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4 Mistakes That Plague First-Time Home Sellers and How to Avoid Making Them


Are you thinking about selling your home? If this is your first time going through the selling process, you may be wondering just how well things are going to go. Selling a home is usually a smooth process – there are thousands sold each day – but issues can arise if you're not careful. Let's explore four mistakes that are commonly made by first-time home sellers and how you can avoid them.

Trying To Sell Without Experienced Representation

The first and most significant mistake that some first-time sellers make is to try to go it alone. Selling a house is a major financial and legal transaction and one where experience is crucial in getting things right. Invest in an agent who has a track record for quick, efficient sales and you're going to have an advantage.

Choosing Emotion Over Reason

Next, you'll want to avoid letting your emotions control how you react or respond during the selling process. Many homeowners become emotionally attached to their homes, which is fine while you're living there but can be a problem when you're selling. It's important to let logic and reason guide the sale. Don't let yourself get caught up emotionally or you may make a critical mistake.

Pricing Outside Of A Realistic Range

Asking too much – or too little! – for their home is another common mistake made by first-time home sellers. It's critical to understand that the local real estate market has a lot of influence on the correct asking price for your home. Current listings and recent sales of similar homes in the area tend to set a price range in the minds of buyers, so these will need to be observed. Your real estate agent will be a big help in choosing the right sale price.

Selling At The Wrong Time

The final mistake we'll cover today is listing your home for sale in the wrong environment. The local real estate market is in constant state of change due to a variety of factors. The seasons, other local home listings, interest rates, new home construction, local municipal zoning changes and all sorts of other factors can influence your sale. Unless you are under a time constraint, it's best to let your agent advise you when it's a good time to list your home.

Selling your first home can be a daunting experience, but with the right frame of mind and professional representation, it will go smoothly. To learn more about the home selling process or to list your home for sale, contact us today. Our real estate team is happy to assist.

Down to One Income? It's Not the End of the World


If you purchased your home as a two-income family, the prospect of living on only one income can be daunting if not downright scary.

But don’t despair if a sudden job loss, a new baby, or some other life circumstance is putting you in that position. Take a deep breath, take some time to consider, and review these tips from Parents Magazine:

  • Cut back – This may seem elementary, but many couples who have been living with spare cash may not have a clue where to start. Begin by keeping a written account of one month’s spending. Then study it to identify areas – like entertainment, cable costs, or eating out – where you can easily rein in your spend. What you should be left with is a working budget. Stick to it.
  • Cut your grocery bill – You don’t have to go on a starvation diet. But cut out expensive convenience foods in favor of cooking or baking. Make your own baby food. Look for sales. Use coupons. You may be amazed at how much money you can save.
  • Use cash, not credit – Use credit cards sparingly. Routinely paying by credit card can lead to bills you may find harder to pay off monthly – and building up credit card debt and/or interest is the last thing you want to do
  • Become more self-sufficient – If you’ve been paying for lawn care, housecleaning, or other services you can do – or learn to do – yourself, you can be well on the way to saving serious money.
  • Barter for services – Instead of paying for babysitters, exchange babysitting services with another family. Use Craigslist to swap lawn services for public relations assistance. The possibilities are endless.
  • Earn extra cash – Just because a spouse has left the workface doesn’t mean they are powerless to earn. Try part-time freelance work. Organize garage sales. Offer specialty catering services. Use your skills to bring in additional income.
  • Sacrifice – It may be tough to resist those season tickets or to nix a Caribbean vacation. On the other hand, you can explore new pursuits; cooking together, music lessons, game nights with friends or family.

For more tips for the home, contact me anytime!

6 Small and Easy Steps to Improve Your Credit Score


The best way to improve your credit score is simple, but not always that easy: Reduce your debt.

Paying off your credit cards, or at least paying them down substantially, will not only increase your credit score, but having less debt will probably be more satisfying than a great credit score. And not using your credit cards anymore and paying off the balances is easier said than done.

But there are smaller, easier steps that can improve a credit score. Here are six:

Set payment reminders: Making credit payments on time is one of the best ways to improve your credit score. Set payment reminders on your phone or whatever calendar you use, and check if your bank offers online reminders through email or text messages.

Don’t open new accounts: If you have a short credit history, then opening a lot of credit accounts too rapidly will lower your average account age and can drop your scores if you don’t have a lot of other credit information.

Fix errors: Get a copy of your credit report and check it for errors. These can include accounts that are listed as open but closed, incorrect late payments and wrong personal information, such as your birthday. If you find any credit report errors, fix them online with the credit reporting agencies.

