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Mary Mastroeni

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Household Expenses: Do You Have FORO?

December 15, 2014 2:54 am

A recent National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC) poll reveals that the overwhelming majority of consumers surveyed (92 percent) have a fear of running out of money, or FORO.

Root causes of this fear vary. Sixty-four percent of respondents fear they will not having enough money to pay monthly bills, 14 percent fear not having enough funds to comfortably retire, 11 percent fear having enough for unplanned expenses, and 3 percent fear not being able to finance their children’s education.

Finding stable financial ground today will relieve stress and allow planning for future needs to begin. To get started, the NFCC suggests that consumers put the following five steps in place:

1. Begin saving - People without a well-funded savings account are living on a slippery financial slope, as unplanned expenses are inevitable. When money is tight, saving is often low on the list of priorities. To remedy the situation, consider living on a cash basis – people who pay with cash typically save 20 percent over their previous spending with plastic. Pretend that any raise, bonus, birthday money or other windfall money never happened and instead direct it toward savings. Aim to build up the rainy day fund to equal one month’s salary, as this should be sufficient for most short-term emergencies.

2. Track spending
- A leak can’t be plugged until it has been identified, and finding a financial leak starts with tracking spending. Have everyone in the family who spends money write down their spending for 30 days. It is critical to include incidental spending, as small leaks can add up to be big problems. At the end of the period, have a family council to review the spending, making joint decisions as to how the money should be spent moving forward. Make necessary cuts and allocate the money toward the categories that the family determines are most important. The unity that results from this type of decision-making process will likely produce a greater level of success, as everyone will be moving in the same direction.

3. Create a cash-flow calendar
– This is perhaps the easiest step, but will increase financial awareness. On a calendar devoted to finances, record all sources of income and the associated paydays. Next, note which bills are due to be paid during the various pay cycles. If there’s not enough money available to meet a debt obligation on its due date, call the creditor and find out if the date can be moved. This will prevent overdrafts, late payments and fees.

4. Decrease debt - Debt is expensive. Face the financial facts, write down and total the existing debt and associated interest paid each month. The totals may be shocking, but will hopefully spur action. Ignoring the problem will only make matters worse. If help is needed to create a realistic debt repayment plan, reach out to an NFCC member agency.

5. Set goals - Make a list of short-term goals for the next 12 months. Make a separate list of long-term goals. Now go back and include dates and dollar amounts with each goal and decide which can realistically be met. Goals that aren’t achievable only serve to discourage and potentially derail the entire plan. Knowing the objective, timing and financial commitment necessary to meet the goal will bring a sense of purpose to overall spending decisions.

Source: NFCC

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Healthcare Plans: 3 Questions to Ask

December 12, 2014 2:54 am

Whether dealing with a new plan or a renewal of an existing plan, there are many factors patients should consider before taking action, including deductibles, co-pays and drug costs. Patients should also take into account which physicians and facilities are covered under their health insurance plan, and the cost for receiving treatment out-of-network so that they make informed health care decisions. Additionally, patients should make sure to ask their physicians whether they are participating in plans they are considering.

“We want to make sure Americans choose a plan that is right for them and their families in terms of cost and coverage,” says Robert Wah, MD, president of the American Medical Association (AMA). “It is very important that patients look beyond the big print, color-coded plan designations and prices of insurance plans and check the small print details before making their selections.”

The AMA urges patients to thoroughly review all aspects of the plans they are choosing in order to prevent interruptions in care and higher out-of-pocket costs. Consider the following:

1. Are your family's doctors in the plan? If not, what will you have to pay out-of-pocket for office visits or other services your doctor prescribes? Is the plan's directory of participating physicians up-to-date and accurate? Are there physicians on the list who are still accepting new patients?

2. What does the plan cover? What percentage of your health care costs will you have to cover? If so, how much and can you afford it? How much will you have to pay out-of-pocket for the medicines your family needs? Will you be able to use hospitals, labs and other facilities that are convenient to where you live or work? Does the plan provide access to a sufficient number of specialists that you need?

3. Does your primary care physician have to receive permission from the insurance company to refer you to a specialist? Does that rule include specialists you see regularly for a chronic condition? Does the insurer use penalties or incentives to induce physicians in the plan to limit referrals in any way?

Source: AMA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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First-Time Homebuyers Perplexed by Lending Process

December 12, 2014 2:54 am

First-time homebuyers report challenges with understanding the mortgage process and the options that are available to them, according to the J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Primary Mortgage Origination Satisfaction Study(SM).

