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5 Organizing Secrets Only the Pros Know

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Dorothy the Organizer spills the beans on how home organization professionals clean up your mess.

We professional organizers have many secret tools and tips. They’re what make us very successful.

When our clients pay close attention and ask us questions, they obtain the magical key to unlock their clutter dilemma.

Many people who opt not to work with a professional set out with the best of intentions. They dive into a project after seeing an idea in a magazine or on Pinterest. They run to the store for organizing products they haven’t completely considered. Suddenly, they find themselves at home opening their latest purchase and realizing this new gimmick isn’t going to solve their organizing problem, either!

Does this sound familiar? Now you can avoid these clutter curve balls with five organizing secrets only the pros know.

Create the vision before you organize

How many times have you said to yourself “I’m going to organize my closet,” only to be left frustrated by the experience before you are halfway through?

The solution here is to create your vision first, then organize. Visioning is a bit like planning. It’s when you take the time to think things through before you begin doing the work.

Plan what you want the space to be before you start. Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

Using the example of visioning for a closet, spend that time asking yourself some questions:

  • How do I want to use this space in my closet?
  • Will I store just this season’s clothes here, or just those that fit me currently? Or will I use half for clothing and half for memorabilia storage?
  • How’s the lighting?
  • Do I need a step stool to reach the shelves?
  • Do I want to keep my hamper in the closet or move it to the bathroom?

Take the time to write down your vision first and then — here’s the secret bonus — get someone to help you.

Having someone assist you is a secret the pros know well. Human behavior studies have shown that when two people (rather than one) are working on a project it gets done faster — not just because of the extra pair of hands, but because of the synergy between the two people. There’s a flash of motivation that bounces off one person onto the other that gets us through these projects much more quickly.

Play hooky

No, not the skipping-work kind.

Professional organizers know that getting organized doesn’t necessarily mean having custom shelves built to clear the over-cluttered corners. We look for practical solutions with an aesthetic flair first. It’s not necessary to answer the organizing dilemma with an expensive or time-consuming project.

My secret tip? I happen to love using hooks as my first line of defense. Here are a few places hooks come in handy, and common items they can hold:

  • Bathrooms: blow dryers and curling irons
  • Kitchens: brooms, aprons, and towels
  • Bedrooms: large hooks for backpacks and purses, small hooks for necklaces or belts
  • Home office: cords, headsets, and chargers

Use really simple math

It’s called the “subtraction method.” You’ve heard of dividing your stuff into keep, sell, and giveaway bins, but when the clutter seems overwhelming, I favor an easier approach with just one master box, which is what I call the “somewhere else” bin.

With your intention set toward subtracting items from a particular room (rather than having to dust them and organize them again), start with one spot — say, the dining room table — and remove items that don’t belong there, placing them into your bin.

The pros use this secret strategy to help reduce both the clutter and overall overwhelm. It’s a great way to begin organizing a certain area, and you can return to the box later when you’re ready to deliver items back to their proper locations.

Create “drop zones”

Every member of your household should have his or her own drop zone. For example, you can set up a table right inside the garage as your son’s drop zone. When you pull into the garage, he’ll know to go directly to the table and drop off his football uniform and backpack before entering the house.

A drop zone is a secret tip we use to allow each family member to have a place where they manage the intense number of incoming items into the house without the stuff being strewn from backseat to bedroom.

Drop zones keep clutter from migrating all over the house. Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

In this case, the dirty football uniform is already in the garage near the washer and dryer, and, when he’s ready, your son can come out to the garage and triage his backpack: Pull out the empty food containers from lunch, water bottles from practice, homework to take to his room, and field trip signature forms to give to you.

Do this for yourself for your own briefcase and gym bag, too.

Shut down the distractions

One of the biggest reasons why my clients don’t trust themselves to get organized is because of the distractions they face. As a professional organizer, I can uphold the secrets to getting organized for my clients when they cannot do it for themselves.

