Author Archives: MMM

About MMM

Maxine is a South Carolina expatriate living in the Washington, DC Metro area. Her husband Russ is from Seattle, WA. We celebrated the birth of our first child in August 2009.

Three Easy Upgrades to Increase Home Value

Contact Maxine for more home improvement tips.

Whether you’re planning to sell or rent, a little renovation goes a long way in helping to increase your home’s market value. For most homeowners, the biggest concern is usually the budget required for upgrades, renovations, and home maintenance. The great news is that there’s no need to spend thousands of dollars on home improvements. Here are three tips for some of the best home upgrades that add value:

  1. Knock down a wall, and go for an open concept. Not only will it create the illusion of a bigger space, but it’s also a home design trend that’s very much in demand today. Just make sure to have the wall assessed for possible electrical wires housed behind it before hitting it with a sledgehammer.
  2. Brighten up the bathroom. Bathrooms are among the most important considerations for many tenants and prospective homebuyers, so it’s pertinent to get this area of the house right. Buff up the tiles and replace the faucets, showerheads and toilet seats. There’s no need to replace all the tiles, just those that are cracked and chipped. The trick is to find the right cleaning agent that can help make the tiles look good as new.
  3. Apply a fresh coat of paint. Choose modern color palettes to give the house a fresh new look.

Source: Reprinted with permission from RISMedia ©2020. All rights reserved.

How to get the best mortgage rate

A house is a major purchase. In fact, it’s typically one of the biggest purchases people make in their whole lives. If you’re like one of the millions of buyers who get a mortgage for their dream home, securing the lowest interest rate possible could go a long way toward saving you money over the lifetime of the loan.

According to national nonprofit American Consumer Credit Counseling, here are five factors homebuyers need to consider to get the best mortgage rate:

Questions? Call Maxine for answers! 703-836-1464

Good credit score. The higher the credit score, the better the mortgage rate. People with lower scores are considered more at risk of defaulting on the loan. To improve your score, make sure you pay all your bills on time and try to eliminate or significantly lessen credit card balances.

Down payment. Building savings and being able to put forward a larger down payment will help you receive a lower mortgage rate. Ideally, you should try to save up enough to make a 20 percent down payment.

Steady employment. Working for the same employer for at least two years shows mortgage lenders you have steady earnings, which makes you a more attractive borrower.

Fixed rate vs. adjustable rate. Fixed-rate mortgages keep the same interest rate the entire life of the loan. Adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) rates change over time, beginning with an introductory period that lasts three, five, seven or 10 years of a steady rate. Following this introductory period, the ARM rate may change periodically

15 year vs. 30 year. If you have a consistent income and feel you’ll live in your home for an extended period, it may be worth considering a 15-year loan rather than the average 30-year loan. Although a 15-year loan means higher monthly payments, it’ll save you thousands of dollars in interest.

Make sure you shop around for lenders and do research, even when refinancing, to make sure you’re getting the best rate for your situation.

This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as professional advice.

Source: Reprinted with permission from RISMedia ©2020. All rights reserved.

Thinking of Buying a Place? Ask These Questions Before You Make An Offer

Whether you are buying your very first condo or your fifth house, read on for some very important questions to have answered before putting in an offer on a place.

Getting ready to put an offer on a home? Before you do, ask these questions to make sure you’re moving ahead on the best possible deal.

Were there any renovations to the home? The sellers may have made improvements over the years that weren’t recorded at City Hall. Make sure you have a full run-down of all the changes that have been made, both to ensure structural safety and legal compliance, and to fully assess the home’s value.

How old is the roof? Just because the roof is currently in good condition doesn’t mean it’s not soon on its way out. Make sure you know how old it is and if repairs or a replacement may be in your near future.

How long have the appliances been here? You’ll also want to know how old the appliances are and what shape they’re in. Many home sellers update the appliances before putting their home on the market, so find out if this is the case. Make sure all manuals and warranties are left behind as well.

