Real Estate

Smart Ways to Use Your Equity for Home Improvement

Daily Real Estate News - June 17, 2020 - 4:12pm

(TNS)—If you’re a homeowner who has paid down a significant portion of your mortgage, you may be sitting on a mountain of tappable equity. If your house is worth more than you owe on it, you may be able to use that equity to make home improvements.

Before tapping into your home equity, make sure to consider the pros and cons that come with taking out a loan for home improvement. Read on to learn more about your options and how you can make the most out of your home equity loan or HELOC.

Benefits of Using Your Home Equity for Home Improvement

As home values increase, more homeowners will have the capital to bankroll their home projects with equity loans. Home equity can be a smart way to finance a remodel, but only if you do it right.

Interest rates are low—home equity loan rates are currently about 5.23 percent APR and HELOC rates are about 4.88 percent APR. And interest you pay on home equity loans and home equity lines of credit, or HELOCs, is tax deductible if the money is used to remodel, repair or otherwise improve the value of the home that secures the loan.

Both loan products carry low interest rates because they are designed to allow homeowners to use the equity in their homes to maintain and improve property values. Since home value is the collateral on which equity loans are based, higher home values benefit homeowners and lenders.

Investing in your home is a smart idea, whether you’re looking to sell or just create a more comfortable space for yourself and your family. If you’re tossing around the idea of selling your house, renovations may help your home sell quicker and for more money. New paint, new carpeting and updated kitchens and bathrooms generally help increase the value of your home, making renovations a good return on investment.

Home Equity Loans for Home Improvement

– Payments are structured and begin right away, which makes it easier to budget.

– Home equity loans usually have a fixed rate, so the amount you pay will likely stay at or close to the same amount each month.

– If you aren’t planning to start remodeling immediately, you can move the money to an interest-bearing account and earn money on your money.

– All money is disbursed upfront, making the loan a good option for large-scale improvement projects.

– If your remodeling project is going to be a lengthy process, you may be tempted to spend the money on other things instead.

– A home equity loan is a secured loan against your house, so if you stop making payments, the bank can take possession of your home.

– If home values take a dive, you may owe more on your loan than the home is worth.

– Since home equity loans serve as a second mortgage, they come with closing costs and fees.

Home equity loans are given based on the same equity value that a HELOC would use. However, they are structured more like a traditional mortgage, with a repayment period and a set schedule of payments that include both principal and interest.

They are essentially second mortgages and typically come in terms of 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. The amount you can borrow is similar to that in a HELOC because most lenders will not lend you more than 80 percent to 85 percent of the equity you have in the home.
Home equity loans have a number of advantages. First, because the repayment schedule begins right away with the principal included, you know the amount of your monthly loan repayment and whether you can afford it. You can often get these loans at a fixed rate rather than a variable rate, which can save you interest in the long run.

If your home improvement project is contracted and it will be a few months before completion, you can move the money to an interest-bearing account while you’re waiting to spend it and earn back some interest. Be sure not to spend it on something else while you wait.

The biggest risk with a home equity loan is that you risk losing your home if you can’t pay it back, although this is the case with any type of loan that uses your home equity as collateral.

Home Equity Line of Credit, or HELOC, for Home Improvement

– Qualifying for a HELOC is simple as long as you have at least 20 percent equity in your home.

– A HELOC is a line of credit (much like a credit card) rather than a loan, so you can use as much or as little as you need and only pay back what you use.

– Interest rates are usually lower than those of personal loans or credit cards.

– During the draw period, you may be given the option to make interest-only payments.

– HELOCs are variable-rate loans, which means the interest you pay will fluctuate and affect your monthly payments.

– It can be easy to take on more debt than you can afford, because you can borrow multiple times from your HELOC.

– Many lenders charge an annual fee to keep the HELOC open, whether you use it or not.

– If home values fall, you may owe more than the home is worth.

– It can take a bit longer to get approved for a HELOC than a home equity loan.

A home equity line of credit, or HELOC, can be a useful option for home renovations because you’re extended a fixed line of credit and you can use as much or as little as you want, says Trevor Lane, CEO of Marshall, Everett & Associates, a mortgage finance company in Los Angeles.

All HELOCs have a draw period and a repayment period. The draw period is the amount of time you have to use the line of credit you were approved for. Once that period expires, you can no longer withdraw funds and you must start repaying the full loan.