If you can learn to master these distraction devils on your own, you are well on your way to making your organizing projects a super-simple and easy experience. Here are my secrets:

  • Ignore interruptions. When in the midst of an organizing project, ignore the dings and rings that alert you to text or voicemail messages. One exciting text can derail an entire morning reserved for organizing the kitchen cabinets.
  • Avoid diversions. Flipping through a book you meant to read; rereading a poem your daughter wrote for you; trying on a blouse to see if it still fits; researching a vacation destination on the Internet when you come across the brochure — it all sends you down another path. If your intention is to organize, you must stay on task.
  • Dabble with discipline. The biggest complaint that we organizing pros hear from our clients is paper pileup. The reason we seem to have so much paper around is because it’s a reminder that we want to read, write, pay, respond, or sign up for something. Paper (especially lists of things we wanted to do) can really send us into a tail spin. Remember when tackling paper, we are justorganizing it (that is, sorting it) not acting on it. These are two very different actions. Your job is to collect like items together to make paying bills easier, or sitting down to read more peaceful.
  • Eliminate the little pieces. You know, the basket on the counter? The one with some pennies, one bracelet, two blank birthday cards, a charging cord, paper clips, lip balm, cough drops, a gift card, batteries, one pen cap, a small tissue pack, vitamins, a whistle, and Lego pieces? We’ve all got some version of this. When it comes to organizing — especially if you’re looking to make some major progress — remember this mantra: Little pieces = big time waster; big pieces = little time waster. To translate, when you deal with smaller items, it always feels like you do less. If you need to make some real organization headway, try starting with the larger items, such as furniture, suitcases, boxes, and appliances.
  • Outsmart the temptation. We all have a natural inclination to match up the missing sock, reunite the pen cap with its pen, attach the backing to an earring that has none, or dig through the pantry to match the lid to its rightful water bottle. Trying to match up these long lost companions will sabotage your momentum when it comes to organizing. Avoid the temptation to fall into the matchmaking process, and instead toss items into a clear bag and label it with a black marker. Store all the bags together in a “missing parts and pieces” box and move on. They are likely to be reunited down the road.

Posted by DorothyTheOrganizer on Zillow

52 Everyday Safety Tips for Real Estate Agents and Brokers

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In the car, at open houses or generally out and about, here are ways to keep yourself safe

It’s agent safety month in the real estate industry — happy September!

We’ve been thinking about agent safety all month, from our special report about how safe agents feel on the job to contributed articles about open-house safety and beyond.

This list is compiled from a variety of resources — the articles on Inman’s real estate agent safety resource page (which we update regularly), assorted sources online and my own experience taking and assisting in a women’s self-defense course.

I hope you find them useful!

In the car

Real estate agents are in their vehicles a lot. Minimize the chances of being caught vulnerable in a breakdown situation by taking these precautions.

  • Keep your gas tank at least half full. When the needle hits the halfway mark, refuel.
  • Follow your car’s guidelines for maintenance; get your oil changed regularly and don’t neglect routine upkeep.
  • Stock your car with jumper cables and everything you might need to change a tire at minimum. Bonus points for a car battery charger and empty gas can.
  • Hide $20 in your glove compartment or sunglass holder in case of an emergency (or simply a forgotten wallet at the pump).
  • Learn how to change a tire. Practice until you feel comfortable doing it yourself. Keep a maintained and inflated spare tire (at least one) in your vehicle at all times. Keep your jack and other tools in good working order.
  • Stash bottled water and nonperishable food items in your car.
  • Keep at least one portable charger in your car — you never know when your car battery might die while your phone is running low. Recharge your portable charger regularly (once a month should do) so you don’t lose your backup.
  • Think about the weather where you live. If the area is prone to blizzards, for example, keep a foldable shovel, blankets and extra coats/boots in your car for possible winter storms. Floods? You’ll want an extra pair of rain boots and an umbrella.
  • Wear your seatbelt every time you drive or ride in a car. Have clients with you? Insist they put theirs on.
  • Studies have shown that your ability to pay attention to the road drops dramatically when you are on the phone. Even if it’s legal in your state or municipality, hang up the cell phone when you have your hands on the wheel and feet on the pedals.
  • Do you have roadside assistance — and do you know what the terms are? Trust me: You won’t regret spending an additional $50 annually when you finally need your car towed and your plan covers 100 miles of towing instead of 5. (Brokerages: Discounts on towing or even complimentary roadside assistance plans could be a lovely extra to offer your agents.)

