You personally can make America stronger!

voteI am not here to tell you who to vote for. It is your responsibility to research the issues and make an informed decision about who best represents your concerns.

Your vote is your voice as an American citizen. It’s your opportunity to be heard, to hold elected officials accountable for their decisions and to have a say in important issues that affect your community. On Election Day, every vote matters.

Citizens of many countries complain about the world around them, and many don’t have the option to change their world. However, you do. The youth of America have the power to make decisions that can affect the country. If you don’t like the way America is run, and yet you don’t vote in elections or make your opinions heard, then you, not the government is at fault.

Be part of the solution! “We the People” need representation in Washington, take the money out of politics and let the people have their voice. Your vote is vitally important. Spread the word!

You can’t make this stuff up!

Open HouseCall it scoping out the competition or call it being nosy, but I am always interested in hearing about people’s experiences with other realtors.

Real Estate clients were finishing up a tour with an agent in Laguna Beach, CA, who frankly didn’t show them anything that matched their needs. Maybe in an attempt to redeem himself, he said he had driven by an open house earlier that would be a good fit for them.

So, they arrive and the open house is jam packed. The couple swoon over the house’s architecture, layout and upgrades. They had never seen an open house with such decadent catering and elegantly dressed buyers.  They give their agent thumbs up, “Good job! This might be the one!” As they are piling caviar onto their plates and sipping champagne, a woman who presumably was the listing agent, all of a sudden approaches them. They gush “This is a lovely home. Please tell the seller we are very impressed,”  to which she responds “Um, who are you?”

“We’re here for the open house,” explained the couple .  “This is indeed an open house…. for my friends and family. I am the new owner.” Embarrassed beyond belief, they put down their plates & slithered out.

10 Trendy Kitchen and Bathroom Upgrades – HGTV

Kitchen1. Free Style

Because we’re spending more and more time in our kitchens and baths, there is a move away from the all-or-nothing “fitted” look of continuous counters. Look for more freestanding pieces of furniture or features with furniturelike qualities, such as a cabriole leg holding up a kitchen counter. These details won’t be fussy but will further the notion that the kitchen and bath aren’t just for utilitarian cooking and bathing, but are for living.

2. Artistic Upgrades

In the ongoing effort to customize our kitchens, almost anything goes. Now range hoods are works of art, literally. Already beautiful as well as functional, hoods can now be customized with panels you choose. Cupboard doors can be replaced with accent doors. Want a new backsplash? It’s as simple as applying DIY stainless tiles or installing a ready-to-hang piece of tile art. You can go from dull to dramatic, tired to trendy, in just a few minutes.

3. Asian Fusion

With international style so popular at home, it’s no wonder that the Asian influence is still going strong in the kitchen, where Asian cooking is all the rage, and in the bathroom, where there is nothing like Zen comforts to help us unwind. Look for drawer pulls reminiscent of bamboo, built-in teriyaki grills and Japanese-style sliding pantry doors in the kitchen. In the bath, calming touches such as a deep soaking tub, a waterfall in the shower and vessel sinks with sleek wall-mounted hardware say Zen with a capital “Z.”

4. Going Green

Eco-friendly products aren’t going to go out of style anytime soon. And now there are more ways that you can go green in the bathroom and kitchen, too, from energy-efficient dishwashers (that use less water than when you wash by hand), to environmentally sound flooring options made of reclaimed wood and tiles. Ann Sacks even makes a rugged tile from river rocks.

5. Oh-So-Organic

Forget straight lines and right angles. From egg-shaped bathtubs and round bathroom bowls to curvy kitchen and vanity counters, organic shapes are in. Even toilets, like Kohler’s oval offering called The Purist, which features no exposed plumbing, seems rooted to the ground as if it grew there. Not only are the shapes pleasing, they also encourage a more natural circular traffic flow. Imagine never bumping into a sharp corner again.

6. Drawer Designs

Move over refrigerator drawers and dishwasher drawers, and say hello to the microwave drawer. Yes, that handy appliance, popcorn button and all, now comes in a drawer. What’s the big deal with drawers in the kitchen? As the kitchen has become the hub of the home, there’s a move to break up the big expanses of appliances and cut the clutter.

7. High Tech

Advances in technology continue to offer us out-of-this-world options, from a TV embedded in a bathroom mirror to an oven that can be programmed to keep your food cold until it’s cooking time. You can even change the cooking directions from your office computer. Don’t have enough freezer space? High-tech progress can help you turn a fridge drawer into a freezer in no time. It can also raise the toilet seat when it sees you coming and clean the shower when you’re not around.

8. Built-Ins

Built-ins are convenient and sleek, two must-haves in today’s kitchens. Think steamers and strainers, high-end coffeemakers, professional ice machines and wine coolers, knife racks, spice holders, ring holders, fondue pots, ice beds for shrimp and much, much more.

9. Glass Acts

Glass is everywhere in today’s kitchens and baths, from recycled and Depression-era glass tiles to opaque glass on cooktops, refrigerators and cabinet doors. Glass mosaic tiles, Venetian glass light fixtures, translucent glass sink: They all add light and drama.

10. Bathroom as Refuge

Yes, we are doing more in our bathrooms these days than just brushing our teeth. Watch for showers that offer aromatherapy, hydrotherapy and color therapy, and envision refrigerated vanity drawers for storing those refreshing tub-side beverages. With heated towel racks, suede or leather drawer pulls and stereo surround sound, the bathroom is truly a sanctuary for the senses.

 

8 Bad ‘Home Improvement’ Habits

habitsHome owners can overdo it when it comes to the upkeep of their home. This Old House recently spotlighted several ways that home owners’ enthusiasm for home ownership may actually harm the house.

