The future of real estate ... today!

Blog

  • If you are interested in where the lending industry is now, post recession and Dodd Frank regulation vs. where it has to get to in order to adequately meet the needs of a changing economic landscape, this is a must watch interview with the President of the Mortgage Bankers Association, Dave Stevens.

    scroll down to get to the video...

  • Inflatable, portable PhotonGrill cooks your food with nothing but the sun

    The barbecue of the future is here. Meet PhotonGrill, an inflatable 100 percent solar-powered grill that lets you ditch the charcoal for greener cooking. Perfect for camping and areas with fire bans, the lightweight, fire-free and fuel-free PhotonGrill is designed for portability and easily folds down to fit in a backpack. The best part? Its NASA-inspired technology is so efficient the grill reaches 500F in just five minutes.

    Recently launched on Kickstarter, the PhotonGrill is available at a discount for early bird backers and comes with a lightweight carrying case, solar-optimized pan, BBQ tongs, and an air pump. The portable and durable grill weighs only seven pounds and can easily be set up in just three minutes. A pot can also be attached for cooking. An optional add-on module will transform the PhotonGrill into a highly efficient power generator so you can charge your electronics with sun-powered electricity wherever you go.

    Heres how the PhotonGrill works: once fully inflated, the grill, made of lightweight plastic film, takes on the form of a reflective parabolic mirror that concentrates the energy contained in the rays of light into a small area, creating highly-localized energy thats powerful enough to cook with. The design team says the technology was based on experiments carried out by NASA in the 1960s

    By using heat to thermally deform the plastics polymers structure, the plastic is able to remember and transform into the desired parabolic shape when inflated, says the PhotonGrill team, who also claim the grill has 1,000 watts of power. Set atop a stable tripod, the parabolic mirror is made with highly robust polymer foils tested to ensure they can withstand all contingencies, even a large splash of boiling grease. PhotonGrill is looking to raise $111,964 on Kickstarter to bring the solar-powered grill to production.

    Courtesy of California Association of REALTORS. Click Here for Original article.

  • Americans Think Homeownership is a Sound Investment

    Media Contact: Jane Dollinger / 202-383-1042 / Email

    WASHINGTON (October 14, 2015) A vast majority of Americans believe that buying a home is a solid financial decision, and most believe they could sell their home for at least its initial purchase price, according to a new survey from the National Association of Realtors. The 2015 National Housing Pulse Survey also found that a preponderance of Americans think that now is a good time to buy a home.

    The survey, which measures consumers' attitudes and concerns about housing issues in the nation's 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas, found that more than eight in 10 Americans believe that purchasing a home is a good financial decision, and 68 percent believe that now is a good time to buy a home. Seventy-one percent believe they could sell their house for what they paid for it, a jump of 16 percentage points from 2013.

    When asked for reasons about why homeownership matters to them, respondents answers did not change significantly from past years. Building equity, wanting a stable and safe environment, and having the freedom to choose their neighborhood remain the top three reasons to own a home.

    "Homeownership is part of the American Dream, and this survey proves that dream is alive and thriving in our communities," said NAR President Chris Polychron, executive broker with 1st Choice Realty in Hot Springs, Ark. "Realtors believe that anyone who is able and willing to assume the responsibilities of owning a home should have the opportunity to pursue that dream in a safe, responsible way, which is why NAR advocates homeownership issues and educating potential buyers about achieving their property investment goals."

    The number of renters who are now thinking about purchasing a home has increased since the last survey in 2013, up from 36 percent to 39 percent. Sixty-one percent of renters stated that owning a home is a priority for their future. According to the survey, 80 percent of respondents believe that pre-purchase counseling programs and classes are very or somewhat important. Forty-five percent of homeowners who said they did not take a counseling program, reported they would have taken part in one had it been easily available to them.

    Attitudes about the housing market have improved in recent years. Forty-nine percent of respondents indicated that they feel activity in the housing market has increased in the past year, compared to 44 percent in 2013 and 12 percent in 2011. Eighty-nine percent expect home sales in their area to either increase or remain the same. Concern about foreclosures has also declined, with only 15 percent of respondents indicating that foreclosure is a major concern.

    In addition to improved attitudes about the housing market, survey participants also showed an improved outlook regarding the economy. Only 36 percent think that job layoffs and unemployment are a big problem, a substantial drop from 45 percent in 2013.

    Perceived obstacles to homeownership have remained mostly unchanged compared to recent years; 78 percent of respondents point to college debt and student loans as the main obstacle to making a home purchase affordable. Seventy-six percent of participants said they have a full-time job but still did not make enough money to purchase a home. Seventy-four percent believe they do not have enough money for a down payment and closing costs.

    As the market has improved, concern about the cost of housing has increased. Two-thirds of survey participants said that home prices are more expensive than they were a year ago. There is additional concern over the lack of available housing; 41 percent said the lack of affordable homes is either a very big or fairly big problem in their area, an increase of 9 percent points from 2013.

    For adult millennials under the age of 35, the burden of student debt is their chief concern, with 86 percent of respondents naming college debt as an obstacle to homeownership. Over half reported that their housing costs are a financial strain on their budget, 65 percent are concerned about high rental prices, and 60 percent are concerned about high home prices. However, millennials tend to have a more upbeat and positive view about the future of the nation than older Americans, with 42 percent of millennials saying that the country is headed in the right direction compared to only 20 percent among those aged 50 and older.

    The 2015 National Housing Pulse Survey is conducted by American Strategies and Myers Research & Strategic Services for NARs Housing Opportunity Program. The telephone survey polled 1,000 adults nationwide in the 50 most populous metropolitan statistical areas. An additional 250 interviews were conducted with millennial adults (born after 1981) from the same geography. The study has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

    The National Association of Realtors, "The Voice for Real Estate," is America's largest trade association, representing more than 1.1 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

    Courtesy National Association of Realtors. Click Here for Original Article.

  • May 2015 - Equitas Realty

    With regards to the termination of the Zillow - Listhub license in April 2015, let's get real here: ListHub (aka Rupert Murdock/Move Inc) just lost the first major skirmish in a much bigger, potentially titanic,industrybattle. As per their PR machine, ListHub didn't cancel the contract ... Zillow didn't re-up on the deal, which tells you immediately that the value wasn't there from the point of view of the most powerful software development company in the Real Estate industry. Sorry Move Inc, but if the history of Internet competition is at all instructive about the future,ListHub will be nothing more than what we called 'Internet Roadkill' when I was at Microsoft back in the 90's.

    Sure, in May ListHub will still be syndicating listing data out from the MLS systems to a lot of websites, but the vast majority of consumer eyeballs are looking at Zillow and Trulia (now a Zillow company, so we know where that's headed: it's Zulia). We are talking about over 70% of consumer's surfing the web will no longer be looking at ListHub sourced data in the near term. The rest of the websites that ListHub will syndicate out to will represent less than 15% of consumer search traffic for homes. So who really cares about ListHub from this point forward? A few franchises (CB, C21, Sothebys, etc.) have customized back-end data feeds using ListHub, but realistically ListHub has been rendered as nothing more than the proprietary connector to the MLS for Realtor.com, which Murdock also now controls. But Realtor.com is a minor player in the consumer eyeball battle for theforeseeablefuture, so ListHub essentially is only about connecting MLS data to a lot offinancially inconsequential portals, most of whom will also be Internet Roadkill at some point in the not too distant future.

    Concurrently Zillow has announced the development of a Data Dashboard which agents, brokerages or the MLS's will be able to enter their new listing data into, thereby replacing the need for ListHub's previous stranglehold on upward flowing data from the MLS's. Heres why:

    Mary Agent writes a new listing contract at 6PM and goes home to enter it online as a newly available property. There are two customer constituencies she now serves: her seller and the agents in her local MLS who are her salesforce. Which customer does she not want to get a call from the next day complaining that they dont see the property advertised on the Internet? Obviously, the seller. So, in a pinch of time, which online site is Mary going to enter the info into first? Zillow's Data Dashboard. And I'll bet, just to reinforce this decision, the legions of smart developers at Zillow have been working hard at making the Data Dashboard easier to use than any of the MLS software systems.

    Mary will rationalize to herself that she can get the listing into the MLS first thing in the morning, but she is going to make certain her seller sees that she is advertising the property in Zulia first because she has sold herself to the seller on that very benefit.

    If Mary raises enough of a ruckus at her brokerage, and she and the other agents get fed up enough with redundant data input, they might even pressure the MLS to connect to the Zillow Data Dashboard. If her local MLS wont play ball with Zillow at this point, Mary will just continue bypassing them, grumbling all the while because Mary is going to make sure for her customer that the online data is correct. When Mary Agent views Zulia as more important than the MLS, it's game/set/match for a lot more roadkill (Part 2 of blog post to come).

    Serving customers first is a) what good Realtors learn to do really well, and b) the real force in the industry technology shift that so many of the Zillow naysayers dont get: the customer is always #1, not the agent/brokerage or MLS, and the customer is now primarily Zulia focused. If you, as a Real Estate agent want to fight your clients, good luck, but your career is somewhat limited moving forward.

    The online data train has left the station and the engine is named Zillow.

    JW

  • June2015 - Equitas Realty

    In Part 1 of Roadkill on the Internet Highway, I discussed how the departure of The Zillow Group (Zillow + Trulia) as a ListHub customer essentially renders that product as irrelevant.

    So the next Roadkill question is: what else in the MLS ecosystem is at risk based on the megalithic control of consumer eyeballs that The Zillow Group has amassed? Hmmmmm

    MLS database platform vendors

    Time was, back in the old days of MLS platform software (5-10 years ago), that the purveyors of the database platforms that MLSs use were also selling the notion of the MLS having customer facing websites that consumers would flock to. No matter that this notion competed with local brokerage websites or that they didnt get that they were about to be blindsided by Zillow, it seemed like a good idea for the MLSs to promote their data publicly on the Internet. The MLS platform vendors were basing a lot of software development effort on consumer MLS websites, and their profitability was modeled including that product-set revenue. Well, with the exception of a few of the largest MLSs, Zillow has killed that product segment. Zillow is now where consumers go to get listing information on the internet, not the MLSs. So the MLS platform vendors, of which there are less than 5 prominent ones, are competing for the 500+ MLSs solely as the database that serves the MLS agents, which is a limited subset of the revenue these vendors initially envisioned. Survival in this segment is iffy and we will see more Roadkill.