Most HELOCs are adjustable-rate loans, although more lenders are offering fixed-rate options. With adjustable-rate HELOCs, the loan may have a fixed rate during the draw period, then the rate adjusts once the draw period expires. Other lines of credit adjust right away with the prime rate. In a rising-rate environment, loans will get more expensive.

For many home projects, the total cost is often not known until the renovation is complete. With a HELOC, you can withdraw only the amount you need. Consequently, you pay interest only on that amount. For example, if you’re approved for a $100,000 HELOC but use only $70,000, you owe interest on the $70,000.

Another advantage of a HELOC is that the monthly payments usually start out smaller than those of a cash-out refinance or personal loan. The reason for this is that borrowers are required to repay only the interest during the draw period.

For homeowners who want to make major renovations without having to make large monthly payments right away, HELOCs are a good choice.

The disadvantage of using a HELOC to fund projects is that it’s easy to get in over your head. You can borrow from your HELOC multiple times, which means you can make payments on what you borrow, pay down your debt and then borrow more money, creating a cycle of borrowing that may be difficult to keep up with.

Another downside is that many lenders charge a fee to keep HELOC accounts open, so you may owe payments on your line of credit whether or not you use it.

Lastly, if the housing market crashes, you may wind up owing more than your home is worth

Getting the Most From Your Home Equity Loan or HELOC

Maximizing your home equity loan. Since home equity loans are disbursed in a lump sum, they can be useful for bigger projects. If you are planning a relatively large home improvement project, like a complete kitchen remodel or the addition of another section onto your home, a home equity loan may be a better solution for you than a HELOC.
However, it is imperative that you have a financial plan in place and are able to pay off the loan. Since home equity loans require you to use your home as collateral, you could risk losing your home if the loan is not paid off by the end of the repayment period.

Make your payments on time. It is important to consistently make your monthly payments. Since you use your home as collateral, you could run the risk of losing your home if you don’t make your payments on time.

Stick to your budget. Before you apply for a home equity loan, it’s wise to create a budget or a financial plan for how you will use the money. Since it’s distributed in a lump sum, it could be easy to quickly spend the cash on things other than home improvement.

Use it for larger projects. Due to the distribution of the funds, this loan may be best used for larger-scale home improvement projects. Remodeling kitchens and bathrooms or making major additions to your home are a few examples of how you can best maximize your home equity loan.

Maximizing Your HELOC
HELOCs can be a great option for smaller home improvement projects, since they’re disbursed over a longer period of time. Unlike a home equity loan, a HELOC is a revolving line of credit, like a credit card. This means you can take out how much you want, when you want. While this is convenient, you still have to pay off the loan by the end of the repayment period or risk losing your home.

If you’re planning smaller-scale renovations or renovations that will continue for a number of years, this may be a good option for you. Plus, interest may be tax deductible if you use your loan for home improvement projects only.

Make your payments on time. As with a home equity loan, it is crucial to make your payments on time. While you’re only required to make payments on interest during your HELOC’s draw period, it may make sense to make payments on the principal as well; that way, you’ll lower your monthly payments during the repayment period.

Be aware of the fees. HELOCs can come with some fees that could have the potential to cut into the value of the loan. Annual maintenance fees and closing costs are two common fees with a HELOC.

Use it for smaller projects. HELOCs may be most effective when used for smaller-scale, long-term projects, since you have some flexibility over how much money you actually borrow during the draw period.

High-Impact Home Improvements
People who use HELOCs to pay for home renovations might want to consider the return on their investment. For example, if you sink too much into a master bathroom, you might not be able to recoup the cost, says Christopher Gibson with Brokers Guild Cherry Creek in Denver.

A few ways to leverage your home equity for home improvements include:
– Replacing old garage doors
– Investing in new lighting
– Replacing carpet throughout the house
– Applying a new coat of paint
– Adding an extra bedroom
– Renovating your kitchen
– Alternative home improvement loans

Personal Loans
Another option for securing money for a remodel is a personal loan. Because personal loans are unsecured debt, interest rates have a broad range from about 6 percent to 30 percent or more, depending on your credit history, income and other factors.

However, personal loans can be a useful short-term solution to remodeling when you don’t have much equity but the improvements you are planning will increase the value of your home significantly. Though rates for personal loans are higher than those of equity loans, a personal loan is a great way to get money right away.

