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  • Tips for Growing Fruits and Vegetables at Home

    There may be many benefits to growing your own garden, including better quality of produce, saving money, and having a healthy hobby. If you’re just getting started, use the guide below.

    Here are our tips for growing fruits and vegetables at home!

    ● Gather your tools: Before you get down in the dirt, gather your gear. If you aren’t properly equipped already, head to your local home improvement or gardening supply stores to stock up on the essentials. To get started, you will need: a trowel (weeding, digging small holes), gardening gloves, a watering can and/or hose, a wheelbarrow, a shovel (digging large holes), a rake, shears (pruning), and sun protection.

    ● Decide how your garden will grow: Once you’ve planned the spot for your garden, you’ll need to decide which type you will grow. The traditional route is an in-ground garden, which uses natural soil and should ideally receive at least six hours of natural, direct light. If you have poor soil, you can choose a container garden instead by using store-bought potting soil (just make sure the container you use has proper drainage and enough space for deep-rooted plants). If you’re looking for something between the two, consider a raised-bed garden or thesquare-foot gardening method to get better control over the soil.

    ● Prepare your soil: Set your garden up for success by using high-quality soil. It should be well-aerated, free of stones and sand, and rich in compost for plenty of nutrients. Test the pH as well to make sure that your soil is only slightly acidic (unless you’re growing something like blueberries which prefer acidic soil).

    ● Pick your plants: Deciding what fruits and vegetables to grow is entirely up to you (and your growing conditions, of course). Plants like tomatoes, squash, beans, eggplant, corn, and peppers all love lots of sunlight, while leafy vegetables, potatoes, carrots, and turnips can do with less (which means they can be planted in early spring or late summer). If you’re a beginner, consider starting with seedlings from your local nursery.

    ● Tend to your garden: After the seeds are in the soil, keep a close eye on them. You may want to add more compost to help control weeds or cool roots during the summer. Depending on the weather, you may need to supplement the rain with additional water. Be careful not to water too much, though (watch out for leaves and stems that start to lighten in color or turn yellow).

    Impress your friends and family with great, fresh meals all season long.

  • Back to School: Home Office Essentials

    Back to school season is in full swing, and that means your kids will be coming home with more and more homework. They will need a productive space to study, and your home office can be a good option. But the office may need a few essentials before it’s ready for the school year.

    Get Good Lighting

    Studying in the dark can strain your eyes or put you to sleep. To avoid the likelihood of snoozing during study time, you’ll want to have adequate lighting. Add a small desk lamp, a floor lamp, or a brighter bulb in your overhead lighting.

    Create Comfort

    Your kids will ideally spend a lot of time studying in the office. Make it comfortable. Invest in a good chair or a lumbar support cushion.

    Keep Supplies Within Reach

    Your kids may need pens, pencils, paper clips, glue sticks, and all of the things on their long back to school shopping list. Try to fit the necessary supplies in arms reach. Set up pencil holders on the desk surface, or dedicate a drawer to school supplies. If they can simply grab what they need, they’ll be likely to save time and stay on track.

    Be Organized

    People are more productive when they work in an organized space. So instead of throwing supplies and papers anywhere, make sure everything has a place. Invest in folders, binders, and a file cabinet (and make sure the entire family uses them).

    Decorate

    Creative work is done best in a visually pleasing space, so don’t skimp when it comes to interior design. Personalize the space and make it one where your family actually enjoys spending time.

    Get your home office in shape. Your entire family may be more productive as a result.

  • FACTORS THAT CAN MAKE OR BREAK YOUR PROPERTY DEAL

    Real estate is a difficult trade but making investment in it can be a great decision if done intelligently. Most individuals often spend their entire savings and take loans to buy a property. So this has to be done with huge concern to ensure that the money invested does its work. The top factors that can make or break your property deal are as follows:

     

    AFFORDABILITY

    Budget is the most imperative thing you need to take into account even before you start looking for properties. Make sure to first determine a budget range in mind and see to it that your finances are in order. It is because if you purchase a property that exceeds your budget then you will have to pay a large EMI that will further leave your pocket empty by the end of the month. Make sure that your EMI does not go beyond 40% of your monthly income.


    RESEARCH


    Once you have set your finance target, the next big thing you need to focus on is the research part. Make sure to look for locales that get along with your needs. And to make this happen, you need to focus on these factors:


    – Convenience and connectivity
    – Presence of social as well as physical communications
    – The projected infrastructural growths 
    – Safety and security
    – Livability

    Make sure you do not invest in areas which don’t provide basic amenities such as road, water supply as well as drainage system. And then, it would be unwise on your part to get carried away with the promise of future infrastructural developments and invest your money blindly. After all, infrastructure projects usually take time to start off and few also fail to take off. Hence, make sure you don’t trust simply fake words unless you see the evidences right in front of your eyes.

    BUILDER’S CREDIBILITY:

    If you are a resident of Lucknow, then you may have come across various Lucknow real estate projects. In fact, the real estate market in this city is vast and the industry has both dependable and undependable builders. Hence, it would be unwise on your part to invest your hard earned money blindly after seeing lucrative offers from any small time builder. Instead, what you need to do is check the dependability of the builder by checking their earlier projects. This will give you a clear objective about the reliability of the builder.