What are the neighbors/neighborhood like? You’ll have to drill down to avoid getting general responses, so ask if there are families with young children on the block vs. retirees, what traffic is like, what amenities are nearby, etc. For further intel, take a stroll around the neighborhood and chat with someone out walking their dog or doing some yardwork. Their friendliness – or lack thereof – could be an indicator in and of itself.

What’s included in the sale? Many sellers will include certain items in the sale of the home to help sweeten the deal, such as select pieces of furniture, lighting fixtures or outdoor appliances, like a lawn mower or hedge trimmer. On the flip side, you may be assuming certain items will be included that aren’t. Seller’s exclusions should be outlined in the listing description, but sometimes they’re not so be sure to ask.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia ©2020. All rights reserved.

A great year for housing

In case you are not subscribed to my newsletter, here is some good news and excellent reading about the housing market from our friends at Freddie Mac.  If 2019 was any indication, 2020 will be a relatively good time for potential homebuyers to make the transition to homeownership.

Questions? Call Maxine for answers! 703-836-1464

Over the last 12 months, interest rates fell by almost a whole percentage point and high demand resulted in a steady increase in home values across the nation. Current market projections forecast low mortgage rates continuing into 2020, providing potential buyers the opportunity to lock in favorable mortgage terms and start building long-term financial independence.

Let’s break down the housing market’s latest trip around the sun.

Strong equity gains

You often hear that one of the benefits of buying a home is building equity. But what exactly is equity? In the simplest terms, equity is the difference between how much your home is worth and how much you owe on your mortgage. It’s the portion of the home that you own. Over time, through paying down your principal balance and your home’s appreciation, you can build equity.

But it’s important to note that some markets appreciate faster than others and there is no guarantee that your home will increase in value. It all depends on market conditions at the time you sell your home.

According to CoreLogic’s most recent homeowner equity report, 2019 was a strong year for equity gains. On average, U.S. homeowners with mortgages saw their equity increase by 5.1% since the third quarter of 2018 and the average homeowner gained approximately $5,300 in equity over the past year.

Interest rates dropped

2019 was a year of declining interest rates. According to our mortgage rates survey, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged an interest rate of 4.51% at the start of the year but dropped to a low of 3.49% during September of 2019. Our latest forecast predicts that in 2020, rates will remain low, averaging around 3.8%.

So, will 2020 be a good year to buy a home? A look back at the past year shows a strong and steady market. Based on the forecast, the outlook is promising for the housing market with interest rates projected to remain low and appreciation expected to continue as we settle into the next decade.

Freddie Mac. ©2020. All rights reserved.

Identity Theft 101: Tips from PenFed on How to Protect Your Identity

Our parent company, PenFed Credit Union, put out a great post a while back on identity theft and, with the recent hacking attempts, it seemed relevant to re-blog it now.

Did you know that an estimated 17.6 million Americans—that’s 7% of U.S. residents age 16 and older—were victims of identity theft in 2014. That’s 17 million people whose credit cards were used fraudulently or had their personal information used to open new accounts. Having your credit card or identity stolen can make for a big financial headache—and make a mess of your credit until you fix it.

To sort things out, you must contact your financial institution to notify them about the fraud so they can review your account for possible fraudulent transactions and close the account. Also, they will initiate sending you a new card or debit card with a new account. This can be done usually by telephone. However, if your identity has been used to open new fraudulent accounts, the process can be more involved, requiring you to file a police report and dispute inaccurate data on your credit report. While you are not typically on the hook for fraudulent transactions, it can take time to sort out. You should keep a record (date, time, name of financial representative, summary of conversation) of each call to the financial institution.

Avoid stranger danger

But taking some common sense precautions can help you avoid identity theft in the first place. Here’s what you need to know to keep yourself safe from fraud:

