the initial phases of a borrowerrsquo;s financial distress, if borrowers use their HELOC to make regular payments on other loans.rdquo;

In addition, ldquo;In a rising interest rate environment, the interest-only payments for borrowers are also set to rise, which may result in a further burden to borrowers who are carrying a large amount outstanding on their HELOCs. Should interest rates rise faster than anticipated, this could result in an amplified shock to a highly leveraged consumer despite these loans being non-amortizing.rdquo;

FCAC says that while most HELOC borrowers in the survey said they used their loans as intended, some borrowed more than expected. An argument can be made that money spent on home renovations is helping to increase the value of your home and your overall financial picture, but as with all loans, you must be realistic about your ability to repay.

ldquo;Borrowers would benefit from more upfront information about HELOCs and should take steps to learn about them,rdquo; says FCAC. Repayment plans that include making regular principal payments can help HELOC borrowers mitigate the risk of over-borrowing, debt persistence and wealth erosion.rdquo;

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Kitchen Cabinets: Paint em Yourself or Pay the Big Bucks?

Preparation is key when painting your cabinets, and the number of steps yoursquo;ll need to follow to achieve a quality finish can seem impossible. Yoursquo;ll want to remove the doors, drawer fronts, and hardware. Fill in any holes and smooth out any gouges. Degrease, sand, vacuum, wipe, sand some more, vacuum some more, wipe some more. And maybe then yoursquo;ll finally be ready for primingmdash;but not painting on the actual color, because that comes after priming.

Frankly, every step is important, and if you miss one, you could end up with a result yoursquo;re unhappy with, or a finish that doesnrsquo;t hold up. If yoursquo;re the type who isnrsquo;t likely to finish what yoursquo;ve started, perhaps you shouldnrsquo;t embark on this paint-your-own adventure. Your old, dated cabinets are still better than half-old-and-dated, half-done cabinets. But if you still want to go for it, at least be prepared for a few realities:

Yoursquo;re never going to get a look as good as the professionals

You may come close, and you may fool your friends, but therersquo;s a reason you pay professionals a couple to several thousand dollars for something verging on perfection.

Your arms will hate you

Which is not such a bad thing, really. You can skip a few ldquo;arm daysrdquo; at the gym if you really put your effort into it.

Yoursquo;ll never want to look at another piece of sandpaper again

Get ready for hand cramps. Thatrsquo;s how you know yoursquo;re doing it right. Sanding is critical to achieving the look you want and making sure the paint sticks.

ldquo;Sand all surfaces with the grain using 100-grit paper. To make sure no bits of dust mar the finish, vacuum the cabinets inside and out, then rub them down with a tack cloth to catch any debris that the vacuum misses,rdquo; said painting contractor John Dee on This Old House. ldquo;Hand sanding is the best technique on oak because you can push the paper into the open grain, which a power sander or sanding block will miss."

The dust is NEVER-ENDING

Refer back to all that sanding. Seriously. This is not a job for any old vacuum. You can rent an industrial vacuum at Home Depot, and itrsquo;s a good idea to also have a smaller vacuum with crevice tools and more rags for wiping and cleanup than you ever imagined needing for anything.

You need a system for keeping track of every door, drawer, and piece of hardware

Sounds easy, but one mistake and yoursquo;re in a world of hurt. If you donrsquo;t label every single door and drawer correctly, theyrsquo;ll get mixed up and they wonrsquo;t fit correctly. While yoursquo;re at it, donrsquo;t forget to label your hinges and handles, too.

ldquo;I read a dozen blogs that said to label my hinges so that they would all go back in the same places,rdquo; said Cori George of Hey, Letrsquo;s Make Stuff. ldquo;But I figured all the hinges were the same, so why spend the time? Huge mistake. The hinges had worn in specific ways in the last two decades and a half, so that after they were painted and I was putting the bathroom back together, none of the hinges worked quite right. I ended up sort of forcing everything into place, and while the doors work, they donrsquo;t work as well as they would have if Irsquo;d labeled them.rdquo;

There will be smudges. And maybe even an errant hair.

Yeah, it happens. Just remember to breathe as yoursquo;re redoing the same cabinet door for the fourth time.

The fumes are horrible

Speaking of breathinghellip;it wonrsquo;t be easy, depending on what kind of product you use.

When someone else is doing your cabinets, you can escape the fumes by gathering the family in a different part of the house for the couple of days of painting, or, even better, check into a hotel and take a little staycation. The DIY version means yoursquo;re all up in those fumes for however long it takes to get your cabinets done, which is likely longer than what the pros can accomplish. The degreaser yoursquo;ll likely need to use to get your cabinets cleaned up before applying any primer or paint is stinky, and certain kinds of paint are no better.

ldquo;In truth, oil primer and paint adhere the best and give the longest-lasting results on cabinets, but because of VOCs, oil is outlawed in many states,rdquo; said Albert Ridge of Ridge Painting in NYC on Remodelista. ldquo;A good alternative is water-soluble waterborne paint, such as Benjamin Moorersquo;s Advance, which is something like a latex-oil combo. But note that it dries quickly, so itrsquo;s wise to add an extender that allows you to the time to get a nice finish without brush marks. And if yoursquo;re painting something plasticky or otherwise hard to paint, Stix is a good primer to know about.rdquo;

The good tools are a worthwhile splurge

Professional painters typically want to spray cabinets because the finish comes out so smooth, although some do prefer the control a brush can bring. No matter which option you go with, you want the best tools you can afford. Paint Sprayer magazine tested a number of options, and the top-ranked sprayer is only 129mdash;a small price to pay for a smooth finish. You do want to make sure you practice ahead of time if yoursquo;re going this route. Poor spraying technique could result in an uneven finish or lots of drips.

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Its a Beautiful Day in the Gayborhood

The survey also focused on housing discrimination among the LGBTQ community, noting that, ldquo;Federal law and the Fair Housing Act do not yet include protections for LGBTQ clients.rdquo; Although, ldquo;According to the Human Rights Campaign, twenty-one states and the District of Columbia currently prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, with a further one state prohibiting housing discrimination based on sexual orientation but not gender identity.rdquo;

Members of the LGBTQ community are driven by many of the same factors as anyone else when looking to buy a homemdash;price, value, amenities, convenience. But, given the history of discrimination against this segment of the population and present-day issues, there is also a desire among many gay homebuyers to purchase in an area with an LGBTQ population, or one that is at least considered gay-friendly.

Thatrsquo;s where the ldquo;gayborhoodrdquo; comes in. defines gayborhood as, ldquo;an area of a city or town characterized as being inhabited or frequented by gay people.rdquo; Despite a proclamation in 2017 by the New York Times that the gayborhood was dead, having ldquo;straightenedrdquo; over the years, ldquo;There are more of them than you think,rdquo; counters Mashable.

Their recent take centers around the idea that ldquo;gayborhoods are shifting, not dying.rdquo; The piece is based on research from Amin Ghaziani, assistant professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia. ldquo;In his recently published piece, lsquo;Cultural Archipelagos: New Directions in the Study of Sexuality and Space,rsquo; Ghaziani analyzes new research to make a bold hypothesis: The gayborhood hasnt died, and it isnt being diluted out of existence,rdquo; they said. ldquo;Instead, gayborhoods are multiplying and diversifying.rdquo;

Ghaziani takes the definition of gayborhood beyond the more rudimentary description, identifying four main factors: ldquo;Its a geographical center of LGBTQ people including queer tourists, it has a high density of LGBTQ residents, its a commercial center of businesses catering to the queer and trans community, and its a cultural concentration of power.rdquo;

So where are todayrsquo;s gayborhoods? You have your usual suspects: The Castro in San Francisco, The West Village in New York City, Boystown in Chicago. A look at the ldquo;U.S. cities with the highest rate of same-sex married couplesrdquo; from NBC News is also illuminating. According to federal tax data from the year gay marriage was legalized, the cities with ldquo;the largest share of same-sex married couplesrdquo; are:

1. San Francisco, CA
2. Santa Rosa, CAmdash;also a top 20 retirement spot for LGBT seniors
3. Seattle, WA
4. Boston, MAmdash;the first state to legalize same-sex marriage
5. Portland, OR
6. Miami, FLmdash;also named the "greatest gay destination in America" by Thrillist
7. Albuquerque, NMmdash;also a SeniorAdvice most LGBTQ-friendly retirement spot
8. San Diego, CA
9. New York, NYmdash;Home to ldquo;the largest number of same-sex marriagesrdquo;
10. Portland, ME

Full Story >

Nightmare Neighbor: Disturbing Marijuana

The first year I lived here it only happened once or twice a month. But about two years ago his use increased to a few times a week. I covered all vents and ducts and purchased two very expensive air purifiers - which had very little effect. At that point I knocked on my neighbors door and tried to have a conversation with him about it, explaining that his marijuana stench seeps into my unit, as well as the common hallway. He became irate, called me names, swore at me and told me to mind my own business. To emphasize his point he took a hit from a bong and blew the smoke in my face.

The past year its increased to almost daily. Needless to say my condo constantly reeks of marijuana. My childhood asthma returned - I hadnt had an attack in 20 years, and started having them weekly. I had to get a prescription inhaler. I started getting headaches and eye irritations. I started staying with friends to avoid the health issues. When I wasnt in my condo, the health issues stopped.

I complained to security, they gave him a written warning and submitted it to the Condo Association. The board issued a nuisance fine. My neighbor paid it and continued to smoke marijuana - usually daily/nightly. I contacted my Condo Association board again, they told me they did all they could, we do not have a non-smoking rule, and since its illegal activity I needed to call the police.

Instead I called my real estate agent to put my condo on the market. I knew Id sell at a loss but I just wanted to get away from the stench. The day my real estate agent came to assess my condo and talk about putting it on the market, the stench in the common hallway and in my unit was so strong even with air purifiers blasting and windows open that he said there was no way he would consider bringing prospective buyers to view my condo. He too, suggested that I call the police, thinking a visit from the police and a fine would curtail my neighbors marijuana use.

So I decided to call the police. Surprisingly, they showed up quickly, issued a ticket and left. It had zero effect on my neighbor, in fact it seems like hes smoking even more because the marijuana stench is now almost constant. Occasionally he burns incense or cooks fish or bacon in an attempt to cover the sent, which leaves a smell of incense, fish or bacon mixed with marijuana. Another neighbor finally had enough, too, and called the police. They showed up, again, issued another ticket and left. As long as the guy pays the fine and isnt selling/dealing drugs, theres nothing further the police will do.

I am desperate to sell so I contacted two other real estate agents. They both left almost immediately upon entering my condo and refused to list my unit because of the obvious drug use next door. Friends and coworkers occasionally tell me my clothes smell like marijuana my closet is in the direct line of stench fire so I starting storing my clothes in airtight tubs in another part of my condo.

My marijuana-smoking neighbor is in his 50s, he does not work and is the son of the condo owner. The father, who owns the condo, is elderly and lives in another state. I also learned the pot smoking son doesnt work and doesnt have any financial assets; he is completely financially dependent on his father. I do not want to drag his innocent elderly father into this.

Do I have any legal recourse? Is my only solution foreclosure? - KC.

: K.C. No, there are avenues you can take and foreclosure is not one of them. I am confident that somewhere in your associationrsquo;s legal documents usually the Bylaws there is a provision that a unit owner cannot create a nuisance. And thatrsquo;s exactly what your ldquo;neighborrdquo; is creating: a clear nuisance. You should go back to the Board and tell them that they have to get an injunction against the owner as well as his son, demanding that he either stop smoking in the apartment or sell and move out.

If the Board is unwilling to do that, I suggest you contact a local real estate attorney who can follow up on my suggestion.

Two other avenues: you can file a lawsuit against that ldquo;neighborrdquo; claiming a private nuisance. You have to discuss this with your local counsel, to make sure what the elements of such a claim are in your state.

And if the Board is unwilling to take action, you can sue the Board directly, claiming that by failing to follow the Bylaws there are breaching their fiduciary duty to you. It is helpful that you have another owner who is upset with the situation. The more owners who will support you, the stronger your ability to persuade the Board to take action.

And finally, I donrsquo;t know why you are hesitant to contact the father; he is the owner, and should know what is going on. Perhaps if the father feels threatened somehow, he may be able to get his son to move out.

Your question raises yet another issue: as more and more states are allowing marijuana use ndash; whether in general or just for medicinal purposes -- I suspect that your problem will be duplicated throughout the nation. Boards of Directors of community associations should start thinking about imposing smoking restrictions ndash; and this should only be done by a bylaw amendment and not me>
Full Story >

Ask the HOA Expert: Gutters That Work

Until the late 19th century virtually all rain gutters were made of wood. With the advent of metal roll forming machines around 1900, the ability to create metal gutters became possible. The roll forming process shapes long coils of flat metal into long, formed sections of gutters in a variety of designs. Up until the 1970s, most rain gutter was produced on stationary roll forming machines weighing up to several tons. Then, lighter portable roll formers on trailers became available. With portable roll formers, contractors measure and form gutters onsite.

The three most common metal gutter systems are made of aluminum, steel and copper. The first two have the advantage of being custom painted while copper unless properly clear coated will weather and change color over time. All metal gutter options have a 20 year life or more as long as they are not damaged. Aluminum is the lightest weight metal option and most easily damaged. Downspouts should be located away from areas where damaging forces are likely vehicle, pedestrian, etc. or properly protected with landscaping or posts that prevent contact.

One of the most important functions of rain gutters is to prevent foundation movement due to water. Once rainwater has made it to downspouts, the downspouts need to direct the water away from the foundation, either in subterranean rain drains which lead to a french drain a cistern like system that allows the water to be gradually reabsorbed into surrounding soil, run off to an above ground ponding facility that also allows gradual absorption into the soil or connection to a grid of storm water drains that carry to water back to streams and rivers. Some states and jurisdictions have restricted hard surface roof, street, parking lot storm water run-off to onsite collection facilities to avoid contamination of streams and rivers.

Splash blocks are a low tech alternative that move water away from the foundation. A splash block is a rectangular wedge about a foot wide and two feet long that is placed under the downspout outlet. Rainwater hits the block and is diverted away from the building and works well as long as there is positive drainage. However, in areas with high volumes of rain, splash block drainage may create additional problems with boggy areas in the landscaping or flooding downstream neighbors. In these areas, more sophisticated drainage systems are in order.

An ongoing maintenance issue with gutters is the accumulation of tree and roof debris that block or slow water drainage. This is particularly burdensome in areas of heavy deciduous tree cover. In those areas, ongoing tree pruning and selected tree removal is necessary to reduce the problem and >

Airborne dirt and roofing granules wash into the gutters and accumulate in gutters and create a hindrance to water flow. Removal of this sludge requires hand work by scooping, flushing with high pressure water hose or blowing out with a leaf blower. The last two can be create additional mess to the landscaping, walkways and building but are quicker and cheaper to accomplish.

There are quite a few options for gutter covers that claim to eliminate the need for gutter cleaning. They come in many different designs and price points and do reduce the need and frequency of cleaning but none can prevent the accumulation of sludge that finds its way passed even the best gutter cover systems. Since these systems are expensive, part of the selection criteria should be ease of removal to flushthe sludge.

Gutters and downspouts are a wonderful piece of engineering when properly installed and maintained. While ldquo;in the gutterrdquo; is a description for someone that is ldquo;down and outrdquo;, rain gutters are indispensable for getting rainwater down and out to where it does no damage.

For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to

Full Story >

5 Overlooked Factors That Can Affect Your Homes Insurance Rates

1. The age and condition of your house.

This is one of the most obvious factors and also one of the biggest. The age of your house and the wiring, pipes, roof, lumber, square footage, and even how many corners it has all play a role in the price of your insurance.

It comes down to the risk associated with the house and the costs that come with repair or replacement. For example, if your home was built in 1920, it may have old pipes and wiring that arenrsquo;t up to code. These materials come with a much higher risk of damage or fire, so the insurance companies will charge more to insure it.

2. In a flood zone? It can cost you.

Again, if the risk of destruction is high, your insurance will reflect it. If you have a beachfront home on the Gulf Coast, you can expect to pay more than if yoursquo;re in an area of the country where flooding is typically not a concern, such as the Midwest.

If yoursquo;re in any sort of flood zone and you have a mortgage on your home, your lender will probably require a separate flood insurance policymdash;and that costs money. Even if you arenrsquo;t in a flood zone, your mortgage company may still require coverage, so be sure to look into your lenderrsquo;s requirements when you begin shopping around.

3. Some dog breeds can take a big bite out of your wallet.

In some cases, your family dog can bump up your premiums. Certain breeds, such as pit bulls and ldquo;bullyrdquo; breeds, have a reputation of being more dangerous than others and historically come with larger liability concerns to your insurer, resulting in a higher rate.

Three things can happen if your dog is considered a ldquo;dangerousrdquo; dog breed: you could be charged a higher rate from your carrier, your provider may cover you but exclude any liability associated with the dog, or the carrier could decide not to insure you at all.

4. Your pool can put your rates in the deep end.

Pools, trampolines, and even backyard construction projects are in a category called attractive nuisances, which are recreational amenities added to a home that can raise liability concerns and your rates on behalf of an insurer. If there is something in your yard that can attract the attention of a minor and pose any level of danger, it will probably affect your insurance policy.

5. Proximity to the fire department affects your premiums.

If your house were to catch fire, how long would it take for the local fire department to get there? The faster they can get there and handle the situation, the better chance they have of minimizing the damage.

Every homeownerrsquo;s policy requires whatrsquo;s called a Public Protection >

In some cases, you may be able to make some changes to help lower your rates, but never lie or intentionally exclude key information on your applicationmdash;this could result in your coverage or renewal getting denied. Be honest with your agent, and they will help you find the right coverage and rate that works for your needs.


Paul Martin, CPCU, is an insurance professional for Trusted Choice with over 30 yearsrsquo; experience in the field. Throughout his career, his mission has been to advance the insurance industry through education to be better equipped to serve the public.

Full Story >

Cautious, Realistic Approach Needed When Buying A Time-Sharing Unit

Answer. If you have the time -- and perhaps the patience -- to put up with the sales presentation, it certainly pays to make the appointment. However, you should look long and hard before you commit yourself to purchasing any kind of time-sharing condominium unit. If you do want to buy into a time-sharing arrangement, you should do so cautiously and with no expectation of profit.

Oversimplified, time-sharing is a way of making money for developers. Instead of selling a condominium outright, the developer is selling ownership of the same unit for parts of the year and is making a lot more money in the process.

Many time-share operators permit a buyer to purchase a week or more, or even a season, such as the spring or summer. You own that time period, and other purchasers will own subsequent periods. Usually, these condominiums are fully furnished. In effect, you are moving into a hotel for the period that you purchased.

My concern with time shares is that people do not fully understand what they are buying. The documents are vague, written in complex legalese and often high-pressure sales techniques are used In fact, from my personal experience, they wont let you take the proposed contract to your lawyer before you sign it.

In fairness to the industry, however, it has taken steps to change its reputation, primarily because of legislation that has been enacted in many states throughout the country.

If you are considering a time-share unit, do not jump in without giving the matter serious thought. Dont be convinced by the sales rhetoric that you must buy now or the deal is off. As you know from receiving all of those sales brochures, there will always be another time-share unit and another sales representative if you remain interested.

Here are some questions to ask before signing up to purchase:

  • What kind of title will you receive?
  • Are you getting fee-simple ownership of your time interval or are you me>
  • What kind of mortgage financing is available and how much will you have to pay? Dont forget you will have to make your mortgage payments every month throughout the year, even though you may have the use of your apartment for only one or two weeks.
  • Who controls the condominium or homeowners association? Do you have a vote in the association, or are you delegating all of your responsibilities to the developer, who in reality now becomes the new property manager?
  • What are the costs over and above the mortgage payments? Often, you will have to pay for such items as condominium maintenance, weekly cleaning, use of the swimming pool and other amenities, and these fees may continue on a monthly basis.
  • Are there any tax benefits for you? Are the real estate taxes allocated, and are you entitled to treat this property as your second home, or is it an investment property for tax purposes? Discuss this important question with your tax advisers.

You must ask these questions of the real estate agent and make sure any representations by the agent are put in writing.

One of the interesting developments of time-share operations is the exchange program. Under this system, you are permitted to swap all over the world. But what restrictions are there? What fee is charged to participate? Are you eligible to participate in only one such program or can you join others? I know of one couple who swapped a Christmas week with another couple who were only able to swap for a February week in Canada.

In the final analysis, the decision to purchase a time-share unit depends on your life>

And getting out of the time-share may be impossible. I constantly get calls -- and complaints -- that owners cannot sell. I once represented an elderly couple who could not travel anymore to their time share and wanted out. We finally were able to convince the developer to take it back, but only on the condition that my clients paid two full years of mortgage and maintenance charges.

Incidentally, look on the back of the sales promotional letters. It should contain a statement of the odds of winning that color television, the cash or some piece of cheap jewelry. I know one person who thought he was very lucky when he won a power boat. When he went to collect his prize, it turned out to be a 10-inch, battery-operated childs toy.

And the latest scam -- in my opinion -- are the robotic telephone calls we are getting telling us we just won a free cruise. Good luck with that

Full Story >

8 Easy Ways To Improve Your Homes Curb Appeal

1. Spruce Up the Front Door

Your homes front door is like a welcoming smile. Make sure yours is bright and attractive. If its in terrible condition, consider replacing it. Otherwise, a fresh coat of paint in a color that compliments your home will do. Polish or replace the doorknob and hardware. A metal kick plate at the bottom will do wonders to cover pet scratches and other damage.


