Category Archives: Tips

BEWARE: Wire Fraud is on the Rise

In June 2017, cybercriminals stole more than $14 million from unsuspecting people. Real estate transactions are especially vulnerable to these wily larcenists.

Real estate purchases routinely involve sending large sums of money by wire. This method is convenient, fast, and generally secure. Still, sophisticated criminals have been able to exploit people’s lack of familiarity with the real estate and escrow process.

One of the most common scams has been to convince an unwary buyer that the instructions for wiring funds have changed at the last minute “for security reasons.” The email, which appears to come from the title company or other settlement service provider, asks the buyer to wire their funds to a different link than previously agreed. The unsuspecting buyer who falls for this deception will discover, too late, that their money has been diverted to the scammer’s offshore account and is gone forever, along with the scammer.

The obvious advice is to avoid getting taken in by this kind of chicanery. Never wire funds without personally verifying with the title company or real estate closing lawyer that any change is genuine. For those unfortunates who may fall prey to the scam, there are some immediate actions that may offer a slim chance to recover the misdirected funds.

  • Contact the bank or other financial institution the funds were sent from. They may be able to stop the transfer.
  • Contact all parties involved in the real estate transaction, including the title and escrow people, the seller and the agents.
  • Inform the FBI immediately. You can file a complaint at www.ic3.gov. This should be done as quickly as possible. Even waiting just 72 hours could be too late for any recovery.

There are few experiences in life that are more stressful, emotional and confusing as buying a home. Criminals are well aware of this and will do their utmost to leverage those aspects to separate unsuspecting people from their money.

Knowledge is key.

Source: Everyone’s favorite mortgage guy, Jason Banks and TBWS

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Things to Consider When Buying a Townhome

If you’re buying a home but are not interested in keeping up with maintenance, you’re probably looking at buying a condo or townhouse. And while condos can feel very much like living in an apartment, a townhouse gives you a space of your own. While townhomes typically do share a wall with another home (or homes) in the development, buying a townhouse is also buying the little plot of land it sits on, which means getting an outdoor space you’re not likely to find in a condo.

You won’t find townhomes offering as much space as single family detached homes, but by offering more space than a typical condo they can have a lot of appeal for families—or anyone who needs more room than an apartment or condo, without the hassles of owning a single-family home.

But a townhouse isn’t the perfect solution for everyone. Let’s walk through what you should consider before deciding on a townhouse.

You’ll have to deal with a homeowner’s association

If you buy a single-family detached home, the repair and maintenance of it will be on you—but for townhomes, much of the repair and maintenance will be handled by an HOA. Though these services are not free, you’ll pay monthly dues in addition to your mortgage. An HOA will help you avoid unexpected costs (like the need to fix a damaged roof) and they’ll save you time on maintenance tasks by managing the yard and even shoveling the snow. Though this can increase your monthly expenses, it may also be a good way to make your monthly expenses more predictable, since surprise homeownership costs will be few and far between.

If low maintenance homeownership appeals to you, a townhouse could be an ideal fit. However, you should still take a close look at the HOA and what it offers you, because the precise repairs and maintenance they’ll do will vary from association to association.

Still, that association can come with snags if you want to customize your house. For example, you may not be allowed to change the exterior colors or plant whatever you’d like in your front yard. If that’s important to you, check the HOA’s rules (CC&Rs) to see what they allow. If they won’t let you use the property to your liking, you might consider a single family detached home instead.

You may be able to find a townhouse with better amenities

Though what you’ll find in your area will vary, because more townhomes can be built in a smaller space than single family homes, you’re more likely to find them in urban areas—possibly locations where it’s hard or prohibitively expensive to buy a single-family home. For this same reason, it can also be easier to find newly constructed townhomes, which can make it easier to find modern, updated amenities that you might not come by in an older single-family home.

In addition to these extras, buying a townhouse also means you’re buying into a community, and most such communities will also have shared amenities, like a gym, pool, tennis court, or laundry room. Different developments will offer different perks, so if there’s something in particular you have your heart set on, investigate the development to make sure it has just what you want.