Don’t move debt around: How much you owe accounts for 30 percent of a FICO credit score, one of the most common types of credit score. It can be tempting to pay off one credit card with another, but that type of shell game can hurt a credit score. Instead, pay down the debt and have fewer open accounts.

Don’t max out: Stay away from hitting the top of your credit limit on your credit cards so that your credit utilization level is low. Credit utilization is the amount of your credit card balance relative to your credit limit. The higher it is, the worse it can affect your credit score.

This may be easier said than done, but keeping balances to 30 percent or less of your credit limits will improve a credit score just as much as paying your credit bills on time will.

Pay your bills twice a month: This is easier than you think and can be done with the same amount of money you were going to pay for the full month anyway.

If you’re paying down a credit card with $500 per month, for example, pay half of it just before the statement closing date and the second payment just before the due date. The first will reduce the balance that credit bureaus see and the second will ensure you won’t pay a late fee.

Kitchen Trends That Are Going Out of Fashion


Most of us spend a lot of time in the kitchen, preparing meals and cleaning up. In many cases, we spend so much time in our familiar kitchen space that we don’t pay much attention to what it looks like.

But the trends, they are a-changin’. Today’s kitchens are sleek and practical. Design experts list seven kitchen looks that are quickly going out of style:

Short backsplashes. Backsplashes that reach up to six to eight inches above the countertop are sorely outdated. If you’re up for a remodel, take the backsplash all the way up to the upper cabinets to make your kitchen feel bigger and cleaner. 

Distressed wood cabinets. Once the darling of country-style kitchens, the clunky distressed wood of yesteryear is giving way to natural wood or white finishes.

Over the stove microwaves. When microwaves came into fashion, homeowners put them over the stove to save counter space. But today’s families want necessities accessible for the entire family. Some are redesigning cabinets to move the microwave into an under-counter nook where smaller family members can reach it. 

Top-of-cabinet décor. Gone are the days of filling the space between the tops of your cabinets and the ceiling with dusty accessories like artificial flowers or greenery. Removing them from above the cabinets gives the room a more open feel.

Hanging pots and pans. Once, every kitchen shown in a magazine had a big, beautiful, hanging rack filled with copper or stainless-steel pots and pans. Kitchen designers today are making room for them in drawers or cabinet, trading in that outdated country look for cleaner, minimalist lines. 

Anything but stainless steel. Over the years, kitchen appliances have gone from white to copper to avocado green and back again. But the desired look today is the cool, sleek look of stainless steel.

Kitchen desks. At one point in time, every upscale kitchen featured desk space—a little nook where you could scan the mail, pay bills, etc. But those mess-collectors are now yesterday’s news. Moving desk chores to another room can give your kitchen extra space and alternative storage options.

Refi Options for Those With Low Credit Scores


If you want to get a second mortgage so you can make renovations to your home, it can be difficult if you have poor credit.

A second mortgage can use a home’s equity as collateral for a second home loan, allowing up to 80 percent of a home’s value to be borrowed. However, getting a second mortgage through a home equity loan or line of credit can be difficult if you don’t have a credit score of 680 or better.

While high home equity will make a second mortgage less risky and may compensate for poor credit, there are other options:

Cash-Out Refinance
Instead of getting an additional loan on your home, the cash you need is refinanced into one loan with one payment.

Even if you have bad credit, a cash-out refi is less risky for the lender because it doesn’t involve a second loan. With a second mortgage, the second lender is second in line to get paid if a lien is ever put on the home.

Streamline Refinance
Some government home loans offer what’s called a streamline refinance, which has a lower mortgage rate. FHA and VA home loans, for example, allow borrowers to refinance into a lower rate and payment without a credit check, income or employment verification, or property appraisal. It also doesn’t matter how little home equity you have or if you’re underwater on your mortgage.

For borrowers with a VA loan or FHA mortgage in good standing, refinancing a loan through the federal government is so streamlined that it’s almost automatic. The underwriting process is simplified enough to allow a refinance to happen based largely on if you’ve stayed current on your mortgage payments.

HARP Refinance
The Home Affordable Refinance Program, or HARP, was created in 2009 to help people who were underwater on their mortgage refinance into a lower rate. Without it, the fear was that people who owed more on their home than the home was worth would walk away from the loan and lose their home. The federal program is set to expire at the end of 2018, though it may be extended.

Improve Your Credit Score
If a poor credit score prevents you from getting a second mortgage, the simple solution is to improve your credit score. While not easy and usually not fast, here are the best ways to increase a credit score within a few months:

  • Pay off your credit card balances
  • Pay your bills on time
  • Remove or pay off collections accounts
  • Get added as an authorized user
  • Don’t apply for new credit
  • Dispute negative accounts with the credit bureaus

5 Tips for Making Health Savings Accounts Work for You


Putting money in a Health Savings Account, or HSA, can help you and your family pay for health expenses now and in the future, while giving you a tax break for your contributions.

