To PMI or Not to PMI

Is Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) necessary? Will it help me buy a house? Is there a way around it? Those are the questions.

Actually, they probably constitute only the tip of the mortgage iceberg if you’re buying your first home. But squaring away the PMI query is an important effort that will help you zero in on the right loan for you and better understand your monthly commitment as a homeowner. Let’s tackle those questions.

So, what is PMI anyway?

Call it an insurance policy that protects your lender against the possibility that you could default on your loan. “One of the risk measures that lenders use in underwriting a mortgage is the mortgage's loan-to-value (LTV) ratio,” said Investopedia. “This is a simple calculation made by dividing the amount of the loan by the value of the home. The higher the LTV ratio, the higher the risk profile of the mortgage. Most mortgages with an LTV ratio greater than 80% require that private mortgage insurance (PMI) be paid by the borrower. That's because a borrower who owns less than 20% of the property's value is considered to be more likely to default on a loan.”

Why do I need it?

Coming up with 20% for a down payment obviously isn’t easy. “Many first-time homebuyers don't have that kind of money sitting around,” Randall Yates, founder and president of The Lenders Network, told us. So, PMI can spell the difference between being able to buy a home, and not—even if it costs you a couple hundred dollars a month.

How much will it cost me?

You can expect to pay between $30–70 for every $100,000 that you borrowed to purchase your home every month. Unison’s estimated monthly payments based on the example of a “30-year loan for $250,000 with an interest rate of 4 percent” breaks down as:

• Principal and interest: $1,194
• Property taxes: $100
• Homeowners insurance: $80
• PMI: $125

Do I have to pay PMI no matter what?

Not necessarily. “There are a couple alternatives that may work for some buyers,” said Yates. “If you're a veteran, you're in luck because VA loans are the only type of home loan that doesn't require PMI. A piggy-back mortgage or 80/10/10 is another option some buyers use if they do not have the full 20% down payment. The borrower puts 10% down and gets a second loan for the other half of the down payment. In this scenario, you would have two loans to repay, but you avoid paying PMI. If you're in a rural area, you could qualify for a USDA loan. USDA loans are a type of government-backed mortgage that does not require a down payment and has a very low PMI rate of just 0.35% of the loan amount.”

Can I ever get rid of PMI?

You can, but it’s not easy. “To remove PMI, or private mortgage insurance, you must have at least 20 percent equity in the home. You may ask the lender to cancel PMI when you have paid down the mortgage balance to 80 percent of the home’s original appraised value,” said Bankrate. “When the balance drops to 78 percent, the mortgage servicer is required to eliminate PMI. Although you can cancel private mortgage insurance, you cannot cancel Federal Housing Administration insurance. You can get rid of FHA insurance by refinancing into a non-FHA-insured loan.”

Copyright © 2018 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved.

5 Mistakes Home Sellers Make

There’s no shortage of advice for home buyers. Getting approved for a mortgage or how to keep on top of a credit report is certainly good advice but there should be just as much attention given to those who are selling their home. After all, home sellers also typically turn around and become home buyers. For most, selling the home means coming up with the necessary funds for a down payment and closing costs. Here are five common mistakes home sellers make.

 

Wrong Price

The first misstep is to price the home wrong. Either too high or too low. Getting the price “just right” means getting the most out of your home while at the same time not pricing it out of the market to the point where very few, if any, potential buyers reach out. If you have some time to sell, you could list your home on the higher side compared to recent sales in your area. If you need to sell quickly, the lower end can help. You should contact a couple of real estate agents and ask for a Comparative Market Analysis.

Flying Solo

Some home owners think they can save a few thousand dollars by selling a home without a real estate agent when in fact it can cost someone thousands of dollars by not using a real estate agent. You simply can’t provide the reach that a licensed real estate professional can. When a home is placed into the local Multiple Listing Service, the home is then available for potential home buyers all across the country and not just your neighborhood. A deeper buyer pool means more offers.

Show Ready

One thing you’ll need to keep on top of is the selling condition of your home. This means both inside your home and out. How’s the curb appeal? When someone first pulls up to your home are they automatically drawn in? Or maybe the lawn needs some work and the shrubbery is a little ragged. Keep the lawn trimmed and free of clutter. Power wash the sidewalk, driveway and front porch. Inside, you also need to de-cluttter. Open up each room by placing bulky furniture into a storage unit. Take down family photos and portraits. When buyers walk into your home they want to be able to visualize it being theirs, and having an instant reminder that it’s not by having family photos all around detracts from that. Inspection Home buyers are advised to have a potential property inspected to discover anything that needs to be fixed, updated or repaired. But you too should hire an inspector to perform a complete run-down from basement to attic looking for anything that needs your attention. The buyers will order an inspection so you want to know what they’ll discover before they do with their own.

Getting Anxious

Don’t get too anxious and don’t jump at the very first offer. Your sales price will probably be much higher than what you originally paid for it, but take a deep breath when that first offer comes in. Give your agent plenty of time to list your home and hold open houses to gain a wider audience and have some patience. If you accept an offer very early on in the process, you might be costing yourself thousands of dollars and no more offers.