1. Having light bulbs that are too bright. You want a well-lit home, but exceeding a lamp or light fixture’s recommended wattage can be dangerous, particularly with incandescents or halogen lights, says John Drengenberg, consumer safety director for Underwriters Laboratories. “Using a bulb with too-high wattage will cause the fixture and its wiring to overheat,” he notes, which could then allow the heat to travel to the wall or erode the insulation on the wires and lead to a house fire. Check the fixtures label to make sure you use the correct wattage.

2. Planting trees near driveways or walkways. A line of trees to the house may up its curb appeal but adding young trees near driveways or walkways could be putting your slab at risk. As these trees grow taller, their roots will go outward, potentially pushing up the paving and causing it to buckle or crack. This Old House recommends planting small trees that will remain under 20 feet at maturity and that are at least 10 feet from paved areas. For larger trees, leave at least a 20-foot radius.

3. Overscrubbing a sink. Don’t overdo it with abrasive cleaners; they can scratch the sink. “Cleaners with a grit or grain to them will wear away at the finish and dull it,” Kohler‘s Mike Marbuch told This Old House. “That will make the sink more prone to gunk sticking to it—actually making it look dirtier.” Try a liquid cleanser like vinegar or lemon juice on the sink and avoid scrubbing it every day.

4. Overdoing it with can lights. Excessive recessed lighting in a home can cause a lot of air leaks. Recessed lighting is known as causing heat-sucking air leaks, especially when the fixtures are unsealed in vaulted ceilings. Airtight recessed lighting fixtures are available that are rated for insulation contact (IC). Also, use as few recessed lights as you can, especially when it comes to adding them to cathedral ceilings or in rooms directly below unconditioned attics.

5. Spreading too much mulch outside. “Over-mulching will suffocate plants, confuse their root systems, and prevent water from percolating into the soil,” notes the article at This Old House. “If you’ve mulched so much that tree trunks and flowers’ and shrubs’ lower branches are covered by or dragging in it, you’ve gone overboard.” Have mulch no thicker than 3 inches.

6. Using glass cleaner on mirrors. Watch out for store-bought sprays that promise to make your glass sparkle. “A drop of liquid running around the mirror’s edge can cause the reflective backing to lift or craze,” This Old House notes. The black edge can occur from using ammonia- or vinegar-based cleaners. This Old House recommends using warm water and a soft, lint-free cloth to clean mirrors. Or if you do use the sprays, spray it onto a dry cloth first and not directly onto the glass.

7. Repainting too much. “Excessive paint is detrimental – especially on an older house, which may have layers of thicker oil-based paint, which becomes brittle with age,” notes This Old House. To avoid thick, cracked, or peeling paint, be sure to carefully power-wash prior to painting, sand areas that need it, and then use 100 percent acrylic-resin exterior paint.

8. Fertilizing too much. Fertilizing too often can spur more weeds to grow. Also, the Environmental Protection Agency warns over-fertilizing can cause “nutrient pollution,” which is when nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from lawn fertilizers and then leads to an overgrowth of algae that can even pollute local waterways. Some lawn experts recommend only fertilizing twice a year, late summer and fall only.

Be Better

be betterAs I approached one of those milestone birthday’s, a friend remarked that now I was really old. “Did you know that your life is half over?” she said. “What will you do with the rest of it?”

Wow! That kind of rocked me back on my heels. I really began thinking about that question and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I did not have the answer. So I thought about it. Then I thought about it some more. What did I really want to do with the rest of my life???

For me, it was not about having more money or more toys or more vacations. What did I want? Hmmmm.

Then, almost a year later, it came to me. I simply wanted to be better. Not that things were really that bad before, but in my perspective, I think there is always room for improvement. So I decided that I wanted to be a better wife, better friend, better worker, better neighbor, etc. And so, there it is. I approach each day and try to be better.

As you move through time and space, think about what you want. Do you want to be better?

Homeownership Education by Framework

Fannie MaeBuying a home can be an intimidating process whether you’re searching for the right house or deciding on financing options with your lender. That’s why Fannie Mae has partnered with Framework, a leading provider of homeownership education. Framework offers an interactive online training course to help you understand the homebuying process and prepare for homeownership. Even previous buyers can benefit from the training as a valuable, up-to-date review.

Framework’s course meets the housing counseling standards established by HUD and the National Industry Standards for Homeownership Education and Counseling. It also fulfills the homeownership education requirement for Fannie Mae’s HomeReady mortgage.

framework258x150

Gest started on the FRAMEWORK Course

What You Need to Know

  • The course has 9 interactive modules that take about 4 hours to finish.
  • You’ll complete the modules online, at your convenience.
  • Framework charges a one-time $75 fee (that covers both you and a co-borrower) for the training—a small investment to help you prepare for possibly the largest purchase of your life.
  • Once you’re done, download and save your Certificate of Completion (you may need to provide it to your loan officer).

What You’ll Learn

  • How much home you can afford
  • How to choose the best loan
  • How to lower your down payment
  • What to include in your offer
  • What happens at closing
  • What pitfalls to avoid before and after closing
  • And more

Minority Home Ownership Rates Are Rising

Minority FamilyMinority home ownership rates are showing signs of improvement for the first time since 2007, and they are likely to see significant growth in the coming decades. Indeed, forecasters predict that more than three-quarters of household growth from 2010 to 2020 will be from minorities. From 2020 to 2030, 88 percent of the growth will be attributed to minorities.

Hispanics are supposed to drive most of that growth. The Hispanic home ownership rate has increased to its highest level since the third quarter of 2012.

Of the 22 million new households formed from 2010 and 2030, nine million are expected to be home owners, and more than half of those new home owners are likely to be Hispanic. Eleven percent will be black and 29 percent will be other races.

Of the 22 million new households formed from 2010 and 2030, nine million are expected to be home owners, and more than half of those new home owners are likely to be Hispanic. Eleven percent will be black and 29 percent will be other races.

