Real Estate News Articles

Updated: Saturday, April 29, 2017

Three Big Things Homebuyers Are On The Look-Out For

As a seller, you have a lot more control in pleasing buyers than you think. If you start the selling process by learning what buyers really want, you can prepare your home to come as close to their dreams as possible.

Here are the five biggest turn-ons for homebuyers and what you can do to please buyers.

Curb Appeal

You only get one chance to make a first impression. Your home should sell to the buyer from the curb. Thats how important curb appeal is. Your buyer should be so impressed, so charmed, so delighted that they want to leap out of the car and run inside.

How do you create curb appeal? Show attention to detail. Your home has to be prettier, cleaner and in better condition than its neighbors.

Start with sweeping the drive, walkway, and porch or entry of dirt and debris. Get rid of leggy bushes, wilted flowers and broken tree limbs. Plant fresh flowers in the front garden or in containers at the entry.

Power-wash the exterior and hand-wash the windows. Touch up paint around the windows, if needed. Paint the front door a fresh, modern color. Replace the door hardware and porch sconces.


The number one reason why people buy homes is to have more room. Whether theyre moving from an apartment or moving up from the home they have, they want to have plenty of space to do the things they enjoy.

If you have a large home, youre golden, but that doesnt mean youve got it made. You can ruin a buyers first impression with too much clutter, so make sure to keep your home picked up so your buyer can see your homes features clearly and easily.

What if you dont have a lot of space? Plan to do some storing and staging. Rent a storage unit and put away all out of season clothes, toys, and home decorations and accessories. Clean off all tables and countertops so you have only the minimum of things your need to operate your home. Empty closets of anything that is "stored" and move it to the storage unit. The small expense youll pay in storage fees youll more than make back from your buyers offer.


Theres a reason why first-time buyers and singles tend to buy older homes - theyre more affordable than buying new. So unless your buyer is a building contractor, chances are they want a home thats as updated as possible.

You may not be interested in putting in a new kitchen in order to sell your home, but you can do a few things to make buyers happy. Replace the most dated features - countertops, cabinet pulls, or appliances.

Bathrooms are so personal that they can easily turn buyers off. Invest in new towels, bathmats and a shower curtain. Throw out slimey soaps and limp ragged bath sponges. Replace with liquid shower and bath products. You can take all the new stuff with you to the next home.

Painting is expected by buyers, but dont repaint the same colors that you chose 10 years ago. Pick an updated neutral like a warm grey instead of beige. Be sure to choose a color that will complement the architecture and flooring in your home.

Keep in mind that the typical home purchased in 2013 was 1,860 square feet and built in 1996, so homebuyers arent expecting your home to be a mansion, nor do they expect it to be new, but they do expect to see pride of ownership. The more tweaks, updates and repairs that you perform, the more confident your buyers will be that theyre choosing the right home.
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Homeowners: Should You Stay or Should You Go?

Should I stay or should I go. Its not just an anthemic line to a >Its a conundrum. So much so that its even spawned the popular show on HGTV called Love It or List It, where owners of a problem pad fight over whether to remain in their home with the help of a sizable budget and a skilled reno team or move to something else.

"Families evolve, whether through the birth of children, the acquiring of possessions, or an increase in job rewards. That charming little cottage two lovebirds started out in often becomes an overstuffed matchbox with too few bedrooms and too many toys, tools, and tricycles, with people stumbling over one another in the course of daily life," said Money Crashers. "Privacy is nonexistent, noise and tensions regularly escalate, and stress is a frequent guest at the dinner table. The only solution is more room."

So how do you know whether to renovate or move?

CNN Money asked the same question, and has come up with "5 smart fixes" to the stay or go question.

"Happy with where you live but not so hot on your living space? Now might be the perfect time to address your abodes architectural flaws," they said. "With real estate prices on the rise, its safer than it has been in years to invest in your home."

Especially when "remodeling away your houses shortcomings can cost tens of thousands less than trading up to an already remodeled house, which commands a major premium now. In addition, you avoid realtor fees, moving costs, and the inevitable expense of making a new place your own, no matter how turnkey it is."

Here are a few of their "cost-effective solutions to the issues that most commonly force people to move."

1. Doubling the space in your kitchen

If your home was built before the 1980s, chances are your kitchen is small and closed off from the rest of the home. Removing a wall between the kitchen and dining room or kitchen and family room is an easy and affordable way to create "a feeling of spaciousness -- and also clears room for an island or peninsula that can become a key workstation or a place for family and guests to congregate," said CNN Money.

Expect to pay a minimum of 5,000 "to remove the wall and refinish the surrounding floor, ceiling, and walls," and more if you need to add a structural beam or >2. Adding a powder bath on the first floor

Older homes that dont have a bathroom on the main level are not just difficult to sell -- theyre difficult to live in. CNN Money says you can solve this issue by renovating existing space. "You can squeeze a powder room into a space as small as four feet by four feet or even three feet by five feet," they said. "One option is to repurpose a large coat closet, pantry, or under-stairs cubby. Keep in mind that the closer you put the bathroom to existing plumbing, the less it will cost."

Expect to pay a minimum of 10,000 if you use what you have and up to 25,000 if youre building a room from scratch.

3. Turning the master bedroom into a master suite

If your master bedroom is adjacent to another room, you can take over the space. "A lot of people do this when the kids go off to college," said CNN Money.

Remember that lowering the number of bedrooms in your home can also lower your home value, so consider the equation carefully. "You always want to keep your bedroom count on par with the neighborhood," they said. "So, in a four-bedroom house area, dropping to three may not be a good idea. But in a predominantly two-bedroom neighborhood, youd still be way ahead of the Joneses."

Expect the cost to range from 40,000 to 80,000, depending on if you are adding a master bath and exactly how spa-like you intend for it to be.

4. Converting the attic

If youre short of bedrooms, youve probably thought of adding on. But home additions can be very costly. A great solution can be moving into the attic.

"For growing families, the number of bedrooms is often the biggest factor motivating a move to a bigger and more costly home," said CNN Money. "The ideal place to add bedrooms is the square footage you already own up in the attic."

Expect to pay 20,000 and up depending on the space allotted and whether or not you need to add windows or a staircase.

Houzz has some great questions to ask yourself if you are trying to decide between moving or remodeling:

  • "How do you feel about your neighborhood?
  • Is there some intangible quality to your house?
  • Does renovating make economic sense?
  • Does the existing house have good bones?
  • How will the latest zoning restrictions affect the project?For more pointed questions that will help you determine if youre willing to stay, or ready to go, see Houzz.
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    The Definitive, No-Fail Way To Pick A Neighborhood Youll Love

    Nothing stinks more than finding a home, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, moving yourself your family your pets and all your stuff, and ending up with buyers remorse. Especially if youre >Check the lists

    Whether youre looking to move across the country, the state, or the city, moving away can be an overwhelming proposition. Local real estate agents and >Google "Best place to live" and youll have pages of options to sift through. Getting more specific, you can find lists outlining the best cities in which to find a job, raise a family, be a successful millennial, retire, live off the gridand thats just the beginning. The great news is that these websites and news outlets have done a lot of the legwork for you, with data, statistics, and other details that can help you quickly see where you might want to concentrate your search. At the very least, itll provide a good starting point that will allow you to do further research.

    Consider the value

    There are countless ways to look at the value of an area. But one of the strongest indicators of growth in neighborhoods today is what can be found around it. Like a popular coffee shop. "Call it the Starbucks Effect: Proximity to a local coffee shop has a very real, and positive, effect on home values, new data shows," said Time. "How much faster? Over 17 yearsleading up to 2014, homes adjacent to the local Starbucks almost doubled in value, up by 96. Those further out appreciated by 65 over the same period."