2. Install Outdoor Lighting

Use low-voltage lighting to accent landscaping, the house, or sidewalk. This will also add to safety and security. Dont worry if you cant use lights that require wiring. Solar fixtures are available that will do the job.


3. Rejuvenate Your Lawn

Bald spots and weeds on your lawn are an eyesore for your entire property. Make an investment in getting yours up to par. Make sure your grass type is appropriate for where you live. Learn when and how to fertilize, water, and weed it properly. Keep your lawn mowed, raked and edged. If you live in a dry area consider drought-tolerant landscaping.


4. Container Gardens and Flower Beds

Flower beds and container gardens are a wonderful way to brighten curb appeal. If you already have flower beds, get them in shape by pulling weeds, pruning, and mulching. Buy your container gardens ready-made or create your own. Be sure to use plants that will thrive where you live, and consider the amount of sun or shade they will get.


5. Mailbox Makeover

A mailbox makeover is a quick and affordable way to add curb appeal. Choose a hanging dropbox that compliments your homes trim work. If it sits on a post, give the box and the post a fresh coat of paint. Purchase attractive and visible lettering for the name and street number. Consider surrounding the mailbox with a flower bed.


6. Add Shutters and Accent Trim

Shutters and trim add a touch of subtle beauty to your homes exterior. If you already have shutters, make sure they dont have peeling paint. A color change for shutters and trim can revive a tired-looking exterior. If you are adding new shutters, look for shutters made of durable material such as PVC resins or polyurethane. Use durable, low-maintenance trim details.


7. Replace Gutters and Downspouts

Nothing shouts neglect more than an old rusting gutter system. Newer systems are available made of snap-fit vinyl that can be put together easily with simple tools. Another option is to invest some money into a copper system for really dynamite curb appeal.


8. Upgrade the Driveway and Walkway

Cracks in concrete driveways and walkways with vegetation growing through can ruin your homes curb appeal. Fortunately, this problem is easily fixed with crack refill and driveway sealant. Stained concrete can be cleaned and repainted. If you have a dirt driveway, holes and washouts are unsightly and inconvenient. A load of fresh gravel will keep your driveway looking neat for a long time.

Full Story >

Home Upgrades That Can Save You Money

Adding Smart Lighting

Did you know the lighting in your home can increase or decrease the overall value? Itrsquo;s one of the easiest and least expensive upgrades you can make. You may be wondering ldquo;How does adding new lighting save me more money?rdquo; Most lighting inside homes comes from incandescent light bulbs, which are filled with mercury and argon. These are very toxic chemicals to humans and can cause serious health problems if they shatter.

To prevent this from happening, consider switching to CFL or LED because not only is it safer, itrsquo;s going to save you a lot of money. In addition, if you have a bad habit of leaving the light on while yoursquo;re gone, you can turn off the light with your phone.

Install Remote Outlets

While on the subject of remote control, your lights arenrsquo;t the only thing that can be controlled from afar. You can install a wifi enabled socket that allows you to switch off your electrical appliances when you are out. Some people scratch their heads and wonder how this is significant. However, have you ever had that feeling as yoursquo;re out shopping and you start wondering if the coffee pot was left on? The fear that soon overtakes you probably forces you to drive back home, only to find that you did indeed turn the coffee pot off.

With a smart outlet, yoursquo;ll be able to shut off the power in a mere instant. Not only will you end up saving money, but youll also alleviate a lot of unnecessary stress. Yoursquo;ll be able to enjoy your time outside without having to worry about leaving the oven on

Beat The Cold by Having Smart Heating

In most homes, there are usually two kinds of people. The first is someone who sets their to thermostat to the specific temperature and will ra>

Should you be the person who sets it once, you should still consider adjusting the thermostat at least once every season change. The Department of Energy recommends all homeowners to set their thermostat to 68 to 73 degrees during the holiday season. Its worth noting that if youre the type of person that constantly adjusts the thermostat, youre more likely to cause damage and waste money on repairs.

Without working your HVAC into overdrive and running up your bill, consider installing a smart thermostat. You can set up a program where the smart thermostat will adjust the temperature throughout the day that maximizes savings.

With these tips in mind, yoursquo;re ready to start getting more bang for your buck with these upgrades If yoursquo;re looking for more ways to upgrade your home, conduct a more thorough research to find an abundance of home upgrades.

Full Story >

To Rent or Sell Your Vacant Home

Deciding whether or not to sell or rent your vacant home is an incredibly big decision that requires a lot of thought. Therefore, you should always look at the pros and cons of selling or renting your home.nbsp;

The Main Reason to Sell Your Home

Before you can look at the pros and cons of selling your home instead of renting it, its important to look at the main reason why you should sell your vacant home.

If the following reason applies to you, then it is best to sell your vacant home as soon as possible.

The Value of the Neighborhood Has Gone Downstream

If your vacant home is in a neighborhood where the value is sinking, its best to sell this house and move on as fast as possible. By doing so as quickly as you can, you will get more money than you normally would unless you plan on waiting to see if the value will go back up, which is an extremely bad idea.

Once the plummet in value has begun, its hard to know when it will stop, or if it will stop at all. Speaking to a real estate agent who has experience and knowledge about dropping neighborhood value will help you in figuring out what to do.

If the agent believes that the value is not going to go up anytime soon, or at all, its best to sell your vacant home as soon as you can. By using a real estate agent to sell your vacant home, the process will go a lot more smoothly when compared to doing it by yourself, especially if you need to sell it within a short period of time.

An agent will help you and tell you what to do when it comes to preparing the home, like referring you to a plumber or an electrician to have them come in and do a walk-through to ensure everything is in order. They will also give you advice whether or not you should stage the home, or just leave it empty of furniture, if you currently do not have any in there. Your real estate agent will also guide you through the selling price, meeting with potential buyers, going through the negotiation process, and finalizing the sale.

However, if you would like them to handle the meeting with buyers, negotiations, and closing the deal, you can sit out of these parts completely.

Although, if you are still unsure whether or not you want to sell or rent your vacant home, or youre willing to take the chance in a neighborhood that is losing some of its value, then the pros and cons below will help you to decide on your final decision.

The Pros and Cons of Renting Your Vacant Home

As previously stated, if you are still looking to rent your vacant home out to tenants, then the following pros and cons will aid you in your decision.

The Pros of Renting Out

The biggest pro when it comes to renting out your vacant home is that youll have a second source of income.

This extra money each month will help you pay for the property taxes, mortgage, and utilities unless you are going to have the tenants paying for utilities each month, which is completely your choice.

You can increase the value in your vacant home by having some renovations done for your future tenants, which could end up becoming a future investment if you play your cards right.

For example, finishing the basement and adding a kitchen and a bathroom, if there is not a bathroom in there already. This will turn it into a basement apartment, and increase the homes value for resale.

By renting out your vacant home, you will successfully avoid squatters, vandals, and thieves. For example, if you own a vacant home and you are ba>

You may get lucky and even have a tenant, or tenants, who can help you with maintaining your property when you are unable to. This could be anything from lawn care to plumbing issues.

If you get lucky, a tenant could even become a future buyer for your property. However, this does not tend to happen very much, because people who are renting are generally not going to buy. Although, even if people have the money to do it, they may choose to rent for longer than they need to, to ensure that they have their ideal savings built up.nbsp;

The Cons of Renting Out

Unfortunately, there are a lot more cons when it comes to renting out your vacant home than there are pros. For example, you could end up with horrible tenants who do not show their true colors until a rental agreement or contract has already been signed.

The process of evicting a tenant is a long one, and you must bring sufficient grounds to do so to the right place. In short, it can take months.

Bad tenants are considered tenants who cause damage to your property, are always late on rent payments, or dont pay rent period. This will cause you additional expenses for any repairs that need to be done, and will eliminate all of the benefits of renting out your property to begin with.

You could always have background checks conducted on each potential tenant, but sometimes this will not show you all you need to know until its already too late. Another con would be tenants making the home difficult to sell. For example, say you have let your tenant know that you are planning to sell, and that they have to >

Whereas if your home were empty, you could easily clean up, get the property ready for the potential buyers, and make any necessary repairs without having to work around your tenants schedule.

The Pros and Cons of Selling Your Vacant Home

Deciding whether or not to sell your vacant home definitely takes a lot more thought than renting, the process is longer, but do you feel it will be worth it? After going over the following pros and cons of selling your vacant home, the decision will be much easier to make.

The Pros of Selling

One of the biggest benefits of selling instead of renting is, you guessed it, the money. Even though you would be getting income each month from your tenants, whether its for rent solely or both rent and utilities, you will also have to spend on repairs, new appliances if anything breaks and anything else that goes wrong.

This can get incredibly costly, and theres no real way to plan your budget when you do not know what could happen.

Another large pro is freeing up equity and rolling over so you can apply such funds to your next home, or put all of that money away into your savings. Should your neighborhood drop in value, selling quickly will ensure that you get a fair chunk of cash before the value falls.

If your home qualifies, you can even get a capital gain that is tax-free, where you would not if you decided to rent the home out. Utilities can be quite expensive, especially if you are not charging your tenants for them, and they receive sky-high utility bills.

Tenants can be difficult to deal with, especially if you come around saying that they need to use less water and stop keeping all of the lights on.

It could also start an issue if you, for whatever reason, have to add utilities to their rent, and they make a scene about it. By selling your vacant home, you wont have to deal with tenants or utilities, period

You will no longer have to worry about squatters, or tenants completely wrecking the place and making the value of the home plummet to the point where youre spending thousands of dollars trying to fix it and make it a home again. Plus, you will save hundreds of dollars per year when it comes to maintenance that you will no longer have to do anymore, which will also help to give you a peace of mind.

If you have already bought another home, you will no longer have to worry about keeping up with two mortgages, which will save you time, money, and a ton of stress. Why yank your hair out over both homes, when you can just sell your vacant one? The answer is simple; just sell it and move on.

The Cons of Selling

The only major con when it comes to selling your vacant home is that it could be difficult for you emotionally, if you have memories ties to the home. Perhaps you bought a new home and are keeping your old one for whatever personal reasons you may have.

Another con is the process of selling, but that can be easily be dealt with by taking on an experienced, reputable real estate agent who knows how to sell homes quickly, especially in a declining value neighborhood.

Though the process may take some extra time, and it can be very stressful, the real estate agent can help you get your home appraised for a selling price, do all of the showings with potential buyers, work with buyers during the negotiation process, and even finalize and close the deal for you once all of the proper documents have been signed.

Making the Best Decision

Based on the pros and cons listed for you, the decision to either rent your house out to tenants or sell it should be an easy one. By selling, you wont have to worry about risky tenants, keeping up with constant maintenance, squatters invading, vandals destroying the place, and you will not have to pay utilities or a second mortgage anymore, if applicable.

If you choose to sell the house, you will su>

However, if you do decide to rent out your vacant home to tenants, just be sure that you know what youre doing, you are careful with who you choose to rent the home out to, and always stay on top of maintenance and repairs.

You will probably have to spend more money than you will receive for rent and utilities, if you choose to not to charge for them, but it may work out for you in the end. Once you make a final decision, its best to get on it immediately. Whether that decision is renting your home, or contacting a real estate agent to help sell the house as quickly as possible.nbsp;nbsp;

Full Story >

Real Estates Surprisingly Hot High-Tech Tool is Actually a Traffic App

Itrsquo;s Waze. Yes, the crowdsourced traffic app people use to find alternate routes when driving.

ldquo;Waze isnrsquo;t technically real estate agent software, but if yoursquo;re stuck in traffic, yoursquo;re not selling houses,rdquo; said Fit Small Business, who names the crowdsourced traffic app as one of their best bets on the list of the ldquo;43 Best Real Estate Software amp; Tools for Top Agents in 2019.rdquo; Waze lets you ldquo;focus on your business by providing up-to-the-minute traffic condition reports from other Waze users. Plus, itrsquo;s a great tool if yoursquo;re giving clients a tour of your listings and want to hit as many properties as possible. It saves you time, frustration, and best of all, gas money. Waze is a must-have on any realtorrsquo;s smartphone.rdquo;

Being able to guide you through heavy traffic isnrsquo;t the only advantage of using Waze.

A recent story in the Hollywood Reporter also mentioned the app without using the name as a contributing factor in the growth of neighborhoods in South Los Angeles ldquo;including Ladera Heights, View Park, Windsor Hills and Leimert Park mdash; "that are now seeing double-digit annual price jumps in their historic homes and an influx of diverse new buyers in ZIP codes that traditionally have drawn mostly African-American families,rdquo; they said.

ldquo;You know whatrsquo;s brought more visibility to the area mdash; and I hate to give props to the technology mdash; but itrsquo;s people driving through using a [navigation] app,rdquo; Coldwell Banker real estate agent, Janet Singleton, told them. ldquo;Theyrsquo;ll call up and say, lsquo;I just saw your sign. What is the name of this neighborhood? And how much is it?rsquo;rdquo;

Enterprising real estate companies like Daniel Gale Sothebyrsquo;s International Realty in Long Island and Queens, NY, are also exploring new ways ldquo;to capture a broader audience for its listings and Open Houses on Long Island and in Queens,rdquo; said Real Trends, and are finding Waze to be a great optionrdquo;

Open houses show up as ldquo;a branded pin on the Waze map at its location and interested parties will be further directedrdquo; to the location,rdquo; they said. ldquo;A separate detailed takeover ad with additional information about the Open House will be revealed to the user when the vehicle is at a complete stop.rdquo;

Compass is another company working with Wave to have their listings show up on the app, and also provide another showcase for their new high-tech signs, which were rolled out last year.

Full Story >

Prepare Your Kitchen for a Home Sale

Define your goals

Rearrange your kitchen by clearly defining your different goals.

A well-organized kitchen:

---gt; Must be clean and smell good.

---gt; Must look spacious and unencumbered. There is enough space in the drawers and cupboards.

---gt; Must be tastefully decorated: there must be no ugly or dated objects.

---gt; Must be welcoming: the buyer must be able to easily imagine using it and appreciate the space.

---gt; Must be alive without being messy.

Have your kitchen cleaned by a professional

Having your kitchen cleaned by a professional is a very good investment if you plan to sell your house. Sure, you could just as well do it yourself, but would the result really be so good? A kitchen is at its best when it is sparkling.

Be very sensitive to odors

Be sure to remove all trash cans, recycling bags and pet accessories before making visits, and be sure to clean the inside and bottom of the bins. Spread a lemon under your trash. There is nothing worse to let a potential buyer spin than a bad smell.

Be very sensitive to odors

Be sure to remove all trash cans, recycling bags and pet accessories before making visits, and be sure to clean the inside and bottom of the bins. Spread a lemon under your trash. There is nothing worse to let a potential buyer spin than a bad smell. The refrigerator is another place to be attended to - refrigerator odors oftentimes carry far past the kitchen. Repair Aid, a professional appliance repair company, advises on how to solve this problem in this post.

Remember to redo the paintings

Outside the household, you will get your money back if you redo the paintings. Spend a new layer in your kitchen, with a hue in harmony with the color of your closets and worktops. If you have a doubt, go for white. Even if your kitchen is new, look carefully at the walls and ceilings, and make the necessary adjustments, even the small ones.

Organizing your kitchen is the first step to move on, which is not always easy. If you are preparing your house for sale, it is time to no longer think of it as your home, but as a property about to be sold. This preparation, if done well, can make your home more attractive and speed up your sale. It is even sometimes possible to obtain more than originally hoped for. It is better to make the best possible impression from the beginning so that you do not have to endure the incessant visits. Keep this in mind during your preparations.

Make the windows

Clean the windows, both inside and out. If your windows are equipped with awesome curtains, consider removing them, or at least making sure they are well drawn during the visits.

Make a clean space on the worktop

A toaster and coffee maker are the only things you can stay on the counter. Everything else must be tidy.

Arrange closets inside

Potential buyers will look inside your closets. And if they are overloaded, it will give the impression that there is not enough storage space in your kitchen. Remove any excess, or mismatched items, and anything that does not make a good impression. If you still need these items, keep them in a box that you place at the top of a shelf or cupboard during visits.

Store the pantry

Reduce the contents of your pantry until there is empty space on each shelf. Arrange this leftover in matching boxes or baskets. It may be necessary to remove food, but remember that a well presented kitchen is not necessarily a practical kitchen. As with the objects in your closets, keep the extra items in a box that you will hide for visits.

Organize your wall shelves

People have a special >

Put nice soaps and dishwashing liquids in a tray

Dispose of old sponges and dishwashing liquids, and replace them with an original soap, a nice dishwashing liquid dispenser and a lotion, all well presented on a tray.

Make the tap shine

A clean and bright faucet always makes a good impression. Also be sure to repair any leaks.

Accessorize your cooking plates

A nice cookie or kettle on the hobs is a welcoming touch. Just make sure that what you choose is in perfect working order and without any scratches.

Add new tea towels

New tea towels are at the top of the list when you want to present your kitchen. They are an inexpensive way to add some color and pattern, especially in an all-white kitchen that might otherwise look bland.

Buy fresh fruit

Everything that is ripe and pretty will do the trick. Choose beautiful fruits and arrange them in a basket, a salad bowl or in a cake dish.

Add fresh flowers and other green plants

Just like the fruit basket, freshly cut flowers, branches or aromatic plants in jars bring life to your kitchen. No need to spend a fortune: in this kitchen, for example, sunflower->

Exhibit your finest cookbooks

Cookbooks are an accessory that makes cooking attractive and useful. But think of sorting in your books: keep a single row, taking care to choose books in good condition. If you do not have a shelf, you can have a small stack on the worktop.

Full Story >

Lease Restrictions and Obtaining the 2/3 Majority Vote

Answer: Herb. First, as I always tell presidents of their condo association, ldquo;my condolencesrdquo;. Itrsquo;s a tough job, no one ever thanks you, the hours are long and there is no pay. But, its your investment and presumably thatrsquo;s why you accepted the task.

Lease restrictions are the current hot-button topic in community associations. Perhaps the main reason is that the Federal Housing Administration FHA has imposed lending restrictions that, among many other conditions, require that no more than 50 percent of the complex can be investor owned. And, today at least, FHA is the main game in town when it comes to making condo mortgage loans.

So, associations all over the country are looking for ways to impose restrictions on the number of units that can be rented. There is a concept in law known as ldquo;restraint on alienationrdquo;. In simple English, this means that the law encourages the free transfers and sales of real property. And courts have held that putting restrictions on the ability of a property owner to rent or sell his/her home is or can be a restraint on alienation.

However, there is another concept in community association law, namely that every owner is bound by the associationrsquo;s legal documents as they existed at the time the person became an owner AND as those documents may be legally amended from time to time.

In a condominium, for example, there is a hierarchy of power. First, the
State law is supreme. Next comes the Declaration, then the Bylaws and finally the rules and regulations.

Courts around the country have had to address the question of what can be done to put restrictions on the number of renters so as to comply with FHA guidelines. And the courts have basically ruled that if a restriction is legally incorporated in the Declaration or the Bylaws, it will be upheld as valid.

My recommendation: try to amend your Declaration; itrsquo;s the higher authority. And typically, to amend your legal documents requires a super-majority ndash; usually 2/3 or even seventy-five percent vote of the membership. And this does
not mean just the members who are present at a meeting; it requires a super-majority of all of the owners, based on their percentage interests.

You state that you are not sure you can muster the requisite 2/3 majority. Thatrsquo;s the price of democracy. The legislators who crafted condo laws have made it clear that major changes in the operation of the association must be approved by more than a mere majority.

Needless to say, owners who rent may not be inclined to vote in favor of restrictions. You can try to grandfather those owners by having the amendment state that it does not impact in any way on existing owners. You should try to convince those investors that if the proposed amendment does not pass, the investor may not be able to find a buyer who is able to get loan.

Full Story >

Is Homeownership the Greatest Way to Secure Your Financial Future?

But therersquo;s something else to consider: The future value of the home. Equity growth is likely something yoursquo;ve at least thought about if yoursquo;re in the market for a home. After all, the idea of paying someone elsersquo;s mortgage payment interminably instead of building equity in your own place has probably been driving you crazy. But letrsquo;s dive in a little further.

Appreciation in a nutshell

ldquo;Appreciation, or the rising of home prices over time, is how the majority of wealth is built in real estate,rdquo; said Forbes. ldquo;This is the lsquo;home runrsquo; you hear of when people make a large windfall of money. While prices fluctuate, over the long run real estate values have always gone up, always, and there is no reason to think that is going to change.rdquo;

That makes real estate one of the more stable long-term investments. A paper from economists at University of California-Davis, University of Bonn, and the Deutsche Bundesbank the central bank of Germany culled together ldquo;the annual returns of treasury bills, treasury bonds, equities, and residential housing from 1870 to 2015 for 16 now-rich countries such as the US, Germany, and Japanrdquo; to study the effects of different forms of investments. They found that, ldquo;in the average wealthy country, the annual return on housing during that period was just over 7 when adjusted for inflation, while the return on equities was just under 7,rdquo; said Quartz. ldquo;At the same time, the risk associated with housing was far lower. By standard measures of uncertainty, housing was about half as risky as equities, and slightly less risky than bonds.rdquo;

This is, obviously, important to those who are purchasing real estate for strictly investment purposes. But itrsquo;s also something to keep in mind when buying real estate for personal use.