When showing houses or at open houses

Kirby Hamilton / iStock.com
Kirby Hamilton / iStock.com

Part of your job involves spending time with strangers in private spaces — single-family homes. Here’s how to make that less of a dodgy situation.

  • Preview neighborhoods before you list a property there. Check for cell phone reception and get a feel for how close each property is to neighbors. Familiarize yourself with where the police and fire stations are in the area.
  • Park under a light where you can see your car clearly from the door. Do your best to park somewhere you won’t get blocked in (on the curb instead of in a driveway, for example).
  • If you’re planning an open houseor listing a house, it’s not merely good marketing to walk up and down the street and introduce yourself to the neighbors — it’s also a good safety precaution. Invite them to the open house. (Depending on whether you feel OK about the neighbor, you can also point out your car and tell them to come find you at the listing if it’s ever in their way.)
  • Work in teams whenever possible. More than one person keeping an eye on things means fewer opportunities for something untoward to happen. If one of you doesn’t feel right about someone you’ve met, have a signal worked out and a plan for how to gracefully extract yourself from the situation or otherwise ensure your safety.
  • Charge your phone fully before you get to the open house or listing.
  • Know your way around the house before you are there alone with a stranger. At the very least, check the floor plan — you will want to know in which rooms you might be most easily trapped and where your potential escape routes could be.
  • Pay special attention when walking around a vacant homefor the first time (which should always be done in the daylight). Look for signs that someone might have broken into the house: open doors or windows, wood pallets or boxes or even step stools outside the house that might have been used to grant access, extension cords leading from doors or windows to outside or a neighbor’s house. If you see any of those things outside, don’t enter; call the police instead.
  • Look for graffiti on walls, trash in corners, food in the kitchen and other signals that someone might be living in a vacant listing. If you think a vacant listing might be occupied by someone who shouldn’t be there, your first priority is to get yourself to safety and then call the police and inform them.
  • Protect your clients by compiling a checklist of things they will want to secure or remove from the house during open houses and showings — examples include jewelry, prescription drugs, financial statements, extra sets of keys, mail and other items that could compromise their identity security or financial security, or that might be easy to pocket. Arrive at the open house early enough to walk through it with listing clients and help them flag and put away any items of value they might have missed.
  • Turn on the lights and open the curtains while you’re walking through the house with clients — this will showcase the house in its best light, anyway!
  • Hang bells on outside doors of the listing when you’re sitting in an open house so that you can hear people entering and exiting the property.
  • When you’re killing time at an open house, do it in a room that has good reception and where you have the most escape routes.
  • Definitely bring your mobile device — think twice about bringing the laptop and purse to an open house or showing. Those are probably better off stashed in the trunk of your car, and you’re probably better off stashing them there before you drive to the open house, not after you arrive.
  • Have open house guests sign in. Offer some kind of giveaway so they’re more likely to give you a valid email address, or a door prize drawing that they can cash in with a code emailed or text-messaged to them.
  • Ask open house guests to see business cards and even photo IDs (consider giving away a case of beer or a few bottles of wine for the door prize if you feel like you need an excuse or a reason to ask). Snap a photo of them so you have a record of who was in the house and approximately when, just in case you need it.
  • Prospects should always walk in front of you — women faced with a “ladies first” insistence can fall back on demurring that the client should really walk through the home and experience it without someone in front of him or her.
  • Don’t walk into rooms with no escape routes (examples include walk-in closets, laundry rooms, basements, attics and many bathrooms). Point them out and allow clients to walk through them independently.

When meeting clients for the first time

Another reality of your life: You will meet with strangers who want to work with you. How do you do that in a way that isn’t flirting with disaster?

  • Find out as much information about your prospective client as you can before meeting. Verify their identity — ask for their full name, contact information and a photo of their driver’s license and use a program likeVerify Photo IDto, well, verify it.
  • Don’t ever meet a client alone for the first time. The Realtor Safe Harbor appcan help you find a meeting place if you aren’t sure where to go.
  • Vet clients on social mediaand Google before you meet them for the first time. If they aren’t on social media at all but have told you they have a job that indicates they should be, that’s one red flag. Keep your eyes open for posts that indicate unstable personalities, and do your best to ensure that what you find on social media and the rest of the internet about your client doesn’t contradict what your client has told you.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, or the client is being extra pushy, that’s a hint to be extra careful. All-cash offers that are contingent on you dropping everything to show a property? That might be a scenario where you want to absolutely insist on bringing a buddy or two with you.

