Real Estate News

Updated: Tuesday, December 18, 2018

17 Ways to Increase Your Storage Space

1. Between the studs

Put the space between studs to work by tucking open display shelves into walls. They donrsquo;t have to be outdated arched niches. Create clean rectangles or squares. To keep things looking tidy, add doors on the front. Or use piano hinges to mount artwork so it can swing open to reveal hidden storage space. You can even recess narrow drawers into the space.

2. Nothing wasted, something gained

Use space that otherwise would be wasted. Under the stairs is a perfect example. For smaller budgets, add a door to the side and use it like a crawl space, says interior designer Vanja Stepanek of Barbini Design Build in Toronto. Finish the space with shelves and hooks. For those who have more cash, each riser can house a drawer. It is a more expensive project because yoursquo;re working with the structure of the stairs, she says.

If you have a staircase thatrsquo;s open underneath, turn that unused space into a home office by tucking a desk and some cubbies, shelves or file cabinets underneath.

Put the space beside the fridge or between the washer and dryer to good use by building narrow shelves on wheels.

Build a headboard that includes storage space, add a long floating shelf above the headboard or use rows of floating shelves above bedside tables to create extra display space.

3. Look up

Install shelves above doorways to store stuff without using up floor space. Continue the shelving around the room, including above windows and doors to create a loft library.

4. Over or behind

Use over-the-door hooks for extra hanging space. Or add a shoe storage system behind the door. Build floor-to-ceiling shelves in unused spaces, such as behind the toilet or on a wall behind a door.

5. Functional into fab

Stepanek says her friend lives in a typical small downtown condo. It has a long narrow hallway with a bathroom and bedroom doors on one side and the living/dining room at the end of the hall, with large windows beyond. The loft has high ceilings, so Stepanek installed two rows of floating shelves along the full length of the hallway the side without doors. Stepanekrsquo;s friend loves shoes and purses, so the shelves give her the perfect display space for her wearable treasures. It looks cool but provides practical storage space, she says. Art depicting different periods of shoes hang under the shelves to create an art wall. Antique lighting completes the stylish look.

6. Focal point and fun storage

A long basement hall, which had numerous doors along its sides and one at the end, had no focal point. The door at the end of the hall was replaced with a bookshelf on hinges. The bookshelf creates visual interest and storage/display space. Plus the kids love having a hidden room behind, Stepanek says.

7. Lift it up

Where ceiling height allows, put a bed on top of a custom platform. Or build a stage for children. Drawers within the platforms can house camping gear, seasonal items and other seldom-used items.

8. Double duty

An office can do double duty as a guest room by adding a wall-to-wall unit that includes a Murphy bed. Add a desk on the opposite side of the room.

9. Down under

Like building niches between the studs, add storage space between the joists in the floor. Build a box or cabinet to stow stuff.

10. No monsters under the bed

Use baskets or zippered plastic storage bags to use under the bed. Or buy a bed with drawers built in. Another option is a mattress that lifts up on hinges to make under-bed storage more accessible.

11. New uses

In the hallway, switch out a table for a dresser that will provide drawers to store everything from hats and mitts to keys and mail.

12. Double up

A chest that doubles as a coffee table, vintage suitcases stacked beside the couch or bed and ottomans all offer storage space within.

13. Kick off

Toe-kick drawers in the kitchen are great for storing cookie sheets, cutting boards and wire cooling racks.

14. Air space

Floating shelves offer display space. Or hide away items in pretty boxes or baskets for a neater look. Think vertically to find more usable space.

15. Clutter be gone

Before you cram your new-found storage space, try decluttering. Keep only what you need and what you really enjoy. Pace yourself and tackle one job at a time. Donrsquo;t expect to do everything in one fell swoop. Mix smaller, easy decluttering projects, like cleaning out your medicine cabinet or makeup drawer, with bigger tasks such as tackling your clothes closet.

16. Map it out

Figure out what you want to store, which room to store it in and what kind of storage you need before you knock holes in the walls.

17. To the garage

Shelves that hang from the ceiling above the car are one solution. Garage systems, which include tool storage, a place for garbage and recycling and lots of space for plastic storage totes, can make the most of your garage space. Again, think vertical storage.

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Mortgage Lending amp; Homebuying Trends for 2019

These are interesting times for mortgage lenders. While there are large-scale economic and socioeconomic reasons for optimism going forward, there are also some complexities and cautionary notes that need to be taken seriously. Understanding these key trendsmdash;and appreciating the significant issues likely to impact the industry in 2019 and beyondmdash;is important for lenders, mortgage banking professionals and real estate professionals across the country.

Equilibrium on the horizon?

I expect to see the current imbalance between the number of homes available for sale and the number of buyers in the market to begin to come into greater equilibrium in 2019. That gradual balancing act is unlikely to depress housing prices, but it will slow the rate of increase somewhat. The slowing of home appreciation a product of simple supply and demand dynamics could actually be a positive development. Housing appreciation has been outstripping wage increases for some time now, and as these come into equilibrium, the result will likely be a healthier and more accessible home-buying marketplace.

Demographic dimensions

Experienced lenders are well aware of the importance of staying in touch with the preferences and priorities of different demographic groups and generations. Two of the most influential demographics, the baby boomers and the millennials, are likely to play an especially important role in shaping the contours of the housing market throughout 2019 and beyond. More boomers will likely be staying put and holding off on downsizing, as we see a slightly weaker market for larger homes and, consequently, a financial equation that doesnrsquo;t look quite as favorable with regard to downsizing. While much has been made of millennial preferences for urban environments, a recentnbsp;Ernst amp; Young survey of 1,200 adults aged 20-36nbsp;actually reveals that greater numbers of millennials are purchasing homes in the suburbs than in cities. According to the study, 41 percent of millennial homeowners in 2018 are choosing suburban locations over cities, small towns or rural areasmdash;an increase from 36 percent in 2016. Today, 38 percent of millennials live in the suburbs versus 37 percent in urban settings. Whatrsquo;s clear, is that the iconic American dream of homeownership remains durable. As older Millennials begin to raise families and look for more space, they will become an increasingly influential home-buying demographic.

Peaking your interest

Regardless of demographics, low interest rates make home ownership accessible. The sticking point for many prospective homeowners is the ability or lack thereof to make a large down payment. Lenders will continue to offer more loan products to credit worthy borrowers that require reduced or minimal down payments, and financing options will continue to be available with less than the traditional 20 percent down payment.

Another important piece of the puzzle is the impact of what are expected to be rising interest rates in the months and years ahead. While rates currently remain at historically low levels, higher rates inevitably impact affordability. That said, given the low rates and current state of the marketplace, it seems unlikely that marginally higher interest rates would have anything more than a fairly modest-to-minimal impact on home sales.

Technically speaking

The continued introduction of innovative technology in the months and years ahead will be an important storyline. Most of that new tech will be designed to facilitate the process on behalf of consumers. That means removing some of the friction from the loan process and ultimately compressing the amount of time it takes to get mortgage applications approved. New platforms will allow lenders to verify income at the time of application with consumer permission. This should alleviate some of the paper trail and the documentation burden, allowing electronic access essentially at the time of application. Consumer trust will be a big part of this. Itrsquo;s incumbent upon lendersmdash;and the tech providers they >

Wild card factors

There continue to be rumblings that Amazon is considering putting a toe in the water and getting into the mortgage business. Whether that would be as a facilitator, using their platform and unmatched market reach to connect consumers with mortgage professionals, or as a full-fledged provider offering something like ldquo;Amazon Mortgages,rdquo; is unclear. One thing that is clear, however, is that Amazon will have an impact one way or another. Even if the rumored market entry never materializes, younger homebuyers who grew up with Amazon and are used to the ease and speed with which customized service is delivered will continue to extend those expectations throughout other spheresmdash;including mortgage lending. Amazon has helped set a standard for speedy and efficient service that real estate providers in general, and mortgage lenders specifically, will need to be able to meet if they want to be competitive going forward.

The big picture

For all the ebbs and flows and outside factors, home sales increased from 2017 to 2018 while the overall mortgage market is slightly down in 2018, thatrsquo;s largely because of fewer instances of refinancing, not because of a decline in home sales. The consensus among organizations like the Mortgage Bankers Association of America is that they expect that trend to continue in 2019. While you can never discount the possibility of a ldquo;black swanrdquo; event that disrupts national or global markets, the future continues to look bright, with innovation and increasingly efficient service models allowing forward-thinking lenders to continue to evolve and thrive.

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The Tell Tale Signs it is Time to Sell Your Residential Property

Insufficient Living Space - A growing family, for example, would require more living space as the children grow and if one of your kids doesnrsquo;t have a room they can study in, perhaps it is time to upgrade. This would typically arise for a newly married couple around 10-12 years in the future, and this time is enough to ensure that their financial status supports the upgrade.If you are looking to upgrade, be sure to find a suitable contractor who will offer a fair rate.

Canrsquo;t Afford The Mortgage Repayments - If you made the mistake of buying a property out of your budget limit, the best thing might be to put it on the market. If the house is in a prime location and is in good order, you might be lucky and make a profit on the deal, although your objective should be to downsize to a comfortable level.

The Long Daily Commute - If you are spending more than one hour travelling to or from your place of work, this could be the time to look at >

Looking To Start Your Own Business - If you have a great business idea, yet do not have access to startup capital, selling your home will >

A Career Promotion - If you suddenly are offered a promotion that would mean >

Whatever the reason for selling, it is essential that you engage the services of an experienced conveyancing lawyer, who will facilitate the legalities and can help you to calculate your total costs.

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Why Do Lenders Sell Loans?

When you first work with your loan officer very early on in the process, yoursquo;ll soon establish a trusting >

Soon thereafter, yoursquo;ll receive payment information indicating where you need to make your payments. And for most funded loans, yoursquo;ll also receive another letter informing you the lender you originally worked with has just sold your loan to someone else. Someone yoursquo;ve never worked with before and even to a company yoursquo;ve never heard of. What happened to that >

Among the many initial documents you signed when you first applied was a Mortgage Servicing Disclosure. This form tells you what percentage of the lenderrsquo;s loans are sold and more often than not the form indicates most if not all of the loans approved and funded by that particular mortgage company will be sold to someone else. But why? Why go through all the effort of originating, approving and funding a loan and forgo all the interest that new loan provides? Good question and an easy one to answer- if not for selling the loan, the lender would soon run out of money to lend.

Mortgage companies today work with a line of credit. Itrsquo;s not as if the mortgage company approves a loan and then opens up a vault full of money to fund your mortgage. Instead, when itrsquo;s time to fund your loan the lender taps into the line of credit for the needed amount to fund the new mortgage. In order to replenish this line of credit the lender then sells the loan to a third party. Once the loan is sold, the lender now has more funds to make still more loans. Who is the loan sold to? Many times, itrsquo;s to other mortgage companies but ultimately the loan is sold either to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

The marketplace for all this buying and selling is called the secondary market for mortgages. This secondary market is robust and active and keeps the mortgage market liquid. Without a secondary market, there would be fewer loans issued and still fewer choice. When your loan is sold itrsquo;s not because your original lender isnrsquo;t loyal to you or doesnrsquo;t appreciate your businesshellip;itrsquo;s to stay in business so the lender can make even more loans.

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7 Simple amp; Smart Basement Repairs to Consider

But, if your basement is unfinished or has other lingering issues, it can be a downright scary place to spend any amount of time. Here are a few simple tips to help you fix your basement:

1 Gutter Extensions

Believe it or not, one of the easiest and smartest things you can do to fix your basement takes place outside. By adding extensions to your gutters downspouts, you can avoid a lot of the issues that commonly plague basements, from foundation issues to leaking walls, mold and mildew buildup. Gutter extensions carry water away from the foundation of your house, helping to prevent seepage and long-term damage from soil erosion. Average gutter extensions cost no more than 10 per foot.

2 Outer Foundation Work

There are two big steps you can take on the outside of your home that will protect your basement and improve your foundation. Your home ideally sits on a crown of soil that slopes six inches over the first 10 feet in all directions away from your foundation. If the soil around your foundation has settled, build it back up with a shovel and some dirt to ensure water does not build up against the foundation wall.

Second, reshape your landscape by creating a berm beyond the eaves of your home. This will prevent rot, termites and water from getting too close to your foundation. The minimum suggested distance for a dirt berm is six inches away from your homes foundation. You can complete both of these steps in a weekend and help prevent water from pooling against your foundation and leaking into your basement.

3 Plug Visible Gaps

A number of pipes and vents have to exit the basement of your home through the foundation walls. Examples include the water pipes leading to outdoor faucets, bathroom fan vents and dryer vents. The holes drilled into the foundation to allow for pipes and vents to escape can lead to water issues in your basement through seepage and general rain intrusion. You can easily seal these cracks and holes yourself by using hydraulic cement or polyurethane caulk, both of which retail for about 20.

4 Repair Leaky Pipes

Insulate any pipes collecting condensation. Insulation will prevent the buildup of condensation on the outside of pipes carrying hot water in the winter months and cold water in the summer months.

Always call a plumber to tackle larger jobs like major leaks or cracks. Many times these pipes run to other parts of your home and require a professional to properly address the problem.

5 Insulate Your Walls

You can also prevent foundation damage by insulating your walls. As the environment inside your home heats and cools, condensation can build up on exposed foundation walls.

As the condensation builds over time, cold water can expand and crack your foundation, while warm water in the summer can lead to mold and mildew. Insulating your walls establishes a barrier between the internal environment of your home and the temperature outside.

6 Install Drywall

If you want to improve your basement further, consider installing drywall over the insulation. This can help to dampen the temperature swings in your basement, holding in cool air in the summer and warm air in the winter.

7 Window Repairs and Replacement

Basement windows are another source of leaks in your basement. Replace your old, faulty weather stripping or apply a polyurethane caulk around the edges to insulate your window frames. For windows that are outdated, upgrading to energy efficient windows will drastically improve the conditions in your basement and prevent seepage of both air and water.


There are many smart, simple ways to fix up your basement in order to create a safe, enjoyable space for friends and family.

Andrea Davis is the editor for HomeAdvisor, which helps homeowners find home improvement professionals in their area at no charge to ensure the best service in the shortest amount of time.

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7 Tricks Hotels Use That Can Make Your Home Look and Work Better

"Whether you actually travel the world by getting on those planes, trains and automobiles or mainly explore from your sofa with an iPad in hand, youll know that hotel designers are full of clever ideas on how to make bedrooms comfortable, visually interesting and small space smart," said Apartment Therapy.

Economy of space

For the most part, hotel rooms are small spaces that have to pack a lot of function and >

Originally designed under the Tommie brand, the rooms were designed as "micro scale." Niki Leondakis, the chief executive of Commune Hotels and Resorts, told the New York Times that, building hotels in "urban markets where real estate is at a premium and hotel rooms are notoriously small" requires "an approach to design that maximizes every square foot" - an idea that can translate to home.


Make it interesting

Small doesnt have to be boring. Look how this Great Gatsby-themed hotel room uses pattern and textured panels to create interest.

Luxury linens

You know how hotel room sheets are always so soft? They dont scrimp on thread count. Or the number of sheets they use. "To design your own hotel bed, "start with very clean, white, high thread count sheets," Sybil Pool, a spokesperson for Park Hyatt, told Huffington Post. "Three-hundred thread count seems to be the general rule - thats the standard at Park Hyatt Sydney, and Arizonas award-winning Miraval Resort uses 300 thread count as well. The Westin Heavenly Bed, likewise, gets its oomph from 300 thread count Egyptian cotton, along with a special twist: There are three sheets, says Hoover. That way, youre always touching a sheet. Its a really plush bed."

Huffington Post has a few more tips to make the bed at home and feel like youre in a plush resort.

A great mattress = a great nights sleep

Hotels buy great mattresses. So much so that many have become available to the general public over the years. Theres the aforementioned Westin Heavenly Bed, or you can grab a Four Seasons Bed, the luxe bed youll sleep in if you stay at the W Hotel, and a few more you can see here.

If cost is an issue, think about it this way: a good nights sleep can affect more than just your coffee consumption in the morning. It may be that buying a great mattress ends up being a small price to pay for better health, clarity, and an improved mood all day long.

Accentuate the positive

This tiny, budget room in Copenhagen puts the view front and center. And even though the space is limited REALLY limited, they still found room for a desk and chair, as well as another accent chair. The wall-mounted nightstand is a great way to include a little convenience without a lot of space and the colorful drapes bring the eye out toward the city view.

Wake Up Copenhagen

Concentrate on lighting

Good lighting can make or break a space, and this is something that good hotels do particularly well. The trick: layer it in with overhead, ambient, and task lighting, making sure to illuminate key spaces, like in this Las Vegas room.


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What if There is No Board?

Answer: If the boat sinks, its owner may be able to look to his insurance carrier for recovery. However, if the Association sinks, perhaps the only recourse to the owners is to look to the board members for recovery of any loss. Each board member runs the risk they will be sued personally, where there probably may not be any insurance coverage. However, presumably the board carried Directors and Officers insurance check with management if they are still around and file claims immediately. You should be able to find some lawyer to assist.

Members of a Board are governed by one standard: l fiduciary duty. But many states have protected boards who make mistakes by enacting the business judgment rule but that still require boards not to violate their fiduciary duty. The law in your state will dictate whether the business judgement rule is applicable. However, even if it is, a board member must understand that he/she has been elected by the owners to govern their association. You cannot just ldquo;cop outrdquo; when the going gets tough by resigning your elected position. And resigning is clearly not good business judgment.

Letrsquo;s look at some of the possible consequences should there be no board. Who will pay the bills -- insurance, management, utilities? Who will enforce the rules -- collections, architectural, safety and health? And who will give direction to management for the day-to-day operations of the Association? After all, the property manager -- regardless of how competent -- cannot and should not take on the responsibilities reserved exclusively in the association documents for the board of directors.

As one can quickly understand, a headless association is an invitation to disaster -- and the burden of creating or avoiding that disaster rests solely on the shoulders of the entire board of directors.
You should also consider filing for bankruptcy >
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Real Estate Referrals, Again

Wersquo;ve had enough queries and responses regarding the difference between state and federal law on this matter that it appeared worthwhile to examine the issues a bit more.

Of all people, Californians who live in a self-proclaimed sanctuary state, should be aware of the fact that state and federal laws may conflict with one another. Think marijuana legislation. Sometimes these conflicts may require resolution through a court decision; other times they just go on. In the present case the differences in the laws have not led to the kind or size of conflict that would have merited extensive and expensive litigation.

Moreover, itrsquo;s important to remember that, for a significant number of transactions, the issue doesnrsquo;t even arise. The RESPA rules and prohibitions cover what is probably a majority of real estate transactions. Those are residential real estate of less than five units in which federal or federally->

It is also worth noting that California law regarding referral sometimes called ldquo;finderrdquo; fees came about from a court ruling. It is case law, as opposed to the result of specific legislation aimed at referral fees. The landmark case Shaffer v. Beinhorn went before the California Supreme Court in 1923. The plaintiffs in the case had sued a California real estate broker for not paying them a finder fee as he had promised to do. The brokerrsquo;s defense was that he could not pay them because they didnrsquo;t have a real estate license.

The California Business and Professions Code Currently Business and Professions Code sect;10131 spells out those activities that require having a real estate license. Simply referring, or ldquo;findingrdquo;, a buyer or seller is not among them. The court noted this, and thus noted that the plaintiffsrsquo; lack of a license was not sufficient reason not to pay them. The logic of that ruling prevails today.

Recently, I was pointed to a very thorough and detailed discussion of the referral rules for both RESPA and California law. It appears in the 2016 Winter Bulletin of the California BRE/DRE, and it is available on the departmentrsquo;s website. The article was written by Wayne Bell and Summer Goralik ndash; two very smart and very nice people. Mr. Bell is the former California Real Estate Commissioner and Ms. Goralik is a former Special Investigator for the BRE/DRE. I commend this article to anyone further interested in this topic.

While the article reference above is detailed, comprehensive, and very useful, it includes something that, for me, requires further analysis. The authors say:

hellip;Bamp;P Section 10137 provides that a real estate salesperson can only be compensated for real estate acts through his or her employing or responsible broker. That prohibits a real estate salesperson from receiving pay, a commission or a lawful referral fee directly from another person. If a lawful referral fee will be paid to any salesperson, including a broker acting as a salesperson, an any real estate transaction, then it must be paid first through the responsible broker.

What the authors say would be true only if simply giving a referral were a real estate act. But it isnrsquo;t. That was settled in 1923. Giving a referral is not an act that requires a real estate license. In California, payment to a real estate agent for simply giving a referral should not be required to go through a broker. QED


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Are You Ready to Be a Landlord?

ldquo;One of the biggest shifts in the housing market since the financial crisis has been the growth of the single-family rental market,rdquo; said Investopedia. ldquo;Single-family rentals are developing faster than any other segment of the housing market, outpacing both single-family home purchases and apartment->

Yes, smart investments can pay off in a steady stream of passive income, and provide a nice chunk of change when you go to sell. But that doesnrsquo;t mean you should run and buy a property without learning a thing or two first. Buy wrong or go in unprepared, and you could make a financial mess of things. ldquo;Becoming a landlord might sound like an easy way to make money: Buy a property, find tenants and watch the rent checks roll in,rdquo; said CBS News. ldquo;But it can be a costly undertaking that requires a lot of time and shouldnt be taken on without consideration and research, said Lucas Hall, a Washington, D.C.-area landlord and founder of;

Ask yourself these questions and answer honestly to determine if yoursquo;re ready to be a landlord.

Do you have the time?

Being a landlord is a job. A part-time job, hopefully, but a job nonetheless. If yoursquo;re already overscheduled, it can be hard to keep up with all the must-dorsquo;s. ldquo;People need to understand that this is a business, not a hobby," said East Meadow, New York-based landlord, real estate broker and president of the Landlord Protection Agency, John Nuzzolese, on CBS News. "You need to take it seriously. The people who make it a hobby usually run into problems because its not their top priority."

Keep in mind, also, that being able to landlord effectively means having some flexibility in your schedule. ldquo;Most days are more spontaneous than structured,rdquo; said The Balance. ldquo;It is not the type of life where you get to work at 9am, go to lunch at noon and leave at 5pm. One day you may have one hour of work to do, while the next, you may have fifteen hours of work.rdquo; And you can bet that a fair amount of that work is going to happen at 4am when a tenant emergency interrupts your precious sleep.

Do you have the money?

If yoursquo;ve made a good investment in your chosen property, the amount of rent yoursquo;re collecting each month will exceed your financial obligation. But what if you have a hard time renting a few of the apartments in the building you bought or one of your tenants skips out? Remember that, no matter whatrsquo;s happening with the property, yoursquo;re still responsible for making your payment to the bank. ldquo;You will be responsible for meeting your monthly mortgage payment even if the property is vacant or if your tenant has not paid his or her rent,rdquo; said Investopedia. ldquo;In addition, you may have unexpected expenses >

Hiring a property management company to do some some of the ongoing work for you will also cost moneymdash;count on about 10 percent of the rent each month, and yoursquo;ll also have to pay them a finders fee for securing new tenants. But many landlords find itrsquo;s well worth the money to be able to offset some of the more painful or time-consuming duties involved.

Do you know what the smartest investments are?