    And thats not it. "Houses near Targets experience much higher appreciation, according to anew study from RealtyTrac," said CBS News - as much as a 27 percent price appreciation and average property values of 307,286, or 72 percent higher than homes near Walmart locations."

    Whole Foods and Trader Joes also factor in. "A 2015 study by the real estate information company RealtyTrac analyzed this trend," said US News. "The study included 4 million homes located in a ZIP code with either a Whole Foods or Trader Joes location, finding that average property values in a ZIP code with Trader Joes appreciated by about 40 percent since they were purchased, while homes with a Whole Foods in the ZIP code appreciated by nearly 34 percent, which matches the national average increase according to the survey."

    Look at the schools

    Dont yet have kids, never want them, or have an empty nest? It doesnt matter. Living in a good school district still helps to maintain your property values. "Living near a high-scoring school can increase your homes value by over 200,000, according to theBrookings Institution," saidAOL. "Thats not chump change. There are plenty of attractive advantages that come with proximity to a school, including increased police protection, personal use of school facilities and living in a Drug-Free School Zone."

    Make the drive

    Commuting is a big deal for everyone, and if you have a limit to how much time you want to spend in the car, it makes sense to drive from any of the neighborhoods you like to work during rush hour and back as a test run. It might just turn out that the drive is so long it allows you to kick several options off your list.

    Go to Starbucks

    Once you recognize that the neighborhood Starbucks can help stabilize and even raise your property values, go hang out there for a while. Hit the park, one of the popular lunch spots, and the supermarket, while youre at it, paying attention to the type of people who are there. Are they friendly? Rude? Is everyone in a hurry? Is there an interesting mix of people? Do you see families or retirees or whatever type of demographic youre looking for? Spending some time in the area can tell you a lot about what its going to be like to live there.

    Now, take it even more local

    Case the specific neighborhoods youre considering. Not in the "Were going to rob you" way, of course. Spending as much time as possible in the area where you may soon be living will give you a better feel for how youll fit in. Maybe the streets fill with kids in late afternoon and youre looking for a quieter environment. Or maybe theres not a peep on the street at all, even on weekends, and youre looking for a livelier atmosphere.

    Listen to your head and your heart

    Living on the beach would be amazing. Except for the fact that it would mean adding a good hour to your commute - each way. Understanding and accepting your priorities and then using them to establish an action plan is critical when choosing the right neighborhood. If you ditch your plan to find a great family home in a neighborhood with lots of kids and amenities nearby because you fall in love with a remote mountain enclave populated mostly by survivalists, youll probably end up frustrated down the line.

    Dont be blinded by a great house

    Walking into a house and getting that feeling in your gutyou know, that intangible thing that just makes it feel rightis dreamy. We all want that "meant to be" thing. But a great house is only the right house if it actually works for you.

    You dont want to be a few months out and hating your life because you chose the home with the great bones but you dont actually have the money to do the updates needed to bring it into this century. Or because the neighborhood just doesnt meet your needs in terms of schools, commute time, amenities, neighbors, or all of the above.

    Real estate experts often recommend choosing neighborhood over house, because, while you can change your house, its a lot harder to pick it up and move it to a better neighborhood.
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    Are Your Pets Soiling Your Chances of Selling Your Home?

    Pets are often so loved by their owners that they are allowed the run of the house. At their worst, doggie and kitty dictators mark their territory with pungent odors and unsightly stains.

    When you love these little furry friends, its hard to realize how much these pets may be hurting your marketing efforts in selling your home. If you are like most pet lovers, you may be a little on the sensitive side.

    If your listing agent is having a hard time communicating with you about your pets and their effect on buyers and other agents, perhaps a look at this neutral third-party list of suggestions may help you understand the problem better:

    1. If it smells, it wont sell. Your pet may be perfectly well mannered, but that doesnt mean your home is odor-free. Most pet odor comes from fur and dander. Pets mark their territory by rubbing their fur on objects. Thats why your kitty rubs your ankles with her sides. Minimize pet odors by not allowing your pets to sleep on couches and carpets. Provide them with a cuddly bed of their own and reward them lavishly whenever they use it. Deodorize often with Febreze, a product found on most grocery store shelves. Keep pets bathed and groomed more often than usual, so as not to add to existing pet odor.

    2. Stains dont have to be permanent. There are many good products to clean pet stains. Just visit your local pet store or key "pet stains" into your favorite search engines. What you will find are companies with advice and products, such as Planet Urine. Pet stores sell a product called Natures Miracle which also works beautifully. Hospital supply companies are also a great source for heavy duty stain and odor control products.

    3. Vacuum daily. While your home is being marketed, vacuum the carpets daily with an odor deodorizer. You can find them in the cleaning supplies section of the grocery store. Remember to change bags more frequently than usual. Treat your home to a professional carpet cleaning. Also, open the windows and let some fresh air in. Pull back the drapes. Open vents. A closed in home will hold more odor than it should.

    4.Keep pets from showings. Many buyers are suggestible. If they dont see a pet, theyll look at the home more objectively. If they spot your dog or cat, they will be alerted to look for stains and odors. Arrange to have your pet off the property for showings, and put their food dishes and toys out of sight, too. Keep cat boxes and backyard doggie loos scooped daily. If you have to board your pet to prevent it from doing further damage or soiling new replacement fixtures, do so. You will be rewarded with a higher selling price for your home. When you are in your new home, you can welcome your pet back from its "holiday" with a favorite treat and lots of snuggles.

    5.Stains and odors may have to be disclosed. In many states, stains and odors that cant be removed must be disclosed to the buyer or you may be held liable. That will automatically put you in a poor bargaining position with the buyer. If you arent sure what the extent of your pets damage is, you can purchase, rent or borrow a hand-held black light to shine on carpets and other fixtures. Some carpet cleaning kits include a black light for this purpose. Viewing your carpet this way will help you decide whether to clean or replace the carpet. Your agent will most likely advise you to replace the carpet. It will cost you much less money than a buyers discount.

    6. Perception is everything. If your home doesnt pass the sniff or stain test, it will adversely affect the way other agents and their buyers perceive your home. Your agent is depending upon other Realtors to show your home to their buyers. Many Realtors insist on showing only pristine homes to their clients. Once word gets around, you may find yourself with few showings which will cause the value of your home to drop.

    7. Be realistic about your homes value. A home is only really worth what a buyer is willing to pay. If your home has suffered damage due to your pets, it may be devalued in the marketplace. The only cure is taking action to eliminate the problem before your home goes on the market. Listen to your Realtor and follow his/her advice about the most cost-effective ways to manage your pets damage to the home. She or he will have suggestions and solutions that will put you right back on the marketing track.

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    7 Questions to Ask Before Designing Your New Kitchen

    Addressing these details when planning your kitchen will ensure a smoother project with more personalized >

    Some of the questions you ask when planning a new kitchen are obvious, such as, "Do I want white cabinets or wood?" and "Do I want stainless steel appliances?"

    But there are many design decisions that you might not even know to consider until the project is well underway. To help you avoid surprises and unfortunate mistakes, here are seven questions you should ask yourself before you begin your kitchen design.

    1. What are the rules? Im not talking about design rules for what colors will match or what wood goes with what stone. Im talking about the actual rules that are laid out by your local building code, which can affect many decisions or none at all, depending on your area and project conditions.