Meanwhile, white-only home ownership, which right now trends about 20 to 30 points higher than minorities, ended 2015 lower than its been in years.

Are you looking to purchase a home? I can help.

Millennials Want the ‘Anti-Suburb Suburb’

buildForget what you’ve read about the millennial generation not buying homes in the suburbs. The latest surveys show they are, and not only that, they are leaving a powerful footprint on the feel of suburbia.

Millennials make up one-third of buyers nationwide, and represent the largest segment of all home buyers, according to research from the National Association of REALTORS®.

“Their buying power is huge,” says Jessica Lautz, NAR’s managing director of survey research. “They are definitely a force in the market. They are overtaking the baby boomers.”

They are moving out of city centers, bypassing the small starter properties in the city in favor of larger homes in the suburbs – just like previous generations before them have, notes Tommy Choi with Weinberg Choi Realty.

In the suburbs, millennials are increasingly opting for very traditional homes too – a single-family, detached home with three bedrooms and two baths, Lautz says. They also are often purchasing older properties – which might be less expensive – and then remodeling these properties to match their style.

When they do move out to the suburbs, they are showing a desire for the “anti-suburb suburb,” Alison Bernstein, founder of Suburban Jungle Realty, told MarketPlace.

Bernstein says her clients want to hold onto at least some elements of the urban lifestyle even though they are in suburbia. Builders and cities are taking notice. For example, some communities are repurposing shopping malls and parking lots into green space. They’re creating retail hubs. They are also looking for ways to improve walkability and add more convenient access to public transportation.

Also, cities are adding quality schools within shorter distances of residents.

“A great education … an organic market down the street,” Bernstein notes. “They really do want to bring the best of urban living to the suburbs.”

Agents Play Key Role in Educating Buyers

NegotiatingConsumers find buying a home even more complicated and confusing than we thought. As part of recent research conducted by Fannie Mae’s Economic & Strategic Research, close to 4,000 consumers were asked a multitude of questions. In general, respondents didn’t know how much money they needed to put down for a new home; they were worried about their credit score and their debt load; and they went about researching homes and getting a mortgage in a haphazard way. The bottom line-consumers need more education on qualifying for mortgages, and agents can play a key role in that effort.

Educating consumers and addressing misconceptions about the purchase and mortgage process is critical to responsibly expanding the pool of homebuyers and ensure underserved markets have access to housing-and agents are key to this process. Even though homebuyer education is readily available, more needs to be done to ensure buyers understand how to qualify, what steps to take first, and how to be a responsible homeowner, such as:

  • Partnering with lenders, non-profits, or community groups to begin educating renters and potential buyers sooner.
  • Referring clients to educational materials and tools-either offered directly or through other sources (Fannie Mae, home search sites, lenders, etc.)
  • Leveraging mobile opportunities-younger and minority groups favor mobile technology to search for a home and mortgage financing (don’t forget the HOME by Fannie Mae mobile app, which provides homebuyer education content and tools.)

For more information, please feel free to contact me any time. I am here to help you every step of the way.

Should you work with a bank or a broker?

signing-loanThe majority of home buyers get their mortgage directly from a bank—often the institution where they’re stashing their primary savings. But that’s hardly your only, or best, option. Shopping around with different lenders may land you a better deal (typically in the form of a lower interest rate).

Or you can choose to hire a pro—a mortgage broker.

Brokers work directly with lenders to negotiate terms and determine the best loans for you—not the generic “you,” but you specifically, taking into account your needs, income, savings, and any special situations that might apply. For instance, first-time buyers might have just landed a better job or gotten a raise, giving you more buying power that isn’t reflected in the last two years of your tax documents. The right broker will be able to find loans that take only the past year’s returns into account.

The downside? Brokers do charge a fee, typically about 1% to 2% of the cost of your loan. While many receive this fee from the lender, they might also charge you, too. Still, if your financial situation is complex or you lack the time to do your own research, paying a broker could be money well spent.

How long will you live there?

For most people, the choice comes down to the two main types of loans: fixed-rate and adjustable rate mortgages, or ARMs. True to their name, fixed-rate mortgages offer home buyers an interest rate that remains the same for the life of the loan. ARMs have an interest rate that is fixed for an initial period (say, five years), then adjusts at regular intervals (typically one year) to reflect market indexes—which means that your payments will fluctuate, too.

If you prefer predictable payments and/or are planning to stay in your home for longer than a decade, a fixed-rate mortgage may be better, says Shikma Rubin, a mortgage consultant at Tidewater Home Funding in Chesapeake, VA. “This is especially true in today’s market, when interest rates are low. Then, your interest rate remains stable, regardless of market conditions.”

Yet there are times it makes more sense to get an ARM. For one, the starting interest rate for an ARM is often at least a percentage point lower than a fixed-rate mortgage, which can add up to substantial savings. And even though it may start vacillating at some point, that can be as far as 10 years down the line. Combine that with the fact that in a study from 2013, the typical buyer of a single-family home was predicted to stay in it for 13 years. So if you’re expecting your residency to fall on the shorter end of the spectrum, an ARM might make total sense.

What monthly payments can you afford?

Most mortgages offer two loan periods: 15 and 30 years. A 15-year loan offers a lower interest rate but higher monthly payments, since you’re paying it off in half the time. Conversely, a 30-year loan offers lower monthly payments, but you’ll pay more interest over those 30 years.

So which one is right for you? That depends on what you can afford. According to realtor.com®’s mortgage calculator, if you get a 30-year fixed-rate loan on a $200,000 home, your monthly mortgage payments would amount to about $1,385 per month. A 15-year loan for that same house would cost you $1,909. This is higher, but you’ll pay only $66,288 in interest, whereas over 30 years, you’ll pay $143,739. So it’s up to you: pay more now, or pay more later?

Do you expect your financial situation to change?