“From describing what will happen during the process in terms a customer can understand to explaining the benefits of different options, loan representatives set the tone of the experience,” says Craig Martin, director of mortgage practice at J.D. Power. “A potential challenge with first-time homebuyers is that they may be afraid to appear uninformed, so they won’t admit when they are confused or don’t understand something. For a lender to truly stand out, their staff must foster relationships that promote open and honest communication.”

The study reveals that first-time homebuyers want a transparent mortgage process; 43 percent of all first-time homebuyers indicate they do not completely understand the process. A lack of experience and uncertainty about the process may influence how they first inquire about a mortgage; 48 percent chose to meet with local lenders in person for advice tailored to their specific situations.

The study also found:
  • The majority (54 percent) of first-time homebuyers indicate they don’t fully understand the different loan options available to them. Just 41 percent reported thorough explanations of the types of loans, terms, special programs, fees and options to reduce their down payments.
  • Consistent communication is another important factor in a positive borrowing experience. Customer satisfaction falls significantly when loan representatives fail to call customers back as promised.
  • The closing experience is often confusing for first-time homebuyers. Forty-four percent indicate that the closing agent did not completely explain all of the closing documents.
While many mortgage customers obtain information and updates online and by using mobile devices, the study shows that the loan representative is still a key part of the equation. Interestingly, some of the most important things lenders can do to deliver a great experience remain heavily reliant on human interaction.

Source: J.D. Power

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Real Estate Transaction Roles Explained

December 12, 2014 2:54 am

Real estate transactions are complex and, at times, confusing. Clients can better understand this course of action by knowing who they’re working with and what role those individuals play. Whether seeking to buy or sell a residential home, expect several parties to be involved in the process. Brokers, agents and attorneys are among the most common:

Depending on whichever unique business model the firm utilizes, brokers typically have the same qualifications as an agent, but their roles are to primarily supervise other agents. Commissions from sales are often paid to the brokerage, then allocated to the agent involved in the transaction.

Agents
are at the forefront of the buying and selling process. Real estate agents work directly with clients to either secure a home at their desired price point and in a coveted location, or to generate buyer interest and ultimately find a new owner for your home. An agent can represent either a buyer or a seller, and both agents frequently communicate.

Once a transaction between a buyer and a seller is under contract, a real estate attorney facilitates a smooth close. The responsibilities of an attorney vary, but some common duties include explanation of the terms of the mortgage, review of purchase agreements and investigation of the backgrounds of properties.

Source: Zillow

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Add a Touch of Elegance to Help Your Home Stand Out Among the Competition

December 11, 2014 5:39 pm

When preparing your home for sale, attracting the attention of prospective buyers is the key to success. While there are various ways to ensure your home stands out above the rest—raking in the most attention—one simple way to add a touch of elegance to your home is through the use of crown molding.

Even though most real estate professionals will tell you that it’s an upgrade that won’t really increase the value of the home, it can separate yours from the competition. If house hunters are comparing yours to a similar home at a similar price, the addition of crown molding might be the difference that puts your home over the top.

When done properly, crown molding can make ceilings look higher, rooms more interesting and give a home a more unique feel. Plus, it can be used in virtually any room in the house and create the “wow” factor that people crave. These little touches of accent can help get a buyer interested.

A recent study by the National Association of Home Builders revealed that 12 percent of homebuyers considered crown molding essential, 51 percent said it was desirable, 32 percent were indifferent and five percent said they didn’t want it.

Crown molding doesn’t just have to be used at the base of a wall either. It can also be used to separate wall and floor, and other types of molding delineate windows, doors, fireplaces and more.

Unless you’re truly handy, don’t attempt to install the crown molding yourself. While it may look simple enough, it takes precise measuring, special tools and a lot of patience. Finding an expert won’t put you out too much money, and you’ll be glad you did when it’s finished.

Once up, a good tip is to paint the crown molding off-white, instead of white. Crown molding will collect dust and the white color will make it look dingy. Also, you should paint it a different color than the ceiling or wall to really have it stand out. Finally, having all crown molding the same color throughout the house will create a unified look, which is welcomed by homebuyers.