Copyright © 2018 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved.

What the Fed Does and Doesn't Do with Mortgage Rates

There can be some confusion in the minds of the average consumer about interest rates, especially as it relates to the Federal Open Market Committee, or FOMC, meetings. About every six weeks, the FOMC meets to discuss the current state of the economy with an eye toward the future. One important task is to monitor and adjust the cost of funds. In general, the “Fed” tries to keep inflation in check and in theory raise or lower the cost of funds. They do so by adjusting the Federal Funds rate and this is the rate that gets so much press each time the FOMC meets.

The Federal Funds rate is the rate banks can charge one another for short term lending. Short term as in overnight. Why does a bank need to borrow money on such a short notice? Banks are required to keep a certain amount of liquid capital, in other words “cash,” at the end of each business day. These funds are essentially demand funds. When a consumer wants to withdraw some cash either at the bank or at any automated teller, there needs to be cash available to meet those withdrawal requests. If the bank sees their reserves to meet these requests do not meet the reserve requirements, banks seek out a short term loan from another depository institution to meet the reserve requirements. This is what the Fed adjusts, the overnight lending rate. But the Fed doesn’t directly impact the everyday 30 year conforming fixed rate mortgage.

When lenders set their rates each day, they refer to a specific mortgage bond. For example, with a 30 year fixed conforming loan underwritten to Fannie Mae standards, the lender will review the current yield on the FNMA 30-yr 3.0 mortgage bond. Just like any bond, with the price of the bond goes up, the yield will fall. And when the price goes down, the yield will rise. Investors buy bonds, all types of bonds, as a safe place to park cash. When the economy appears to falter, investors can get a little skittish and pull some funds from the stock market and transfer those funds into bonds, including mortgage bonds. If on the other hand the economy is healthy and improving, the opposite will occur.

When the Fed makes an announcement at the end of their two-day meetings, investors are anxious to hear if the Fed raised, lowered or kept rates the same. If the Fed announces they decided to raise the cost of funds by 0.25%, it can tell investors the FOMC decided the economy is doing rather well but to hold of any potential inflation, it will raise the cost of funds that banks will pay for short term lending. It’s not a direct affect on mortgage rates, but definitely an indirect one.

Copyright © 2018 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved.

Choosing Window Treatments: Pros and Cons

Deciding on the right size, color, fabric and pillow configuration for your couch took three weeks. You still haven't decided on the paint color for the bedroom, despite having seven different shades of blue in swatches up on the wall. It seems like every design decision you've made in your home was critical, but the one that will help pull it all together hasn't garnered a moment of thought.

"Of all the design decisions homeowners make when decorating a home - paint color, furniture, fabrics, rugs, lighting, accessories - window treatments often get overlooked or receive inadequate attention," said Karen Egly-Thompson on Houzz.

Perhaps it's because choosing the right window treatment is just too overwhelming. These pros and cons will help.

Wood Blinds

These natural wood slats are either painted or stained and are a popular choice for today's homeowners.

Pros:

They come in a variety of stains and paint grades "from light pine to bamboo to richly stained ebony," so they complement "many decorative styles," said Blinds Galore. Also, "their simple construction makes them easy to operate" and different slat sizes mean you can control how much light you want coming through.

Cons:

Wood blinds can be pricy depending on the material, and can sometimes feel a little uninspired without being layered with another window treatment like drapes.

Faux wood blinds

Faux wood blinds are generally made of vinyl or a composite of vinyl and wood.

Pros:

These blinds offer a similar look and function to real wood, often at a lower cost. They're also super low maintenance, making them a favorite of designers and homeowners, and are great in rooms like kitchens and bathrooms where a high moisture content might warp real wood.

Cons:

They can look cheap depending on the material, and bargain-basement options have been known to have function issues with the cording, so be sure to check the quality before purchasing.

Panel Track Blinds

Panel track blinds are a modern, attractive alternative to vertical blinds and a great choice for sliding glass doors.

Pros:

Panel track blinds allow for light control and privacy without having to resort to vertical blinds.

Cons:

Not as sturdy as some other window treatments.

Plantation Shutters

Shutters are a homeowner favorite, offering an upscale look that can elevate the elegance of a space. They are also among the most expensive window treatments - but well worth it to fans of this classic option.

"Shutters are dynamic as an architectural statement and are not only functional and beautiful window treatments, but they can also add value to your home," said Blinds Galore. "Shutters help to control incoming light, offer privacy when closed and help to insulate against heat, cold, and sound. Shutters add timeless, traditional sophistication to any room."

Pros:

Shutters offer great light control and insulation and are among a handful of items that can increase the value of a home - a homebuyer might not remember the color of your walls but she will remember if you have shutters.

Cons:

The expense is often beyond that of other window treatments.