    Smaller MLSs

    For years there has been the persistent (and failed) discussion in the MLS ranks, of moving toward one national MLS. Realtor.com had grand hopes here, but that dog just couldn't hunt. However,it is inevitable and makes sense in real estate's 'Zillow Age' for smaller MLS organizations that have limited funds or technology expertise to merge into larger close-by MLS systems. And as smaller MLSs merge into larger ones, the MLS platform vendors customer base shrinks, insuring the Roadkill in that segment. So there's a double whammy in the MLS ecosystem: less MLSs and less MLS platform vendors.

    Larger MLSs

    If, as is the case, the average age of NAR members is 57, it might just be that the average age of local Realtor Association management is somewhere north of 57. And of the 60+ crowd, excluding the many outright Luddites, most dont really understandthe watershed industry changes being driven by the techno-giants as we speak. Yet,this is the management team tasked with developing MLS strategies locally in the Zillow Age!

    Case in point: In a few short weeks, on April 7th, ListHub will stop feeding our listings to Zillow, the biggest source of consumer eyeballs on the internet. Since this announcement was made 3 months ago, there has not been one message from our local MLS or the Association management to the 3000+ membership brokers and agents about what the MLS plans are for maintaining our listing presence in front of 70+% of the consumer eyeballs on the Internet. Either a) the Association management has their heads stuck in the sand and are oblivious, or b) perhaps they are deer in the headlights, or c) (wishing hopefully) just maybe they are thinking really hard and consulting with other top industry thinkers and are about to tell us at the 11th hour their brilliant solution to this potential disaster.

    Smart money isn't on scenario C.

    But I can guarantee that there are a lot of extremely smart, young, tech savvy MBA grads at Zillow who have a very well thought out plan that they are executing on every day. Their plan is not just about the coming months, but actually about how listing data will be acquired, managed and published for years to come. Their plans likely have nothing to do with a surviving MLS system, large or small. MLSs are an inconvenient bump in the road whichwill be completely repaved into a smooth efficient highway in the not too distant future.

    And the national MLS system will be Roadkill under that new layer of asphalt.

    The entire ecosystem, including IDX Based Systems

    No more MLS no more IDX. WOW! Now we are talking about a large swath of vendors, from market reporting software, to mobile platforms , to brokerage website vendors, etc. This could make for fun new posts titled Roadkill Parts 3-5, but I dont think Ill go there. Suffice it to say, at some point Zillow (and/or other national internet databases) will be the data source for the ecosystem of real estate vendors, once the MLS dodo is extinct.

    And there will be huge opportunities for new tech startups that play the game according to Zillow, as they leap over the carrion of a lot more roadkill on the internet highway.

    JW (Next post: Gary Kellers Snake Oil: 'your data'.)

  • Strengthening Economy

    Despite existing-home sales dropping last November, the National Real Estate Market is primed for expansion in 2016. Here's why. Better weather in many parts of the country resulted in an increase in single-family and multifamily home construction. Also, the population of millennial homebuyers is expected to grow in 2016. This means increased demand to help the housing market see positive gains. With unemployment steadily decreasing, orders for new durable goods increasing 3 percent, inflation staying level, and income beginning to grow, the Fed decided to raise interest rates. The rate increase signals that our economy is getting stronger. So, don't let the drop in existing-home sales in November fool you, with a stronger economy home sellers can expect eager home buyers in 2016.

    Millennial Home Buyers

    The low demand in November meant that first-time home buyers had only a 30 percent share in demand, which is slightly down from 31 percent in October and last year. However, in 2016 home sellers saw an increase of first-time home buyers enter the housing market because of the growing segment of millennials between 25 and 34 years of age. The Census Bureau projects that the population of millennials aged 25 to 34 will increase by an average of nearly 500,000 per year in the second part of the decade. Also, NAR's inaugural quarterly Housing Opportunities and Market Experience survey reported that a large majority of millennials between 25 and 34 years of age who rent want to own a home in the future.

    Interest Rates

    The Federal Reserve raised short-term interests this month. Freddie Mac reported that the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed rate mortgage stayed below 4 percent, but rose from 3.80 percent to 3.94 percent in November. Mortgage rates are expected to rise to 4.50 percent by the end of 2016, but this rate is still historically low; a full percentage point below the rate during the recession of 2008. The low fixed mortgage rate should help spurn demand and encourage first-time home buyers to enter the market. But while the rate is at its current level, potential home buyers should keep an eye out for rate increases so that they're not caught by surprise when the spring buying season comes around. Early 2016 would be a good time for home buyers to start looking to purchase a home.

    Mortgage Lenders & Home Buyers

    Fannie Mae's fourth quarter 2015 Mortgage Lender Sentiment Survey shows that lenders expect to ease mortgage credit standards for GSE-eligible loans and government loans over the next three months. This should reduce the affordability problem for first-time home buyers. As a result, this will help young adult homeownership. Although home prices will be high, all of this is good news for home sellers because they should expect an increase in demand for their home.

    In 2016, the first-time home buyer will have mortgage credit options available that were not available during the housing down-turn. First-time home buyers will have low-and no-down-payment mortgage loans available to them. Some loan options available include FHA loans and the conventional 97 percent program offered by Fannie Mae. Qualifying first-time home buyers need only to put 3 percent down on a home.

    Homeowners

    According to the Mortgage Bankers Association weekly survey, the Refinance Index increased 11 percent compared to the previous week. So it appears homeowners have anticipated the Federal Reserve's increase in interest rates. If you're a homeowner with an adjustable-rate mortgage or a variable home equity line of credit, you should expect your rates to rise in 2016. The first part of 2016 will be a good time to refinance. Home equity lines of credit (HELOC) are both fixed and variable. Variable HELOCs are tied to the Federal Reserve prime rate. Whereas fixed HELOCs are not. By refinancing early in 2016, you'll afford any major life events that may occur such as daughter's wedding, high college tuition, or home renovation.

    Wrap-up

    The National Real Estate Market is on its way to expanding. The Federal Reserve raising interest rates indicates optimism in the housing market and the economy as a whole. The 2016 housing market will remain a sellers market that should see an increase in first-time home buyers entering the market because of the strong desire of homeownership by millennials 25 to 34 years of age, and easing credit standards and increases in wages. Homeowners with variable mortgage rates should expect their rates to rise in 2016, but early 2016 will be a good time to refinance so that you're that you won't fill the brunt of further interest rate increases.

  • No matter if you're in a buyers or sellers market, there are a few critical steps you can take to make a smarter purchase. Since buying a home is likely the biggest single investment you will ever make, being prepared will help you make a better purchase. Here are our best tips to buying a home.

    Know your buying power

    What is your buying power? It is the combination of your credit-worthiness and how much you can realistically pay for a home.

    First, you need to understand the hidden costs of buying a home. You will need to save not only for the down payment of your home -- which is typically between 10% - 20% of the offer price -- but also for any additional transaction fees, such as transfer tax, PMI, title insurance, and legal fees.

    Then you need to know what you can realistically afford each month to understand how much house you can buy. Your mortgage rate will depend on your creditworthiness -- if you have a high credit score, your lender will likely approve you for a lower mortgage rate, which can save you thousands of dollars per year in interest.

    How much of your budget should go to your monthly home costs? According to SmartAssets, you can use the 36% rule as a rough guideline. This means that your monthly obligation shouldnt be more than 36% of your monthly gross income.

    A loan professional can help you figure out how much house you can afford.

    Fix your credit with the help of a loan professional

    According to CreditKarma, a good credit score is usually 720 or above. You want to clean up your credit as soon as you can, and definitely before you go to a lender for a loan preapproval.

    When you apply for your loan pre-approval, you don't want to have anything to hide on your application. So don't lower your credit score by doing anything that will originate more inquiries into your credit. For example, don't open any new credit cards. Also, don't omit any debts or loans when you apply. If the loan officer discovers them in the application process, they may deny you a pre-approval.

    Get a loan professional to check your credit score for you. A professional can give you a clearer idea if your score is in the good range, or if you need to do some credit cleanup before getting a mortgage preapproval.

    Work with a knowledgeable buyers agent

    Do you understand what kind of market you are buying into? Even within a city's limits, there can be micro markets that are increasing or decreasing in value.

    That's why its important to hire a highly competent real estate agent who knows the specific market. You want to make sure that the professional who you're working with really understands what the market is like and will help you find the home that you desire.

    How can you tell if your agent knows the market? See if they can provide you with a buyers market analysis.

    A buyers market analysis report outlines which neighborhoods are still up and coming -- with potential for increased property value -- versus those that have peaked with inflated home prices. Having this analysis at your fingertips will help you know if a homes list price is above comparable properties so you dont overpay for a home.

    Dont try to time the market...

    Even in a hot market, there's never a perfect time to buy a home. It can take a while to know exactly what you like, and you may have to look at 10 or more homes before you can recognize what suits your lifestyle best. While you're shopping, take photos of your favorite properties and the details that you liked the best so that you can remember what you liked.

    Another good reason to slow down the buying process: you might find a better deal if you do. Investigate expired listings. Expired listings may have gone off the market because they didn't get any offers at the listed price, so you may be able to underbid the original listing price. Its not likely worth your time to look at FSBO (for sale by owner) listings, though. Since they are not represented by a professional, they are often overpriced.

    When you start shopping, have a one-hour initial consultation with your realtor. Give them every single detail that you know about your lifestyle, buying power, needs, wants and desires for your home. The more detail you can provide, the easier it will be for them to help you find your future home. Your agent may also know of exclusive listings not available to the general public.

    But make the offer as soon as you find the right home

    If you love it, make the offer. Otherwise, that dream home may disappear faster than you think, especially if youre buying in a hot market.

    Your buying agent should contact the listing agent before you submit an offer so that they can decide whats important to include in the offer. If you're serious about it, you want to increase the chances that your offer is accepted.

    Show that you're serious about the purchase by creating a buyer's offer packet. It should include your lenders pre-approval letter, a screenshot of your down payment money in your bank account, and comps that support the rationalization of the offer you are presenting.

    Get a home inspection

    Once you're in the negotiation process, its essential that you get a third-party inspector to run a thorough home inspection. The inspector will be looking for major structural issues, including problems with the foundation, plumbing, and electrical systems. Your inspector should be extra picky, pointing out the most minor faults.