Proving financial security later

ldquo;Paying off a mortgage during your working years allows you to remove a large expense from your plate during retirement,rdquo; said Forbes. ldquo;For retirees that see a drop in income once they start taking Social Security or pulling from their retirement accounts, this can be the difference between living a comfortable life and living paycheck to paycheck.rdquo;

And while it may be hard to look forward several decades and even try to picture what retirement will look like, especially if yoursquo;re just starting out, the idea of long-term savings is attractive nonetheless.

ldquo;Forced savingsrdquo;

Need a little help saving? A house is great that way. ldquo;For those who havenrsquo;t made a habit of putting money away, paying a mortgage can create a savings cushion that renting cannot,rdquo; said Forbes. ldquo;Owning a home does not guarantee a higher net worth, nor does it remove the need to be financially responsible, but it does provide a structure within which one can build wealth.rdquo;

Buying young

The earlier you buy, the more wealth you have the opportunity to create. ldquo;Of todayrsquo;s older adults, those who bought their first home from ages 25 to 34 accumulated the most housing wealth by their 60s mdash; a median of around 150,000, according to a report by the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization,rdquo; said app. ldquo;In contrast, the median housing wealth for those in their early 60s who bought later ages 35 to 44, was about half as much, at 76,000. Homeowners who bought after they were 45 had about 44,000 in housing wealth by their 60s.rdquo; What you do today can absolutely affect your future financial picture.

Full Story >

Must-Haves for Aging in Place

ldquo;Ninety percent of older Americans would prefer to live in their own home as they age, according to AARP,rdquo; said Lifeline. But doing so typically requires changes to the home to accommodate the realities of agingmdash;changes HomeAdvisor highlighted in their most recent Aging in Place Report.

ldquo;As we heard from survey respondents both aged 55 to 75 and aged 75 and over, the key to facilitating aging in place is actually taking a holistic approach to home improvement leading up to aging in place mdash; doing things like simplifying landscaping, repairing and replacing windows, swapping out door handles, and organizing closets and storage areas,rdquo; they said. ldquo;Take a front walkway, for example. If there are cracks or dips in the concrete, homeowners would want to address those existing safety issues before consider installing a wheelchair ramp or a railing that theyrsquo;re not sure theyrsquo;ll ever need. And installing self-cleaning gutters will not only make life easier in the short term, but it will also ensure that gutter cleaning is covered when climbing a ladder becomes too precarious later on.rdquo;

The survey found that respondents in both the 55 to 75 and 75 and over categories were motivated to make home improvements in order to simplify their livesmdash;ldquo;even above aesthetics, safety, accessibility and increased home value.rdquo;

The top individual projects varied depending on the age of the respondent, although many, such as adding pullout shelves in kitchen cabinets No. 1, 55 to 75, No. 2, 75 and over made both lists. Others included:

Changing doorknobs to leversmdash;This simple change makes it easier to operate door hardware for anyone who may be suffering from arthritis or have issues with their joints that make grasping and turning the doorknob difficult.

Changing out flooring from tile or stone to wood or carpetmdash;Taking steps to minimize the potential for injury in the home is key for those looking to age in place.

Installing a smart security system or smart thermostatmdash;Adding smart home features is one of the most popular trends spanning every demographic, and theyrsquo;re hot in the senior market, said Healthy Women. ldquo;Smart thermostats keep your home at the perfect temperature without you needing to fuss with the dial. Automatic blinds keep the sun out of your eyes and maintain your homes temperature. The best part? Not needing to fight with those pesky cords. Smart showers allow you to customize everything from the waters temperature to your morning playlist. Every morning you just press a button to be greeted with your perfect shower. Smart doors act like your butler. Just walk up to the door and it opens itself for youmdash;no keys, locks or handles.nbsp;A key fob or your smartphone serves as your ID.rdquo;

Making renovations to bathrooms including comfort-height toilets and grab barsmdash;Ugh, grab bars. Is that what yoursquo;re thinking? The good news is that not only do these features provide protection, theyrsquo;re also being designed with new flair to make them appear as decorative as they are useful. ldquo;As considerations for aging in place and safety in retirement house design become more top of mind for home builders and their clients, new solutions are being developed that provide functional items such as shower grab bars without creating a design that stigmatizes the homeowner,rdquo; said Lifeline. ldquo;One of our favorite new lines that wersquo;ve utilized in retirement house designs is that Invisia Collection by American Standard. This collection disguises grab bars as decorative flourishes on traditional bath accessories such as toilet paper rolls, towel bars and the like. They offer the functional strength and durability needed to aid the homeowner ndash; without being overt. Their design is elegant and modern.rdquo;

Therersquo;s one more important change you likely want to consider to make your home well-prepared for your retirement years: Single-story living.

If you dont already have a single-story home, perhaps you have a master suite on the first floor. Donrsquo;t have that either? There are renovations that can help transform the home into something that lives more like a single-story:

bull; Turn an unneeded space into a first-floor mastermdash;have an unused guest room, formal living room, or dining room? That might provide the perfect opportunity to create a first-floor master.
bull; Add an elevatormdash;Elevators are a big trend, but can also be a big expense. Homeowners looking to stay in their home well into retirement can add an elevator if theyrsquo;re willing to pay anywhere from 25,000 to 45,000. Be sure to ask your real estate agent for the probably return on investment first.
bull; Add on to the homemdash;This can be an even larger expense than adding an elevator, depending on how extensive the addition is, but if yoursquo;re set on staying in your home for retirement, it might be well worth it.

Full Story >

15 Ideas for Home Projects on a Budget

Projects Under 100

1. Rearrange Furniture. Pull furniture away from the walls and position it at new, more inviting angles. Yoursquo;ll change the look and dimension of your room.

2. Paint Walls. Choose one wall to paint in an accent color. Select a hue thatrsquo;s already a part of the deacute;cor, one that complements and highlights your pieces.

3. Get Plenty of Greens. Lush broad-leafed plants are easy to maintain indoors and add some life to any room. If you donrsquo;t have a green thumb, opt for silk plants instead.

4. Accent Floors. A new rug is the perfect accent. Look for one that has colors that reflects your deacute;cor, and then angle it under a coffee table or dining room table.

5. Frame It. Use multiple frames that are of a similar >

6. Light Up Your Room.

7. Go Faux. Create a whole new look with faux finishing. Washing, leafing, marbling and stripping can be used to change walls or make furniture look fresh.

8. Update Cabinets. New hardware can transform a kitchen. Select matching sets of knobs and pulls to completely change the look and feel of your cabinets.

9. Wallpaper. Wallpaper doesnrsquo;t need to go wall-to-wall. Use it with paint to accent borders or choose a single wall to express your >

Projects Under 500

10. Update Fixtures. New fittings, a fresh vanity and new toilet can completely change the appearance of your bathroom. Choose sets that work well together.

11. Add Moulding. Crown moulding adds a touch of luxury. To install it yourself, buy extra moulding and practice your miter cuts before beginning.

12. Update Flooring. New flooring gives a room a boost from the bottom. Try a natural-looking wood laminate. Itrsquo;s simple to install and yields extraordinary results.

13. Install a fan. A large, decorative ceiling fan with a light fixture can brighten a room and create a comfortable climate
that you control at the touch of a button.

14. Organize Closets. Less clutter will make your entire home feel more spacious. Maximize storage with new shelving and wire organizers so everything is neat.

15. Care For Your Landscape. Add new hedges in the front, trees in the back and flowers that complement your homersquo;s exterior. Little outdoor projects like these can really make you feel more settled in.

These ideas are provided as a service from Lowes, the Original Home Improvement Warehouse. Lowes assumes no liability for omissions, errors or the outcome of any project. The reader must always exercise reasonable caution, follow current codes and regulations that may apply, and is urged to consult with a licensed professional if in doubt about any procedures. Please read our terms of use.

Full Story >

Ask the HOA Expert: Using HOA Contractors, Agent Specializing in HOA, and Building Restrictions

Question: Can a homeowners association force unit owners to use its contractor to repair unit interior damage when the HOA is responsible for repairs? In this case, water seeped in due to failed waterproofing and damaged carpet, drywall, paint, baseboards and insulation. The HOA is paying a contractor to do both exterior and interior repairs but I do not want to use this contractor. Irsquo;ll accept the HOArsquo;s cost estimate to do my interior repairs but want to get my own contractor.

Answer: The reason the HOA wants one contractor is itrsquo;s easier, faster and cheaper to use one contractor for all repairs. But unless interior repairs involve things like structural repairs safety issue or mold remediation health issue which can adversely impact neighboring units, individual unit owners have the right to take care of interior repairs using their own contractor.

Question: I am a real estate agent specializing in HOA property. In the past, I was used to seeing a charge for resale disclosure packages of around 100. Yet, recently Irsquo;ve seen charges up to 250. Isnrsquo;t there some sort of regulation that prohibits price gouging?

Answer: HOAs and their management companies are entitled to a reasonable charge for producing information >

That said, some states have more complex resale disclosure requirements than others so time requirements to fulfill them varies from state to state. Also, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac the two entities that underwrite the majority of condominium mortgage loans enacted more stringent underwriting requirements in 2007 and 2008 which expand lender verifications of HOA reserve studies, renter occupancy, delinquency rates and insurance. This has placed additional burden and time on boards and managers to comply with resale disclosure so an increase from 100 to 250 may be enti>

Question: We bought a lot in an HOA and were given a copy of the recorded governing documents prior to closing. We read them carefully before we closed the sale. Several months later, we submitted house plans to the Architectural Review Committee ARC for approval and were informed that we could not build any structure within 30 feet of the back of our property line. This restriction was outlined in the ARCrsquo;s ldquo;Landscape Guidelinesrdquo;, something we were not provided a copy of before closing. As it turns out, the standard rear setback is 15 feet but a 30 foot restriction applies to a few lots including ours to maintain a ldquo;view corridorrdquo;. Can the HOA really enforce this kind of selective setback restriction on us?

Answer: It depends. You apparently were aware that there were HOA architectural restrictions since you knew to submit plans to the ARC for approval. Did you not think to inquire about what those restrictions might be before closing? On the other hand, the seller most certainly knew about the special setback on this lot. If it was not disclosed, you have an issue with the seller. Finally, any setback or other restriction that applies to selected lots should be made part of those lotsrsquo; title record so prospective purchases can be made aware of it prior to closing.

You likely have a strong case in your favor to get the restriction overturned. However, you may be fighting your neighbors who will get their view blocked as well as the HOA to get it done. You should retain an attorney that specializes in HOA law to help you sort it out.

For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to

Full Story >

Practical Homeowner Knowledge Is Vital

Did you take a >

Whatrsquo;s the origin of your mish-mash of fact-amp;-fantasy regarding your ldquo;herersquo;s how it worksrdquo; approach to living in your home? For most of us, our education was a mix of parental training, copying friends, guesswork, and replicating what we saw in the movies and on television; millennials and younger generations ldquo;Googlerdquo; all that flawed data and perpetuate it.

Our tip? Seek out factual, practical information before you run into problems. Oh yes, you will have problemshellip;everything breaks down eventually.

Take our ldquo;Do It Rightrdquo; Quiz below to learn how on-point your working knowledge of home management is. Therersquo;s no ldquo;almost rightrdquo; for each quiz question; yoursquo;re right or yoursquo;re not. No ldquo;truerdquo; or ldquo;falserdquo; or ldquo;ardquo; or ldquo;brdquo; simplification either. ldquo;Working knowledgerdquo; means having clear, practical understanding, not guessing or ldquo;Googlingrdquo; for quick, band-aid solutions in the middle of a crisis. This informed approach will prevent you from doing little things the wrong way each day which can build into big problems later.

In reality, ldquo;winningrdquo; this Quiz can mean lower maintenance bills, fewer inconvenient breakdowns, fewer expensive service calls, and more choices when renovating. In this version of our ldquo;Do It Rightrdquo; Quiz, we offer a mini-quiz that highlights the most-taken-for-granted household item which causes some of the biggest home-repair problems - the toilet.

Since most modern homes have at least two indoor, modern toilets and many have one per bedroom, this home appliance has significant impact:

"Do It Rightrdquo; Bathroom Quiz

1. Flush Right: What is a toilet designed to flush away?

Answer: Only human waste, with a small amount of bathroom tissue, should go into a flush toilet.

Not kitchen grease, leftover paint, diapers, handiwipes, or deceased pets. The huge blob of fat and heaven-knows-what, called a fatberg, which has accumulated under a British city and a few American cities too, is what happens when too much of the wrong stuff gets flushed or poured into sinks or other household drains. On a local level, your plumbing bill will be your barometer of how well toilets are used in your home. New low-flow toilets may save on water, but their low-water volumes can cause problems. Sometimes, large amounts of excrement wonrsquo;t flush cleanly. Foreign objects like kitchen grease can cause blockage, so overflows become a problem. Septic systems operate the same way toilets do plus they have additional maintenance requirements to prevent massive fecal backup, which can flood the bathroom or swamp the lawn. You know this will happen at the worst possible time like a backyard birthday BBQ or wedding reception.

2. Toilet Seat Right: What is the main purpose of a toilet seat cover?

Answer: The toilet seat cover protects people and bathroom surfaces from germs and fecal matter that are sprayed out in a fine mist when the toilet is flushed after use.

The toilet seat cover is not for standing on to change light bulbs or dust vent gratings. Put the toilet seat and cover down after using the toilet and before you flush to keep fecal contamination to a minimum. For the same reason, regularly wash surfaces and the bowl of the toilet with disinfectant, even if it ldquo;looksrdquo; clean.

3. Toilet Location Right: What is a >

Answer: An offset toilet flange can be added to the connection between the toilet and the sewer pipe extending through the bathroom floor to move the toilet a few inches forward, backward, or to one side.

A small job for a professional plumber, adding an offset or extender toilet flange may be possible for experienced homeowners. The do-it-yourself risk lies in not having the right tools or expertise to make sure seals are water-tight, so no leaks damage the bathroom floor or the ceiling below. If done incorrectly, repair costs will be much greater than the price of the part. Homeowners can decide about the cost-benefit return by getting exact quotes for the potential adjustment compared to what is gained.

The contractor for my last bathroom renovation did not take into account the difference in dimensions for the new, smaller water-conserving toilet. A few dollars spent on an offset toilet flange would have compensated for the resulting wider gap at back of the toilet tank. Irsquo;m now stuck with a gap which things fall through and the loss of a few crucial inches of space that would be valuable when climbing into the soaker tub.

4. Environment Right: What are the local environmental requirements for replacement toilets in your area?

Answer: Check with local municipal building offices to learn what is required.

Municipalities may have grant programs for those interested in replacing old toilets with more environmentally-sound, low-flush models. Locations with water shortage issues may have more strict requirements. If you pay for each flush, you may be more committed to going low flow. Investigate flush dynamics to get the best results even when water volumes are lower. All models are not equally effective in performing the desired task cleanly and efficiently each time.

5. Renovation Right: How can bathroom renovation costs be kept to a minimum, even when a ldquo;gut jobrdquo; is required?

Answer: Do not move the location of drains for the toilet, sink, bathtub, and/or shower to keep costs down.

Replacing the existing toilet, vanity, bathroom sink, tub, and shower, including facets and taps without moving the location of any of these elements will keep you on budget. The expensive aspects are demolition and removing the debris something homeowners can tackle to save money and replacing tile, laying down flooring, painting, and adding fixtures and decorative mirrors and hooks. Decide to move the toilet or any other ldquo;bathroom furniturerdquo; and re-plumbing and rewiring can add significant cost. Arrange full estimates from experienced plumbers and bathroom contractors so you can create an accurate budget and contingency fund. Talk to the professionals about what ldquo;surprisesrdquo; may lie in walls and floors. Locals will know which problems are common for houses similar to yours. Renovating in the ldquo;busy seasonrdquo; will mean longer time lines.

Donrsquo;t try and learn everything about everything all at once.

Start with the oldest or most-used systems and gradually expand your knowledge and list of professional contacts. Be prepared and you and your wallet will benefit in many ways.

Full Story >

11 Things To Do Before You Move Into A New House

1. Change your address

Youll have to stop into your local post office or visit the United States Postal Services website nbsp;to change your address at some point. Doing it early ensures that your mail will make as smooth a transition as you do. A side benefit to changing your address is the coupon package that comes with the form. That 10 off Lowes discount will su>

2. Update your contact info

Change your address online with creditors, financial institutions, schools, publications, and anyone else that is important. Your change of address form from the post office will forward your mail but going right to the source will ensure your new address is on file.

3. Tell your mailman and say "Thank you"

A little consideration goes a long way when it comes to forwarding mail.

4. Change the locks

How many of us have moved into a new place and used the same locks and keys that were provided to us?

"You really dont know who else has keys to your home," said HouseLogic. "That ensures youre the only person who has access. Install new deadbolts yourself for as little as 10 per lock, or call a locksmith mdash; if you supply the new locks, they typically charge about 20-30 per lock for labor.

5. Get the house deep cleaned

The previous occupants probably cleaned the house or had it cleaned when they left. But is it up to your standards? Get a crew in there before you move in. Itll be money well spent.

Make sure the crew also gets inside the closets, cabinets, and drawers. You dont want to start your new life with someone elses crumbs and dust bunnies.

6. Clean the carpets too

This is another area where you will probably want to focus a little energymdash;unless youre a fan of "germ hotspots," said Huffington Post. The blog reported that carpets are "botanical and zoological parkshellip;that can be 4,000 times dirtier than your toilet seat," said microbiologist Dr. Philip Tierno, according to Mens Health. Let that set in for a moment.

7. Call an exterminator

Nothing ruins your first night in a new house like critters scurrying across the floor.

8. Research utilities

The current providers might be the best or only options...but they may not be. Deregulation in some areas means competitive rates for utilities that can pay off for you. Be sure to ask about any new user discounts for cable or satellite, and, also for bundling packages that might be available.

9. Shut off the utilities on the house youre moving from

Sounds like a given, but its one of the most common errors people make when movingmdash;an error that can turn out to be costly when youre paying double utilities.

10. Alert your service providers

Let your gardener and anyone else that services your home regularly know you are moving early on. Details like this can be easily overlooked during a move, and giving ample notice will allow them time to try to replace the business if youre moving out of their service area.

11. Pare down your stuff

The only thing worse that having boxes of stuff you dont use and dont need crowding your space is carting them from house to house. Days disappear quickly when youre packing and preparing to move. If you are at all concerned you wont have time for a garage sale or even to drive to the local donation spot, take advantage of charities that will come to your house and do a pick up. Then all you have to do is haul the stuff to the front porch and bring in your tax receipt once theyre done.

Full Story >

Down Payment Dilemma: How Do You Know How Much To Put Down On A Home?

For many others, who do have enough money set aside to make a substantial down payment, the question is: how much? Conventional wisdommdash;not to mention most of the banks and a good portion of homebuying and financial expertsmdash;will tell you that 20 percent is the standard bearer when it comes to down payments. But is it really necessary to put 20 percent down?

The short answer is: no.

Now for the long answer.

"Raising a 20 percent down payment isnt an easy thing to do. Fortunately, you dont have to. "Its a myth that all homebuyers must have a 20 percent down payment to buy a home," says Nancy Herrera-Siples, a Riverside, Calif., branch manager at Primary Residential Mortgage on U.S. News. "So why do you constantly hear that you need to put 20 percent down? Because if you dont, it usually means youll have to shell out money for either private mortgage insurance or government insurance, which is usually financed by the Federal Housing Administration FHA."

And theres another rub for those who are already struggling to come up with the minimum down payment: that extra couple of hundred dollars per month feels like a penalty. Its not, of coursemdash;"Mortgage insurance protects the lender in case you cant make your payments and the house is foreclosed on," said U.S. Newsmdash;but that money can make a significant difference for those who are stretching to buy a home.

Still, when your only option to buy is a low down payment, which can mean an FHA loan or one of the new low down payment loans from Freddie Mac and Fannie Maemdash;"At the end of 2014, the two government-backed companies announced plans to slash down payments from 5 to 3," said CNNmdash;PMI might literally be a small price to pay. Especially if swelling rents are making homeownership look more and more promising. Remember that PMI does go away eventually when your loan balance is 80 percent or less of the homes value. If youre in an area where homes are rising in value, this could happen sooner than you think.

Still confused about the ins and outs of down payments? Here are a few reasons to go highhellip;or low.

When to make a substantial down payment

  • When youre looking to keep your monthly payment as low as possible and have cash to spare
  • When you just cant fathom paying PMI
  • When your goal is to buy a forever home and own it free and clear
  • When you are approaching retirement age and can envision a reverse mortgage sometime down the line
  • When you want to buy your house and pay it off as quickly as possible
  • When the rate is lower with a higher down payment. "The more you put down, the better position you are in for negotiating a lower interest rate with your lender," said Plus, a "low down payment might affect other loan features, such ashellip;the points, which are upfront interest charges," said Banking My Way.
  • If youre worried about being under water. If the market should drop in your area, you run the risk of owing more than your home is worth.

When to go low

  • When you dont have the funds for a higher down payment and cant earn or borrow them quickly enough
  • When the rate on your FHA or Fannie or Freddie loan is comparable to that youd get with a higher down payment
  • When you need to escape a high-rent situation and the monthly payment on a house is lower than what youre currently paying, even with the PMI factored in
  • When youre confident your home will appreciate quickly, allowing you to refinance and get rid of PMI quickly
  • When your investments cant be touched without a penalty or are returning better than the interest rate youll get on your home
  • If you have something better to do with the money. "If you bought a 400,000 home, 5 down would be 20,000, while 20 down would be 80,000mdash;a whopping difference. An immediate need such as a college tuition payment would make the smaller down payment more appealing," said Banking My Way.
  • When you feel more secure setting money aside for emergencies instead of tying it all up in your house.