Drapes

Hanging drapes can frame windows and bring life to a space - coordinating with furnishings or providing contrast. But color and pattern are just two of the important factors when choosing drapes. Consideration should be given to climate - are you in a warm climate where you need protection from the sun or a cold climate which calls for insulated drapes? Do you have a lot of morning or late afternoon sun, and how much do you want filtering into the room? Do you want a quality fabric that will last for years, or are you the type who wants to update on a regular basis?

"Set aside style considerations for a moment; function comes first and will limit your curtain choices, in a good way," said Real Simple. "If you want treatments that provide privacy or total darkness, you need lined curtains. If you're OK with light filtering through or if your curtains are simply decorative, unlined will work."

Pros:

Drapes are one of the few window coverings that almost anyone can DIY depending on how and where they're being hung. They're also easy to change out seasonally or on a whim and are among the most affordable options for those on a budget.

Cons:

The sheer variety of drapes (pun intended) can also make it challenging to choose the right one, and drapes can sometimes feel not as finished as other options depending on the product chosen and the installation. Layering window coverings and using the drapes for framing instead of function can help.

Shades

A variety of shades provide coverage for windows in styles ranging from contemporary to classic to traditional. Options include:

  • Cellular or honeycomb shades

  • Roller shades

  • Roman shades

  • Motorized shades

When installing shades, you'll also want to consider corded or cordless versions, whether to mount them inside the window or out, and have them open from the top or bottom.

Pros:

Offered in a variety of styles, fabrics, and price points, shades can provide everything from temporary, inexpensive coverage for those who have not yet found a permanent window covering solution to custom solutions that bring a sense of grandeur to a space. Motorized shades also provide smart solutions for windows that are out of reach.

Cons:

Shades on the low end of the pricing spectrum can feel cheap with flimsy materials. Some shades can also have an institutional feel.

Copyright © 2018 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved.

Items to Never Leave in Your Garage during Extreme Weather

As summer starts to wind down, it’s only a matter of time before winter sets in – a winter that could be as frosty as the summer was is sweltering. For Americans in states like Michigan, the extreme weather swings both ways. In fact, the Great Lakes State has seen a high of 112F and a low of -51F. Talk about range.

Any kind of extreme weather could bring potential damage to your garage. Fortunately, a lot of the risks they present are preventable — although a recent Esurance survey found that only 25 percent of homeowners proactively prepare for damaging weather events. Don’t get caught unprepared. Whether it’s triple-digit heat, below freezing cold, hurricane seasons or drought-induced wildfires, it’s best to prep your garage ahead of time to minimize your safety risks.

From fire hazards to burst pipes, here’s how to prepare your garage for extreme weather.

Extreme Heat and Wildfires

Propane tanks
Propane tanks should never be stored indoors in the first place, but they are a particularly big risk in extreme temperatures as they begin releasing gas through their pressure-relief valve — a built-in safety feature. In the garage, this becomes a toxic fire hazard.

Do this instead: Store propane tanks outdoors, about 10 feet away from the house and out of the sun. Make sure they’re painted in a color that reflects light. If they’ve been left in the sun and you worry that they’ve gotten too hot, hose them down.

Oil-stained rags
It might seem obvious, but oil-stained rags have been known to cause house fires — even if they’ve been through the wash. When the temperature in your garage rises to extremes, they can spontaneously combust. If a wildfire breaks out, they pose a substantial risk for fueling the flames and even causing small explosions.

Do this instead: Dispose of heavily used oil-soaked rags and replace them. Wash gently used rags a few times before storing them in a covered metal can.

Aerosol cans
Eighty percent of aerosol cans — even ones filled with hairspray and the like — contain 3 to 5 ounces of butane or propane. When temperatures reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit, they can explode, sending bits of metal shrapnel through the air, or they can become propelled like rockets, capable of causing serious injury or damage.

Do this instead: Store aerosol cans in the garage only if the temperature is between 55 and 80 degrees.

Snow/Ice Storms and Extreme Cold

Aluminum cans
Carbonated beverages are temperamental, and they can be dangerous at freezing temps. Beverages like soda and beer freeze at around 15-20 degrees. Once frozen, the carbon dioxide separates from the water and pressurizes, becoming especially dangerous if handled or opened, potentially bursting and sending the top of the can flying.

Do this instead: Keep your canned, carbonated beverages in a refrigerator or cabinet in the house, where they won’t freeze.

Glass bottles
Similar to aluminum cans, water-filled glass bottles can shatter in the cold, regardless of whether or not the liquid is carbonated. That’s because water expands as it begins to freeze. It can wreak similar havoc on your pipes.

Do this instead: Store your glass beverage containers in the house along with the aluminum cans.

Exposed pipes
As water gets colder and colder, it begins to expand, putting extra pressure on pipes. Regardless of the strength and material of the pipes, they will eventually burst under the pressure.

Do this instead: Let water drip from your faucets. Moving water helps prevent freezing. You can also insulate your exposed pipes to prevent them from freezing. Conventional foam insulation is easy to slip over existing pipes with a bit of tape. You can also go with the self-sealing variety, but you may want to leave the spray foam insulation to the pros.