    AUTHENTICATE LEGAL DOCUMENTS:

    For any property related transaction, title deeds play a critical role. You need to check whether the seller has an influential title deed of the property; in case they don’t, make sure you do not buy the property.

    • The title deed is an important document for the deal without which you will have legal issues in the days to come.
    • Ensure to get the original title deed confirmed with a lawyer before purchasing the property.
    • Before purchasing the property, ensure that all the clearances for the property are in place.
    • If you have plans to purchase an under-construction property, do not forget to get the allotment letter as well as the development agreement from the builder
    • The allotment letter has multiple details such as the floor plan, price of the property, delivery date as well as liability details in case there is any impediment in delivering the project. Whereas the development agreement has information related to the terms and conditions under which the landowner permitted the builder to use his property
    • Make sure the taxes associated with the property are cleared before you purchase the asset.


    Finally, you should not vacillate to get an expert’s help whenever you have doubts.

    Paarth infrabuild
  • A GUIDE TO DIY NATURAL CLEANING PRODUCTS

    With so many cleaning products available in the market, is it possible to keep your family and yourself safe from harsh chemicals? It certainly is. You can clean your house just as effectively with homemade natural cleaning products using ingredients readily available at home! They’re cheaper, improve indoor air quality and are much much safer, especially for children. Everyday products like baking soda (helps break down stains by loosening grime), vinegar (deodorizes, disinfects, and whisks away dirt and grime) , and alcohol (germ eliminator) make for great cleaners. So the next time you want to clean your home, try these simple DIY cleaning products.

  • What Millennials really want out of the home buying experience

    Millennials are growing older, and, while not ready to buy homes yet, they are still slowly starting to enter the market. Lenders will need to prepare for this new generation as they turn their interests to settling down and buying a home.

    So what makes this generation tick? What makes them different than other generations?

    A recent blog by Lexa Michaelides for Inc. talked about 10 reasons why Millennials are getting seriously discouraged.

    Well, I'm a Millennial, and I couldn’t disagree more.

    Her first point is that very few are passionate about their job, and that they choose being practical over their passion. First of all, not only is that not something that’s specific to Millennials, but it’s not necessarily bad, it’s just part of growing up. At some point every generation will do it; they will become responsible and get a job that will pay the mortgage.

    The second point she mentions is that “the wild fantasies of many of my peers are really basic lifestyles,” as Michaelides puts it. She mentions Millennials just wanting a simple apartment, a dog and "manageable" debt.

    She’s right about student debt, it has become a growing problem that seems impossible to escape. That being said, I’ve never gotten, or seen another Millennial get “seriously discouraged” because one of their peers holds the simple dream of getting a small apartment and a dog.

    Actually, we really don’t care. Maybe I’m in the wrong circles? After all, there are more than 75 million of us. Either way, we still don't care.

    She mentions that many Millennials are ready to get involved with their social beliefs and politics, however they are criticized for either being too young to understand or not getting involved enough. If someone truly felt strongly about their social belief and wanted to do something, but all it takes to stop them is a little criticism from the older generations, there’s a problem.

    Her Inc. piece also talks about social media.

    She writes that interpersonal relationships can be just as meaningful online as face-to-face. Yet, according to a study done by the Pew Research Center, the average Facebook user never even meet 7% of their online friends. So, that is a very small number to make the statement they are just as meaningful or important.

    She continues on to talk about a couple different things in her article including nostalgia from looking back at the difference between now and our childhood, and Millennials not truly feeling like adults yet. Are these true? Yes. Do they distinguish us from other generations? No. Are we “seriously discouraged” by this? No, we’re really not.

    We may not make everlasting friendships online but we are perfectly comfortable conducting our financial affairs in an 100% digital environment. Michaelides is sad because she misses the point of being online; there is a huge power to get things done. I'd argue that Millennials are perfectly comfortable getting a loan online, in fact, we prefer it. 

    Yes, Millennials are different from previous generations, just like every generation has been different from the generation before. What makes us different is that we are more connected through social media and the web, and we have the ease of technology at our fingertips, and therefore more access to information. What’s more, Millennials expectmore from lenders when it comes to technology.

    But expecting more and having our own wants and needs is a far cry from being “seriously discouraged.”

    In fact it's deeply motivating; I plan to apply for a mortgage online in a couple of years and nothing is going to stop me.

  • The Secrets to Selling a Home for Over Asking Price

    No one puts their house up for sale hoping for an average offer. You want a good offer. A great offer, even. Dare we say it? You want an all-out, claws-bared bidding war that will push your home’s price well over what you’ve asked for in your listing.

     It’s a dream for any home seller. And if you want to sell a home for over asking, it doesn’t necessarily boil down to luck, timing, or even location, location, location. As proof, read these true-life tales of how Realtors® helped home sellers wheel and deal their way to profits well above their expectations, and learn how you can (hopefully) do the same.

    Aim low in order to go high

    “The most fruitful strategy I’ve seen is to aggressively price the property roughly 5% to 10% below the going market rate. This will always generate more traffic to the property and give buyers a chance to fall in love with the home, when a higher purchase price might have kept them away initially. Not only does it get more people in, but once the buyers see the place, they’re more likely to offer over the purchase price, which often leads to bidding wars.” – Collin Bond, Realtor for the Boris Sharapan Team of Douglas Elliman

    Lesson learned: While pricing your home a bit below what it’s worth may seem counterproductive, sellers who take this leap of faith are often rewarded in spades. After all, a bidding war is a surefire way to push your home’s price over asking, and you can’t have a bidding war without multiple buyers. So price your home conservatively to up the odds that it will rise exponentially.