Not every property is a winner when it comes to investment potential, and you need to think like an investor to become one. Forbes has some great tips, including:

bull; Keep your emotions at bay. ldquo;Think of it as pu>bull; Research, research, research. ldquo;Make sure that the property is situated in a location that will attract the type of clients you hope to sell or rent to, that it will reach to the returns you are expecting and that it will appeal to the market.rdquo;
bull; Get your down payment together. ldquo;Unlike the 3 down payment on the house you are currently living in, you are going to require at least 20 down payment for buying your first investment property. This is because mortgage insurance is not applicable for investment properties. Moreover, investment properties require greater down payments than your regular building and have strict approval requirements.rdquo;
bull; Figure out your expenses and profits before you buy. You want to make sure you have a good handle on current funds, cost to purchase and renovate if needed, operation costs, ongoing expenses, and what you could legitimately list the house for when you decided to sell.
bull; Donrsquo;t overspend on your first investment property. ldquo;Even if you are ready to invest up to a million dollars in your first investment property, it is always a good idea to go for properties that lie in the lower- to mid-range price brackets.rdquo;
bull; Go in debt-free. ldquo;As a new investor buying their first investment property, you might need to consider the investment loan options mdash; one shouldnt be carrying debts as their investment portfolio. You must clear all of your debts, student loans, medical bills, etc., before starting out in real estate.rdquo;

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Economic Reports and Mortgage Rates

Did you know that economic reports can impact mortgage rates? And that some economic reports have a greater impact than others? Each month and each quarter, various government agencies >Inflation is another key element that investors pay attention to and one of the key reports the Federal Reserve reviews when the Federal Open Market Committee, or FOMC, meets every six weeks. One of the Fedrsquo;s responsibilities is to control the cost of funds and attempts to do so by raising or lowering the Federal Funds rate. Inflation is measured on the wholesale level, the Producer Price Index and at the consumer level, or the Consumer Price Index.

These various reports give us a look back at recent economic activity and can provide clues as to what might occur in the future. Investors can then allocate their portfolios to make adjustments based upon expectations. For instance, if an investor sees a solid jobs report indicating a growing economy, the investor might allocate more funds toward stocks and less so in bonds. Stocks have the potential to provide greater returns compared to bonds. Bonds do provide a return, but the yield is >

Mortgage rates? Your typical 30 year fixed rate for a conforming loan tracks either the 30-yr FNMA bond or the FHLMC 30-yr bond. As the prices of either move, so too will interest rates. If an economic report is >

When mortgage lenders set their rates each day they do so after a review of various indices. There really is a process lenders practice when setting daily mortgage rates and tracking mortgage bonds and Treasury prices is the primary method. When you get a quote today from your loan officer for a 30 year rate and then get another quote tomorrow and the rates are a little different, you can bet there was some economic data >
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Holiday Hosting Tips for First-Timers

Donrsquo;t try to do everything yourself

The key to successful hosting is knowing when to say ldquo;when,rdquo; and accepting help when its offered. Remember this when you start to worry about delegating too much: just because yoursquo;re hosting doesnrsquo;t mean you shouldnrsquo;t get to have fun, too. Plus, if you spend the whole time in the kitchen, your guests wonrsquo;t get to see youmdash;and that defeats the purpose of them coming over in the first place.

Do what you can ahead of time

If everything yoursquo;re serving needs to be made at the last minute, yoursquo;ll likely be a stress ball standing over the stove and cursing the sauce that wonrsquo;t thicken up while your guests are having fun in the other room. When yoursquo;re doing the menu planning, pay attention to items that allow you to do the cooking, or at least the prep, a day or two before. Itrsquo;ll save you timemdash;and save your sanitymdash;on the day of the shindig.

Donrsquo;t try to be Martha Stewart

Nobody expects you to be the perfect hostess and chef and interior designer. Your friends and loved ones just want something to eat and drink among good company. If your lack of fancy dishesmdash;or even matching dishesmdash;is giving you a pre-party eye twitch, keep this in mind. ldquo;Use what you already have Say you have a mixture of odd platesmdash;scatter them and try to have a common thread,rdquo; said Domino. ldquo;For example, if the plates are all different, have the same matching napkins. If you have mismatched glassware, try alternating matching ones at each setting. Try to be mindful when yoursquo;re setting a table to find a balance visually for your guests, but things donrsquo;t have to be perfect.rdquo;

Donrsquo;t be overly ambitious

Itrsquo;s natural that yoursquo;d want to show off your cooking skills or try something new to impress your guests. But that might not be the best tactic for your first time hosting.

ldquo;When yoursquo;re hosting at your home, itrsquo;s smart to scale back and stick to what you know,rdquo; Kathleen Schaffer, creative director and culinary chef at Schaffer as well as a celebrity caterer to clients including Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon and George Clooney, told The Knot. ldquo;In other words, this isnrsquo;t the time to attempt the fancy sous-vide or souffleacute; recipe you saw on Facebook. Set yourself up for success by playing to your strengths, and most importantly, planning and preparing in advance.rdquo;

But keep the food coming

You never want your guests to start getting grumpy because they arrived hungry and dinner is delayed. Having a spread of appetizers everyone can nosh on buys you time to get the main dishes together and keeps them satiated. This ldquo;cream-cheesy salsa of fresh cranberries, cilantro and a little jalapeno kickrdquo; is one of our favorite holiday apps, and not just because itrsquo;s incredibly easy to make. You can find more ideas here.

Remember that you can never have too much toilet paper

This is the kind of thing you might overlook while yoursquo;re shopping, and you definitely donrsquo;t want to have to run out in the middle of your gatheringmdash;or, even worse, bring in the dreaded roll of paper towels. While yoursquo;re buying plenty of TP, do the same with napkins, plastic cups and silverware, and bottled water.

Donrsquo;t sweat the small stuff

Someone is going to spill something. Or drop all the crackers on the floor. Or break a chair. Or all of the above. Keep your sense of humor closeby and yoursquo;ll get through it with stories to tell later on. If that fails, consider downing another glass of wine.

Full Story >

Should You Decorate with the Color of the Year?

Staying on trend

If yoursquo;re getting ready to sell your home, or if you simply love to be on the forefront of trends, using the Color of the Year is a great place to start. Of course, you may not want to splash it all over the walls. As ldquo;animating and life-affirmingrdquo; as this yearrsquo;s winning color may be, coral is still a bold choice for such a broad expanse.

Wallpaper that features the huemdash;especially in a temporary version like this WallPops NuWallpaper Coral Grove Peel amp; Stick Wallpaper if yoursquo;re selling your home soon, is a great option that can bring new life to a boring space. A few accessories can also make a big impact in a trendy color. Freshen up the living room couch with a few pillows, drape a throw at the foot of the bed in the master, and swap out a few tired tchotchkes for something more current.

Sticking with >

The major downside to following trends: ldquo;You need to be prepared for the possible necessity of redesigning your rooms once tastes change, especially if yoursquo;re thinking of putting your home on the market,rdquo; said Freshome.

Neutral colors and >

Going with what you love

Regardless of the trends, itrsquo;s your home. And unless yoursquo;re planning a home sale imminently, you get to take creative license. That could mean embracing every new trend, color->

Want bright red walls in the living room? A dining room with a poker table instead of a place to eat? When itrsquo;s your house, you get to make the rules. ldquo;Ditch lsquo;safersquo; designs in favor of creative accents and personal touches to make your abode feel one-of-a-kindmdash;just like you,rdquo; said Martha Stewart, for ldquo;home decorating tips to begin adding a healthy dose of personality into your home.rdquo;

Full Story >

Perhaps Its Time for Some RESPA Reminders

In 1974 Congress enacted the Real Estate Settlement and Procedures Act, commonly known as RESPA. The provisions of RESPA were intended to protect consumers during the home purchase process. Its two main areas of emphasis were 1 the provision of disclosures regarding settlement closing costs, and 2 the prohibition of kickbacks or referral fees that unnecessarily increase closing costs. Section 8 of RESPA makes it illegal, except for limited specified exceptions, to give someone money or any other thing of value for the referral of a real estate settlement service. For example, if I received money, or anything of value, for referring someone to an escrow company, in most every case that would be a violation of section 8 of RESPA.

While the Department of Housing and Urban Development has for a long time been the chief enforcer of RESPA provisions, that has, since 2011, become the province of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau CFPB. It has become an active enforcer and agents should be aware.

Fortunately, the National Association of Realtors, keeps track of RESPA activity and of the ever-on-going issues of interpretation. In what follows, we will look at a sample of issues featured on NARrsquo;s web page regarding frequently-asked RESPA questions.

Question 1

A real estate agent is sponsoring an open house for other agents. A local title agency reimburses the real estate agent for the cost of a luncheon and the title agency does not market its title services at the open house. Is this a violation of Section 8 of RESPA?

A: Yes, this is a violation of RESPA. By reimbursing the real estate agent for the cost of the luncheon, the title agency has given the real estate agent a thing of value in consideration for the referral of business. Both the title agency and the real estate agent could be held responsible for the RESPA violation. If, however, the title company attends the open house to make a presentation or to otherwise market its services, such payments may be lawful under RESPA.

Question 2

A real estate broker and a mortgage lender agree to jointly place a full-page advertisement in a local newspaper. Each company gets exactly one-half of the page to advertise its services. Each company pays one-half of the cost of the advertisement. Is this a violation of Section 8 of RESPA?

A: No, this appears to comply with RESPA. As long as the advertising costs paid by each party are reasonably >

Question 3

A real estate broker pays its real estate agents 20 for each referral the agents make to the real estate brokerrsquo;s affiliated mortgage company. Is this a violation of Section 8 of RESPA?

A: Yes, this is a violation of RESPA. Although RESPA provides an exception for payments made from an employer to its employees, payments between a real estate broker and its salespeople do not qualify for this exception. Real estate professionals are considered independent contractors, rather than employees of the real estate broker. As a result, the 20 payments described above constitute payments in return for the referral of business in violation of RESPA.

As previously mentioned, the NAR website contains a large amount of information, including regular columns, regarding RESPA Moreover, most of these pages are on the ldquo;publicrdquo; side. That is, you donrsquo;t have to log in with a user name and password. Readers are encouraged to take a look for themselves, and to become familiar ndash; if they arenrsquo;t already ndash; with the highly >

A few of the more accessible and >



Window to the Law: RESPA video

Happy reading

Full Story >

How to Choose the Best Kitchen Countertop Based 0n 6 Key Variables

6 variables to consider

When planning your kitchen, you need to be aware of certain factors when it comes to the type of your countertop. To streamline the selection process, Fixr created the below two graphics using 6 key variables. The same 6 variables were considered in both graphics, however, the focus changes depending on the graphic which will be explained further in each section.

Installation is one of the first factors; can the contractor access your house with the delivery vehicle and is there space to work the material on site as necessary?

Cost refers to the cost implications >

Maintenance looks at the day to day care that is required to ensure the countertop does not wear excessively or get damaged.

Durability focuses on how well the countertop stands up to use, including nicks or dents and water or heat damage.

Options available refers to the range of options in terms of color or finish that are available for that material or counter type.

Stain resistance is the last variable and it considers the surface resistance of the countertop. A marble material or the grout in a tiled countertop may be more susceptible to staining than other options, especially in a kitchen where various acidic or alkali foodstuffs may spill onto the surface.

Working with the scores, based on their own countertop installation cost indicator, it is possible to simplify the selection process using a numeric score. The better the product performs with regard to cost, installation, maintenance, stain resistance, durability and options available, the higher the score it has.

The top choices for the type of countertop

Here, the focus is on the type of countertop only, without looking at how the material of the countertop affects the outcome.

Tiling wins with a score of 22, thanks to the range of options available, its durability and stain resistance and fair overall scores for the other variables.

As the next three options have a shared score of 18, they get second, third and fourth place equally:

Slab countertops offer a good variety of options, however, have low scores for cost and installation which bring the total score down.

Cast in place countertops have an even, mid-range score across all factors, so are a good option where all variables are equally important.

Precast countertops can be costly and tricky to install, however, the other variables, especially durability and the range of available options, help to increase the overall score.


The top three choices for countertop material

Material options have improved in recent years and the list includes traditional options like marble, granite and wood as well as more contemporary options like solid surface, concrete, glass slab, stainless steel, recycled glass, ceramic and quartz.

Using the same numeric scoring system as the first graphic, the focus in the second graphic was on how the material scored without consideration of the countertop type. In this instance, quartz, ceramic and recycled glass come out as the best scoring options for material choice.

Quartz has most of the aesthetic attractions of natural stone, however, its stain resistance, durability and range of options beat almost all other finishes, leading to a total score of 23. Though cost and installation are >

Ceramic comes next with a score of 22, it offers the widest range of options of all and has good durability and stain resistance, but installation, cost and maintenance bring its average score down.

Recycled glass follows in third place matching ceramicrsquo;s 22, but its main strong points are durability, stain resistance and maintenance, so, once again the choice comes down to your priorities.

Making The Final Choice

In order to make your final decision, it is best to identify your top three priorities in terms of the six variables used. Then, simply find the countertop type and material that have the highest scores for those three variables and compare them against each other to establish the best choice for your kitchen.

Of course, there are many other more subtle variables to consider. Environmental implications have become important and even legislated in some countries, so it may be worth considering each material in this light as well. You may find your chosen countertoprsquo;s green rating brings down or improves its final score.

At the end of the day, you want to feel satisfied with your choice and have a countertop that is both beautiful and durable. Hopefully, this scoring system will make that choice a little easier.

And remember, beautiful countertops wonrsquo;t necessarily add value but they will make your home more attractive to potential buyers should you want to sell.

Full Story >

4 Essentials for Building a Home Office

The key to staying efficient and on-task is to set up your own dedicated workspace. If yoursquo;ll be working at home, building a home office helps create an environment of productivity and replicate a traditional office feeling within your own home. Of course, you should consider a few essentials when setting up an office of your own.


According to some sources, the fluorescent lights many traditional office buildings use can be damaging to your eyes. When designing your own office space, you have control over the types of lighting you choose, as well as how bright or dim they are while you work. Choosing options that fit the projects you work on will help you create the perfect lighting system. You should also consider factors like what can protect your eyes and adjust to outside conditions if your home office has a window.

Desk and chair

Getting a desk and chair for your office may seem like a no-brainer, but therersquo;s more to it than picking out something to write on and something to sit on. Since yoursquo;ll be spending a lot of time in your office chair, you should make sure it provides adequate support and comfort for the long haul.

You should also make sure your desk is well-suited for long days of work. Set up a system of organization for paperwork and any knickknacks you have lying around. In addition, try to use your desk only for work as much as possible. Training your brain to have a dedicated space during work hours can help you stay on-task when yoursquo;re working at home.

Necessary technology

Remote workers often lean on technology to connect to others they work with and complete tasks. Itrsquo;s important to invest in good equipment, from keyboards to storage. In addition, because yoursquo;ll most likely be working online, itrsquo;s important to have a strong internet connection. Keeping up-to-date on all the technology yoursquo;ll need will help prevent tech-based headaches, especially because you wonrsquo;t have an in-house IT department to fix any issues.


Since yoursquo;ll be spending a good chunk of each week in this one room, it needs to be a place you find aesthetically appealing. Adding a few decorations can personalize your office and make it a place where you feel comfortable and happy. A word of caution: it can be easy to go overboard on decorations and end up creating visual distractions for yourself. With this in mind, be thoughtful about the items you choose to put in your space. Plants and simple wall art can help your space feel inviting without catching your eye every time you sit down.


Once yoursquo;ve got your home office set up and ready to go, yoursquo;ll be able to promote a productive and enjoyable workday in the comfort of your own home. Fostering the perfect space to foster productivity and creativity is key to a successful remote working experience.

Full Story >

New Windows Changed My House - and My Mind

It was exciting to contemplate city life after living in smaller towns. Apparently, everyone else thought so too, because by the time I decided I liked a house, it was gone from the market.

Between struggling with a tight real estate market and shopping from across the country, it wasnt easy to find a house. While the city offers the charm of older neighborhoods and homes of by-gone eras, it also means that you can be pretty sure that youll be remodeling something.

Thats how my window struggle came into light.

Id snagged a home full of potential. Nestled in a full acre of green grass and big trees, the brick home offered the room I needed and the one-story I desired - plus it had the original hardwoods. Tangled up in an estate, it had sat empty for four years.

So here I stood trying to gaze out the spider web-coated windows of a 1950s-era ranch and see the beautiful maples and oaks. It was like an oasis tucked in the city. As I did, I began to list the key items on my to-do list, like a modern kitchen, repaired air ducts, pipe repairs and a new coating on the driveway.

Windows ba>

As I began to focus on key items, like a modern kitchen, leaking air ducts, plumbing issues and an eroding driveway, so windows ba>

Funny now to think I thought that meant I was done with windows.

Two things came into play nearly simultaneously. Only a day or two after the moving van unloaded, I decided I couldnt take the dirty windows another day. So despite having mountains of boxes to maneuver around, cleaning years of grime got moved to the top of the list. Armed with rags, cleaning supplies and a step-ladder, I marched to dark, dirty glass in the dining room. Thats when I discovered the window would not budge. It had opened on the last walk-thru, but would not open today.

Humidity had played a part in the old wood swelling. Undaunted, I cleaned the inside and headed outside to clean it from that direction. Covering the window were storm windows that probably hadnt been removed in years, if not decades. They were supposed to slide up, but it wasnt happening. As I moved around the house, I noticed a great portion of the windows had issues, including cracks, I could not resolve.

Ultimately, it didnt take long to learn that I couldnt live with the old windows that didnt function. In fact, changing out the windows got bumped up to the top of the list.

My desire for the windows had to do with function. I wanted to see out them and open them. I hadnt really thought about the look. I guess I thought a white window replaced by a white window would be the same. Instead, it was a huge shock to learn what enormous difference new windows made in the appearance and feel of the home.

In one day, the house went from one that looked like it had black widow spiders in the lock box to one that looked loved and inviting. The old windows contained grilles, the pieces of wood which visually divides a pane of glass so it appears to be made of smaller panes. The new windows I chose did not have grilles. That move made every window seem bigger and every room seem brighter. Of course, the new windows, without years of wear and the layer of dirty storm windows, really were brighter.

While I was waiting on windows and other key repairs, like electrical panel upgrades, I was trying to plan that kitchen remodel as well as a bathroom re-do. In trying to save costs where I could, I was working around existing windows. Despite taking down a wall to get more space, no matter how I moved around cabinets and appliances in my kitchen drawing, I could not get good workflow. In the current design, a small table for two sat in front of the only window, a long one that went nearly to the floor.

One day, someone asked me why I was working around that long window. They suggested I put in a shorter window and place the sink under the window. It was a light bulb moment.

With a brick house, Id not even thought about changing a windows dimensions. It turns out it wasnt hard at all. Since the windows exterior is on my screen porch, I choose wood to fill in the space of the shortened window and painted it to match the window, rather than have a brick mason brick in the space.

The same width was kept, but the shortened window allowed for a changed countertop and sink placement and suddenly made the whole kitchen plan work. I also shortened a window in the remodeled bathroom, which meant the soaking tub could be placed under the window and Id still get plenty of natural light.

The new windows really changed the whole look and feel of the old house. When I get a chance to talk remodeling, I now tell people replacing old windows needs to be at the top of their list.

Lea Schneider is a professional organizer based in Nashville, Tennessee. She shares her experiences on remodeling her 1950s ranch fixer-upper, which included replacing her casement windows. If you are also looking to update your house, visit The Home Depot to see a large selection of casement windows.

Full Story >

The Best Holiday Gifts 25 And Under Can Buy

Unzipped Glass Zipper Bag, 16.50

Is it a plastic bag? No, itrsquo;s a glass piece created to look like a plastic bag. This is just the type of unique, kitschy gift your friend, colleague, or loved one willhellip;well, love.

Automatic Pan Stirrer with Timer, 25

Letrsquo;s admit it. That constant stirring is the worst part about cooking, are we right? Anyone who loves spending time in the kitchen will appreciate this gift.

Mood Ring Thermochromic iPhone Case, 17.98

This just might make you wish you didnrsquo;t upgrade your phone to the X This cool case fits iPhones 6ndash;8 and reacts to touch, just like a mood ring.

14-Piece Stainless Steel Bartending Set, 24.99

Behold the perfect hostess gift Yoursquo;ll undoubtedly see this 14-piece stainless steel bartending set againhellip;the next time you come over

Hamilton Beach Quesadilla Maker, 14.99

Who doesnrsquo;t want to make restaurant-quality quesadillas at home? Forget the microwave. This is the real deal.

KitchenAid Stainless Steel Utility Whisk, 9.80

This falls somewhere between a stand mixer and a hand mixer, and, at under 10 each, yoursquo;ll want to buy one for everyone

Good Housekeeping Instant Pot Cookbook, 10

When you canrsquo;t afford the Instant Pot, you can at least go with the cookbook.

Kaia Naturals Detox Hot Bath, 15

Your Type-A friends and anyone who needs to chill will love these natural hot baths, ldquo;with revitalizing ingredients like matcha, turmeric, and spearmintrdquo; that allow them to ldquo;easily be able to moisturize, soothe, and unwind,rdquo; said Womanrsquo;s Day.


Staying over with family or friends during the holidays? Come bearing this gourmet, artisanal brunch accoutrement. Yoursquo;ll be the hit of the party

LifeStraw Personal Water Filter, 11.99

This one is perfect for your favorite adventurer. ldquo;When theyre stranded out in the wilderness without anything to drink in a misguided attempt to become Bear Grylls, this handy little stick might literally save their life by turning the dirtiest sludge into drinkable water,rdquo; said Esquire.

Its Saturday Morning: Celebrating the Golden Era of Cartoons 1960s - 1990s, 20.39

Give a walk down memory lane this holiday season with this wonderfully nostalgic book thats sure to put a smile on the recipients face.

Full Story >

Is Your Furnace Affecting Your Indoor Air Quality?

"Pollutants" is a broad term, and can include things like dust mites, pet dander, mold spores and viruses, as well as gaseous pollutants like tobacco smoke and the off-gassing from paints, cleaning products and some building products. They can lead to headaches, dizziness, irritation of eyes, nose and throat, fatigue and more serious illnesses. If you experience these symptoms while in your house, but not when you are away from home, indoor pollutants may be the cause.

The best solution is to remove the cause of the pollutants and ventilate the space with fresh outdoor air. Unfortunately, natural ventilation is not always practical. No one is going to throw open the windows on a cold winters day, nor are they likely to open the windows if the house is cooled by a central air conditioning systemmdash;as the purpose of a tightly sealed home is to conserve energy.

However, you can also help remove some of the pollutants by upgrading the filter used in your forced-air heating and cooling system. The basic furnace filter is designed to keep dust and large particles out of the machinery, but more advanced filters can effectively remove pollutants, including viruses and odors, using a variety of methods. Standard filters simply trap particles on a flat filtering medium, while others have deep pleats with added surface area. Electrostatic filters provide an electrical charge that helps trap some particles more effectively.

Pick a Filter

There are a number of rating systems to help sort out the types of filters available. The systems will help you compare filters from different companies. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers ASHRAE developed the minimum efficiency reporting value MERV for filters. MERV rates filters on a scale from 1 to 20, with 20 being the most efficient at removing pollutants. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, filters in the 7 to 13 range are likely to be nearly as efficient as high-efficiency particle arrestance HEPA filters at removing airborne particles. Filters with higher ratings are used in hospitals, laboratories and clean rooms.