If you’re expecting major upcoming changes in your financial situation—good or bad—make sure to consider them before deciding on a loan. For instance, a major increase in your income might mean an ARM is the best product for you, providing low payments for now and more rapid repayment after a promotion. Anticipating a lump sum payment soon? Same thing: An ARM lets you pay less now and aggressively attack your principal balance later. But conversely, if you’re concerned about your job stability, “by all means, get a fixed rate,” says Casey Fleming, author of “The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage.” As always, discuss your plans with your financial adviser or mortgage broker.

Should you lock in your rate?

A lock allows you to lock in a specific rate for a specified length of time before closing. This protects you if market rates go higher.

A float-down is an extra feature that can be added to a lock. It allows you the flexibility to get an even lower rate if rates happen to retreat after a lock is set.

These features require a fee, but depending on the volatility of the market and how critical it is for you to keep down your monthly mortgage payment, that cash could be a worthwhile investment.

Can you negotiate anything?

You may not have much luck negotiating the interest rate or terms of the loan, but there are other areas where lenders might be willing to wiggle. “Ask for an itemized list of expenses, and see what’s up for debate,” says Anne Postic, the editor of Mortgages.com. Pay attention to the little charges. “Do you see a courier or mail fee, but you did everything electronically?” Postic says. “Those fees may be standard for your lender, and they can be waived.” Lenders might also be willing to waive the application fee or pay some of your closing costs, decreasing your overall cost. Mortgage brokers can be extra-helpful here, so make sure to talk to them about lowering any added expenses and fees.

ATTITUDE – how a young boy’s viewpoint inspires his father

LakeOne day a wealthy father took his son to a trip to the country with the firm purpose to show him how poor people can be. To prove his point, the wealthy man allowed his son to spend a day and a night in the farm of a very poor family.
When the boy got back from their trip the father asked his son, “How was the trip?”
“Very good Dad!”
“Did you see how poor people can be?” the father asked. “Yes!” he answered.
“And what did you learn?”
The son thought for a moment before he answered, “Well, I saw that we have one dog at home, and they have four. We have a swimming pool that reaches to the middle of the garden, but they live next to a lake that has no end. We have imported lamps in our garden, but from their front porch you can see all the stars. Our back yard patio has a nice view of our back yard, but from their back yard, you can see the whole horizon.”

When the little boy had finished, his father stood speechless. The boy started to walk away.

“Wait,” said the father. “Is there anything else?”

His son stopped, and turned. ” Oh, right. Thanks Dad for showing me how poor we are compared to them!”

Isn’t it true that it all depends on the way you look at things? If you have love, friends, family, health, good humor and a positive attitude towards life — you’ve got everything! You can’t buy any of these things, but still you can have all the material possessions you can imagine, provisions for the future, etc., but if you are poor of spirit, you have nothing!

 

5 Dating Tips That Apply to Home Shopping

dating tipsAs a home shopper, are you desperately trying to find “the one?” Finding the perfect housing match can be like finding the perfect mate. For some Americans, this year’s Valentine may come in the form of a home, filled with shiny new fixtures and a great first impression. But that search isn’t always easy.

In a recent article, realtor.com® highlights how home-shopping can feel a lot like dating.

1. You need to have trust.

Americans seem to think they have a better chance at finding love than finding the perfect home. Fifty-two percent of home buyers believe they will find their dream home compared to 73 percent of Americans who believe they will find true love. While competition in the housing market is intense right now, home buyers shouldn’t get disheartened.

2. Don’t take the first one you find.

Home buyers look at a median of 10 homes before making a purchase. In the search for love, a man will date, on average, six other people before choosing “the one,” while a woman typically dates five. Home buyers shouldn’t be discouraged if the first few homes don’t feel right to them. Sometimes it takes a few before finding the perfect match.

3. Try finding an online connection first.

Ninety-two percent of home buyers say they use the Internet during their housing search while 38 percent of single-Americans say they have used online or mobile dating services to find love. Does that make realtor.com® your Matchmaker.com? The majority of Americans surveyed about dating sites and mobile apps say that they find a better romantic match because of the wide range of potential partners they can access. Sounds like a good lesson for real estate too!

4. First impressions do matter.

Seventy-seven percent of home buyers say they’ll know immediately when they’ve found their ideal home; 52 percent of Americans believe in love at first sight when dating. Trust your hunch.

5. Regrets happen.

Eighty percent of home buyers have at least one major regret about their new home purchase; 72 percent of married women admit they’ve considered leaving their husbands at some point. Home owners typically had buyer’s remorse when buying a home that was too small or didn’t have enough storage space, choosing a home near unpleasant neighbors, and purchasing in a bad school district. At least with real estate, your always a for-sale sign away from moving on.

“The reality, of course, is that neither homes nor relationships are ever truly perfect,” realtor.com®’s article notes. “But if you really work at understanding what you want and what you need, and taking the time to assess a variety of options, you’re likely to find a pretty good fit. Maybe even one that will improve with time.”

Having the right Realtor can be a big help. Let me know how I can help you!

‘Brady Bunch’ Star Eve Plumb Selling Malibu Bungalow for Teardown

Eve-PlumbFor Jan Brady, the perennially put-upon middle daughter of “The Brady Bunch,” it was all about “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” For actress Eve Plumb, who played Jan, her Malibu home, now on the market, is all about location, location, location.

And location is what’s being sold. The 1950 bungalow, owned by Plumb’s family for more than 40 years, is marketed as a teardown—and a rather pricey one at that. But for $4,950,000, even for the land alone, this kind of property is a rarity, according to listing agent Brian Linder. Current-Beach-House

“There’s only so much beachfront property in the world,” Linder says.

Putting the obvious aside, this property, located on sought-after Escondido Beach, is a pretty prime slice.