Credit Cards
If you have discipline and excellent credit, you may qualify for a credit card offering a 0 percent interest rate for a certain term. If you qualify for a credit card with a 0 percent interest promotion, it can mean financing a home improvement with no interest, provided you can pay the credit card off before the promotional term ends.

Be careful, though, because interest rates can and will go up if you are late or miss a payment, and they can reach astronomical levels, so be sure to make payments on time and know what interest rate you’ll be paying if you can’t keep up.

The Bottom Line
If you’re looking to renovate your home, tapping your home equity may be a good way to find funding. Shop around at multiple lenders to find the best deal on a home equity loan. Home improvement projects are already expensive enough, and even a small difference in the interest rate can save you thousands of dollars over the years.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Categories: Real Estate

What to Do If You’re in Forbearance but Still Paying Your Mortgage

Daily Real Estate News - June 14, 2020 - 1:03pm

(TNS)—Since the coronavirus pandemic began in March, millions of homeowners have taken the federal government up on a generous proposal, one that lets borrowers skip mortgage payments for up to a year with no penalties.

But in an unusual twist, more than a million borrowers in forbearance have reportedly continued to make their monthly mortgage payments despite the free pass.

U.S. Bank, one of the few lenders to disclose details about the payment status of borrowers in the program, said in late May that 30 percent of its customers in forbearance were still making payments. Meanwhile, Black Knight, a mortgage data firm, says 22 percent of the 4.73 million borrowers in forbearance as of early June had made their payments for May.

Continuing to write the monthly check is a wise move, says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate chief financial analyst. “If you’re able to make the payments, do so,” he says. “This will keep you on your existing payoff schedule.”

An Improving Job Market Plays a Role
There’s no official explanation for why so many borrowers have continued making payments. It’s possible that many homeowners asked for forbearance but found their finances weren’t as dire as they feared. While unemployment soared to record levels in April, the job market bounced back in May, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

“Most were happy to take the money just in case since there was, at least initially, no cost not to do,” says Michael Seiler, a professor of real estate and finance at the College of William & Mary.

In another quirk of forbearance, some borrowers who simply called their lenders to inquire about forbearance were automatically placed in the program, Seiler says. What’s more, a combination of government stimulus payments and unusually generous unemployment benefits have kept some borrowers afloat.

“Many homeowners may have kept their jobs, at least for now, and government checks have helped,” says Lynn Reaser, chief economist at Point Loma University.

With the economy mostly shut down in recent months, consumers haven’t been going on vacation, dining out or buying cars, leaving them more money to devote to mortgage payments. “They have not been doing as much spending, as there have been fewer spending opportunities,” Reaser says.

How Forbearance Works
As the coronavirus pandemic threatened to push unemployment to Depression-era levels, Congress and the mortgage industry offered payment reprieves as a way to stave off mass foreclosures. Forbearance is available on loans backed by mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and by the Federal Housing Administration and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

For borrowers whose home loans are held by one of those entities, there are almost no barriers to qualifying for forbearance. Homeowners need not prove a loss of income or financial hardship. “All a borrower has to do is stop paying his mortgage and notify his servicer,” Seiler says.

The initial forbearance term is 180 days, and borrowers can request an additional 180 days. During that time, no additional interest accrues on the missed payments, although you do accrue interest at the regular rate on the mortgage balance. Lenders can impose no penalties, and they don’t report missed payments to credit agencies. For borrowers, it seems like a can’t-lose proposition.

However, continuing to pay if you can is also a smart strategy, says Melinda Opperman, president of “Forbearance is not forgiveness,” she says. “The money will have to be paid back eventually.”

Canceling Forbearance Is an Option
The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, last month announced that borrowers in forbearance were eligible to refinance, but only if they had kept making their payments. That announcement provided an incentive for borrowers to stay current. The reward for homeowners was that they were able to take advantage of falling mortgage rates. The rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage fell to a record low last week.

While there’s no real downside to remaining in forbearance, borrowers can exit the program by contacting their lenders and requesting to end forbearance. But think hard before making that move, McBride says. “Job losses could rise again in the months ahead if demand is still weak or if there is a resurgence of the virus,” he says. “A lot may depend on your confidence in remaining employed with a stable income.”