Full Story >

Myth-Busting the No Closing Cost Mortgage

Every mortgage has closing costs, both from the lender and third parties. But what about those so-called ldquo;no-closing costrdquo; loans that borrowers hear about? Why wouldnrsquo;t someone go with a lender that doesnrsquo;t have any fees. I mean, thatrsquo;s common sense, right? But there are fees on all loans, itrsquo;s just a matter of who pays for them. Maybe the seller agrees to pay for the buyerrsquo;s fees. That however is not what a no-closing cost loan actually is. When a lender talks about a no-closing cost loan, itrsquo;s a function of the interest rate and the loan amount.

First letrsquo;s take a look at a sample rate on a 30 year loan at 3.75. The rate quoted by the lender requires one discount point, or 1.00 of the loan amount. On a 200,000 loan that point is 2,000 and is the amount needed to get the 3.75 rate. Borrowers can choose to ldquo;buy downrdquo; that rate even further by paying more points. Points are a form of prepaid interest to the borrower and quite frankly the lender doesnrsquo;t really care if you pay any points at all. The lender gets the interest over the short term with a lower rate and a point or gets the interest over the long term. A lender might quote 4.00 without any points but in both scenarios there are closing costs to address, both from the lender and third parties.

The lender can quote various rate and fee combinations but to get at the no-closing cost option, the lender will adjust the interest rate upward even more. Perhaps the lender could quote 4.25 and also provide a lender credit of 1.00 of the loan amount.In this example the lender would pay 2,000 of the borrowers closing costs. The monthly payment will be slightly higher, but the borrowers didnrsquo;t have to come up with 2,000 in cash to close or roll the costs into their new loan amount if refinancing. Yoursquo;ll also note here that the greater the loan amount the greater the credit. A 1.00 lender credit on a 400,000 loan is 4,000. Same rate but a bigger credit. Thatrsquo;s why no-closing cost loans ra>

The tradeoff is higher monthly payments because of the higher rate and lowering the amount of cash at the settlement table. For someone planning on living in the property for the long term, it probably doesnrsquo;t make sense to take out a no-closing cost loan due to the higher rate. For someone who plans on keeping the property for just a few years, then a no-closing cost loan might be an option.

When you hear the term no-closing cost loan, remember that all lenders can offer them. But there are always costs and those costs will be reflected with a higher monthly payment for as long as you keep the loan.

Full Story >

Quinlan Realty Pays it Forward in February with Generous Donations

Quinlan Realty in St. Louis, MO has generously made 5 donations thanks to Agent with Heart Kevin Robben and distinguished Broker with Heart, Craig Carr.

Kevin Robben has generously donated to ALS Association, St. Louis Regional Chapter on behalf of her client, Amber Brand, and also donated to the American Cancer Society on behalf of his client, Xiandong Leng.

Craig Carr has made 3 generous donations. The first was to Friends of Kids with Cancer, made on behalf of his clients, Danielle and Tom Grasso. The second two, both Broker with Heart donation matches, were made to Friends of Kids with Cancer on behalf of Kevin Robbenrsquo;s client, Amber Brand, and to the Buddy Fund, made on behalf of Kevin Robbenrsquo;s client, Xiandon Leng.

ldquo;Craig Carr and his team at Quinlan Realty are shining examples of the Agent with Heart program and the passion to make a difference that our agents hold,rdquo; says John Giaimo, President of PinRaise.

ldquo;Irsquo;d like to personally thank Craig and Kevin for their wonderfully generous contributions this month. We are incredibly grateful for their inspiring dedication to giving back to their local community. Thanks to both of them, local nonprofits in St. Louis will be benefitting from funds that they may not have otherwise received. I thank them for their kindness and for joining us on this journey to assist as many nonprofits as possible through the Agent with Heart program,rdquo; concludes Mr. Giaimo.

About the Broker with Heart Program: Through the Broker with Heart program, brokerages agree to donate a percentage or fixed dollar amount of their commission from a home sale or purchase to the nonprofit of their clientrsquo;s choice after closing. This provides needed revenue for the nonprofit and makes a real difference in their community. For more information, please visit

To contact Craig Carr, please call 314-401-9286 or visit

To contact Kevin Robben, please call 314-922-8819 or visit

Full Story >

New Study: Home Sellers Still Depend on Real Estate Agents Despite Disruptions

Homeowners donrsquo;t realize how much it costs to sell a home, with 45 not expecting to pay the buyerrsquo;s commission. Those who plan to sell for sale by owner FSBO arenrsquo;t ready to sell by themselves; they arenrsquo;t comfortable negotiating without an agent 53.

Most home sellers, even those who do try to sell by themselves, still need a real estate agent. 62 of respondents indicated theyrsquo;re uncomfortable filling out and completing the necessary paperwork by themselves.

How Do Commission Fees Work, Anyway?

While there were over six million homes sold in 2017, many Americans just donrsquo;t understand how real estate commissions work. The home selling process is complicated and filled with minor fees and costs.

Of the 1,000 home sellers surveyed, almost half of the cohort thought the home buyer pays their own commission, while in reality, the home seller pays commission fees in almost all transactions.

Most homeowners donrsquo;t understand all the costs involved in selling a home, and home sellers were also confused about the average commission fee itself. Only 35 of home sellers know that the total commission fee is about 6 of the homersquo;s final price.

The study also found that 34 of respondents thought realtor fees are costly and unfair to sellers, but 46 of respondents felt that realtor fees are costly and fair, and 19 felt realtor fees are reasonable and fair.

The bottomline: When starting a >

Even FSBO Sellers Need a Realtor

While new real estate services like flat-fee MLS services and AI-driven home listing sites are disrupting the industry, therersquo;s nothing that can quite replace a traditional real estate agent. Even as technology improves, there are important parts of the home-selling process that most people donrsquo;t trust to themselves.

Most buyers donrsquo;t feel comfortable negotiating on their own, and even among sellers listing by themselves, almost half are uncomfortable negotiating.

Furthermore, 62 of all home sellers and 46 of FBSO sellers said they wouldnrsquo;t be comfortable obtaining and executing all necessary real estate paperwork when selling their home. What this data indicates is many sellers arenrsquo;t prepared to deal with the minutiae of home selling.

Many home sellers are unaware of how complicated the process can be and how much work goes into it. In 2017, only 7 of home sales nbsp;were >

Whatrsquo;s more, that decision usually pays off: according to recent data from the National Association of Realtors, the average FSBO home sold for 200,000, compared to 265,000 for agent-assisted sales.

Traditional Realtors in 2019

While technological advances are creeping up on real estate agents, including the specter of AI which 37 of respondents thought could outperform Realtors, theyrsquo;re still an integral part of the home selling process.

Cleverrsquo;s study indicates the importance of working with real estate agents, as many home sellers are unaware of the true challenges of selling their homes. With a quality agent who explains the process in detail, home sellers will be more prepared to sell their homes in the future.


Luke Babich is Co-Founder and CSO ofnbsp;Clever Real Estate. Luke is also an active real estate investor with 22 units in St. Louis, and a licensed Real Estate Agent in the State of Missouri.

Full Story >

Ask the HOA Expert: Professional Management Perks

Consistent Maintenance

One of the greatest benefits of a professional manager is consistent maintenance of the facilities. A facilities evaluation identifies and prioritizes maintenance needs. Needs that are creating damage are top priority followed by long range capital repairs and replacements like roofing, painting, etc. A good manager integrates both HOA and resident needs. By systematically reviewing the property, little things like sprinkler over spray that damages siding is corrected quickly before substantial damage results.


One of the boardrsquo;s biggest challenges is dealing with people that refuse to follow reasonable rules or to pay fees on time. Depending on the severity of the violation, the board may overreact and invite lawsuits or avoid dealing with the matter at all. In either case, the HOA suffers as problems com-pound. A good manager has no personal ax to grind and executes systematic enforcement to bring offenders back in line. The manager can also intervene between the board and a owner to defuse an escalating or longstanding conflict.


Since homeowner associations are typically run by volunteers, consistency is a HUGE problem. Volunteers like to go on vacation and to sleep once in a while. Board and committee members come and go, often viewing their terms more like a sentence than a privilege. A good manager links these well meaning volunteer efforts together, filling the gaps where volunteerism falls short. The manager often provides centralized record keeping instead of the all too frequent box-of-files-in-the-coat-closet approach. The manager helps educate new directors on their roles to maximize their effectiveness.

Traffic Cop

The manager understands the overall HOA objectives and can direct requests efficiently. Most management companies offer a 24 hour emergency service that reacts quickly to minimize damage or disaster. By quickly assessing needs, they spend a little to save a lot.

Manager Costs

Charges depend on the range of services and the size of the homeowner association. There are three main factors to consider, the monthly management fee, hourly management rate for extras and the hourly maintenance rate.

The monthly management fee should be broad enough to include routine HOA business like attending board meetings, maintaining records, bookkeeping duties, responding to information requests and maintenance coordination. Most companies do, however, charge extra for duties not considered ldquo;routinerdquo;. Maintenance income is often the profit center of an HOA management company so scrutinize those costs carefully.


A good HOA manager must be patient, diplomatic, respectful and caring. A willingness to understand each clientrsquo;s needs and philosophy is paramount. A good manager is flexible but persistent without being aggressive. Look for a company that specializes in homeowner associations. Typically, only a >

As with any contractor, it is important to provide a list of expected duties specifications to each potential manager. This way, the board can reasonably compare the players. Easing the boardrsquo;s responsibilities and protecting the homeowner associationrsquo;s valuable assets make considering a professional HOA manager a prudent course of action.

For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to

Full Story >

How to Keep For-Sale Properties Safe

1. Smart lights and floodlights

Lights are your first defense against intruders. Burglars look for easy marksmdash;properties where nobodyrsquo;s around and it doesnrsquo;t look like anyonersquo;s home. Thatrsquo;s why for-sale properties are targets attractive in the first place.

A few well-placed smart lights will let you control both inside and outside lighting remotely from your phone.

With smart lights, you can also set lighting schedules or even randomize on-and-off patterns, so it looks like there are people inside the house no matter where you are. Plus, you can set up smart lights to work in tandem other security devices, like security cameras.

What kind of smart lights should you install?

bull; Get outdoor smart lights that work with other home security devices, like Arlo Security Lights and Ring Floodlights.
bull; Choose smart groundlights like Ring Pathlights or Calla Outdoor Pathway Lights. These are especially useful if your property has a big yard.
bull; Set up indoor smart lightsmdash;like Philips Hue or Lifxmdash;that let you control timers, schedules, and triggers through your phone. These are easy to install and replace your regular lightbulbs.

2. Outdoor security cameras

Security cameras go hand in hand with smart lights. If you get lights and cameras that work together, then you can have all your lights turn on when your cameras spot an intruder. Or you can even have the cameras start recording when the lights detect motion.

Choose weatherproof outdoor cameras that record in high-definition preferably 1080p, so you can zoom in and still see clearly. Itrsquo;s also nice to have cameras with two-way audio, so if you get an alert about a potential intruder, you can hear and speak to them through the camera itself.

What are some HD outdoor camera options?

bull; Rugged wi>bull; Cameras that combine a camera with a smart light, like the Ring Spotlight Cam, give you the benefits of lights and cameras in one package.
bull; Solar-powered cameras like the Reolink Argus 2 nbsp;stay fully charged with minimal human effort.

3. A professionally monitored security system

DIY home security systems are becoming increasingly popular. But if no onersquo;s living in your for-sale property, it might be best to let the professionals keep an eye on your security system 24/7.

Professional monitoring means that if someone triggers your security system, the security company will call you to make sure itrsquo;s not a false alarm, and then call the police for you.

Be warned: some security companies require multi-year contracts. Stick with a self-installed system that still offers professional monitoring.

What are some no-contract security systems with professional monitoring?

bull; Scout Alarm integrates with both Z-Wave and Zigbee-based smart devices, so you can add in smart lights and cameras from other brands and use them all together.
bull; Low-cost systems like SimpliSafe give you >bull; Nest Secure can be used as a self-monitored system but has the option to add in professional monitoring if you want it.
bull; Abode offers temporary professional monitoring if you only need someone to watch your system for a short period of time, like a week.

Smart security devices like lights, cameras, and alarm systems can help you keep an eye on your for-sale property even when yoursquo;re far away. Deter potential burglars, secure your property, and keep your peace of mind with smart tools like these.

Full Story >

Buying A House With Friends: Is It A Good Idea?

Buying a home with friends sounds great on the surface, right? Communal meals, Netflix marathons, wine nights...You get a path into homeownership, and you get to live with someone you like. What could go wrong?

A lot, actually. When buying a home with a friend, theres a lot to consider.

Qualifying for the loan

The initial financial benefit to buying a home with a friend is being able to split the downpayment to make the home more affordable or buy more home by increasing your financial contribution. But qualifying for your mortgage will be dependent on each buyers credit report.

"Since you and your friend will both be on the mortgage, both of your credit reports will be used by the lender," said Investopedia. "One persons bad credit can negatively affect the mortgage terms, including the interest rate that you pay on the loan. Even a small change in interest rate -- say 4.5 versus 4.0 -- can make a big difference in the amount due every month on your mortgage and in the total interest youll pay over the life of the loan."

Living together

One of the biggest challenges of buying a home with friends happens after the purchase: living together. Depending on the house you buy and the person you buy it with, you may have to give up some privacy, compromise on >

Then again, youll presumably have help with cooking, cleaning, housework, and social planning. Will that make up for the ugly couch you have to see everyday in the living room, the dishes always clogging up your sink, and the hum of the TV she never turns off? Only you can say.

Dealing with finances

When you buy a home with another person, youre dependent on them to do their part, financially and otherwise. That starts with the down payment and closing costs, but making sure your housemate is financially solvent enough to consistently make his or her share of the mortgage payments and other monthly obligations like insurance, HOA fee, utilities, and items like lawn service is key. Not to mention any necessary repairs that will have to be made down the line.

Making it legal

Thats why experts recommend consulting an attorney prior to purchasing to establish a contractual agreement that spells out the important details. That way youll have, in writing, things like: who holds the title, how the ownership percentages are split, the division of ongoing expenses, and what to do when one of you wants to move or sell.

"If youre buying with friends or family, youre going to want to lay down some ground rules. Thats where co-ownership agreements come in," said "These documents are the prenuptial agreements of homeownership - and theyre the only way to resolve ownership issues aside from court proceedings. When thousands of dollars are at stake, its important to address these concerns."

Keep in mind that even though you are purchasing with another person, the legal burden for the home is not split 50-50; its on each person at 100. So if the worst-case scenario becomes reality and one or more of your housemates fails to pay the mortgage, the responsibility will fall to you.

"You might be responsible and pay your half of the mortgage payment and utilities each month. Unfortunately, your roommate might not be," said Money Crashers. "Your friend may initially pay on time, and likely has the best of intentions. But a job loss or huge medical bills can strike anyone at any time. And if your roommate is unprepared and cant pay his or her share of the mortgage, it could affect your credit rating. Since both names are on the mortgage, youre both responsible for payment, and the bank will report you as well as your roommate to credit agencies for non-payment or in the case of foreclosure."

Changing life>

Buying a home with a friend may seem like a good idea of both are single and somewhat set in your careers, but what happens when one of you gets into a serious >

"When you rent an apartment or house with a roommate, its fairly easy to walk away if the two of you no longer get along, or if you just decide to move. Not so with a mortgage," said Investopedia. "Since both of your names are on the mortgage, you are both responsible for making the payments, even if one of you wants out of the deal. To get one of the names off the mortgage, you either have to sell the house or refinance the loan under just one name. Both options can be challenging: Selling can take many months, and theres no guarantee the lender will approve your application to refinance. Its a good idea to have a written agreement in place that details your agreed-upon exit plan should one of you decide to move on."

Full Story >

Going it Alone: The Single Homebuyer

Real estate affordability in Canada is a hot topic these days. Following a decade of house price appreciation in most markets, the federal and provincial governments brought in a variety of measures aimed at cooling things down and reducing household debt. Demand dropped off, but house prices remain sticky.

Buyers now must be able to qualify for a mortgage at two percent more than the offered rate at federally regulated lenders. Itrsquo;s tough for first-time buyers, and even tougher for singles, who are hoping to get into the housing market.

A recent survey conducted by Leger for Re/Max found that 52 percent of single Canadians said economic uncertainty and expensive home prices are the biggest reasons why they are not buying a home. But 81 percent of the singles who said they want to purchase a home have the financial ability to do so, says the survey.

ldquo;Itrsquo;s concerning to see qualified buyers showing hesitancy toward home ownership,rdquo; says Christopher Alexander, executive vice president of Re/Max of Ontario-Atlantic Canada. ldquo;Price and economic factors aside, the additional unnecessary layers of government intervention have left many feeling pushed out of the market, or uncertain of it.rdquo;

During the last 20 years, the number of Canadian adults who live with a parent has increased, according to Statistics Canada. There were 4.5 million people, or 15 percent of Canadians aged 18 and over, living with a parent in 2017.

Of the population aged 25 to 64, almost 1.9 million people, or nine percent of the population of that cohort, lived with one or more parent in 2017, up from about five percent in 1995.

About three-quarters of those in the 25 to 64 age cohort were employed, which is less than those who did not live with a parent. Statistics Canada says the difference could be because a higher proportion of students still live at home. Many people also are looking after elderly parents or are dealing with their own health challenges.

Culture also plays a role. Statistics Canada says of Canadarsquo;s minority groups, 21 percent of South Asians and 19 percent of Chinese aged 25 to 64 lived with a parent, compared to nine percent in the overall population. Multi-generation households are the fastest-growing type of household in Canada. Statistics Canada says they may be on the rise because multi-generational households are common among immigrant populations, who tend to settle in regions of the country that have a high cost of living.

If you are a single who wants to buy a home, a study by Zoocasa says yoursquo;ll get the best bang for your buck in Regina. A single buyer earning the median income of 58,823 would have no trouble affording the average home priced at 284,424. The second-most affordable city for singles is Saint John, N.B., followed by Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge, Alta., Winnipeg and Halifax.

Not surprisingly, the least affordable cities for singles in the Zoocasa study were Vancouver, Toronto and Victoria. Also not considered affordable for singles were Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo and London in Ontario; and Montreal and Ottawa.

A report commissioned by the Affordable Housing Office of the City of Toronto says that it takes 11 to 27 years for a median-income renter household in that city to save for a 10 percent down payment on a median-priced home.

How are Canadians saving for a home? A Sothebyrsquo;s International Realty Canada report by research firm Mustel Group says 71 percent of ldquo;modern familyrdquo; homeowners adults aged 20 to 45 used personal savings for their down payment. Twenty percent delayed saving for retirement in order to make their purchase, and 31 percent withdrew money from their RRSP under the Home Buyerrsquo;s Plan.

Fifty-two percent received a financial gift, living inheritance or a traditional inheritance. Nineteen percent found a higher-paying job, while 14 percent of families say they took on part-time or freelance work, in addition to their full-time job, to boost their income. Twelve percent say they delayed having a child, and nine percent moved back in with family.

They also made life>

Is it worth it? Seventy-eight percent of those surveyed say they believe their home will either outperform or match the performance of their financial investments in the next five years, while 48 percent say real estate will outperform financial investments.

ldquo;The dream of home ownership remains compelling for todayrsquo;s young families, but the reality is that many are facing serious obstacles to achieving this given rising costs of living, rising costs of housing and other financial needs, such as saving for retirement,rdquo; says Brad Henderson, president and CEO of Sothebyrsquo;s International Realty Canada.

ldquo;While these are significant challenges without a simple or singular solution, our research reflects strategies from those who have navigated their way and successfully bought a home. There is no doubt, however, that in an environment of higher interest rates and tighter mortgage guidelines, todayrsquo;s families will continue to confront new challenges as they make home buying decisions in this yearrsquo;s market.rdquo;

Full Story >

6 Ways to KonMari Your Junk

But getting rid of all that stuff is easier than you may have thought. You just need to know where to look, so you can dive in and get through the mess. These tips will get you on your way.

Hire a junk removal company

1-800-GOT-JUNK and Junk King are two of the largest junk removal companies but there are a ton out there. The benefit to using the full-service junk removal option is that you donrsquo;t have to do a thing other than point to the stuff that needs to be hauled away.

Itrsquo;s important to know that in general, ldquo;their services and service models arenrsquo;t often well suited for picking up one or two items,rdquo; said Dolly. In addition, there is typically a minimum cost, so yoursquo;ll want to make sure you ask know what yoursquo;re getting into ahead of time so there are no surprises later on.

Search on Nextdoor

If you do only have a few items or you want to do some price comparisons, check out local resources on Nextdoor. Never underestimate the power of a couple of high school kids and a truck

Pay attention to local events

In our city, you can ldquo;Chunk your junkrdquo; a couple times a year. This free event allows you to get rid of everything from refrigerators to household chemical waste to outright trash. Be sure to check the rules for your particular area; cities often have specific requirements about what you can and canrsquo;t bring, and how some items, like medications, have to be treated for disposal.

Arrange for large item pickup

Your local trash removal company may have a large item pickup service separate from their regular trash pickup. In some cases, this is offered as a free service on a monthly basis. Be sure to ask about limitations in terms of what they will pick up and how many items you can put out at once.

Rent a bin

Many junk removal companies also offer self-service trash bins. They drop them off empty, you toss all your trash in it, and they haul it off.

Call a donation company

You likely have several things you can donate within your piles of stuff. Just because they are no longer useful to you doesnrsquo;t mean someone else wonrsquo;t want them. And, yoursquo;ll be doing a good deed at the same time.

ldquo;Salvation Army and Goodwill may even pick up the stuff if you also have furniture included," Felice Cohen, a professional organizer based in New York City, told U.S. News. "You receive a tax write-off, and while its not the equivalent of what you spent on those items, youre not going to make the money back from selling it at a yard sale."