Turns out that the TV star, who got her start acting in commercials back in 1966, was a savvy real estate investor at a young age as well. Now 57, Plumb purchased the beach house with her parents in 1969.

“She bought it with the proceeds of her income,” Linder says.

The price tag in 1969? Just $55,300, according to the agent. We’ll wait as you pick yourself up off the floor.

Besides her astonishing return on investment, quick math reveals Plumb was a wee 11 years old at the time of purchase. Take that, Marcia!

Her parents enjoyed the home for decades, but after they died the property reverted back to Plumb through a family trust. She put the home on the market two years ago, but it didn’t sell.

This time, she tried a new tack, enlisting Staples Center architect Dan Meis of Meis Architects to come up with designs for a breathtakingly modern home that would fit on the lot. Proposed-Plans-for-Malibu-Beach-House

His approach for a future build that could replace the current structure is showcased in the listing, along with photos of the charming cottage currently on the property. Plumb went a step further, doing some preliminary legwork to learn that a 3,500-square-foot, three-bedroom, 2.5-bath house could be approved for the parcel. She even looked into construction permits.

“If this were complete, it would be a $10 [million] or $12 [million] or $15 million house,” Linder says. He roughly estimates the cost of building the new home could be anywhere from $1 million to as much as $2 million with the drawn plans, which include some mega high-end features.

Although the design could always be altered to suit the needs of the buyer, architectural details now include a “cantilevered concrete core,” floor-to-ceiling glass, a retractable moon roof, perforated metal panels, a car stacker for multiple vehicles, and a pool. Funky beach bungalow it isn’t. Beach-House-Plans

For any future homeowner embarking on a new build, there’s the bonus of the well-kept existing 850-square-foot Craftsman, which is already a rental property. It could continue to bring in income or serve as the buyer’s temporary pad before construction commenced.

After all, that 47 feet of beach frontage can’t enjoy itself.

 

 

How to Tell if Your DIY Project Is a Disaster—and How to Dig Out

diy-disasterWhen you first envisioned your renovation project, it was the stuff of rainbow-colored daydreams. A few weekends of manual labor, a forcibly fun painting party, and your house would be totally transformed. A new you!

Indeed, it was fun for a while. The first weekend you blasted out the walls, ripped up the floors and channeled your inner Bob Vila.

That was 11 weekends ago.

Since then you’ve taped some stuff off, laid down some plywood and covered everything with plastic tarp so the settling dust wouldn’t get into your morning coffee. Is it time to accept you are in over your head? Maybe. Or maybe not. You might need a good contractor, but you also might be able to rally and get this done yourself. Here’s how to tell:

1. Are you on the highway to the danger zone?

Even small DIY home projects are risky (safety first, kids!), but have you tackled something that really could land you in an ER waiting room? Some projects are better left to the pros.

“Anything that involves permitted trades like electric, plumbing, or HVAC repair,” says Sabine H. Schoenberg, founder of PrimeSitesCT and host of ThisNewHouse. “Trade licenses mean something, and you really do not want to learn on your own house.”

Look at your project from a safety perspective. If you could do serious damage to yourself—or your house—you might be better off quitting while you’re ahead.

2. Going through ch-ch-changes?

Sometimes, life throws you a curveball. Sometimes, even a knuckleball! Maybe work has gotten busier. Maybe that one-day-a-week volunteer project has taken way more effort than you thought. Maybe your kid joined the varsity Serbo-Croatian debate team. Sometimes, you find that you just don’t have the time or energy to finish a DIY project. And when that happens, you may decide that it’s easier to let it languish than deal with it.

“It’s OK to admit it to yourself,” Schoenberg says.

If you’ve been too busy lately to devote any time to your project, ask yourself how long your preoccupation might last. If you can give yourself a solid deadline to get back to the project, stick with it. If you can’t, call for backup.

3. Missing a piece of the puzzle?

Money is often a big factor in why DIY projects go dormant. If you’ve been waiting weeks (or months) to save up for an expensive piece of your project, change your approach.

Check secondhand construction stores such as Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore. You can also hunt for missing pieces in antique stores, flea markets, and on sites like Craigslist. Secondhand materials can save you a bundle.

4. More gusto than knowledge?

At some point we’ve all gotten excited about a DIY project and dived right in, only to realize later that we can’t do everything we thought we could.

If you’re stuck on a part of a project (how do you get those tiles to lie evenly, anyway?), you might be able to teach yourself. Search for how-to videos online—including realtor.com’s library of free video guides.

———

Know when to call for help—and how to get it

Of course, learn-at-home videos aren’t foolproof. If you’re still at a loss simply watching the pros, it might be better to bring them in, in person—even if it’s only for part of your project.

Finding pros who want to step into a project started by a DIY person is not easy,” Schoenberg says.

But it can be done. Just make sure you’re clear with the contractor. Explain that you need help with this part, but ultimately want to finish the job yourself.

You’ll save some cash overall, but don’t expect the pro to work for cheap.

“They know they will likely have to rip out and redo a bunch of installations,” Schoenberg says. “To price that is difficult.”

But be careful when you’re looking for a contractor.

“The only way to gauge things a bit is by multiple bids,” Schoenberg says. “The right price is usually in the middle. Toss the highest and the lowest numbers.”

If You’re Buying a Home This Year, Whip Your Taxes Into Shape Now

house-tax-formAh, tax time—that magical time when all your accomplishments of the previous year can be used against you. After all, the more you made, the more you owe! No wonder there’s so much advice out there about finding (perfectly legal) ways to whittle down your adjusted gross income.

But if you’re looking to buy a home, you’ll want to try a different tack—the higher your reported income, the bigger the home loan you’ll qualify for. So if you’re planning to buy a house in the next year or two, you may want to be less aggressive about claiming write-offs.