    For example, many building codes dictate what type of hood fan you must use to ensure proper ventilation. These rules are especially important to know during a major renovation or new construction, as a surprise inspection that finds violations will leave you with a serious headache.

    See more on building permits

    Photo by TaylorPro Design amp; Remodeling - Look for traditional kitchen pictures

    2. How should my cabinet drawers and doors open? Designers often point out that changing out the knobs on existing cabinets can make a kitchen look new in a snap. Putting knobs and hardware on new cabinets for the first time, however, can take a surprising amount of thought to get right.

    One of the trickiest parts of designing a kitchen well is making the cabinet door and drawer fronts look elegant and consistent while the cabinets themselves serve different practical functions in a variety of shapes.

    Photo by Karr Bick Kitchen and Bath - Browse farmhouse kitchen ideas

    You might find a single handle that works for all your cabinets, but you may need two or even three coordinating >

    Once youve chosen hardware, you should give careful consideration to where to install it to best achieve a sense of visual consistency. Free software can be found online to model your kitchen in 3-D, and you can adjust details such as the directions that doors swing until the hardware lines up in a pleasing way.

    Or you can skip the issue altogether and use knob-free touch-latch cabinets.

    Get the complete guide to planning a kitchen remodel

    Photo by Venegas and Company - Discover traditional kitchen design inspiration

    3. What profile should I use for my countertops? The shape of the edge of the countertop may seem like a mundane detail, but it can make a world of difference to the look and function of your counters, and the kitchen as a whole.

    This kitchen shows an "eased edge" stone counter essentially a crisp rectangle with slightly softened corners on the left and a cove edge wood counter on the right.

    An eased edge is currently a popular choice for contemporary kitchens because it gives a simple, modern appeal. More ornate profiles usually carry a traditional air and a sense of warmth and personality.

    Photo by Formica Group - More kitchen photos

    One of the most popular choices for a counter profile is the "bullnose" or "demi-bullnose" option, which means essentially a half circle or quarter circle. The look is less "sharp" than a minimalist eased edge, but so is the experience of bumping into it by accident. Ultimately its a decision that comes down to personal priorties.

    It should be noted, however, that a very rounded edge like this is not always the best choice for laminates: The edge tends to give away that the material is fake because the curves look unnatural and the pattern does not align at the seam.

    Photo by Natalie Fuglestveit Interior Design - Discover modern kitchen design ideas

    To simulate the look of a true stone when using a laminate, look to a simple rectangular profile in a dark color so the seams and edges appear natural and subtle.

    Photo by Alair Homes Charlotte - Search transitional kitchen pictures

    4. What finish should my fixtures be? Selecting the material for your kitchen fixtures isnt all about trends and pretty color palettes. Metals come in various finishes, and there can be major practical considerations as well. Try mixing stainless steel with brushed brass for a subtle contrast, as shown here.

    Photo by BedfordBrooks Design Inc. - Look for traditional kitchen pictures

    For instance, brushed finishes tend to hide fingerprints and light water spotting much better than polished ones. Brass and gold-tone finishes tend to be warmer and more dramatic, while stainless steel and silvery-tone finishes tend to blend into the color palette more but add more sparkle.

    There are lots of details to consider, so its best to research the pros and cons of a >

    It can also become even trickier when trying to coordinate multiple metal elements.

    Photo by Elizabeth Lawson Design - Discover transitional kitchen design inspiration

    Its usually recommended to choose appliances from the same manufacturer, if possible, especially if theyre situated very close together, because differing product lines can have subtly different finishes that become more apparent once paired together.

    Tip: Take one sample of a handle youre considering or other metallic element to an appliance showroom to get an idea for how the different finishes will interact. If the pairing seems off, you can exchange the handle for a different finish.

    Photo by - Look for contemporary kitchen pictures

    5. How will I mount my sink? Choosing an undermount sink or a drop-in model, as shown here, affects more than just the look of the sink itself, so its a decision that should be thought through early.

    Undermount sinks, like the one pictured, are generally easier for keeping the surrounding countertop area clean because the neater edge of the counter allows you to sweep crumbs and debris directly into the sink without getting caught on a high lip. However, undermounts cant always be installed in a laminate counter because the counter cutout would leave a raw unfinished edge in the core material.

    Photo by Elizabeth Lawson Design - More transitional home design photos

    Knowing what >

    6. What finish should my stone be? Besides choosing what material you want for your counters, backsplash and flooring, you also need to decide the finish of the material itself.

    Photo by kim scodro interiors - Discover traditional kitchen design ideas

    Popular stone materials such as granite and quartz can take on a polished finish, like the one shown here, which gives a hard face and an almost reflective look. A honed finish appears much more soft and organic.

    Photo by Markay Johnson Construction - Look for traditional kitchen design inspiration

    A honed finish, as seen here, also has the advantage of hiding scratches that can stick out in a gleaming polished stone. However, they can be more easily stained if not well-sealed, as the material tends to be more receptive to absorbing oils. Each has its advantages, so you should research your choice and not make a snap decision when meeting with the supplier.

    When looking at stone samples, be sure to ask what finishes are available and look at each individually, as the finish can greatly affect the appearance, even radically changing the apparent color. Applying sealant can also darken the appearance to a degree, so you should ask to see a sealed sample mdash; it may be extra work for the supplier, but it will save you a potential surprise on installation day.

    Photo by - Browse contemporary kitchen photos

    7. What material should my toe kicks be? You might assume your toe kick has to match the material of your cabinets. But what if your cabinets arent one consistent color? Or what if youve used a sparkling white cabinet, but you dont want the toe kick to get dirty every time it gets, well, kicked?

    If your island is a different material from the rest of the cabinets, you can let its toe kick differ from the main cabinets. Another option is to use a third material that ties all the cabinets together: Stainless steel makes a great toe kick if you have stainless appliances or handles, tying the whole palette together.

    Also See:

    • Inspiration for Your New Kitchen
    • 5 Popular Types of Granite Countertops to Consider
    • Invest in a New Kitchen Island

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    The Homeowner Associations Future Forecast

    Preparing for and overseeing a homeowner associations finances are perhaps the most important board responsibilities. It takes money and careful planning to maintain and preserve common area property. One of the best forecasting tools is a "reserve study" is needed to identify common element components, their useful lives and cost of repair or replacement. Unlike the weather, this is one forecast that actually happens pretty much as predicted.

    Reserve plans cover a 30 year projection period so that roofs, decks, fences and other long lived and expensive components can be included. They analyze several aspects of the components:

    Physical Analysis. A site inspection evaluates the current condition of each reserve component with the goal of determining its remaining useful life and useful life when new. The inspection may also reveal improper construction or materials which the board should consider correcting sooner if structural failure, dryrot, etc. is indicated or later if improved materials and designs are now available and it just makes sense to upgrade.

    Financial Analysis. The financial analysis includes taking into account what the HOA currently has in its reserve fund, how much it will cost to fund future repairs and replacements, current rate of area inflation and rate of return on invested reserve funds. The term "Percent Funded" is an important indicator and it works like this: Each reserve component has an ideal amount that should be set aside each year to be 100 Percent Funded. For example, if a roof has a 20 year life and costs 200,000 to install, 10,000 200,000 20 years should be reserved each year to be 100 Funded. So, in the roofs third year of life, 30,000 should be in reserve. If, say, only 15,000 of that 30,000 is reserved, the roof is only 50 Funded at that point in time. Repeating this exercise for all the reserve components will produce an overall Percent Funded.