    ———

    Don’t leap at your first offer

    “Several years back we listed a three-bedroom home in Star, ID, at a fair price; it received four offers almost immediately. But instead of biting right away, we held back. We notified the buyers there were other offers, and used that position to gain an advantage. In the end, we had two offers well above asking price.” – Nick Schlekeway, broker for Amherst Madison Legacy Real Estate

    Lesson learned: Don’t immediately accept your first offer (or offers, if you’re lucky). Instead, consider it a launchpad for cultivating some fierce competition that could ultimately boost your home’s price.

    ———

    Approach investors

    “I was selling a small studio apartment that needed a gut renovation, and received a lowball offer from a buyer who was very stubborn and didn’t want to budge on price. I knew I had to get another offer to create competition, so I showed the property to an investor, presenting him with a floor plan from another unit to prove this one could be remodeled and rented for a high price. The investor made an offer, but I wasn’t done. I went back to the original buyer and used the second offer to create a bidding war. Finally, the apartment sold to the original buyer for over asking, all cash—and I broke the record in the building at that time for getting the highest price per square foot in the building’s history.” – Dan Burz, Realtor for Douglas Elliman

    Lesson learned: Investors may not be the first people you think of selling to, but they’re always shopping for a good deal, and can provide some much-needed incentive for other buyers to pony up more cash.

    ———

    Make your place stand out

    “We had one home in a neighborhood with sluggish sales. So to stand out, the seller updated the basement, repainted the home, and redid the landscaping. Although we listed at a modest $150,000, as soon as it hit the market, we got offers. By the weekend, the bidding was around $165,000. We ended up getting an offer for $168,500, more than 10% over asking.” – Joshua Jarvis, founder of Jarvis Team Realty

    Lesson learned: Granted, coughing up money for renovations will eat away at your profit. But it could also be a way to help your home shine in a lackluster market—and possibly get more money than you would have otherwise. Just make sure to pick renovations that offer a high return on investment, like your basement or attic. Better yet, you can save money by tackling a few of the simple upgrades (like painting) yourself!

    ———

    Highlight the divine in your home

    “My team once listed a home for a pastor. It was wild. We had a couple of folks walk through and say they could feel the spirit of God in the house. By the end of one weekend, we had 22 offers, many waiving inspection contingencies, including handwritten letters, and all sorts of other incredible gestures. The sellers studied each person’s situation, then prayed about it, and selected the offer that felt right. We gave the property the same treatment we give all our listings, but I wouldn’t for one second claim we were the cause of all the incredible things we experienced with this house.” – Chandler Crouch, founder of Chandler Crouch Realtors

    Lesson learned: Maybe it was divine intervention in this case, but it never hurts to highlight any unique features of a home—or you! So go ahead and announce you’re moving to join the Peace Corps, or that the home once housed a famous artist or pillar of the community. That extra selling point could just push those offers over the top!

  • Why Now Is a Great Time to Be a Home Buyer

    As I continue my search for a new home in the real-estate market, I can’t help but think about how different my home-buying experience is from what it was like for my parents or others in previous generations.

    First of all the home search process is completely different. Everything is online these days and you can typically see 20-30 pictures of every house that’s on the market on the internet. You can make first-level determinations from your own living room about the types of homes you would like to look at without having to go to dozens of places in person. You can pull up tax records, school district maps and neighborhood reviews on every house on the market. There’s a huge timesaving aspect of being able to cross off the ones you don’t want to physically visit.

    But the houses themselves are also completely different than they were in the past. The U.S. Census just released a report on the characteristics of houses going back to the early 1970s which make this abundantly clear:

    In 1973, 49% of new homes had no air conditioning. In 2015, just 7% of new houses have no AC.

    In 1973, 40% of new homes had 1.5 bathrooms or fewer. In 2015, just 4% have fewer than 1.5 bathrooms.

    In 1973, 64% of new houses had three bedrooms while 23% had four bedrooms or more. In 2015, 42% of new houses are three-bedroom while 47% come with four bedrooms or more.

    In 1973, the median new house had 1,525 square feet of space. In 2015, the median new house has 2,467 square feet of space.

    In 1973, the average size of a U.S. household was 3.01 people. In 2015, the average size of a U.S. household is down to 2.54 people.

    Houses today also have wireless internet connectivity, better appliances, and are generally more energy efficient. They aren’t making enough of them in my estimation — and I may be stating the obvious here — but new homes today look better, have more features and are higher quality than those built in the past.

    To summarize, houses today have fewer people living in them with more space, more bedrooms, more bathrooms and more comfortable living conditions.

    But wait … there’s more.

    Mortgage rates are at record lows:

    A look at the drop in mortgage rates

    MarketWatch

    A look at the drop in mortgage rates.