On the internet/in marketing materials

Alexey Boldin / Shutterstock.com

You need to market your business — but there is such a thing as too much information. Here’s how to keep your personal identity separate from your public one online:

  • Use a separate email address for home and work.
  • Get mail for work? Have it sent to your brokerage office or to a P.O. Box.
  • Consider separate lines for home and work. This might not be realistic, but a service like Google Voice can route calls from a Google Voice number to your “main” line.
  • What can you discover about yourself using Google, FacebookTwitter,Instagramor other places where your digital presence might be public? Open an “incognito” tab or sign in to a public computer and do some recon on yourself. Plug any holes that reveal more than you are comfortable sharing.
  • Is your birthday listed on your social media profiles? Some companies use birthdays to confirm identity — so you could be handing a scammer the keys to your account. Consider making that information private.
  • Don’t wear expensive jewelry in your marketing photos, and if you feel compelled to post something like that on social media, make sure it’s only visible to a select few friends.
  • Don’t pose in front of your car or your personal residence.
  • If you’ll be away from your home for an extended period of time — for a vacation or a baseball game at a city an hour or two away, for example — wait until you get back home to post about how awesome it was.

Protecting your clients

  • Always obey the speed limit and all traffic laws when you are driving clients in your car; your ability to show concern for their safety will reflect well on you professionally. (Better yet, have them get to the property or meeting place on their own.)
  • Alert your clients about possible money-wiring scamswell before the time comes to work with earnest money, down payments or closing costs. Give them clear and explicit instructions about how to get their money safely from point A to point B, and continue repeating those instructions throughout the process.

In general

Is there more you can do to keep yourself or your employees safe? Always!

  • Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel quite right about a client or situation, don’t hesitate to get yourself out immediately. You might not understand in the moment what behavior or turn of phrase triggered that gut feeling, but you’ll never be sorry you heeded it.
  • Consider taking a self-defense course. Many police departments offer courses geared toward women specifically and for affordable rates. Brokerages, consider hosting these at least once a year for your agents. A good program will include both practical ways to keep yourself safe (like all the suggestions above) as well as hands-on training for breaking holds so you feel confident that you will know what to do if that moment arises.
  • People who want your information will go to great lengths to get it. Know under what circumstances your doctor, dentist or even your vet might give out your contact or home address information. All of those service providers will likely be happy to give that information only under the circumstances you delineate.
  • Let people know where you are going! Put appointments or meetings on your Google calendar with names and contact information and make it public to your brokerage office, or use an app to alert a network of friends that you’re heading out. Don’t ever venture out, to meet anyone or attend to something by yourself, for work or pleasure, without telling at least two people (preferably more) where you are going and when you plan to return.
  • Document and report any safety concerns to the appropriate authority — whether that’s your broker or the police.
  • Wear clothes that you can move around in.
  • Don’t walk around with your nose in your phone or juggling a bunch of items. Walk with purpose and look alert.
  • The more physically fit you are, the better able to deal with a dangerous circumstance you will be. You want your body in good enough shape to handle the adrenaline rush and then run away effectively, so train accordingly, whatever that means for you.
  • Put a decent passcode lock on your smartphone, and if you have an iPhone, make sure Find My iPhone is enabled so you can remotely wipe your device if the need arises.

Considering carrying a weapon to keep you safe? By all means — but please make sure you are comprehensively trained in its use, and do not reveal it to anyone unless you are prepared to use it on them. If you hesitate, your attacker could take the weapon away from you, turning a very bad situation into an even worse one.

Posted by Amber Taufen on Inman

5 Stats That Prove the Real Estate Market Is Getting Stronger

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Whenever there is talk about an improving housing market, some begin to show concern that we may be headed toward another housing bubble that will be followed by a crash similar to the one we saw last decade.

Here are five data points that show the housing market will continue to recover, and that a new housing crisis is not about to take shape.