Be sure to buy the size filter that fits your system. The information should be in the owners manual or on the furnace itself. If you dont have it, take the existing filter to the store with you. If you choose a high-efficiency filter, read the packaging carefully, as some need to be changed more frequently than others to function properly.

Inline purifiers are another option. These are installed inside the air ducts to remove pollutants. Some employ ultraviolet radiation to kill bacteria, allergens and mold. Others use a catalyst to oxidize pollutants including gaseous ones, a process that converts the pollutants into harmless hydrogen and oxygen. Inline purifiers are usually used in addition to - not instead of - furnace filters.

Other Steps to Take

Installing a high-efficiency furnace filter is a good first step for tackling indoor air pollution. Its something that you can do right away, for little moneymdash;a premium filter will cost less than 25. However, it wont solve every type of pollution problem. Here are some other steps to take:

  • Make sure range hoods, bathroom ventilation fans and dryer vents are all working properly. They vent moisture and odors to the outside. Getting rid of moisture vapor in bathrooms and kitchen will help prevent mold.
  • Install carbon monoxide CO detectors in your home. CO is a byproduct of combustion, and if it accumulates in your home, it can be lethal.
  • Have your house tested for radon. Radon is an odorless, invisible gas that is a byproduct of uranium that occurs naturally in the soil. If it leaches into your home, it can lead to serious illnesses. Test kits let you take a sample of air from your home and send it to a lab for results. If you do have elevated levels in your home, dont panic. Radon mitigation products are straightforward and simple to install.

Protect yourself from the pollutants in your air by replacing your furnace filter as needed, and making sure to ventilate your home with fresh air whenever possible.

About The Author

Home-improvement expert Fran Donegan nbsp;writes on heating systems, including furnaces, and home air quality issues, for Home Depot. Fran is the author of the home DIY books Pools and Spas and Paint Your Home. You can research Home Depots forced air furnace selection nbsp;online.

Full Story >

7 Model Home Ideas to Steal for Your Home

Getting color ideas

Model homes are ra>

1 The color is by and large not used large scale, meaning, all the walls of every room wont typically be painted in bold or bright colors;

2 The main color scheme generally flows from room to room. The shades and placement of color may be different, but there is a coherent look and feel throughout the home that makes it feel finished.

If you want to introduce color without covering every surface, consider these tips from Lennar: "You can add color to a space without painting walls. Pop color with pillows, rugs flowers and artwork. If you do add color to walls, use it sparingly. A painted feature wall can be a great backdrop for a bed or built-in cabinets."

General design inspiration

You may not have thought about putting certain colors together or layering a bunch of patterns in one room or choosing tile that looks like wood instead of real wood... but you will once you see what theyve done in model homes. If youre in a design rut or youre not sure how to take the first step toward modernizing your space, walk through the models. Consider not just what you see, but how you feel in the space. Starting to feel >

Incorporating the newest trends

Looking to redo your kitchen? Touring a model will give you some great ideas about how to handle the layout and materials. It may not have occurred to you to take down your double-height island and continue the counter height the full length, but this is a hot kitchen trend intended to capture the open space feel. Seeing all-white cabinets may inspire you to have your dark wood cabinetry painted, and the quartz counters are sure to inspire you to start researching new countertop options.

Treating small spaces

In general, the less crowded a room is, the more airy it will feel. But that doesnt mean leaving it empty. Furniture placement is key to creating a space with form and function. Notice how the office in the room above has just the right amount of furniture. And instead of placing the desk up against the wall, its been floated, which allows the eye to more easily move around and makes the space feel larger.

Getting space planning tips

Model home designers are great at disguising awkward spaces with creative solutions and showcasing spaces with furniture thats to the perfect scale and placed in such a way that it shows the room in its best light. If youve got a weird spot in your home that you dont know what to do with or are having trouble figuring out what furniture to buy or where to put it, studying what theyve done in a few models might help you figure it out.

Styling a guest room

Go stand in the guest room in the model down the street. Simple, clean, and elegant, right? Excited to go home and redo your guest room? Remember three key things: lighting, pared-down accessories, and crisp bedding.

Getting your kids rooms just right

Kids rooms are often some of the most challenging spaces to design, because its a slippery slope between a creative space and a circus room. Model home designers love to theme these spaces or give them some pizazz, and they often get the balance just right.

Full Story >

Allowing a Lender to Cross Collateralize Against Additional Property

In many cases, this cross collateralization may not be something the borrower worries about, as the borrower intends to pay the lender in full. The general plan is for the borrower to refinance the target property at anbsp;point where a new lender does not require cross collateralization, pay off the existing lender, and the existing lender >

The danger here is that the lender may hold up the sale because it does not want to >

Now, letrsquo;s say that the borrower receives an unsolicited offer for the first rental of 525,000, and he wishes to accept it. If there was no cross collateral against this property, the borrower could accept the offer, pay off the existing first of 200,000, and pocket the remaining 325,000. However, because the rental has been crossed, the lender has 550,000 against the property in second position. That means that there is technically 750,000 of liens showing up against the property. The borrower cannot accept the 525,000 offer without having the second [the crossed loan] >

For this reason, it is imperative for there to be an agreed upon >

For example, if the crossed rental was sold at a 5 CAP rate, and the crossed lenderrsquo;s interest rate was 7, the borrower may choose to sell the rental and come up with money to satisfy the lender should the lender want more than the 325,000 net proceeds from the sale. In other words, there are times when it makes economic sense to come up with money in order to sell property. Another similar scenario like this occurs when there is a blanket loan covering multiple properties, as is the case when an apartment building has been converted to condos and the owner of the building desires to sell off one condo at a time. A typical lender on the building will usually have >

The >

Borrowers who overlook >

Many lenders may be willing to work out a reasonable amount for >

This is the primary reason why typical banks do not usually cross collateralize their loans. Most banks do not like a lot of moving parts. They want to focus on one property and the risk associated with it.

Borrowers should make sure that the lender does not hold any of the borrowerrsquo;s properties hostage and that >


Edward Brown is an investment expert and host of the radio show, "The Best of Investing." He has multiple published words, including an interview with the Wall Street Journal, and has also served as a chairman of the Shareholder Equity Committee to protect 29,000 shareholders representing 500 million REIT. Edward is also a recipient of the prestigious MBA Tax Award.

Full Story >

6 Reasons to Adopt a Green Lifestyle

According to the United Nations, a whirlwind of issues, many of which are likely caused by man, threaten to harm our precious Earth in irreversible ways. From greenhouse gas emissions to air pollution, deforestation, and issues with water and waste, the human impact on our planet has become real. And if we donrsquo;t change, we face both unintended and potentially permanent consequences.

According to most experts, the biggest issue we face is climate change. Although the Earthrsquo;s temperature has ebbed and flowed throughout the course of history, some evidence suggests human activity is altering its natural path.

While some environmental changes can be easily explained, much of the evidence for climate change is compelling. According to NASA, global sea levels are rising faster than in recorded history and global temperatures are surging, with 15 of the 16 hottest years in history taking place since 2001. Ocean temperatures continue to rise while artic sea ice retreats. Decreased snow cover, ocean acidification, and global weather events provide even more proof our planet is changing.

Fortunately, there is plenty anyone can do to change the course of history. If yoursquo;re losing sleep over environmental issues, you can do more than worry ndash; you can act. With the introduction of new technologies and new, Earth-friendly products, itrsquo;s easier to ldquo;go greenrdquo; than ever before.

You canrsquo;t change the planet on your own, but you can take steps to reduce your environmental footprint, limit waste, and create a sustainable life>

Why Go Green?

When you think of ldquo;going greenrdquo; or adopting an Earth-friendly life>

Those ideas probably make you chuckle, and thatrsquo;s okay. The good news is, you donrsquo;t have to be a radical or drastically change your life to help the planet or reduce your impact. When it comes to ldquo;going greenrdquo; this is one of the biggest misconceptions we face. Many families assume they must uproot their lives or make huge changes to reduce their impact on the planet.

And even once you get past the stigma, yoursquo;ll also find that far too many people overestimate the costs of caring for the environment. Maybe they read how expensive going green can be in the past. Or, perhaps they just wrongly assume any potential changes they could make would be expensive.

Regardless of what yoursquo;ve read or heard, taking steps to help our planet doesnrsquo;t have to break the bank. For every costly change you make, there are several Earth-friendly alternatives that are 100 percent free

Wersquo;ll get to some of those steps in a minute. But first, letrsquo;s talk about why. Why should you care about the Earth? Why should you take steps to change? Further, why should you spend your own money ldquo;going green?rdquo;

Believe it or not, embracing a greener life>

Here are six of the most important reasons you should adopt a green life>

Reason 1: This is the only planet wersquo;ll ever have.
The top reason to go green is an obvious one; planet Earth is our only home. If we spoil our planet, we canrsquo;t move to Jupiter or Mars and start over.

Reason 2: Real food is better for you.
The big benefit here is that most Earth-friendly foods are also foods that are good for you. Fresh vegetables and fruits farmed locally are some of the best foods you can find, for example.

Reason 3: Some ldquo;greenrdquo; technologies can help you save money.
While itrsquo;s commonly believed that going green is crazy-expensive, this is no longer the case. Even energy-efficient LED lightbulbs, which are somewhat expensive upfront, will help you save money on your home energy bills over time. Meanwhile, the price of newer technologies like solar panels continues to decrease every year.

Reason 4: Going green can increase your homersquo;s value.
Adding energy-efficient appliances or upgrades to your home will help you save money over the long run. And since buyers love the idea of saving on utilities and energy, you can increase your homersquo;s value and fetch a higher sales price, too.

Reason 5: We need water to live.
If you donrsquo;t care about the health of our water, yoursquo;re forgetting one crucial detail: We need water to live. As humans, we cannot afford to ignore the health of our water supply.

Reason 6: Green living is often more humane
As the scientific journal Nature noted earlier this year, human diets are directly linked to the health of our planet. More than anything else, a vegetarian or mostly-vegetarian diet is the best way for humans to reduce carbon emissions and stop global warming.

For more great tips on green living, check out "The Ultimate Guide to Cheap Green Living" on

Michael Tamez is a certified eco-consultant who shares tips, tools and strategies for green living on his website,

Jeff Wilson has hosted over 200 television episodes on environmental topics for HGTV, The DIY Network, and public television. He currently writes over at The Greenhouse Effect and you can find him on Twitter tgheffect.

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The Power of Staging Your Home to Sell

Accentuate the Positive

When studying a room, the first point your eye catches should be a positive one. For example, a home with a massive fireplace commands the first attention spot. However, poor placement of furniture, too many "comfy" afghans and plenty of books and magazines will distort the simplicity of the rooms greatest asset. Add last nights empty pizza box and full ashtrays and any prospective buyer will less appreciate the fine points the home would have offered.

Here is a list of ten points to keep in mind when staging your home for buyer inspections:

1. Start packing the belongings you absolutely do not need to "live." Extra books, magazines, kids artwork, afghans that dont match the decor should be boxed and labeled for your next home. Extra knick-knacks from Christmas, cluttered bulletin boards and several months bank statements can easily be stored away. Kitchens are the biggest culprits as they are such a busy meeting place in the home. Discount coupons, excessive decorative magnets, photos, etc. really catch the eye of the overwhelmed buyer. The top of the refrigerator is the largest collector of sometimes used gadgets. Unless you use your "wok" daily, it is better to clear the top and the front of your refrigerator to make the kitchen a little simpler. Convenient appliances also do better when tucked away so counters look cleaner and sharper. Please check switchplates for fingerprints and smudges, as those are the first places to get noticed. Doorbells are another place that fingerprints are evident. Be sure you are making the right first impression.

2. Family rooms are for >

3. Bedrooms are other places we enjoy our conveniences the most. Having our robes and slippers waiting for us does not offer top exposure to a viewing family. Get closets slimmed down for a generous look. Freshen with a soft potpourri to diminish the stale odors that come with humidity and small confined places. Although we like our shades and blinds pulled for sleeping hours generally all buyers are drawn to a light, airy and bright room, so open up all window treatments to maximize brightness. With windows being exposed, be sure they are really clean and sparkling. A house really shows its best when it looks like it has been cared for. Remove jewelry and other small personal items from dresser tops. Clean and simple sells the best.

4. The most inexpensive way to brighten a home besides a fresh coat of paint is to increase the wattage in light bulbs. That small guest room may be seldom used, but needs to look bigger and brighter to an interested buyer. Be sure the lamp can handle a stronger bulb and invest in a 3-way if possible. When you know that a showing is scheduled be sure to turn on every light bulb in the house for the best showing potential. Look around model homes, you will notice all the lights are always on, even on sunny days This is not the time to conserve electricity - its part of your marketing plan. If you have a room that shows particularly dark, put in an interesting lamp and leave it on most of the time. It will help the buyer leave with a brighter impression of the rest of the home.
5. Everybody has a "junk" room or closet. Its acceptable not to be perfect throughout, but minimize the clutter to one room, desk, or area and you are ensured of a better showing. If it is impossible to move around you could be adversely affecting that buyers perception of the size of the home, so give careful consideration to overstuffed rooms.

6. Everyones basement and garages are >

7. The worst offenders for dust and dirt are the cold air returns and heating vents. If they wont clean up with soap and water and painting doesnt improve them either, purchasing new ones is not that expensive and a great alternative. A house with cobwebs and loaded vents really gives the wrong impression about the cleaning standards of the present owner.

8. Pet dishes of water and food should be >

9. Juniors bedroom posters of rock groups to minimize the true picture of the room. Limit the "artwork" to 1 or 2 posters and promise him that he can resurrect the rest at his next destination.

10. Bathroom grouts must look like new. Bleaching can take care of some of the problems, but its worth the money to have a professional tile person patch and regrout problem areas. This is not a good time to try extensive grouting yourself. Often times amateur attempts convey the problem more than it is. Shower tracks from doors should glisten, along with the mirrors. Remove prescription bottles, pills, old toothbrushes, and worn towels. This room should get the most attention and look its best at all times. Dated colors in sinks can be replaced for generally a low investment and can render a much-updated feeling when a yesteryear color is no longer an objection. Remove old moldy shower curtains and limit shampoos to a few.


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Looking for a Bargain? Put on That Winter Jacket and Go Buy a Home Before the Spring Thaw

Jeff LaGrange, Vice President of the RE/MAX Northern Illinois Region, explained that, ldquo;In the Midwest, homes that go under contract in November, December and January usually are offered by highly motivated sellers. In spring and summer, purchasers may pay a premium because they compete with many other buyers. Less competition in winter means prices typically donrsquo;t include that premium, and sellers frequently are more flexible about price and other terms.rdquo;

Itrsquo;s that flexibility that is often key to a successful closing. So how can you use the time of year to your advantage to buy a home? Here are a few tips.

Be ready to negotiate

ldquo;When you have fewer buyers in the market, supply exceeds demand,rdquo; said The Spruce. ldquo;This usually results in prices being lower than during the hot or peak season.rdquo;

In northern Illinois, ldquo;Chicago-area homes sold in February had a median sales price that averaged 17.8 less than homes sold in June of the same yearrdquo; over the past 14 years, said LaGrange. But, that doesnt mean you can lowball and come away with a new home. You never want to insult the seller, who can flat out reject your offer if they so choose. Allowing your real estate agent to guide the process to come away with a good deal for you that doesnrsquo;t turn off the seller is key.

Creative negotiating may also help you get the home. Be willing to look at scenarios involving closing costs, repairs to items uncovered during the inspection, and even renting back if needed to help get a deal done.

Be ready to tour a home on a momentrsquo;s notice

OK, maybe not on a momentrsquo;s notice. But being flexible with your home tours is important in a winter weather-prone area. ldquo;With fewer hours of daylight, it may be necessary to visit more homes after dark, a less than ideal situation,rdquo; said RE/MAX. ldquo;When that happens, it makes sense to arrange a daylight visit before making an offer, and that can involve taking time off work,rdquo; said Linda Dore, a broker with RE/MAX Synergy in Orland Park, Ill, ldquo;but itrsquo;s worth it.rdquo;

Make sure your agent is winter savvy

Vacant homes can throw a wrinkle into any buyerrsquo;s plans, especially if a storm has left the home in less than hospitable condition. You never know when yoursquo;re going to have to MacGyver a situation. ldquo;These days, more homes than ever are vacant when they go on the market, and you never know what to expect,rdquo; said Donna Smolak of RE/MAX Vision 212 in Chicago. ldquo;Some can be beautifully maintained, but in other cases there can be six-inches of snow in the driveway, the storm door many be frozen shut or the whole home may be winterized with the heat and plumbing out of service,rdquo;rsquo; she said. ldquo;I always bring a fold-up shovel with me in case a car gets stuck or we want to scrape snow off an outdoor area to check whatrsquo;s underneath.rdquo;

Use your imagination

Vacant homes can also pose a challenge to buyers who lack the ability to envision what the home may look like with their furniture inside. But buyers are notoriously bad at seeing past paint colors or deacute;cor in any home. Especially when yoursquo;re dealing with a home that may not be everything you want, itrsquo;s important to try to look beyond any poor decorating choices or even some curious floorplan issues to see what the home can be.

Remember that if the house were perfect, it would either be more expensive, would have been sold quickly in the spring or summer, or both. Try to focus on things like overall space, ceiling height, and natural light. That will help you see the potential in the space and plan for changes once the home is yours.

Keep the goal in mind

Buyers in the winter often ldquo;have a real need to buy quickly, perhaps because of a work->
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Quinlan Realtys Broker, Craig Carr, Generously Donates to Local Nonprofits

Quinlan Realty in Creve Coeur, MO has generously made 2 donations thanks to distinguished Broker with Heart, Craig Carr.

Craig has made a generous donation to Generation Rescue Inc. on behalf of his clients, Carrie and Craig Roland, and made a second donation to the Buddy Fund on behalf of his clients, Meron Haile and Meron Gebre.

ldquo;All of us at PinRaise do not have enough great things to say about Craig Carr,rdquo; says Mr. John Giaimo, President of PinRaise. ldquo;Not only is he a joy to work with, but from the moment Craig joined our program he has made sure to make a donation on each and every closing hersquo;s had. Since he became a broker, he has also gone on to match the donations made by his agents, something that takes a true kindness and dedication to helping those in need.rdquo;

ldquo;I would personally like to thank Craig for his incredible generosity, and for being a shining example of what it means to be a Broker with Heart. I commend him for his kindness, and thank him for being such an incredible partner in giving,rdquo; concludes Mr. Giaimo.

About the Broker with Heart Program: Through the Broker with Heart program, brokerages agree to donate a percentage or fixed dollar amount of their commission from a home sale or purchase to the nonprofit of their clientrsquo;s choice after closing. This provides needed revenue for the nonprofit and makes a real difference in their community. For more information, please visit

To contact Craig Carr, please call 314-401-9286 or visit

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Season of Giving Kicks Off with Agent-Driven Donations to Local Nonprofits

Kellie Bradt of RG Realty Group in Coon Rapids, MN has made a generous donation to Brothers Empowered on behalf of her clients, Krystyana and Jeremy Bolz.

Michelle Ratajczak of James amp; Less Realty in Virginia Beach, VA has generously donated to the Alzheimerrsquo;s Association of Southeastern Virginia on behalf of her clients Marcia McGrath and Edith Greene.

James Potenza of Texas Buyer Realty LLC in Pearland, TX donated to St. Helen Catholic School on behalf of his client, Shelly Potenza.

Quinlan Realty in Creve Coeur, MO has generously made 2 donations as a brokerage through the Broker with Hearttrade; program. Read more about their donations and generosity here.

ldquo;As we enter lsquo;the season of giving,rsquo; I want to thank our incredible Agents with Heart, Kellie, Michelle, James and Quinlan Realty for helping us to donate to nonprofit organizations across the country,rdquo; says Mr. John Giaimo, President of PinRaise. ldquo;It is because of real estate agents like them, who strive to give back within their own communities, that our program is able to assist as many nonprofits as we do.rdquo;

ldquo;November is traditionally a time of reflection and gratitude, and I am especially grateful for the kindness that Kellie, Michelle, James and everyone at Quinlan Realty show through their unique dedication to giving. We appreciate their generosity and for choosing to partner with our program. All of us at PinRaise thank our wonderful agents, and look forward to seeing the good their generosity will bring to their communities,rdquo; concludes Mr. Giaimo.

About the Agent with Heart Program: Through the Agent with Heart program, real estate agents agree to donate a percentage or fixed dollar amount of their commission from a home sale or purchase to the nonprofit of their clientrsquo;s choice after closing. This provides needed revenue for the nonprofit and makes a real difference in their community. For more information, please visit

To contact Kellie Bradt, please call 651-269-8435
or visit

To contact Michelle Ratajczak, please call 757-472-0944
or visit

To contact James Potenza, please call 832-372-6388 or visit

To contact Quinlan Realty, please call 314-401-9286 or visit

Full Story >

Tree Laws Differ Among the States

Over the centuries, our country has grown from a largely agricultural setting to an urban civilization. As a result of these changes, different states have adopted different rules regarding tree law and liability.

On Sept. 14, 2007, the Supreme Court of Virginia reversed its longstanding position by holding that where a neighbors tree causes actual harm or poses an imminent danger of actual harm to an adjoining property, the tree owner "may be held responsible" for this harm. Prior to this, Virginia followed what is commonly referred to as the Massachusetts rule, namely that a property owners right to protect his property from the encroaching roots and boughs of a neighbors tree is limited to self-help. In other words, the property owner has the absolute right to trim the branches and cut to roots -- but only on his own property. He cannot enter onto the tree owners property, and he cannot sue the tree owner.

In Fancher v. Fagella, the Virginia Court made it clear that its earlier decisions were made "in times when the population was far less densely concentrated than at present, and more often engaged in agriculture."

To my knowledge, every state in the Union allows a property owner to exercise this self-help. However, some courts have modified this by holding that if self-help causes the neighbors tree to die, the tree owner must be compensated by the person who cut down the branches or the tree roots.

Additionally, over the years, four basic theories have evolved as to whether the adjoining neighbor has any legal cause of action over and above self-help.

The Massachusetts rule: As noted above, even if damage is done to the neighbors property, that neighbor is limited to self-help. That is the exclusive remedy. Many judges have called this rule the "law of the jungle" because "self-help effectively replaces the law of orderly judicial process as the only way to adjust the rights and responsibilities of disputing neighbors."

It should be noted that for all practical purposes, Maryland and the District of Columbia follow this rule.

The old Virginia rule: Until the Virginia high court recently reversed itself, since at least 1939 the law there was that the injured landowner is limited to self-help "unless the encroaching tree or plant is noxious and causes actual harm to the neighboring property."

But last month, the Virginia court acknowledged that it was difficult to determine exactly what is meant by "noxious."

The Restatement rule: The American Law Institute -- a prestigious organization composed of lawyers, judges and professors -- periodically issues "restatements of law" on various topics. While such statements are not legally binding on the courts, they do assist lawyers and judges in understanding and interpreting cases. In the Restatement of Torts, promulgated in 1979, it determined that the tree owner has an obligation to control encroachments when vegetation is artificial -- i.e. planted or maintained by a person -- but not when the encroachment is natural. In other words, if you planted your tree, and it causes damage to your neighbor, you may be financially responsible for this damage.