    Everyone complains about record-low interest rates from an investment perspective, but this is one place were the financial consumer is benefiting. The median home in the U.S. is now worth $296,400. I took the average annual 30-year fixed mortgage rate going back to 1972 and applied those corresponding rates to this current median home value to see what the monthly payments worked out to:

    Monthly payments for a 30 year fixed rate mortgage since 1972

    MarketWatch

    Monthly payments for a 30 year fixed rate mortgage since 1972.

    So at today’s median home value—$296,400—and at current mortgage rates—3.63%—the monthly payment would come out to $1,349 a month (before taxes, PMI, down payment, etc.). That same mortgage at 1981 interest-rate levels would have cost you more than three times as much or $4,136 a month. Your money goes much further at today’s rates than any time in the past 40-plus years.

    People talk about a student-loan crisis these days, but I’m guessing the savings we now receive from lower interest rates on home loans has to dwarf those in comparison. Home buyers in the 80s and 90s could always refinance but that involves costs every time it occurs.

     Houses are obviously more costly today than they were back in the 70s and 80s, but as Robert Shiller has pointed out in his research, the average home generally appreciates at right around the rate of inflation over the long term (with the caveat that there are always outliers in certain areas that make things unaffordable for large groups of buyers). Once you factor in the tax savings on the deductible interest costs, you can basically get a mortgage interest rate today that will be equal to or less than the future rate of inflation. That’s not a bad deal.

    Owning a home isn’t for everyone. Plenty of people learned this the hard way in the real-estate boom and bust. Leverage can be painful on the downside. And young people still trying to figure out what they want to do with their life are probably better served renting because of the flexibility it allows in being able to move to other cities for employment opportunities. My general rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t buy a home unless you’re willing to own it for at least a decade.

    It’s understandable that many people are still scarred from the real-estate crash, but buying a home today seems like a pretty good deal to me. For those willing to act responsibly with their home-buying decision, it’s quite possible that there has never been a better time to be a homeowner.

  • What Is a Good Credit Score? The Number You Need to Buy a Home

    No number is more important to prospective home buyers than their credit score. Put simply, these three digits are a numerical representation of your track record paying off your debts, from credit cards to college loans. If you’ve applied for a mortgage to buy a home, lenders check your credit score. If it’s high, getting a mortgage will be a breeze; if it’s low, you may struggle.

    So now that we’ve got your attention, the question remains: Exactly what is a good credit score?

    Here’s the deal: A perfect credit score is 850. But all scores 760 and above are considered to be in the best credit score range. Since this means you’ve shown an excellent ability to pay off your past debts, mortgage lenders want your business—and will try to entice you by offering loans with the lowest interest rates, says Richard Redmond, mortgage broker at All California Mortgage in Larkspur and author of “Mortgages: The Insider’s Guide.”

    A good score is from 700 to 759; a fair score is from 650 to 699. Since a lower score means you’ve had some late payments or other dings on your credit history, lenders see you as more likely to default on your home loan. They may still give you a mortgage, but at a higher interest rate, says Bill Hardekopf, a credit expert at LowCards.com.

    Credit scores below 650 are deemed poor, meaning your credit history has had some rough patches. This doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t qualify for a loan, but it may be tough, and you’ll pay a higher interest rate for the privilege.

    How credit scores are calculated

    Three major U.S. credit bureaus track and tally your scores: ExperianEquifax, andTransUnion. Their scores should be roughly similar, although each pulls from slightly different sources (Experian looks at rent payments while TransUnion checks out your employment history). But by and large, here are the main variables that determine your score, and to what degree:

    • Payment history (35%): This is whether you’ve made debt payments on time. If you’ve never missed a payment, a 30-day delinquency can cause as much as a 90- to 110-point drop in your score.
    • Debt-to-credit utilization (30%): This is how much debt you’ve accumulated on your credit card accounts, divided by the credit limit on the sum of your accounts. Ratios above 30% work against you. So if you have a total credit limit of $5,000, you will want to be in debt no more than $1,500 when you apply for a mortgage.
    • Length of credit history (15%): It’s beneficial to have a track record of being a responsible credit user. A longer credit history boosts your score. CreditKarma.com, a credit-monitoring service, found that its members with scores above 750 have an average credit history of 7.5 years.
    • Credit mix (10%): Your credit score ticks up if you have a rich combination of different types of credit accounts, such as credit cards, retail store credit cards, installment loans, and a previous mortgage.
    • New credit (10%): Research shows that opening several new credit accounts within a short period of time represents greater risk to the mortgage lender, according to myFICO.com, so avoid applying for new credit accounts if you’re about to buy a home. Also, each time you open a new credit account, the average length of your credit history decreases (further hurting your credit score).

     

    How to check your credit score

    You can check your own credit report—and should, because it will help you pinpoint areas for improvement. Even if you’re fairly sure you’ve never made a late payment, one in four Americans finds errors on his credit report, according to a 2013 Federal Trade Commission survey. Errors are common because creditors make mistakes reporting customer slip-ups. For example, although you may have never missed a payment, someone with the same name as you did—and your bank recorded the error on your account by accident.

     You’re entitled to a free copy of your full credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com. Keep in mind, the report does not include your score—for that, you’ll have to pay a small fee. You can also check with your credit card company, since some (like Discover and Capital One) offer free access to scores and reports.

    If you discover errors, take these steps to get them removed from your report. Or, even if your credit report does not contain errors, if it’s not as great as you’d hoped, you can raise your credit score. Just keep in mind, you won’t improve a credit score overnight, which is why you should check your credit score annually—long before you get the itch to start house hunting.