    Make sure to have the inspection conducted before it is too late to back out of a deal. If there are any major structural issues, you may be able to make the seller repair them as a contingency to solidifying your offer. Minor issues that you can repair on your own may be points for negotiating a lower offer.

    Protect your credit before you close

    Don't raise any red flags with your creditworthiness in the weeks before closing. Any one of these moves could mean that you're denied the loan and the deal falls through -- even if you've already been pre-approved!

    * Keep your spending to a minimum and dont make any major purchases before closing -- that includes buying furniture, or a car, truck, or van, or any excessive charges on your credit card.

    * Keep your bank accounts stable. Dont change banks, spend any of the money you have set aside for closing, or make any large deposits to your accounts without checking with your loan officer first.

    * Keep your employment situation stable -- do not change jobs, quit your job, or become self-employed. Any sudden change in your income can have that pre-approval offer rescinded.

    * Do not cosign a loan for anyone. It will open an inquiry into your credit and add to your debt, which could raise your mortgage rate and cost you thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.

    Looking for a home in our area? Let us help you find the home of your dreams. Were well versed in the our local real estate market, and we can provide you with a buyers market analysis to help you find the right neighborhood for you.

    Contact one of our trusted agents today.

  • March 2015- Equitas RealtyHeres an elixir that will solve some of your real estate agent problems (the most egregious these days seeming to be Zillow):Its your data, so just say 'NO' to Zillow and the devil will shrivel up and go away!I probably shouldn't just pick on Gary Keller on this issue. There are a lot of old fuddie duddies in the real estate business who think they can resist fast paced technology change by preaching a gospel of days-gone-by loud enough to enough people. But Mr. Keller is the biggest target since he's amassed the biggest soapbox from which to hawk his potion. And he can really whip up his large congregation into a frenzy, shouting out their righteous indignation: just read the comments at the bottom of any article about Zillow on Inman News and the Kellerites will be in full fury that the Zillow-devil is selling their data back to them, which is apparently tantamount to real estate heresy. Inman recently published a video of Gary preaching his medicine to thousands of his flock; you don't have to watch the video necessarily, but read the comments at the bottom of the article to really understand the allure of the elixir.

    A great sales ploy that some salespeople know how to use with powerful results is to lead the customer through a series of assertions, God given facts that cant be refuted, and then slip in an opinion so that it seems like it's another one of the facts. Gary Keller has refined this technique: he says a lot of stuff that is simply and compellingly true and then he slips in statements like: its your data. And voila!, he's got thousands of real estate agents out there believing and proselytizing something as fact that just simply is not.

    Here's a good test, and a challenge, for Mr. Keller and any of his minions who dare: at your next listing appointment, as you are at the dining table with the sellers about to sign the contract, look the sellers right in the eye and tell them that you own all the data about their property once you've listed it for sale. Ya maybe better get their signature on the contract before you let that cat out of the bag, should you have the cojones to be so bold.

    But wait, you say! A lot of listing contracts state that the listing data belongs to the listing brokerage! Hmmm. Lets take that one to the Supreme Court and get a decision on what that ownership really constitutes. My guess is the Chief Justice will say something like it gives the brokerage (not the agent) the right to publish the data with the brokerage's name attached. Kinda like the right of having it up on Zillow with the brokerage brand on it so millions of people know the home is for sale?

    Oh, but you might say the agent worked so hard to secure the listing, surely all the specific data the erstwhile agent gathered must come along with it! Well, reality is that all that data that Mary Agent collected probably can be found online already, so its actually in the public domain. In fact, I'll bet that if Zillow wanted to today, they could provide agents with a listing input form where you would type the address and all that special data Mr. Keller thinks agents own would just auto-populate, and the sources of the data would include ten or more public record databases that have nothing to do with MLS historical data. Maybe the agent inputting the listing could edit a few facts, but they certainly wouldn't be the source of the data.

    So does the agent own anything that gets placed online about a listing? Actually there are a few pieces of what gets published that at least we can say might be the proprietary property of the agent: approximately fifty words of property description poetry and pictures, maybe even a video. Well ...guesswhat ...even though you might have paid for some of that precious information, you probably don't own what you paid for anyway! And you probably will get fired by your sellers if you don't post the pictures online with Zillow/Tulia/Realtor.com/Homes.com, etc. So once again I have to ask: is it really your data? You may have paid for it, but you don't have much control over it. It's really a down payment on a potential commission you don't own yet.

    So, in reality (or Realty), it is totally your prerogative to not like that Zillow has built a big business selling advertising space in their online publication; but your reason for not liking their business model is a distortion if you think they are selling something back to you that you own. And furthermore, your listings that they publish are a minor part of their online content that is getting the consumer to look at your ads. And should you advertise on Zillow and get a lead off one of your own listings, is that any different than what Realtors have done for years with print advertising before it became Internet Roadkill?!!

    Sorry, I'm just not buyin the snake oil. I'll go into more about why in a future post: Back to the Future starting a real estate business isn't FREE.

    JW

  • Whether you're putting your home on the market this year or in the next five years, it is a smart decision to start building your home's resale value now. Here are some ways to create a comfortable home while making it easier to put more money into your bank account on closing day.

    Small Maintenance and Repairs

    If you think that home maintenance on the weekends waste your time and energy, think again. The small chores you do around your home prevents it from losing value. Neglecting small maintenance and repairs causes 10% of your home's value to walk out your door and slip through your windows. Most appraisers claim that homes showing little to no preventative maintenance can depreciate from $15,000 to $20,000.

    A study conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut and Syracuse University shows that regular maintenance boosts your home value by about 1% per year. However, ongoing maintenance costs offset that value, which means that regular maintenance actually slows down your rate of depreciation. Furthermore, because homebuyers generally notice any repairs needed upon buying a new home, proactive maintenance lets the homebuyer know that he or she will not have to spend extra money to maintain the basics. This makes your home more attractive, and thus more likely to get higher priced offers.

    Maintaining the basics can cost you little money and certainly some effort, but theres a way to accomplish this very important activity smartly. This article by HouseLogic, for example, shows you how to keep home maintenance below $300 a year. Planning ahead will also help make maintaining your home easier. Most professional appraisers and real estate agents recommend a proactive maintenance schedule that includes:

    Keeping enough cash on hand to replace systems and materialsCreating and following a maintenance schedulePlanning a room redo every yearKeeping a notebook of all your maintenance and repairs

    Landscaping

    The Virginia Cooperative Extension at Virginia Tech published a study that shows landscaping can increase a home's value by 15%. The study claims that a home valued at $150,000 could increase its value between $8,300 and $19,000 with the addition of landscaping. Particular landscape elements add different value. For instance, landscape design can increase your home's value by 42%, plant size can increase your home's value by 32%, and diversity in plants can increase your home's value by 22%.

    Replace Entrance Doors

    If your entry doors are wood, consider switching them out for either fiberglass or steel doors. Steel doors add style and architectural interest to your home while improving security; you can add a deadbolt and electronic keypads to keep out intruders. Unlike wood doors, steel doors do not rot or splinter.

    Alternatively, fiberglass doors can be designed to look like wood doors and give your home a modern look. Fiberglass doors conserve more energy than steel doors.

    Pricewise, a steel door will cost you $1,335 with a 91% return on investment whereas a fiberglass door will cost you $3,126 with an 82.3% return on investment.

    Garage Door Replacement

    At first, you might not think that your garage door increases the value of your home. However, your garage door distinguishes your home from the other homes on your block. As the largest entryway of a house, garage doors get noticed first because they're the focal point of your home. If you want to quickly increase the resale value of your home, you need to make the most of this space.

    Some interesting things being done with garage doors include:

    Increased Size: Bigger garage doors help homes stand out more, and homeowners can do more creatively with them.Bold Colors: Bright and bold colors now can complement the color of your home, or you can build a concept around the color of your home.Faux Wood: You can install fiberglass or steel garage doors that look like wood garage doors. This gives your home a new level of sophistication.Windows: Large Windows on your garage door improve the aesthetic of your home, and provide light into your garage so that it's no longer a dark space.

    More importantly, a garage door replacement will cost you $1,652 and add $1,512 to the value of your home; that's a return on your investment of 91.5%.

    Fiberglass Attic Insulation

    While energy efficiency is still not the sexiest selling point of your home, installing fiberglass attic insulation saves energy and garners a big payback on your investment. According to Remodeling Magazine's 2016 Cost vs. Value top trends report, fiberglass attic insulation gained the top return on investment among the 30 projects in this year's report. Using Remodel/Max as the cost source, a fiberglass attic insulation project cost $1,268 nationwide. Real estate professionals surveyed estimated that the work would boost the price of a home at resale, within a year of its completion, by $1,482. That's a 116.9% return on investment.

    Replacing Windows

    Replacing your windows is another way to save energy and increase your home's resale value. Replacing your old windows with energy saving models will beautify your home, keep it comfortable, and ease the workload of your HVAC system. According to HGTV, you'll see a reduction in your utility bill by 7% to 15%. However, if you're selling your home, you could expect a 60% to 70% recoupment of your investment. The two types of replacement windows that fetch the best return are vinyl and wood.

    Remodeling Your Kitchen

    Kitchen remodeling can get expensive, but small renovations can make your home more buyer friendly. Changing your kitchen's texture and color using a matte finish and neutral colors such as putty or grey enhances your home's resale value. Because matte finishes have transitional qualities, your potential homebuyer can easily match his or her stainless steel or black and white appliances. Also, refinishing cabinetry, or switching to Energy Star appliances provide comfort you like and pizazz buyers adore.

    Flow is important to any interior design of a home. If you feel that your kitchen hinders a good flow, change it. A small investment to knock out a non-structural wall or remove a kitchen island creates space and provides flow that buyers love.

    A minor kitchen remodel can cost you $20,122 while putting $16,716 of resale value into your home; that's an 83% payback on the project. If you want to do a major kitchen model, this can cost you about $60,000 and put about $39,000 of resale value into your home, which is only about a 65% payback on the project. Therefore, consider a minor kitchen remodel first.