Hurricanes and Windstorms

Generators
Anticipating the power going out? Make sure you’re not running your generator inside — even in your garage. Generators produce large amounts of carbon monoxide, which can be deadly in contained, unventilated spaces.

Do this instead: Set your generator up outside — at least 10 feet from your house — to ensure proper ventilation.

Open doors and windows
It might go without saying, but open windows or doors in your garage invite tons of messy debris during a hurricane — not to mention the potential damage to your car and other belongings.

Do this instead: Double-check that your garage door is closed and any and all windows are shut and locked before the storm makes its way in. Consider installing storm windows or shutters to the exterior of the garage to add extra protection against high winds and heavy rains.

Important Documents and Sentimental Items
With an increased risk for flooding and water damage, make sure you remove any important files or boxes with sentimental items before the storm hits.

Do this instead: Move any at-risk items safely indoors and store them in an interior room for the duration of the storm.

Are you prepared for extreme weather? Protect your family and your home by inspecting your garage to prevent unsafely storing potentially dangerous items in a weather emergency.

Eric Brandt has more than 25 years' experience in the insurance industry. Eric currently serves as Chief Customer Advocate for Esurance, where he leads the customer experience, including claims fulfillment. Prior to joining Esurance, Eric led customer-centered transformations in the areas of claims, risk management and relationship management for carriers offering personal lines, commercial lines and employee benefits protection. 

Copyright © 2018 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved.

Is School Improvement Part of Your Ownership Strategy?

Neighborhoods with good schools often carry higher value for home buyers with children, so if you want to raise values in your neighborhood, supporting school improvement may be a valuable undertaking.

Improving the ranking or reputation of local schools involves community investments on many levels, and it generates benefits for everyone that extend well beyond real estate value. Obviously, "school improvement" is a larger undertaking than redoing a kitchen or adding a second floor to a home, but it may be more achievable than many realize.

How do home buyers, including millennials, prioritize in your area? Surveys have revealed that top home-selection priorities include safe, affordable neighborhoods with good schools. School district quality has a significant influence on neighborhood choice and often home values when buyers focus on what's best for their children.

Jack and Alice Johnson (name changed) finally found a house they could afford, proudly moved in, and grew to love the area. Their plan was to renovate their home and gain from improving the real estate value. At no time in this process had they thought about local schools since children were not in their immediate plans. They soon discovered that a "value ceiling" existed. No matter how much renovation money they poured into their home, its value would not significantly increase beyond that price point.

The Johnsons researched the area to identify criteria which established the local value ceiling. Some they could do nothing about; others showed some potential. They zeroed in on what they could contribute to and what could increase buyer perceived value for the area[—]the local elementary school was ripe for improvement. 

Neglect and apathy are among key factors  challenging schools and communities. These two negative factors can be minimized or canceled out by commitment from parents and non-parents alike. Your contribution, based on your skills, knowledge, and local connections, may become obvious to you and do-able for you when you read the following list of possible benefit strategies to supporting schools:

Back up parents

Schools benefit from parental contributions of time, skills, connections, money, and fundraising. Pitch-in to support parent efforts to improve buildings, textbook holdings, or facilities and benefits will abound.

Add your voice

Local politicians and school boards respond to numbers. Attend public meetings concerning the school to lend your support to parents and learning issues. Add your voice and presence[—]encourage other neighbors to join in—and the school may receive more attention and funding.

Strengthen teacher appreciation

Acknowledging teacher effort with recognition reinforces the type of classroom excellence that earns good schools their higher standings. Teacher benefits and recognition can attract more qualified educators who want to work and achieve more for themselves and their students. It's not the size of the reward but the quality of recognition received.

Support student excellence

Coaching, tutoring, and other motivational and productivity-enhancing efforts raise student performance and school ranking. The more people who get excited about school improvement to reinforce student learning, the more noticeable the returns.

Spread the word

Local media, websites and real estate professionals want to praise neighborhood efforts. Make sure they know what benefits the school, its programs, and extracurricular activities offer its students.

FYI: The Fair Housing Act directs real estate professionals not to make value statements linked to local schools, but to provide interested consumers with school-evaluation resources so they may draw their own conclusions.

Bolster community choices

Sometimes effort spent improving community centers, arenas, playing fields, and other local assets can also benefit local schools. Your sports interests may lead to health and wellness contributions that provide benefits for teachers and students.

Harness expertise

Retired educators, business people, and professionals know the value of education for neighborhood students. Enlist these adults, even those without children or with grown children, to join your school improvement project.

Review relevant school ranking and evaluation systems to target key features or factors which will bring the greatest returns when they are corrected. Talk to parents, educators, politicians, and others who are already working to improve education in your area. Your opportunities for contribution will become evident to you.

TIPIf your home-buying search continues, adopt a long-term perspective and consider local schools whether or not you have or want children.

Copyright © 2018 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved.

It’s getting chilly out there!

It’s getting chilly out there!