  1. Never give passwords or personal information to strangers. Scammers calling your home or even emailing you can be very convincing. They may tell you they’re from the government or your financial institution, and warn of dire consequences if you don’t hand over your social security number, account numbers, or passwords. But no valid institution will ask for this information over the phone or by email—if someone contacts you asking for it, they’re trying to scam you. If you’re contacted by someone and are not sure if it’s legitimate, contact the institution directly to confirm.
  2. Keep your passwords secure. You want to use a strong password—at least 12 characters, including numbers, capital letters, and special characters—to make it hard for thieves to crack. On top of that, you should change your password regularly and never use the same password on multiple websites, which can mean that all of your accounts are compromised if a thief gets just one password. A password manager app on your computer or smartphone can help you keep track of your passwords without resorting to writing them down (which is certainly not secure). If it’s available, you should also use two factor authentication. Two factor authentication requires you to log on with both a password and a code that’s usually texted or emailed to you when you try to log on—and it will stop thieves in their tracks.
  3. Make sure your computer is secure. You should apply security updates to your computer and web browser when they’re available. Most apps can be set up to do this automatically, making it a no-hassle process. If you’re using a shared computer, be sure to log out of any accounts before you walk away, and never use a public computer to access banking or other sensitive information.
  4. Watch your wallet. It doesn’t matter how careful you are with your information if a thief steals your wallet. Always keep an eye on your wallet or purse. In case your wallet does go missing, don’t carry more personal information than you need to. Your social security card, rarely used credit cards, and written down passwords or Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) should never be kept in your wallet. Not carrying unnecessary personal information will help protect you even in case of theft.
  5. Keep your financial documents safe. If other people are in your home, like workmen or even roommates, keep your financial paperwork safely stored and locked up. And when you’re getting rid of bank statements—or even credit card offers you’ve received in the mail—shred them to be sure no one can use them to get your information.
  6. Monitor your financial statements. Even if you’re following all of these steps to stay safe, you may still find yourself the victim of fraud. The best way to catch it early is to check your financial accounts regularly: monitor statements from your financial institution and keep an eye on your credit report. If you see any transactions you didn’t make, report them immediately.
  7. Review your credit report, annually. Your credit report is essentially your financial report card. It’s important to know how to review it and make corrections, if needed—and know what you need to do if you should ever detect fraudulent activity. Federal law requires each credit reporting company to give you a free copy of your credit report once a year. You can request free copies of each of your credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com.

Should I Sell or Remodel?

Anything that gets as much use as your home shows wear and tear after a few years. Colors and decorative styles look tired and outdated, or you may need more room due to an addition in the family. So do you sell or remodel and stay?

Image resultAsk your favorite Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices PenFed Realty professional to show you homes for sale that have the size, features and finishes you want, and create a comparative market analysis of homes like yours so you’ll know what you can reasonably expect to net if you sell.

You’ll pay about 12% of the sales price and more in closing costs to sell and purchase another home. Moving costs are about $2,300, (if you have 4 movers at $200 per hour) for an intrastate move and about 7,400 pounds of household goods, according to the American Moving and Storage Association.

If you decide to remodel, make sure your design will meet your needs for years to come. You’ll need the right team – contractors, kitchen planners and interior designers to help you put it all together. Talk to your lender to learn how much you can borrow and if that sum will help you meet your remodeling goals.

Drive Before You Buy

Whether you are shopping for a home in a familiar location or a new neighborhood, remember that you are buying more than a home. You are also buying the neighborhood, so it helps to become familiar with your favorites, whether you drive them or walk them.

Image result for aerial view alexandria, va

Getty Images

Why is that important? It’s the neighborhood that helps establish home values, which depend largely on location and local amenities (close to high-paying jobs, high-scoring schools, high-starring restaurants, transportation, etc.)

Neighborhoods can also change over time, so look for signs of transition. Do you see reinvestment or decline? Homeowners reinvest by repainting, making repairs and refreshing their homes with updates. What kinds of stores and services do you see? Dollar stores or boutiques, payday loan shops or investment firms, fast food or upscale restaurants. Are you the right target demographic?

Visit the area at different times of the day and on weekends. What’s traffic like? How long is your commute?  If you are looking in a neighborhood a little further out than where you currently live, you definitely want to drive your commute at rush hour traffic.

As you drive, check a few home-buying apps. On your Realtor.com app, you can see crime stats and amenities and save your favorites to show your Berkshire Hathaway Home Services network professional.

You’ll be happier if you pick the neighborhood first, then choose the home.

Ready to get started?  Call 703-836-1464 today!