HSAs have been around since 2003 to help people with high-deductible health plans, but they can still be confusing. Here are some tips on how they work:

1. You don’t have to spend it all now. HSAs differ from flexible-spending accounts, which many people use to pay for medical expenses. Money in flexible-spending accounts, or FSAs, must be spent by the end of the year. HSAs, however, can be spent during the year or afterward, even into retirement. The money you put in this year continues rolling over to the next year until it’s used.

2. Enjoy 3 tax breaks in one. HSA contributions have three tax advantages. First, they can be deducted from your taxes. Second, if payments are made through payroll deduction, they can be withdrawn as pretax income. Thirdly, the money grows tax-deferred, and withdrawals used for medical expenses are tax-free. That’s more tax breaks than a 401(k)-retirement plan offers.

3. Use it after retirement. You can’t continue making HSA contributions when you sign up for Medicare. But the tax-free money can still be used to pay for medical expenses that aren’t covered by insurance, such as vision and dental care.

An HSA account can also be used in retirement to pay part of any long-term care insurance premiums. It can also be used to pay premiums for Medicare Part B and Part D prescription-drug coverage, or a Medicare Advantage plan.

After age 65, you can use an HSA to pay for non-medical expenses without paying a 20 percent penalty. You will, however, have to pay income tax on the withdrawals.

4. Contribute beyond age 65. If you’re still working at age 65, you can continue making HSA contributions and delay signing up for Medicare Part A and Part B.

To do this, and delay Medicare, your employer must have more than 20 employees. If you sign up for Social Security and are automatically enrolled in Medicare, then you can’t continue putting money into your HSA.

5. Contribute to both FSA and HSA, if allowed. Double dipping by contributing to an FSA and HSA at the same time in the same year isn’t allowed if both accounts are used for medical expenses. Some employers, however, offer limited-purpose flexible-spending accounts for dental and vision costs that aren’t covered by an HSA. The FSA must be designated as an “HSA-compatible FSA” where the tax-free money is only used for dental and vision expenses until you reach your health insurance plan’s deductible. After meeting the deductible, you can transfer the money to a regular FSA and use it for out-of-pocket medical expenses.

4 Invisible Money Leaks Worth Fixing


Keeping track of every single dollar you spend can be difficult, no matter how closely you track your spending and monitor your bank accounts. Automatic payments from your checking account to pay for a gym membership, for example, can be forgotten and leave a checkbook unbalanced.

But besides accounting for where your money goes, there are some invisible money leaks that you may not be paying attention to that can add up to wasted money. Here are four:

Unused memberships and subscriptions
A gym membership is a common example of an automatic payment that gets forgotten and is rarely used. But other things can crop up too.

An annual renewal for a magazine you no longer read, a razor subscription and a monthly subscription to a premier cable TV channel that you rarely view are some things that can drain your bank account without you realizing it.

Bank fees
The average overdraft fee at a bank is $30, up 50 percent from $20 in 2000, according to research by Moebs Services, a research firm that focuses on financial institutions. Fees at credit unions are also high, with the average overdraft fee almost doubling during that same period to $29.

Banks used to automatically enroll customers with overdraft protection — which covers a transaction through a debit card or check if the account doesn’t have enough money.

The Overdraft Protection Law of 2013 changed that, requiring banks to ask customers if they want to opt in for the coverage. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found in 2014 that opted-in customers paid seven times more in overdraft and nonsufficient-funds fees than those who hadn’t opted in.

Price creep
If you’ve ever bought a low, introductory offer on cable TV or internet service, or signed up for a new credit card, chances are you’ve been the victim of price creep.

After a year of service, the monthly fee rises. With a credit card, an annual fee may be charged after no fee for the first year.

These price creeps can catch you off guard, and you may not notice them on your monthly bill when you’re no longer a new customer. Call the company that raised its fees and ask if it has a new deal available.

Wasted food
From grocery stores to restaurants, Americans buy food that they don’t eat. The National Resources Defense Council found that Americans waste 40 percent of their food purchases, an average of $2,000 per year, per household.

Meal planning and only buying and cooking food you’ll eat can cut down on that money leak.

Every bit counts when fixing invisible money leaks. With some persistence and looking in the right places, that invisible money will soon be an expense you’ll notice and can do something about.

Contact me for more insights and info!

4 Surprising Credit Card Rewards Facts


Credit card rewards can be a free way to travel and get cash back for your daily expenses.