    Bathroom Addition or Remodel

    Likewise, carefully consider adding a bathroom or remodeling your bathroom. Switching out your frosted glass shower doors for glass doors, cleaning the grout, replacing the shower and floor tiles, switching out your sink or toilet, or replacing your sink and shower fixtures can cost you little money.

    Adding a bathroom can get expensive, but it can reduce congestion during hectic times and provide your guests with a bathroom. Consult with your real estate agent or a local appraiser before deciding whether a full remodel or addition is right for your situation. While a bathroom remodel will cost you about $18,000 with a return on investment of about 66%, a bathroom addition will cost you about $42,000 with a return on investment of about 56%. Therefore, it's best do your due diligence before working on your bathroom.

    Your Needs and Buyers' Wants

    On that note, if you need to renovate your home, be sure to consider how those changes will affect its appeal to future buyers. Knowing design trends will give you the opportunity to make changes to your home based onwhereyour needs and your potential buyer's desires intersect, thus increasing your property's resale value drastically.

    Designers and design websites provide great ideas when youre brainstorming home renovations. Keep in mind as you research, however, that you dont want to sacrifice your needs for a comfortable home just for the sake of what you think a future buyer will want!

    Therefore, before you begin making any changes to your home, consult your real estate agent. Real estate agents, because we are constantly working with new buyer clients, have insider insight into what home buyers are looking fornow and in the future. Well be able to help you make smart choices when remodeling or renovating your home.

    If you think you might want to remodel or renovate your home in the near future, or if you are just curious about other ways you can increase its resale value, please reach out to me!

  • You can't avoid paying taxes, and we all need to pay our fair share. However, paying your fair share shouldn't place an unjust burden on you. As a homeowner, your tax burden is doubled because you pay both income and property taxes. To decrease that burden and boost your tax savings, take advantage of these homeowner tax deductions. As a result, you can use your tax savings to go on a vacation, increase your child's college fund, build upon your retirement fund, or complete another home improvement project.

    Home Improvement Tax Deduction

    You spend so much of your time at home, and you try to make it as comfortable a place to live as possible. If your home needs some upgrades, consider improvements that will help foot the bill for themselves.

    You can get an energy-efficient tax credit of up to $500 for installing storm doors and energy-efficient insulation and air-conditioning and heating systems. Switching out your old windows for energy-efficient ones could earn you $200. This credit expires this year on December 31st. So, this year will be your last chance to take advantage of getting tax credit for making your home more energy efficient.

    Also, installing equipment that uses renewable sources of energy makes you eligible for the Renewable Energy Efficiency Property Credit. The credit covers 30 percent of the cost of equipment and installation. This credit also expires this year on December 31st.

    Mortgage Interest and Refinancing

    If your mortgage payment makes you cringe each month, youll be glad to know you can deduct taxes on the following:

    * Interest towards mortgage

    * Mortgage payments for additional property

    * Rental properties

    * Refinancing and home equity lines of credit (HELOC) up to $100,000 of debt.

    If you own multiple properties, the mortgage interest on additional property is deductible as well. The cool thing is that it doesn't have to be a house. It can be a boat or RV; as long as it has cooking, sleeping, and bathroom facilities, it counts as additional property.

    Regarding using your second home as a rental, you need to vacation at least 14 days at the property or spend more than 10 percent of the number of days you rent it out.

    Furthermore, you can claim points on your mortgage the year you paid them if the following happened:

    * The loan was to purchase or build your main home

    * Payment of points is an established business practice in your area and the points were within the usual range

    Property Taxes

    Now, this is the big one. Property taxes you pay each year are tax deductible. The amount of property taxes you paid for the year shows up on your lender's annual statement. You must deduct them as an itemized expense on your Schedule A tax form.

    First-time homebuyers, look at your settlement sheet to see additional tax payment data. You may deduct the portion of property taxes you paid during the first year of your homeownership.

    Protesting Your Assessment to Lower Your Property Taxes

    Although you must pay property taxes, you can make sure that you pay a reasonable amount based on the true value of your home and land. Many homes get overvalued because assessors err in valuing a home and homeowners don't pay attention to these mistakes. Consequently, homeowners unwittingly pay more than they should in property taxes.

    However, if youve owned your home for more than a year, you can potentially lower your property tax burden by showing that your home has been overvalued, meaning that your tax assessment claims your property is worth more than it is.

    Even if the number on the tax assessment seems close, you should still consider protesting your property tax. Typical savings from a successful tax protest is over 15%!

    According to SmartAsset, the national median property tax paid is roughly $2,839.00. That's about 1.192 percent of a home valued at $238,200.00.

    If you're able to reduce your assessed value by 15 percent to $202,470.00 and consequently save 15 percent on your tax bill, your new tax bill will be about 2,413.00. Thats a savings of $426.00!

    To get started protesting your property tax, read your assessment letter. Your assessment letter will list data about your property and the assessed value of your house and land. Make sure your assessment letter has the correct information about your property.

    Understanding that assessors can make mistakes assessing your home value will help you with your appeal. There are three key mistakes assessor make when assessing property. These mistakes include:

    Mass Appraisal Methods: Also, when assessors use mass appraisal methods, they do not take into account all the market adjustments that occurred over time. Consequently, there sales data can't always produce useful comparable properties to set future sales.Outdated Historic Sales Data: Sometimes assessors will use sales data from previous years. Because the real estate market is fluid, this data changes quickly, as a result; this data can over value your home.Living Area: Assessors notoriously make mistakes about the living area of your house. This is especially true if you live in a 1.5 or 2 story home. Check any previous appraisals to ensure correct measurements and description of our home. Does the assessment letter show the right number of bathrooms and bedrooms? Does it report the correct size of your lot? .5 acres differs greatly than 5.0 acres.

    After reading your assessment letter, consult a Realtor. We can find three to five approximate values of comparable properties similar to yours, and these comps can then be used to support your claim that your home is overvalued. This is especially useful if the assessor used poor historical sales data.

    You'll have 30 days to file an appeal of your assessment, so youll want to get the comps as soon as your assessment arrives. You can speak with an assessor on the phone or request a formal review.

    You'll then need to fill out a form and follow specific instructions regarding your supporting evidence. Typically, it's not necessary for you to appear at the review. The review can take one to three months to complete, and you'll receive a decision in writing. The majority of assessment appeals are successful. However, if at first you don't succeed, appeal. You'll need to pay a small filing fee for an independent appeals board to hear your second appeal. This process could take up to a year to complete, so you'll need to decide whether it's truly worth it.

    As a homeowner, you have plenty of options available to decrease your tax burden. The benefit is that you can use your tax savings for major life events such as weddings, vacations, and home improvements.

    To find out more about your tax saving options as a homeowner, check out tax information for homeowners. You can also contact me directly and I'll gladly lead you in the right direction towards saving you money on your taxes.

  • A Beginners Guide to Real Estate Investing

    Despite the grim economic outlook for some industries, one sector is gaining viability -- real estate. According to the 2016 Emerging Trends in Real Estate, which was released by the Urban Land Institute earlier this year, trends such as 18-hour cities and millennial parents increasing moving from urban areas out into the suburbs signal that real estate as an industry is gaining strength every passing day in 2016. One lending officer at a large financial institution even went to far as to say that the next 24 months look doggone good for real estate.

    These trends means that real estate is a smart place to make an investment and grow your wealth. A housing shortage means that flipped homes tend to sell quickly and for high prices, and an increased demand across all age groups for rental properties means that finding tenants for your buy-and-hold properties should be a breeze.

    Of course, these trends also mean that the real estate market is highly competitive right now. If you want to make a foray into real estate investing, youll need to educate yourself and be strategic in who you work with and where you look for investment opportunities. Read on for our beginners guide to real estate investing.

    Assemble your real estate team before you buy

    Building relationships with your team will empower you to make serious offers that will more likely get accepted by sellers. Among your team members, you will want to include:

    A mortgage broker or banker, who can help you get the financing for your deal A real estate attorney to protect you by reviewing and revising contracts An appraiser who can help you get a correct appraisal for your potential property An accountant who is well versed in real estate investments A good contractor, for repairs whether youre rehabbing or buying rental property

    How to find rehab or wholesale deals

    You can buy properties to fix up and resell (flip) or you can buy and hold properties that you rent out for monthly cash flow.

    The advantage of flipping properties is that you can end up with a good return on investment (ROI) in the short term. For example, you buy a property for $100,000, and invest $50,000 into repairs. Once its rehabbed, your property is valued at $200,000, and you sell it for a $50,000 profit.

    This is an extremely simplified version of ROI. There are many other factors that you need to determine to see if the numbers work in your favor that is, youre not overpaying initially when you buy the properties or for the renovations or holding costs.

    Flipping properties means that you will need to spend more time looking for fixer uppers that may be under market value. These may be more difficult to find in a hot market with rising property prices. Beyond the actual purchase price, you will also need to factor in fixed purchase costs for inspections, closing, and lender fees.

    Youll also need to factor in holding costs. Your budget should include funds for making repairs, whether you are doing them yourself or hiring contractors. While youre upgrading the property, youll need to carry mortgage payments, property taxes, utilities, and insurance.

    Because of rising property values, fix-and-flip deals in good neighborhoods can be hard to find. But once you know where to find rehab opportunities, you can easily repeat the process by reinvesting proceeds from a previous flip into the next property, which can be bigger, in a more desirable neighborhood, or finished out more luxuriously, and therefore sold for more cash!

    Working with the right real estate professionals will help you learn which neighborhoods to consider and determine where you should focus your search. We can help you find the right fixer-uppers that may be under market value. Also, a Realtor will have access to many properties that may not be publicly available.

    Finding buy-and-hold rental properties

    A buy-and-hold rental property is one that your purchase with the intent of renting it out to tenants. If you find the right long-term buy-and-hold rental property, you can earn consistent cash flow each month, which can be a great source of supplemental income.

    Youll need to carefully review the operating expenses on the property and what tenants are willing to pay for the space to know if youll make or lose money each month. For example, say your total costs to buy a duplex was $20,000, including down payment and closing costs. You can rent each of the units for $600. Assuming your building is 100% occupied, youll make $1200 per month in income. Your expenses include mortgage payments, taxes, insurance, utilities, and management fees, and you want to set aside some cash each month for capital expenditures and routine repairs. You calculate that your expenses add up to $1100 per month. Once you subtract your expenses from your income, youll have a positive cash flow of $100 per month.