Most states rejected this theory, simply because it is often impossible to determine whether a tree is "artificial" or "natural." If you just moved into your new home, you have absolutely no way of knowing the origin of your trees.

The Hawaii rule: In 1981, the high court in Hawaii further modified the self-help rule. Normally, the court said, living trees and plants are not nuisances. While it may be an inconvenience for the neighbor if the trees next-door cast shade or drop leaves, flowers or fruit, this is not actionable at law. However, "when they cause actual harm or pose an imminent danger of actual harm to adjoining property," the neighbor may require the tree owner to pay for the damage and to cut back the endangering branches or roots. And if this is not done within a reasonable period of time, the neighbor "may cause the cutback to be done at the tree owners expense."

In Fancher, the Virginia court carefully considered all of the various rules, and decided to "join the growing number of states that have adopted the Hawaii approach." Several reasons were provided by the court.

First, it strikes an "appropriate balance" between the competing rights of adjacent property owners.

Second, the court wanted to make sure that frivolous, vexatious lawsuits would be discouraged, while at the same time not precluding a homeowner from recovering where serious damage has occurred. Mr. Fanchers damage included displacement of a retaining wall between the two properties, blockage of his sewer and water pipes, and impairment of the foundation of his house.

Third, it agreed that limiting the neighbor to the self-help remedy does, in fact, encourage the "law of the jungle."

Fourth, the other rules in existence -- including its own rules -- were unworkable and difficult to understand and apply.

And finally, quoting an earlier case in Tennessee, which in 2002 adopted the Hawaii rule, "the rule we adopt today is in keeping with the aim of the law to provide a remedy to those who are harmed as a result of anothers tortuous conduct."

What does this all mean for a homeowner who is confronted with damage to his or her property caused by the neighbors tree?

The first thing you should do is hire an arborist. There are a number of organizations that you can find on the Internet to guide you in locating one in your state and in determining what qualifications are needed.

The arborist must personally inspect the tree or trees in question. Under no circumstances can he or she go onto your neighbors property, however, unless you get specific written permission from the tree owner. According to Lew Bloch, the author of "Tree Law Cases in the USA," "Be clear of where the property line is." In his book, Bloch points out that, "aside from possible civil or criminal actions, some states allow for double or treble damages for trespass cases. And remember that trespass does not have to be intentional; it can also be accidental."

Once you get a written report from your arborist, and assuming that it shows a potential danger, send a copy to your neighbor. Depending on your >

In many cases, you may be able to amicably resolve the issues. It is clearly less expensive to agree to split the cost of removing the tree than to litigate.

But if your neighbor is obstinate and insists that, "the tree will stay," then you should consult an attorney knowledgeable about real estate and tree law.

Depending on what state you live in, you may be able to sue the neighbor seeking an injunction, which would require him to remove the tree. If you can demonstrate actual damage to your property as a direct result of the tree growth, many judges will also award you actual damages, based on the legal theory of "private nuisance." So, for example, if the neighbors tree caused 5,000 in damage to your garage, if you can prove this damage, the court may also give you a judgment in this amount.

But litigation is always time-consuming, expensive and uncertain. More importantly, since we follow the "American rule" on attorneys fees, which means that in the absence of a statute or a written agreement each side pays his or her own lawyers, it is doubtful that a court will award you legal fees, even if you win the case.

Of course, if you are in a state that still adheres to the Massachusetts rule, and if you want to take the case all the way to your Supreme Court, there is always the possibility that your court -- like the recent Virginia Supreme Court case -- will recognize that times have changed and will adopt a more homeowner-friendly rule of law.

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The Dangers Not Over When the Flames Go Out: What to Look for Before You Return Home After a Fire

Should you ever be in the unfortunate position to have to escape or endure a fire, these tips will help keep you safe.

Donrsquo;t move back in just because everything looks fine.

ldquo;Sometimes homes that appear completely safe after a fire can conceal damage that is invisible to homeowners,rdquo; said Fast Home Help. ldquo;It is important that you have your home thoroughly inspected by licensed, experienced professionals.rdquo;

That often means more than one professional. ldquo;It is unlikely that a single inspector will be able to conduct all aspects of your home investigation. More likely, you will require the services of multiple specialists, including a structural engineer, an industrial hygienist, and a plumber.rdquo;

It may seem like a hassle to parade numerous people through your home when all you want to do is get back to normal, but, when it comes to specialists whose job it is to ensure the safety of your home and its inhabitants, the more, the merrier. ldquo;While smoke damage is visible on walls and ceilings, it can also permeate these surfaces and cause damage to a homes structure/framing, wall studs, insulation and air ducts in your ventilation system,rdquo; said Resolve by Lowes. ldquo;When soot and smoke particles become trapped in the HVAC system, the smoke odor can reoccur periodically and even cause respiratory problems.rdquo;

Do a water quality test

You can buy one of these for about 20, and the peace of mind it will give you is priceless. ldquo;Wildfires can compromise water quality both during active burning, and for months and years after the fire has been contained,rdquo; said the California Water Science Center. ldquo;During active burning, ash can settle on lakes and reservoirs used for drinking water supplies, like during the 2013 Rim Fire.

Be wary of ashes

While the California Air Resources Board said that, ldquo;The ash deposited by forest fires is >

They recommend taking great care with any ash that has settled around the property, including wearing ldquo;gloves, long sleeved shirts, and long pants and avoid skin contact,rdquo; staying away from leaf blowers, and leaving remediation to the professionals.

Hire a public adjustor

Yes, you need to have your home assessed for insurance purposes, and that will entail having an insurance adjustor come out. However, the adjustor your company wants to send out works for them. A public adjustor works for you, and is a better way to ensure that you get as much money as you can to repair or replace the damaged items in your home.

ldquo;The third type of adjuster, the public adjuster, works only for the policy holder,rdquo; said The Balance. ldquo;The public insurance adjuster is also an independent insurance adjuster but they are hired by the policy holders who are filing the claim. Public insurance adjusters are often hired by insurance policy holders to make sure they are getting their full claim benefit from the insurance policy they purchased.rdquo;

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What Do You Own When You Own an Own-Your-Own?

California law, at Civil Code sect;4100, recognizes four different types of common interest development: i a planned development, often called a planned unit development or ldquo;PUDrdquo;; ii a stock cooperative; iii a condominium development; and iv a community apartment project, often referred to as ldquo;own-your-ownrdquo;. According to the Department of Real Estate,

In a planned development, the homeowner owns 1 a home on a separate lot and 20 ldquo;common areardquo; property or facilities by virtue of the homeownerrsquo;s membership in an association that owns the common area.

In a stock cooperative, the homeowner owns 1 shares in a corporation that owns residential property, and 2 an exclusive right to occupy a unit or portion of the property.

In a condominium, the homeowner owns 1 a separate condominium unit a three-dimensional space filled with air, earth, and/or water, 2 ldquo;common areardquo; as a co-owner, and 3 common area property or facilities by virtue of the homeownerrsquo;s membership in an association that owns the common area.

In a community apartment project, the homeowner owns 1 the entire apartment project as a co-owner and 2 an exclusive right to occupy an apartment in the building.

Condominiums are certainly the most frequently encountered form of common interest development, and that would explain why, to many people, condominiums are the only kind. As a matter of fact, though, condominium ownership is a late-comer to the field. Consider these comments taken from the July-August issue of a Department of Real Estate publication in the year 1962. The article was titled, ldquo;Something about Condominiumsrdquo;.

The 1962 edition of the Subdivision Manual Division of Real Estate deals with the subject as follows:

ldquo;So far as this State is concerned, the use of the term to describe a community apartment project originated primarily in connection with the lsquo;high-risersquo; type of apartment construction in the San Francisco Bay Area.rdquo; At the present time no such word appears in the statutes of California. [my emphasis]

It goes on to say,

As a matter of record, the Division of Real Estate has no knowledge of any statutory or judicial precedent in California for the method of conveyance used [i.e. condominium ownership] in this type of community apartment subdivision.

The 1962 article goes on to point out a variety of difficulties that have been noted with regard to condominium ownership, but acknowledges that builders, developers, and other professional groups are designing legislation to overcome these problems. It advises licensees to pursue the subject matter further.

These days, when an agent or buyer comes across an own-your-own -- a community apartment project ndash; they are liable to think of it as some kind of twist on condominium ownership. Historically, though, it is the other way around. Community apartment projects were in vogue before condominium ownership was fully legislated. They still exist, and are most often found in urban areas where apartment buildings had been converted from rental units to ldquo;own-your-own.rdquo; Moreover, there are also instances of community apartment project ownership having been applied to developments of single-story, free-standing buildings.

There is nothing suspect or untoward about own-your-own, although it can be difficult to find financing for them. Conventional lenders, for the most part, donrsquo;t want to, or canrsquo;t, make loans on them, because the borrower owns a portion of everyonersquo;s personal unit. In such a position, he has potentially greater liability than if he or she only had common area ownership through an association. Moreover, how would a lender go about foreclosing on a single owner?

This is not to say that no conventional loans are ever made on an own-your-own. I have seen a number of them. However, in most of the cases I have seen it, the lender had mis>
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Dont Let Winter Freeze Your Assets

Real estate may be the furthest thing from your mind at this time ofnbsp;year, but keep three key real estate realities uppermost in yournbsp;thinking, or 2019 could be an expensive year - in more ways than one.

1. ldquo;Itrsquo;s always the right time to buy or sell real estate- whennbsp;the right property or opportunity appears.rdquo;

Therersquo;s still a tendency to think about real estate according to seasons. This 20th-Century leftover didnrsquo;t help much then and it doesnrsquo;t now in our full-on life>

2. ldquo;Credit card debt delivers two solid financial hits that arenbsp;hard to recover from.rdquo;

bull; Carry a credit card balance and any lsquo;great dealrsquo; benefits you achieved may disappear into heavy interest penalties
bull; Credit card debt limits mortgage size and. therefore. the value of home that is considered affordable.

Billions will be spent online and in stores before the end of 2018 and billions in credit card debt will drag consumers down as 2019 unfolds.

Will those purchases be worth limiting the location and size of real estate you can afford to make yours in 2019? Times have changed, but has your spending pattern changed? Does out-of-date spending have you buying things that are non-essential to demonstrating your love or affection for another or to maintain an expensive life>

3. ldquo;Professional insight is essential.rdquo;

Since it is ldquo;out of seasonrdquo; with little or no buyer competition, you may feel that you can handle the search on your own. Donrsquo;t kid yourself.

Doing this without significant professional insight and experience may lead to your undoing. The good news is that this advice is all around you and most of it available at no charge. Real estate professionals are in the business of matching buyers and sellers at any time of the year.

Not to blow our own horn, but is a real estate information mecca for those who want to create achievable goals. My column, ldquo;Decisions amp; Communitiesrdquo; is packed with tips and realities for buyers and sellers and real estate professionals, too. For instance, smart home technology is high on gift lists this year, but this is still emerging technology, so be sure you buy what makes the most sense. My recent column, ldquo;Smart Homes: Backed-Up Your Fridge
Lately?rdquo; will help get you started. If there are other real estate topics yoursquo;d like explored let me know: .

Full Story >

Have a Challenging Listing? Perhaps Half-Naked Photos are the Answer

By now, you may have seen or at least heard of the photos of 590 Mosswood Drive in Conroe, TX, which features a young couple engaged in various household activitiesmdash;none of them dirty, but that hasnrsquo;t stopped people from raising an eyebrow, and an objection. In fact, there were so many objections to the somewhat risqueacute; photos a shirtless changing of a lightbulb here, some scantily-clad cooking there that the Houston Association of Realtorsreg; HAR took them down the morning after the pictures were added. You can still see them on listing agent Kristin Gyldenege of Home Pros Real Estate LLCrsquo;s Instagram.

We talked to Gyldenege about how the photo shoot materialized, the picturesrsquo; impact on the listing, the overwhelming response, and why she feels there is a larger issue at play here thatrsquo;s threatening the long-term viability of the real estate industry as we know it.

Realty Times: What gave you the idea to use these photos for your listing?

Kristin Gyldenege: I wanted something that would catch peoplersquo;s attention. It just felt like such a great house, and our budget was really limited, so we couldnrsquo;t stage it or anything. This was a way that we could do something to get attention and show the house for what it is, with a young couple enjoying the house they just bought. Part of our job as Realtorsreg; is is to imagine who might live in the house when wersquo;re staging, taking pictures, or writing descriptions. We thought maybe this visual representation would help take it a bit further.

RT: Have you ever done anything like this before?

KG: This was a completely new thought process, but something we wanted to do for a long time; we just had to have the right house and seller. We needed a seller that would be open to this, and a house that would be something that would appeal to a younger generation. The seller was supportive from the get-go; she was really happy to be a part of it.

RT: I know there has been a bit of backlash about the photos. Why do you think that is?

KG: Overall, I feel like the support has been much more profound than the backlash. Irsquo;ve received so many messages from all over, with people saying they love the progressive idea and the photos.

The majority of the people who have been negative have been from older generationsmdash;people looking to lsquo;protect the integrity of the industry.rsquo; The fact that these pictures, while not really showing a whole lot, garnered so much attention, is telling. I truly feel like this is a prime example of how the industry needs to change to keep up with the times. Agents are so worried about being replaced, and we will be if we donrsquo;t bring more to the table. The younger generation is going around us because they donrsquo;t see the value in working with an agent. When yoursquo;re able to create marketing that takes a listing to a new level, it gets noticed. Younger generations are embracing being able to capture social media attention and being able to cross-promote, and not just take pictures of a house and stick them up on the MLS and pray for the best. Were in sales and marketing. If you cant be creative about sales and marketing, youre limiting yourself. Eventually, yoursquo;ll be phased out.

Photo Courtesy Kristin Gyldenege

RT: Why this particular home?

KG: This house was on the market for 40 days before this. We didnt get any showings, and there were less than 2,000 views in all of October on the MLS. The home is located in a flood-prone area and most agents who know Houston tell clients to stay away from this side of 45. But this particular house is 20 feet above flood level, and has never flooded. If this house floods, were all in trouble. But itrsquo;s like an automatic no-fly zone; people donrsquo;t even take a look at it.

Itrsquo;s also a double lot, which makes it appear overpriced at first. Itrsquo;s the newest home in the neighborhood and more expensive than anything else in the neighborhood, so it may appear as though itrsquo;s above buyersrsquo; price point. Its a challenging listing. Irsquo;m certain I will sell it faster than if I hadnrsquo;t done thismdash;but it wont be overnight. The listing had 20,000 views within the first 24 hours after the pictures went up but they were only up for 10 hours.

RT: Why were they taken down?

KG: HAR took them down because they said they had over 100 complaints by 10am the following morning. I know several came from Realtorsreg; because they were bragging on social media that they had called to complain. It inhibits me being able to do my job. Here this listing is getting all this attention, but people are looking at the listing on news stations and sister sites because they canrsquo;t see the photos on the MLS. Itrsquo;s kind of frustrating.

Itrsquo;s also very sadmdash;wersquo;re in an industry that used to pride itself on helping each other, and this is very cutthroat. You have some people who claim to be trying to protect the integrity of an industry that is changing and that they may not understand anymore.

Photo Courtesy Kristin Gyldenege

RT: What would you say to people that question your strategy based on what they consider to be the questionable nature of the photos?

KG: Our job is to get as many people to see this house as possible. I want to do whatever it takes to sell it. Irsquo;ve also had a number of people contacting me who say they wish I was their Realtorreg;, and itrsquo;s great to be able to put them in contact with people who share a similar mindset.

RT: Any way we may see the photos back up on the site at some point?

KG: I just have to go with it for now. Irsquo;m waiting until the smoke clears a little bit to approach HAR and try to work with them.

Full Story >

Fannie and Freddie Loan Limits Set to Increase in 2019

The new conforming loan limit for 2019 is set at 484,350 for a single family home. We wrote here how FHFA sets these limits as the Home Price Index, or HPI is reviewed at the end of the third quarter of each year and compares that number with the HPI from the same time last year. If there is an increase, the conforming loan limit is adjusted accordingly.

Because the HPI jumped by 6.9 percent from October 2017 to October 2018, the limit is raised by 6.9 percent. If there is no change or the HPI actually falls there will be no change in the conforming loan limit. In areas where the median home value exceeds the baseline limit by 115 percent or greater for the area, the maximum limit can be as high as 726,525. Such areas are deemed ldquo;high cost areasrdquo; but are still considered conforming because the loans that finance these properties conform to guidelines set forth by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

Conforming loans make up more than two-thirds of the entire mortgage market and thus carry the most competitive rates compared to higher balance or jumbo mortgage loans. When lenders underwrite a loan to conforming standards the loan is then eligible for sale in the secondary market which in turn replenishes a mortgage companyrsquo;s credit line, allowing it to make even more home loans.

Government-backed mortgages are also influenced by this increase. VA loans will match the new conforming limits in 2019. FHA loans are calculated at 65 percent of the prevailing conforming limit. In 2019, the FHA loan limit will be 324,827 in most parts of the country. In high cost areas, the new limit will be 150 percent of the conforming limit.

Full Story >

6 Smart Updates To Make To Your Bathroom

"You dream about a bathroom thats high on comfort and personal >

Here are a few places to start.

1. A new showerhead

This is one of our favorite ways to freshen up a bathroom because a new showerhead is: A inexpensive, even for one that provides multiple heads and functions; B an easy way to make your shower more enjoyable if youve been dealing with an old showerhead that doesnt provide massage or handheld options; and C also a money saver since new showerheads are more energy-efficient.

2. Soaker tub

Soaker tubs are the hottest trend in bathrooms right now, and its getting to the point where anything else makes your bathroom look outdated. Have one of those giant Jacuzzi tubs in your bathroom? Its probably time to yank it out, especially if your jets stopped working long ago. The bonus of a freestanding tub is it can also make your bathroom feel airier and more spacious.

3. Walk-in shower

Your dinky shower with the tired tile and the metal trim isnt fooling anyone. You dont have to tear the whole thing down but, if you can, by all means Removing the tile and replacing it with something more current can do wonders, especially if youre going from something dark and cave-like to a choice thats light, bright, and reflective. A seamless glass enclosure can give the shower a more expansive and current look with minimal work.

deacute;cor pad

4. A smaller mirror

Sounds funny to be think about replacing your large mirror with something smaller, right? After all, its a bathroom. But if youve toured a model home lately or watched a bathroom be remodeled on HGTV, youve probably seen this swap. Taking down your full-width mirror and replacing it with something more tailored to the size of your vanity will instantly give the bathroom a lift. Have two sinks? Get two smaller mirrors. And make sure theyre framed out. A plain slab of mirror is justhellip;plain.


5. New lighting

Those cheap builder lights are making your bathroom look DATED Some of them are so bad they can make an otherwise stylish bathroom look not so great. Replacing the lights is easy and inexpensive. Just make sure to get your mirror situation figured out first so you know what width your lighting should be. A light fixture thats wider that the mirror is going to make everything look off.

6. Vanity overhaul

There are several ways to make an old vanity/sink combo look more customized and more updated. Changing out the faucets, painting the cabinets, and adding hardware can work wonders. But if the cabinet door or drawers arent in good shape, if the sink shape is just too dated, or if you just want to rip the whole thing out and dump it on the lawn, it might be time for something new.nbsp;If you are going to replace your vanity, take a look at floating versionsmdash;a hot look today that thats also great for a smaller space because it keeps the eye moving.

Full Story >

New Tech All Homes Will Have By 2020

New technologies are constantly emerging, rendering others obsolete every day. Many of these technologies eventually enter into our homes after being used in businesses or other capacities throughout the world first. Once they show themselves to be useful, people incorporate them into their everyday lives. Here are some technologies that every home will have by 2020.

Light-Transmissive Flooring

LED light emitting flooring can provide safety, informational, and decorational benefits. It can help guide people around the house, leading to exits and safety routes in case of an emergency. It can also enhance the atmosphere of the house, due to the fact that various colors can be used in the floors.

Light transmissive carpet is designed to directly engage with peoples vision and natural tendency to seek light. LED carpeting is conducive with the natural habit of being guided by the floor while moving. This new convenience can keep people from having to find a source of light during the night in order to navigate through their house.

Smart Home Theater

As smartphones are now the norm, smart devices throughout the homes are now expected. In a smart home, all electronic devices and gadgets are able to connect with each other and to the home network to work in unison.

Home theaters will play a large role in a smart homes function, as they will be able to replace sound systems in TVs and gaming consoles, offering a more surround-sound experience. Lessening the number of electronics people need to invest in and having everything done with only a few gadgets is a very attractive concept to people.

Gesture Control

This is the closest that technology seems to be headed in the arena of superpowers. PointSwitch technology, which is already used in businesses, allows the user to control their surroundings with just the point of a finger. You can turn on and off electronics, lamps, alarms, and anything else without having to actually get up and press a button. This works by creating a transparent and touch-friendly space around the user, but at a distance. This will make anything as easy as a point of the finger.

Smart Windows

We will soon be able to bid farewell to the high costs of heating and cooling our homes. With smart windows,nbsp; its possible to turn the glass from translucent to opague by simply turning a switch or touching a button.nbsp; Aside from aestheticnbsp; purposes, this will also eliminate the need for curtains or window shades. The convenience of smart windows will likely spread throughout homes, saving people money and time as the sunlight changes throughout the day.

Fingerprint Unlocking

If you are like many people, you often lose your keys. Keys will likely become a thing of the past as the fingerprint will now be the new way to unlock homes and cars. While keys can be copied or stolen, fingerprints cannot, so it adds an extra level of security. The registered fingerprints will be easily manageable, letting people adjust who has access to their house at any time.

Communication with Appliances

Perhaps you have been out of town for a while and want to check on the house. You will soon be able to send messages to your house to check on the temperature, activity, and anything going on around it. You may also be able to converse with your appliances, such as your refrigerator, while in the grocery store if you have forgotten your list. Pre-heating ovens can also be done when communicating with appliances, making time less of an issue in the evenings.

By the time 2020 rolls around, many new technologies that are emerging today will be old news. The final goal for new technologies is always convenience for the consumer and aiding in making life a bit more easy.

Full Story >

Lessons Are More Important Than Skills

He had been selling real estate for 25 years. I had no experience, but I had one question.

ldquo;What advice would you give me as I begin my real estate sales career?"

I had to ask, rather impatiently, no doubt, "What do you mean? I thought you were going to suggest learning skills like closing the sale, using the telephone, and such.rdquo;

He said, ldquo;David, remember this. If you donrsquo;t learn your lessons, you want need your selling skills, because you will be out of business.

I thought he was kidding, but he was dead serious. He told me that if I did not learn to be patient, to keep learning, to keep focused that I would not only be unsuccessful I would seldom enjoy what I do.

ldquo;If donrsquo;t learn your lessons, you will not need your skills.

Mr. Vanscoy was also my first character mentor. He did not tell off-color jokes, did not drink, and went home to his family. He sang in a choir at some local church. There was something different about him that I came to greatly admire and eventually understand.

Many a time through the years, his advice to be patient paid off, when I had not the first desire to be patient. We have all been kept waiting for appointments. Waiting comes with the territory, but it was not that long ago that my patience pushed the limit.