It may cost less up-front

Because you’re sharing your home’s walls and foundation with your neighbors, construction costs for a townhouse are often lower than construction costs for a single-family home—which means you’ll pay less to buy one. Even considering the HOA fees (which you should carefully weigh against maintenance and repair costs if you’re trying to decide whether to buy a townhouse or a single-family home), you may be able to get more home for less money by buying a townhouse.

You’ll share a wall with a neighbor

However, there’s a downside to that lower cost—and it’s the fact that you share one or more walls with your neighbors and don’t have a lot of space to get some distance from your fellow community members. Because of this, townhomes can be nosier and offer less privacy than a detached home (though they’ll be quiet to those used to living in a condo or apartment).

In the end, how loud it is really comes down to your neighbors and your own tolerance for living in (relatively) close quarters.

Reprinted with permission from PenFed Credit Union Blog. ©2017. All rights reserved.

Quick Tips for Easy Spring Cleaning

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The snow has melted, the days are longer, and all of a sudden everything seems in need of a nice freshening up.  If spring cleaning is on you mind but you are overwhelmed at the task ahead, check out these tips from MaxSold.com.

Decide what you are keeping

Heard of the KonMari decluttering method? Keep an item if it brings you joy and if you have room for it – if not, set it aside. Start with a post-its to speed up the process as you go along – bite the bullet and blaze through it in a day, or tackle one room at a time.

Don’t take it to the dump

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure – it’s amazing how much money you can recover for your unwanted things. Instead of filling up landfill, fill up your wallet. Barry Gordon, the founder of MaxSold, an online selling platform, says “A chair that the owner was going to leave out in the side of the curb sold for over $2000, and a box of extension cords that would have gone to the dump sold for $40.”

Don’t prematurely sell off high value items

Ever post an ad online and get a response in an instant? This will leave you wondering if you grossly underpriced the item. The opposite is also true – if no one responds to your ad for weeks, maybe you overpriced it, and lowering the price over days for 100s of items is inefficient. Use an auction platform like MaxSold to sell everything where multiple people compete for the goods. Things that are better will engage more people and foster competition for not only items in demand, but for everything you are clearing out.

Don’t put stuff in storage

So many people are focused on “What’s my dining room going to bring?” The hard truth is that no one is going to give you a lot of money for your dining room. It’s going to be heartbreaking. It’s going to be awful. If you’ve got someone to give it to in the family, then that’s a good idea. But most people do not. And since they have nowhere else to go with it, they decide to put it into storage. Unfortunately, they end up paying thousands of dollars in storage cost each year, only to have the items further depreciate in value.

10 Tips for Homebuyers and Sellers

Spring is here, and so is spring home-buying and -selling. Buyers and sellers preparing to take action this season should put those plans into play now—according to Zillow Group’s Report on Consumer Housing Trends, the No. 1 regret for both buyers and sellers is “not starting their home search or prepping their home to sell soon enough.”

“This spring, both buyers and sellers should be prepared for fast-moving sales, intense negotiations, and even bidding wars,” says Jeremy Wacksman, CMO at Zillow Group. “Home shoppers and sellers are motivated to become more strategic and knowledgeable about what’s happening in their neighborhood. Understanding whether you are in a buyer’s or a seller’s environment will help you manage your expectations and will give you insight into what you’re going to need to bring to the table in order to close the deal.”

For buyers, that means:

Keep your options open. More than half (52 percent) of homebuyers surveyed in the report said they also considered renting, and more than one-third (37 percent) of first-time buyers seriously considered continuing to rent. Savvy shoppers should have a Plan B in place, hoping to buy if it works out, but willing to sign a lease for a home if they don’t make a deal by the time they need to move.