    Of course, this is a very simplified example, and it doesnt take into account that problems will inevitably arise. Emergency roof repairs, heating system breakdowns, broken windows that need replacing, and other unexpected expenses can eat away at your profits. One of your units may be vacant for a month or more -- for example, vacancies are high in the summer months in buildings around universities -- or you could have a tenant who fails to pay their monthly rent.

    The more you can anticipate problems before they happen, however, the easier it will be for you to recover from setbacks! Moreover, rent isnt the only way to make money on a buy-and-hold property. You can also add amenities, such as coin laundry and vending machines, to increase your potential monthly income. If your property has space to add a billboard, you can earn advertising revenue from renting that space, too. And when you decide to sell, your propertys value will likely have increased both from the overall rising property values and by the improvements you made to increase the cash flow.

    Once you find and invest in your rental property, youll need to decide how you want it managed from month to month.

    Getting the right property manager

    Do you want to manage your own property or hire a manager? Property management can become a full-time job. As a property manager, youll have to deal not only with maintenance, repairs and tenant issues, but also with insurance, fair rental regulations, and building code compliance. So if youre not an expert in these areas, managing your own properties may not be worth your time and effort.

    Hiring a professional manager can save you headaches over the long term. While youll have to factor in management as a fixed expense, your property manager will likely know how to better take care of routine repairs, tenant issues, and keeping your property near 100% occupancy.

    Your real estate professional can refer you to reputable property management companies to help you take care of your investment.

    Where should I start investing in local real estate?

    Work with a knowledgeable real estate professional who knows about the different neighborhoods. We can help you find properties that will fit into your budget and your overall goals. Whether youre seeking a duplex or multifamily property so you can maximize your rental income or whether you want a condo or single-family home to improve for resale, we can guide you to the best property to suit your needs.

    Contact your us to learn more about investment properties in our area.

  • As published in RISMedia.

    The surprise victory in Britain of the campaign to leave the European Union may be spurring panic across the Continent (and among some regretful British voters), but Brexit has left U.S. home buyers with a very definable windfall: mortgage rates that are now the lowest theyve been in more than three years.

    The average 30-year conforming rate on Monday was 3.46 percent, very near the lowest average rates recorded in late 2012.

    Lower rates produce lower monthly payments and greater buying powerthose who are well qualified can afford a home thats 8 percent more expensive than at the beginning of the year. Thats more than enough to offset the rise in prices during that time.

    And thats why Brexit has just increased the opportunity to lock in a low associated mortgage rate for a new home. And maybe added a bit of urgency to the proceedings.

    Low mortgage rates were already driving a strong real estate market this yearright up there with pent-up demand from first-time buyers, move-up buyers, and retirement buyers. And more and more real estate players these days are individual investors. Those investorsmainly wealthier and older householdsare looking at single-family rentals as a reliable alternative to more traditional financial investments that, frankly, are flat-out lousy right now.

    Those low rates have a downside, though: They motivate lenders to be tougher on credit restrictions. As mortgage rates declined this year, weve seen that credit access has gone down, too. Thats because lenders have become more risk-averse as their profit margins have been whittled down by the double whammy of lower rates and higher origination and servicing costs. On the whole, lenders prefer refinances, which present less risk and will likely surge again to capitalize on the low rates.

    The tighter credit environment limits the first-time buyer pool and favors those who can avoid financing altogether. Or those who have grade-A credit. Or maybe those who can afford to shell out 20 percent or more on a down payment. So all this gives individual investors an advantage over younger buyers.

    But both types of buyers tend to look at similar, more affordable properties.

    And while some are chattering about whether the international economic tumult might push the U.S. Federal Reserve to cut interest rates at its next meeting, remember this: It doesnt really matter what the Fed does.

    What matters is the global movement of money. Got that? Bottom line: U.S. investment vehicles are becoming even more attractive to foreign investors. So as foreigners line up to buy the popular U.S. Treasury bonds, their prices go up but their yield (interest rate) goes down. The yield on the 10-year Treasury bond correlates with mortgage rates. Mortgage-backed securities are another investment whose popularity also pushes mortgage rates down.

    But before we all put up banners, hire marching bands, and hold parades to celebrate the United Kingdoms bold move, lets take a big pause. Brexit is not likely to be a boon to all parts of the residential real estate market.

    The U.S. economy will now likely see a bit less growth than had been expected for the year, as the energy sector and manufacturing are affected by a lower price of oil and a stronger dollar.

    Likewise, the stronger dollar will dilute buying power for many international buyers (particularly the Brits), affecting such markets as Los Angeles, Orlando, New York, Miami, and Tampa.

    And in general, well continue to see weakness at luxury price points as long as the financial markets react to the uncertainty with lower stock values.

    According to the 2015 Home Buyer and Seller Profile Report from the National Association of REALTORS, 20 percent of last years buyers sold stocks or used retirement funds for their down payment. Declines in portfolios will likely disrupt sales and closings, especially at higher price points. If we then see stock indices recover, the effect should diminish.

    Those already winning in the real estate market are getting a bigger boost from Brexit. Sellers in the right locations and price points will continue to have the upper hand as investors and first-time buyers fight for limited inventory. Well-qualified buyers will be able to capitalize on historically low mortgage rates. And developers and builders should be able to take advantage of those lower rates to line up land and lots to fuel more inventory expansion down the road.

    Author, Jonathan Smoke, is the chief economist of realtor.com, where he analyzes real estate data and trends to develop market insights for the consumer. Follow him on twitter at @SmokeonHousing.

  • Maybe your dream home has the intricate details that you usually find only in older

    construction - wainscoting and crown molding in the interior, the front porch with a

    swing, an older tree shading the back yard, and the white picket fence.

    Or maybe your dream home has all the conveniences of modern living - open floor plan

    in the living and dining spaces, large windows, connected, smart appliances and

    security systems, and minimalist design elements.

    Whether you go for a brand new construction or an existing home, both types of

    properties have their pros and cons when it comes to purchasing. What type of home is

    right for you will depend on which factors are most important for your lifestyle.

    Build your dream home with new construction

    If youre making a home purchase thats still in the pre-construction phase, you may be

    able to customize many of the details. Many home builders will give you the option to

    add design elements that will give you the exact dream home you desire. If its a new

    subdivision, you may even be able to pick which lot you like best.

    Very early in the building process, you may have more room to customize. For example,

    if the walls arent complete, you may be able to add extra outlets in each of the rooms or

    custom wiring for surround sound in the media room. Perhaps you could move the

    laundry room to the top floor instead of the basement. You might be able to get a

    separate mudroom entrance.

    Later in the building process, you may be able to add marble countertops, an island,

    and custom cabinets in the kitchen. Your master bathroom could be upgraded with a

    steam shower, spa tub, and European fixtures. You will want to check with the builder to

    understand which features are included, and which ones are extra.

    New homes save money with fewer repairs and more efficiency

    Once your home is complete, all youll need to do is move in. New appliances will be

    under warranty for a few years if they need repairs, and will likely work well for several

    years without needing fixes. Often, new construction is under a builders warranty, so

    any repairs needed in the first year should be covered.

    New homes often contain energy efficient and green appliances, like high-efficiency

    stoves, refrigerators, washing machines, heaters, or air conditioning units. These

    energy-saving appliances, along with good insulation and energy-efficient windows, will

    help you save money on monthly utility bills.

    New homes also often use new building materials that require less maintenance for

    example, using composite siding instead of wood, which doesnt need annual

    repainting. You wont need to spend as much to maintain your new home.

    If you customized it during pre-construction, you wont need to spend any money on

    renovations or upgrades for several more years. You can just enjoy it and not worry

    about saving for major home repairs.

    What you need to do to make a good new home purchase

    Before you put in your offer, do some research on the builder. Do they have a good

    reputation? What else have they built? Did their other new properties have issues such

    as poor construction or unfinished details?

    You like the model home, but will you like where its situated? After you look at the

    home itself, come back to the neighborhood to see what its like at different times of the

    day. Walk around during the day and in the evening, and see how you like the area.

    Brand new communities usually attract similar types of buyersurban professionals,

    couples, or young families, for example. These will be your neighbors, so youll want to

    make sure that you want to be part of this new, homogeneous community.

    You may also need to be flexible with your move-in date. Builders will only be able to let

    you move in if they can meet their construction schedule. If the wiring is delayed, the

    walls cant be finished. And because there are so many construction tasks that are

    dependent on the completion of prior tasks, schedules tend to slip.

    Get more variety and established neighborhoods with an existing home

    Existing homes are those that have generally been built and lived in between the 1920s

    and 1970s. With existing homes, you will get more variety in home styles, as different

    types of construction have gone in and out of style throughout the decades. Within one

    neighborhood, you may be able to find a mix of different styles like Victorian, modern

    Tudor cottages, tract style, ranch or split-ranch, or contemporary homes.

    Existing homes are situated in established neighborhoods, which may have more

    amenities nearby that a new home in a brand new subdivision may not have. Your new

    neighborhood may have restaurants, cafes, and boutiques within walking distance.

    You might also have access to more supermarkets, dry cleaners, discount stores, and

    gas stations nearby. An established neighborhood might have a nice park, running path,

    or playground for the kids to enjoy. You might also be closer to a library or the post.

    Resale homes can be a less expensive purchase

    If youre considering a resale home, you may be able to get into a beautiful, unique

    property at a lower purchase price than a new home.

    There are many more resale homes available than there are new homes according

    to the National Association of Homebuilders, about 10 times as many. With such a large

    pool to buy from, the market for resales can be more competitive. You may have more

    room to negotiate the selling price of the home. With a brand-new construction, you

    wont likely be able to have the same kind of negotiating power.

    Before putting a home on the market, sellers often make home renovations or remodel

    parts of their homes to make them more attractive to buyers and to be able to potentially

    increase the list price. If the resale home has a brand new, modern kitchen, an updated

    bathroom, or even a new roof or upgraded windows, you could end up getting a home

    thats comparable to new construction without having to pay the potential more

    expensive new-home list price.

    Existing homes have already been inspected at least once on the last sale, so you will

    know about any potential structural problems or repairs that have been made on the

    home. Knowing the track record on your potential home will help you avoid purchase

    mistakesyoure much less likely to end up with a property that has a rotting roof,

    dangerous electrical wiring, or a crumbling foundation. With a new home, you could end

    up with incomplete construction or major issues that you didnt know about because

    they werent yet documented.