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Categories: Real Estate

Who You Need to Let Know Your Address Changed

Daily Real Estate News - June 11, 2020 - 4:33pm

Do you know you’re going to be buying or selling a home in the near future? Maybe you are moving out of mom and dad’s for the first time? Whatever the case may be, you’re going to want to know not only how to change your address with the post office, but also who should be notified of your move. There are organizations you need to notify of an address change if you don’t want to run into problems.

Some should have been completed before the move, but others can be left until later. Even when you have unpacked the last of the moving boxes, there are things you might still need to do.

Let’s run through who to notify you’re moving, in case you’ve missed some.

Government Services

One of the most essential organizations to notify of address change is going to be the United States Postal Service. They will make sure that your mail is redirected to your new home and for only around a dollar. The fee is just for an identity check to make sure you are who you claim to be.

There are online services that will charge you a lot more to do this, but if you go directly to the USPS site, the service is very cheap and relatively straightforward. You can also change your address at any of their post offices.

While the idea of visiting the Department of Motor Vehicles will naturally put you off, you must remember to update your address details with them. There could be legal issues if you fail to update them after moving home.

Fortunately, most states now allow you to change your address online, allowing you to avoid waiting in line at your local DMV. If you have ever been to the DMV before then you know exactly what I am talking about. It can be a horror show trying to get anything done given the long waiting times.

Voter Registration
If you want the chance to have a say in who runs the country or the state, you need to update your address with voter registration. This can normally be done online. You can also go to your local town hall and they should be able to take care of this for you.

Social Security
If you receive Medicare or Social Security benefits, you will want to make sure your address with the Social Security Administration is current. You should be able to notify them of your address change on their website.

The IRS will have to be notified of your change of address. To do this, you can download form 8822 from their site to print and fill out. The Internal Revenue Service is one of the most vital parties to let know you are moving. Don’t forget this one or you could find yourself getting essential documents late and end up with a penalty. The reference at Maximum Real Estate Exposure provides additional important entities to notify as well.


Water, Gas, and Electricity
If you expect to have these essential services working in your new home when you need them, you’ll want to notify them in advance of your moving date. Before you move, make sure you check how much notice your providers need to switch you over.

Internet, Phone, and Cable
You might use the same provider for all three of these services, which will make things a little easier, but you will likely be able to change your address online anyway.

Financial Services

You shouldn’t forget to update your bank and other financial businesses you have accounts with. Notify your credit card issuer and any investment services you use. You don’t want sensitive financial documents to go missing when they are mailed to the wrong address.

When you have outstanding loans, the lenders will want to know you have changed your address. Don’t forget old student loans or lenders which have provided cash advances. Financial institutions are some of the most critical parties to notify of your address change.

If you use an accountant or tax advisor let them know you have moved. Tax season may be some time away, but you don’t want to miss this one out. You will want to keep your lawyer updated with your new address as well.


You will need to contact your health insurer to keep them informed of your move. Don’t forget to contact providers of dental and life insurance, as well as your dentist and physician.

Vehicle Coverage
Your car insurance provider will need to know about your move. They may want to charge you more if you have moved to a different area, some states require additional liability insurance, for example.

Other Businesses

Your employer will need to know that you have a new address. They need to make sure their records are up to date with your information.

Online Retailers
If you regularly order online, make sure you update your address before you next click the buy now button. You don’t want the hassle of realizing that you’ve just ordered something to be sent to your old address.

Update your information with streaming services and payment providers as well. Though they don’t often mail things to you, they do need to be updated.

Retail Clubs
Are you a member of Costco or Sam’s Club? Let them know about your move if you are. Don’t forget things like gym memberships, even if you haven’t been since January.

If you have magazines or subscription boxes delivered, you are going to need to update these at the right time to avoid them going to the wrong address.

These are the main organizations you need to update, but you might have more. If you have pets, do you need to notify your veterinarian? If you are a member of a religious institution, they will need to be updated; the same goes for charities and clubs you are involved with.

Final Thoughts on Who to Let Know Your Address Changed
Without a doubt, one of the most important exercises when moving is to not only get your address changed with the post office, but to let all essential people and businesses in your life know as well. It takes some time to get this done so make sure it is a priority when your plans are 100-percent set in stone.

There are times where some folks will have a change of plans and will need to know how to update or cancel their change of address. While the chances of this happening are smaller, it is essential information to know in case you’re in that circumstance.
We all know moving can be an extremely stressful time when it’s easy for mistakes to be made. Do your best to plan ahead to increase your chances of a smooth move.