I promptly showed up for a 9 am appointment with a developer to sign listing agreements for condominium communities, as the listing broker of record. He was running late. Then later, and later, yet.

Question: what is the longest you have ever waited or would wait for a prospect?

We ended up meeting at 6:30 pm. I had waited nine and a half hours during which time my mind ran through the gauntlet of self-pity and pride-driven scenarios: They do not respect me. I think I will walk out, and other impatience-driven actons that would have cost me thousands of dollars.

One thought kept coming back. ldquo;Be patient.rdquo; It paid off.

Our new homes sales team took over as the exclusive broker of record for the onsite sales for 774 units in four condominium communities and sold about 70 million over the next two years. It was worth the wait in green, as in commissions.

The lesson: My sales skills, reputation, experience hellip;nothing would have mattered had I decided to walk away from this opportunity. The only thing that mattered for me was to focus on one thing: Get the listing agreements signed, no matter what it takes. It took sales skills to keep the listing, but it took patience to get it.

Full Story >

Want to Buy a Home? Close on December 26 for the Best Price of the Year

ldquo;While holiday shoppers are obsessing over finding the ultimate gift deals, tenacious house hunters who buy a home in December compared with other times of the year will save the most money, according to a new study,rdquo; said Bankrate. ldquo;In fact, buying a home on December 26 can save you as much as 2,500 on the sales price.rdquo;

The analysis comes from real estate data company ATTOM Data Solutions, who found that, across the country, seven of the top 10 days to buy a home because of price discounts are in December. ldquo;Itrsquo;s the housing marketrsquo;s version of a Black Friday sale,rdquo; Daren Blomquist, senior vice president of communications with ATTOM, said of the Thanksgiving period.

The company compared every calendar day from 2013 to 2017 that had at least 10,000 sales of single-family homes and condos for their analysis. ldquo;To calculate the premium or discount paid on a given day, ATTOM compared the median sales price for homes with a purchase closing on that day with the median automated valuation model AVM for those same homes at the time of sale,rdquo; said ATTOM.

Specifically, the top 10 days to buy a home, with associated discounts, are:

Image courtesy of ATOM Data Solutions

By comparison, the study found, 7,000 is the average homebuyers spend above the estimated market value of a home across all days of the year. And while the top 10 on the ldquo;best time to buyrdquo; list are clustered in December, with one day each in October and November, donrsquo;t fret if yoursquo;re just not quite ready to pull the trigger. Gaze back at the list and check out the No. 9 spot. Closing on February 9, when ATTOM said buyers typically save about 500, will leave you with a sizable budget for Valentinersquo;s Day.

On the state level

The analysis also took a look at the best months to buy on the state level. Not surprisingly, several of the sates that realized ldquo;the biggest discounts below full market valuerdquo; included those most prone to cold, snowy winters: ldquo;Ohio -8.8 in January; Michigan -7.9 in February; Nebraska -7.3 in December; Tennessee -6.8 in December; and Delaware -6.5 in December,rdquo; said MarketWatch. So, if yoursquo;re looking to buy and are not letting the sub-zero temps stop you, perhaps itrsquo;s time to stop shopping at Best Buy and call your Realtor.

Full Story >

Ask the HOA Expert: Basketball Hoops, Satellite Dishes and For Sale Signs

Answer: A resolution process is great for mediating disputes. But unless the majority of the HOA members would like to rescind certain rules, they are charged to obey them and the board to enforce them. A resolution process is not appropriate for this kind of enforcement.

Apparently, the fines being charged are not a big enough incentive to correct the violations. Usually, an escalating per day fine eventually gets attention. If the fines are ignored, the HOA can use the services of an attorney to file a lien against the offenderrsquo;s home. Usually the threat of filing a lien will get payment and future compliance from most. For the cases where a member is willing to squander money in court to defend his actions, the board should consider a compromise. Spending thousands of HOA dollars in court to enforce a rule makes little sense.


Question: Our HOA has no satellite dish installation policy. The board has received requests to approve such installations but seems to be at a loss on a policy.

Answer: Federal Communications Commission FCC Regulations require that homeowner associations allow satellite dishes but allow the HOA to control where they are placed as long as the locations afford adequate signal. Those approved locations should take into consideration curb appeal and maintenance concerns like damage done by screwing hardware to siding or roofs. Sometimes the best solution is to erect a pole to which multiple dishes can be attached on the roof or a shielded-from-the-street location of common area. While this still would be unsightly, at least it would centralize the issue and maintain the HOArsquo;s control over it.


Question: The board is reviewing our sign policy. Our governing documents allow for sale or for rent signs. But there is also a need to have a policy for political, garage sale signs, yard decorations and flags. Any advice?

Answer: The main purpose of sign, decoration and flag restrictions is to limit the number, size, number, theme and longevity of them. Yard decorations are not signs but can be garish, tasteless and long lasting. Holiday decorations can certainly be garish as well but are short lived like political signs usually. Flags can come in many forms but the US flag has federal protections. Others are subject to board rules.

Itrsquo;s best to have a sign, flag and decoration philosophy rather than an extensive list of acceptable or unacceptable items. The philosophy should stress curb appeal and good taste. Since we all know that some lack good taste, the board may need to intercede on a case by case basis and may need to compromise when confronted by an intractable resident rather than squander precious emotional and financial resources trying to enforce the rules.
One thing is clear, the HOA has the right to control what is placed in the common area which includes the building exterior surface which includes most common wall communities. These issues can produce volatile responses so the board needs to be willing to be flexible.

For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to

Full Story >

9 DIY Peel-And-Stick Tiles To Quickly Take Your Backsplash From Meh To Magnificent

But theres another solution to slopping adhesive on the wall. Peel-and-stick tiles Yes, you actually peel off the backing and stick them to your wall, or even to existing tile. And they stay there, until you want to peel them off and put something else up. If you can place a sticker, you can tile your kitchen.

"Removable, peel-and-stick subway tile. The kind you can install over your existing tile in an afternoon, without any special tools or tricks," said Apartment Therapy. It sounds like the stuff legends are made of, doesnt it? But its real."

Now, peel-and-stick tiles arent enti>

1. White subway tile

Love the look of subway tile but cant imagine the installation nightmare? These Smart Tiles use a "gel component called Gel-O which gives it its 3-dimensional effect."


2. Color and texture in a subway tile

You dont have to stick to white. This peel-and-stick subway tile brings a little added interest with color, and the glass texture.


3. Luxurious marble

Subway Marbella gives the look of rich marble in the subway shape thats so popular.


4. Go herringbone

Herringbone brings instant >


5. Metallic mania

Or take on the metallic trend with these Salerno Mosaic peel-and-stick tiles. They come in a variety of metallic finishes and shapes.


6. Rustic looks

Want a more rustic look? This splitface slate peel-and-stick tile brings in a cabin or resort vibe.


7. Go gray

The splitface tile also comes in gray tones, offering a mix of contemporary hues and rustic texture.


8. Bring in stone

This Aspect Frosted Quartz Peel and Stick Stone gives you the look of real stone with great texture and metallic accents, and comes in a variety of colors.


9. A beautiful reflection

Mother-of-pearl peel and stick tile is perfect for dark areas like kitchens with minimal light. The reflective surface bounces light around the room, helping the space to look larger.


It also comes in shell tones.

Full Story >

Why Price Shouldnt Be the Only Driver in the Search for Your First Home

Can you afford to heat and cool it?

You may only be thinking of home size in terms of the number of rooms or square footage you want. But, in many cases, a larger home costs more to maintain. More space means more space to heat and cool. Although, a home thatrsquo;s newer or that has updated systems can help defray costs because itrsquo;s more efficient. Your real estate agent may be able to get an idea of the monthly utility costs so you can have this information up front.

Whos going to mow the lawn?

If yoursquo;ve never had your own lawn or garden, you may not know if you have a green thumb or if yoursquo;ll regard the time it takes to care for it as a pleasure or a bummer. Then again, if yoursquo;re already dreading the idea of having to spend a couple hours out there each week, perhaps a single-family home isnrsquo;t for you. Yeah, you could pay someone else to do it, but yoursquo;re already stretching to buy your own place, right? Perhaps the lower-maintenance life>

Whatrsquo;s good for resale?

Are you thinking about how easy it will be to sell your home when yoursquo;re just about to buy it? Maybe not, but, the truth it itrsquo;s always a good idea to think like a seller when buying. Chances are, this starter home wonrsquo;t be your forever home, and the same questions you have about the floorplan or location are likely the questions would-be buyers will be asking when you go to sell.

As it >

How close are the schools?

Dying to walk your kids to and from school every day? Thatrsquo;s the dream for many a parent. But what you might not be envisioning is being able to watchmdash;and hearmdash;every kid in the school walk by twice a day, every day. What seems like a super-convenient location right on the walking path to the elementary school may just turn out to be too much of a good thing if it impacts your privacy and peace of mind.

Did anything weird happen there?

Yes, the seller will be required to disclose physical defects and also defects that create the potential for stigmatization. ldquo;What yoursquo;re talking about is the issue of lsquo;psychological damagersquo; to a property, to be distinguished from lsquo;physical damage,rsquo;rdquo; said NOLO. ldquo;In some cases, the psychological damage is so greatmdash;such as after a violent or highly publicized murder or suicide, or widespread reports of hauntingmdash;that the house is considered lsquo;stigmatizedrsquo; and therefore less valuable. In most states, the owner would indeed be expected to disclose a defect causing the house to be stigmatized, so that buyers could adjust their expectations and purchase price accordingly.rdquo;

A natural death in the home, however, is not generally something that needs to be disclosed. If thatrsquo;s the type of thing that could keep you from wanting to live there you, just ask. ldquo;If a prospective home buyer asks you outright about whether anyone has died in the home, you cannot lie unless you want to risk being later sued for fraud,rdquo; they said. ldquo;Also, be prepared for any buyer who is interested in this issue or shall we say obsessed by it? to find out the information online, at a site like;

Full Story >

Why Price Shouldnt Be the Only Driver in the Search for Your First Home

Can you afford to heat and cool it?

You may only be thinking of home size in terms of the number of rooms or square footage you want. But, in many cases, a larger home costs more to maintain. More space means more space to heat and cool. Although, a home thatrsquo;s newer or that has updated systems can help defray costs because itrsquo;s more efficient. Your real estate agent may be able to get an idea of the monthly utility costs so you can have this information up front.

Whos going to mow the lawn?

If yoursquo;ve never had your own lawn or garden, you may not know if you have a green thumb or if yoursquo;ll regard the time it takes to care for it as a pleasure or a bummer. Then again, if yoursquo;re already dreading the idea of having to spend a couple hours out there each week, perhaps a single-family home isnrsquo;t for you. Yeah, you could pay someone else to do it, but yoursquo;re already stretching to buy your own place, right? Perhaps the lower-maintenance life>

Whatrsquo;s good for resale?

Are you thinking about how easy it will be to sell your home when yoursquo;re just about to buy it? Maybe not, but, the truth it itrsquo;s always a good idea to think like a seller when buying. Chances are, this starter home wonrsquo;t be your forever home, and the same questions you have about the floorplan or location are likely the questions would-be buyers will be asking when you go to sell.

As it >

How close are the schools?

Dying to walk your kids to and from school every day? Thatrsquo;s the dream for many a parent. But what you might not be envisioning is being able to watchmdash;and hearmdash;every kid in the school walk by twice a day, every day. What seems like a super-convenient location right on the walking path to the elementary school may just turn out to be too much of a good thing if it impacts your privacy and peace of mind.

Did anything weird happen there?

Yes, the seller will be required to disclose physical defects and also defects that create the potential for stigmatization. ldquo;What yoursquo;re talking about is the issue of lsquo;psychological damagersquo; to a property, to be distinguished from lsquo;physical damage,rsquo;rdquo; said NOLO. ldquo;In some cases, the psychological damage is so greatmdash;such as after a violent or highly publicized murder or suicide, or widespread reports of hauntingmdash;that the house is considered lsquo;stigmatizedrsquo; and therefore less valuable. In most states, the owner would indeed be expected to disclose a defect causing the house to be stigmatized, so that buyers could adjust their expectations and purchase price accordingly.rdquo;

A natural death in the home, however, is not generally something that needs to be disclosed. If thatrsquo;s the type of thing that could keep you from wanting to live there you, just ask. ldquo;If a prospective home buyer asks you outright about whether anyone has died in the home, you cannot lie unless you want to risk being later sued for fraud,rdquo; they said. ldquo;Also, be prepared for any buyer who is interested in this issue or shall we say obsessed by it? to find out the information online, at a site like;

Full Story >

What Do You Own When You Own an Own-Your-Own?

California law, at Civil Code sect;4100, recognizes four different types of common interest development: i a planned development, often called a planned unit development or ldquo;PUDrdquo;; ii a stock cooperative; iii a condominium development; and iv a community apartment project, often referred to as ldquo;own-your-ownrdquo;. According to the Department of Real Estate,

In a planned development, the homeowner owns 1 a home on a separate lot and 20 ldquo;common areardquo; property or facilities by virtue of the homeownerrsquo;s membership in an association that owns the common area.

In a stock cooperative, the homeowner owns 1 shares in a corporation that owns residential property, and 2 an exclusive right to occupy a unit or portion of the property.

In a condominium, the homeowner owns 1 a separate condominium unit a three-dimensional space filled with air, earth, and/or water, 2 ldquo;common areardquo; as a co-owner, and 3 common area property or facilities by virtue of the homeownerrsquo;s membership in an association that owns the common area.

In a community apartment project, the homeowner owns 1 the entire apartment project as a co-owner and 2 an exclusive right to occupy an apartment in the building.

Condominiums are certainly the most frequently encountered form of common interest development, and that would explain why, to many people, condominiums are the only kind. As a matter of fact, though, condominium ownership is a late-comer to the field. Consider these comments taken from the July-August issue of a Department of Real Estate publication in the year 1962. The article was titled, ldquo;Something about Condominiumsrdquo;.

The 1962 edition of the Subdivision Manual Division of Real Estate deals with the subject as follows:

ldquo;So far as this State is concerned, the use of the term to describe a community apartment project originated primarily in connection with the lsquo;high-risersquo; type of apartment construction in the San Francisco Bay Area.rdquo; At the present time no such word appears in the statutes of California. [my emphasis]

It goes on to say,

As a matter of record, the Division of Real Estate has no knowledge of any statutory or judicial precedent in California for the method of conveyance used [i.e. condominium ownership] in this type of community apartment subdivision.

The 1962 article goes on to point out a variety of difficulties that have been noted with regard to condominium ownership, but acknowledges that builders, developers, and other professional groups are designing legislation to overcome these problems. It advises licensees to pursue the subject matter further.

These days, when an agent or buyer comes across an own-your-own -- a community apartment project ndash; they are liable to think of it as some kind of twist on condominium ownership. Historically, though, it is the other way around. Community apartment projects were in vogue before condominium ownership was fully legislated. They still exist, and are most often found in urban areas where apartment buildings had been converted from rental units to ldquo;own-your-own.rdquo; Moreover, there are also instances of community apartment project ownership having been applied to developments of single-story, free-standing buildings.

There is nothing suspect or untoward about own-your-own, although it can be difficult to find financing for them. Conventional lenders, for the most part, donrsquo;t want to, or canrsquo;t, make loans on them, because the borrower owns a portion of everyonersquo;s personal unit. In such a position, he has potentially greater liability than if he or she only had common area ownership through an association. Moreover, how would a lender go about foreclosing on a single owner?

This is not to say that no conventional loans are ever made on an own-your-own. I have seen a number of them. However, in most of the cases I have seen it, the lender had mis>
Full Story >

2018 Gifts That Give Back

Srsquo;well Water Bottle

There are a variety of reusable water bottles out there, but this one from Srsquo;well can keep your drink cold for up to 24 hours and hot for up to 12 It comes in a ton of colors and patterns, and, even better, the company gives to public schools throughout New Yorkmdash;more than 320,000 so farmdash;with the goal of completely eliminating single-use plastic bottles. Starting at 25.

One Hope Wine

This is great as a gift for friends and also the perfect answer to the question of, ldquo;What should I bring to dinner?rdquo; For all those holiday parties and get-togethers, make an impression with a bottle of wine that doesnrsquo;t just taste great, but also allows you to be charitable at the same time. The company has donated more than 3 million to several causes, including providing almost 50,000 people with global health care. From 25.

Grounds and Hounds Coffee

Skip Starbucks and buy from Grounds amp; Hounds Coffee Co., instead. We love this Three-Blend Starter Kit for 44, but 20 percent of the proceeds from all of their products go to local animal rescues. From 14.99.

Rescue Chocolate

The animal lover in your life will also certainly love this gift. ldquo;True to its name, Rescue Chocolate donates 100 percent of its profits to animal rescue organizations around the country so more abandoned animals can find happy homes,rdquo; said Greatist. ldquo;Rescue Chocolate sells tons of sweets, but we love the 4 Paw Collectionmdash;youll get one bar each of Forever Mocha, Peanut Butter Pit Bull, Foster-iffic Peppermint, and Mission Feral Fig, all wrapped up in a box with a bow. All the chocolate is vegan and organic, so its basically as nice as giving someone a new puppy.rdquo; From 25.

The Original Sprout Pencil

When does a pencil set make a great gift? When it comes from Practical Sprout, which ldquo;aims to raise awareness for sustainability through green products and partnerships with national and international educational institutions,rdquo; said POPSUGAR. ldquo;This Pencil Set 15 for an eight-pack can actually be planted and grown into cilantro, basil, and lavender when it becomes a stub.rdquo;

LUSH Charity Pot

With a ldquo;delicately floral perfume of ylang ylang and rosewood oils in a hydrating cocoa butter base,rdquo; yoursquo;ll want to buy Charity Pot moisturizer for all your loved ones and get a few for yourself, toomdash;especially when you learn that 100 of the price minus the taxes is donated ldquo;to small grassroots organizations working in the areas of environmental conservation, animal welfare and human rights.rdquo; In addition, the silky smooth cream ldquo;contains ingredients sourced from some of our Sustainable Lush Fund projects that support regenerative agriculture around the world.rdquo; Starting from 7.95.

LSTN The Satellite Speakers

Speakers arenrsquo;t generally known for being so chic, but these, which come in zebra wood and walnut, look as good as they sound. Plus, they have an altruistic advantage that will make you want to buy more than one. ldquo;LSTN partners with the Starkey Hearing Foundation, an organization thats helped over 4,000 people in Kenya and Rwanda hear for the first time,rdquo; said Womanrsquo;s Day. Priced at 99.

Starling Candles

Candles are always a top holiday gift because they are appreciated by nearly everyone, whether yoursquo;re buying for your BFF or your favorite neighbor. This chic soy candle can make you feel extra good about your purchase because it promotes the idea of ldquo;light for lightrdquo; by providing ldquo;sustainable solar energy to communities in need around the world.rdquo; From 55.

Gifteersquo;s Choice

ldquo;Good Cards are the gift certificates of the philanthropy world,rdquo; said ldquo;You set the price; recipients pick the charity. Perfect for those bosses, co-workers and clients youre stumped on.rdquo;

A Gift for Him

Gifts that give back may seem like theyrsquo;re only for the women in your life, but the Good Trade has numerous options geared toward men. We love this stylish cashmere sweater from Naadam that ldquo;comes in nine colors and is made from hand-brushed Mongolian cashmeremdash;plus, they pay their herders fairly, help provide veterinary care for the goats, and use clean energy and support sustainable grazing practices.rdquo; Sweater priced at 75.

Full Story >

Ask the HOA Expert: Registered Agents, Borrowing HOA Equipment, Board Vacancies

Answer: The states have different requirements for registered agents. Typically, the agent must be a legal resident of the state in question or, in states that allow entities to serve as registered agents, an entity authorized to do business in the state. All states allow a corporate officer of the corporation to serve and all allow the corporations lawyer to serve. Most allow business entities to serve as registered agents. Because most states permit one business entity to serve as a registered agent for others, some businesses exist to serve that exact function, charging a fee to act as the registered agent for hundreds or thousands of businesses in a given state. Information from Wikipedia

Usually the board president or secretary acts as the registered agent since the state directs the annual report renewal information to that person. This is the recommended so that the corporation files timely annual reports. If you donrsquo;t submit and pay for your annual report, your corporate status will lapse and the board will no longer have the corporate shield to protect it. To change registered agent, contact the state agency that handles corporate records often the Secretary of Statersquo;s office and change your Registered Agent name and contact information to the president or some other board member. This can often be done over the internet.

The HOA has just purchased a ladder and a power washer for our residents to use in and around their units. One of our residents has suggested that the HOA is liable if residents hurt themselves while using this equipment. Do we need to include something in our insurance to cover this or is there a simpler way?


Question: We periodically have members who want to borrow HOA equipment for personal use. Is this advisable?

Answer: Itrsquo;s not advisable to provide things like HOA owned ladders and power washing equipment to owners. Either one of these could result in serious injury if misused. Members should rent their own equipment or hire a contractor to do the work.


Question: We have a board vacancy that requires an appointment to fill. Our president wants the board to vote by email. Doesnt voting need to be done at a member meeting or a special meeting?

Answer: Board vacancy replacements should be done by at a board meeting. That board meeting should be open to the owners.


Question: Our board wants to build a larger pool and upgrade the clubhouse and is considering borrowing 200,000 and use our 50,000 reserve fund. While the expansion concept is supported by the members, I question the wisdom of borrowing money and using reserves earmarked for other things to do it.

Answer: A homeowner association borrowing money, particularly for discretionary spending like this, is a bad idea. The costs associated with this kind of borrowing are high since it is considered a commercial loan which carries a higher interest rate, shorter term and high closing costs. And the loan must still be repaid by the owners just like any loan but with the added liability of the HOA being responsible to collect the payments. If this project is desirable, the funds to do it should come from the members themselves by whatever means they may have available - cash in savings, home equity loan or Uncle Ralph. That way, the HOA stays out of the loan business and the repayment issue does not impact the fee structure or increase the HOArsquo;s administrative duties.

For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to

Full Story >

Selling a House? Here Is What the Market Looks Like In the USA

Higher interest rates and rising home prices are driving sellers away at the moment. Stats from August till October point toward a cool down. Home sales are around 13 percent down compared to last year.

Does that mean the market will soon flip in buyersrsquo; favor? What does that mean for someone interested in selling a house?

Things arenrsquo;t as simple as they seem. Real estate experts believe that the market will stay on the sellerrsquo;s side for yet another year. Despite the lack of buyers, sellers will still be able to take advantage of the booming economy and lack of inventory.

If you are interested in selling a house fall may not be a bad time for you. To know if the market is still on your side, you need to understand how and why the market swings between a sellerrsquo;s market and a buyerrsquo;s market.

When Is the Market in Sellerrsquo;s Favor?

Sellerrsquo;s market shows a good time to sell a house while a buyerrsquo;s market means buyers are more likely to find a good bargain.

Many factors affect the market such as the number of buyers and volume of inventory. A higher number of buyers means a better chance of selling your home at a good price. A higher volume of inventory means buyers have more choices and an upper hand.

Economic factor also plays an important part. As the economy improves, so does the affordability. More and more people will own a home because they are more confident about their affordability power.