As Brian Decker, a loan originator with Guaranteed Rate, puts it: “Is paying an extra few thousand dollars in state and federal taxes for the year worth it to become a homeowner?”

We’ll leave that up to you and your financial adviser to decide. But if you want to look worthy in the eyes of a mortgage lender, you’ll need to do some legwork on your taxes, starting now. Here’s what you need to know, no matter what your situation.

If you’re self-employed

Pay attention to large deductions, such as those for a home office or business vehicle that can significantly reduce your reported income. For big, one-time deductions, be sure to save your documentation (you’ll need it for the IRS anyway), and explain to your lender the circumstance that reduced your income in that year. You can also assuage their concerns by having a larger cash cushion or by putting down a bigger down payment.

If you’ve just recently gone freelance, you may also run into issues getting approved for a mortgage if you don’t have a track record to demonstrate your earning potential.

“It doesn’t matter how much experience you have in a field, once you strike it out on your own, we need to see two years of self-employed income,” says Mike Lyon, vice president of operations at Quicken Loans.

If you’re on staff

Workers with W-2s typically have an easier time getting approved than those who are self-employed, but keep this in mind: Any write-offs on your Form 2106 for unreimbursed business expenses will be deducted from your salary.

If you got a new job that doesn’t appear on your tax returns, ask your employer to provide a verification of employment letter, which can reassure the lender that you’re good for the income stated on your application.

“As long as you’re in the same field and your earnings are roughly the same, we’re comfortable with job changes,” says Dave Norris, an executive vice president with loanDepot.

Workers whose tax returns show that they were unemployed for a significant period of time in the past two years may also run into trouble, since lenders want to see a consistent two-year work history. Be ready to explain any long employment gaps.

If you’re claiming rental income

Just as your business expenses will be deducted from your salary, any write-offs you take on a rental property will be deducted from your rental income.

Lenders will look at your Schedule E to verify the amount of rent you collect (showing them a lease won’t cut it), and determine how much you spend on the property. Deductions for depreciation don’t count against you.

We know—forgoing some of those tax deductions might make you cringe a little. But just think of the tax breaks you can get once you’re a homeowner, and it’ll all be better soon.

Where in the U.S. Can You Find the Best Public Schools—but Shell Out the Least?

school-signCan you feel it? The hallowed spring buying season is fast approaching—sooner rather than later, according to furry February forecaster Punxsutawney Phil. And just why do spring and summer make up the high season for real estate sales? Because of all the families who want to move during the summer and get settled before their kids start school in the fall. But you knew that already, right?

Yep, schools are a huge factor in real estate. Whether or not you have kids, a good school district will boost your home’s value—and a bad one can torpedo it. And if you are a parent, you want the best school you can afford for your kids, without bankrupting yourself. Of course, there’s always private school—with average tuitions ranging from $7,000 to well over $20,000 a year

Like we said, you don’t want to go bankrupt, right?

It’s little wonder that people are quite willing to shell out extra to get a home in a top school district. Our previous study found that nearly half of home buyers said they would be willing to go over their budget by up to 10% in order to buy within the boundaries of their preferred school.

So our data analysts got out their textbooks, their notepads and erasers, and their shiny apples for teacher and decided to take a look at what kinds of schools you’re getting for your real estate dollars. For each public school district rated 10 (the highest) by GreatSchools.org, we calculated the median home price within that district. We then compared home prices in each of those top school districts with the counties in which they’re located, and identified the top 10 districts where you’ll pay the smallest premium (or even a discount!). That gave us a list of top school districts that are most within financial reach.

So here are the best in (and out of) class:

No. 10 Mason City Schools (Mason, OH)

Median home price: $297,500 (25% higher than county median)

The Mason City Schools district enrolls more than 10,000 students in a beautiful suburban setting outside Cincinnati. What’s not to love? The place is renowned for high national rankings in math and reading scores, and last year, the high school celebrated 20 students who achieved distinction in the National Merit Scholarship competition.

Homes within the district ask for a median of $297,500, and the median of Warren County is $238,000. So a $60,000 price boost gets you one of the state’s best performing schools—isn’t that a sweet deal?

No. 9 Fort Thomas Independent Schools (Fort Thomas, KY)

Median home price: $169,900 (18% higher than county median)

Educationwise, Kentucky gets a bad rap. Right across the river from Cincinnati lies the state’s highest-performing public school district for the 17th consecutive year. Of the five schools in the district, four were named Blue Ribbon Schools of excellence by the U.S. Department of Education.

Buy a home in the district for just $169,900, and you can send your kids to these top-notch educational institutions. Oh, you want a career, too? The community is just 5 miles from downtown Cincinnati—not a bad commute at all!

No. 8 Regional School District 09 (Redding, CT)

Median home price: $662,450 (11% higher than county median)

A median home price of $662,450 may seem steep, but in Connecticut’s tony Fairfield County, it’s actually quite reasonable. The overall price in the region is almost $600,000 to begin with, so you pay only 11% more for the top performing Joel Barlow High School, which boasts a reading proficiency rate of 98% and math proficiency rate of 97%. Score!

No. 7 Murray Independent Schools (Murray, KY)

Median home price: $124,900 (6% higher than county median)

Did we already mention that Kentucky excellence extends way beyond mere bourbon, bluegrass, and fried chicken?  The Murray Independent Schools system has a history of accomplishment—it has won the “What Parents Want” award from School Match each year since 1996. Most recently, the district’s assessment result was ranked the third in the state.

The town of Murray is located in the southwestern region, about two hours from Nashville, TN. Oh, and Murray was named America’s friendliest town by USA Today. KFC for all! (At least that’s how we imagine it.)

No. 6 Cedarburg School District (Cedarburg, WI)

Median home price: $329,000 (5% higher than county median)

About 17 miles north of Milwaukee, in the historical town of Cedarburg, the town’s namesake school district consistently achieves one of the state’s top rankings in math, science, and reading. The high school, one of the nation’s Blue Ribbon schools, boasts a graduation rate of 99% and made U.S. News & World Report’s list of America’s best.