November’s only just begun, but we’ve already started drawing up our battle plans for Thanksgiving at the end of the month: Cranberries, green bean casserole, and, of course, planning how early to set the alarm to make sure the turkey is roasted in time! Maybe all these preparations have you looking around your current kitchen and dreaming of something new. Good news! There’s no better time to make your dreams of your new home a reality!

There’s some relief on the horizon for those looking to buy. Across the country, the number of new listings entering the market has risen by 8%. This is the biggest leap we’ve seen since 2013. This will lessen some of the pressure on buyers as the market swings to their favor. Sellers, this doesn’t mean that you’ve been left out in the cold, though. You just may find yourself having to do a little more footwork to make your property more attractive to buyers. Staging, price negotiation, and more can help you to attract the perfect buyer for your home and situation.

It’ll be Christmas before you know it! As you unpack your winter jackets and plan your Black Friday shopping spree, don’t lose sight of your goals of homeownership. I’m standing by and ready to help you evaluate your current standing.

Selling Your Home? Keep Your Jewelry Safe!

It's an unfortunate fact that thieves often target homes on the real estate market. Sometimes these thieves are serial offenders, but they can also be prospective buyers or real estate agents gone rogue.

To minimize temptation, store your valuables, especially fine jewelry, in a safe and secure place whenever you have potential buyers or agents in your home. Avoid leaving valuables unsecured in easy-to-access areas. We've outlined several ways to avoid mistakes and keep your valuables safe before and while you sell your home.

Before Listing Your Home

Protecting your belongings starts before your home even goes on the market. Complete these simple tasks ahead of time to ensure that you can protect yourself and recover any losses if something goes wrong.

1. Make sure you have a detailed receipt or appraisal for each piece of jewelry. A detailed receipt will have information about each item's metal and diamonds or precious gemstones. It should also have the price you paid or a current estimate of the piece's value. These documents will be very useful in the event something does happen to your valuables.

2. As you begin the process of listing your home and staging your house for pictures or virtual tours, take jewelry boxes off the counters and remove jewelry cabinets or armoires from view. Criminals often case homes using the listing photos, so don't leave any signs of fine jewelry in these promotional images.

3. We're focusing on your precious jewelry and valuables, but you can also apply these tips to any item someone may be tempted to steal.

While Your Home is on the Market

Now that you've appraised your jewelry and removed it from sight, let's talk about how to protect your belongings while strangers visit your home.

Lock it up -- Most real estate experts will tell you that the best way to keep any item safe is to lock it up. It's not as simple as "out of sight, out of mind"; you don't know who might open drawers or cabinets during an open house. Find a secure place that you can store your valuables, such as a safe or a locking drawer. If you don't have a safe or secure place to lock away your jewelry, consider renting a safety deposit box while your home is on the market.

Find a friend -- Your friends and neighbors will be sad to see you go, but you might be able to ask them for one last favor. Ask a trusted friend to babysit your valuables temporarily. Explain that you'd like to keep them out of the house while strangers are present, and be willing to reward them with homemade treats or a bottle of wine for their generosity. But before you ask, make sure they're a good candidate for the job. Do they have small children who get into everything, or do they have contractors or other strangers in their home? No matter what, secure your pieces in a locked box before you take them over.

Take it with you -- This won't work for everyone, as some agents bring prospective buyers over when you're out of the house. But if you require your agent to give you notice whenever they schedule a visit, this option may be the perfect fit for you. Keep your valuables ready to lock up and take with you before the appointment begins. This option may be the most difficult in today's housing market, since many buyers want to see your home on short notice.

Whichever solution you choose, make sure to put your pieces into soft velvet pouches, jewelry boxes, or small plastic bags. This storage technique will keep each item separate and safe from scratching, tangling, or other damage. Check your homeowner's policy to make sure your policy covers valuables. Your diamonds may be covered against chipping, cracking and loss from the mounting by your jeweler, but loss and theft of the entire ring may not be covered. If you need additional coverage, it's best to know as soon as possible.

Selling a home can be a stressful time, but these steps will save you from worrying about your valuables. With some creativity and planning, you can rest assured knowing that prospective buyers won't be tempted to take anything that's not theirs.

Dan Decker is the charismatic, romantic, and knowledgeable Customer Care Manager for Robbins Brothers. He has been with the company for nearly 20 years and enjoys helping customers fulfill their engagement dreams. When he's not working, it's all about quality time spent with his daughter and lovely wife of 20+ years.

Copyright © 2018 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved.


Prep Before you Paint or Pay the Price

So you're sitting there on a Saturday morning, watching HGTV and drinking your coffee, when it hits. It's the urge to paint a room, and it's not going away. Next thing you know, you're dipping that brush right into the paint can and slopping that blue hue up on the wall.

It'll all be fine, right?

It's a scenario we'll admit to knowing all too well - one in which eagerness and adrenaline push patience and logic aside, and not always with the greatest results. But, the reality we must all face eventually is that the right preparation makes all the difference when it comes to painting. For the best job that looks like it was done professionally, these are the steps to take.