However, excessively high property prices and mortgage rates can often overshadow these economic factors.

So, who does the market favor at the moment? Here are some key facts and findings that will help you get a clearer picture of the current housing market in the US.

Higher Prices, Lower Inventory

Higher prices push buyers away from the market, forcing sellers to reduce prices. However, a flourishing economy boosts buyersrsquo; confidence despite the price hike. People are still looking for a home to buy.

There may be fewer buyers at the moment, but lack of inventory balances the equation for the sellers.

Almost all the major housing markets in the US suffer from an inventory shortage. This means even though there are fewer buyers, they have fewer options to choose from. Together, both trends play out well for the sellers. The property might spend more days on the listings, but there is still a better chance to sell it at your desired rates.

Recently, the market has seen an improvement in terms of inventory. The rate of inventory decline is down 2.2 percent from the last year. It is the first annual increase in the housing stock in three years. While it may not be enough to balance the supply and demand equation as of now, it puts sellers in ldquo;better now than laterrdquo; situation.

The Fear of Future

The housing market is always riddled with uncertainty. Even these uncertainties favor either the buyers or the sellers.

As for sellers, housing prices are unaffected by the gradual rise in inventory. If new homes continue to be constructed at the same rate, it will eventually become more difficult for you to sell your property. The buyers will have more choices and options, and sellers will have to decrease the prices to sell.

On the flip side, buyers are also in a similar dilemma. Mortgage rates donrsquo;t seem to slow down and the feds have shown no intention of bringing them down in the near future. As a matter of fact, mortgage rates are expected to rise by 5 percent in 2019. Shall the interest rates rise, most buyers can no longer afford a home despite the increasing inventory and negotiable housing prices.

Due to these uncertainties, many buyers will buy a home right now rather than waiting for the situation to worsen.

The Buyers Are Serious

Currently, millennials make for the majority of the worldrsquo;s population and most of them have now entered the home buying age. Contrary to what it is said about the millennials and home ownership, recent stats show a different side of the story. With the economy in favor, millennials are now interested in buying their own homes. There may not be a lot of them looking for properties, but those who do are all serious buyers willing to pay the right price for the right property.

Moreover, fall isnrsquo;t usually a peak season. There arenrsquo;t as many sellers as there are in spring and summer. Buyers looking for a home in fall are the ones who are serious about the purchase. With a lack of competing properties, you have a better chance of selling at a desirable price.


Is it a good time to sell a house? It definitely is. The economy is still strong on its feet and all the factors point towards a solid sellerrsquo;s market for at least another year. The uncertainties regarding mortgage rates and home prices may have pushed buyers away, but they also put many in a ldquo;now or neverrdquo; situation. As a seller, this may be your best opportunity to make a move.

Full Story >

Canadas Housing Market Heads to a Soft Landing

Rising interest rates and government policies such as foreign buyer taxes and stricter mortgage lending rules are gently letting the air out of what many viewed as Canadarsquo;s housing bubble.

Most forecasters believe the market will be stable over the next year or two, with prices appreciating at a much slower level than during the previous decade. The average price of a home in Canada was 304,663 in 2008. In October of 2018, it was 496,800.

ldquo;Canadian householdsrsquo; love affair with debt has recently diminished,rdquo; says a report from TD Economics. ldquo;Led by the slowdown in mortgage lending, growth in household credit cooled to just 3.7 per cent year-on-year in Q3 ntilde; the slowest pace since the 1980s.

ldquo;Itrsquo;s been more than a decade since Canadians have seen the 1.25 increase in interest rates that has transpired over 16 months,rdquo; says the report. ldquo;Mortgage debt outpaced consumer debt from 2010 through the first half of 2017 but has slowed dramatically over the past several months. Some readers may find it surprising that mortgage credit is expanding at the weakest pace since the early 1980s.rdquo;

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. CMHC says housing sales peaked in 2016 and are likely to continue to gradually moderate. They may rise slightly in 2019, but slower employment and GDP growth will put a damper on sales in 2020, says the federal housing agency.

ldquo;In combination with higher borrowing costs and slower income growth, MLS price growth is forecast to slow at the national level this year,rdquo; says CMHC. ldquo;By 2020, demand is expected to continue to shift towards >

BMO chief economist Douglas Porter says, ldquo;Itrsquo;s looking more and more like a prolonged period of calm could be setting in for Canadarsquo;s housing market, or outright stagnation in some of the major centres.rdquo;

At RBC, senior economist Robert Hogue says, ldquo;We expect overall activity to stay more or less in a holding pattern over the coming year as rising interest rates, the mortgage stress test, market-cooling measures in B.C. and stretched affordability continue to exert significant restraint on homebuyer demand. Our view is that these factors will limit the home resale recovery to a small 2.8 per cent gain in Canada in 2019, reversing just a fraction of the 10.2 per cent decline we project for 2018Ouml;We project Canada-wide prices to increase just ba>

Not everyone is as confident that a soft landing is underway.

Swiss-based UBS, in its Global Real Estate Bubble index, has Toronto and Vancouver ranked as the No. 3 and 4 most vulnerable bubble-risk cities. The top two are Hong Kong and Munich. UBS says the term ldquo;bubblerdquo; refers to ldquo;a substantial and sustained mispricing of an asset, the existence of which cannot be proved unless it bursts. But historical data reveals patterns of property market excesses.rdquo;

It says in Toronto, ldquo;Since the waning of the housing frenzy in the middle of last year, prices have stabilized over the past four quarters. In inflation-adjusted terms, they are 50 per cent higher than five years ago.rdquo; Although government policies such as a non-resident buyer tax, a tax on vacant homes and rent controls should limit sharp price increases for now, UBS says a short-term weakening of the Canadian dollar could again attract foreign buyers.

In Vancouver, UBS says, ldquo;Imbalances increased again as house prices rose in the past four quarters at a double-digit rate in real terms. Real prices have doubled in 12 years. As the government tried to contain speculation, the tax burden is rising for high-end property buyers and foreign purchasers. This already strained affordability will become an acute issue if mortgage rates rise further, one that may halt the local market boom.rdquo;

With more interest rate hikes coming in 2019, Porter says, ldquo;For the first time in a decade, borrowers coming off a five-year fixed-rate mortgage will soon be doing so in a world where current rates are at least as high as at origination.rdquo;

The TD report says although credit growth is slowing, the higher rates will raise the cost of servicing mortgage debts. Some borrowers may need to stretch their amortization rates back to the maximum limit to absorb the higher costs.

ldquo;In the absence of a recession, most households should be able to weather increased debt service costs, and so far therersquo;s little evidence that higher rates are putting pressure on householdsrsquo; ability to meet their financial obligations,rdquo; says the report. ldquo;In fact, mortgage delinquency rates are at the lowest level since the 1990s. Insolvencies filed by consumers have edged up slightly from a year ago but remain at a level that is little different from the average that prevailed since 2011.rdquo;

Full Story >

Some Referral Fees Are Ok, but Caution Is Called for

Particularly problematic is the issue of paying referral fees to people who do not have a real estate license. An agentrsquo;s unlicensed brother in-law might ask for a sum of money in return for referring to him a person who intends to buy a house; and the agent very well might agree. Indeed, agents will sometimes solicit referrals from unlicensed persons. They may even advertise that they will pay a certain fee for the referral of buyers or sellers.

Real estate transactions and the activities of real estate agents are subject to a variety of both state and federal laws. The fact that there are these two different authorities provides some explanation for the common confusion about referral fees.

California real estate law permits the payment of referral fees to unlicensed persons. Other states may prohibit that. In California, the only restriction is that the recipient of the referral fee must not have any involvement in the transaction itself. Their sole role can only be to introduce the buyer or seller to the agent. They must not get involved in such things as valuing the property or trying to arrange financing.

Federal law is different from California law in this regard. It allows the payment of referral fees from licensee to licensee; but it prohibits, in most cases, the payment of referral fees to unlicensed persons.

The >

There are a number of exceptions to the RESPA prohibition against referral fees. If the transaction is a residential building that is greater than four units, it is exempt. If it is commercial, or vacant land, it is exempt. The same goes for transactions that are for cash, or those that are seller-financed.

Given the number of cash transactions that occur, a lot are exempt from the RESPA prohibition against referral fees.

Still, it is >

Nor is this just a matter of interest for real estate agents. It is also of concern to those unlicensed persons who want to receive referral fees.

12 USC Section 2607 a says, ldquo;No person shall give and no person shall receive any feehellip; [pursuant to a referral agreement]rdquo;. [My emphasis.] Subsequently, Section c3 goes on to exempt referral fee arrangements between licensees. But it does not exempt referral fee arrangements between licensed and unlicensed persons. In short, if a referral fee is paid to an unlicensed person in a transaction covered by RESPA i.e. the vast majority of transactions, both the agent and the recipient will be guilty of a violation.

This being the great country that it is, there are always those with a creative solution. ldquo;We donrsquo;t call it a referral fee. We say it is a finderrsquo;s fee.rdquo; The response, however is: No, it still quacks like a duck.

Violations of Section 2607 are punishable by fines of up to 10,000 and a maximum of one year in prison. Itrsquo;s something to think about

Full Story >

Exterminating Pests: A Guide to Family-Friendly IPM Pest Warfare

1: Set a Threshold

In contrast to old-school seek-and-destroy methods of dealing with pests, the more modern, moderate and effective approach is the implementation of Integrated Pest Management IPM. Described as a series of evaluations, informed decisions and control actions, IPM manages pest issues economically, with minimal risk to the environment, property and people.

The first step in an IPM program is to decide what the pest threshold is in your home. Catching a glimpse of one bug scurrying off into the night does not qualify as an emergency. You and your family need to come to a consensus based on the quantity and frequency of sightings as to if the presence of pests in your home poses an economical, environmental or health threat to you or your loved ones.

2: Know Thy Enemy

After defining your problem perimeters, the next step in this process is to know what you are dealing with. By identifying and researching the type of pest, you will know what it is you are up against. Different insects require different tactics, so before declaring war, learn their behaviors and motivations and understand their weaknesses. Plus, the more you know about your unwelcome visitors, the more likely you will be able to prevent infestations in the future.

3: Understand the Dangers

When most people think of pest control, they automatically think of pesticides. Though clearly they are a mild form of chemical warfare, pesticides have been widely utilized since the 1950s. It was not until recently that the health and safety of users, as well as the possibility of negative environmental effects, came into question. In the U.S., the average citizen has more that 40 different kinds of pesticides present in their system, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These are not the ingredients of a healthy, happy family home, especially since children have weaker immune systems than adults and tend to spend more time in close proximity to the floor, the surface where pesticides are usually applied.

Children are also more vulnerable to the toxins found in pesticides and exposure to these chemicals could potentially cause neurological complications. Extreme subjection to weed killers, pesticides and insecticides has been linked to the onset of learning disabilities, and 50 percent of pesticide poisoning cases in America have been in children under the age of six.

4: Prevent and Defend

Not only do traditional pesticides pose threats to humans and the environment, but they are sometimes ineffective. Many products only target pests at one phase in the life cycle, usually the adult phase, leaving larvae to hatch and perpetuate the infestation. In some cases, the insects develop an immunity or resistance to the pesticide, making the infestation even worse.

If you are attempting to fend off your family garden from nefarious attackers, instead of using pesticides, try alternating the kinds of crops you plant, using pest-resistant varieties and prepping the garden area with pest-free rootstock. Inside your home, repair any torn or broken door and window screens and caulk all cracks in your kitchen and bathrooms. Plug any openings that are bigger than one quarter inch with steel wool or cement to prevent vermin like mice from crawling through or chewing through the material.

5: Assert Control

If you have completed steps one through four and still have unwanted guests, it is time to select a method of control. In this phase, the Environmental Protection Agency EPA recommends you take into consideration two things: risk and effectiveness. Try less abrasive pest treatments first, like disrupting and disorienting the invaders through the use of pheromones or non-toxic traps. If necessary, more aggressive control methods should be employed through targeted and limited use of pesticide sprays.

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Ask the HOA Expert: HOA Know How

HOA Fees.

As a member of the HOA, you will pay fees to support management and maintenance. High rise condominiums and HOAs with clubhouses, pools and parks typically have higher fees than those with few common elements. If the HOA does not have and fund a reserve study 30 year plan for major repairs and replacements for common elements like roofing, painting, asphalt, decks and fences, a special assessment will be charged to each owner that can run into many thousands of dollars. Since boards of HOAs that donrsquo;t follow a reserve study tend to react rather than plan, these special assessment can happen with little notice and the financial obligation will fall on all owners, including new ones. HOA KNOW HOW: Review and understand the current budget and reserve study. If you are considering buying into a HOA that does not have a reserve study, move on. Itrsquo;s a special assessment waiting to happen.


HOAs can be great when the finances are handled well. Sharing the cost of costly amenities makes them more affordable for all. However, when one or more owners do not pay their share, either the rest must make up the slack or services cut. There is no government bail-out for HOAs. All must pay or all must suffer the consequences. HOA KNOW HOW: Ask for the current amount of delinquencies and number of owners that are delinquent. If the is over 5 of the annual budget, walk away.

HOA Rules.

In addition to maintaining common elements, HOAs also have certain rules and regulations that must be followed. Those rules may include architectural and design restrictions, which control the look of your unit or house or life>

Get the Big Picture.

While the home or unit you are considering may be newly remodeled and picture perfect, as an HOA owner, you have an undivided financial interest in all common elements. HOA KNOW HOW: Look at all the buildings and common elements, not just the unit you are interested in buying. Do you see deferred maintenance like peeling paint, dilapidated roofing and fences and broken up paving? If so, you are either buying into a soon-to-happen special assessment, or a board with its head in the sand which will fail to maintain your biggest investment. Either way, this is not good news for your property value. This is particularly important in common wall HOAs.

How the Board Does Business.

Inquire how often the board meets should be at least quarterly. Get copies of board meeting minutes for the past year and read them to determine the kinds of issues the board is dealing with. When you read the minutes, do you see evidence of board action to protect and maintain the common elements? If you see a board pattern of ldquo;does littlerdquo; in the minutes, like Nero, the board is fiddling while the HOA burns. HOA KNOW HOW: Walk away.

Professional Management?

If the HOA is self-managed, this is a BIG RED FLAG. This means the fate and maintenance of your largest investment is in the hands of untrained part time volunteers. HOA KNOW HOW: If you are the kind of person that loves a challenge and willing to dedicate many hours of volunteer time to steer board business, this may be the place for you. If you are not, walk away.

Rental Restrictions.

As lenders become more aggressive in setting rental limits to HOA loans, rental restrictions are becoming more common. They come in two flavors:

1. Limited Restrictions. Only a certain percentage or number of the homes or units can be rented. The board/manager must administrate this moving target.
2. Total Restriction. All owners are restricted from renting. While the most fair approach, a slow real estate market can force certain owners into a difficult position if they canrsquo;t sell or rent. HOA KNOW HOW: If your objective is to buy and rent the home and there are rental restrictions, move on.

HOA Insurance Coverage.

Investigate the specifics, particularly if youre in an area prone to flood, earthquake, tornado or hurricanes.

Consider the HOA Life>

Do you hate being told what you can do with your property? HOA KNOW HOW: If the HOA has extensive architectural and design control, walk away.

A homeowner association can be your best friend when it prevents your neighbor from painting her house neon pink, but your worst enemy when they fail to properly maintain the common property or impose overly restrictive rules. Make sure you know exactly what you are getting into before you sign the dotted line.

For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to

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7 Reasons Quartz Counters Are The Answer For Your Kitchen

1. Endless options

Whether youre looking for something super sleek or want to replicate the look of natural stone without the maintenance, you can find it in quartz.

"One of the main reasons quartz has exploded in popularity is due to appearance," said HGTV. "Quartz has the look of stone while also allowing homeowners to customize the design. While granite offers many options in terms of appearance, you may have to search for the right piece that matches your color scheme. With quartz, the selection process is much easier."

2. May be better for larger surfaces

The prevailing trend in kitchens today is an open kitchen with a large island. But large slabs of granite to cover an entire surface in one piece are hard to come by, sometimes even nonexistent depending on the size, and are expensive if they are found. More likely, more than one granite slab will need to be used for a large island or expansive countertops. Because quartz is engineered, it can be created in larger slabs. And if more than one slab is needed, seaming them together looks, well, seamless because there is no need to carefully color match natural pieces together as you would do with granite.

3. Easy maintenance

Granite needs to be resealed one a year, which is no big deal for most people. But the daily care required of granite can push them toward toward a solid surface like quartz. "With quartz, cleaning the counter is easy. The quartz washes off with soap and water and looks as good as new. You dont have to use special bacteria-preventing soaps," said Leeza Surfaces.

4. No staining

A main consideration for many people when choosing countertops is warding off stains. Juice, wine, or other food and drinks can permanently stain granite. According to HGTV, "Some oils and acids can stain" as well.

5. Scratches and burns

Granite can also scratch and burn, ruining the look. Quartz is scratch resistant and able to handle hot pots without burning or discoloring, although its not recommended you put anything super hot directly down on either surface.

6. Cost

Granite can be less expensive than quartz depending on the grade of the stone, but, when it comes to exotic granite, "Quartz is less expensive," said Leeza Surfaces.

7. Eco-friendliness

"The only way granite ends up in your kitchen is if its quarried and that uses a lot of energy. If you opt for a high-end slab from Italy, for example, there will be considerable transportation involved. Try using indigenous stone when possible or visit salvage shops for pieces that can be cut to fit your needs," said HGTV. "Since quartz is engineered, it can be more environmentally-friendly than granite if you use regionally manufactured stone and local fabricators. This cuts down on the distance the material needs to be transported."

If thats not enough to convince you, maybe these quartz kitchens will do the trick.

MSI Stone
kitchen countertops





Full Story >

8 Crucial Things to Ask Yourself Before Moving to a New City

This true story brought to you by our ignorance when moving from California to Texas. Who knew there were tornados here? Not us. It wouldnrsquo;t have changed our plans, but it does illustrate how easy it is to focus on other things like jobs and housing prices and school districts and fail to really get to know the cities yoursquo;re consideringmdash;or ask yourself the tough questions to make sure yoursquo;re making the right choice. Donrsquo;t be us. Ask yourself this instead.

Howrsquo;s the job market?

Many people move to new cities for jobsmdash;either because they have one lined up already or because there appear to be more prospects than where they currently live. In fact, ldquo;the latest report from Glassdoorrsquo;s economic research team mdash; Metro Movers: Where Are Americans Moving for Jobs, And Is It Worth It? mdash; found that more than a quarter 28.5 percent of Glassdoor users applied to jobs outside their metropolitan area,rdquo; said Glassdoor. ldquo;But does that mean itrsquo;s a good idea to move for work?rdquo;

The site recommends taking a look ldquo;at factors like the unemployment rate and the number of open jobs compared to the population in order to determine what the job outlook is in the areas yoursquo;re targeting.rdquo; Even if you have a job lined up, you never know what could happen. You want to know that, should it not work out, you wonrsquo;t have to think about moving to a new city again.

Is the housing market sustainable?

Buying a home in an area on the rise is a great way to build wealth. Buying where prices may have already peaked can be tough. While no one short of a psychic can predict whatrsquo;s going to happen, you can do your research so that you know what yoursquo;re getting into. Reports like this one are a great place to start because it goes beyond pricing trends to examine development and infrastructure.

Will you know anyone?

ldquo;Post-college, it can take a long time to find your footing socially in a new location,rdquo; said Mental Floss. ldquo;Knowing even one person can help you rebuild your networkmdash;but it takes time, and can be a lonely and isolating experience. If the thought of leaving your ten best friends in New York makes you feel queasy, it might not be the time to >

Have you thought about transportation?

If yoursquo;re coming from a place with good public transportation, it may not even occur to you that this is not the reality in many cities across the country. That might mean buying a car. Yoursquo;ll also want to take your commute into account. If yoursquo;re looking to move to a city where home prices closer to work areas are super expensive, that may mean buying in the suburbs, where the prices are lower and the commutes longer.

Is it a cultural match?

If yoursquo;re super conservative, moving to a city like Austin that promotes its weirdness may not be the best idea. Likewise, someone who is quite liberal may want to think hard about moving to a place that prides itself on its conservative family values.

Can you live with the climate?

A snowy winter seems so romantic, until yoursquo;re out there in your full-body parka shoveling the steps. Put some serious thought into what the climate is like before you make a big move. If yoursquo;re used to arid Arizona and you move to rainy Seattle, you may not fare so well.

What are the taxes like?

If yoursquo;re moving for financial reasons, yoursquo;ll want to consider more than salaries and home prices. Even in a state like Texas, where there is no state tax, property taxes can kill your buzz. CNBCrsquo;s ldquo;10 Cheapest states to live inrdquo; is helpful because it takes into account ldquo;cost of living, housing affordability, the price of housing, energy, food prices and other prices of goods and services.rdquo;

Can you afford to >

You might be considering a new city because the economy and/or job market are better than where you currently are, but getting there could be challenging. Movers, down payments or security deposits, set-up fees for new utilitiesmdash;theyrsquo;re just a few of the costs yoursquo;re going to incur along the way. ldquo;One of the most important questions to ask yourself before you move is whether you have the money to cover all the associated expenses,rdquo; said To find the answer, you need to evaluate your financial condition and set a moving budget.

Full Story >

Tips For Selecting An Interior Door


Prices for interior doors vary depending on what theyre made of. There are pros and cons associated with the materials themselves that are worth considering before you start thinking about the different >

Solid Wood: Believe it or not, most residential doors are not solid wood, but they offer such excellent soundproofing that they are a very popular upgrade. The weight of a solid wood door also lends a high-end feel when you swing it open or shut. Available in all kinds of wood, from exotic mahogany to the most common pine, solid wood gives you the option of staining to accentuate the beauty of the wood or painting to work with your decor.

Solid Core: These doors are actually constructed of medium-density fiberboard MDF, which is essentially an engineered hardwood that is available in wood-grain or smooth finishes. These, too, offer great sound proofing and that high-end heft, and are arguably the best value for your money.

Hollow Core: These are the most common and affordable doors available. Hollow-core doors are constructed with wood grain or smooth panels that cover a honeycomb-like center. Hollow-core doors are much lighter in weight and offer less soundproofing, but the upside is affordability.

Prehung or Slab: Finally, its important to consider whether you will hang the door in an existing door frame, or purchase a door that is prehung in its frame. Hanging a heavier door is a more delicate process, so we recommend homeowners interested in solid wood doors consider prehung options. A lighter, hollow-core door is simple to hang from existing hinges as it doesnt have much impact in terms of weight.


Once youve decided on the type of door that best fits your needs, its time to think about >

Panel: Panel doors offer a little detail and history. The panels are constructed of rails and stiles to create two-, four- or six-panel options. Rails and stiles can be straight or curved to match your design aesthetic. Straight lines tend to fade to the background, which is often the best option when youre upgrading several doors in one space. Panel doors work well in more traditional design >

Flush: Flush doors are just that: smooth, with no detailing. The lack of detail makes them a good choice in any decor, but especially if youre working with more contemporary >

French doors: French doors are a beautiful upgrade in the right spot. The detailing of the panesmdash;and the light they bringmdash;improve the look of any space, and the value as well. Great for exterior doors, they can also help open up interior spaces while still offering boundaries, both visually and spatially.