1) Mortgage availability is increasing, but is nowhere near the levels we saw in 2004-2006.

A buyer’s chances of being approved for a mortgage have increased over the last three years; That’s good news for the market. This is not a precursor to another challenge, as many experts maintain that it is still too difficult for many buyers to attain house financing.

As Jonathan Smoke, the Chief Economist of realtor.com, recently explained:

“The havoc during the last cycle was the result…of speculation fueled by loose credit. That’s the exact opposite of what we have today.”

2) The Housing Affordability Index, which measures whether or not a typical family earns enough income to qualify for a mortgage loan on a typical home, based on the most recent price and income data. The current index shows that it is more affordable to buy a home today than at any other time between 1990 and 2008. With median incomes finally beginning to rise, houses should continue to remain affordable and housing demand should remain strong.

3) Home prices are well within historic norms. Prices have increased substantially over the last several years; However, those increases followed the housing crash of 2008 and national prices are still not back to 2006 levels. If there were no bubble (and subsequent bust), today’s prices would actually be lower than if they were measured by historic appreciation levels from 1987-1999.

4) Demand for housing, as measured by new household formations, is growing. The Urban Land Institute projects that 5.95 million new households will be formed over the next three years. Even if the homeownership rate drops to 60%, that would be over 3.5 million new homeowners entering the market.

5) New home starts are finally beginning to increase. This helps eliminate the number one challenge in the industry – lack of inventory. And it does so in two ways:

  1. Some first time buyers will, in fact, purchase a newly constructed home.
  2. Many current homeowners will move-up (or move-down) to a new construction and then put their current home on the market.

This means that there will be an increase in both new construction and existing home inventories.

Posted by The KCM Crew

Ready to Make an Offer? 4 Tips for Success

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So you’ve been searching for that perfect house to call a ‘home’ and you finally found one! The price is right, and in such a competitive market you want to make sure you make a good offer so that you can guarantee your dream of making this house yours comes true!

Freddie Mac covered 4 Tips for Making an Offer” in their latest Executive Perspective.Here are the 4 Tips they covered along with some additional information for your consideration:

1. Understand How Much You Can Afford

“While it’s not nearly as fun as house hunting, fully understanding your finances is critical in making an offer.”

This ‘tip’ or ‘step’ really should take place before you start your home search process.

As we’ve mentioned before, getting pre-approved is one of many steps that will show home sellers that you are serious about buying, and will allow you to make your offer with the confidence of knowing that you have already been approved for a mortgage for that amount. You will also need to know if you are prepared to make any repairs that may need to be made to the house (ex: new roof, new furnace).

2. Act Fast

“Even though there are fewer investors, the inventory of homes for sale is also low and competition for housing continues to heat up in many parts of the country.”

According to the latest Existing Home Sales Report, the inventory of homes for sale is currently at a 4.7-month supply. This is well below the 6-month supply that is needed for a ‘normal’ market. Buyer demand has continued to outpace the supply of homes for sale, causing buyers to compete with each other for their dream home.

Make sure that as soon as you decide that you want to make an offer, you work with your agent to present it as soon as possible.

3. Make a Solid Offer

Freddie Mac offers this advice to help make your offer the strongest it can be:

“Your strongest offer will be comparable with other sales and listings in the neighborhood. A licensed real estate agent active in the neighborhoods you are considering will be instrumental in helping you put in a solid offer based on their experience and other key considerations such as recent sales of similar homes, the condition of the house and what you can afford.” 

Consider ways of making your offer stand out! Many buyers write a personal letter to the seller letting them know how much they would love to be the new homeowners. Your agent will be able to help you figure out if there are any other ways your offer could stand above the rest.

4. Be Prepared to Negotiate

“It’s likely that you’ll get at least one counteroffer from the sellers so be prepared. The two things most likely to be negotiated are the selling price and closing date. Given that, you’ll be glad you did your homework first to understand how much you can afford.  

Your agent will also be key in the negotiation process, giving you guidance on the counteroffer and making sure that the agreed-to contract terms are met.”

If your offer is approved, Freddie Mac urges you to “always get an independent home inspection, so you know the true condition of the home. If the inspection uncovers undisclosed problems or issues, you can typically re-negotiate the terms or cancel the contract.”