    The value of being 100 Funded is that there will be no need for special assessments in the future. The 100 Funded approach is fair to all members along the 30 year time line since all are paying their full share as years pass. If the reserve plan indicates the HOA is less than 100 Funded, a contribution plan can increase that level toward 100 over a period of years to close the gap.

    Reserve Fund Investing. One great part of the Financial Analysis is that the board has a clear picture of when reserve funds will need to be spent. This permits an investment strategy to generate interest income. The better job the board does on investments, the less money that needs to be contributed by the members. The board should typically look for the highest returns on Certificates of Deposits. Money market and savings accounts typically yield far less than the rate of inflation so reserve funds will actually lose value. The importance of getting the highest yet safe yields cannot be understated. Interest revenues can yield tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars over a period of 30 years.

    Answering the Nay Sayers. Some members are >Be Lender Friendly. Mortgage lenders are paying closer attention to the signs of a well managed HOA when they qualify buyers for loans. The reserve study is routinely found on lender information request forms. Lenders know that the better the HOAs planning is, the more secure their collateral will be.

    Be Buyer Friendly. Most home buyers are stretched to the limit on home purchases. The last thing they need is a special assessment to complicate their finances. With a proper reserve plan, large expenses can be anticipated and funded years ahead of time. When the board advises all owners the plan, surprises and special assessments are eliminated. It just makes sense that homes in HOAs that are well managed sell for more and faster.

    Update Your Forecast Yearly. The key to keeping a 30 year forecast accurate is by making small course corrections along the way. Reserve plans need to be reviewed each year and adjusted as needed. Even if no reserve >There is a great future in forecasting. Dont let your future become your past. For more on reserve planning, see - Reserve Planning

    For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to
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    Home Inspection: Yes; Escalation Clause: Maybe

    Question: My wife and I are house hunting. A friend told us that the market is hot, and there are very few house available for a large number of potential buyers. We were advised to consider including an escalator clause in any contract we present to a seller. And if there is an escalation clause, how do we deal with the amount of the loan we plan to get. It was also suggested that we decline having a home inspection. What do you think about these issues? Alvin

    Answer: Maybe for the first and absolutely no for the second.

    Lets look at the inspection contingency. Unless you are a professional engineer or architect, what do you know about houses? Is the electricity up to code? Does the HVAC system work? Are the joists that seem to be holding up the basement ceiling adequate true story? You are investing in what may be the biggest purchase of your life; dont take a chance that something -- possibly major -- will occur soon after you take title. If a seller is not willing to let you have 10-12 days after signing the sales contract to have a professional inspector carefully go over every detail in the property, my advice: go somewhere else.

    I write from experience with some clients, who wanted an expensive house but the seller was not willing to allow a brief inspection period. Against my strong advice, they bought the house without the inspection. Four months later, they called to tell me they should have listened to me; they had serious roof damage which cost them almost 100,000 to correct. Fortunately, they could afford it. And there was no insurance coverage either.

    What about the escalation clause? Lets look at this example. In my experience, in most parts of the country, the potential buyer makes an offer, and the seller has three alternatives: accept, reject or counter-offer. You put in an offer of 450,000. The seller gets another offer with similar terms but with the price of 452,000. Sorry, you lose.

    How do you try to protect yourself? You include in the offer a statement that you will pay 1000 more than the highest offer, subject however to a cap of 456.000.

    When advised that the other offer is 452,000, your escalation clause bumps the contract price up to 453,000 and you will be the winner. But there are important provisions to be included in your escalation. You want proof there is a real offer at the highest price. I have been involved in a case where an unscrupulous agent indicated -- falsely -- there was a higher offer, and my client without seeing any evidence -- increased the offer by 5000. You should review a copy of the other offer; the name and other personal information of that buyer can be removed.

    Incidentally, the agent involved in my case paid my client 5000 plus my legal fees. So when you are about to sign a real estate contract or any contract for that matter try to insert the following language: "The prevailing party in any litigation or arbitration shall be awarded reasonable attorney fees and court cost".

    If you submit the escalation clause, how do you handle the amount of the mortgage loan you plan to get? Typically, your contract offer states you will get a loan of 20 percent -- or 10 percent or even 3 percent of the purchase price. If the original offer is increased, there are three ways to deal with the loan. First, you can pay the difference in cash, and there is no need to change the terms in the contract. Alternatively, you can change the loan amount in the contract to reflect the new price. Or you can partially increase the loan amount and pay the difference in cash.

    Bottom line: I am not a fan of escallation clauses, but if this is really your dream house, make sure you include the necessary protections discussed above. And most real estate agents should have a form escalation clause which should include these protections.
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    Real Estate Professional Dana Roberts Makes Second Donation In The Agent With Heart Program To The Hope For Paws Animal Rescue Organization

    Las Vegas, NV April 24th, 2017 -- PinRaise, the company that connects real estate agents with local clients and nonprofits, announced today that Ms. Dana Roberts, of Coldwell Banker Residential Irvine, recently closed a transaction and made a special donation to the Hope for Paws animal rescue organization on behalf of her client.

    "This is Dana Roberts second donation as part of the Agent with HeartTM movement, dedicated to making a real difference by agreeing to donate to the nonprofit of her clients choice after closing," says Mr. John Giaimo, President of PinRaise. "The Agent with Heart program is designed so everyone benefits from a new real estate transaction," Mr. Giaimo explains.

    "Its great to see real estate agents like Dana make the community a better place since homeowners like to do business with people who care. Please join me in thanking Dana for making her second donation with the Agent with Heart program," Mr. Giaimo concludes.

    About the Agent with Heart Program: Through the PinRaise app, the Agent with Heart program connects homebuyers and sellers with local agents like Dana Roberts who agree to donate a percentage or fixed dollar amount of their real estate commission to the nonprofit of their clients choice after closing. This provides needed revenue for the nonprofit and makes a real difference in their community. For more information, please visit To connect with Dana Roberts, please call 949-433-6694.
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    Federal Sentencing Guidelines Have Relevance To Real Estate Brokers

    Recently we wrote of the fact that many real estate companies who proclaim that ethics is highly important to them, do not in fact show that to be the case. Few companies have a program that seeks to reinforce the values that they proclaim. More than a few Realtors -- both brokers and agents -- have expressed to me that the whole notion of having such a program is completely foreign to them. Hence, over the next few weeks, we will review some thoughts about how a company might put together such a program. We begin with a look at how this issue is important for other industries as well.

    Do Federal Sentencing Guidelines contain valuable lessons for real estate brokers? Simply, without any cynical implications, the answer is "yes". This is not because real estate brokers are especially liable to be candidates for federal sentencing. Rather, it is because the Guidelines lay out procedures that are >

    Chapter VIII of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines Manual enumerates factors that might mitigate the punishment imposed on an offender of corporate federal regulations. It spells out certain organizational programs and procedures that, if present, would be >

    In a word, the guidelines say this: "If you do these things, then that shows that you have been trying to prevent illegal and/or unethical behavior by your employees and/or agents. Your efforts in this regard cannot completely excuse you for such behavior by your employees or agents, but they will count as mitigating factors in determining your punishment."

    The aim of the Guidelines is to provide organizations with, "hellip;a structural foundation from which an organization may self-police its own conduct through an effective compliance and ethics program." The idea behind this is pretty simple. It is this: If an organization wishes its agents and employees to be ethical and compliant with both moral norms and civil regulations, that organization needs to adopt a set of procedures that shows its employees and agents how to behave in such a manner.