Full Story >

IKEAs Newest Product Can Dress Your Windowsand Save Your Life

But, sometimes IKEA does something extra cool that deserves attention, and this is one of those times. The company has developed your next must-have item: A curtain named GUNRID that essentially uses photosynthesis to clean the air in the room. Not only will you want to swap our all your other window coverings for this new curtain, but its introduction could also have important health consequences all around the world.
ldquo;Air pollution within the home causes 3.8 million deaths a year, according to the World Health Organization WHO,rdquo; said EcoWatch. ldquo;A recent University of Colorado in Boulder study reported by The Guardian found that cooking a full Thanksgiving meal could raise levels of particulate matter 2.5 in the house higher than the levels averaged in New Delhi, the worlds sixth most polluted city.rdquo;

In fact, air pollution is the greatest environmental health risk on Earth, per WHO, causing everything from cancer to heart and respiratory disease to stroke. ldquo;And if you think yoursquo;re safe at home, yoursquo;re wrong: Indoor pollution can be five times worse in some parts of the world,rdquo; said Fast Company. ldquo;WHO says that while outdoor pollution kills an estimated 3 million people per year, indoor pollution kills 4.3 million.rdquo;

Lena Pripp-Kovac, Head of Sustainability at Inter IKEA Group, said in a company news >

GUNRID uses a ldquo;mineral-based surface treatmentrdquo; that can break down air pollutants in the home when the curtain comes into contact with light. As the company notes, ldquo;Other versions of this photocatalyst have been around before, but IKEArsquo;s version is the first that can be activated by indoor lightmdash;not just sunlight.rdquo;

This isnrsquo;t the first effort IKEA has made to be more eco-friendly. Per the >
Full Story >

Real Estate Agents as Agents of Change: A New Class of Digital Marketers

Each agent should, therefore, be a model of personalization. By being true to his voicemdash;by voicing his expertise, so clients can profit from his advicemdash;by being a prophet of sorts in his own right, that agent can expand his audience and advance his interests. He can amplify his message without raising his voice, since his success is more about sound advice than the sound and fury of his voice.

That rule applies to digital marketingmdash;to all forms of marketingmdash;because the best marketers are the most authentic people in any market. They know who they are, and they do what they say, despite the temptations of fame or money. They owe their success to what they have done and continue to do: to uphold the principles they believe in, delivering what their clients expect.

According to Erez Kanaan, Founder and President of Kanaan amp; Co., real estate agents have to brand themselves and their respective agencies. He says: ldquo;Every agent must connect with his or her community by leveraging platforms that extend his or her reputation online.rdquo;

I second that sentiment, and draw a similar distinction between what a real estate agency chooses to say versus what a real estate agent must say. The latter is a person with a legacy to preserve and protect whose name is a trust to keep, whose family shares that name, whose posterity will inherit that name, whose community respects that name. To squander that name on gimmicks and bad marketing would be a mark against that name. It would be a sin to sacrifice that name.

Real estate agents need not market a message that is bland or bombastic. Not when the message that resonates the most is the one that people most remember. They remember it, not because it is the most creative message, but because it is the most authentic messagemdash;by and about that person; that the person online is the same person in any setting; that he earns what he cannotmdash;and would not, even if he couldmdash;buy, which is trust.

Marketing of that kind is the foundation of digital marketing. Marketing of that kind has universal appeal. Marketing of that kind is what every real estate agent needs. Marketing of that kind is what every real estate agent should do.

Full Story >

Room For 2: First-time Home Buying Tips For Newlyweds

Choose the Right Neighborhood for Your Budget

Kick off your home-buying search by exploring neighborhoods that fit your life>

Take a look at the neighborhoods that appeal to you from how long your commute will be to the available recreation. Outdoor lovers and hiking enthusiasts will have completely different criteria than someone who loves the downtown nightlife, and either option will affect your budget.

Right-Size Your Life

Buying your first home as newlyweds is full of hope and excitement of the years to come. Soon you start thinking about how it could be your forever home and hold all the children and guests of your dreams. But in reality, any home you purchase should be right-sized for your current life or the not so distant future.

For example, purchasing a home for the five kids you want is expensive with a lot of upkeep and overhead. You may decide to put off having children for several years or change plans. Instead, focus on the home you need for the next five or six years that can comfortably accommodate the two of you. An extra room for guests, a new baby or an home office can add the needed flexibility to your new home.

Stay Proactive About Safety

Some couples may choose a less than desirable neighborhood to offset mortgage costs. That may work well for your finances, but shouldnrsquo;t compromise your safety. Meanwhile, couples moving into safe neighborhoods with little crime activity can lead to complacency. Itrsquo;s always imperative to protect your home and personal safety regardless of your environment.

Start by installing a security camera system where you can monitor your home from the office, on the road or from your own bedroom. For example, Lorex Technology offers Wi-Fi home security cameras with two-way audio and night vision, as well as complete outdoor security camera systems. Joining your neighborhood watch or online community groups can help monitor for suspicious activity.

Keep Communication Open

Home maintenance, upkeep and ongoing chores can quickly create ripples in a marriage and impact your >

Your partnerrsquo;s demands at work could exponentially increase, or you may find you loathe the chore you signed-up for. Talk it out and support each other through the ups and downs of maintaining a home together. Donrsquo;t let your home become an albatross. At the end of the day, you want your home to be a safe haven for love and communication.

Full Story >

What You Need to Know About Luxury Vinyl Plank Flooring

Itrsquo;s a great value.

ldquo;Vinyl flooring gives you the look of hardwood and the durability of laminatemdash;for a fraction of the price,rdquo; said Floor Critic. ldquo;No flooring is 100 perfect, but Luxury Vinyl Plank LVPmdash;aka Luxury Vinyl Tile LVTmdash;comes close.

Itrsquo;s affordable

Unless you catch a great sale or a closeout, yoursquo;re probably looking at 4ndash;5 per square foot, or more, which is far less than you can expect to pay for decent wood flooring. You can find more bargain prices for LVP, but the quality may suffer. Typically, these planks are too thin and may crack or lift.

ldquo;Beware of bargain brands,rdquo; said Floor Critic. ldquo;If they look a little too good to be truemdash;well, you know the rest of that story. Quality LVP starts at 3 per square foot and goes up to 7. The mid-priced lines are usually a sure bet. Yoursquo;ll get the features you need mdash; like waterproofing and scratch resistancemdash;without paying for unnecessary upgrades.rdquo;

Itrsquo;s durable

You actually have to work to mess up your vinyl floors. It doesnt scratch or chip, which is why parents of humans and animals love it.

Itrsquo;s for the dogs

Seriously, if you have dogs that dribble from their water bowl or maybe leave a puddle of something else here and there, luxury vinyl planks may be for you. Theyrsquo;re waterproof, so not only are they great for animal lovers, but also can be used in wet areas like kitchens and bathrooms without fear of warping or discoloration.

Theyrsquo;re simple to take care of

ldquo;Other than vacuuming or sweeping and washing them with soap and water to keep them clean therersquo;s absolutely no maintenance required,rdquo; said Architypes. ldquo;Yoursquo;ll never have to wax, seal, or refinish them like you do with so many other available floor coverings.rdquo;

But, yoursquo;ll want to keep in mind that you canrsquo;t just use any old cleaner on luxury tile floors. Say a sad farewell to your Swiffer WetJet. Many floor cleaners can dull the finish on vinyl floors, so be careful what you choose. We recommend Rejuvenate Luxury Vinyl Floor Cleaner.

They can be slippery

One thing to watch when yoursquo;re choosing luxury vinyl plank floors is the texture. The newest products are designed to fool the eye into thinking yoursquo;re looking at a textured wood product, but the foot feel may differ from the appearance. If yoursquo;re purchasing in person, it pays to take out one of the planks and put it on the floor so you can walk on it. You donrsquo;t want to make the mistake we made and go too slick, or yoursquo;ll be watching your dogs play slip-and-slide.

The installation is easy

ldquo;You have to know what you are doing when it comes to laying a wooden or a tile floor,rdquo; said Architypes. ldquo;There is very, very little room for error and in general, it is not something a novice should be doing. Vinyl flooring, on the other hand, is much easier.

The majority of vinyl planks that you find fit together very easily and will lock in place. You can then simply trim them with a knife so that they fit the shape of your room. As long as you take your time, installing vinyl flooring is very simple, and once you get the hang of it very quick.rdquo;

Another thing people love about LVP is that they can ldquo;floatrdquo; over other types of flooring. If yoursquo;ve been holding off on upgrading your floors because the thought of demo is not delightful, this might be for you. The trick is proper preparation.

ldquo;Whether yoursquo;re installing your LVT and LVP over concrete, vinyl, wood, or ceramic tile, your new floor will perform as well as how you prepare the surface below,rdquo; sad DuChateau. ldquo;That preparation must provide a level, smooth, and dry surface on which to install your new LVT and LVP.rdquo;

Itrsquo;s soft

Vinyl is so much softer than tile and hardwood. That back pain yoursquo;ve been dealing with after spending time at the sink or stove might be gone for good. Thatrsquo;s reason enough to take the plunge

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9 Tips for Selling Your House in Winter

Here are nine ways to prepare and stage your home for success, and create a warm and welcoming vision for buyers, even when the weather outside is frightful.

1. Have a cozy, crackling fire or not.

If you have a gas fireplace or new clean-burning woodstove, go ahead and light a fire to welcome visitors. But if your homes wood-burning fireplace is older and leaves a smoky smell in the room, hold off. Those with allergies or smoke sensitivities can be turned off mdash; or literally turned away when they have to go outside. No fire? Consider offering warm apple cider instead.

Photo by Whitten Architects - Look for rustic living room design inspiration

2. Keep entryways scrupulously clean.

As with any time of year, a clean and clutter-free house will sell more easily and maybe at a higher price than one with more visible clutter. During winter it is especially important to remove mucky boots outside and keep family gear hidden in a closet or trunk, where potential buyers wont trip over them. A Swiffer->

Photo by Susan Teare, Professional Photographer - Browse contemporary entryway ideas

3. Give each room a warm touch.

A folded throw draped over the back of an armchair, a plump quilt at the foot of the bed or an area rug in warm hues are a few small additions that will make a big difference in the way a room feels to prospective buyers. Also, be sure that every light is on mdash; even for daytime showings. Winter days can be quite dim, and your house will look its best when its as warmly lit as possible.

Photo by - More beach >

4. Show how outdoor rooms can be used even in the coldest months.

If you have a covered porch or outdoor fireplace, be sure to keep the area fully furnished. Turn on outdoor lights, build a fire in the fireplace and drape a few thick throws over your outdoor furniture.

Photo by Centre Sky Architecture Ltd - Discover rustic porch design inspiration

5. Emphasize spaces that will appeal in winter.

Basement playrooms, indoor exercise areas, heated toolsheds and the like will be especially welcome in a place with a cold winter. Remove all un>

Photo by Designing Solutions - Search transitional home gym design ideas

6. Showcase the entertaining possibilities of your home.

Winter is prime time for festive parties and holiday open houses, so whet prospective buyers appetites with an enticing display. Set out stacks of plates and fresh flowers on a dining room buffet or display holiday cookies on cake stands in the kitchen.

Photo by Emerick Architects - Search contemporary dining room design ideas

7. Use structural elements in the garden for winter interest.

In the middle of winter, it can be hard to visualize a blooming garden. Large urns and planters, benches, rock walls and other garden structures will help buyers see the potential even in the snow.

Photo by The Garden Consultants, Inc. - Discover landscape design inspiration

8. Clear all exterior pathways of snow and ice.

Nothing will turn away potential buyers faster than a treacherously icy path. Open-house guests should be able to easily walk all the way around the house and access outbuildings. Provide as much off-street snow-cleared parking as you can to make things easy for visitors.

Photo by - Search rustic garage pictures

9. Do decorate for the holidays.

Buyers want to be able to envision living in your home, so it pays to make that vision as inviting as possible. Festive twinkling lights, green wreaths or topiary, and a decorated tree near Christmas will strike the right note. That doesnt mean you have to go overboard mdash; in fact, a house overly cluttered with holiday decor can be a real turnoff.

Photo by bldg.collective - Search rustic exterior pictures

Also See:

  • The 7 Dos of Holiday Decorating When Your Home Is for Sale
  • Keep Entryways Tidy With a New Shoe Rack
  • Theres Nothing Cozier Than a Pile of Quilts by the Fireplace

Full Story >

Ask the HOA Expert: Recoat of Many Colors

1. To maximize roof service life by reflecting harmful ultraviolet UV radiation.
2. To restore a moderately aged roof to a maintainable watertight condition.
3. To restore an earlier coating applications that has deteriorated.
4. To minimize solar gain and reduce a buildingrsquo;s cooling loads.
5. To improve a roofrsquo;s appearance that is visible from the ground or from an adjacent building.
6. Certain UL->

There are at least three situations in which coating is not a good idea:

1. A coating never makes a bad roof good. If a roof has reached the end of its useful life, coating it is a waste of money.
2. Ponded water that remains for more than 48 hours after a rain reduces a coatingrsquo;s service life. These areas need to be properly repaired to promote positive drainage before applying a coating.
3. Coatings will fail prematu>the coating will not adhere or flake off.

Coatings come in a variety of types:
Emulsions. Consist of asphalt dispersed in a colloidal clay-water blend and are dark gray, brown or black. Emulsions generally increase the roofrsquo;s fire resistance.

Aluminum. A mixture of oxidized asphalt, solvents and aluminum paste, and they are available with or without reinforcing fibers. Aluminum coatings reflect UV radiation, reducing rooftop temperatures, premature aging and building cooling loads. The quality of these products is measured by the aluminum content, expressed as 1, 2, or 3 pounds of aluminum paste per gallon.

Emulsion-Aluminum. A hybrid product with fire resistance and filling/sealing properties of an emulsion coating.

Asphalt Cutbacks. Consist of asphalt and petroleum solvents. Cutbacks are primarily maintenance and restoration products, designed to penetrate, resaturate and restore weathered or aged asphalt built-up roof systems.

Resaturants. Made with either an asphalt or coal-tar base, it penetrates, rejuvenates and weatherproofs existing built-up roofs.

Modified Asphalt Coatings. Made with asphalt, synthetic rubber polymers and solvents and might contain reinforcing fibers. Advantages include increased elasticity and cold-weather flexibility.

Bituminous Coating. Compatible with asphalt or coal-tar built-up roofs or with modified bitumen membranes.

Elastomeric Coating. Formulated from latex/acrylic, Hypalon, neoprene, silicone or urethane. Many elastomeric coatings are compatible with common roof membranes, but they are more widely used with metal and sprayed-in-place polyurethane foam roofing systems.

Consult with a knowledgeable flat roof maintenance contractor to determine the proper coating for yours. The cost of application is usually modest compared to the cost of replacing the roof. So, like changing your car enginersquo;s oil, make coating your roof a regular event. To dress it up, you can custom color it, just like paint. But make sure to apply it at recommended intervals. This is a recoat of many colors that should not be worn out.

For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to

Full Story >

Is It Clutter Or Is It Inspiration?

We have all brought things into our lives, into our environments, which we thought were great additions. Over time and as we re-examine those choices, we often discover that some things are still great, but others have become troublesome burdens.

Does the idea of having to sort and pack all of your ldquo;stuffrdquo; keep you from considering a move? Do you shudder at the thought of having to tackle the piled-up stuff in the basement, garage, attic, or all three before you can sell your home?

Yoursquo;re not alone.

Yoursquo;re not alone with ldquo;stuffrdquo;, that is.

De-clutter genius Marie Kondo, whorsquo;s sold more than 10 million copies of her 2011 book "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," has appeared on the professional organization scene. Under her guidance, keeping stuff represents JOY and throwing stuff out represents JOY. Either way, you canrsquo;t lose and life-changing JOY is the reward.

Her work is not restricted to condos; her surname is Kondo. Japanese ldquo;tidy uprdquo; master Marie Kondo concentrates on how people - from new parents to empty nesters, from rabid collectors to minimalists - should feel about their things to have a happy life.

If yoursquo;ve heard about Kondo, but havenrsquo;t seen her in action, you are missing a huge part of the magic. Her hypnotic concentration on helping people find inspiration and JOY from their possessions will have you >

Netflix has captured a variety of Kondo interactions in a series on cullingnbsp;accumulations, freeing-up space, and moving on. Yoursquo;re bound to discover elements of your conscious and unconscious ldquo;stuff issuesrdquo; as you watch Kondo in action with those intent on using their space differently.

Originally, her philosophy was to ldquo;solve your storage problems with things you already have in the house." Her favorites were smart phone boxes, which she used to organize like items within drawers and boxes. Now, empire-building Kondo recently launched her first product line of paper box sets 89 for 6 in case you canrsquo;t find enough small boxes around your house.

Her KonMari Method of tidying up can be daunting even if it does reward you with life-changing JOY. This is not a quick toss-out exercise, but an item-by-item re-examination of how you feel about your possessions. Sorting is by category, not by room. The first of five categories is clothing. Then on to books, through the list ending with sentimental items. Itrsquo;s less about decisions and more about your current reaction to what you own. For those who need help starting or finishing, Kondo is training a growing army of KonMari professionals.

Clutter vs Inspiration

One personrsquo;s clutter can be another personrsquo;s inspiration. Before you commit to transformational tidying up, make sure you are taking the right actions and solving the right problem.

Itrsquo;s not your stuff thatrsquo;s ever the problem, but how you react to your stuff that is the point of concern. If yoursquo;re immobilized by what your space-choking items represent, KonMari may be for you. However, if the collection of beloved pieces yoursquo;re accumulated lovingly over the years is the source of continual pleasure and inspiration, hold on.

What we see around us can inspire us in many ways. Colors, shapes, sparkle, histories, memories...therersquo;s a richness in what we gather around us that can keep spirits up, whet appetites for adventure, inspire creativity, and much more. Whatrsquo;s your stuff doing for you?

Take stock of what you have and shed the unnecessary, damaged, or distracting, but cherish those goodies that bring a smile to your face each time you see them. This will probably be antiques over IKEA and hand-crafted over mass production, but ultimately itrsquo;s all about your attached memories and feelings.

Taking a new look at your possessions and how yoursquo;re using your space can also bring you closer to those you share your home with. Search out inspiration and yoursquo;ll strengthen >

Inside amp; Out

Recently, I was cruising through the pristine waters in the fiords of the South Island of New Zealand when I learned about undertakings that made we think about clutter in yet another way.

Fiordland National Park covers almost 3 million acres containing mountains, rainforest, lakes and wilderness, much of it only accessible by boat. The variety of Fiordland habitats support a diverse range of flora and fauna, with many developing in >

No houses, few roadshellip;yet invader species are pushing out native animals including the countryrsquo;s high-profile emblem, the flightless kiwi.

In response to this crisis, two separate island reserves, including Resolution Island, the second largest uninhabited New Zealand island, are currently undergoing a massive ldquo;de-clutteringrdquo; of invader species including deer, stoat, mice, and possums. Thatrsquo;s de-cluttering on an admirable scale

There are other initiatives aimed at removing unwanted ldquo;clutterrdquo; species:

bull; Individual New Zealanders hike through forests on Marlborough Sound in a long-term commitment to kill off individual invader pine trees. Their efforts are visible as scattered dead trees throughout the area.
bull; Enterprising New Zealand wool merchants created an international market for possum fur. When blended with New Zealandrsquo;s highly-prized merino wool, washing shrinkage is minimized and the resulting blend is warmer, lighter, and less bulky. I Love Merino owners Colin and Li Ru Lim of South Island Dunedin explained how ldquo;every night 35-45 million possums in New Zealand eat their way through [tons] of native forest causing enormous ecological damage to plant and bird life. The possum is a native of Australia but when >

Inspiration for improvement on many scales can have us tidying up clutter on the home front and in natural environments. Which invader-species de-cluttering projects are underway in your neighborhood or should be?

Full Story >

Getting a Gift? Handle With Care

Bottom line, lenders want to make sure not just if there are enough funds available but that those same funds belong to the applicant. In addition, available funds must be properly ldquo;sourced,rdquo; meaning those funds must come from approved sources. Down payment money canrsquo;t be borrowed from a friend, for example.

There are also those fortunate ones who are receiving a financial gift to help out with the down payment, closing costs and cash reserves. But there are certain tracking rules that must be followed in order for the lender to count those funds toward available cash to close. 10,000 just canrsquo;t show up on a bank statement, it needs to be verified those funds were obtained following lending guidelines. What are those guidelines?

The first is to have a completed Gift Affidavit Letter included with the loan package. This letter will show the donorrsquo;s name and address and where the gift funds are coming from along with the specific amount of the gift. The gift letter will also indicate which account the donor will be using to help out with the gift. Donor bank statements arenrsquo;t needed but an indication and account numbers where the gift is coming from can be. The letter clearly states that the funds are a gift and there is no repayment required or expected.

In addition to proper sourcing and a completed, signed gift letter, tracking the funds from the donor to the settlement table is the final step. Donors can provide the buyers with a cashierrsquo;s check. The buyers would then deposit that check into their bank account along with a deposit slip showing the transaction and include a copy of the cashierrsquo;s check showing the buyerrsquo;s names on the front of the check. A regular check can also be used in lieu of a cashierrsquo;s check but the buyers must then provide a copy of the cancelled check, front and back. This obviously can take some time for the cancelled check to make it back to the original donor. Finally, wiring the funds from the donorrsquo;s account to the buyerrsquo;s bank account is likely the most convenient for all.

But there is one more method that might be the easiest of all and that is to wire the funds directly from the donorrsquo;s account to the settlement agent, bypassing the buyerrsquo;s involvement in the transaction. The lender would then include a copy of the final, signed copy of the settlement statement to be included with the gift letter.