    What you need to do to make a good resale purchase

    Before you go too far down the road to a purchase, you can protect your purchase by

    first having the home inspected. A good home inspector will document all flaws, no

    matter how small they appear. If the inspector finds any major problems, like foundation

    cracks or leaky roofs, you may be able to counter offer and get the seller to either fix it

    or reduce the selling price.

    Even if the inspection doesnt uncover any major issues, you will need to expect the

    unexpected. Older homes will eventually need replacement appliances, a new air

    conditioning unit, or a plumbing repair. As long as you know that before you buy a

    resale home, you can plan for surprise repairs.

    With an older home, you may want to eventually remodel parts of it. Will you be happy

    living in your house while youre doing major work on the living room or the kitchen? If

    you know that it would disrupt your lifestyle too much, you may want to consider

    whether you really want to buy an older property.

    Whether you choose to buy a new home or an existing home, the best way to get

    started is to speak with your trusted real estate professional. We will have access to

    both new properties and resale homes that may fit your goals, and will know which

    neighborhoods will serve your needs.

  • Okay, you made one of the most important decisions in your life: youre buying a home! You found your ideal home. Its in your desired neighborhood, close to everything you love, you dig its design and feel, and youre ready to finalize the deal.

    But, whoa wait a minute! Buying a home isnt like buying a toaster. If you discover somethings wrong with your new home, you cant return it for a refund or an even exchange. Youre stuck with your buying decision. Purchasing a home is an important investment and should be treated as such. Therefore, before finalizing anything, your ideal home needs an inspection to protect you from throwing your hard-earned money into a money pit.

    A home inspection is a professional visual examination of the homesroof, plumbing, heating and cooling system, electrical systems, and foundation.

    There are really two types of home of inspections. There is a general home inspection and a specialized inspection. Most general inspections cost between $267 and $370. The cost of the specialized inspection varies from type to type. If the inspector recommends a specialized inspection, take that advice because buying a home is the single most important investment youll make and you want extra assurance that youre making a wise investment.

    By having your prospective new home inspected, you can:

    Negotiate with the home seller and get the home sale-ready at no cost to youPrevent your insurance rates from risingOpt-out of the purchase before you make a costly mistakeSave money in the short and long run

    How Much Money Can a Home Inspection Save You?

    A home inspection helps to find potential expenses beyond the sales price, which puts homebuyers in a powerful position for negotiation. If there are any issues discovered during the home inspection, buyers can stipulate that the sellers either repair them before closing or help cover the costs in some other way. If the sellers do not want to front the money to complete the repairs, buyers could negotiate a drop in the overall sales price of the home!

    Perhaps even more importantly, a home inspection buys you peace of mind. Your first days and months in a new home will set the tone for your life there, and you dont want to taint that time with worries about hidden problems and potential money pits.

    To help you understand how much money a home inspection can save you, here are some numbers fromHomeAdvisorto drive the point home so to speak.

    Roof Roofing problems are one of the most common issues found by home inspections. Roof repair can range between $316 and $1046, but to replace a roof entirely can cost between $4,660 and $8,950.

    Plumbing Dont underestimate the plumbing. Small leaks can cause damage that costs between $1,041 and $3,488 to repair. Your home inspector will look for visible problems with the plumbing such as leaky faucets, water stains around sinks and the shower, and noisy pipes. Stains on walls, ceilings, and warped floors show plumbing problems.

    Heating and Cooling Ensuring the homes heating and cooling system is working properly is very important. Your home inspector will make you aware of any problems with the existing system and let know you whether the system is past its prime and needs replacing. You dont want to throw down $3,919 to replace an aged furnace. Nor do you want to spend $5,238 replacing an ill-working air conditioner. Replacing and repairing a water heater gets pricey too. Wouldnt you rather use your savings for a vacation?

    Electrical Systems When thinking of the electrical system, no problem is better than even a small problem. Electrical problems might seem small, but they can blossom into thousand-dollar catastrophes. Make sure your home inspector examines the electric meter, wires, circuit breaker, switches, and the GCFI outlets and electrical outlets.

    Foundation If your home inspector sees that the house is sinking, that means water is seeping into the foundation; cracks in walls, sticking windows, and sagging floor also indicate foundational problems. The foundation is so important that if the general inspection report shows foundation problems, lenders will not lend money on the home until those issues are solved. Foundation repairs can reach as high as $5,880 to repair.

    As you can see, a small investment of a few hundred dollars for a general home inspection can save you tons of money and future headaches. To save even more money, you might consider investing in a specialized home inspection as well. A specialized inspection gets down to the nitty-gritty of all the trouble spots the general home inspection might have located.

    How Much Money Can a Specialized Inspection Save You?

    A general home inspection can trigger a need for a specialized inspection because the general home inspector spotted something off about the roof, sewer system, the heating and cooling system, and the foundation. If humidity is high where youre buying your home, a pest inspection is recommended. Usually, a pest inspection will check for mold as well as pests. Most homebuyers have a Radon test done to ensure air quality.

    Roof Roof specialists examine the chimney and the flashing surrounding it. They also look at the level of wear and tear of the roof. They can tell you how long the roof will last before a new one is needed. Theyll inspect the downspouts and gutters. The average cost of a roof inspection is about $223. Most roof inspections will cost between $121 and $324.

    Sewer System Making sure your sewer system has no problems should happen before the closing because what might look like a small problem can turn into a large problem in the future. If any issues pop up, you can negotiate with the seller about needed repairs or replacements before closing. Cost of inspection will vary; on the low side, it might cost you around $95, and on the high side, it might cost you $790. Compare these numbers to repairing a septic tank, which can cost, on average, $1,435 (though it could reach as high as $4,459), and you can see that the cost of an inspection is worth it when you catch the problem before you buy.

    Heating and Cooling System A HVAC specialist will check the ducts for blockage and for consistent maintenance of the unit. The repairs needed might be small or they might be big, but this small investment will save you headaches and lots of money down the road.

    Foundation A foundation specialist will pinpoint the exact problem with the foundation. The specialist will look at the grade or slope of the home. The ground should slope away from the home in all directions a half inch per foot. Most homeowners have spent between $1,763 and $5,880 to repair their foundation. And the average cost to re-slope a lawn is at $1,705. Most homeowners paid between $933 and $2,558 to re-slope their lawn.

    Pest Inspection Termites eat a homes wood structure from inside out and can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage to your home. Other pests can turn your dream home into a nightmare. Depending on the humidity of where you live, you should a pest/termite inspection every two years or so. You can start with your potential new home. Most inspections are extensive and cost between $109 and $281. The good news is that most pest management company will guarantee the past inspection if bugs show up.

    Radon Test Radon is a naturally occurring invisible odorless gas that is the second leading cause of cancer. A radon test is a good test to have done as a good habit. The cost of radon test is low and its cost varies from state to state. Heresmore informationabout Radon.

    Steps You Can Take to Save Money Using a Home Inspection

    To help yourself save with a home inspection, you will need to:

    Attend the inspection Attending the inspection is important because its an opportunity for you to ask questions.

    Check utilities Checking utilities lets know the energy efficiency of your potential home.

    Hire a Qualified Home Inspector We can recommend bona-fide home inspectors to you. You can compare our recommendation with all inspectors who belong to theAmerican Society of Home Inspectors.While the decision of who you work with is always yours, we can educate you so that you make a wise home buying decision.

  • The smart home is the new internet of things, or objects that can serve you better by communicating with each other or directly with you through apps on your smart phone. In the ideal version of the wired future, all of our appliances and gadgets talk to each other seamlessly.

    What could living in a smart home look like? Picture something like this:

    The lights in your bedroom slowly illuminate to quietly awaken you in the morning, replacing the typical blaring alarm. The aroma of fresh brewing coffee drifts in and stirs your senses. Once the lights are all the way up, the heating system kicks on, just in time to warm up your room so you are not shocked once you crawl out from underneath the duvet.

    When you step into the shower, it turns on automatically and remembers your preferred temperature and water pressure. And it will shut off right when you are finished as it knows how long you take to bathe.

    Once you've driven out of your garage, your home alarm system arms itself. And it will only unlock automatically when it sees and recognizes someone else from your family approaching through programmed in biometrics.

    Do smart homes really work this way right now? Not exactly while you may find some of these smart features in certain homes, we haven't reached the point where every feature intuitively knows what you want and when you wanted. However, each year were getting closer and closer toward that shiny, idealized Jetson future.

    Here are some trends that we see for smart homes, many of which may also help you save money:

    Smart Thermostats

    Programmable thermostats that are synchronized with the clock have been around for decades. However, they're often difficult to set and aren't necessarily efficient; they simply turn on or off as programmed, whether or not you are there.

    With the newer models, smart thermostats can be programmed to adjust the temperature when they sense you are present. And once you leave, they can kick back to standby mode so that youre saving energy and money. Nest does all of this, and it also allows you to check your usage from your cell phone so that you can adjust the temperature remotely and save even more.

    Smart Smoke Detectors

    Having a working, effective smoke detector saves lives. But unfortunately, many of us still have those battery-run smoke detectors that make that annoying, piercing beep when their batteries are running low on power. And instead of replacing batteries right away, it's often easier to pull them out and disable the detector (while risking our lives).

    Many of the new smart smoke detectors, like the Birdi, monitor smoke, carbon dioxide, as well as air quality. With this new sensor technology, they know the difference between a real fire and burnt toast.

    Smart Sprinkler Control

    Weather in our area is predictably unpredictable. Often, especially during the summer months, we fall into a severe drought. But then we might have one season that brings extreme amounts of rain, like we did this past spring.

    A smart sprinkler controller like Rachio Iro can not only help save you lots of money on your water bill but also help protect our precious resources.

    Programmable by computer or smart phone, it can automatically adjust how often you water your lawn based on the season and the weather forecasts. You can also remotely adjust the settings through a mobile app.

    Smart Solar Panels

    You can put the sun to work for you by using solar technology to power your home. it's green and renewable, and can save you money over the long term. A recent study conducted by the NC Clean Energy Technology Center determined that Austin customers who invested in a solar system saved an average of $66 per month during the first year that they owned the system.With smart solar panels, you can program the technology to monitor their performance and even turn them off in case of a weather emergency or fire.