Be realistic with your budget. Once you set it, stick to it. First-time home buyers are more likely to exceed their budget than repeat buyers (39 percent versus 26 percent), according to the report. Before you meet with a lender to determine how much mortgage you’ll be approved for, take a good look at your individual finances and spending preferences to determine the monthly payment range that you feel you can comfortably afford.

Get your financing squared away early. Plan to meet a few lenders four to six months ahead of when you’re planning to buy to ensure you can make a competitive offer quickly when you find your dream home. The majority (82 percent) of buyers get pre-approved, with 77 percent getting pre-approval from a lender before finding a home on which they are interested in placing an offer.

Find an agent with a winning track record. Take the time to find an agent who has expertise in fast negotiation, leveraging escalation clauses, and winning bidding wars. Only 46 percent of buyers got the first home on which they made an offer, according to the report, demonstrating that competition is now part of the process. Choose an agent based on sales and listing activity, area of expertise and reputation.

Communication is key. Make sure your preferred method—and frequency—of communication matches that of your agent. One-third (33 percent) of all buyers surveyed in the report preferred phone calls with their agent over emailing (21 percent) or texting (15 percent). Buyers can use the agent reviews on Zillow to learn more about prospective agents and their clients’ experiences.

And for sellers:

Start early and be strategic. Sellers consider putting their home on the market for five months before they list it—but the top seller regret is that they wished they spent more time prepping for the sale. Many cities have a magic window in the spring when homes have a higher likelihood of selling quickly for more money.

Work with an agent from the start. The vast majority (90 percent) of sellers surveyed in the report who sold quickly and for more than list price worked with an agent, and two out of three (58 percent) began working with an agent at the very beginning of their selling journey.

Pay attention to your online curb appeal. The majority of buyers begin their search online. Sellers who sold their home for more than list price made imagery and home information available online: 48 percent had professional photos taken of the home; 30 percent shot video footage; and 21 percent shot drone footage. Zillow’s video walk-throughs give sellers an easy way to show home features that are hard to capture in photos.

Home improvements can be a worthwhile investment. Sellers who fetched above list price tackled home improvements before listing their home, being 50 percent more likely to take on a large project like modifying an existing home plan and 20 percent more likely to renovate a kitchen than the average seller.

Don’t be afraid to try again. In many markets, nearly half of listing views occur in the first week the home is on the market. Twenty-six percent of those who sold above list price took their home off the market once to adjust the sales price, opting to start anew, rather than letting the home languish on the market with minimal activity.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2017. All rights reserved.

Household Cleaning Tips That Save Time and Money

Household Cleaning Tips That Save Time and Money

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Spring – a time for new beginnings – is just around the corner. It’s time to air out the winter blahs and let the sun shine in. But there’s no need to knock ourselves out or over-spend on cleaning supplies. The home editors at Good Housekeeping magazine offer tips on cleaning every corner of your home without exhausting yourself or your wallet:

One simple solution: No need to spend money on specialized cleaning products. Fill an empty spray bottle with a quart of warm water mixed with four tablespoons of baking soda, and use it for most surfaces, including windows, counters, tile, and appliances.

Toothpaste trick – If your kids are a little too creative, a dab of toothpaste will remove colored marker stains from wooden tables.

Wipe out wall doodles – A good sprinkling of baking soda on a damp sponge should wipe your walls clean of ‘artwork.’

Funky cutting board? – Rub the cut side of a lemon over it to remove old stains and odors.

Wake up patio furniture – add a squirt of dish soap to a bowl of warm water. Wipe down surfaces and hose them off with plain water.

Soften scratchy towels – Get rid of mineral build-up by washing scratchy towels in the hottest water possible with nothing but a cup of ammonia added.

Easy copper cleanup – A little ketchup – yes, ketchup! – will get those copper-bottomed pots and pans shining.

Dishwasher duty – Once every few weeks, especially while flu season hangs around, get rid of bacteria by adding a quarter cup of bleach to the regular dish cycle.

Disinfect the disposal – Run a few lemon peels, a little salt, and a few ice cubes through it to sanitize and banish odors.