    Why/how is this of >

    Secondly, but I truly believe of considerably lower priority overall, brokerages are in fact more and more at risk of facing federal sentencing situations. We have spoken here before of the many ways in which virtually "standard" real estate practices with respect to title, mortgage, and escrow companies may be violative of federal law under the Real Estate Settlement and Procedures Act RESPA. Moreover, it is not idle to note that the Consumer Financial and Protection Bureau is still in high gear when it comes to pursuing real estate companies and affiliates who are violating these regulations.

    Any broker who is concerned that his or her organization, or its agents and/or employees, might be inclined to violate federal regulations covering "kickbacks" and illegal incentives would do well to consider instituting organizational programs, consistent with the sentencing guidelines, that aim to educate agents as to the "dos" and "donts" of these matters.

    The Guidelines offer some straightforward and practical suggestions that any organization -- including real estate brokerages -- might employ in order both to minimize their risk and also to put into practice their claims that they intend to be ethical and honorable companies. We will look at specific suggestions of the Guidelines in the next column.

    Bob Hunt is a director of the California Association of Realtorsreg;. He is the author of Real Estate the Ethical Way. His email address is .

    Full Story >

    Clever Tips To Make Painting Your Home Easier

    Painting is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to transform a space. But it can also be a hassle, what with all that taping and prepping and cleaning up. These clever tips can make it easier. Fun, even. That might be a stretch.

    Wrap it up

    One of the most painful tasks associated with the painting is having to clean up at the end of the day. If you hate cleaning your brushes, this tip is for you. The best way to preserve your brush if youre done for the day or the time being but not done with the job, is to wrap it in plastic wrap and throw it in the freezer overnight. But, it does require about 15 minutes of thawing out the following day before you can begin again. We found that putting the brush in a Ziploc bag and making it as airtight as possible does a fine job of keeping the brush pliable for the next day, and you can just pick it up and go without the wait.

    Line it

    Paint tray liners are helpful in extending the life of your paint tray and minimizing clean up, but if you dont want to spend the money, head to your kitchen, instead. Aluminum foil or plastic wrap wrapped around your paint tray will keep it clean.

    Keep that foil handy

    Readers Digest notes that aluminum foil is also great when painting a door. "When youre painting a door, aluminum foil is great for wrapping doorknobs to keep paint off them. Overlap the foil onto the door when you wrap the knob, then run a sharp utility knife around the base of the knob to trim the foil. That way you can paint right up to the edge of the knob. In addition to wrapping knobs on the doors that youll paint, wrap all the doorknobs that are along the route to where you will clean your hands and brushes."

    Dust those walls

    Prepping is key to a successful paint job, but if youre doing a quick cleanup of your walls before painting, you may not want to spray cleaner on them for fear that the paint wont adhere well. Use a Swiffer duster instead. Dust will cling to it and youll have a clean surface to paint on. nbsp;A dryer sheet is another good option for getting the dust off your surfaces - especially baseboards - before you begin.

    Take out the smell

    If youre using a VOC paint, any odor should be minor. But if you want to ensure the smell is pleasant, add some vanilla. "To neutralize the strong smell of any type of paint, add one tablespoon of vanilla extract a natural deodorizer per gallon. It wont affect the color of the paint," said HGTV.


    Use a quality paintbrush

    You can spend about 1 on a paint brush or you can spend the equivalent of a good lunch, and the difference will be obvious when the cheaper version leaves brush marks and bristles on your wall. Get a decent brush for a better finish, and choose an angled version for cutting in. The better the brush and paint, the better the chance you can do without all that pesky taping.

    Buy the right amount of paint from the start

    "Oh, I just need one gallon," said everyone, everywhere. But how much do you really need? Knowing ahead of time will keep you from having to make a return trip to the store, and help ensure your color is consistent. Color matching is better than ever at paint stores and places like Home Depot and Lowes. But there still might be a slight variation in the color if you have to go back to purchase more paint. Measure your space and you wont have to worry about it.

    "The general rule is one gallon for every 350 square feet of surface area," said Real Simple. "All you have to do is measure walls roughly, then go tonbsp;Sherwin-Williams.comnbsp;and type the dimensions into the easy online paint calculator. This tool will also ask for measurements of windows, doors, and trim so it can come up with a more precise total. Whatever the number, buy an extra quart for touch-ups."

    Wipe it up

    Have a few drips to clean up on tile or wood floors? An alcohol wipe or wet rag will do the trick. Or, grab a cleansing facial wipe that contains alcohol. Youd be surprised how well these work.

    Add a rubber band

    Wrap one around your paint can so you have an easy way to wipe your paint brush and avoid drips.

    Combat humidity

    "Humidity means drips and slow drying, so avoid painting on a rainy day," said DIY Network. "If you must paint when its humid, take your time - and take advantage of slow-drying paint to correct your errors before moving on to the next coat."

    You can reduce the amount of humidity in your home by flipping on your air-conditioning as well as any vent and exhaust fans you have in the home, in bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry areas.

    Put some holes in it

    "When you pour the paint, it can go everywhere," said The Bold Abode.nbsp;"It drips all over the sides and then dries hard as a rock on the edges. Whennbsp;that happens, not even King Kong himself could pound that lid down hard enough to close it secu>

    Get creative with plastic bags

    For awkward spaces where a drop cloth might not be the right choice, heed this tip from Family Handyman and raid your plastic bag stash. Itll keep your stuff drip-free and wont cost a thing.

    Full Story >

    7 Ways To De-Stinkify Your House For A Showing

    Your stinky house isnt making any friends. And if youre trying to sell that house, its certainly not convincing any lookers to become buyers. You may think your house smells like roses and baby kisses, but, trust us. Everyone thinks that.

    The truth is that every day smells can get past most of us. You might not realize that the cat box is giving off "They dont clean me enough" vibes, or that theres a slight musty smell in your master bathroom - a musty smell thats going to make potential buyers think your home has issues, by the way and, by issues, I mean you should be prepared for inspections and scary terms like "leak" and "mold" and money coming right out of your pocket..

    But, before you can even get to the inspection stage, you have to get someone interested enough in your home that theyll want to make an offer. Use these creative tips to de-stinkify your home and infuse it with the magical scent of "buy me."


    There may also be musty smells coming from your washing machine or dishwasher. A cup full of white vinegar and a run through the cycle should help freshen them up.

    Baking soda

    Your mom or grandma had the right idea with that box of Arm Hammer in the fridge. It helps to absorb odors, which will come in handy when potential homebuyers open it - which they will.

    "Baking soda, unlike most commercial air fresheners, doesnt mask odors, it absorbs them, home economist Mary Marlowe Leverette told Houselogic. "Baking soda sodium bicarbonate in a convenient box neutralizes stubborn acidic odors - like those from sour milk - as well as other funky smells lurking in your home. Its a natural odor eliminator."

    Not convinced? Baking soda can also be used to eliminate odors in: Your dishwasher, your drain, your garbage can, your upholstered furniture pieces, and your cat box.


    Speaking of cat boxes, agents preference as it >"Activated charcoal, which is a form of carbon that has been activated to make it extremely porous, is great for absorbing a range of odors, especially those caused by pets," said Gizmodo. "You can buy activated charcoal specifically designed for pet odorsfor 7. Put them in or near your litter box to help mitigate the stink."

    These charcoal bags are another great product you can use throughout the house to absorb unwanted smells. "Place a few of these charcoal-filled linen bags around your house and poof - odors gone Best of all, each bag lasts for up to two years, just put them outside in the sun for an hour once a month to rejuvenate the charcoal," said Bravo. "Large bags are suited for bedrooms, kitchens, and living areas; whereas smaller versions are great for bathrooms, your car, or even your fridge."