Bottom Line

Whether buying your first home or your fifth, having a local real estate professional who is an expert in their market on your side is your best bet to make sure the process goes smoothly. Happy House Hunting!

Posted by The KCM Crew

Be sure to talk with one of our agents today if you are looking for a new home!

Consider This Before Taking Out A Debt Consolidation Loan

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Consolidating debt is about more than combining your current debts into one loan — you’ll have to step back and change your financial habits in order to be successful.

Debt consolidation can look like a great fix for your financial woes, but it may not be the solution you really need.

Debt consolidation is the process of refinancing multiple balances into a single loan. You can take out one loan for the total amount of your current debt, then repay your existing debts with the funds from the new loan. Finally, you’re left with just the new loan to repay.

A debt consolidation loan can help make life a bit easier, reducing the amount of loans and debts you need to track. Making a single payment each month may even save you money in the long run if you can get a lower interest rate than your existing loan rates, and it can help you avoid sweeping a few bills under the rug (raise your hand if you’re renting in Boston, MA, or another pricey market and have felt the burden of a hefty rent in addition to student and car loans).

However, these benefits aren’t guaranteed, and what you save on your interest rate may be canceled out by origination fees and other charges. Consider these factors and be prepared to change the way you spend money before you consider a debt consolidation loan.

 

Debt consolidation won’t necessarily make things easier

The idea behind debt consolidation is a good one. You get to roll all your debt into one loan to focus on and repay. It makes your financial life simpler and may help you pay less on what you owe if you can get a lower interest rate.

But it doesn’t always work out this way. “I’ve worked with plenty of people pre- and postbankruptcy over the years,” says Jason Reiman, a certified financial planner. He’s the founder of Get Financially Fit!, a company based in Tucson, AZ, that helps people with their finances. “A leading indicator of bankruptcy, in my experience, is debt consolidation.”

Reiman says that consolidating loans (with the exception of student loans) usually provides you with a short reprieve. It’s often followed by taking on new debts outside of the ones you’ve already consolidated. Why do people do this? “Debt consolidation typically doesn’t produce the expected results simply because of mindset,” Reiman says. “As humans, we resist change and discomfort.”

And changing your financial habits to not rack up more debt after consolidation can be really uncomfortable. You must change how you behave with your finances, and that could mean going without the luxuries and the standard of living that caused you to get into debt in the first place.

Be prepared to learn and understand how you spend money

“Debt consolidation can look OK mathematically, but it has a tendency to ignore the emotional and psychological aspects,” Reiman says. And those factors do matter as much as — or more than — the numbers.

Your mindset and behavior are at the heart of any financial issue. While a debt consolidation loan can help some people, it won’t do anything for you if you’re not committed to changing your internal thought processes and switching up your spending patterns.

Reiman says that for any solution to be effective, you need to start with the real cause of the problem. Ask yourself a few important questions. “For example,” he suggests, “how did I get into this heavy debt situation in the first place?”

So if debt consolidation isn’t the answer for you because it doesn’t address the root of your financial troubles, what is the solution? Reiman offers one exercise to try. “Get out a piece of paper and a pen,” he says. “Divide the paper into four quadrants: physical, spiritual, mental, and financial. Jot down your thoughts and actions over the past three to five years which may have prompted you to add more debt to your life.” Reiman says we will remember times when things seemed to happen outside of our control. But by taking a look at how we thought and felt at that time, we can see patterns in how we acted and reacted.

“The purpose of this exercise is to help uncover the counterproductive actions,” he explains. “Only when you know how you arrived at your current situation are you able to make solid choices about changing it for the better.”

Clean up your finances before consolidating

If you feel that a debt consolidation loan is an important step in your journey to financial success, make sure you do everything you can to eliminate opportunities to create new debts in the future. Cut up your highest-interest credit cards and use a budgeting system you can stick to. Start building an emergency fund or a savings account with a cash reserve you can draw on if something comes up that your monthly budget can’t handle.

Then sit down and make a plan for how you’ll repay your consolidated loan. Will you cut back on your spending to help make those payments and avoid further debts? Will you work to earn more so you have more cash flow to put toward debt repayment?