If yoursquo;re going to receive a gift or think you might, you should first speak with your lender to verify their internal process. More than likely the lender has a preapproved Gift Letter it uses in-house. The lender can also provide the steps it will take to transfer the funds in proper, timely fashion to be at the settlement table at the exact time and place that you are.

Full Story >

Self-Employed? What to Know About Buying a Home.

Wersquo;re not necessarily talking about a work-from-home scenario although this is another growing workforce trend. And it goes beyond having flexibility to work from wherever you want and wear whatever you want. Itrsquo;s self-employment, and itrsquo;s on the rise. FreshBooksrsquo; second annual Self-Employment Report found that, ldquo;Some 27 million Americans will leave full-time jobs from now through 2020, bringing the total number of self-employed to 42 million,rdquo; said the New York Post. ldquo;The report defines self-employed professionals as those whose primary income is from independent client-based work.

But self-employment can also make it difficult to buy a home. ldquo;Lenders are primarily concerned that all applicants, including self-employed workers, have the ability to consistently repay the mortgage,rdquo; said U.S. News amp; World Report. ldquo;Theyrsquo;ll need to see that your income is high enough to pay for the mortgage and likely to continue, and that you have a good track record of repaying your debts.rdquo;

These tips can help you get yourself in a better position.

What do you need to show?

Showing two years of steady income is a basic requirement for just about any mortgage, but those who have an employer other than themselves may have more flexibility. Other factors, such as income, savings, down payment, and debt-to-income ratio can make that two-year rule less critical.

Those who are self-employed, however, will want to show as much income history as possible. ldquo;Mortgage lenders typically require self-employed individuals to show two years worth of self-employment income to prove that they have a steady revenue stream,rdquo; said The Motley Fool. In addition, ldquo;Youll have to provide tax returns from the last two years, and you may also have to provide a list of your existing debts and assets. Business owners may have to provide profit and loss statements from the last couple of years.rdquo;

How to treat business expenses

Adding to the challenge is the fact that lenders are going to be looking at your income after deductions. ldquo;Self-employed workers also might write off a significant portion of their income as a business expense, minimizing the size of the mortgage theyrsquo;re able to obtain,rdquo; said U.S. News. ldquo;Because mortgage underwriters typically look at income after expenses, your taxable income may be too small to qualify for the mortgage you want.rdquo;

Managing your debt-to-income ratio

ldquo;Most mortgage lenders will not give you a loan if that ratio is greater than 43mdash;that is, if more than 43 of your income is going toward paying off debt each month,rdquo; said The Motley Fool. That debt-to-income level is key in any mortgage approval scenario, but takes on added importance when everything is under a self-employment microscope.

ldquo;Its important to make sure you keep your debts down to a manageable level. They should never exceed 43 of your income, and its best if you can keep your obligations under 36,rdquo; they said.

Howrsquo;s your credit score?

Credit scores are even more important if yoursquo;re trying to prove yoursquo;re worthy of being approved for a mortgage. ldquo;Even if yoursquo;ve been wildly successful after striking out on your own, having a lousy credit score will hinder your chances of getting a good rate on a mortgage,rdquo; said Bankrate. They recommend checking your credit before you start applying, which will give you an opportunity to pay down debts or spot errors on your report that could be dragging your score down.

Full Story >

Turn Empty Rooms Into Useful Spaces

Den/Guest Room

Turn the room into a guest room, reading room or den.

A den can be a small, comfortable version of a living room. Family and guests can play games or watch TV while everyone else >

A reading room allows you to close the door and read in peace and quiet. Use task lighting in the room for different activities.

To create a guestroom, simply add a twin or double bed to your den or reading room. Turn the bed into a comfy reading area by adding pillows. Your guests will be more >

Hobby/Craft/Storage Room

Sewing room, craft room or indoor potting area? Any of these or a combination would make a great addition to your home.

For the creative side in all of us, wouldnt it be great to have a room dedicated to crafts? The room should be complete with a worktable and should be multifunctional for activities throughout the year. During the holidays, use the room as a gift wrapping station.

If collecting is your hobby, turn your spare space into a memorabilia room. Let your friends get the full effect of the extent of your collections. All of your items can be neatly arranged and protected in one room.

More storage space, we all need it. Organize your spare room using the many storage systems available. Storage boxes combined with wire shelving will leave your home clutter-free.

Bring your favorite outdoor hobby indoors for the winter. An indoor potting room allows you to re-pot your overgrown plants and keep the re-potting mess out of the kitchen. Make sure your floors are water and stain-resistant.

Home Office

Convert the entire room or just the closet into an office.

Now is your chance to move the computer out of the kitchen and into an office. Whether you work from home on a daily basis or you just want a quiet place to work on occasion, a home office is a nice addition.

Use stock kitchen cabinets to create lots of storage space for your home office.

Be sure to add a comfortable chair and an appropriately sized desk or table. For more information, check out Setting up a Home Office.

Recreation or Music Room

A recreation room is a great place to entertain. Add a bumper table, beanbag chairs, and a small refrigerator. Decorate the walls with your favorite posters and neon lights for the ultimate party atmosphere.

Have you always wanted to have your own personal space to practice your music? With your own music room, you can have privacy and isolate the noise.

Here are a few tips for inexpensively absorbing sound in a recreation or music room:

Use heavy carpeting and padding in the room to help keep sound from escaping through the floor. If you have hardwood floors and dont want to cover them, add rugs to absorb sound.

Pad walls with blankets, 1/4" thick carpet applied with mastic, heavy fabric or self-sticking cork tile squares.

If you dont like the idea of hanging blankets or fabric on your walls, plain fabric wallpaper or heavy wallpaper will help to absorb some sound.

If possible, install and weatherstrip a solid wood door.

Planning and Arranging

When youve chosen the type of room, go through the design process and choose everything you want to include in the new room, from paint to light fixtures. Planning ahead will save you money in the long run.

Changing the color of a room can give it a facelift. If you arent adding sound-absorbing material to the walls, paint the room a color to fit the atmosphere. Choosing the color scheme may be one of the most important decorating decisions you make.

Use one of the many faux painting techniques for a textured look and to hide minor damage to the walls.

Determine the focal point of the room. Find the dramatic element that draws your immediate attention. No matter what type of room you choose to create, there will always be one central focus. Whether itrsquo;s a bed in a guest room or a desk in a home office, these items define the space. Arrange the furniture based on the focal point.

Full Story >

Can You Get Last Minute Flood Insurance for Your Home?

In most cases, there is a 30-day waiting period before flood insurance takes effect and you typically cannot buy insurance while a loss is taking place, so if flooding begins the day before your policy goes into effect, you may not be covered.

A home is often the most valuable purchase youll make in your lifetime, which is why you want to ensure it is always protected from any potential causes of damage, including floods. To ensure you keep your property covered with adequate insurance policies, note some detailed information about homeowners insurance, flood insurance, water damage repair and mold remediation services, and how to protect your property from damage.

Can You Get Flood Insurance for a Home?

Note some very vital information every homeowner should understand about flood insurance coverage and their homeowners insurance policy:

bull; Flood insurance is not typically part of a standard homeowners insurance policy. You must purchase this coverage separately from your standard policy.
bull; Flood insurance and water damage repair coverage are two separate types of policies; as said, flood insurance covers damage caused by natural disasters, whereas water damage remediation refers to damage caused by plumbing leaks or burst pipes, broken aquariums, broken windows that allow in rainwater, and other such disasters.
bull; You dont need to purchase flood insurance from the government to be reimbursed after a declared disaster has damaged your property.
bull; If you purchase flood insurance as part of your new mortgage policy, including a mortgage refinancing, you typically wont face a thirty-day waiting period for coverage.
bull; If your property is rezoned as a flood area within the first year of purchasing flood insurance, you typically do not need to wait thirty days for coverage to begin.
bull; Flood insurance is typically available and sometimes required for properties in high-risk areas such as or designated flood zones. Areas near the coast such are seen to be more risky, especially ones that are in hurricane areas.nbsp;Water Damage in Atlanta, GA is a perfect example of this because of the flooding caused by nearby hurricanes. Even if not needed, its often recommended to add some flood coverage to your homeowners insurance policy as heavy storms and broken dams or other barriers can cause flooding in virtually any area of the United States

What Is Covered By Flood Insurance?

Its vital to understand that every insurance policy is different, so you need to read your particular policy carefully and ask questions of your insurance agent before signing anything, but note that flood insurance typically covers the following for homeowners:

bull; The building itself, including its foundation and basement or crawlspace
bull; Electrical systems and wiring
bull; Plumbing systems and fixtures
bull; The built-in HVAC system, meaning a central air conditioner and furnace
bull; The water heater
bull; Large kitchen appliances refrigerator, stove, built-in dishwasher
bull; Permanently installed carpeting excluding area rugs
bull; Permanently installed or built-in shelving, bookcases, and paneling

Your policy might cover debris removal and a certain percent of damage to a detached garage. Ask your agent about coverage for these additional items, if needed, and any limitations on the amount you would be reimbursed.

Does Flood Insurance Cover Personal Belongings?

Personal belongings and items like small appliances might be covered by flood insurance, although there are typically more limitations on this coverage than on your home itself. Ask your agent about your coverage if you need to include any of the following items in your flood insurance policy:

bull; Clothes, shoes, and accessories
bull; Furniture
bull; Electronics, including computers
bull; Curtains and blinds
bull; Window air conditioners and portable units, space heaters
bull; Small kitchen appliances, including microwave ovens and portable dishwashers
bull; Area rugs
bull; Washers and dryers
bull; Stand-alone freezers, including foodstuffs in the freezer
bull; Artwork, furs, antiques, fine jewelry, and other items with high value

What Isnt Covered By Flood Insurance

Flood insurance isnt enti>

bull; Paper currency and valuable papers such as stocks and bearer bonds
bull; Precious metals and jewels
bull; Objects outside the insured building, including landscaping, septic tanks, and fences
bull; Damage to vehicles including motorcycles, an ATV, and trailer

Your flood insurance policy also typically does not cover expenses for temporary housing or loss of income due to business interruption or because a homeowner needs to miss work and repair their property.

Do You Need Water Damage and Repair?

Water damage and repair is vital after any flood, no matter its severity. Even small amounts of water are easily absorbed by wall studs and floorboards, softening those materials and increasing the risk of chips, cracks, and other damage. Excess moisture trapped under carpet padding often leads to bothersome mildew that an everyday household vacuum cleaner cannot extract.

Professional water damage repair services will remove all trapped floodwaters as well as excess moisture from the air, ensuring that your homes carpeting and building materials are dried thoroughly and protected from damage. Mold remediation services also protect your home from potential mold growth after floodwaters have receded.


Will the government cover the cost of repairs if a flood is declared a "disaster zone"?

When the government declares a location a disaster zone, they typically allocate more funds for infrastructure repairs and may have funds available for homeowners to borrow. However, ra>

Can you get last minute flood insurance for your car?

Most insurance companies wont sell last-minute flood insurance if your area is under a storm watch. However, if your area is not yet under a storm watch, you might be able to purchase comprehensive vehicle coverage that includes flood damage.

Ramy Ramon is the owner of 24/7 Water Damage Atlanta, a family owned and local business who provides round the clock emergency protection for his friends neighbors and Atlanta residents. His company is ready for any storm, flood or hurricane to help deal with all the water damage cleanup, any fire damage and all the mold remediation for those that do not get services soon enough.

Full Story >

Financing a Home in a Rural Area? Heres How

As it >

The United States Department of Agriculture oversees the USDA home loan program. First introduced back in 1935, it was an inducement by the federal government to help people buy homes with as little cash to close as possible while at the same time moving people and homes into sparsely populated areas. As long as the applicants used the USDA program to live in the home as a primary residence, it was a welcomed program.

Today, the zero-down USDA loan is still used to finance homes in rural areas and the rates and terms are extremely competitive. Buyers can get the loan directly from the USDA but itrsquo;s much easier to work with a lender experienced with this program. If you take a quick look at the timeline between working directly with an experienced mortgage loan officer with applying with the USDA and all the bureaucratic baggage that would carry, the local loan officer is the preferred choice.

The USDA loan also carries a guarantee to the lender should the loan ever go into default. Should a home go into foreclosure, the lender is compensated for the loss. Just like other loan programs that carry a guarantee to the lender, the guarantee is financed with a form of mortgage insurance. And in the case with a USDA loan, two such policies are attached to the loan. The upfront policy, called the guarantee fee, is 1.00 of the loan amount but does not have to be paid for out-of-pocket but instead is rolled into the final loan amount. There is also an annual premium that is paid for in monthly installments along with the principal and interest amount, property tax and homeownerrsquo;s insurance.

There are a few restrictions that come with the program, one of which is making sure the home being financed is located in an approved area. These areas are identified via the U.S. Census Bureau when the Census is taken. Whatrsquo;s interesting about this is areas that look nothing like ldquo;ruralrdquo; but more suburban in mind it still may be an approved area by the Census Bureau. If an area increases in population since the last Census was taken, buyers can still take advantage of this zero-down loan. That is, until the next Census comes around.

When someone sees a potential purchase, the first thing to do contact the loan officer and provide the property address. The loan officer can then look up the address to make sure itrsquo;s eligible. Second, there is also a limit on household income. All occupants 18 years of age and older must report gross monthly income. The lender will then make sure this income does not exceed 115 percent of the median income for the area.

One final mention- the USDA loan comes in one flavor and one flavor only, the 30 year fixed rate loan. There are no other loan term options but at the same time there is no prepayment penalty so borrowers can pay any amount they wish beyond the required 30 year monthly payment.

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February Real Estate Roundup

Freddie Macs results of its Primary Mortgage Market Surveyreg; shows that "mortgage rates fell for the third consecutive week, continuing the general downward trend that began late last year. Wages are growing on par with home prices for the first time in years, and with more inventory available, spring home sales should help the market begin to recover from the malaise of the last few months."

bull; 30-year fixed-rate mortgage FRM averaged 4.35 percent with an average 0.5 points for the week ending February 21, 2019, down from last week when it averaged 4.37 percent. A year ago, at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.40 percent.

bull; 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.78 percent with an average 0.4 points, down from last week when it also averaged 3.81 percent. A year ago, at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.85 percent.

bull; 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage ARM averaged 3.84 percent this week with an average 0.3 points, down from last week when it averaged 3.88 percent. A year ago, at this time, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.65 percent.

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An Alternative to Cash? Using Sweat Equity for Down Payments

The Department of Housing and Urban Development HUD just announced it will be awarding 10 million in sweat equity grants to nonprofit housing organizations through its Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program SHOP. ldquo;The funds, combined with labor contributed by the homebuyers and volunteers, will lower the cost of homeownership for certain buyers,rdquo; said HousingWire. ldquo;According to HUD, through the program, homebuyers contribute lsquo;significant sweat equityrsquo; toward the development of their housing units or the units of others participating in the local self-help housing programs.rdquo;

Low-income homebuyers can work toward their down payment through activities including ldquo;landscaping, foundation work, painting, carpentry, trim work, drywall, roofing, and siding. A minimum of 100 sweat equity hours is required from a household of two or more persons, while a minimum of 50 sweat equity hours is required from a household of one person.rdquo;

More than half of the money in this round of grants is earmarked for Habitat for Humanity, which they will apply toward at least 284 SHOP units for low-income homebuyers who meet the sweat equity requirement. HUD has a history of awarding SHOP grants; they provided 9.9 million in sweat equity grants in 2016, 13.5 million in 2011, and 25 million in 2006.

The FHA isnrsquo;t the only place buyers may be able to use sweat equity to help with their down payment. The Home Possible mortgage, which already offers one of the lowest down payments around at a minimum of three percent, is another option. ldquo;Do-it-yourselfers can apply sweat equity to assist in meeting their down payment and closing costs, co-borrowers who do not live in the home can be included for a borrowerrsquo;s one-unit residence, borrowers are permitted to own other properties, and moremdash;all with competitive pricing and the ease of a conventional mortgage,rdquo; said Freddie Mac.

Freddie Mac recently expanded the program so that borrowers can ldquo;cover their entire down payments with sweat equity,rdquo; said Tim and Julie Harris Real Estate Coaching. ldquo;The Home Possible Sweat Equity Offering supports renovations of aging homes and provides borrowers with an additional form of down payment instead of cash, particularly in rural areas,rdquo; said a spokesperson for Freddie Mac. ldquo;Borrowers can use sweat equity with no limits on the amount that can be applied to down payments, provided that the labor performed is completed in a skillful manner to support the appraised value of the home and is certified by an appraiser.rdquo;

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9 Things That May Surprise You About Todays Homebuyers

33: Thatrsquo;s the percentage of total buyers for the year that were first-timers. That number is a tick down from 2017rsquo;s 34, but still represents the largest share of homebuyers today. Hello, millennial invasion.

46: Then againhellip;maybe itrsquo;s not only millennials, because 46 was the median age of all buyers for the year. It just goes to show that age is not a deterrent to buying a home, on either end of the spectrum.

13: That was the median down payment of all buyers for the year. There goes that myth that you need 20 down to buy a home Breaking that statistic down further, repeat homebuyers had an average down payment of 16 last year, but, for first-time buyers, that number was just 7.

250,000: That was the median purchase price of a home last year. Think homeownership is still out of reach at that number? Herersquo;s a few more digits that may be surprising:

bull; 91,600: That was the median household income of all buyers in the NAR report.
bull; 3.5: Thatrsquo;s the minimum down payment required for a loan from the Federal Housing Authority FHA, the most popular loan for first-time buyers in large part because of that low down payment requirement as well as generous credit score requirements.
bull; 8,750: Thatrsquo;s 3.5 of 250,000. Buy a home at the median price, and thats what yoursquo;ll have to come up with for an FHA loan.

18: That was the percentage of homebuyers who were single females last year. Additionally, 9 were single males, and 8 were unmarried couples. Who says you need to be married to buy a home?
12: Thatrsquo;s the percentage of homebuyers who bought a multigenerational home in 2018, ldquo;to take care of aging parents, because of children over the age of 18 moving back home, and for cost-saving,rdquo; said the NAR.

This is representative of a greater multigenerational trend across the country; The most recent data from the Pew Research Center in 2016 shows that, ldquo;A record 64 million people, or 20 of the U.S. population, lived with multiple generations under one roof.rdquo; The trend is strong across nearly all racial and age groups.

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Selling Your Home? Make it a Summer Dream Home for Buyers

Selling your home in the summertime can be a great opportunity to attract buyers. Having your home "summer-ready" can increase the chances of it selling faster.

Searching for homes often increases just as schools let out and families have some extra time to begin the hunt prior to the next school year beginning.

As a seller, there are a few things you can do to create a summer-ready home that influences your buyers to step inside and stay a bit. The longer they stay when previewing your home, the greater likelihood that theyre considering making an offer.

Make sure your winter decorations are put away and stored. I know this sounds basic and maybe even amusing but there have been instances when lingering holiday decor still adorns some areas of the home. This may be charming to the homeowners but rest assured its not to prospective buyers. Itll simply look like clutter.

Pull the heavy-duty winter rugs up. If you have beautiful flooring like hardwood, go bare for the summer months. Revealing well-kept floors can be a big plus. Rugs that lined the floors in the winter months can be packed up when youre listing your home for sale in the summer months.

Make the home look like the season and match the neighborhood. If its bright and cheerful outside, invite that into your home by opening up the windows and letting natural light flow through. If there is one, let a cool breeze blow in or keep the air conditioner on so that its a comfortable temperature to tour your home. Nothing is worse than entering a home to preview and finding that you can hardly stay inside because its stuffy and blazing hot.

Tidy up the backyard. Sometimes a lot of attention is given to the interior of the home and the outside area gets overlooked. Remember, in the summertime especially, homeowners will be sure to check out your yard. Make sure that it hasnt become a dumping ground or storage for all the stuff youre trying to get rid of before you move. Instead, create a pleasant vision for your prospective buyers by setting up the backyard with cute outdoor furniture. If you have gardens, make sure that you keep tending them. Dont let them get overgrown. The charm of a lovely outdoor space, large or even petite, will be appealing to most buyers, especially if theyre starting with one thats already designed and maintained.

Clean your fans and vents and change the heating/air conditioning filters. If youre not using or living in the home, the fans and filters can collect a lot of dust. Be sure not to overlook cleaning these things as a dirty ceiling fan can whirl off a lot of dust and debris when its turned on. Its not a good way to start a showing by flipping a switch and having handfuls of dust flutter about the room. Cleaning and changing air conditioning filters takes only a few minutes, but the return is huge.

A few simple things can help you "summer-ize" your home so that the prospective buyers cant wait to move into the home and enjoy the rest of the summer.

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How to Choose the Right Contractor for Your Renovation Project

Herersquo;s what you should do to find the right contractor for your home renovation project.

1. Ask around

The best place to start your search for a contractor is by asking people you trust whether they have worked with a contractor they liked. You might even be able to get a sneak peak at the work theyrsquo;ve done.

Because not all renovation jobs are the same, itrsquo;s important to find someone with a project similar to yours. A contractor who wired your new addition for electricity is not the same contractor who would necessarily be the best at refinishing hardwood floors.

2. Read reviews

Once yoursquo;ve gotten a few references, go read reviews on third-party sites. This will help you get a sense of their track record over a longer period of time and will also help you understand whether they stay on schedule, on budget, and keep the homeowner involved and informed during the process.

3. Compare quotes

Ask for quotes from at least three contractors. Make sure you understand the cost of materials, labor, and any extra fees they charge. You should also know who handles building and permit fees because they may be expecting you to do so. Keep in mind that the cheapest contractor isnrsquo;t necessarily the best dealmdash;when it comes to renovation, you often get what you pay for, and a cheap quote could mean cheap work.