No. 5 Red Lodge High School (Red Lodge, MT)

Median home price: $289,700 (4% higher than county median)

Red Lodge High School is ranked as the second best in Montana by U.S. News & World Report. Among its 173 students, 98% are proficient in reading and 76% are proficient in math.

In this case, the good school comes at the price of a convenient location. At the foot of the Red Lodge Mountain, the community is about an hour away from Billings, MT—the nearest big city. It’s pretty, though.

No. 4 Los Alamos Public Schools (Los Alamos, NM)

Median home price: $237,500 (3% lower than county median)

Since it’s home to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, it’s no surprise that schools in Los Alamos focus on computer science and technology. Technical education programs at the high school include auto mechanics, engineering and architectural drafting, computer-aided drafting, and electronics.

About 70 homes within the district are currently on the market for a median of $237,500—3% lower than the county median.

No. 3 Winfield School District 34 (Winfield, IL)

Median home price: $249,900 (23% lower than county median)

In the Chicago suburbs, the district’s two elementary schools enroll more than 300 students and have a student-to-teacher ratio of 16:1. Winfield Central School, serving third to 8th grade, receives a GreatSchools.org rating of 10 for excellent scores in math, reading, and science in all grades.

Forty-five minutes away from downtown Chicago, the community is almost at the fringe of the metro area, which offers a discount on home price: Median home price within the district is 23% lower than overall DuPage County.

No. 2 Essex Community Education Center (Essex Junction, VT)

Median home price: $252,500 (25% lower than county median)

The 1,000 or so students in the district are served by 150 teachers, resulting a 7.02 student-to-teacher ratio. The high school within the district has a proficiency rate of 60% in math, 87% in reading, and 46% in science, earning a rating of 10 by GreatSchools.org. East of the Burlington international airport, the community is a 15-minute drive from downtown Burlington.

No. 1 Community High School District 117 (Lake Villa, IL)

Median home price: $219,900 (27% lower than county median)

This district with more than 100 years of history comprises four schools with 2,800 students. The Chicago Tribune reports that more than 60% of Lakes Community High School students are prepared for college work, well above the 45.6% of students in the state as a whole.

Halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee, the not-so-ideal location offers a price discount of 27% compared with the Lake County median.

You may have detected a pattern here: Most of the districts on our list are in Midwestern suburban or small-town communities. Sadly (for city lovers), you have to move away from the bright lights if you don’t want to go way over budget for a great education for your kids. Let me know how I may assist you in finding the right home!

Commercial Real Estate Experts: Moderate Expansion, Easing Prices Expected in 2016

Chicago River at night DUNWASHINGTON (February 4, 2016) — Despite various global and domestic hurdles hindering economic growth, steady job gains and stable leasing demand should help keep commercial real estate activity expanding in 2016, according to the authors of an annual report published jointly by Situs Real Estate Research Corporation (RERC), Deloitte and the National Association of Realtors®.

According to the report, Expectations & Market Realities in Real Estate 2016—Navigating through the Crosscurrents, commercial real estate activity is forecast to gradually grow this year with demand for space holding steady across all commercial sectors. While commercial property values and price gains are expected to flatten after surpassing 2007 peaks in some major markets, investors will still benefit from the strong income flows generated from new and existing leases.

The fifth annual release of the joint report draws on the three organizations’ respective research and expert analysis and offers an objective outlook on commercial real estate through forecasts and commentary on the current economy, capital markets and commercial real estate property markets. A research-based assessment of the office, industrial, apartment, retail and hotel property sectors is also provided.

“Historically low interest rates, especially in treasuries, combined with commercial real estate’s stable prices and value make this asset an attractive investment,” says Ken Riggs, president of Situs RERC. “Looking into 2016, the commercial real estate market should moderate, which could stabilize prices.”

Vacancies are expected to continue to decline slightly in 2016 for all property types, except in the apartment sector, where they are forecast to increase modestly by the end of the year as more new project completions come onto the market. Continued job growth, demand exceeding supply and limited new construction (outside of multifamily) should lead to rising rents and steady investor returns, which overall will shift away from capital appreciation as price growth levels off in many markets.

Continuing on the same slow trajectory seen for many years, the U.S. economy – facing headwinds from a rising dollar, financial market volatility and geopolitical concerns – is forecast to grow at a rate of 2 percent to 3 percent in 2016, which is stronger than most global economies and enough to generate around two million net new jobs over the next year. Deflationary pressures related to low gasoline and energy prices are expected to diminish by mid-2016, in part because of robust growth in apartment rents.

“Supported by solid hiring in most parts of the country, the demand for ownership and rental housing will continue to increase in 2016 despite another year of meager economic expansion,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “While supply shortages will weigh on housing affordability and push home prices and rents higher, the housing sector will keep the U.S. economy afloat and lead the residential investment component of GDP growth by up to 10 percent this year.”

Commuting Costs Important to Home Buyers

487579367OS00013_LONDON_UNDEven with plunging gas prices, the cost of commuting to and from the office can be pricey (as well as stressful!). But how much does that commute play into the home buying process? According to research from the National Association of REALTORS®, commuting costs definitely come into play in searching for and purchasing that dream home; in fact, 30 percent of home buyers purchased homes last year to cut down on commuting costs—a factor they cited as “very important.” Additionally, 64 percent of buyers bought their home in part because it was convenient to their job; this was so important that 23 percent of those buyers said they compromised on the price of their home to be physically closer to work, making more time for the other important things in their life, such as spending time with friends and family.

This aspect of choosing where to live can be a very important part of your decision making process. I am always happy to help you find the right location for your specific needs. Give me a call!