But if you’re not paying your credit card bill in full when it arrives, then you’re paying interest and those free rewards are no longer free. That’s not a surprising fact, but it’s a top one to keep in mind when considering these four surprising facts about credit card rewards:

A 1% reward

Don’t expect to receive nearly in much in rewards points as you do in spending to get them. The typical reward point is worth about 1 percent of what you paid to earn it when you cash it in for airline miles, hotel room, cash back or any other reward.

The lender expects that you won’t pay the monthly bill in full, and possibly late, meaning you’ll pay interest charges and late fees. That can make rewards points more costly.

Remember the annual fee

Rewards cards with annual fees usually offer better rewards than cards without them. But the fees can require you to spend a lot of money to make the rewards worthwhile.

If the average rewards point is worth 1 cent, you’d have to spend $9,500 annually, or $791 per month, to offset a $95 annual fee.

Annual fees can be worthwhile in other ways. A rewards credit card can offer rewards such as upgrades on flights and rooms, airport lounge access, and free luggage check-in. New cardholders may have the fee waived in the first year as an enticement to join.

Rewards expire

Look on your credit card’s website or in the agreement it mailed you, and somewhere in the fine print you’ll find details on when your rewards points expire. From 12-24 months is likely, though some may let you buy back points after they expire.

Points drop in value

If you don’t redeem points regularly, you could see them drop in value as airline frequent flier programs and other programs change their redemption requirements.

You’ll likely get advance notice from the credit card company before any program changes are made. With a few months’ notice, you should have some time to redeem your points earlier than planned and get the most out of them.

As with any financial product you pay for, be sure to read the fine print in the long, boring contract you get in the mail when the credit card is sent to you. It should explain in detail how its rewards points work.

I hope you found this information helpful. Please contact me for all your real estate information needs today!

How a No-Spend Month Can Solve Your Cash Flow Problems


Nearly half of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and 61 percent don’t have enough money to cover six months of expenses, according to a GoBankingRates survey.

This trend of working to cover only day-to-day expenses can lead to the worst financial mistake of your life—not having an emergency fund. Without one, you could be forced to go into debt to pay for emergency medical care, a broken car that you rely on to get to work, a busted water heater, the loss of your job or any other unexpected emergency. Sooner or later, something will pop up.

A no-spend month could help solve that problem so that you’re not part of the 19 percent of Americans who don’t have any money in an emergency fund, or the 31 percent who don’t have at least $500 set aside for emergencies.

The first goal for an emergency fund should be to accumulate enough to cover six months of living expenses. After that, work to increase it to a cushion of 18 to 24 months. To give it a good kick start, eliminate all non-essential spending for a month. Do this by sorting your expenses into wants versus needs.

Wants, for example, can include eating out, going to a movie, vacation, a date night, going out for a drink, shopping and anything that you can live without, such as cable TV.

Needs are pretty obvious. You have to pay your rent or mortgage, buy groceries, get the medical care you need and pay your monthly bills. Don’t live without hot water or electricity just so you can save some cash.

At the end of the month—or the beginning if you’re sure your budgeted numbers are correct—move the unspent money into a savings account or other account where you can get the money relatively quickly, if needed.

Hopefully, it will be enough money to cover your expenses for a month. If possible, continue this for a second month, or at least cut out non-essentials that you’ve found you can live without. Cable TV may not seem so important after a month away.

After that difficult first month, decide how much you can now afford to put aside in an emergency fund each month and have it automatically transferred out. You may not feel you need to put aside all of that first month’s savings each month, and can add some wants back to your monthly expenses. This process should have you sleeping better at night and not having to worry about emergencies that you can’t afford.

5 Reasons to Paint Your Walls Gray


When it comes to painting your space, there are myriad options: bright and sunny yellow, the classic eggshell white, a soothing blue or a fresh green. But one color you shouldn’t overlook when painting is gray. Below are five reasons why.

It matches. Gray is a fluid, flexible color that pairs well with a large variety of accents. This means you can swap out your color scheme over the years and keep the same paint job.

It’s elegant. Gray is a classic choice for a wall. Whether it’s a light smoky gray, a deep ash or a lavender tinted hue, gray doesn’t seem to age out.

It’s calming. Along with green and some shades of blue, gray has been shown to soothe and relax. This makes it a great choice for your bedroom.

It opens space. If you choose a light gray, the color can help create the illusion of a larger area. White is the typical choice for opening up a space, but if you’re looking for a bit more personality, gray is the way to go.

You can mix and match. Gray is an extremely flexible color. You can paint three of your walls a soft silvery gray, and then choose an accent wall to paint a deep slate. Or, paint your ceiling or floor a different shade of gray to add an interesting twist.

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