    Smart Home Security Systems

    Home monitoring has become much more sophisticated in recent years. With the old-style security systems, you had to call in contractors to wire your home with monitoring sensors.

    With new smart technology, you can simply place a few smart devices in your home to monitor movement and sense whether doors and windows are closed or opened. Some systems include audio and video monitoring, as well as sirens to scare off intruders. You get real-time feedback on security breaches through an app. And, because you are alerted as soon as the system senses an intruder, it's more likely that they will be caught.

    Canary is one popular all-in-one audio-video security system, complete with sirens and night vision.

    Smart Locks

    Go beyond the standard key locks, which can often be compromised by burglars. The new smart lock systems give you more control over those who can gain access to your home.

    Some systems, like the Kwikset Kevo, include encrypted virtual keys that you can program for access for a limited amount of time, for example, allowing guests over for a weekend, or cleaning service in during a specific window of time.

    Other door locking systems include biometric technology. The Ola smart lock allows you to program your lock to recognize your family members fingerprints. Other systems use facial recognition to greet you and unlock your door.

    The new August smart lock integrates with Apples technology so you can ask Siri to open your door for you.

    Smart lighting systems and light bulbs

    A well-lit home feels warm and welcoming, and good lighting can instantly increase the value of your home.

    However, annual lighting costs can account for up to 12% of your overall electric bill, or over $200 per year according to Energy Star. You can easily reduce this expense simply by using smart lighting technology to add efficiency.

    The Philips Hue wifi-enabled lights make it easy to add to your home without installing specialized equipment. Smart lighting dimmers and sensors can give you more control over how much energy you use and allow you to turn them on and off through your smart phone.

    New smart light bulbs can give you control over the warmth or coolness levels of your lighting. With the Lifx LED light bulbs, for example, you can program your light bulbs to turn on or off when you want, to slowly wake you up with increasing illumination, or to change from daytime work lighting to entertainment-friendly shades for parties.

    Smart Appliances

    Programmable slow cookers and coffee makers are the quaint, old-fashioned versions of these home conveniences. Newer, smart appliances give you more control over how your food is kept and prepared, and make it easier for you to complete pesky household chores.

    Newer coffee makers, like the Smarter coffee machine, let you order your coffee exactly to your liking, adjusting everything from bean grind to temperature to strength to time that it's ready to drink. Smart refrigeration technology can help you store your food at just the right temperature, adjusting the thermostat during peak usage times. For example, the LG THINQ fridge can alert you via smart phone app if a door is accidentally left open. Smart ovens can ensure that your food is cooked to the right level of done-ness, and alert you when your meal is ready to eat. June, a new counter oven invented by former Google, Apple, Go-Pro and Path employees will give you even more control; it will contain cameras, thermometers, and other technology to learn what you like to eat and make menu suggestions. Smart washers and dryers have customizable controls so that you can safely wash any type of fabric. Some units include controls to increase drying time to save energy. And soon, connected appliances from GE, Oster, Samsung, and other makers, will be able to re-order soap and fabric softener directly from Amazon, so you wont even have to think about running to the store at the last minute.

    Have you tested any of these technologies in your home? Did we miss any of your favorite home technologies? Let us know in the comments!

  • What is Home Equity?

    Home equity seems to be a very simple calculation the total amount of mortgages owed subtracted from the current market value of a home. Here is a simple example:

    Current Home Market Value $325,000 Existing Mortgage $225,000 Homeowner Equity $100,000

    One side of the equation is well defined, and it is found on the monthly mortgage statement, the loan balance. The other side is less obvious the current market value of the property.

    As a homeowner, your down payment purchases your initial equity, and your monthly (or additional) principal payments increase your equity. In strong real estate markets and in-demand locations, equity can increase quite rapidly as the property value increases, but the inverse can also happen too much available inventory and market down-cycles can lead to falling home values and a reduction in homeowner equity.

    It can be difficult to put an accurate value on something that you have emotional and monetary vesting in. It is safe to say that most people think their home is worth more than then it is.

    Homeowners can make savvy assessments about their homes current market value by following the sales of similar properties in the neighborhood, but should stay away from websites such as Zillow and Trulia, which provide inaccurate and outdated estimates. The most accurate measurement requires a comparative market analysis from a real estate professional or having the home professionally appraised. But, the bottom line your home is worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it.

    Creating Value is in Your Hands

    Maintaining the condition of a home is vitally important to retaining and increasing value. Homes are judged against their peers: how they compare to similar homes in the neighborhood. Another way to retain value is to not over upgrade, since it is rare to ever recoup the money spent if you exceed neighborhood value. Keep up the landscaping and do the little things to add curb appeal.

    Putting Home Equity to Work

    Home equity represents the largest single asset of millions of people, and because it represents so much of an individuals net worth, it must be treated with respect. Home equity is not a liquid asset until a property is sold, or it is borrowed against.

    There are two types of loans that tap into homeowner equity as collateral.

    Home Equity Loans

    Many home equity plans set a fixed period during which the person can borrow money, such as 10 years. At the end of this draw period, the person may be allowed to renew the credit line. If the plan does not allow renewals, the homeowner will not be able to borrow additional money once the period has ended. Some plans may call for payment in full of any outstanding balance at the end of the period. Others may allow repayment over a fixed period, for example, of 10 years.

    A home equity loan, sometimes called a second mortgage, usually has a fixed rate and a set time to pay it back, generally with equal monthly payments.

    Home Equity Line of Credit A home equity line of credit is similar to a credit card. The lender sets a maximum amount you can borrow, and you can draw money as you need it, though many home equity lines of credit require an initial draw. The interest rate varies daily, and is usually prime plus a set number, but the required payment is usually interest only. Once the loan has been paid down, the payment is reduced, and it can be paid off and initiated as many times as a homeowner requires.

    How Much Equity can be Accessed?

    Since the financial institution is lending money and using a home as collateral, they will not lend 100% of the homes equity. The bank does not want to take the risk that if the house price drops, they would be carrying a loan for more than its market value. Therefore, most banks will allow a qualified homeowner to borrow approximately 80% of their equity.

    Its Important to Use Your Home Equity Wisely

    Because it is likely the biggest asset most people have, losing your home equity is hard to overcome. It must be used in prudent ways, and the payments against the loan must be affordable. Using equity money to make the loan payment is only acceptable for a short-term solution.

    There are number of good reasons to use money from a home equity loan and some really bad ones. First, lets cover smart uses.

    1. Invest in Your HomeThe best way to use the money is create more equity in the home. Among the very best returns on your investment (ROI) include kitchen and bathroom remodels, adding square footage or an extra bath, enhancing curb appeal and repairing/keeping the existing structure sound. Making prudent investments in your home is a wonderful win-win: you enjoy the upgrades and the repairs can add value to the home.

    2. Invest in your Childrens EducationUsing your home equity to finance a childs higher education may be the greatest payoff of all. Not only is the rate much lower than a student loan, it is an investment in the childs future.

    3. Supplement Retirement NeedsOlder homeowners spent their working lives paying down their mortgage. At retirement, when monthly income is reduced, a home equity loan could pay for a dream vacation or an unexpected major expense.

    4. Augment the Impending Sale of a HomeIf youre planning to sell soon, a home equity line of credit may be the best way to finance improvements, and you can pay it off entirely when you sell. Investing wisely on upgrades and repairs may even reap a profit on your investment.

    Here are some examples of some not very wise choices.

    Adding luxury amenities like a swimming pool, a hot spa, lavish landscaping, expensive appliances and exotic countertops and flooring rarely pay off.

    Purchasing a car or boat or most any personal luxury items is a poor use of the funds, since these items quickly depreciate in value.

    Also stay away from using money on risk-heavy investments. Financing stock purchases, start-up businesses and paying routine bills is not financially smart. If you cannot afford to purchase those items with available funds, using equity from your home means they should not be in your budget.

    You should treat a home equity loan as an investment and not as extra cash when making financial decisions. If your intended use of the money doesn't pay you back in some way, it's not the best use of your valuable equity.

    We Are Happy to Assist You

    If you would like an assessment of the market value of your home and the current equity you can access, give us a call for a comparative market analysis.

  • Our world is full of risk at every turn from perilous jobs to dangerous driving conditions. That's why we all love to get back to our homes and not worry about everyday safety hazards. Its great to feel comfortable and safe at home, but is it as safe as it can be?

    Your home should be your haven: the place where you will be protected from harm. It should be a top priority, and yet every year 1200 people or more visit the emergency room during the holiday months due to accidents and unintended injuries sustained from hidden dangers around the home.

    With a sharp eye and preventive action you can reduce the chances of lurking safety dangers for everyone who visits your home.

    The Top 12 Home Safety Tips

    1. GOOD LIGHTING Adequate lighting reduces the risk of tripping and falling both inside and outside your home. This is especially important in winters when days are shorter. Critical areas that need to be illuminated are the stairs, outdoors, and foyers. Make sure your street number is well lit and visible from the street to aid first responders find your home. the fix: Make sure adequate wattage is utilized and long-life bulbs and motion detectors are in place.

    2. ELECTRICAL PROBLEMS? Electrical issues, like a flickering light or a dead outlet, can be mild annoyances that actually signal serious dangers. If not addressed promptly, a faulty electrical system can result in house fires and shocks. the fix: If you're experiencing any problems with your electricity, contact a professional right away. In your daily life, make sure electrical cords are not frayed or pierced and extension cords are securely connected. Do not run too many cords to a single outlet. Unplug small appliances, space heaters, and power tools when not in use.

    3. DO ROUTINE CLEANING Not maintaining your appliances leads to a greater chance of accidental home fires. the fix: Do simple tasks regularly like cleaning grease off your stovetop, emptying the lint trap on your dryer, and keeping your chimney clean and clear.

    4. SMOKE AND GAS DETECTORS Every home needs functional warning devices that detect smoke and gases. the fix: When purchasing smoke alarms, make sure they also detect carbon monoxide, a deadly gas that is especially dangerous because it is colorless and odorless. Replace the batteries every six monthsor whenever you change your clocks. Create an emergency evacuation plan, build a preparedness kit, and practice regular safety drills with your family to ensure awareness of procedures.