    Chocolate chip cookies

    Theres a reason so many real estate agents bake cookies for open houses. Not only are they delicious and capable of imparting a sense of warmth and comfort, they can also cover a multitude of malodorous sins. Pick up a couple of packages of pre-made cookies you can just pop into the oven before potential buyers show up.

    Air fresheners

    The problem with many air fresheners is that they attempt to cover smells with what many consider to be even more offensive smells. If youre showing your house, beware of anything overpowering or highly chemical-laden because it can aggravate your visitors allergies. Gimme the Good Stuff has a great rundown of all the chemicals that can be found in some of the air fresheners on the market and some natural alternatives, including vitamin-infused air fresheners.

    Odor-eliminating nightlight

    Sounds odd, but this Hamilton Beach TrueAir Plug Mount Odor Eliminator Air Cleaner Purifier with built in night light might be the answer to your stinky problems. "Why just use a night-light when you can use a night-light that also makes the room smell great? Plug this into an outlet and a tiny fan inside pulls air through a carbon filter and sends it back out as fresh, odor-free air," said Bravo. "An optional green meadow scent cartridge can be installed to add a light scent to the room."

    Dryer sheets

    Have a teenager with stinky teenage sneakers? A dryer sheet placed in each shoe will help absorb the odors But, if theyre really bad, you might insist theyre kept outside or removed enti>

    Full Story >

    Family Friendly Kitchen Ideas

    It can be easy to get carried away in the kitchen. And were not talking about cooking.

    This area is typically the most used, most coveted, and most expensive part of the house to deck out. And if you have kids, extra measures might need to be taken in order to create a kitchen that is family friendly and still as sexy as you want it to be.

    Whether youre just building a home, renovating your existing kitchen, or want to come up with a few easy tricks for making it more functional, weve got some tips.

    This chic kitchen proves easy care can also be easy on the eyes. "In this Carpinteria, California, kitchen, Verner Panton childrens chairs add a dash of color. The Tulip chairs and side table are Eero Saarinen designs," said Architectural Digest.

    Notice how the surfaces- both those that are built in and the ones on the furniture - can be wiped clean without much effort.

    There may be no more difficult decision youll make in your kitchen than what surface to dress it up with. The most on-trend countertop surface today is quartz, which is great for families since it is practically indestructible. It also looks chic on this oversized island that offers plenty of work and play area.

    Another advantage of this kitchen for families is the placement of the microwave, which gives small kids easy access.

    Keeping countertops at one height instead of adding a higher breakfast bar keeps the floorplan more open and helps to protect young kids from falling from high distances. This kitchens task lighting helps illuminate the workspace, and the two built-in drawers give kids a convenient place to stash their gear.


    Open sightlines to the outside allow the cook to keep an eye on the kids while theyre out playing. This kitchen also features separate beverage refrigerators - a great tip for those who want to keep kids and adult beverage easily accessible.

    Architectural Digest

    If you have young children, youre bound to have stacks of sippy cups and plastic silverware, plus enough art supplies to fill several shelves at Michaels. Thinking smart about storage can help keep the mess at bay. A low drawer or two designated as the kids space for all things plastic will help them know where to go when looking for a drink, and may also encourage them to help set the table for dinner and help you cook.

    "The design of your kitchen has a big impact on how easy cooking with children can be," said Case Remodeling. "If youre doing a kitchen renovation, ensure that the design allows the children to see you cook when theyre at the table or elsewhere in the room. They will learn by watching and it will spark their enthusiasm."

    This smart solution for organizing art supplies adds a useful drawer to a bench in the nook, which keeps paint and crayons in one place instead of scattered throughout the house.


    We always wanted a desk in our kitchenmdash;a place where we could line up cookbooks and that could serve as a homework station. But, the sad truth is, unless you have a massive space for a massive desktop, itll probably end up looking like ours: covered in bills and school papers and never used for homework or any other function besides being a paper trap.

    This is why creating a breakfast nook is so ideal. Having a separate but nearby space for kids to study, do homework, craft, or play games allows you to keep your eye on them while working in the kitchen and helps build family closeness.


    Just because you have a smaller space doesnt mean you should sacrifice function. Dont have room for an island and a breakfast nook? Combine the two

    Architectural Digest

    Full Story >

    Making Your Home More Energy-Efficient

    Your home is your place to rest, play, and spend time with your family. It should be a place of comfort, and this comfort need not come at a high cost. Many homes, however, waste a lot of energy in ways that can be prevented. Here are five ways to make your home more energy-efficient.

    Replace or Weatherize All Windows

    Windows are one of the biggest sources of heat gain and heat loss in a home. Both heat gain and heat loss rob you of comfort and keep your energy bills higher than they have to be, whether during the summer or winter months.

    Windows rank high on the list because of air leakage around the frame and the heat that transfers through windowpanes. Old single-pane windows provide little protection against heat transference. If you replace these windows with energy-efficient windows you should see immediate savings and improved climate control in your home.

    When choosing windows, consider the frame and not just glass. Frame material and frame design matters. Hinged windows allow less air leakage than sliding, single-hung or double-hung do. Avoid metal because these conduct heat. Choose insulated vinyl frames or insulated fiberglass frames for the most efficiency and durability.

    Pay attention to glass efficiency ratings such as the U-factor and the solar heat gain coefficient. The right windows to choose depend largely upon regional climate. If you live in an area with hot summers and mild winters, you want glass that blocks out as much solar heat gain as possible.

    Low-emissivity coatings on windowpanes reduce heat conduction through the glass, which benefits you by keeping hot air inside in winter and hot air outside in summer. There are other coatings and tints available, but you should still look for the Energy Star label. Only products that have met strict requirements by the EPA qualify for this special certification.

    Seal the Homes Thermal Envelope

    Air leakage through your homes exterior is another source of energy waste. Air infiltration makes your heating and cooling system work harder to maintain climate control. In order to find all of the hidden leaks, schedule an energy audit with an HVAC company. Until you do, seal the noticeable leaks. These can usually be found in the following areas:

    • Around window frames and doors
    • Beneath baseboards
    • Around flues and chimneys

    When sealing leaks in most areas, you can use caulk, weather-stripping or expandable spray foam insulation. Another method to control air leaks is to replace poorly fitting doors or other features and to use hardware with a type that creates a better seal. One example is barn door hardware. This kind of hardware can create a better air seal in some cases because the door slides into place instead of swinging open. This creates fewer opportunities for gaps between the door and the frame.

    Upgrade Your Home HVAC System

    If your homes HVAC system is older than ten years, consider replacing it with a new energy-efficient system that is Energy Star certified. Improvements in design make these systems far more energy-efficient than any in the past. If they are sized correctly and installed correctly, you should see lower bills and improved comfort and improved air quality.

    Upgrade Insulation

    Most homes have only the minimum required insulation. Older homes might even fall far short of the minimum simply because the insulation has become too wet, or it has become compressed or it has shifted.

    Adding insulation to the attic will have the largest effects. It doesnt matter which kind of insulation you use as much as it matters that it is properly installed, with no gaps, and that you use the recommended quantity for your region.

    Adding insulation to exterior walls doesnt have to be a big remodeling project. Much of the time, it can be blown into walls by a contractor.