Consider other options

Remember, a debt consolidation loan is only one strategy for repaying what you owe. “The process of eliminating small debts one by one, and achieving these small wins, is invaluable,” Reiman says. And he stresses the importance of simply having a plan and tracking your progress.

“If you have multiple debt accounts, consider using a free program like powerpay.org to crunch the numbers,” he says. The site will help you craft a plan of action that most likely doesn’t include consolidation. You can also use various debt payoff strategies, like the debt avalanche or debt snowball, to help you make progress.

“Get accountability and coaching and be open to change,” Reiman says. “It’s difficult but possible.” Your current level of debt might seem insurmountable, but don’t get overwhelmed. Take a deep breath, consider your options, and make a plan. Then dive in!

 

Posted by Kali Hawlk on Trulia

10 Uncommon Home Inspections To Consider Before Selling

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The savvy seller knows to get ahead of the game. Pest inspections, foundation assessments, mold testing — there are plenty of specialty inspections you can have done on your home while prepping it for sale.

Hiring these specialized inspectors can help reveal potential problems before you’re scrambling to close on your home sale.

Selling your home can be a frightening idea even if your market is booming. In particular, the home inspection can keep you up at night with fear.

What will the inspector discover inside your home for sale in Atlanta, GA? What hidden home flaws will end up costing you?

However, a savvy seller knows to get ahead of the game. From pest inspections to foundation assessments and mold testing, there are plenty of specialized precautions you can take to prep your home for sale.

Here are 10 uncommon presale home inspections you should consider before listing your property.

1. Termites and other pests

Mice are the pests you see; termites are the ones you don’t. A proper pest inspector will get into your home’s crawl space and turn up any evidence of critters in your beams. They can also spot dry rot, which is caused by fungi and can lead to wood disintegration.

2. Asbestos

If your home was built before 1975, there’s a good chance asbestos is present in one or more of its building materials. Scary but true. It’s most commonly seen as thermal insulation in basements, but pre-1970s, asbestos could be found in anything from window caulk to attic insulation.

Asbestos is hazardous only when it begins to crumble. Bring in an inspector to assess the condition of any known asbestos; if they recommend removal, tackle that before listing.

3. Foundation

If you live in an older home, the threat of foundation settling looms large. A bit of settling is expected, but when you’re heading into Tower of Pisa territory, that’s where the troubles begin.

Have a foundation engineer look for signs such as a cracked wall, twisted window frames, or horizontal cracks in the foundation itself — and then offer a timetable for repair. (Pro-tip: Foundations settle very slowly, and if a buyer plans to stay in the home for only a few years, they might not be as concerned.)

4. Electrical

Homes go through many stages: a home business here, a couple of rental apartments there. That also means a lot of electrical rewiring, which can lead to code violations. Bring in an electrician you trust who’s also familiar with the neighborhood architecture and history so they know what problems to look for.

5. Chimney

While that wood-burning fireplace is a major draw to buyers, prepare yourself for questions about its condition. A chimney inspector can make sure the flue liners and inside bricks are in good shape and that smoke is exiting the house properly.

If you have a nonworking fireplace with the potential to be reopened (another buyer draw), you might want to send someone to your roof to inspect the chimney exterior.

6. Lead

Just because lead paint was banned in 1978 doesn’t mean it isn’t still lurking in your home.

If you have any concerns — especially if your home will attract buyers with young children — bring in a certified lead abatement contractor. At the least, you’re doing the neighborhood a public health service.

7. Roof

Roof repair is one expense that makes buyers wish they had never entered the real estate market in the first place. Hire someone who specializes in your roof material (rubber, slate, etc.) to confirm whether damage exists, and get a firm estimate on the repairs or replacement so a buyer doesn’t overstate those costs later during negotiations.

8. Soil

If you live on a hill, you run the risk that soil could crumble in ferocious weather. Before you sell, a soil inspector can affirm your land’s stability. If you have a large plot that would captivate potential gardeners, an inspector can also test for soil contamination.

9. Trees

You’ve love that old chestnut in the backyard but have always wondered why its leaves grow so sparsely. Before pitching the idea of a treehouse to the next owners, bring in an arborist to test the tree’s long-term viability.