    5. SECURE YOUR HOME Many homes now have the latest technological advancements but still rely on locks and hardware from decades ago to keep you safe from intruders. the fix: Do an audit of all entry points to your home doors and windows and screens. If any do not have secure screens, locks, and deadbolts, have them installed. For those entry points that do already have door knobs, handles, and locks, make sure that they are in good working condition.

    6. WHEN YOU ARE AWAY We all enjoy long weekends and out-of-town vacations, but unfortunately that leaves your home vulnerable to intruders. the fix: Create the illusion that someone may still be there. Leave a TV or stereo on in the room where a burglar would most likely break in. Have neighbor pick up mail and the daily paper. Turn down phone ringers, keep blinds drawn, and don't leave unsecured valuables in the home even if you think they are well-hidden. Never hide keys around the home or garden, and don't leave notes on the door that suggest you are out of town.

    7. HOUSEHOLD REPAIRS Even if you are an expert and know your way around electrical, plumbing, car or other household repairs, proceed with caution. A poor repair could be a recipe for disaster. the fix: Call a professional or ask me for a referral from our trusted sources.

    8. VEHICLE CAUTION Remember that there is danger even before you drive on the street. If you are backing your car up, watch out for children and pets on the sidewalk and road. the fix: Be cautious and proceed slowly when driving vehicles in or out of your driveway. If your driveway does not have good visibility in both directions, walk down and look in both directions before you get in your car.

    9. MAKE IT SAFE FOR VISITORS If you are hosting friends and family, consider what additional safety challenges they may face. the fix: Put yourself in the shoes of a small child and look for low, hard edges, sharp objects, easy-to-open cabinets with chemicals and cleaning agents. Look for falling and tripping hazards that may fell seniors.

    10. BRACE YOURSELF Heavy objects are rarely braced in the home. Appliances, artwork, televisions, and aquariums present real hazards if they are knocked down by a person or a natural disaster. the fix: Strap and brace heavy objects and use security hardware for large artwork.

    11. UNCOVER HIDDEN DANGERS If your home was built before the late seventies, theres likely lead in the paint under the top coats on your walls and windows, and there might be traces in the varnish used on many hardwood floors. In addition, asbestos often can be found in insulation and popcorn ceiling textures. the fix: Hire a licensed contractor to test for possible contaminants and remove them safely, especially prior to a remodel.

    12. MOTHER NATURE Your homeowners insurance will cover you in many instances, but did you know that you may not be insured against natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes? They typically require an additional policy. the fix: Contact your insurance agent to make sure you have adequate replacement coverage as home values escalate and coverage amounts can stay static. Discuss costs for adding disaster policies for the natural disaster most likely to hit your area. Finally, having a disaster and communication plan can minimize the risks.

    Safety Dangers to Kids You May Not Think About

    Do you have small children who live with you? Even if you don't, with the holiday season rapidly approaching, your home may welcome friends with young children and older family members. This makes now the ideal time to survey home your home for potential safety problems.

    OPEN WATERDid you know that as little as an inch of water can be a major hazard? A pail of water in the yard, large puddles from a storm, even a washing machine can induce a small child to trip or fall into and become at risk. the fix: Watch for open ice chests and other standing water, and don't leave toilet seats open.

    SMALL BATTERIESButton-sized lithium batteries power small electronic devices, including remote controls, watches, musical greeting cards, and ornaments. When accidentally swallowed, they can get stuck in the esophagus and generate an electrical current that can cause severe chemical burns and tissue damage. the fix: Only let small children play with mechanical devices and toys under supervision, and make sure to put these items away when not in use.

    WINDOWS AND STAIRSEvery year, more than 5,000 kids end up in the emergency room after tumbling out of a window. Combat that by installing window guards or window stops so kids cant fall out. Stairs are another potential hazard for youngsters with less-than-perfect balance. the fix: Baby gates can prevent young kids from venturing up or down. Steps should always have firm footing and be clear of objects as even older people can slip and fall or trip on items left on the stairs.

    FAMILY PETSCats can scratch a child not used to playing with finicky felines. The family dog may be big and loving but can outweigh a child by five times. Children can be easily knocked down, nipped, or even bitten by a dog not used to the activity of small children. the fix: Monitor play activity and make sure your pet is not getting anxious or annoyed.

    CORDSBabies can be strangled by cords on blinds and shades. the fix: Excessive cords of all types should be removed or secured down. Always keep cribs away from windows with loose cords.

    Now's the TimeWith the upcoming holidays at hand, now is the perfect time to survey your home and address potential safety hazards to yourselves, your family, and your friends. It doesn't take long, most fixes are very inexpensive and simple to do, and your efforts will pay dividends in peace of mind for years to come.

    If you would like our advice on how to make your home safer and need a list of trusted sources for home repairs, please contact us today. Its our business to ensure that your home is safe and secure for your family.

  • The holidays are a happy time for celebrating with family, friends, and co-workers. Unfortunately, this time of year can also be turned sour by a wide variety of clever frauds, unauthorized debit and credit card transactions, and bogus person-to-person scams. By the end of 2015, individuals, retailers, charitable donors, and companies were victimized to the tune of $1.5 billion and that number is expected to have gone up in 2016.

    Just as you protect your home with an alarm system, you should set up defenses for your credit and identity. During the holiday season, fraudulent activity spikes, but heres how to protect yourself from the eight most common scams.

    Big Data Breeds Data Breaches

    Big data during the holidays is great for marketers; it's a bonanza of consumer information to use to lure shoppers to Black Friday deals and the like. However, while companies wrangle in the chaos of holiday orders, scammers search for weaknesses in a company's cyber-security. According to a top executive at one of the leading credit bureaus, Data breaches are inevitable and most consumers are vulnerable to identity theft especially during the holidays. In fact, 25% more consumers were affected by identity theft during the holidays in 2015 than in 2014!

    The best way to reduce your risk of data breaches is use cash for all your purchases. According to a survey by TransUnion, however, only 20 percent of shoppers plan to pay with cash. If you're part of the 80 percent using plastic, use a credit card instead of a debit card. You have more purchase protection using a credit card than a debit card if a data breach occurs or fraud happens.

    Other protections from data breaches include:

    Using a low-limit credit card for online purchases so you can detect fraudulent activity.Utilizing services like PayPal to lower the risk of your card information being lost at the retailer.

    Package Theft

    E-commerce is great for holiday shoppers but it's also great for thieves. Last year, Insurancequotes reported that 23 million people had packages stolen at their front door!

    To prevent this from happening to you, have your packages delivered to your office or delivered to a pick-up area such as a UPS store or Amazon Locker. You can also set up tracking notifications so that you know when to expect delivery.

    And while youre waiting for your packages, be on the lookout for this scam: a note on the front door saying you have a package waiting for pickup. The note asks for a call, often to a pricey number that leaves you on hold for a long period while they collect premium phone rates, or it leads to a person asking for details on your personal information to verify your identity. If the note isnt from a shipper you recognize, or if the Googled number isnt found, dont get involved.

    Online Shopping Scams

    The big brother of package thievery is the online shopping scam. Phony online stores lure shoppers in through searches and online ads, enticing you with low-priced, high-quality items. These bargains cost you not only money, but also hours of time trying to fight the fraudulent transaction. To put salt in the wound, once these websites nab your personal information, they often also infect your computer with malware that compromises your login to your online bank.

    To avoid the pitfalls of the fake online merchant, only purchase from retail names you know and trust. You could also Google the site and look for reviews. Yelp is a legitimate site for reviews as is the Better Business Bureau. Before you make a purchase online, double-check that https appears in the URL, which signifies that the site has passed stringent security compliance standards.

    Poisonous Holiday E-Cards

    E-cards are popular during the holidays because theyre a free, fun, and easy way to catch up with friends and family members. But beware because it's just as easy for scammers to use fake e-cards to steal your personal information. A lot of fake e-cards you may get are from your hacked address book or the hacked address book of someone you know. At first glance, the card may look legitimate, but once you open it, you've been phished.

    The only way to avoid this from happening is paying attention to detail. The number one tell of a fake E-card is any kind of misspelling. The URL will have a subtle misspelled word or your friend's name is misspelled. Usually the misspelled word will contain a number: T1msmith@comcast.net for instance.

    Fake Apps

    ConsumerAffairs is reporting a huge spike in fake apps. Scammers are using fake retail and product apps found in Apple's App Store to steal unsuspecting consumers' financial information. Many of these thieves rip off company or brand logos to make the fake app look real. So before you get that convenient retail or product app, make sure it's legit.

    Just as with fake e-cards, fake apps will seem normal until you start looking at the details. Before you download that convenient retail or product app, make sure you check for the following:

    A nonsensical descriptionNo reviewsNo history of previous versions

    Gift Card Scammers

    Scam artists skim or copy the codes on the back of gift cards before they're bought. After the card has been activated, the scammers drain the card's funds.

    To prevent yourself from becoming a victim of compromised gift cards, buy gift cards displayed behind store counters, make sure pre-loaded cards are still loaded, and make sure the protective scratch-off strip is flawless.

    Malicious Charities

    During the holiday season we all feel an extra sense of giving. Grifters and thieves play on this sensibility by creating false charities and hitting you up on Twitter, Instagram, and in your e-mail inbox.

    There are online resources to help you verify the legitimacy of charities. The website Charity Navigator is a non-profit organization that rates over 8,000 U.S-based charities operating throughout the world. Another way to get free reviews and evaluations on national charities is through the Better Business Bureaus Wise Giving Alliance.

    Corrupted Wi-Fi

    You'll probably hit the mall this holiday for some in-person price checking, and you'll probably have your smartphone, laptop, and/or your iPad with you. Please be careful because skimmers and scammers love to manipulate Wi-Fi signals in places like malls and coffee shops to gather your financial information. These people create Wi-Fi signals that mimic the signal you use, then hack your info when you connect to it.

    To protect yourself from Wi-Fi manipulators, just don't make online purchases with your credit or debit card when you're in a public space.

    Who Should You Turn To?

    If you catch the trouble soon enough, credit or identity fraud can be an inconvenience. If you dont, however, one instance can have long-term impacts. If, for example, someone bought an appliance using your name while you were trying to refinance your mortgage, then you might not get approved for the loan!

    If youre curious to know if youve been affected, or if you know your credit is in disrepair and need help fixing it, please let us know so we can refer you to our recommended professionals.