Do a little research

A paint color chosen on a whim can end up being wonderful... but, most of the time, it ends up being a mistake. Yes, buying a couple of samples to put up on the wall and watching them for at least a few days so you can really get a feel for which one works best in your space, with your stuff, and at different times of the day and night, takes time. But it'll all be worth it when you find the right color, instead of having to repaint because your whim choice ended up looking off.

Buy the right supplies

A successful paint job is one in which you not only achieve a great result, but you do so without running back to Lowe's 12 times because you forgot something (or you go without and make a big mess). According to Sherwin-Williams, "Important items for your supply list include:

  • "Primer

  • Paint

  • Stir sticks

  • Paint rollers

  • Roller covers

  • Small paint brushes, for cutting in or touch-ups

  • Paint trays, and if needed a sturdy holder for your paint tray

  • Painters tape

  • Rags

  • Drop cloths"

    Buy the good stuff

    Painting is one of the least expensive, and most effective, ways to make over a space. But that doesn't mean you should buy the cheapest products you can find. Bargain basement paint likely won't give you the coverage you want, and cheap brushes can leave brush marks, streaks, and even bristles on the finish. The Spruce has a good guide to the best interior paints. Brands of brushes and rollers can vary depending on the store, so be sure to ask the paint specialist which options they would choose for their own walls.

    Tape, tape, tape

    It's tedious and time-consuming and a pain in the butt. And we're speaking from personal experience. But paint all over your moldings or baseboards is not a good look. And, sadly, we're also speaking from personal experience here, too.

    Cover your stuff

    Even if you have the gentlest, most even, most professional stroke in the world, splatters happen. So do drips and spills. Don't take the chance of ruining something special because you didn't remember to get a drop cloth.

    Take a good look at your walls

    Dings, cracks, or other imperfections in the walls will not be covered by paint. They may even look worse once you're done. Use Home Depot's recommendations to get them looking good before you start layering on the color.

    • "Carefully inspect walls for cracks, holes, dents or other surface imperfections before priming or painting. 

    • Use a lightweight spackling compound and putty knife to fill and repair any holes or imperfections, then remove any excess spackling with the putty knife and allow the area to dry completely. 

    • Once dry, use a small piece of very fine 220-grit sandpaper or a sanding sponge to smooth the repaired areas flush with the surface. 

    • Wipe the walls clean with a damp towel or sponge and allow them to dry before priming or painting. 

    • Use a floor duster to wipe the walls clean of dust to ensure paint applies evenly." 

Copyright © 2018 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved.

What are the Tax Benefits of Homeownership?

Homeownership has always been the "great American dream". And Congress -- with one exception -- did not take it away when it passed the tax reform bill last December.

To foster and encourage this dream, Congress has consistently enacted -- or preserved -- tax legislation which favors homeowners. Indeed, much has been written that our tax laws discriminate against renters, by giving unfair and unequal tax benefits to those who own homes.

Every four years, some candidate for high political office tries to focus our attention on equalizing the tax laws, and repealing the homeowner benefits, but these arguments have consistently fallen on deaf ears.

For those of us who own homes, here is a list of the itemized tax deductions available to the average homeowner. Every year, you are permitted to deduct the following expenses:

Taxes. Real property taxes, both state and local, can be deducted. The one exception referenced above: tax filers can deduct on Schedule A any combination of state and local property taxes and income or sales taxes but only up to a total of $10,000. Interestingly, married couples who file their own separate tax return can only deduct up to $5000.

However, it should be noted that real estate taxes are only deductible in the year they are actually paid to the government. Thus, if in year 2018, your lender held in escrow moneys for taxes due in 2019, you cannot take a deduction for these taxes when you file your 2018 tax return.

.Mortgage lenders are required to send an annual statement to borrowers by the end of January of each year, reflecting the amount of mortgage interest and real estate taxes the homeowner paid during the previous year.

Mortgage Interest. Interest on mortgage loans on a first or second home is fully deductible, subject to the following limitations: acquisition loans up to $1 million, and home equity loans up to $100,000. If you are married, but file separately, these limits are split in half. But note that for new loans taken out after December 14, 2017, the limit on deductible mortgage debt is reduced to $750,000. Loans in existence prior to that date are grandfathered.

You must understand the concept of an acquisition loan. To qualify for such a loan, you must buy, construct or substantially improve your home. If you refinance for more than the outstanding indebtedness, the excess amount does not qualify as an acquisition loan unless you use all of the excess to improve your home. However, any other excess may qualify as a home equity loan.

Let us look at this example: Several years ago, you purchased your house for $150,000 and obtained a mortgage in the amount of $100,000. Last year, your mortgage indebtedness had been reduced to $95,000, but your house was worth $300,000.

Because rates were low last year, you refinanced and were able to get a new mortgage of $175,000. Your acquisition indebtedness is $95,000. The additional $80,000 that you took out of your equity does not qualify as acquisition indebtedness, but since it is under $100,000, it qualifies as a home equity loan.