Unravel The Mystery of the True Value of Your Home

house, money, calculatorAre you thinking about selling your home?

If you’re thinking about selling your home, you probably have a lot of questions. When’s the best time to put your house on the market? Are we in a buyer’s market or a seller’s market? What could my home sell for? Why do some homes sell quickly when others don’t?

I offer a 4-Prong approach to assist buyers and sellers determine the true value of their property in today’s time sensitive and ever shifting market. I would love to prepare a Comparative Market Analysis for you, FREE OF CHARGE! Use the “Contact Us” bar on the right side of the page. Enter FREE CMA along with the best way to reach you. We will be in touch!

Let me help. As your local RE/MAX agent, I’m happy to answer all of your questions. Find out why nobody in the world sells more real estate than RE/MAX.

Words of Wisdom from a Man with not a Dime in His Pocket

PierThe following is from Pulitzer Prize winning author Anna Quindlen’s commencement address to Villanova University, Friday 23 June 2000:

It’s a great honor for me to be the third member of my family to receive an honorary doctorate from this great university. It’s an honor to follow my great-uncle Jim, who was a gifted physician, and my Uncle Jack, who is a remarkable businessman. Both of them could have told you something important about their professions, about medicine or commerce.

I have no specialized field of interest or expertise, which puts me at a disadvantage, talking to you today. I’m a novelist. My work is human nature. Real life is all I know. Don’t ever confuse the two, your life and your work. The second is only part of the first.

Don’t ever forget what a friend once wrote Senator Paul Tsongas when the senator decided not to run for reelection because he’d been diagnosed with cancer: “No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time in the office.” Don’t ever forget the words my father sent me on a postcard last year: “If you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.” Or what John Lennon wrote before he was gunned down in the driveway of the Dakota: “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”

You walk out of here this afternoon with only one thing that no one else has. There will be hundreds of people out there with your same degree; there will be thousands of people doing what you want to do for a living. But you will be the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on a bus, or in a car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your minds, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul.

People don’t talk about the soul very much anymore. It’s so much easier to write a resume than to craft a spirit. But a resume is a cold comfort on a winter night, or when you’re sad, or broke, or lonely, or when you’ve gotten back the test results and they’re not so good.

Here is my resume: I am a good mother to three children. I have tried never to let my profession stand in the way of being a good parent. I no longer consider myself the center of the universe. I show up. I listen, I try to laugh. I am a good friend to my husband. I have tried to make marriage vows mean what they say. I show up. I listen. I try to laugh. I am a good friend to my friends, and they to me. Without them, there would be nothing to say to you today, because I would be a cardboard cutout. But call them on the phone, and I meet them for lunch. I show up. I listen. I try to laugh.

I would be rotten, or at best mediocre at my job, if those other things were not true. You cannot be really first rate at your work if your work is all you are.

So here is what I wanted to tell you today:

Get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you’d care so very much about those things if you blew an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast? Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over Seaside Heights, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over the water gap or the way a baby scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a cheerio with her thumb and first finger.

Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work. Each time you look at your diploma, remember that you are still a student, still learning how to best treasure your connection to others. Pick up the phone. Send an e-mail. Write a letter. Kiss your Mom. Hug your Dad. Get a life in which you are generous.

Look around at the azaleas in the suburban neighborhood where you grew up; look at a full moon hanging silver in a black, black sky on a cold night.

And realize that life is the best thing ever, and that you have no business taking it for granted. Care so deeply about its goodness that you want to spread it around. Once in a while take money you would have spent on beers and give it to charity. Work in a soup kitchen. Be a big brother or sister.

All of you want to do well. But if you do not do good, too, then doing well will never be enough. It is so easy to waste our lives: our days, our hours, our minutes. It is so easy to take for granted the color of the azaleas, the sheen of the limestone on Fifth Avenue, the color of our kid’s eyes, the way the melody in a symphony rises and falls and disappears and rises again. It is so easy to exist instead of live. I learned to live many years ago.

Something really, really bad happened to me, something that changed my life in ways that, if I had my druthers, it would never have been changed at all. And what I learned from it is what, today, seems to be the hardest lesson of all. I learned to love the journey, not the destination. I learned that it is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get. I learned to look at all the good in the world and to try to give some of it back because I believed in it completely and utterly. And I tried to do that, in part, by telling others what I had learned. By telling them this:

Consider the lilies of the field. Look at the fuzz on a baby’s ear. Read in the backyard with the sun on your face. Learn to be happy. And think of life as a terminal illness because if you do you will live it with joy and passion, as it ought to be lived.

Well, you can learn all those things, out there, if you get a life, a full life, a professional life, yes, but another life, too, a life of love and laughs and a connection to other human beings. Just keep your eyes and ears open. Here you could learn in the classroom. There the classroom is everywhere. The exam comes at the very end. No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time at the office. I found one of my best teachers on the boardwalk at Coney Island maybe 15 years ago. It was December, and I was doing a story about how the homeless survive in the winter months.

He and I sat on the edge of the wooden supports, dangling our feet over the side, and he told me about his schedule; panhandling the boulevard when the summer crowds were gone, sleeping in a church when the temperature went below freezing, hiding from the police amidst the Tilt a Whirl and the Cyclone and some of the other seasonal rides. But he told me that most of the time he stayed on the boardwalk, facing the water, just the way we were sitting now even when it got cold and he had to wear his newspapers after he read them.

And I asked him why. Why didn’t he go to one of the shelters? Why didn’t he check himself into the hospital for detox? And he just stared out at the ocean and said, “Look at the view, young lady. Look at the view.”

And every day, in some little way, I try to do what he said. I try to look at the view. And that’s the last thing I have to tell you today, words of wisdom from a man with not a dime in his pocket, no place to go, nowhere to be. Look at the view. You’ll never be disappointed.