    Use a Programmable Thermostat

    These thermostats make a home more energy efficient in the following ways:

    • You wont have to remember to set the temperature lower or higher before you run out of the house each the morning, because you can program the thermostat to do it for you each day.
    • You can program different energy-saving temperature settings for special occasions, such as vacations, and you can still come home to a comfortable house.
    • Some new thermostats even allow you to check them remotely, sparing you from worrying about whether the home is getting too hot or cold while you are away.

    By implementing these ideas, you have little to lose and a lot to gain in terms of comfort and savings. If it feels overwhelming or it is hard on your budget to make all of these changes at once, try to do them in steps. Each time you take even one step towards more energy efficiency, you will start saving money on energy bills.
    Full Story >

    Paying For College? Why Your House Can Be A Windfall

    Some of us are deep in the land of college tours and scholarship research and trying to learn all we can about how to get our kids into their preferred school, and pay for it without having to pack up and live with them in their dorm. And, by "some of us", I mean Yours Truly. And by "deep in," I mean sinking into a world of confusion and despair and conflicting information and Google searches like, "How much can I get for my plasma?" The bottom line is sobering but so is the massive information dump. If you can remember what it was like to learn a language from scratch, you kinda get it, but only if that language consistently contradicted itself and caused even more waves of confusion. So, a lot like English, then.

    But, lost in all the fun, new terminology and layers of requirements and so many dates for scores and applications and deposits that you need to expand your iPhone calendar entry space is a bit of great news for homeowners and homebuyers who are staring down the reality of paying for college for their dependent child.

    Rising costs

    First, a reality check. Think you know how much it actually costs to go to college? "Unfortunately, for many parents, its simply not possible to fund a degree from their savings or income - not with the total annual cost of college hitting roughly 23,000 for the average four-year public school and about 46,000 for private schools, according to The College Board," said mortgage site In case you missed it, thats PER YEAR. PER CHILD.

    Ouch. Especially if youre nearing retirement age. There goes that beach house. But, the good news for homeowners is twofold, and its the first one that came as a surprise:

    1 Nothing about your house - not the mortgage, the value, how much you owe, or how much equity you have - matters when it comes to getting financial aid for most public schools. You can owe 1 on a home worth 2 million and it wont matter or even be known to those who are deciding whether your child receives financial aid. Presumably, if you owe 1 on a 2 million home, you wont need financial aid, but thats another story.

    2 If you do have equity in your home, congratulations. You may have a built-in solution to pay for those >

    Lets talk financial aid

    The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and you will come to love/hate this document that will be used to determine how much you receive to offset the cost of college. "The purpose of the FAFSA is to calculate your expected family contribution, or EFC - the amount the government believes your family can contribute for college that year," said Bankrate.

    The FAFSA will ask you for your drivers license and social security numbers, your most recent tax returns, and information on bank accounts and investments, including any stocks you might have. But what it wont ask you for is information about your house. This is great because it protects what is, for most, their single largest investment and also "boosts their aid eligibility by knowing which assets the government doesnt take into account," said Bankrate.

    Some financial planners also focus on the family home as a smart investment tool when it comes to paying for college by encouraging them to pay down the mortgage and "transfer assets from assessable accounts to sheltered ones."

    Keep in mind, though, that different rules may play for private universities. "Generally speaking, private colleges look at the equity you have in your home as a resource to pay for college," said Money Crashers. "Public schools, however, typically do not."

    Tapping home equity to pay for college

    Has your home appreciated since you purchased? Many homeowners who need to find additional funds for college are using their home equity and taking advantage of low interest rates instead of looking to other types of loans.

    "In a climate of lower housing interest rates, a home loan might seem like an attractive option for some parents to help shoulder the cost of paying fornbsp;college," said US News. "Since the downturn of 08 and 09, the lending environment has improved enough that some of the rates on home loans are more competitive over a Plus loan," Trish Gildea, senior financial planner at Summit Financial Corp. in Burlington, Massachusetts, told them.

    In fact, Bankrate currently shows a home equity interest rate of 5.21 and a 30K home equity line of credit HELOC at 5.38. The current rate on a Parent PLUS Loan "a federal student loan available to the parents of dependent undergraduate students," isnbsp;6.31," according to Edvisors, plus there is an origination fee thats over 4. You may also have an easier time qualifying for credit tied to the equity in your home as long as you have been making payments on time and have a low enough loan-to-value ratio; "Eligibility for a Parent PLUS Loan does not depend on the borrowers credit scores or debt-to-income ratios. The borrower of a Parent PLUS Loan must not have annbsp;adverse credit history.

    Dipping into home equity may also have specific advantages if your child is planning to attend a private college. "Taking out a mortgage or tapping a home equity line of credit willnbsp;reducenbsp;the amount of equity you have in your home," said Money Crashers. "Since private schools view home equity as an option to pay for tuition, utilizing this strategy can increase your chances of receiving financial aid if your child is attending a private college. You could use the money you pull out of your home to pay down high interest consumer debt -- but pay close attention to the interest rate. It probably wouldnt make sense to take on a home equity loan at 8 to pay off debt at 5. But if money is cheap, pulling it out of your house to pay off other debts can help you qualify for financial aid at a private institution."

    Preferred loans

    US News notes that, "On average, parents borrowed 7,406 through a home loan -- an umb>

    Wondering which of those loans is best for you? It depends on your unique set of circumstances, but, because of the flexibility, "Wealth advisors say a HELOC is the most common choice for parents choosing a home loan to pay for school," they said. "A borrower can limit the amount to just whats needed under a HELOC compared with a home equity loan, which requires taking out a lump sum. The minimum amount for a home equity loan can range between 10,000 and 25,000 at lending institutions."

    In addition to all the other factors, youll want to keep the "when" in mind if youre considering a HELOC. "Experts say timing is important when it comes to a HELOC andnbsp;filling out the FAFSA," said US News. Thats because, "If the proceeds of a home equity or HELOC is in your bank account on the date you file the FAFSA," youll have to count it as an asset, which can reduce the amount of aid received.

    Full Story >

    Ask the HOA Expert: Contacting A Director On The Board

    Question: I am having trouble contacting the individual directors on the board of directors. The HOA president says there are "privacy issues" to giving out phone numbers or email addresses. Ive asked our property manager and I get the same response. I thought that as a homeowner I have a right to directly contact my board members.

    Answer: All members, even board members, have the right to privacy. Your board has hired a management company to handle business. The manager, in turn, contacts the board as needed when business matters exceed the managers authority. I suggest you contact the manager with your request. Either he will be able to help you or will ask the board president or board for direction. This is a reasonable process to protect board member privacy.

    Question: Does an Architectural Review Committee ARC have the right to ignore published regulations >Answer: If the ARC has a procedure to follow and it has not been followed, you have the right to appeal the matter to the board of directors. The requirement for neighbor input was put there for a reason and should be honored as long as it exists.

    Question: Can owners and board members be prohibited from conferring with the HOAs lawyer by the board president who is the appointed liaison?

    Answer: Since conferring with an attorney probably triggers cost to the HOA, the board should have a strict policy concerning how and when it is done and who has authority to do so. This policy should be communicated to the attorney in writing so he knows who he authorized to deal with.

    For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to
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    To Avoid Contract Disputes, Itemize Items That Convey

    Question. We have signed a contract to buy a house. When we first saw it, before signing the agreement, there were two refrigerators. One was in the kitchen and one was in the basement. The real estate agent told us that both refrigerators would stay with the property. Settlement is scheduled for next week, and we have now been told that the basement refrigerator has been removed. Our mortgage lender, however, insists on our signing a statement that the refrigerator remains as part of the house, and as part of the lenders security.