Don’t forget the sponge – Keep that wet sponge clean and bacteria-free by zapping it in the microwave for one minute.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2017. All rights reserved.

Study: Smart Home Tech Adoption Motivated by Comfort, Safety

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Comfort and safety are the primary reasons more homeowners are adopting smart home technology, according to a recent study by Scripps Networks Interactive in conjunction with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA). “Keeping up” with the latest technology, the study shows, is less of a factor, with three-quarters of those surveyed saying they implement smart home technology “to keep their family safe and comfortable.” Energy-efficiency, as well, is another motivator, with the intention to boost resale value and reduce energy costs.

Millennials are the most likely to adopt smart home technology, according to the study, “to make their home convenient for daily tasks;” those in Generation X, conversely, prefer smart home technology as a means “to make their home a healthy environment.” Baby boomers, in addition, favor smart home technology “to add value to their home.” Eighty-five percent of millennials are likely to add smart home technology to their home, compared to 73 percent of those in Generation X and 67 percent of baby boomers.

The kitchen is the top spot for smart home technology, with those studied purchasing app-enabled, connected appliances, such as a smart refrigerator, motion-activated lighting and voice-activated speakers. Generation X respondents reported the kitchen as the top spot for smart home technology more than any other generation.

Fifteen percent of study respondents cite the front door as the most desired place for adding technology, while 13 percent cite the living room. Forty-four percent cite “energy monitoring” and “light automation” as their most desired tools; computer-controlled or mobile device-operated systems, a doorbell camera and surveillance equipment are also popular.

Smart home technology, according to a recent report by the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), is becoming more concerning to homebuyers and sellers, who are most interested in privacy and security measures.

Source: Scripps Networks Interactive
Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2017. All rights reserved.

Dodge Winter Lawn Damage

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Winter conditions can present a wide range of challenges to your lawn and landscape, but there are precautions you can take to protect your lawn, as well as your trees and shrubs, from seasonal harm.

Preventive steps from the lawncare experts at TruGreen can help your lawn survive the winter season’s harsh elements.

Snow Plow Damage

Install brightly-colored boundary markers along the edges of paved areas to help protect lawn and shrubs from snow plow and snow thrower blades. Lightweight wooden stakes, at least four feet tall with bright reflective tape and brightly covered fiberglass rods, serve as good markers. Avoid heavy metal, fence posts and other large objects, as they can pose a hazard to snow plow operators.

Cold Temperature Stress

More so than any other season, trees and shrubs are vulnerable to changing weather conditions during the winter. Wide temperature fluctuation and extremely low temperatures are the biggest factors of tree stress, meaning your trees are more susceptible to things like frost cracks, sunscald and winter burn.

Keep twigs and limbs from breaking under the weight of ice by carefully brushing away, whenever possible, any snow load from plants, which will reduce the weight on the limbs and decrease the damage. Placing a burlap cover around shrubs such as boxwood and yews will help reduce winter desiccation.

Proper fertilization can help keep your trees and shrubs healthy well into spring, and allow them to better tolerate winter. A service can help with tree and shrub services customized to meet your landscape’s every need, including applications to control overwintering insects, pests and mites.

Freezing Temperatures

Damage to plants, shrubs and trees as a result of sustained low temperatures can typically go undetected until spring or early summer, when plants fail to produce new growth. To help prevent damage, maintain a two- to three-inch layer of mulch to help protect the crown and roots from weather extremes.

Winter Dehydration

During the colder months of winter, plants cannot replace moisture lost from leaves and needles. This leads to “dehydration” – technically known as desiccation. To help avoid this problem, maintain proper watering late into the fall, or water during periods of winter thaw.

Ice Melt

Ice-melting agents, such as rock salt and products containing calcium and magnesium chloride, may accumulate in the soil and cause damage to plants. Use extreme care when applying ice-melting agents to prevent damage to your plants or concrete surfaces.

Source: TruGreen.com
Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2017. All rights reserved.