  • Is a Big Bank or Local Lender Better for a Mortgage?

    So you’re ready to buy a home. Congrats! You know you need a great Realtor® by your side, and odds are you need a loan. But from whom? You know that big banks offermortgages, but so do small, local lenders. And there’s more to consider than size alone.

    So we’ll help you weigh these two critical options. First, let’s look at the big guys:

    What big banks can offer

    National lenders have plenty of nice benefits. Since you’re forking over so much highly personal information, it’s certainly calming to know they’ve built a solid reputation over the years, and probably aren’t going anywhere. And since these are such a well-oiled machine with lots of money behind them, you’ll reap the benefits in terms of convenience and support: You know you’ll get a 1-800 number to call on nights and weekends when you have a question, and there will be loads of loan officers ready to help you. You’ll largely be able to do everything online, from your application to account management.

    The national brands may also be able to offer something you can’t get anywhere else. “The big banks may come up with a specialty program that only they are offering,” saysBruce Ailion, broker and real estate expert with Re/Max Town and Country in Atlanta.

    For example, Wells Fargo offers a mortgage exclusively for its members: The Union Plus Mortgage comes with benefits such as hardship assistance and the possibility of earning a $500 first-time homeowners award. Mountain West Financial offers the Advantage Mortgage Program, which comes with lowered underwriting fees and competitive rates.

    One last perk if you’re in a rush: Your loan may go through quickly, since the bigger banks have in-house underwriters and large teams to process loans.

    Where they fall short

    The downside to the big banks? They’re, um, big. The bigger the bank, the more business they do, which means you’re just one of thousands of clients. So, they may not bend over backward to attend to your every whim. “If you go to the big guys, you’re client No. 1,049—they don’t really know you,” Ailion says.

    The upshot is you may not have one loan officer who works with you through the whole process—someone who remembers to call and remind you to send in your paperwork. But that may not be a bad thing, provided your loan needs and borrowing profile are fairly run of the mill.

    “The national companies are better if you’ve got a standard profile,” Ailion says. “That typically means a job with a steady salary and a W2 that you’ve been at for a while and a good credit score.”

    Got it? Now let’s take a look at the smaller players:

    Where local lenders excel

    Smaller, local lenders typically have one major advantage over the big guns: Because they’re a smaller operation, they may be able to offer you a more personal touch.

    “A smaller lender lives off your future business,” Ailion says. “They want to have you feel like you’re being treated as a person as opposed to a number.”

     This can be a very good thing if you don’t fit the standard profile. Say, for example, you’re self-employed. Digging up tax returns, profit and loss statements, and business balance sheets isn’t a walk in the park for any self-employed home buyer, but a local lender may be more willing to help you through it.

    If you have a few credit goofs on your credit report, your local lender might be a good bet, too. They might be more willing to work with you over a period of weeks or even months to raise your credit score. Or if you’re on the cusp or don’t have an established credit profile, they may still be willing to work with you.

    “These lenders are more likely to take the time to look at your bill payment history on your cellphone, utility companies, rent, and other alternate forms of verification,” says Ailion.

    And don’t worry, local lenders usually have access to all the major loan programs. Whether you want a conventional loan, an FHA loan, or even something less common like a USDA loan, a local lender can help.

    What they can’t do

    Being smaller has some downsides, however. While everyone knows the names of the big banks, finding a local lender can be a bit tougher. “You’re basically going to them based on word of mouth,” Ailion says.

    The offices will also be staffed with fewer people, meaning they simply don’t have the personnel to be open 24/7—and that could be irksome (or worse) if you have a burning question at 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday. And they may not have access to as many products as the bigger lenders.

    Ultimately, your choice really depends on what kind of borrower you are, both from a credit profile standpoint and a personal standpoint. Do you want round-the-clock access to a 1-800 number in case you have a question keeping you up? Then a national lender might be a right fit. But if you want more personal service where everyone knows your name, then a local lender might be right. Consider it from both angles before you decide.

  • What Is HARP and How Can It Help Homeowners Save Money?

    Homeowners who want to refinance their mortgage to take advantage of today’s record-low interest rates may have stumbled across the term “HARP.” But what is it? The acronym stands for the Home Affordable Refinance Program, and it can be a lifesaver for people whose home value has dropped since they bought.

    This government initiative was set up by the Federal Housing Finance Agency in March 2009 to help homeowners in the wake of the housing crash who ended up underwater or near underwater on their mortgages—meaning they owed more on their home loan than it was worth. For instance, let’s say you borrowed $250,000 to buy your home in 2007 at the top of the market, but since then its value has dipped to $210,000. This means you’re $40,000 underwater.

    Why does this matter? Because if you’re hoping to refinance to a lower interest rate to pay less on your monthly mortgage, lenders are reluctant to refinance underwater loans. Or, if they do, you won’t get the best interest rate or must pay private mortgage insurance, which can cancel out any potential savings.

    How HARP can help

    Since 2009, HARP has helped more than 3.4 million homeowners refinance who would have had a hard time doing so otherwise. On average, these homeowners saved about $3,500 per year on their mortgage payments, according to a study by the Columbia Business School and the University of Chicago.