For more information about incorporating crown molding into your home, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Energy Efficient Mortgages Offer a Wide Range of Benefits to Homeowners and Buyers Alike

December 11, 2014 5:39 pm

First introduced in five states as a pilot program in 1992, energy efficient mortgages have helped homeowners and buyers save money on utility bills by enabling them to finance the cost of adding energy efficient features to new or existing housing as part of their Federal Housing Association insured home purchase or refinanced mortgage.

The problem is, with all the good they can do, energy efficient mortgages are still vastly underutilized in the 21st century. And it’s a mystery to many why more people aren’t taking advantage of them.

During fiscal year 2013, FHA insured 599 energy-efficient mortgages, totaling $122 million. Those numbers continued a sharp decline in recent years, which is why the program is being reviewed next year to determine if improvements can be made to expand originations as part of the Department’s commitment to energy efficient initiatives.

An energy efficient mortgage is easy to use, federally recognized, and can be applied to most home mortgages. Plus, they’re available whether you’re buying, selling, refinancing or remodeling your home. Sounds like a great thing, right? After all, homeowners with lower utility bills have more money in their pockets each month and can even afford to allocate a larger portion of their income to housing expenses.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have been baffled as to why the numbers continue to decrease. The benefits are easy to recognize.
According to HUD, the money can be used to finance energy improvements to make an older home more efficient, comfortable and affordable, which increases the potential resale of the home.

A laundry list of upgrades includes replacing windows or doors, installing solar technologies or replacing older heating systems, cooling systems and lighting with a more environmentally friendly solution.

For people buying a home who want to take advantage of the program, the FHA requires that you make at least a 3.5 percent cash investment on the property based on the sale price. And all work must begin within 90 days of closing. The total amount of your mortgage is based on the value of your home plus the projected cost of energy-efficient improvements.

Another option is for the lender to allow higher qualifying ratios for borrowers who will occupy a property meeting certain standards for energy efficiency. When the home has been built or retrofitted in conformance with the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) standards for 2000 or later, the lender may “stretch” the borrower’s qualifying ratios.

Benefits derived from an energy efficient mortgage will vary from one house to another. Your lender will be your best source of information on what benefits you may obtain.

To learn more about energy efficient mortgages, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 New Year's Resolutions Every Seller Should Add to Their List

December 11, 2014 5:39 pm

As we close in on 2015, you most likely have a running list of resolutions racing around your mind at any given time. However, if you plan on selling your home in the new year, here are a few things you may want to add to your list.

1. Be Kind to Your Agent. If your house isn’t selling, and your agent suggests dropping the price, hiring a stager or something else they believe will help sell the home, don’t yell or threaten to leave them and find another agent. Your agent is there to offer advice and tips to ultimately get your home sold quickly, at a price you want. Therefore, remember that they’re not your enemy. Work with them and keep the lines of communication open and clear.

2. Have Reasonable Expectations. Gone are the days when you put a house up for sale and a bidding war would ensue. If you want the best chance of selling your home, understand what’s going on in your market, and take into account that you might have to wait a while for your home to sell. Also, don’t shoot for the moon with your pricing, especially if you’re looking to get out quickly.

3. Don’t Get Discouraged. It’s always stressful when a home doesn’t sell, but don’t give up just because no one is biting. Eventually, the right buyer will come along and you’ll be able to move on to whatever new living opportunity awaits.

4. De-Clutter Every Room. It’s the most common advice you’ll get from anyone associated with real estate: if you want to sell your house, remove the clutter and store anything that’s not essential in another location. That means packing away seasonal clothes, removing kitchen tools and small appliances you never use and packing up toys or collectables.

5. Paint. It never hurts to spruce up rooms with a coat of paint. While most people are quick to paint the living room and bedrooms, it’s also a good idea to remember the smaller rooms—even the closets. When it comes to painting, keep in mind that a little paint can go a long way.

For more tips on selling your home in 2015, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Don't Let Pests Come Between You and Your Home Sale

December 11, 2014 5:39 pm

Whether you’re in the process of selling your home or not, pests can be a real nuisance. But when a home sale is on the line, the last thing you want to do is give buyers any reason to scurry.

You might think that discovering ants, roaches or mice in your home is the worst thing in the world, but generally, they don’t do much damage. And there’s usually a somewhat simple solution for disposing of these pests. (Termites, of course, are another issue).

For those who may be having problems with these more prolific pests, the most practical solution is to call an exterminator as soon as possible.

And remember, when it comes to pests, keep in mind that as the seller, you’re required to disclose “all known facts that materially affect the value of the property,” which means you can’t just let these problems slide and hope the inspector doesn’t pick up on them.