Bill Gassett is a nationally recognized real estate leader who has been helping people buy and sell MetroWest Massachusetts real estate for the past 33 years. He has been one of the top RE/MAX REALTORS® in New England for the past decade. Gassett works for RE/MAX Executive Realty in Hopkinton, Mass. In 2018, he was the No. 1 RE/MAX real estate agent in Massachusetts.


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Categories: Real Estate

5 Renovations That Can Impact Your Home Insurance

Daily Real Estate News - June 8, 2020 - 4:07pm

(TNS)— Planning a home renovation can involve fun activities, such as designing a new floor plan or picking fixtures and paint colors. Having a heart-to-heart with your home insurance carrier may not be part of your preparations, but it should be.

Many house improvements that boost your home’s value could render your home insurance coverage inadequate and leave you vulnerable to losses. Other upgrades may trigger lower premiums—savings you don’t want to miss simply because you didn’t think about your home insurance during renovation.

Some home renovations greatly increase the value of your home and the cost of your home insurance, while others not so much. Here’s what you can expect with the following popular home renovations.

1. Renovating your roof: Decrease
A new roof may not be the most exciting home improvement, but it sure can save a lot of cash when it comes to homeowners insurance.

Some homeowners can get even bigger discounts if they live in hurricane-, wind- or hail-prone states and their new roof employs special loss-mitigation measures, such as hurricane straps, waterproofing or the very best shingles.

While most home policies cover roofs, some insurers use depreciation schedules based on the age of the roof to determine how much protection you get, says Hutchinson. Based on the age of the roof, some policies won’t cover it at all. But the newer the roof, the more the insurer will spend to replace it. Consider adding flood insurance if you live in a flood-prone area as your flood insurance could cover the cost of damage or leaks to your roof.

2. Building a pool: Increase
A pool may make you the most popular house on the block, but it means your home is the riskiest from an insurance standpoint.

The standard policy usually comes with $100,000 in personal liability protection, which would cover medical costs for a person injured in your pool and any legal expenses if you’re sued. However, an insurer may recommend that a pool owner opt for at least $500,000 in liability coverage.

The insurer also may require a fence around the pool with a lock to cover the newly-built liability. If the pool has a diving board or slide, it will be considered an even greater potential hazard.

3. Adding an office for a home business: Increase
Say you want to go full time making reclaimed-wood furniture at home for your Etsy site. Will your home insurance cover the assets of your newfound business?

Most homeowners policies protect equipment for home-based businesses up to about $2,500. That might not be enough for a business owner who uses specialized machinery or stores large amounts of supplies or inventory. Unfortunately, you may need to bolster your existing policy or purchase an additional business policy.

This is particularly true if your business is the type that creates heavier foot traffic in your home, such as piano lessons or private yoga sessions.

However, if your business doesn’t bring visitors to your home and requires little equipment or supplies outside of a basic computer, your existing home policy should do the trick.

That said, depending on your insurance provider, you may have a few options:

– Endorsement to your existing homeowners policy: This typically jumps the $2,500 protection amount to $5,000
– Businessowners policy: Combines a wide array of coverages into a single policy
– In-home Business Insurance: Costs about $300 a year, and features the same protection you would get if you were a larger company with smaller policy limits and premiums

4. Expanding your space: Increase
Sometimes a home needs to grow to accommodate an expanding family. That can mean adding more livable square footage, such as in a dank basement or humid attic above the garage. In other instances, a new addition may be in order.

Your insurance will need to be altered to account for the value of the new space.
You may need to consider other types of coverage for the newly built areas of your home. A finished basement with new carpet, drywall and insulation may need water backup coverage if the sump pump is located there, says Towns.

5. Upgrading your kitchen or bath: Both
Sometimes nothing can give a house the facelift it needs quite like making over a kitchen into a chef’s dream or a master bathroom into a spa sanctuary. But unless you give your home insurance a makeover, too, the renovation may be at risk.

For example, say your insurer based your coverage on a kitchen with laminate countertops and generic cabinets. But then you spend $40,000 on granite countertops, custom cabinets and top-of-the-line appliances. Would your existing coverage be sufficient to rebuild your remodeled kitchen after a disaster?

Not if you don’t update your policy.

Call your insurer about the renovation and provide records and photos to validate what you’ve done. Your premium most likely will go up because your home is now worth more.