Several years ago, the Internal Revenue Service ruled that one does not have to take out a separate home equity loan to qualify for this aspect of the tax deduction. However, if you had borrowed $200,000, you would only be able to deduct interest on $195,000 of your loan -- the $95,000 acquisition indebtedness, plus the $100,000 home equity.

One more caveat: the proceeds of a second mortgage -- or a home equity loan -- are still deductible but only if the money is used to substantially improve the property.

The remaining interest is treated as personal interest, and is not deductible.

Points. Because mortgage rates are still considerably low, not too many borrowers are paying points. When you obtain a mortgage loan, in order to get a lower rate mortgage, you would pay one or more points. Whether referred to as "loan origination fees," "premium charges," or "discounts," these are still points. Each point is one percent of the amount borrowed; if you obtain a loan of $170,000, each point will cost you $1,700. And the interest rate on your loan will be lowered.

The IRS has also ruled that even if points are paid by sellers, they are still deductible by the homebuyer. Points paid to a lender when you refinance your current mortgage are not fully deductible in the year they are paid; you have to allocate the amount over the life of the loan. For example, you paid $1700 in points for a 30 year loan. Each year you are permitted to deduct only $56.66 ($1700 divided by 30); however, when you pay off this new loan, any remaining portion of the points you have not deducted are then deductible in full.

Needless to say, if you have any questions about these tax benefits, discuss them with your financial and legal advisors.

Copyright © 2018 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved.

Clever Ideas for Kids' Study Areas

The school year has started, and that probably means your kids are doing their homework: sprawled on the bed, on the couch in front of the TV, on the floor, or at the dining room table. It probably also means their stuff is everywhere and the distractions are making it hard from them to properly concentrate. You can address the mess, and give them a dedicated space to study, even if your place doesn't have a separate home office option.

No matter where you create your study area, make sure you stick it well. Having everything they need on hand will help keep them on task and eliminate excuses for getting up. That means notebooks, pens and pencils, a pencil eraser, a calculator, and also a comfy, supportive chair, and task lighting if the existing lighting isn't bright enough.

Borrow the bedside

With a bed, dresser, and two nightstands, it may seem like there's no place in your child's room for a desk. There may be if you ditch one of those nightstands. A small desk placed next to the bed can double as a place to keep her phone and bedside lamp, and the less matchy-matchy look will invite some eclectic style.

Overhaul the hallway

"American standards call for a minimum 36-in.-wide hallway in most circumstances," said Houzz. So, if your home is blessed with an extra-wide one, you may have a study area in the making. Find a long, narrow desk so it doesn't impede passage.

Create a cool nook

Maybe you just think you don't have a proper spot for a study area. What about the space next to your fireplace? You know, the one that's meant to house your TV. The TV you put over the fireplace. You can easily and inexpensively turn that nook into a chic study space that will look like it was meant to be used that way. Check out all these desktop options for under $100 at IKEA.

Make smart space decisions

We love this built-in desk just adjacent to the kitchen, especially with the lively pop of yellow. Your floorplan may not be able to accommodate this, but you can get creative with a modern secretary desk that looks sleek, gives you some needed storage, and has a drop-down desk that folds away when not in use.

Clean out the closet

A hall closet or unneeded closet in an extra bedroom can beautifully transform into a great study area, and the best part is that it all disappears when you close the doors.

Tailor the table

Having your child hunkered down at the dining room for homework time may not be ideal, but it also may be your only or best option. You can help him stay organized and minimize the chaos with creative storage solutions. A banquette offers hidden storage that could be a great answer for all the supplies your child needs for daily homework and studying. If that's not a reality, a fully-stocked bin they can take out of a pantry or cabinet and return when they are done is an easy answer for quick cleanups. 

Copyright © 2018 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved.

Preventing Safety Hazards Around the Home

It's safe to say that none of us is purposely making our homes a hazard. And, no matter how hard we try, accidents still happen. But there is nothing more important than protecting ourselves, our families, and our investment.

"The home is supposed to be where you and your family are safe and protected but every year accident and emergency units deal with serious injuries and sometimes fatal accidents that occur in the home," said StaySafe. "It is not just children and the elderly that can come to harm in the home with things like chemicals and choke hazards. Accidents in the home claim 18,000 lives each year in America alone, "accounting for 21 million medical visits annually. Many of these accidents are preventable."

These tips will uncover key areas where dangers typically lie and the simple maintenance involved in avoiding them.

Dryer vents

Thousands of fires are started in the home every year because of deferred maintenance related to the clothes dryer. You may clean out the lint screen, but it's the lint you can't see that accumulates in the vent that can be dangerous. The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) "recommends cleaning or having a professional inspect the vent for lint build-up a minimum of every two to three years," said Hunker. "Keep a fire extinguisher nearby in case a fire does break out in or around your dryer."