Pocket doors: Pocket doors are problem solvers. They are the perfect solution in tight spaces, or as a way to add a little privacy within a larger space. They also add a custom flair. Installation requires wall space on one side of the door large enough to accommodate the door when its open. Dont forget that these are also available in flush and panel >

Specialty doors

Of course, there are a few door >

Barn doors are a beautiful way to add real visual interest and architectural flair, and are much simpler to install than you might guess. A simple track above the door holds the panels and allows them to slide open and closed. Choose rustic, natural wood tones and textures or more tailored and polished door panels.

Frosted glass inserts are a great way to let in the light and maintain privacy while adding a very custom, high-end look. Great for closet doors, they also work well in other interior and exterior situations.

Those are just a few of our favorites. Whats on your wish list for interior doors?

Kerrie Kelly is an award-winning interior designer and the founder of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab in northern California. Kerrie writes on interior design topics for Home Depot. Many of the interior doors mentioned by Kerrie in the article can be viewed online at

Full Story >

Ask the HOA Expert: Mushroom Meetings

However, there are exceptions to every rule. Occasionally, the board may need to hold an emergency meeting to address some urgent matter. Emergencies can happen and its obviously impractical to notice the owners when there is one. These meetings sometimes need to take place by conference call to expedite decision making. There is nothing wrong with an occasional emergency meeting. On the other hand, some HOAs seem to be in a constant state of emergency since the board has no advance planning. And some boards use the "emergency" meeting to get around the open meeting requirement. This is definitely mushroom methodology. Owners have a right to protest vigorously.

Another exception involves what is called ldquo;executive sessionrdquo;. Executive sessions involve sensitive matters that should not be discussed in open meetings, such as litigation, personnel matters, contract negotiations and collection activity where specific owners are named. Again, the topics for executive session should be limited and the format not used just to keep owners out.

Board meetings should be held in guest friendly locations to encourage participation. Even when no guests show up, holding them in places that can accommodate guests builds trust. Meetings should be scheduled months in advance a year is not too far, at a convenient time and place. The schedule should be given to members so that they can plan to attend or present an issue to the board.

Open board meetings are the way HOA business should be transacted. If you are keeping your members in the dark and unhappy, purge the mushroom meetings and cultivate ldquo;fun-guysrdquo;.

For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to

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Are Investments in Temporary Rentals a Good Investment?

Rather than attempting to garner a month to month tenant or a longer term lessee, some real estate investors have been looking at a model wherein they forgo the security of known monthly rent in exchange for the hope of higher income per month by renting to vacationers on a short term basis. This type of rental is especially the case in popular vacation destinations such as San Francisco and the Napa Valley as well as the outlining areas.

There are pros and cons to this model. From a pro standpoint, many times, renting to vacationers for less than half a month can earn more than a full month under a typical month to month tenant. In the Bay Area, monthly rental may be 3,000 on average, but the nightly rental of an Airbnb for the same house may average 300 per night. Also, eviction is not usually a factor in the vacation model. Most vacationers are not squatters by nature, and lessee evictions [especially in tenant friendly states such as California] can be expensive in time, aggravation, and money. Although there will always be the horror stories of the vacationer who does a fair amount of damage to the house, these instances are much less than the usual monthly renter.

On the con side of renting via Airbnb, there is no security of rental income surety. One never knows how many days the house will be rented. Also, some months may be more seasonal than others. For instance, attempting to rent your Napa Valley place out in February may rent for far fewer days than in August when the vineyards are more in bloom. Other cons include the movement by cities to either tax the income via a ldquo;transientrdquo; tax or to not allow rentals for shorter than 30 days. This has recently been a big issue as neighbors complain about noise, constant flow of traffic, and so many different renters coming and going as well as the belief that property values go down when living next to this type of rental. Since the number of renters using Airbnb for more than 30 days is much smaller, the odds of getting a renter for more than 30 days to make up for the lack of days being rented in totality as compared to the desired occupancy of the Airbnb rental are very slim. In addition, someone desiring to rent under these circumstances is usually not willing to pay the typical nightly rent for the whole 30 days. Either the ldquo;landlordrdquo; will advertise a bargain rate for 30 days, or the prospective renter will negotiate a lower rent. A typical 300 per night rental using Airbnb might go for 150 per night for a 30 day rental.

Security deposits are normal for both Airbnb and typical rental situations, but Airbnb will most likely have an additional cleaning fee that may or may not match the actual cost of cleanup. In addition, the Airbnb rental will need to be furnished including bedding, towels, and other necessities whereas most typical rentals usually come unfurnished. This adds to the cost of the set up and continuing maintenancenbsp;of the Airbnb as well as having someone keep an eye on the rental to make sure the unit is in the same condition from tenant to tenant.

As with Uber, Airbnb has gained traction. With Uber, it took some time for the general public to see that this was similar to taking a taxi and, once people got the hang of it, it became the norm. With Airbnb many vacationers feel comfortable staying in someonersquo;s house that they know has been prepared for them in the same way a hotel makes up a room. There is no room service with Airbnb, nor are the sheets changed on a daily basis, but the costs can be quite attractive to the renter as well as the usually much larger space they get by staying in a house versus a hotel room.

From a lending standpoint, most lenders will seve>

If the buyer of an Airbnb house has experience and other rentals in their portfolio, the bank may be more inclined to take a closer look. Otherwise, the buyer of the Airbnb house will have to look for alternative lenders. If the buyer/borrower puts a significant down payment, the alternative lender may be able to be convinced to make the loan since this type of loan would be considered a non-owner occupied [no consumer] loan and not have as many restrictions in its lending practices due to Dodd Frank, TRID, ATR, and other regulations. The alternative lender is more willing to look at what can be done with the house upon a foreclosure. Can the property be sold easily to an owner/user? Can it be rented to a normal tenant lease? Most likely, the alternative lender will not look at keeping the house [upon foreclosure] as an Airbnb; that is a business rather than a rental and in need of more management.

The prospective buyer of an Airbnb should look at what a typical lease would look like should the Airbnb model not work for any number of reasons previously mentioned. If the typical lease income is too far below what is prudent from the standpoint of NOI, the buyer may decide to choose a different property to Airbnb if that model is so desired.

Edward Brown is an investment expert and host of the radio show, ldquo;The Best of Investing.rdquo; He has multiple published works, including an interview with the Wall Street Journal, and has also served as a chairman of the Shareholder Equity Committee to protect 29,000 shareholders representing 500 million REIT. Edward is also a recipient of the prestigious MBA Tax Award.

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Developing a Smooth Transition From Condominium Developer to Unit Owners

A. In the last few years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of new condominium units in the metropolitan area.

Every condominium is governed by a condominium association, through its board of directors. Although people do not realize it, when the very first unit in a condominium complex is sold, the association is already in existence. The developer appoints the first board of directors, which controls the association until turnover of control takes place. In general, the laws in the surrounding jurisdictions require that control be turned over to the unit owners within two years of the first sale, or when 75 percent of the units have been sold, whichever comes first.

Unfortunately, many developers do not understand the importance of working with unit owners so they will be prepared to run the association themselves. It is not good practice, in my opinion, for a developer me>

You should call a meeting of the owners; have it in the social hall, the main lobby, or even in someones apartment. Once you learn who is interested in taking an active role in the association, contact the developer and ask to schedule a p>

The meeting your developer scheduled is for the purpose of electing a new board. I find it interesting that unit owners vote for members of a board that will control their own destiny without having any information on who these prospective members are or what they stand for. If possible, a notice should be circulated to all of the owners informing them there will be a meeting before the election, at which time people can campaign for seats on the board. In my opinion, a condominium association is a mini-democracy, and just as we have political campaigns for government officials, we should also have campaigns for directors of the condominium association.

Once you are in control, there are at least five steps that must be taken:

o The new board must decide whether to retain the existing management company -- which has been selected by the developer -- or to select a totally independent management company. The association may decide to forego hiring such a company and become "self-managed", but I personally do not recommend this. Any association ndash; regardless of size -- needs formal management to assist in the numerous issues impacting the condo.

o Open a bank account in the name of the association or transfer any current accounts for board member signatures.

o An independent auditor or a certified public accountant must examine the associations books. It is important for members of the new board to be satisfied that the developer, while controlling the association, properly paid all of its obligations to the association -- and that those payments came from the developers funds and not from the Association. Keep in mind that while the developer is in control of the association, the developer also has access to the association funds. Often, this access is unlimited. You want to make sure that funds which should have been paid by the developer are not inadvertently paid out of association proceeds.
Developers handle the question of payment of condominium fees in different ways, but under any circumstances, the developer must be held accountable for all its legitimate obligations. Additionally, in many instances the developer, while serving as a board member, may have allowed many unit owners to become seriously delinquent in paying their condominium fees. The new board must establish a careful and comprehensive collection policy that will be applied uniformly.

o The association should retain a lawyer to guide it in its activities. The lawyer will have to deal not only with developer problems, such as warranty issues, but also will have to assist the association in its day-to-day activities. A condominium association is not only a mini-democracy, it is also a business, and must function in that capacity as well.

o The board should consider hiring an engineer to inspect the complex as soon as possible. The engineer should determine if there are any warranty defects that should be called to the attention of the developer. For example, in the District of Columbia, a developer must post some form of security ndash;such as a Letter of Credit ndash; with the Mayor, to assure that any warranty issues can be paid in the event the developer tries to avoid payment. The engineer can also help the board determine the proper level of reserves that are needed.

Turnover of developer control is probably one of the most important functions to assure the future success of a condominium. It is not often understood by developers and some developers do not want to encourage active participation by the new board for fear the new board will be too conscientious in reviewing the developers activities.

Good dialogue among unit owners, the developer and board goes a long way toward creating a successful condominium.

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4 quot;Big Regretsquot; to Avoid When Buying a Home

bull; Fear that this is ldquo;the wrong timerdquo; to buy has kept many would-be homeowners on the sidelines and unnecessarily out of equity-building markets.
bull; Fear of buying the ldquo;wrong real estaterdquo; can take many forms: fear of buying the wrong location to gain status or long-term value appreciation, the wrong size for family dynamics, the wrong price for financial security, or the wrong functionality for future family needs.

Regrets- manifestations of fear that can immobilize us when faced with big decisions- haunt us long after we make or defer the decision that created them. Be afraid to act and that failure to act may lead to regrets. Regrets about consequences of the delay, the resulting inertia, or the missed opportunity - regrets about what you wanted to do and what you should have done.

In real estate, buyers are faced with a series of big decisions involving often-unknown territory like downpayments, mortgages, real estate law, contracts, and life choices. Fear of making ldquo;The Wrong Decisionrdquo; regarding any one or all of these issues is a common reaction. Real estate professionals work hard to keep fear in check for their buyers. Professionals aim to minimize or eliminate regrets - if buyers allow their real estate professional to help.

Head-off fear and regret by asking your real estate professional a lot of questions and listening to the answers. Using this informed approach when faced with ldquo;Big Decisions,rdquo; helps buyers avoid Four ldquo;Big Regretsrdquo;:

Regret 1: Decision Inertia or Waiting Too Long = Fear Fanned by Assumptions, Not Facts

Would-be buyers often watch a rising real estate market from the sidelines because they assume everything is priced out of their reach or because they hope prices will fall. Too often they are proven wrong. One young couple stayed out of the rising real estate market for years, convinced that city prices were too high for them. They watched and waited as prices crept higher. When they finally sought out a real estate professional to learn the facts, they did find a property at a price they could afford and in a location they love. However, delaying their purchase did end up costing them more and reducing their choices.

Act to get the facts as soon as possible and avoid regrets.

Regret 2: Choosing The Wrong Location = Fear Fanned by Lack of Confidence that Makes Buyers Followers, Not Self-Leaders.

Eager buyers who emphasize a list of must-haves based on what friends bought or on trends and fads, not a thoughtful analysis of their specific needs and how exactly a home would enhance their lives, can end up disappointed with what they buy. For instance, without analysis and with assumptions, buying in an outlying less-expensive area can seem like a smart financial move. However, the impact of commuting for work and recreation must be measured beyond the simple expense of driving or transit. Include priceless elements like time away from family, lost time with friends, disconnection from the community, and increased risk of accident, which can make living far from your ideal location a life of ongoing regret.

Research to get local facts on location preferences and avoid future regrets.

Regret 3: Buying a ldquo;Money Pitrdquo; = Fear of Missing Out, Instead of Learning as Much as Possible

Impatient buyers who jump into a purchase, pressured by multiple offers, egged on by deceptively clever staging, or who skip a home inspection can run into unwelcome expensive surprises. A house can ldquo;lookrdquo; great but be full of problems: bad wiring, old plumbing, insufficient insulation, water leaks, structural issues, and other costly headaches. For example, these problems often materialize when ldquo;gut itrdquo; renovations are conducted to create the much-touted open-concept main floor. Open-concept homes, where kitchen, living room, dining room, and perhaps family room are combined as one wall-less space, can end up being considerably more expensive than budgeted for.

Investigate property condition to get the facts and avoid renovation regrets.

Regret 4: Playing Not to Lose = Fear of Perceived Risk, Instead of Playing to Win by Using Professional Expertise

Fear of making wrong decisions can make buyers overly cautious and risk-adverse. In real estate, this hesitant approach can lead buyers to settle for less. If fear of risk is out of proportion to the actual risk involved, buyers may be shortchanged, that is, theyrsquo;ll make an OK real estate purchase instead of a great one. Real estate professionals understand this important distinction for buyers. Long-term financial gains coupled with future life>

bull; When buyers are resistant to experienced input or fixated on preconceived ideas or fads, the outcome may not be as good or fulfilling as buyers hoped.
bull; When the real estate professional explains present and future value to a buyer who acts on this knowledge, results can be amazing.

Act in your own best interest - play to win the best possible outcome.

Emphasize foresight when buying real estate and yoursquo;ll avoid regrets in hindsight.

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The Three Government-Backed Home Loan Programs

VA Loans

VA loans are available to a select group of borrowers. Those borrowers are veterans, active duty personnel with at least 181 days of service, National Guard and Armed Forces Reserve members with at least six years of service and un-remarried surviving spouses of those who have died while serving, or as a result of a service->

FHA Loans

FHA loans have no such restrictions as to eligibility. FHA loans are under the auspices of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, and also carry a guarantee to the lender. Should an FHA loan go into default, the lender is compensated for the loss. This compensation is financed with two separate forms of mortgage insurance: an upfront mortgage insurance premium and an annual premium paid in monthly installments. These two fees have varied over the years but today the upfront premium for FHA loans is 1.75 percent of the loan amount when the minimum down payment of 3.5 percent is made and 0.85 percent of the loan amount for the annual premium. The upfront premium is also rolled into the final loan amount.

USDA Loans

The USDA loan is the last of the three government-backed programs and is designed to finance properties located in rural and semi-rural areas. The USDA program is also a zero-down loan and offers a 30 year fixed rate program. There are income limitations with the program and is also dependent upon the number of people living in the household. This program is considered a moderate income program limiting household income to 115 percent of the median income for the area. Properties must also be located in a previously approved geographical area.

Lastly, all three of these programs are designed to finance a primary residence and cannot be used to finance a second home or rental property.

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2018 NAR Profile Can Help Agents to Find Buyers and Sellers

87 of buyers used an agent in purchasing their home. That number has increased steadily since 2001 when the figure was 69. 6 of buyers purchased directly from a builder, and 7 bought directly from an owner. Of the 87, how did they find their agent?

Not a lot of ldquo;agent shoppingrdquo; takes place among buyers. 68 interviewed only one agent, 18 interviewed two. So how do you get to be on the interview list? Referrals are far and away the dominant factor. 41 of buyers chose to work with an agent who was referred to them by a friend, neighbor, or >

This might seem like discouraging news for new agents. ldquo;What chance do I have of connecting with a buyer if I havenrsquo;t already built a referral base and a list of past clients?rdquo; Here, a new agent wants to remember that ldquo;friends, neighbors, or >

Moreover, there are, just as there always have been, other ways of coming into contact with buyers who may choose to work with you. Some ways work better than others.
5 of buyers found the agent they used as a result of an open house. Interestingly, only 1 found the agent that they worked with as a result of walking into or calling an office and meeting the agent who was on duty at the time. In general, ldquo;floor timerdquo; is not very productive.

Agents who do want to get connected with buyers can prepare themselves so that a contact is more likely to lead to a >

Sellers are just as likely as buyers to work with an agent. 90 of sellers had their home listed on MLS. But sellers, too, donrsquo;t do much ldquo;agent shopping.rdquo; Similar to buyers, 75 interviewed only one agent; just 13 interviewed two. Again, referrals and past business >

Other seller contact sources drop into single digits. Interestingly, compared to buyers at 9, only 4 of sellers found their agent through a web site. Again, there are venues that agents who lack a referral or past client list might want to think about. Open houses account for 4 of the contacts that eventuate into a working >

Would-be listing agents would do well to note that the most important factor ndash; 31 -- in choosing a sellerrsquo;s agent was reputation. Sure, itrsquo;s nice to have a track record of sales activity, but there are other aspects to reputation as well. 19 of sellers said that honesty and trustworthiness were the most important factors in considering an agent. Things like attitude and integrity are also components of onersquo;s reputation. Agents who want to build a business should pay attention to such things. Word gets around.

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The Best Black Friday Deals for Home

65" Sharp 4K Roku Smart TVmdash;Walmart, 398

There are tons of great deals on TVs this year, but if yoursquo;re looking for a big one without a big spend, this 65rdquo; Sharp TV from Walmart is your winner. ldquo;The best TV we found to fit a 500 budget is this 65" Sharp 4K Roku TV from Walmart, where its a Doorbuster,rdquo; said Bradrsquo;s Deals. ldquo;We do expect it to be available online, but it may sell out quickly at this price. Walmarts Black Friday sale launches online on Wednesday November 21, 2018 at 10pm EST.rdquo;

Samsung Stainless Steel French Door Refrigeratormdash;Home Depot, 998

Thats a whopping 44 savings on this fridge from its former price of 1,864.

Dyson Ball Animal 2mdash;Best Buy, 300

Vacuum cleaners may not be sexy, but donrsquo;t miss the chance to get one now if yoursquo;re in need. The prices are great on everything from the lower-end stuff to the big ticket suckers. For our money and mainly because multiple children and animals live in this house, itrsquo;s all about the Dyson. ldquo;This upright is a highly ranked model in our ratings, and performed wonderfully at cleaning bare floors,rdquo; said Consumer Reports. ldquo;It also earns an Excellent rating for its ability to suck up embedded pet hair in carpet in our tests. Itrsquo;s not the cheapest upright yoursquo;ll find, but at 200 off, itrsquo;s a solid deal for a top-performing Dyson upright.rdquo;

Google Home Hub with Google Assistantmdash;Best Buy, 99.99

Save almost 50 and get connected or give someone else a boost into the land of Smart homes with Google Home Hub.

Everythingmdash;IKEAmdash;25 off 100

You can take your pick of IKEA favorites this Black Friday. From November 22ndash;26, you get a blanket 25 off your 100 purchase.

Amazing sheetsmdash;Brooklinen, discounts starting at 10 percent

Brooklinen has basically achieved cult status for its super-soft sheets, and theyrsquo;re offering a stepped-up discount for Black Friday. Save 10 percent on 250, 15 percent on 350, and 20 percent on 450 across the site from November 23ndash;26.

Canvas and framed artmdash;, 50 percent off

Get half off everything site-wide on November 23.

Instant Potmdash;Target, 69

This kitchen fave is marked down from 99 at Target, plus yoursquo;ll get a 10 gift card to boot. This Doorbuster is available starting Thanksgiving day at 5pm.

Serta 16-inch raised queen-size airbedmdash;Target, 60

How thoughtful of Target to put this airbed on sale just before your family arrives for the holidays Yoursquo;ll save 40 on this great deal.

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Dos And Donts For Painting Your Bathroom Cabinets

Do: Get a paint sprayer: A paint sprayer will give you the cleanest, most professional look. You can buy a pretty basic unit for under 100, but for about the same cost, you can rent one for the day and get a much better version.

Dont: Fret if a paint sprayer isnt going to work out. A foam roller and brush can give you a pretty clean finish.

Do: Buy several of them in different sizes and shapes. Theyre cheap, so stocking up wont cost much, and having a variety will help you to easily get into corners, nooks, and crannies.

Dont: Use a crappy product. The last thing you want is to walk into your bathroom every day and scowl at the poorly done bathroom cabinets - kind of the way you do now. One of our favorite DIYers from The Turquoise Home found a great product that we cant wait to try: "Aces amazing Cabinet, Door and Trim Paint. You can brush it on and it will level and not leave any brush strokes"

Behr Alkyd Semi-Gloss Enamel is another favorite for painting bathroom cabinets. "It basically performs like an oil-based paint but without the horrible smell and difficult clean up," said Provident Home Design.

Do: Take the time to sand. Weve tried the lazy girls version of painting right over other paint and it just doesnt work out well. Admittedly, sanding is a terrible, tedious process, especially if you have detailed panels that require you to get into lots of little corners, but its well worth it in the end.

Dont: Sand inside. Take it outside and put a mask on while youre at it. The dust you kick up is unkind, especially if anyone in the house has asthma.

Do: Clean the surfaces thoroughly. Youll want to use a degreasing product like "trisodium phosphate TSP cleaner and a scrubbing pad or sponge to thoroughly wash all surfaces to be painted," said Lowes. "Then rinse at least twice with fresh water and a sponge." And after sanding, youll also want to make sure you vacuum up all the dust and wipe down all the surfaces thoroughly so you dont get little pieces stuck in the paint.

Dont: Leave the doors and hardware on when you paint. You cant easily get every part of the door if you dont take everything off, and the paint you inevitably get on the hardware will make it look like a DIY job.

Dont: Forget to number your cabinet doors so you know how to put them back on when youre done. This is not a fun thing to figure out after the fact.

Do: Label the hardware, too. See above.

Dont: Paint with your animals in the room. Just trust on this one.

Do: "Let the paint settle for a couple of minutes and then look back over it for paint pooled in the corners or drips underneath the edges," said The Turquoise Home. "The paint will still be wet enough to clean up those areas and will still level and dry flat.

Dont: Quit after one coat. Youll probably be dying to be done after one, but remember: A little more effort here goes a long way.

Do: Prep, prep, prep. Tape stuff. Use dropcloths. Make sure everything you dont want covered in paint is nicely protected, or youll be scraping paint off of it FOR LIFE.

Dont: Use flat paint. Because its not washable, it wont hold up as well as another finish.

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Lifting the HOA Veil

Anything that could negatively impact the value or marketability of the property needs to be divulged before closing. While there are usually statutory disclosure requirements of single family house sellers, these same disclosures are generally not required of homeowner association home sellers. This is a huge problem and herersquo;s why:

Homeowner associations HOA impose substantial financial obligations to the members. So, while a buyer may purchase a condo in great condition and needing no repairs, that same buyer is also obligated to share the cost of certain repairs to all the condos, which may be in very bad condition. Since there is no specific legal requirements in most states to disclose these obligations, the buyer often finds out after closing when presented with a special assessment that can amount to many thousands of dollars.