One small bonus: If your contractor upgrades the home’s electrical or plumbing systems during a kitchen or bath renovation, you could wind up with an insurance discount. Depending on the type of upgrade, it could be as much as 20 percent. However, you will need to ask if you qualify for a discount. It won’t be given to you automatically.

To protect the full value of your home, you will need to update your home insurance after a renovation. To be on the safe side, you should let your insurer know before you make the renovations in case something goes wrong during the process.

Q: Do I need to increase my homeowners insurance after renovating?

Even though experts estimate that remodeling projects increase home values at least by 25 percent, many homeowners don’t increase their coverage.

When you chose your insurance provider, part of your premium was established by your home’s square footage and the cost that would be required to fix or rebuild it. This means that when you increase the value of your home, you also need to increase the cost of your coverage. Without increased coverage, should a disastrous event occur, any improvements you’ve made will not be covered.

Another thing you need to consider is that if you make significant improvements outside of your home, meaning you add structures like a high-end shed or pool, they will not be covered unless you purchase other structures add-on coverage.

Q: So do you need homeowners insurance during remodeling?

Short answer: Yes.

During renovations you need to protect items in your home that aren’t covered with the typical homeowners insurance policy, so speak to your insurance provider about purchasing the following home renovation insurance:

Construction Material Coverage
This coverage protects any materials you’ve purchased whether they’re on your property or are en route to your property. If they are damaged or stolen, construction material coverage will cover the costs of their replacement.

Foundation Collapse
Should your home’s foundation be damaged during construction, foundation collapse will cover the cost of its repair.

Vacant Home Insurance
If you need to live outside of your home while renovations or remodeling is being done, you should purchase vacant home insurance. This will protect your home should any damage occur to it and you don’t notice it until you’re back home.

Don’t forget to make copies of your contractor’s insurance.

Contractors normally have insurance to protect them and you while they’re on the job. To work on your home, they will need liability, property and worker’s compensation. Get copies of each before signing any type of agreement with them.

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Categories: Real Estate

On Gardening: This Little Indigo Petunia Will Steal Your Heart

Daily Real Estate News - June 7, 2020 - 1:05pm

(TNS)—New at the garden center this year is one of those petunias that is a rare jewel of a color. It’s one that catches your eye and stops you in your tracks; it is Supertunia Mini Vista Indigo. By all means don’t let the mini throw you for even a second. This is the little indigo that could, or should I say does, deliver riveting beauty and maximum performance in the landscape or mixed containers.

You have to love indigo. If you asked me, is it a little blue or a little violet, I would answer yes. Throughout the day you’ll see both; it will dumfound and confuse you all while you are falling passionately in love with it. A word of caution goes with this plant. When you see it for sale at the garden center, make that the instant you put it in your cart. Don’t ponder or go to the next aisle as you think about it, or it will be gone.

So, you may be thinking what is a Supertunia Mini Vista? It is a petunia that will typically reach 12 inches tall and spread 24 inches versus the Supertunia Vista that can reach 2 feet tall and spread 48 inches. The Mini Vista flowers are also slightly smaller. The Supertunia Mini however packs great vigor and perseverance allowing it to excel in the landscape or containers.

Supertunia Mini Vista Indigo, though new to the garden center this year, has racked up an impressive two dozen awards in University Trials across the country. A few of the most noteworthy are Best Petunia Penn State, Top Performer Texas Tech, Perfect Score All Season Oklahoma State.

Just like the rainbow needs indigo, your garden needs it too. If you ask your favorite search engine what is the opposite color of indigo, you most likely will find answers like orange, yellow and even chartreuse. These all sound good to “The Garden Guy”; I’m not sure there is a color of flower that will clash with this little indigo.

This year, I watched my color guru son, James, combine it with Rockin Golden Delicious pineapple sage, and in another area, he paired it with Snow Princess sweet alyssum and Calliope red geraniums for a red white and blue theme. The one that surprised me and looked as celebratory as Carnival in Rio was his partnership with Calliope red geraniums and Luscious Royale Cosmo lantana that itself, is a kaleidoscope of ever-changing color. I keep shooting photos of this one trying to do it justice.

All of the plantings are in fertile organic rich soil, and if they are in containers, I assure you they are the best James can get his hands on. It will be a long hot summer and the key to the green thumb is how brown it first gets in soil preparation.