Falls

A third of all fatalities in the home are due to falls. A great number of them are related to old age, however people of all ages can also be at risk. Installing safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs is an obvious safety precaution with little ones, as are grab bars in bathrooms that are serving older individuals. Closely monitoring wet areas - just outside the shower and bath and in front of the kitchen sink - can help with slips. Installing nonslip rug pads under area rugs is key to keeping them in place and eliminating falls.

Blinds

The thought of a young child being strangled due to hanging cords from window blinds is horrifying. But it happens. According to USA Today, "Injuries and death from window blind cords send two kids to emergency department each day." Eliminate the worry without having to give up the blinds by choosing a cordless version. They give you the look and room-darkening features you want with some added safety measures.

Fire alarms

When's the last time you changed your fire alarm batteries? If you can't remember, you're obviously overdue. "Install fire alarms on all levels of your home, and check and change the batteries at least annually," said safewise. "Consider investing in a smart smoke detector like Nest Protect. This alarm uses Wi-Fi to provide real-time updates and remote monitoring right on your smartphone or other mobile device."

A dirty oven

Most ovens today have a self-cleaning feature. While it's not entirely pleasant to endure the smell while it's doing its thing, it far outweighs the alternative, especially considering 40 percent of fires in the home start in the kitchen.

"A dirty oven can cause fires while cooking, allowing charred food or grease to ignite," said Home Security. "Clean your oven regularly and always attend food while cooking in the oven.'

Carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide is called the silent killer because "its presence is not known until symptoms of the exposure are experienced," said Poison Control. "It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and potentially dangerous gas. You can't see it or smell it."

It's typical for smoke detectors to be in homes, but despite the fact that a carbon monoxide detector can save lives, they are often left to the homeowner to purchase and install. "Each year in the United States, more than 200 accidental deaths are caused by carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. It is considered the leading cause of death from poisoning in the United States." Compare the most recommended units on The Spruce.

Copyright © 2018 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved.

Your Fall Home Maintenance Checklist

It’s time to start thinking about how to get your home ready for winter.

Here are five fall home maintenance activities to start thinking about this weekend.

Clean your gutters

Depending on your climate, you may have to get up in those gutters more than once to clear out leaves and other gunk and keep your home safe from flooding and damage. Giving them a look before the leaves fall will help ensure there is room for all that foliage. Once they fall, making sure to clean them out before the first freeze can limit clogs and keep dangerous ice dams away.

Check your chimney

Make sure everything is in order before the first fire of the season. "Creosote buildup causes chimney fires," said Family Handyman. "You should have your chimney professionally inspected or cleaned after every 70 fires. If you burn wet wood (which you shouldn't), have it inspected or cleaned every 50 fires. Don't remember the last time you had it cleaned by a pro? A quick way to tell if your chimney needs cleaning is to run the point of your fireplace poker along the inside of your chimney liner. If you find a 1/8-in. layer (or more) of buildup, call a chimney sweep."

Check your roof

Storms, wind, and other weather conditions over the past year could have done damage that you're not aware of. You definitely don't want to wait until the first heavy snow to find out you have a leak. If you're not comfortable on a ladder or just want a professional eye, a pro roofer will typically charge you under $100 to check it out.

Seal it up

There are three important reasons to make sure your home is air tight: 1) Keeping moisture out; 2) Keeping critters out; 3) Keeping warm air in. "Fall is when critters often enter our homes to build a nest and ride out the cold weather," said Forbes. "So walk around the exterior looking for ways small animals can enter your house and seal them off. A mouse can wriggle through an opening as small as a dime, so look carefully for those small holes."

Sealing up holes and cracks can also make your home more efficient so it takes less effort and money to keep warm in the winter. All you need in most cases is weather stripping and caulking.

Disconnect garden hoses from faucets

As soon as the weather dips, it's time to disconnect those hoses. This simple task can potentially save you a lot of heartache later. "Remove garden hoses from outdoor faucets," said HouseLogic. "Leaving hoses attached can cause water to back up in the faucets and in the plumbing pipes just inside your exterior walls. If freezing temps hit, that water could freeze, expand, and crack the faucet or pipes. Make this an early fall priority so a sudden cold snap doesn't sneak up and cause damage." Be sure to also "Turn off any shutoff valves on water supply lines that lead to exterior faucets. That way, you'll guard against minor leaks that may let water enter the faucet." 


Trick or Treat!

Trick or Treat!

Pumpkins, goblins, and ghouls, oh my! October really is the spookiest month. But as you pile into hayrides and get the kids amped up for some trick-or-treating adventures, don’t lose sight of your homeownership goals this October.

Across the country, we’re seeing an increase in housing supply within high-demand cities. As sellers look to turn a profit, we can expect to see a large jump in inventory. More supply means a possibility of demand also rising. With high costs still clinging onto new constructions, more and more people are looking to buy already existing homes. When you find the property that’s right for you and your family this October, I recommend moving quickly—the last thing you want is to be haunted by the house that got away!

So carve those pumpkins and hang those cobwebs, and when you’re ready to make your campfire story of owning your own home a reality, give me a call! I’m ready to help assess your current standing and get you into your very own home before the stroke of midnight.