Herersquo;s the key to uncloaking this problem: The board of directors controls the quality and quantity of disclosure information. The responsible board treats the HOA like the business that it is and keeps certain basic information available such as:

Governing Documents. Includes the Declaration, Bylaws, Rules amp; Regulations, Resolutions which are the specific obligations each member has.

Newsletters. Reveal events renovation, litigation, etc that could indicate a possible special assessment.

Meeting Minutes. Same as newsletter but with more specifics.

Annual Budgets for Last 3 Years. Could reveal expense trends and failure to adjust for inflation.

Financial Reports. Monthly reports comparing actual expenses to budget should be available to track income and expenses.

Collection Activity. How much of the assessments are overdue 30, 60 or 90 days? If some donrsquo;t pay, guess who gets to?

Litigation Activity. Are there any pending lawsuits that could trigger a special assessment?

Reserve Study. A 30 year plan to maintain components like roofs, painting, paving, etc. This is the biggest time bomb in the many homeowner associations that lack one. Failure to plan for predictable long range expenses often mirrors a lack of ongoing maintenance which causes spiraling property values.

Percentage of Rental Units. More than 50 rentals could directly affect financing options and saleability.

Key Contact Information. How to contact the board and manager.

This list of items is the same information that any informed buyer would want. Itrsquo;s the boardrsquo;s responsibility to make it available to owners so they, in turn, can provide proper disclosure to their buyers. If buyers are informed of their responsibilities, they will make better neighbors. Does the HOA really want members that donrsquo;t care how business is handled? Is your board prepared to lift the veil of on disclosure?

For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to

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How To Choose The Right Vanity To Kick Off Your Bathroom Remodel

"Its not always the most glamorous part of a bathroom remodel, but choosing the right vanity can make or break your bathrooms design," said Houzz. "If its placed awkwardly in a traffic route, uses poor or mismatched materials, or doesnt have enough storage, the rest of your bathroom will suffer."

The right >

Choosing a vanity can speak volumes about your design aesthetic. Lean toward traditional >

Maybe you love antiques. Finding an old sideboard or dresser and fashioning it into a vanity can bring interest and distinction to the space. Just remember to treat the wood properly to keep water away.


Modern lines have been the trend for several years, and there is no shortage of vanities that bring some panache to the bathroom.


The right size

Having dual sinks is generally preferred in bathrooms, except for powder roomsmdash;in this space, using a decorative vanity thats not dependent on extensive storage space can give this room a lift. But a tight space may make it difficult to accommodate two sinks and any semblance of counter space in a bathroom that needs to function for family.

As HGTV says, "Often its the size of the room that dictates the size of the vanity." If youre redoing a bathroom, you might want to ask your real estate agent if installing a small dual-sink vanity like this one from IKEA is a better option than a one-sink vanity with more counter space.

One of the newest trends is floating vanities, which can give a bathroom some modern flair while also functioning well in a smaller space. This wall-mounted option creates an airy feel because of the open space below.

Modern Bathroom by Palo Alto Architects amp; Building Designers Maydan Architects, Inc.

Sometimes a custom vanity is whats needed. Choose one with open space like this option to create a stylish look; you can increase the storage space with baskets.


The right material

Traditionally, vanities are made of some kind of wood or wood product, whether theyre painted, lacquered, or kept in their natural state. But they dont have to be.

They also dont need to be a traditional shape or >

This vanity reflects its abode in a unique way. "When New York design firm Carrier and Company converted an old dairy barn into a guest cottage for a client, they saw big possibilities in this soapstone cow trough salvaged from the property," said DIY Network. "Owner Jesse Carrier and his team added custom hinged wood tops to create one of the most unusual and beautiful bathroom vanities youll ever see."

DIY Network

This upcycled bicycle vanity from artist Benjamin Bullins made him "a Pinterest phenomenon," said DIY Network.

DIY Network

If you really want to use wood for your vanity, REALLY use wood. This live edge vanity will su>


Full Story >

Why Get Involved?

A. You have lived in your community for a long time, and are pleased with the way it is working. Do you know why? Most likely it is because there is a conscientious, hard-working board of directors, who are concerned about the welfare -- financial and otherwise -- of your association.

A community association does not function -- good, bad or otherwise -- without leadership. Often, as we all have read and heard,some boards of directors are on ego trips. Even though they may care about the welfare of the association, they are more interested in preserving and fostering their own personal agendas. Indeed, I know of one association in which the outgoing Board President seriously considered putting his picture in the social room, as a reminder of his long-term service to the Association.

But the great majority of board members are hard-working and honest. Service on the Board is not fun; the hours are long and the pay is zero. Budgets have to be planned to meet the needs of the association while at the same time satisfying the pocketbooks of the owners. Rules have to be adopted -- and then enforced. Delinquencies haveer to be addressed, and it is often difficult -- if not embarrassing -- to have to approach your neighbor or your friend to remind him/her that there is a delinquency.

I do not know how many owners are in your community. But regardless of size, boards must understand they are running a business -- and some of these businesses have budgets which are as large or largerthan corporations trading on the New York Stock exchange.

This is a serious responsibility, which cannot be taken lightly. Many years ago a Court ruled in the State of Maryland that Board members only have to exercise good business judgment in carrying out their board responsibilities. This means that unless someone can prove fraud, cheating or stealing, a court of law will not second guess the decisions of a board of directors -- even if their decision turns out to be the wrong one.

Despite this "good business judgment" rule, I still maintain that a member of the board has a fiduciary duty to the owners who elected him/her to the board. This means that a board member must act fairly, honestly, openly and -- of most importance -- use common sense in making decisions which impact on the entire community.

Many years ago, the President of a large association gave his "state of the community" speech at the annual meeting. I take the liberty of quoting some of his remarks:

For the past two years, I have served as your President. You have called me at all hours of the day and night; you have pushed me into the swimming pool, and have poured molasses into my gas tank. The hours are long, and the pay is zilch.

But, if I would not have served, you [expletive deleted] would have screwed it all up.

I cannot add much more to this erudite speech. You have an investment in your association, and service on the Board of Directors is a way -- perhaps the only way -- of preserving that investment.

Full Story >

Credit Inquiries: Why Lenders Care

FICO scores are calculated using an algorithm originally developed by The FICO Company. This algorithm considers five different characteristics of a credit file. Of course, payment history carries the most weight, contributing 35 to the total, three-digit score. The second most important >

How long someone has used credit is also a factor, making up 15 of the score and the final two of the five both contribute 10. Types of credit used and credit inquiries. Types of credit boosts scores when consumers responsibly use different types of credit and credit inquiries logs in the number of times someone has requested credit. But about that 10 for a credit inquiry, if it makes up such a small part of the total score, why do lenders care about this category?

For one, requests for credit over the past year or so wonrsquo;t hurt scores but making several requests for different credit accounts in a >

Each time a consumer makes a request for credit, that request is recorded in the credit file. Again, an occasional request is fine. What can cause a loan application to stop dead in its tracks is to see a recent credit inquiry on a credit report but no indication any account has been opened. It usually takes about 30 days. That can mean someone opened up a credit account or maybe bought a car and financed it but the amount borrowed and the terms havenrsquo;t yet made it to the credit bureaus. When a lender looks at a credit report with recent inquiries, there is no way the lender can properly determine a consumerrsquo;s new monthly payments. Someone with >

When this happens, the lender will request the borrower to explain the inquiry and verify that no account was opened and if an account was opened, to send in documentation regarding the terms of the new account. Thatrsquo;s why loan officers tell you that once you apply for a mortgage, just sit tight with any other credit requests until and after your loan is ultimately funded and closed.

Full Story >

The Smartest Fall Renovations to Make if Youre Planning to Sell Your Home

While some trends carryover, there is some great info here for those who are looking to make some updates to enjoy now, while being able to reap the potential future financial benefits.

Matte appliances

These are a ldquo;hot trend of the moment,rdquo; said McGillivray. And while he says that he likes how they ldquo;lend a luxurious look to the kitchen, and how they look great when paired with neutral colored cabinets,rdquo; he still thinks stainless steel is your best bet if yoursquo;re looking to sell anytime soon. Itrsquo;s the ldquo;best choice for a long-term return on investment,rdquo; he said. While these matte finishes are great of-the-moment looks, I expect theyrsquo;ll look dated a few years down the road.rdquo;

Quartz counters in warm colors

We may be moving away from all that white or counters that look like Carrara marble only easier to care for. While quartz isnrsquo;t going anywhere, McGillivray is seeing a trend toward warmer shades. ldquo;Countertops that look like marble will always be in demand because theyrsquo;re >

Light floors

ldquo;Along with the light and airy trend comes a desire for lighter floors,rdquo; he said. ldquo;Dark walnut and cherry finishes are out, and lighter, blonder woods are in. Similar to kitchen counters, I think the trend will be toward warmer colors rather than cooler colors. But light is definitely the way to go trend-wise.rdquo;

Hands-free technology

Smart homes arenrsquo;t the way of the future. Theyrsquo;re here, now, and the smarter the home, the more attractive it may be to buyers. ldquo;This may seem like old news to the early adopters, but more and more people are starting to embrace hands-free and SMART technology,rdquo; he said. ldquo;This means that anything in your home that you can command with your voice is going to be super popular.rdquo;

Less Serious and More Fun Spaces

Itrsquo;s time to go a little wild with your homemdash;but within reason. ldquo;I predict that people are going to stop taking their homes too seriously and have a little bit more fun,rdquo; he said. ldquo;This means more colors, more patterns and less concern over whatrsquo;s lsquo;proper.rsquo; While smart return on investment design decisions should still be made for fixed items in your home, letrsquo;s all >
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The Best Mobile Plans for Real Estate Agents

Find the coverage you need

It may seem obvious, but the most important part of a mobile plan is coverage. It doesnrsquo;t matter how much data or how many minutes you have if you canrsquo;t use them, and this is true not only on your home turf, but wherever youre likely to go. If you typically stay local, that makes the search easier. But if you travel regularly to real estate conferences or for out-of-town clients, make sure your coverage will be just as good when youre on the road.


Look at the coverage map for your carrier so you wonrsquo;t be surprised by gaps in coverage.
Search for online reviews of your carrier in geographic areas you frequent.
Dont forget international coverage, if thats part of your business needs.

All about the data

Today, most mobile plans beyond prepaid plans have unlimited talk and text, but data is still a large variable. Data needs vary from person to person based on their office setup, work >

Office bound
Do you spend a significant amount of time in the office, with sporadic journeys out for showings and closings? Is your phone largely for communicating and browsing simple listings, reading contracts, or researching? If so, consider a smaller data plan or a pay-by-the-gig plan. Basic Web browsing and using your navigation app wont use much data, and therersquo;s no need to pay for more than you need. Pay-as-you-go plans are particularly flexible, giving you access to as much data as you need at a reasonable price, without wasting money.

Road warrior
Are you a realtor who lives in the car? While yoursquo;re out of the office, are you catching up on listings, watching video walkthroughs, updating images on your site, and sending files? You may get by with a pay-by-the-gig plan, or you may want to go full-out on an unlimited option.

If you can, look through your data usage for the past few months. If its more than 3-4 GB/month per line, its time to upgrade. If youre not sure if you need unlimited data, start with a flexible data plan and upgrade if you find yourself buying a lot more.

Office manager
If you have several agents on one plan for a collective or small office, you may want to jump right into the unlimited plan, especially if your team trends more toward road warriors than office bound. If your data use justifies it, this can help lower tensions that can crop up when one person is using more data than someone else.

Saving money

If the cost of data is a concern, you can save money with a little effort and creativity, especially if you work in urban or heavily settled areas. Scope out coffee shops, libraries, and other local businesses with free WiFi and move your work out of your car. Also, take a closer look at your mobile plan. You may find that they also offer WiFi hotspots that their customers can use rather than burning through data.

Keeping track

Once youve picked the best plan for your location and use, you will still want to keep track of your account to make sure youre not leaving money and unused data on the table. Most carriers have an app for tracking data usage and billing. Keep an eye on your data use and adjust your plan as needed.

With so many options available today, choosing the right mobile plan can be a challenge. But armed with the right questions, you can weed out those that donrsquo;t meet your data and financial needs, and find the perfect plan for you and your business. That way, you can focus your efforts on building your business and matching clients with their perfect properties.

Christy Matte is a die-hard techie and contributing writer for Xfinity Mobile. Shes a Boston-based writer who has been covering tech for the past decade or so, and enjoys video games, surfing the Web, and any gadget she can get her hands on.

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Making Canadian Suburbs More Age-Friendly

As the population ages and the life expectancy of Canadians increases, therersquo;s a lot of discussion about where older people are going to live and how to make their communities more age-friendly.

The baby boom generation is moving into their senior years, but most of them are not yet interested in downsizing to condominiums or moving from their current homes. In fact, they are still actively purchasing move-up homes and recreational properties.

But Statistics Canada says that as the boomers age, beginning in 2031 the share of the population aged 85 and older will increase rapidly. Almost one in four seniors in Canada will be 85 or older by 2051.

Thatrsquo;s going to put a lot of pressure on seniorsrsquo; residences and long-term care facilities. Currently about a third of those aged 85 and older lives in these types of residence.

Most seniors want to stay in their own homes for as long as they are physically and financially able to do so, but some homes and communities make that easier than others.

About two-thirds of Canadians live in suburban areas, built after the Second World War and filled with young families who enjoyed their single-family houses and roomy backyards. But if you live in the suburbs, you likely need a car to get to local amenities such as grocery stores, medical services or community centres.

A report by Glen Miller for the Institute for Research on Public Policy says that by 2036, 42 per cent of residents aged 75 and older will no longer have a driverrsquo;s licence, according to estimates by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.

Citing research by the Canadian Urban Institute CIU, Miller says, ldquo;As the design of subdivisions changed, the average size of single-detached dwellings increased from 850 square feet in the 1950s, to 2,000 square feet in the 1970s, to 2,000 to 3,000 square feet in the 1990s, to 3,500 square feet today, even though average household size has declined. The result is that many neighbourhoods lack the critical mass of population to support local services and amenities. Instead, residents of newer subdivisions >

Miller says, ldquo;Itrsquo;s fair to say that our current suburbs are no place to grow old.rdquo;

Without the ability to drive themselves because of physical or financial limitations, seniors can quickly become isolated in their communities. The problem has been recognized by municipalities for many years, Miller says, and in 2007 the concept of age-friendly communities AFC was introduced by the World Health Organization.

ldquo;More than 500 municipalities have since committed to becoming age-friendly,rdquo; writes Miller. ldquo;Despite the original enthusiasm, however, the AFC movement has led only to minor physical improvements, such as the addition of park benches, better lighting or clearer signage, and it has thus far failed to generate the scale of public policy intervention needed to bring about significant changes to the built environment.rdquo;

He says in most municipalities, the planning department doesnrsquo;t take AFC into consideration. A study by the CIU of 25 cities that committed to becoming age friendly found that none of them have incorporated the idea into their official plans. None of them modified their approvals process to reflect AFC goals or put the aging population as a priority when planning development.

Miller notes that the governmentrsquo;s health care policies support healthy aging and aging at home. ldquo;In order to capture the imagination of the older adults who stand to benefit from age-friendly development practices, municipal planners and their developer colleagues need to seek out and deliver compelling examples of age-friendly development that will benefit people, and customers, of all ages.rdquo;

He provides some recent examples of AFC. In Port Credit, part of the City of Mississauga, Ont., a brownfield site that was once the St. Lawrence Starch factory has been developed into a mixed-use community over 15 years. First townhomes and mid-rise condos were constructed, along with retail and other amenities on the ground floor. Then a retirement residence was added. The development is within walking distance of the commuter rail station.

Most of the buyers >

Another example is in Don Mills, Ont., which was touted as Canadarsquo;s first car-oriented suburban subdivision. A local plaza was turned into an indoor mall but later it was redeveloped with mid-rise condominiums and a new plaza with open community spaces.

Existing suburbs are a tougher challenge, but Miller points to two examples of streets near suburban areas that have become community hubs. Broadway, in the Kitsilano suburb of Vancouver, and a North Toronto neighbourhood around Yonge Street both have several mixed-used mid-rise developments.

ldquo;Although not explicitly planned as age-friendly projects, both focus on creating a high-quality public realm through zoning that encourages a mix of community-oriented uses and street grids that facilitate walking and easy access to public transit,rdquo; says Miller. ldquo;These two community hubs have proven attractive to empty nesters as well as young families who can afford to rent or own condos.rdquo;

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Student Loans Proving a Barrier to Homeownership. We Have Solutions.

ldquo;Among buyers rejected for a mortgage from a lender, 40 percent had college debt, the NAR found.rdquo; Per the same study, 80 percent of millennials donrsquo;t own a home, and 83 of those non-homeowners said student loan debt was a barrier to buying.

The NAR found that ldquo;Two in five buyers, like Jodi Meyers, cut out luxury or nonessential items to save up for a home,rdquo; said USA Today. Her family, in the midst of paying off Meyersrsquo; 55,000 in student debt, cut out all necessities and purchased outside of their preferred area to be able to afford a 249,000, four-bedroom home in Lakeland, Florida. The upshot: ldquo;Itrsquo;s not my dream home, but it got my foot in the door, and now Irsquo;m building equity,rdquo; she told them.

Of course, compromise is nothing new when it comes to buying a home, especially if itrsquo;s your first. Few of us can go out there and purchase the waterfront mansion of our dreams, but that doesnt mean we donrsquo;t aspire to do so someday from our starter home in the lsquo;burbs.

Check out a site like Student Loan Hero and yoursquo;re going to read about things like front-end ratios and back-end ratios and it can all get very confusing. And, the truth is, the average person doesnrsquo;t need to know the nitty-gritty. The important takeaway is that, in your lenderrsquo;s eyes, your income needs to be sufficient to cover a mortgage and all associated expenses when all your debts are taken into account. Having student loans in the hundreds of dollars per month can make it harder to qualify.

So what CAN you do if yoursquo;re looking to budget and buy a home, but student loans are holding you back? There are options.

Amass a higher down payment.

ldquo;If you can save a 20 percent down payment, your student loans are far less likely to affect your loan process,rdquo; said Student Loan Hero. Your lender should be able to give you details of what loans allow your down payment to come from gift funds from a family member.

Pay off your debts.

Talk to your lender about this. You may be surprised that a scenario in which you redirect some of your down payment funds to smaller debts that can be cleared out could make it easier to qualify for a mortgage. ldquo;Paying down that high-interest credit card balance, for example, is a great place to start,rdquo; said Dave Mele, president of on Bankrate.

Get a side hustle.

If you canrsquo;t negotiate a raise, find other ways to make more money so you can add to your down payment or use it to pay down your student loans. ldquo;If education debt is making your debt-to-income ratio too high, consider looking for ways to pay off your student loans faster. Therersquo;s no penalty for prepaying student loans, so you can make extra payments anytime,rdquo; said Student Loan Hero.

Switch to an income-driven repayment plan on your student loans to make payments more affordable.

ldquo;An income-driven repayment plan sets your monthly student loan payment at an amount that is intended to be affordable based on your income and family size,rdquo; said Federal Student Aid. Fannie Mae changed underwriting rules around income-driven repayment plans last year, making it easier for those on these plans to qualify for a mortgage. ldquo;Depending upon the plan, your monthly payment could be capped as low as 10 of your discretionary income,rdquo; said Forbes. ldquo;And if your discretionary income is low enough, your monthly payment could be as low as 0.rdquo;

Get creative with your loan type.

While many first-time buyers opt for an FHA loan because of the low down payment as low as 3.5 and generous credit score requirements as low as 580, there are other options. ldquo;The Fannie Mae HomeReadytrade; mortgage is another loan available to borrowers with student loans,rdquo; said The Mortgage Reports. ldquo;Via HomeReadytrade;, buyers can show a debt-to-income of up to 50, with certain off-setting factors; and a down payment of just three percent is allowed. The minimum credit score to get approved for a HomeReadytrade; home loan is 620.rdquo;

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Ask the HOA Expert: Limited Common Elements, Quorum Rules

Answer: Common elements available to one or several members instead of all are referred to as "limited common elements". This means they are common but limited to exclusive use of one member as in the case of a unit deck or designated members as in the case of a private street.

These limited common elements are typically identified on the legal plat and cannot be expanded without encroaching on common areas which belong to all owners in an undivided interest. So, the board has no authority to allow such requests. Changing this requires a vote of members which may be up to 100.

Question: At our recent annual meeting, an issue was brought up and a motion was made on something that was not on the agenda for the meeting. The president allowed the motion to be made, seconded and voted upon. But, there were not enough members represented to constitute a quorum. Was this an illegal vote?

Answer: The vote was illegal due to lack of quorum even if it had appeared on the Meeting Agenda. Without a legal quorum, no business may be transacted or elections held. You might have a lively discussion but nothing official can take place.

Lack of quorum is an all too common scenario than can be cured by proxies. A proxy is the written authorization by one member given to someone to act on their behalf at the Annual Meeting. Proxies must be distributed well in advance of the meeting and collected before the meeting to ensure a legal quorum. Getting folks to return their proxies can be challenging and multiple requests may have to be made, including going door to door to collect them if necessary. There is a sample Proxy in the Meetings section of

Question: We recently had our unit chimneys cleaned. A board member accompanied the contractor and opened and secured units upon exiting. As a result of this process, it was discovered that one of the units was jammed with stacks of newspapers, garbage, furniture blocking hallways, piles of clothing and cases of cans. The resident is clearly suffering from a hoarding problem.

Should the board get involved in this situation? No neighbors have complained of any noxious smell. The area outside her condo is tidy. She keeps to herself, is pleasant to the staff and not a smoker.

Answer: Turning a blind eye to a hazardous situation is not the way to go. A letter to the resident and landlord if applicable is in order. When garbage isnrsquo;t being disposed of regularly, it is only a matter of time before there is vermin problem. The fire hazard potential sounds great as well so the letter should include a request to remove or store flammables.

Question: Can the board offer discounts to members that prepay a special assessment rather than participate in a payment plan?

Answer: No discounts should be offered since they would cause a shortfall. It is appropriate, however, to charge late fees to those that donrsquo;t pay as agreed.

However, it is a bad idea for HOAs to finance special assessments at all because of the increased administrative costs and the likelihood of dealing with delinquent payments. For example, If you have a 30 unit condo and allow 24 monthly special payments, you have 720 payments to track and 720 potential collection problems. Instead, require each member to provide special assessment funds from whatever source they have available. Some have cash, some has an equity line of credit or credit card. The HOA should not finance the special assessment or borrow the money.

Question: Our homeowner association is made up of condominiums built in a townhouse >

Answer: Itrsquo;s a very bad idea to allow individual unit owners to do or pay for this kind of work directly because of:

1. Quality Control. Is the person doing the work experienced? Is the material being used of good or superior quality?
2. Risk Management. Is the person doing the work properly insured for injury and liability?
3. Owner Still Financially Responsible. Doing this kind of work does not >

Question: What kind of expectations or working >

Answer: The board should:

1. Support the managers decisions unless a clear mistake has been made.
2. Not undermine the managers actions in rules enforcement and collections.
3. Carefully consider the managers advice since it comes from experience and training.
4. Be respectful of the managers busy schedule.
5. Allow the manager to execute the terms of the management agreement without micro-managing.
6. Remember that the manager works for the board.

For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to

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Updated: Tuesday, December 18, 2018

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