Feeding these workhorse flowers will be important if you want them lasting until pansy planting time. Since containers get watered daily it stands to reason that fertilization is regular regimen. This most often is accomplished as part of the water process using water-soluble fertilizer.

One of the most critical horticultural techniques over a long hot summer is cutting them back. This may be right after the July 4 celebration and even again in mid-August. Don’t be afraid to remove up to 20 percent and to keep the food coming. They can survive the dog days and look good going into fall.

While “The Garden Guy” has fallen madly in love with Supertunia Mini Vista Indigo know there are seven colors in the Mini Vista group. So, your passion may be Supertunia Mini Vista Sangria, Morning Glory or others. The season is young so make this the weekend you get out and do some flower planting!

Norman Winter is a horticulturist, garden speaker and author of, “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.” Follow him on Facebook

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Categories: Real Estate

Should You Fix That Yourself? How to Handle Home Repair During the Pandemic

Daily Real Estate News - June 2, 2020 - 4:29pm

(TNS)— When Tony Nittoli of North Hollywood noticed a leak under his bathroom sink in mid-April, he tied it up with an old T-shirt and stuffed junk mail under it. He’d normally call his apartment manager to take care of it, but health officials’ orders were clear: stay inside and away from others to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“What’s the sense of me not going out if I have somebody who’s going out to multiple houses coming to my house?” Nittoli said. “That defeats the purpose.”

Plumbers, electricians and handymen and -women are considered essential workers during the COVID-19 crisis. They’ve continued to come to the rescue when a pipe bursts or the electricity goes haywire. It’s frequently hazardous work, pandemic notwithstanding.

But what about when it’s not life or death, but life and discomfort? If the washing machine won’t wash or the screen door won’t seamlessly slide, does it make sense to call a professional? Does bringing in a worker—or several—put your safety and theirs at risk? Do you try doing it yourself? Is fixing a sink as easy as baking bread?

Safety First

Although home-repair workers were never ordered to put away their tools, business practices have shifted to meet the moment, according to several industry stakeholders.
Workers are required to wear masks and keep their distance from others inside a home, apartment or commercial space they’re working in, just as in other essential businesses, according to public health guidelines. Some companies outfit their workers in additional protective gear, such as gloves and booties.

For Mike Rios, who owns and manages seven rental units in West L.A., the adjustment hasn’t been hard. His go-to handyman “wears a mask and (it’s) business as usual,” he said.

Talieh Safadi, owner of Help Squad, a repair company with a location in Brentwood, said he typically asks customers to take a walk while work is being done or stay in another room.

Tom Bannon, chief executive of the California Apartments Association, which represents the rental housing interests, agreed that safety protocols are a two-way street.

Repair workers are asked to follow CDC guidelines, “And you hope that that the residents can do the same,” Bannon said.

When should you call a professional? If it’s an emergency or serious issue, make the call. Some repairs simply can’t be put off. An untreated electrical shortage could spark a fire. A leaky pipe in one apartment could cause thousands of dollars of water damage in the entire complex. In those situations, it’s necessary to bring in a trained professional, ideally before a situation grows dire.

If it’s less urgent, weigh the risks.

If you’re a family of five and your washing machine breaks, it might not be feasible to transition to a washboard. If it’s not urgent, Safadi recommends people over 65 or with underlying health conditions postpone work for a few weeks. If they need to go forward with a repair, he advises increasing safety precautions.

Apartment owners still have an obligation to make repairs within a reasonable time frame, but Bannon stressed that the pandemic has affected what’s reasonable.
Some tenants don’t want home-repair workers in their units—and it’s difficult from a legal perspective for a landlord to enter a unit against their wishes, Bannon said. On the flip side, some maintenance workers are hesitant to put themselves at unnecessary risk. The latter makes it trickier to find someone to tackle a job immediately and increases the turnaround time for some repairs, he added.

“It’s not a good time for maintenance unless it’s a serious issue,” Bannon said.

Repair Needs Are Increasing

People in the industry agree that comfort levels around home repair appear to be rising—possibly out of necessity.

According to ServiceTitan, a tech company that develops software for home-services workers, revenue for contractors in California in the first two weeks of May jumped 10 percent over the same period last year. And the numbers are showing improvement nationally.