Taking the mice example from above, there are humane ways to solve the problem—either with traps or by hiring a special company. But if you want to be sure you’re getting rid of the mice forever, you may want to bring in a specialist who can determine where they’re coming from and fix the problem, removing their access to the house.

Carpenter ants are another nuisance and a good exterminator will know how to treat and eliminate this type of infestation. Remember, carpenter ants can only survive on wet, rotting wood, so these ants are a telltale sign that your home has a water problem that’s causing rot. By solving the water problem, the ants will not survive.

If you’re having problems with larger varmint, be it raccoons, birds or squirrels entering the home, it’s important to do a perimeter search of the home, listening for rattling in the chimney, gutters and/or attic. Several wildlife organizations are available to help with their removal, but you also might need to invest some money in hiring someone who can come in and plug up any holes and entrances and spray a deterrent.

And last but not least, if termites are the problem, it’s crucial that you have them exterminated as soon as they’re discovered since they can cause major damage to the wood within your home. If you’re looking for total peace of mind, you may want to schedule a termite inspection before you sell your home so that no surprises pop up along the way.

Unfortunately, bugs and rodents are a part of life and there’s no end-all solution that will ensure that a home is pest free. The best you can do before putting your home on the market is to eliminate all you can and deal with any in-your-face issues. Nature will have to take care of the rest.

For more information about ridding your home of pests, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Keep Your Home in Tip Top Shape with These 12 Simple Tips

December 11, 2014 5:39 pm

If your house is on the market this holiday season, you may notice a slowdown in foot traffic among prospective buyers as holiday parties—and other activities—clutter their calendar.

Rather than becoming discouraged, take the time to make sure your home is prepared for the uptick in activity as the new year approaches.

To be sure your house is in tip top shape when interest picks up in January, here are a dozen things you can do:

1. Wash any carpets or rugs. Sure, it’s easy enough to drag out the vacuum and make the room look good, but go that extra step and give the carpets a good cleaning.
2. Replace any plumbing fixtures that are outdated, or those that may leak a little. Putting in new washers and tightening screws can go a long way toward preventing a water catastrophe.
3. Clean the closets. Prospective buyers love opening closets to see how much space there is. Be prepared by taking the time to organize and remove anything that you don’t wear anymore. The less items hanging in your closet, the bigger the space will appear.
4. Buy a new mat for the front door. You’ll most likely have people trampling through your home, accompanied by the snow and slush that define the season. Not only will a mat by the front door go a long way toward protecting your floors, it’ll also provide a great first impression.
5. Upgrade your mailbox. Most people don’t think of this, but a new mailbox is a great way to grab a buyer’s attention before they ever step foot in the house.
6. Empty the refrigerator and give it a good cleaning. Keep things organized and have brightly colored fruit dead center, giving the fridge a homey look. While you’re at it, be sure to remove any magnets from the outside of the fridge.
7. Change out light bulbs throughout the house and replace them with brighter bulbs that enhance the light in any given room.
8. Replace the linens on beds with bright colors. You don’t want people walking into the various bedrooms within your home only to see bland colors. Brightly colored bed linens are a great way to help bedrooms stand out.
9. Clean the fireplace. While you’ll want to call a professional to clean the inside of the chimney, you can still get rid of any burnt wood or ashes that have collected in the bottom. Make sure you clean off the grate at the same time so that it looks brand new.
10. Clean the yard. Even if you live in a colder climate, make sure your yard looks clean and tidy. That means getting rid of extra leaves and removing excess snow so that prospective buyers can clearly see the lay of the land.
11. Organize the garage and basement. These are the two main areas that will most likely interest male buyers, and you don’t want to turn them off with piles of junk.
12. Relax. Selling a home is stressful, but make sure you take the time to sit back, relax and enjoy the peace and quiet.

Contact our office today for more tips that will help your home stand out above the competition.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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In this Edition: Energy Efficient Mortgages

December 11, 2014 5:39 pm

Our lead story in this month’s Home Matters, brought to you through our company's membership in RISMedia’s Real Estate Information Network® (RREIN), examines 12 simple things you can do to make sure your home is in tip top shape as buyer activity increases in the new year. Other topics covered this month include five resolutions every seller should add to their list and the importance of controlling pests so that they don’t come between you and a sale. We hope you enjoy this month’s edition of Home Matters and as always, we welcome your feedback. Email us anytime!

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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