    Experts say HARP could help many more homeowners, if only they knew they qualified and applied to the program. Here are the main criteria you must meet:

    • You must have gotten your home loan before May 31, 2009, and the mortgage must be owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Many don’t realize that their mortgages are linked to these two government-backed agencies since they don’t deal with the public directly; check with your lender to make sure.
    • You must be current on your mortgage at the time of the refinance, with no late payments in the past six months and no more than one late payment in the past 12 months.
    • You must owe more than 80% of what your house is worth. So if your home is currently valued at $200,000, you must owe more than $160,000 on your mortgage.

     

    Why homeowners should act fast

    HARP is scheduled to expire on Dec. 31, 2016. There’s always the chance that this deadline could be extended, but you never know.

     “It has been extended before, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it does so again,” said Jason van den Brand, co-founder and CEO of Lenda.com, an online mortgage platform. “But a consumer certainly shouldn’t count on that to happen.” So interested homeowners should inquire sooner rather than later.

    For more information on HARP and to start your application, visit HARPprogram.org. Or call the help line at 888-666-5019 to find out if you qualify.

  • 5 STEPS TO FIND PERFECT FURNITURE FOR YOUR NEW HOME

    Congratulations on your new home! This is an opportunity to think holistically about the interior design and decoration of your home. Have you ever been in a house where nothing seems to go with anything else? A house with stylistic clashes in its furniture and decor can feel like a conversation in which no one is listening to anyone else. Follow these steps for a smooth decorating transition to your new home.

    1. Planning

     

    The first step is to survey the territory. Start by listing any furniture or decorative element (a rug or framed art) you are keeping from your prior home. Also consider design aspects such as wall color, textures and lighting. Some of these you can choose and others you will need to take into consideration as you plan.

    Do you have a family heirloom piece of furniture that is coming with you to the new house? Your subsequent purchases will need to work well with the heirloom. Always take a moment and ask yourself why you are keeping a piece. If you don't love it, there's no shame in letting it go to a home where it will be loved.

    2. Preparing

    The perfect time to paint is before the furniture goes in. Don't make your paint purchases without thinking about the rest of the interior. For example, have you always wanted a bright red sofa? If you are going to pick a bold color for a major item of furniture, think neutral for the walls.

    Another common preparation is refinishing wood floors. Take into consideration the color of the floors and moldings and how they will interact visually with the rest of your interior.

    3. Prioritizing

    You may be able to acquire all of your furniture before you move in. But that isn't always possible. Prioritize your furniture purchases around your family's needs. Especially if you have children, your first wish may be a dining or kitchen table and chairs. The table is a gathering place for the whole family, and being able to eat together will make the house feel like home quickly. Make sure the kids have a say in what their rooms will look like — seeking their input can help ease their moving blues.

    If you are a couple without children, you might find it an adventure to picnic on the floor for the first few weeks, and the bedroom might be the first room you want to furnish.

    4. Purchasing

    Consider buying all the major pieces in each room from one furniture line. These pieces are designed to go together, and once you find a piece you really love, see what else is available from that designer.

    Celebrity brand lines of furniture are not mere gimmicks to capitalize on the star's name recognition. Rather, such brands are designed to evoke the mood and emotion most associated with that celebrity. A lot of work goes into the line to create a cohesive and evocative style. Check the designer lines from Cindy Crawford and Sofia Vergara atRooms To Go.

    5. Getting Help

    You don't need to hire an interior decorator. However, if you need some help, you can find many online tutorials on interior decorating and design, some of which are free.

  • 10 WAYS TO QUICKLY UP YOUR HOME VALUE FOR A SUMMER SALE

    Planning to sell your home this summer? You may have a little - or a lot - to do in order to get your home market ready. But you don't need a huge budget. These 10 tips can help you get it looking great with little effort, and cash.

    1. Paint

    Crisp white walls are great in a 1920s Spanish. For most other homes, a splash of color is an easy way to warm up the space, make it look more updated, and banish fingerprints and stains. Use a soft neutral like one of these favorite gray shades for a modern look.

    2. Address your front door

     

    A fresh coat of paint on your front door is a quick fix that pops with potential. Use a bright color like red or yellow to differentiate your home from others and make it shine from the street.

    If your door really can't be salvaged by painting it, you'll be happy to know that replacing it with a new steel door has been shown to return between 75% and 100%+ of your investment. "It's also a relatively low-cost project," said Houselogic. "According to the "2015 Remodeling Impact Report," a new steel front entry door has a national median cost of $2,000 installed."


    LinkedIn

    3. Quick curb appeal

    Aside from your door, a few easy tasks can make the front of your home look great - important when you're looking to sell your home since poor curb appeal can keep potential buyers from even coming inside. A new layer of mulch has been called the easiest and quickest way to add curb appeal. Pulling noticeable weeds, giving the lawn a quick mow, and bringing in fresh flowers - if you can't plant, put a few pots near the front door—can make all the difference.

    4. New appliances

    Even if the rest of your kitchen needs work, new stainless steel appliances can tempt buyers. This package from US Appliance is just $1,749.


    US Appliance

    If you end up with a fancy new fridge you don't want to leave behind, make sure to let your real estate agent know so it's stipulated in the contract.