Tree care and removal are surprisingly costly, so buyers may be wary if those gorgeous and towering trees are unstable or otherwise unhealthy.

10. Mold

It’s not just for hypochondriacs anymore. The health dangers of mold are well-documented, and its threat is on the minds of real estate shoppers. A good mold inspector will ask you the history of the home, including past water damage, and then do a visual tour of your place before testing for various spores.

 

Posted by Meaghan Agnew on Trulia

 

Renters: Are You Ready to Buy a Home?

Posted on

While you save up your down payment, take these 5 steps to get you closer to closing.

For renters planning to buy a home, preliminary steps like creating a budget and saving for a down payment are obvious. Here are five more advanced steps toward moving out of your rental and into a dream home of your own.

Understand the full cost of homeownership

As a renter, a single rental fee covers your monthly housing payment. But as a homeowner, four main factors go into your monthly housing payment: principal, interest, taxes and insurance (P.I.T.I.). Understanding these costs will help you determine how much house you can afford.

Together, principal and interest comprise your monthly mortgage payment, with the principal paying down your loan balance each month, and the interest paying your fee for borrowing the money. Use a mortgage calculator to determine how much of your payment goes toward principal versus interest each month.

Taxes refer to property taxes, which are assessed by the county you live in. They average 1.2 percent of your home’s value each year.

Insurance — paid to a homeowner’s insurance company of your choice — is required when you have a mortgage. Lenders require that your insurance cover the cost of rebuilding the home if it is ruined by fire or other disaster. This “replacement cost” is determined by your insurer, and must be agreed to by your lender. Insurance will typically cost $700 to $1,200 per year for a single family home.

For condo owners, there’s a fifth monthly cost category: homeowners association (HOA) dues. These fees cover common area amenities, landscaping, ongoing upkeep and reserves for future maintenance like roof replacement or exterior painting. These monthly dues range from $100 for cheaper condos to $1,000 or more for luxury condos.

Single family home buyers can take a useful cue from HOA budgets, which generally require that at least 10 percent of dues go toward reserves. Even if you’re not buying a condo, it’s a good idea to set up a similar savings plan for future maintenance like replacing a roof or major appliances.

Know your homeowner tax benefits

Mortgage interest and property taxes are deductible when you file your annual tax returns, and reduce taxable income.

These deductions significantly lower your cost of homeownership. For example, for a $300,000 home with 20 percent down and a 30-year fixed mortgage at 4 percent, monthly P.I.T.I. is about $1,545. Tax deductions reduce this total housing cost to about $1,215.

Study rent-vs.-buy math

Often, people judge the cost of renting vs. buying by comparing P.I.T.I. to a rental payment. But to get an apples-to-apples comparison, you actually have to look at after-tax-benefit homeownership costs and rent costs.

Using the example above of a $300,000 home that costs $1,215 per month after taxes, you could compare this residence to a home that rents for about $1,200. If the $300,000 home was more spacious or in a more desirable area, the math would seem to favor buying — but don’t forget this example requires a $60,000 down payment.

Identify mortgages that fit your budget and timeline

If you don’t have 20 percent to put down, you can still get a mortgage with as little as 3 percent down. However, if your down payment is less than 20 percent, you’ll have to pay mortgage insurance, which is about .85 percent of your loan amount, and isn’t tax deductible.

Your monthly P.I.T.I. (which includes mortgage insurance) is about $1,995 on a $300,000 home with 3 percent down and a 30-year fixed mortgage at 4 percent. After tax deductions, this total housing cost drops to about $1,614. And you’d only need $9,000 for the down payment.

You can also lower your rate and P.I.T.I. with a shorter-term loan like a 5-year ARM, but rates on these loans will adjust in 5 years, so you risk having a much higher payment if you plan to stay in the home longer than that.

Start preparing your credit score now

Credit scores are critical for getting the best mortgages with the lowest rates. Lenders want reliable on-time payment history as well as credit depth.

More credit accounts are better, so renters with only one credit card should consider obtaining more credit. Just note that your credit score can drop 5 to 15 points when you first open a new account, then will come back up when you’ve established a good payment history.

Have questions about purchasing a home? Check out our Home Buyers Guide.

Posted by Julian Hebron on Zillow