    I do not understand when a refrigerator is a fixture and when it is not.

    Answer: Your question has stumped a lot of people, including several law professors to whom this question was posed.

    There is no easy answer as to what is a fixture. An item, standing by itself, may not be a fixture, but when made part of the property, it can change its characteristics. For example, a kitchen sink in a plumbers shop window is personal property. Once it has been installed in your house, however, it becomes a fixture and is part of the real estate.

    Generally speaking, and in the absence of a contractual agreement to the contrary, fixtures remain with the house. Personal items can be removed by the seller.

    As you can see, it certainly makes a difference if an item is characterized "personal property" or "fixtures." For example, can a seller take a removable wet bar from the basement, even though the plumbing is hooked up? Does a window air conditioning unit convey with the property?

    There are no easy answers to any of these questions. The courts have applied a number of tests, including:

  • The manner in which the article is attached to the real estate. If the article can be removed without substantial injury to the building, it is generally held to be personal property.

  • The character of the article and its adaptation to the real estate. If, for example, an article was fitted or constructed specially for a particular location or use in a house, one can argue the article becomes a permanent part of the building, and thus a fixture.

    For example, the courts have held these items to be fixtures: pews in a church, screens and storm windows specially fitted to a house and electronic computing equipment installed on a floor specially constructed for it.

  • The intention of the parties. What would the average person consider the article to be? Gas stoves, for example, are intended to remain in a house permanently, and thus are fixtures. The so-called "Murphy beds" fastened to the wall on pivots are considered fixtures. But roll-away beds that are not fastened to the wall are not fixtures except in Wisconsin.

    Going through this fascinating history of fixtures, one important caveat comes to mind.

    When in doubt, spell it out in the contract. Furthermore, if the seller or the real estate agent verbally advise you that a particular item will convey, again spell it out in the real estate contract. If you want the refrigerator to convey with the property, put it in the contract to avoid any confrontation in the future.

    Too many homebuyers are often disappointed because they >In your case, I would argue that the second refrigerator stays with the property. This is based not necessarily on the fact that it is a fixture, but on the promises made by the sellers agent -- and on which you >Custom in the area is also important. I understand that in the Western part of the country, refrigerators do not necessarily convey; however, they do in the Eastern states. But dont
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    Build A Deck For Backyard Appeal

    Outdoor appeal is a key piece to the home selling process. What better way to increase the exterior appeal than having a beautiful deck? Decks are living, natural additions that effectively blend into the landscape while adding extra entertaining space for less money than a porch or addition.

    Need more convincing? Here are some of the key advantages to why decks seal backyard appeal and convince sellers to look at your home longer than others on the block:

    How much you save: The cost to build a deck might average 6,600 to 9,400 depending on square footage and materials. However, a deck costs far less than an addition - almost 50,000 - so why invest more when you can get something just as beautiful for less?

    An outdoor living area is less expensive because you dont need electrical wiring or plumbing. Plus you can recoup at least 85 of that investment during the resale.

    How it adds to the house: Adding a deck onto your home increases the exterior appeal without all the extra work. It means extra room for entertaining, >

    It can adapt to any kind of landscape, whether you need a raised platform deck for a sloping hill and multi-story home or a short deck for a flat backyard.

    How it blends with the landscape: Unlike a porch, a deck is natural. Made of wood or plastic to look like wood, decks blend into the landscape seamlessly. Its simple to add bushes, trees and flowers around the edge of the deck. By the end of the whole process, your deck will have a warm, homey feel in the yard.

    Photo courtesy of Destiny Painting Services in Dallas, TX

    How easy it is to maintain: Depending on the type of material you use to build the deck, maintenance should be simple. One treatment of staining and regular cleaning should take care of any pests or dirt. Decks can handle most weather conditions, and you can even build an awning to help it endure the climate better. Just keep an eye out for termites, mold or other things eating away at the wood and treat them quickly.

    Photo courtesy of Proactive Painting in Eagle, WI.

    So dont wait Add this beautiful, natural addition to your home and get those sellers flocking to your backyard.

    Photo courtesy of Artisan Custom Cabinetry in Oswego, IL
    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.

    Full Story >

    What You Can Do At Home To Help Stop Climate Change

    Canadas National Research Council recently launched a new initiative to address the impact of climate change.

    The agency is upgrading building codes, specifications, guidelines and assessment tools. It plans to >The 40 million project has the "potential to have a profound impact on the Canadian construction industry and on the future of buildings in Canada," says Doug Crawford, chair of the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes.

    "With climate change, the total annual precipitation is increasing, as well as the frequency and severity of extreme events, such as heat waves, high winds, floods and droughts, all of which is resulting in increased stress on built structures," says Richard Tremblay, general manager of construction at the National Research Council of Canada.

    Environment and Climate Change Canada says Canadas temperature is rising more quickly than the global average, resulting in changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme events.

    There are hotter summer nights and a risk of more flooding and forest fires.

    Every dollar spent on adapting infrastructure today will result in 9 to 38 in avoided damages in the future, says the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Every dollar spent on energy-efficient programs for buildings generates between 4 and 8 of GDP in the country, Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, recently told a forum in Ottawa.

    "It is clear the impacts of climate change are real and they are framing the problems of the 21st century," she said. "Canadians want more energy-efficient buildings. And there is a lot we can do on this front. We can update codes for new buildings to make them more energy efficient. We can also retrofit our homes and buildings, which saves Canadians money on their heating bills. Construction is a multi-billion dollar industry in Canada. When we make our infrastructure more energy efficient, we also create more jobs."

    There are also lots of things that you can do at home to help slow climate change.

    Insulate your home and install energy-efficient doors and windows. Seal cracks to keep in the warmth. Try lowering the temperature on your water heater to between 55 C and 60 C and insulating your pipes.

    Save electricity by using energy-efficient lighting. Turn off computers and electronics when they are not being used.

    Fix any leaky faucets in the home and consider installing low-flush toilets and low-flow showerheads. You wont notice any difference but they can save a lot of water.

    Clean your ventilation system, which will cut down on energy use as well as improving air quality and comfort. Each year, clean the filters on your furnace and your heat recovery ventilator if you have one.

    Use cold water to wash your clothes and consider hanging them outside or on a drying rack instead of using the dryer.

    When replacing your appliances, look for the models that have the best energy efficiency. All appliances are now clearly marked with energy efficiency ratings. Energy Star appliances use at least 20 per cent less energy than standard models, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada.

    The ministry also suggests that you contact your local utility to see if it offers "green power" alternatives, such as wind, water, coal or solar solutions. You may be able to switch to a company that offers power from renewable resources.

    In spring when its time to start your garden, use plants that require minimum watering. Plant trees.

    The David Suzuki Foundation says that garbage buried in landfill sites produces methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas. "Keep stuff out of landfills by composting kitchen scraps and garden trimmings and recycling paper, plastic, metal and glass. Let store managers and manufacturers know you want products with minimal or recyclable packaging."

    Since 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions come from meat and dairy production, you can also help by changing your eating habits to include at least one meat-free meal a day, it says.

    Transportation accounts for 25 per cent of emissions, so leaving the car at home and using public transit or walking, cycling or carpooling will also make a difference. Air travel leaves behind a huge carbon footprint, says the foundation. Avoid flying when possible.

    The foundation also takes a political stand, urging you to "take a few minutes to contact your political representatives and the media to tell them you want immediate action on climate change. Remind them that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will also build healthier communities, spur economic innovation and create new jobs. And next time youre at the polls, vote for politicians who support effective climate policies."
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