    5. Quickie bathroom updates

    A new or painted vanity, hardware, fixtures, and lighting can make a tired bathroom look fresh again. Don't forget the little things - a fluffy set of towels, a nice rug, a modern shower curtain, and sleek accessories can make the space look good, even if it's really in need of a gut job.

    6. New bedding

    You'd be surprised how new bedding can transform the look of your bedroom for next to nothing. There are two schools of thought here: get a cheap bed-in-a-bag set that looks nice but probably doesn't have the thread count you want for everyday use, or spend a little more for something that has the looks and the luxe.

    7. Create a guest room

    Have a room that's currently an undefined space? A blowup bed covered in some chic bedding can help buyers envision how they'll use the room. This is a top tip from stagers, who say that "multipurpose" rooms can confuse buyers, leaving them unsure if a home will work for them.

    8. Set the scene outdoors

    Everybody is into indoor-outdoor living the days. A few tricks outside can make your place look inviting.

    Create a seating area with some inexpensive outdoor furniture. Scour garage sales or catch a sale at Home Depot or Target. Put up an umbrella for shade and use inexpensive pavers or deck tiles to define the space. Stage it for outdoor dining and you've just created valuable, usable space buyers can see themselves enjoying.


    Polywood Furniture

    9. Steal a few staging tips

    Hire a professional stager and it can set you back a couple thousand dollars. But you can steal a few of their most important tricks for free. Cleaning like you've never cleaned before, decluttering, and paring down your furniture to create inviting seating areas will allow buyers to see the space instead of your stuff (or your mess).

    10. Window coverings

    If your window coverings are ugly, old, and not doing your house justice, or if they're keeping too much light from streaming into the home, consider taking them down. Natural light is high on almost every buyer's must-have list. You can purchase inexpensive drapes at any big box store that you can use to frame the windows - but remember to keep them open at showings, and to clean your windows first!

  • DIY OR EXPERT EDITION: 4 HOME RENO PROJECTS AND WHO SHOULD HANDLE THEM

    As summer rolls around and the days grow longer and hotter, the kids are finally out of school and the pool water should be approaching an ideal temperature. Right now, home improvement projects are probably the last thing on your mind. But as it turns out, the warmest months are actually the perfect time to take a good look around your property and get to tackling some of those plans you have been putting off.

     

    Many projects are even less costly in the summer, considering that labor is more readily available and many folks won't schedule renovations with children home from school, while others would rather avoid conflicts with family vacations.

    So which projects are right for summer renovations? Maybe more importantly: Do you pick up your toolbox and get to work, or pick up the phone and call in the experts?

    Patio Bar Remake

    You can't get much more summery than cocktails outdoors, so if your property includes a standard patio, sunroom or sizable deck, this might just be the year you finally add that window bar. Creating a patio bar will allow you to open up the living space inside and enjoy the perks of an outdoor kitchen, but without the need for new outdoor plumbing.

    Anyone cooking inside will be able to enjoy the summer air and be part of the activities, while still benefiting from the conveniences of the interior kitchen.

    EXPERT OR DIY?

    Since the patio window will require some serious carpentry skills, this project would be best left to the pros. Even for the handiest of DIYers, mistakes could prove very costly, so let someone who is licensed and bonded make the important calls and decisions.

    Upgrade Your Security System

    A home feature you may forgotten about or taken for granted during the year is your home security system. With technology advancing by the day, even a system less than five years old can be antiquated and due for an upgrade. Particularly in the summer, when you may be away, or when your kids will be home, a home security camera system would allow you to keep an eye on what's going on when you're not around.

    EXPERT OR DIY?

    Believe it or not, you've got this one. With the purchase of a high-quality security camera system, you can an find easy-to-follow guide to install your new security cameras online.

    Repave the Driveway

    If your driveway is sprouting grass through four- or five-inch-long gaps in the surface, then it's time for a facelift. Asphalt driveways, in particular, are popular projects in the summer because working with asphalt is actually simpler if it is done in higher temperatures. When the weather is hot, asphalt is less likely to harden too soon, so laying asphalt in summer means smooth asphalt surfaces.

    The lower the temperature dips, the less time contractors will have to evenly spread the asphalt to form a level surface. Otherwise, you may be left with an irregular surface with bumps and valleys.

    EXPERT OR DIY?

    Though this may seem like fairly straightforward work — hey, you're just mixing and spreading — there is actually a little bit of art to it. A seasoned pro will know how to manipulate the temperamental asphalt. Go pro — your back will thank you for it.

    Gutter Repairs

    Making sure your gutters are clean and secure has become a summer ritual to many Americans. Throughout the year, leaves, stagnant water and sometimes even vermin accumulate in the gutters. The joints need to be checked for leaks, and the panels checked for holes.

    EXPERT OR DIY?

    This one is a personal call. Gutter repairs are usually simple and quick, but it's important to understand this type of work frequently ends in injury, so know your limits. There are specialists who will arrive with specific equipment in hand to take care of gutter issues efficiently. So, whatever you decide, remember safety first.

    Summer is a great time to cross off a few home renovations from your list and an even better time to sit back and enjoy the improvements, either made by you or a pro, once they're completed.