Because the winter months are often the slow season for many contractors and builders, some offer discounts to help drum up business. Ask your contractor whether they offer discounts in the off season.

4. Ask to see their insurance and license

A general contractor must be licensed to work in your state, so ask to see their license. You should also inquire with your statersquo;s contractor licensing board to find out whether the contractor has had any complaints lodged against them or whether they have ever received disciplinary action.

5. Make sure theyrsquo;re bonded and insured

Some states will require that general contractors be bonded and insured, but yours should be both, regardless of state law. Having a bonded contractor means that yoursquo;re financially and legally protected if they fail to complete the job. Having an insured contractor means that you wonrsquo;t be liable if an accident occurs during the project.

Simply ask to see the certificate of insurance, then call the issuer to verify that the policy is active.

6. Ask for references

Contractors should be able to provide client references for the same type of project yoursquo;re undertaking. For example, if yoursquo;re working on a home that is in an historic district, they should be experienced in restrictions and codes for your specific protected area. You might even ask these people whether you can come take a look at the work. Ask how the job has held up over time, whether the contractor was on time and on budget, how they left your home at the end of a workday, how the contractor and workers behaved while they were in the house, etc. Get a sense of just how the project went from start to finish.

Matilda Davies is a home and garden writer based in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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Staged Property: Buyers Beware

Would you like to unload your house faster and for more than you expect? That, in rough terms, is what home stagers promise.

All the Homes a Stage

My farmhouse house, I will disclose, is as backstage as it gets. Books fill the bookcases. This is a big no-no in the staging profession. A vice grip is as likely to be on the dining room table as a floral centerpiece. A vice-grip is not a character flaw. My idea of decluttering is to straighten the pile of reading newspapers by the couch.

Now I find nothing wrong with a seller doing clean up, paint up and fix up before offering a property for sale. I would not be the first to do any of those activities, but I endorse putting onersquo;s best foot forward, given the alternative, with which I have had more experience.

Staging property is like set design in the theater. It leads the audience to look at focal points in ways that lead to certain feelings about the play. Good sets invite the audience to them by invoking emotional responses.

House stagers do the same. They use props like plants, smells, visual accents, space, angles, lights, colors, textures, airiness, and furniture to lead a buyer to imagine living in this set.

They deploy tactical rental furniture and art in empty houses to create the imaginative magic of theater. Staged properties are clean, clutter-free, spruced up and depersonalized. Staging is intended to draw the buyer into its pretend world.

The object of this mind-tweak is to get buyers to become emotionally invested in a staged house, then make a spontaneous offer, then pay more than they should.

A Growing Industry

Staging is now an industry that describes itself as ldquo;self-regulating.rdquo; Stagers can become trained, accredited and join a professional group, such as the Real Estate Staging Assn. At the Real Estate Staging Association, hundreds of thousands of real-estate agents and others have been trained.

Staging is sophisticated, customized marketing. It works. Itrsquo;s not dishonest in the sense of pulling a rug over termite damage in hardwood floors.

But it is intentionally manipulative. Stagers orchestrate the presentation of space to twiddle with a buyerrsquo;s mind so that he does something that he might not otherwise do. Admittedly, our way of doing business with each other often tries to convince buyers that the sellerrsquo;s deal is better than it is.

So how can buyers defend against a Martha Stewartly correct Ficus Benjamina in the entrance, a potted tree so disgustingly symmetrical and repulsively tasteful that sunbeams dance in marching-band formation on its just-spritzed leaves?

Educate yourself about staging, its purpose and how itrsquo;s done. An Internet search will lead buyers to informative articles. Stagers have written books. An agent working for the buyer should be asked to ring a staging alarm when entering a magic kingdom.

Identify stage props as a way to strip them of their persuasive power. Note fluffy bath towels, linens, greenery, wildflowers in dark rooms they suggest sunlight, yellow roses on a dining-room table, compulsive decluttering, clean-plate closets, new furniture, non-casually tossed toss pillows, items arranged in threes, cleared-off counter tops, furniture angles that draw you into a room, a bowl of limes and lemons and other focal points that thrum ldquo;Look at merdquo; using a low C in a harprsquo;s bass clef.

Outside note fresh paint, recently whacked shrubs, new shutters, fancy grill, ceramic yard frogs, rope hammock, an antique-looking weathervane and a new picnic table. The last five vanish at closing, if not before.

The Power of the Prop

The power in these props is that, together, they represent the life>

The stager scrubs away dirt and traces of the current occupants. The stager wants the buyer to think of the sellerrsquo;s house with all props in place, not empty and not full of the buyerrsquo;s stuff.

Once a buyer recognizes staging, it becomes transparent and funny. ldquo;My, my, what a fetching woven rug with bulging knots Is it pre-Columbian? The limes, the limes. [Kiss your fingertips.] Quel limesrdquo;

Consider not looking at staged properties. Stagers boast that their properties get three to ten percent more than unstaged properties. I believe them. On property that is worth 500,000, staging puts an extra 15,000 to 50,000 of buyer money in a sellerrsquo;s pocket. Some of that extra might go for paint and shrubs, things that convey to the buyerrsquo;s benefit.

But the buyer pays most of this staging premium for looking at props like candlesticks and couch pillows that will disappear like a traveling peep show. Staging succeeds in getting buyers to pay for something that often amounts to nothing.

Since all of us are equally vulnerable to the stagerrsquo;s skills, perhaps a buyer should tell agents to eliminate staged properties from his
look list.

Consider the Bare Bones

Agents working for buyers might discuss ways to evaluate staged properties with their clients. Donrsquo;t look at the props. If a buyer visits a staged property, imagine the house buck naked and empty. Thatrsquo;s what yoursquo;re buying.

Working farms usually are well organized with a few rough edges. If you find no edges in a farmyard, piles of weathered materials, pieces of equipment, scrap from the last century, Irsquo;d be suspicious. Farmers always need such backup.

Some farms are perfectly maintained in every nip and tuck. These farmers take great pride in neatness and upkeep. If you see every fence as tight as a prison door, every road newly graveled, every gate painted thatrsquo;s great. Be prepared to pay for perfection. This isnrsquo;t staging; itrsquo;s compulsive-maintenance disorder.

The reasons to cross off staged properties is that you will pay too much for what yoursquo;re getting, and yoursquo;re likely to be competing against stage-struck buyers who have fallen under stagerrsquo;s Spell.

The seller has paid for the stage show, usually a minimum of several thousand dollars but often much more. Statistics from Home Gain indicate that for every dollar invested in staging, a seller gets 4 to 5 back in additional sales price. Where, a buyer must ask, do those extra dollars come from?

Staging raises seller expectations. Itrsquo;s hard to negotiate with a seller whorsquo;s both out hard cash and hopeful to boot.

Since staging works, it is ever more common. My advice to buyers is to factor out staging and stick with a price that makes sense to them.

For buyers: All of what you see is not all of what you get.

Curtis Seltzer, land consultant, is the author of How To Be a DIRT-SMART Buyer of Country Property at his website.

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Does Pressure Washing Damage Vinyl Siding on Your Home?

Improper pressure washing techniques can absolutely damage vinyl siding, boring a hole through the vinyl or causing dents and warped areas. Concentrated pressure can also leave streaks or water marks across the front of vinyl siding.

While improper techniques can damage vinyl siding, as well as old and brittle roofing shingles, thin exterior window glass, worn timber decking, and aged mortar along brick walls, the right residential power washing techniques can get these surfaces clean and pristine. To ensure youre doing everything possible to keep your home in good condition and looking its best, note some tips for avoiding damage while power washing a house, and for ensuring the job is done thoroughly and effectively.

Ways to Properly Pressure Wash a Home Safely and Effectively

Residential power washing isnt always damaging to vinyl siding and other surfaces and materials, as long as the work is done right Note a few tips from local pros at pressure washing in St. Petersburg, FL, for safely pressure washing a home, and remember that you might >

  • bull; Start by removing mold and mildew by hand. Use a watered down bleach solution in a spray bottle and then scrub these contaminants with a damp rag.

  • bull; Begin pressure washing with plain water only. Some detergents might dry out vinyl siding or strip its color, and dry along the surface of siding, brick walls, windows, and timber decking, leaving behind dirty and unsightly streaks.

  • bull; If you must use detergent, be sure you opt for surfactants made for particular surfaces. Cleansers meant for a wood deck might be too harsh for exterior window glass, and some detergents should be used with hot water rather than cold.

  • bull; Always use the lowest pressure available as you begin cleaning, optimally no more than the force produced by a garden hose You can increase the strength as needed and as you see what is safe for each surface, as you continue to clean.

  • bull; Start by washing higher areas of the home and hidden corners where dirt collects; this includes roof eaves, behind shutters, and under gutters and around downspouts.

  • bull; Hold the pressure washing wand at a forty-five-degree angle to the siding and other such surfaces, either to the side or downward, rather than standing directly in front of the area youre washing. Holding the wand at an angle will help to loosen dirt and also lessen the pressure against s surface, reducing the risk of damage.

  • bull; Keep the pressure washing wand moving and never hold it over one spot continuously, as this is a surefire way to bore a hole right through vinyl, brick, and timber, or shatter an exterior window.

  • bull; Work in sections and be sure you rinse away dirt and residual detergent thoroughly before you move on to the next part of a wall or next set of windows.

  • bull; Keep an eye on the water as you work; if its still dirty and gray, you need to keep washing that particular section of your home Keep working until the water runs clean and clear and is free of suds and residual detergent.

When to Hire Residential Pressure Washing Services

Most homeowners can rent or buy a pressure washer and manage some light, everyday cleaning of their propertys exterior. However, its good to call a professional for many power washing needs around your home, to avoid damage and for a thorough and effective wash. Note when its good to hire residential pressure washing services:

bull; Never attempt roof washing on your own. Managing a pressure washer while on a roof or a ladder is very dangerous, and its quite easy to loosen shingles and tiles with a power washer. Soft wash systems will also dissolve years of thick soot and grime from a roof without damaging old and brittle shingles.

bull; Window washing is often more difficult than homeowners realize, and it takes some special skill and knowhow to clean windows without leaving behind streaks and water marks. A professional window cleaning service can also make quick work of cleaning shutters and screens without causing damage.

bull; Cleaning gutters with a garden hose or power washer is often messy and difficult. Soft wash cleaning dissolves thick silt and mud in gutters, without creating a mess or pulling those gutters away from their connectors and roof eaves.

bull; Specialty surfactants will kill roots and spores of algae, mold, mildew, and moss, to ensure these contaminants dont grow back along a homes exterior walls and roof edges. If your home has mold, algae, or any such biological contaminants growing along any surface, opt for professional power washing rather than tackling these residues yourself.

Never Wash These With a Power Washer

While power washing is effective for virtually every surface of your propertyrsquo;s exterior, some areas and items should never be washed with a pressure washer, as they might damage rather easily. For example, never clean under the hood of your car with a power washer, as you might dislodge certain parts or get electrical parts wet, causing a short.

Power washing can also split canvas and other fabrics, so avoid washing a tent, tarp, and similar items with your pressure washer. Wicker patio furniture can come unwoven under extreme pressure, and power washing might chip or split clay pots and thin patio pavers.


Does bleach kill outside mold?

Bleach is an effective mold killer, but be sure you water down and dilate bleach before applying it to vinyl and timber. Otherwise, bleach will dry these materials very easily and cause them to chip and crack, and leave behind unsightly streaks.

Does pressure washing damage concrete?

Using too much pressure and the wrong detergent can damage any exterior surface, but a professional power washing company will be able to clean concrete, patio pavers, pool decks, patios, and other all surfaces effectively and safely, without causing damage.

Nate Knebl is the owner of ProClean Pressure Washing of St. Petersburg who has been power washing homes and businesses in the southern Florida area for over 18 years. He uses a special soft wash system that fully protects delicate surfaces while provided a deep and thorough clean.

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HELOC or Home Equity Loan: Which One Is Right for You?

While there are definite advantages to accessing your equity over taking out a personal loan or using credit cards, especially if yoursquo;re intending to use the funds for home improvement, the No. 1 thing to consider before you take any money out of your home is whether you can really afford it. Take out a home equity loan or use the funds from a HELOC and your monthly obligation will increase. But thatrsquo;s not all. Should you have a change in circumstances like a job loss or simply extend yourself beyond your financial comfort zone, causing you to miss payments, you could be putting your home at risk of foreclosure.

ldquo;Because the loans are secured against the value of your home, home equity loans offer extremely competitive interest ratesmdash;usually close to those of first mortgages. Compared to unsecured borrowing sources, like credit cards, yoursquo;ll be paying far less in financing fees for the same loan amount,rdquo; said Investopedia. ldquo;But therersquo;s a downside to using your home as collateral. Home equity lenders place a second lien on your home, giving them the right to eventually take over your home if you fail to make payments. The more you borrow against your house or condo, the more yoursquo;re putting yourself at risk.rdquo;

Should you want to move forward, itrsquo;s important to know the difference between a home equity loan and a HELOC so you can make the decision that best suits your need.

ldquo;HELOCs and home equity loans extract value from your home but add to your debt,rdquo; said NerdWallet. ldquo;The loan is a lump sum, the HELOC draws money as you need it.rdquo; Both loans typically offer a shorter term than borrowers have on their mortgage. ldquo;Home equity loans and HELOCs are paid off within five to 20 years, while 30 years is typical of a first mortgage,rdquo; said Bankrate.

Letrsquo;s break that down a little further.

About home equity loans

Borrowers who choose home equity loans often do so because of the fixed interest rate. The stable payment schedule means they donrsquo;t have to worry if rates go up. But, the fact that this type of loan is given in one lump sum doesnt necessarily track with everyonersquo;s needs. If you are the type that wants more flexibility in your loan, a HELOC may be the better choice. If you get a loan for 25,000 and only use 5,000, yoursquo;re still required to pay on the total amount loaned.

A home equity loan can also be problematic if your homersquo;s value drops after you have tapped all your equity. In this situation, you could find yourself underwater, or owing more than the home is worth. Homes in some hard-hit areas remained underwater many years after the market crash, with ldquo;more than 820,000 underwater homeownersrdquo; who owed more than double what their home was valued for, according to CBS News.

About home equity lines of credit

With a HELOC, you are still borrowing against the available equity in your home, however the funds are provided differently. Instead of having a lump sum, you use a HELOC like you would a credit card, accessing money as you need it and only paying interest on what you use.

ldquo;As a line of credit, a HELOC allows for flexibility around both borrowing and paying back the money you borrow,rdquo; said Credit Karma. ldquo;But it can also require borrowers to stay especially disciplined when it comes to taking out the funds and repaying their lenders.rdquo; Thatrsquo;s because HELOCs typically offer adjustable rates; if the interest rate rises, so does your payment.

ldquo;A HELOCrsquo;s interest rate is usually variable and can change. The interest rate is often tied to the prime rate and can be affected by market forces that could change quite a bit over the life of the HELOC,rdquo; said Credit Karma. ldquo;There may be limits to those changes though, like a periodic cap a limit on rate changes at one time or a lifetime cap a limit on rate changes during the loan term.rdquo;

Most HELOCs also have ldquo;two phases,rdquo; said Investopedia. ldquo;During the draw period ndash; typically 10 years ndash; you can access your available credit as you see fit. Many HELOC contracts require small, interest-only payments during this period, though you may have the option to pay extra and have it go against the principal.rdquo;

At the end of the period, borrowers have to start repaying the principal in addition to the interest, and, ldquo;From here on out, you can no longer access additional funds and you make regular principal-plus-interest payments until the balance disappears. During the 20-year repayment period, you must repay all the money yoursquo;ve borrowed, plus interest at a variable rate.rdquo;

Payment shock often hits at this point because, ldquo;The monthly payment can almost double. According to a study conducted by TransUnion, the payment on an 80,000 HELOC at 7 annual percentage rate will cost 467 a month during the first 10 years when only interest payments are required. That jumps to 719 a month when the repayment period kicks in.rdquo;

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HOA Landlord Rules

Rules Enforcement.

The HOA has the right to expect all residents, whether owner or renter, to play by the rules. But with renters, its up to the landlord to enforce them, not the HOA. So, the board should adopt a policy that requires all landlords to provide a set of the governing documents and all rules that have been adopted that affect the renter. The Board can also require that all rental agreements specifically make reference to and be subject to those documents. If a tenant violates a rule, the landlord should be informed of it immediately along with the expectation of enforcement. If there is a fine or penalty, the landlord should be levied for it as if he did the dirty deed himself. Its up to the landlord to get reimbursement from the tenant.

There are several exceptions to the landlord middle man enforcement process. If a tenant parks illegally in a fire lane, the HOA has the authority to have the car towed and the tenant will, naturally, pay to retrieve the car. There are some things the HOA should not interfere or get involved with. When a renter crosses the line between HOA rule and civil law infraction, the HOA has the right to call in proper authorities. Those authorities include the police, fire safety, FBI and drug enforcement.

Short vs. Long Term Rentals.

Most HOAs deal with renters who have entered into long term rental agreements 30 days or more. Most governing documents, in fact, require that the rental agreement be long term to avoid what would be a hotel operation. In resort areas, mountains, beach, etc. the HOA may have been expressly built and sold allowing owners to rent their homes short term. These homes or units are owned outright and are not timeshares with professional site management. However, unless virtually every owner has that in mind, there will be an ongoing clash between permanent residents and short term renters. Short termers have no allegiance to the community, dont know the neighbors and frequently are in party mode.

These factors point to ongoing problems with the locals. If this is a reality, its important for the board to press for consensus among the owners. If the majority want the flexibility to short term rent, it makes sense to have an onsite manager to control these issues and others like key exchange and housekeeping. The manager could be funded partly by the HOA to handle regular maintenance and partly by landlords to care for rentals. Its a win/win.

Controlling Tenants.

Renters generally are no better or worse than owner residents. Ongoing problems result from lack of landlord standards or enforcement of those standards by the HOA. Here are Landlord Standards, which all HOAs should adopt:

bull; Landlords must provide a set of governing documents CCamp;Rs and rules to renters before move in.
bull; HOA rules amp; regulations must be a condition of all rental agreements.
bull; Landlords are held accountable for renter infractions.
bull; Renters must communicate requests to the HOA through the landlord.
bull; Board may demand termination of a tenant with multiple rule violations.
bull; Landlord must provide a copy of each rental agreement to ensure compliance with the HOAs standards and for emergency contact purposes.

Renter Surcharges amp; Fees.

Some HOAs impose a Move In/Move Out or Renter Fee on landlords. Unless this fee is imposed on all residents, owner or renter, it is discriminatory. If a particular renter causes damage to the common area moving in or out, the landlord should be charged for it. Never surcharge >

Communicating with Landlords.

All tenant violations should be directed to the landlord in writing along with specifics, including date and time. The communication should be clear on what the landlords course of action should be. It should also reinforce that its up to the landlord, not the HOA, to deal with a renter.

Limiting Rentals.

At one time or another, someone may press to limit rentals. There are right reasons for doing so, but avoid the wrong one: The belief that renters are undesirable. While some tenants may be problems, so are some owners. Each must be dealt with as individuals, not a >muster with most lenders. Falling below that level causes closer scrutiny by some lenders. When lenders scrutinize, it usually means the interest rate or fees go up. Restricted financing options cause market values to fall.

Limiting rentals to protect financing is a worthy rationale for doing so. However, placing a system in place that allows some owners to rent but not others has many problems. The board must oversee the rental restriction policy and establish guidelines for who gets to rent and when. Also, there will be hardship cases disability, job loss, down real estate market, etc. that will press the board to bend the policy.

And consider if a landlord simply ignores the restriction and rents his unit. The HOA has control over the owner but not tenants who are protected by Landlord-Tenant laws. For a variety of reasons, if limiting rentals is desirable, it should apply to all owners. A total ban on rentals doesnt completely eliminate the boards oversight, but it at least makes it fair to all owners. For a sample Rental Restriction Policy, see

Renters Have Rights.

After considering the various issues, its important to remember that renters have rights that must be respected. Besides the state Landlord-Tenant laws, the Fair Housing Act speaks to unreasonable rental restrictions. Never impose restrictions based on sex, faith, culture or race. When it comes to HOA renters, do the right thing.

For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to

Full Story >

The Importance of Not Losing Money in Your Portfolio over Extended Periods of Time

For example, if one were to invest 100,000 and lose 20 the first year, the ending balance of the account would be 80,000. The following yearrsquo;s return would have to be an increase of 25 [80,000 X 25 = 20,000] just to break even. This does not include making a profit over the two year period; it just means that, over a two year period, the return would be zero. If the same 100,000 earned 20 per year compounded for three consecutive years and then suffered a 20 loss, the annualized compounded rate of return would be less than 8.5 rather than 10 [3 years X 20 = 60, less 20 = 40 / 4 years =10];

Here is how the figures work:

Original investment 100,000

Year 1 20 increase 120,000 [Value at the end of year 1]
Year 2 20 increase 144,000 [Value at the end of year 2]
Year 3 20 increase 172,800 [Value at the end of year 3]
Year 4 20 decrease 138,240 [Value at the end of year 4]

The time value of money shows that a 100,000 investment turning into 138,240 in four years equates to compounded rate of return of less than 8.5.

Thus, the effect of losing money, even after gaining three years in a row [in our example] is worse than a steady increase. If, in the above example, the investment simply increased 10 compounded per year, after four years, the account would have grown to 146,410. The difference of 8,170 [more than 2 per year on average] represents the severe hit the investment takes when there is a loss of any real magnitude; thus, the importance of a steady positive return per year versus the ups and downs that an investment may experience over time.