  • THE HOMEBUYING CHECKLIST THAT COULD KEEP YOU FROM BUYING THE WRONG HOME

    If you're in the process of buying a house or are getting ready to, you may be overwhelmed by all the possibilities - and all the details. It can be easy to lose sight of some of the things that are important to you when you're seduced by pretty countertops or kids playing out on the street. Making a checklist of those must-haves will help keep you on track.

    Is the bedroom count and general floorplan workable? You may be tempted by a house that's nicely staged and has that elegant-yet-warm feel you want. But look beyond the furnishings to make sure what you need is what the house has.

     

    Is there a place for your dogs to hang out? And is there a place for the dog bowls to go? This only seems like a little thing until you're moved in and are constantly tripping over their food. When the dogs are part of your life, you'll want the house to accommodate them, and you.

    Is there a place for your kitchen garbage can? See above. This "little thing" will drive you crazy. Is it enough to keep you out of the home? Probably not, but it's worth noting for situations where you can't decide between a couple of homes. It might be the little things that make the difference.

    What direction does the house face? Facing west is great when it means you get to watch the sunset every day. It's not so great when it means your electric bill costs as much as your mortgage from May to September because your air conditioning is running 24–7.


    Coastal So Cal Homes

    Where are the structural walls? If you're planning an extensive renovation, it might be a good idea to bring in an engineer to make sure the walls you want to remove won't bring the house down.

    Is there enough pantry space? A poor kitchen layout, and one that isn't easily remedied by a renovation, is a deal killer for many people.

    What shape is the floor in? Look carefully. Replacing floors can be a big and expensive undertaking. Even if you have an inspection and the floors are in decent condition, they may not match your style. It'll be up to you to decide if you can live with them.

    Where's the nearest Target? If location is important to you and the house you're looking at is over the mountain and through the woods, think hard about what you're willing to compromise. It might be that you start to hate being so far removed from amenities once the shine of a new house has worn off.


    Target

    Where is the nearest Starbucks? Not a coffee drinker? Doesn't matter. The "Starbucks Effect" means higher home appreciation if you live within proximity.

    Is there an HOA? This is important to know if you're looking to paint your home purple and display your collection of flamingos on the lawn.

    How are the schools? Even if you don't have kids and never plan to, a good school district is important to home values. Pay special attention to the possibility of being rezoned. This happens quite often in growing areas, and, while you won't always know what's going to happen in the future, impacted schools and districts and chatter about coming changes might give you reason to pause.

    What are the acoustics like? If there's a ridiculous echo coming from the upstairs bonus room, think about what that's going to sound like with two young kids playing.

    Is the wiring what you need? If you need your home to accommodate all the latest technology, you may have some extensive rewiring to do. Checking it out before you buy will help you feel confident you can achieve your goals.

    How's the yard space? Too little, or too much, space can make the day-to-day living less than ideal.


    99HOME

    What's the neighborhood makeup? Seeing a lot of young couples on the street? Or maybe it's mainly older couples you're seeing. Spending a little time in your neighborhood you're considering can tell you a lot about who your neighbors could be, and whether you'll fit in.

    Are there sex offenders nearby? Unfortunately, checking to make sure the people around you are decent is a reality today. Family Watchdog allows you to enter an address and see if there are any sex offenders in the area.

    Did you schedule an inspection? You may be tempted to buy a home as is, especially in a hot market, but if you forgo an inspection, you'll be on the hook for any issues that arise with the home down the line.


  • ASK THE HOA EXPERT: OUTDOOR FURNITURE IN THE COMMON AREA

    Question: A resident puts her outdoor furniture in the common area adjacent to her unit, insisting she was given permission by the developer.

    Answer: A claim that permission was granted by the developer is not valid since the developer has no right to grant some right to one that is not enjoyed by all. The board should advise the offending member the practice should cease.

    Question: We have a resident that seems to be suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's. He wanders the halls and forgets where he lives. He's left the stove on several times and has set off the fire alarm. What can we do?

     

    Answer: If this person has family, they should be notified as soon as possible of the danger posed to both the relative and others in the building. If family is unavailable or unwilling to intercede, contact local social services for assistance.

    Question: Can payment of HOA fees be withheld if the payer feels the HOA is not doing its job (like rule enforcement, repairs and landscape maintenance)?

    Answer: HOA fee payments cannot be withheld. It's simply too easy for someone that doesn't want to pay to find an excuse. The board and manager should be informed in writing of the specific repair request or other problem. However, in the case of an urgent repair request that the HOA has failed to perform (like a leaking roof that is damaging the member's unit), the member might order repairs, pay for them and seek reimbursement.

    Question: A unit owner has requested permission to rebuild her deck and expand the size. What issues should the board consider?

    Answer: Having unit owners repair and replace their decks is often a problem because those decks are typically attached to the structure which is an HOA responsibility to maintain. So, the unit owner should also be held responsible for any damage caused by the deck to the structure, like dryrot. This agreement should be in writing, dated, signed, notarized and recorded against the unit title to advise future owners of this responsibility. You should use an attorney to put the agreement in proper recordable form.

    Will the new deck match the look, design and material of the original installation? Conformity in common wall housing reinforces market value. The new deck should look like the old unless the board has adopted a new standard.

    As far as expansion is concerned, the board has no authority to approve a unit owner expanding into common area or to enjoy exclusive use of a common area. This must be approved by a vote of the members which may be 100%.

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