The main reason for the powerful downside impact of losing money is that, if the loss happens before any gains [early in the investment years], there is less principal to work with to achieve a significant increase. If the losses happen after significant gains, then there is a fairly sizeable loss of investment as seen in the above example between years 3 and 4.

The larger the swings in increases and decreases, the more significant the difference in risk adjusted rates of return. The example above showed 20 increases for three years and then a 20 decrease. The difference in a fluctuating return [of both positive and negative years] reduced the return of a potentially steady rate of 10 down to less than 8.5; however, what if the first three years were 40 positive and then a loss of 40 in year four?

Here is how the numbers would look:

Original investment 100,000

Year 1 40 increase 140,000 [Value at the end of year 1]
Year 2 40 increase 196,000 [Value at the end of year 2]
Year 3 40 increase 274,400 [Value at the end of year 3]
Year 4 40 decrease 164,640 [Value at the end of year 4]

Rather than a 20 return per year [40 X 3 years = 120 less 40 = 80 / 4 years = 20/yr], the return is 13.27 per year [100,000 turning into 164,400 after four years at 13.27 compounded annually]. The difference in interest rates of 6.73 is significantly higher than the previous example due to the higher percentages of rates of returns [both positive and negative]. In summary, the higher the rate of returns involved, the wider the gap in total rate of return when looking at an investment that has both positive and negative potential returns.

Since no one can accurately predict when investments will have their up and down years, it would appear that a more conservative, steady, return is more beneficial, as long as the return is not insignificant, and one needs to evaluate how an investment should be risk adjusted for comparison. For example, comparing a T-Bill, which is considered essentially riskless, might produce a return of 1 per year over a specified period of time, to an over the counter stock that might have wild fluctuations [as in our example{s} above] is not appropriate. The aggressive investment produced either the roughly 8.5 return or 13.3 return, so one might presume that one should always invest in the riskiest vehicle because of the huge gap between the riskless investment [1] and the aggressive investment [8.5-13.3]; however, nobody knows if the aggressive investment will be a net positive return over a specific period. For example, what happens if the aggressive investment consistently losses money every year and never recovers; or maybe so much time has elapsed that the compounded rate of return is fairly small?

For such an example, one might look at the NASDAQ. By the beginning of 2000, the NASDAQ was about 4,200. 15 years later, the NASDAQ was about 4,600. A 400 point increase over 15 years turned out to be a paltry .61 compounded rate of return. The NASDAQ experienced a lot of volatility over those 15 years. The point here is not to presume that all investments that have a wide swing in returns will always, over time, produce a better return than a more conservative investment.

One clicheacute; that is always heard is that, ldquo;Over a long period of time, the stock market has produced a good return for investors; you can allow for swings in the market, sometimes producing gains and sometimes producing losses, but, as long as you stay in the market, you will have a good return on your moneyrdquo; [or some such quote]; however, which indices is this quote referring to? The Samp;P 500? The Dow Jones Average? Small Cap Stocks?

Also, what other types of investments is this quote comparing to?

For example, for the last 30 years ending December 31, 2018, the Dow Jones Average produced an annualized compounded yield of about 8.2. This obviously includes the incredible run up in the market from 2002 to 2007; the Great Recession starting in 2008, and the bullish years that followed. One might want to compare this against the Prime Rate. Although the Prime Rate is not necessarily indicative of what an investor could or should earn, it is a widely accepted interest rate in the market place; mostly for the cost of borrowing, but it gives a general idea of prevailing rates of interest and the direction of where they are headed. The Prime Rate during this last 30 years started at 10.5 in December 1988 and immediately rose to 11.5 by the end of February 1989. The ldquo;lessrdquo; Great Recession that started in June 1989 pushed interest rates lower until July 1992, when the rate dropped to as low as 6. Rates increased thereafter until they peaked again in May 2000 when the Prime Rate stood at 9.5. It continually dropped until it hit a low of 3.25 in December 2008. It started to increase again in December 2015 and steadily went up until December 2018 where it hit 5.5. The average annualized compounded yield for the Prime Rate over the last 30 years [if one could invest in such a benchmark], would have been just short of 7, so, the Dow Jones Average over the past 30 years produced a greater return than the Prime Rate by a little over 1 per year.

However, what if we look at another >

Many people believe the real estate market crashed during the Great Recession, but, in reality, real estate had a slow, steady decline. In the San Francisco Bay Area [a strong real estate market by most standards], the real estate market took four years to decline about 25 in total. Investors who stayed true to investing only in conservative mortgages did not see a loss of principal, and, in many cases, earned more than what they envisioned as a trouble borrower was mandated to pay late fees, and, in some cases, default interest that added upwards of 4-5 more than the note rate. Of course, the downside to this was the delay in receiving interest, but, in some instances, the investor received a windfall if the borrower failed to pay and the investor/lender acquired the real estate through foreclosure. Most lenders would prefer to just receive the intended interest they signed up for, but the notion of additional interest and possibly owning the real estate that was collateralizing the loan is a potential benefit. Lenders need to make sure they are willing and wanting to potentially owning the real estate they are lending on should there be a time when the borrower can no longer make the interest payments.

As with all investing strategies, an investor needs to do proper due diligence before investing money; this includes the stock market as well as real estate. That being said, as pointed out earlier, one needs to think about whether a more conservative, steady, positive return investment is more advantageous than one with wild swings of both positive and negative returns, especially if the conservative, steady investment outperforms the wild one.


Edward Brown is an investment expert and host of the radio show, ldquo;The Best of Investing.rdquo; He has multiple published works, including an interview with the Wall Street Journal, and has also served as a chairman of the Shareholder Equity Committee to protect 29,000 shareholders representing 500 million REIT. Edward is also a recipient of a prestigious MBA Tax Award.nbsp;

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Following the Green: How Legalized Marijuana is Transforming the Traverse City, MI Real Estate Market

Part of the reason for the ultra competitive environment is the lack of inventory. But this isnrsquo;t simply an availability issue; itrsquo;s also a licensing issue. ldquo;In Traverse City and Acme Township, only a limited number of licenses are available for certain types of medical marijuana businessesmdash;and only within certain districts,rdquo; they said.

ldquo;While Traverse City has unlimited licenses available for grow operations, processing facilities, testing laboratories, and secured transportation companies, the city capped dispensary/retail store licenses at just 13mdash;with a lottery scheduled for May 3 to distribute them. Acme, which held its first lottery last year, had 20 total licenses available: five each for grow operations and processing facilities, three each for testing laboratories and secured transportation companies, and four for dispensaries/retail stores.rdquo;

Limitations on what type of properties can be used for marijuana->

Those whose numbers come up are, quite literally, winning the lottery. After all, the stakes are exceptionally high. The marijuana industry in Colorado has brought in 6 billion since recreational use was legalized in the state, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue and making millionaires out of many of those in the industryrsquo;s inner circlemdash;and those who have properly navigated the real estate environment.

Traverse City property owners are already reaping the benefits. ldquo;Everything has gone off the charts with value,rdquo; Tom Krause of Krause Realty Solutions told them. ldquo;Wersquo;ve had people from California to Colorado flying in. Wersquo;ve done seven deals so farhellip;four of those were for dispensaries, and a couple were for growers.rdquo; One of those deals was for a property owned by Krause himself; ldquo;While the sale was being finalized, he received another offer that was 200,000 higher,rdquo; he said to The Ticker.

The lack of available properties in high-target areas is creating a speculative environment in which ldquo;buyers are not just targeting whatrsquo;s for sale, but approaching owners of eligible sites and making offers. ldquo;Theyrsquo;re enticing them to sell with high priceshellip;it can be a 50 percent premium to purchase a building above what the market rate would be,rdquo; they said. The Ticker added that other sellers are accepting offers from multiple entities on a property to insure there will be a deal with a licensed buyer.

Despite the potential profits for sellers now and potential windfall for buyers later, disagreements between state and federal laws around marijuana are creating some challenges that give cash buyers a leg up. ldquo;Buyers face the most riskmdash;particularly mom-and-pop businesses and individuals without major financial backers,rdquo; they said. ldquo;Banks typically wonrsquo;t touch marijuana deals since the substance is still illegal federally, so buyers are on their own for financing.rdquo;

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Going Up? Home Elevators Offer Independence

Home elevators, once thought to be a luxury feature for large new builds, are becoming a more common addition to smaller homes.

Residential elevators are a brilliant idea, and not just for seniors or those with mobility issues, but for everyone, every day, says Jeffrey Kerr of Re/Max Unique in Toronto. He specializes in accessible real estate.

A wide selection of elevators is now available, and with the smallest having a footprint of just 12 square feet, theyrsquo;re suitable for urban home retrofit projects, says Katrina Maheu, marketing director of Savaria Home Elevators. The smallest model has a 36x48-inch cab and requires a 41x56-inch hoistway.

Savariarsquo;s least expensive model is the Eclipse, priced from 22,000. The company says it offers a smooth ride and doesnrsquo;t require a separate machine room.

The space-saving Telecab17, a two-stop elevator that travels through the ceiling/floor, has a vanishing effect. It can be installed in the corner of a dining room, for example, to connect it with a master bedroom above. When visitors arrive, it can be ldquo;parkedrdquo; on the upper floor, out of sight in the dining room.

Traditional elevators require a hoistway which supports the weight of the elevator to be constructed by a contractor, with installation of the elevator separate, Maheu says.

Itrsquo;s important to find a qualified contractor to construct your hoistway, says Amedeo Barbini of Barbini Design Build. An architectural technologist will determine how to accommodate the retrofit some projects may require structural work or the >

Cabs for traditional elevators can be tricked out with a variety of finishes, colours and types of doors, and are even available with a glass wall for extra light and views. A super modern MDF finish has a high sheen for a modern look, while paneled wood cabs offer a more traditional touch. Or cabs can be left unfinished, and the homeownerrsquo;s contractor can finish it to match the rest of the house, Maheu says.

A traditional two-stop elevator costs about 25,000, not including the hoistway construction. The cost to install the hoistway can vary greatly depending on the work required, but Maheu says the average is about 25,000. It takes less than a week to install the elevator once the hoistway is in place.

The Vuelift is a futuristic glass elevator in either a cylindrical or octagonal shape that has a self-supporting hoistway, so therersquo;s no need to hire a separate contractor. The Vuelift is modular, with small components that fit through traditional doorways, she says. Prices start at 70,000.

They can be installed in less than a week.

Safety features are built into all of the elevators, with back-up systems in case of power failure. They can be lowered manually, Maheu says. As with all elevators, regular maintenance is important part of safety.

When shopping around, Maheu says to ask the following:

1. How long has the company been in business? An elevator is a big investment and once itrsquo;s installed, you want to have it properly maintained in order to be safe. You donrsquo;t want to go with a company you canrsquo;t count on down the road.

2. Does the company have more than one type of product? If it has just one, it may try to sell you their only product whether itrsquo;s good for you or not.

3. Can I try before I buy? Can I ride the lifts to see what they feel like?

Residential elevators are a new trend. More people are installing them when they are middle aged and can afford them, even though they donrsquo;t need them, Maheu and Kerr say.

Thatrsquo;s what one client, who is in his 50s and is mobile, active and not ready to use an elevator, had in mind when he installed one. It came in handy when he suffered a sports injury and wasnrsquo;t able to use the stairs for several months, Maheu says.

Kerr says people in their 30s are installing elevators so their home is ldquo;visitablerdquo; by everyone they know, regardless of their age and mobility.

Elevators offer a lot of benefits, safety being number one. ldquo;Most falls occur around stairs,rdquo; Kerr says. ldquo;An elevator will allow people to stay in their home.rdquo;

The trend is being driven by an aging population that doesnrsquo;t want to move or go to a retirement home.

Although the cost may seem prohibitive, itrsquo;s a great option for those who love where they live and want to stay in their neighbourhood. The cost to move is substantial. It may be wiser to put that money into retrofitting the home rather than moving and paying land transfer and other moving costs. And when compared to the substantial cost of a retirement home, installing an elevator may even leave you farther ahead, Kerr says.

If possible, try not to take space away from a bedroom. If you dedicate a full bedroom for the elevator, it could affect future property values, he says.

Professionally renovated and modified homes increase in value when marketed and sold to the right buyers, Kerr says, provided, of course, that a bathroom and entrance are accessible.

ldquo;Plan ahead. Be proactive, not reactive and make decisions rather than having them made for you,rdquo; Kerr says.

Full Story >

Four Rooftop Owners: Three Want to Repair; The Fourth Says No

Question continued This case has four homes sharing common walls between them and all under one continuous roof. The roof is at replacement age and should definitely be replaced within the next year as it shows heavy wear per a contractor that made minor repairs. The 4 owners involved were approached, 2 owners agree that it should be replaced, one said wait till next year and the last neighbor refuses totally. He feels that the roof is good for many years and to wait till it starts to leak. Due to it being a continuous roof, the job needs to be done as a whole. There is no way to do a partial job 1,2 or 3 homes and if it were possible it would look rather shoddy. I believe the hold out is trying to leverage a free roof out of the other 3 owners, which will not happen as one owner has stated hed pay only his share. How can this be resolved without waiting until there is actual water damage from a leaking roof? If there is damage the holdout has a 3 out of 4 chance it will not involve his property. This is quite a dilemma; can we legal John.

Answer: John. Tough question, and an even tougher answer. The developer may have anticipated this. First, I would review the title history to your property. When you bought the house, you should have obtained a title report. You may be lucky and find some easement language among the land records that addresses situations such as yours. If your settlement file does not contain any such information, perhaps the three of you should chip in and have the title searched.

But it is possible that there is no language in your title that assists you. Accordingly, you really have only two alternatives: first, wait until the roof leaks and then all four of you will have to hire a roofer. Clearly, this is not acceptable for several reasons, the main one is that the rain may cause damage to your property and based on the fact that you were trying to deal with this earlier and know that there are problems, your insurance carrier may reject any claims.

Your second alternative: the three of you should hire an independent engineer to assess the condition of the roof and its useful life. If the report indicates that you have to deal with the roof now, I would send a formal letter to the holdout neighbor, send him a copy of the report, and put him on notice that he will be held responsible should there be any damage to any or all of the three other houses.

And if the neighbor still balks, and if the report indicates that the roof needs immediate work, your attorney may be able to file suit against the neighbor seeking a permanent injunction, thereby forcing him to cooperate.

Itrsquo;s not a pleasant situation and unfortunately therersquo;s always one person who stands out in a crowd.

Full Story >

Important Things To Know About Home Inspections

1. You can choose your home inspector.

Your real estate professional can recommend an inspector, or you can find one on your own. Members of the National Association of Home Inspectors, Inc. NAHI, must complete an approved home inspector training program, demonstrate experience and competence as a home inspector, complete a written exam, and adhere to the NAHI Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics.

2. Home inspections are intended to point out adverse conditions, not cosmetic flaws.

You should attend the inspection and follow the inspector throughout the inspection so you can learn whats important and whats not. No house is perfect and an inspection on any home is bound to uncover faults. A home inspector will point out conditions that need repair and/or potential safety->

3. Home inspection reports include only the basics.

A home inspector considers hundreds of items during an average inspection. The home inspection should include the homes exterior, steps, porches, decks, chimneys, roof, windows, and doors. Inside, they will look at attics, electrical components, plumbing, central heating and air conditioning, basement/crawlspaces, and garages.

They report on the working order of items such as faucets to see if they leak, or garage doors to see if they close properly. Inspectors may point out termite damage and suggest that you get a separate pest inspection. The final written report should be concise and easy to understand.

4. Home inspectors work for the party who is paying the fee.

The NAHI Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics clearly state that members act as an unbiased third party to the real estate transaction and "will discharge the Inspectors duties with integrity and fidelity to the client." A reputable home inspector will not conduct a home inspection or prepare a home inspection report if his or her fee is contingent on untruthful conclusions.

The inspector should maintain client confidentiality and keep all report findings private, unless required by court order. That means it is your choice whether or not to share the report with others. If youre a seller, you dont have to disclose the report to buyers, but you must disclose any failure in the systems or integrity of your home.

5. Inspectors are not responsible for the condition of the home.

Inspectors dont go behind walls or under flooring, so its possible that a serious problem can be overlooked. Keep in mind that inspectors are not party to the sales transaction, so if you buy a home where an expensive problem surfaces after the sale, you wont be able to make the inspector liable or get the inspector to pay for the damage. In fact, you may not be entitled to any compensation beyond the cost of the inspection.

As a buyer, you need the home inspection to decide if the home is in condition that you can tolerate. You can use the report to show the seller the need for a certain repair or negotiate a better price. You can also take the report to a contractor and use it to make repairs or to remodel a section of the home.

One thing you should not do when buying a home is skip having the home inspected because of cost or undue pressure by the seller. A home inspection is reasonable, it can save you money in the long run, and its required by many lenders, particularly for FHA loans. Theres a reason why buyers should beware, and a home inspection gives you the information you need to make a sound buying decision.

Full Story >

Copyright© 2004 Realty Times®. All Rights Reserved

Featured Property Other Condos
Museum Park Project
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Real Estate News
Updated: Tuesday, March 26, 2019

March Real Estate Roundup

Freddie Macs results of its Primary Mortgage Market Surveyreg; shows that "mortgage rates have dipped quite dramatically since the start of the year and house prices continue to moderate, which should help on the homebuyer affordability front. The combination of improving affordability and more inventory than the last few spring selling seasons should lead to improved home sales demand."

bull; 30-year fixed-rate mortgage FRM averaged 4.28 percent with an average 0.5 points for the week ending March 21, 2019, down from last month when it averaged 4.35 percent. A year ago, at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.45 percent.

bull; 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.71 percent with an average 0.4 points, down from last month when it also averaged 3.78 percent. A year ago, at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.91 percent.

bull; 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage ARM averaged 3.84 percent this week with an average 0.3 points, the same as last month when it averaged 3.88 percent. A year ago, at this time, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.68 percent.

> Full Story

Realty Times Remembers Long-Time Contributor, Bob Hunt

It is with great sadness and reflection that we announce the passing of Bob Hunt, a long-time Realty Times contributor, former director of the National Association of Realtorsreg;, author of Ethics at Work and Real Estate the Ethical Way. A graduate of Princeton with a masters degree from UCLA in philosophy, Hunt served as a U.S. Marine, Realtorreg; association president in South Orange County, director of the California Association of Realtorsreg;, and was an award-winning Realtorreg;. For the last 20 years Bob has been a weekly contributor to our website, educating agents and brokers alike as an expert in his field; we thank Bob for his many years of dedication to our publication. We will miss his colorful and sage advice. Our hearts are with his family at this very difficult time.nbsp;

> Full Story

Spring Cleaning with an Eye Toward ROI

ldquo;Spring cleaning is the perfect opportunity for home owners to de-clutter and organize their home,rdquo; said Keller Williams. ldquo;It is an especially important task for home owners who currently have their home listed or plan to list in the near future. Taking the time to spruce up the home can help increase value and make a good impression on potential buyers.rdquo;

Clean out your closets

Whatrsquo;s one thing everyone always wants more of: closet space Buyers will open every door and look through every closet to assess whether or not their stuff will comfortably fit inside. Pack up your out-of-season stuff to make it look more airy, and not only will you impress buyers, but yoursquo;ll get a jumpstart on your packing.

Clean out your kitchen cabinets

Theyrsquo;ll go through these too, and if therersquo;s clutter or anything looks sloppy, poorly organized, or out of place, it may give them pause. You donrsquo;t want a buyer questioning whether the house is in good shape because your dishes were mismatched or you had too many junk drawers.

Clean out your garage

Yoursquo;re moving anyway, so you might as well get the garage nice and tidy now. The impression you make here could make a difference in getting a sale or staying on the market.

Spruce up your front yard

ldquo;Prepare the lawn and trees: Itrsquo;s time to bring out the lawn mower and plant nice flowers for a better curb appeal,rdquo; said Keller Williams. While yoursquo;re at it, lay down a fresh layer of mulch, which gives the yard a ldquo;done,rdquo; well-cared-for look, and make sure your door, doormat, and front windows are clean and inviting. Nothing is more important than the first impression your home makes. If the front yard and exterior look shabby, potential buyers may not even venture inside.

Get your yard in order

Outdoor living is more important than ever, and buyers are looking for a space where they can envision themselves >

Concentrate on the kitchen and bathrooms

Even if yoursquo;re not making updates, you can make these key spaces look brand-new with a good scrubbing. Use stainless steel cleaner to make your appliances shine and remove all fingerprints. For bath fixtures, ldquo;Simply add a squirt of a mild soap to a bowl of warm water,rdquo; said The Pink Plumber. ldquo;Use a soft cloth or nonabrasive sponge and clean the fixtures well, rinsing with warm water. Use an old, soft toothbrush to clean any crevices that are hard to get to with the cloth or sponge. Rinse the fixtures well with warm water and dry thoroughly with a soft cloth.rdquo;

Steam clean the carpets

Dirty, dingy, or smelly carpets are a real turnoff. You may not notice theyrsquo;ve lost their luster because yoursquo;re seeing them every day, but they wonrsquo;t likely get past a potential buyer. A good cleaning can make them look new and smell fresh.
ldquo;Old grime, pet dander, settled moisture, and other particles can all serve to not just make your carpet dirty but also to weigh it down and cause the fibers to stick to each other,rdquo; said Kaufman Realty amp; Auctions. ldquo;When yoursquo;re done and the carpet dries, it will be softer and fluffier than ever.

> Full Story

Copyright © 2004 Realty Times®. All Rights Reserved

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1040 Biscayne Blvd Miami, FL 33132
Tel: (305) 753-4154 | Fax: (305) 960-2008 |
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