Calls never stopped completely for contractor Edward Flanagan, though they did fall significantly after California’s stay-at-home order went into place. He estimates that he’s getting half as much business as usual now, compared with a quarter as much in mid-March.

Many of the large residential projects Safadi had lined up, including a more than $100,000 job to convert a garage to a living space, are on hold. But he said he is fielding more quotidian requests, including calls about broken dishwashers, toilets, garbage disposals, doors and faucets. More time at home means more wear and tear.

“Remember, all of us were home, including me and my wife, on lockdown,” Safadi said. “And guess what? There were a lot more issues with maintenance because everybody’s home.”

Should I Try to Do It Myself?

Those concerned about exposure to the virus or who are tight on funds might be considering a DIY approach. Professionals urge caution. Most plumbing and electrical work, for example, is best left to the professionals.

“One mistake can cause a lot more damage,” Safadi said.

“If you don’t know how to snake a pipe or a garbage disposal, it might leak overnight,” he explained. In a multi-unit complex, that can get expensive: “Because it leaks into the unit below or the unit next door and then it becomes a huge thing.”

Besides property damage, “there’s potential damage you could do to yourself,” Bannon said, pointing to garbage disposals as one source of danger.

But home maintenance falls on a spectrum of difficulty, said Bob Burke, chief executive of Repair Clinic, a company that offers step-by-step repair tutorials.

“What we’re seeing is that people have real needs, partly caused by the pandemic, partly because things are breaking because they’re at home, and I think people now are realizing they can do a lot more than they might have thought,” Burke said. “People are learning to be creative.”

The service is starting to see engagement with a younger audience, particularly in the 22 to 35 age range, according to Peter Krauss, president of the company. Their typical customer had been 45 or older, he said.

Marnie Sehayek initially intended to pay a handy friend to build out a closet in her Koreatown apartment. When L.A. issued its safer-at-home order in mid-March, that no longer seemed wise. Instead, she watched videos, conferred with friends, borrowed tools from a neighbor and did it herself over the course of several weeks.

“To be honest, I felt like I was in a Marx Brothers skit at almost every pass with it,” she said, adding that it ultimately came together. “It’s not exactly perfect, but it totally works for me.”

Then there are the basics, like how to flip a breaker on and off, and where the main water shutoff is, things Flanagan said everyone should know. Otherwise, you could be wasting water and electricity, he said.

“I think it’s good for people to have more of a knowledge of that going on,” he said, “and maybe this will give us a chance for people to do that.”

©2020 Los Angeles Times
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Categories: Real Estate

Are You Finding Working From Home Stressful? Try Listening to Background Sounds

Daily Real Estate News - May 28, 2020 - 4:02pm

(TNS)—Some businesses are in the process of reopening. But many people working from home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic may face several additional months of hunching over their laptops at their kitchen tables before heading back into the office. Have you found it difficult to adjust to an increasingly isolated professional life? Now that we’re months into our work-from-home experience, here’s a tip that may prove particularly helpful.

Try listening to a little ambient sound.

Ambient sounds are the background noises that make up our daily lives, and people often choose to listen to soothing ambient sounds like rain or birds singing while working and studying. They’re not to be confused with the consistent humming of white noise, such as television static.

“People don’t like it that quiet,” says Jonas Braasch, an associate professor at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “It can be easier to work with background noise.”

Why do humans tend to enjoy background noise? Well, it could have something to do with our deep-rooted instincts for avoiding danger, Braasch suggests. After all, animals in a forest typically go quiet when a predator is near, which is why many instinctively feel more at ease when birds are singing.

Braasch believes this principle may translate to emotions felt during a modern crisis—like the coronavirus pandemic. As you shelter at home, listening to background sounds may provide a sense of being safe. “On a fundamental level, it gives you the feeling of not being alone,” Braasch says.

Nature sounds are among the most commonly mentioned ambient noises, and for good reason. “I can’t recall anybody disliking the sounds of nature. It seems that liking nature sounds is universal,” says Braasch, as long as they’re relatively calm (i.e., not the rattle of a snake).

Erin Largo-Wight, a professor at the University of North Florida, agrees that nature sounds have a positive effect on us. “Pre-pandemic, Americans spent approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. During the pandemic in areas with stay-at-home orders, that figure is likely even higher,” Largo-Wight said in an email. “Incorporating nature contact indoors is a simple and meaningful way to reduce stress.”

Research has shown that people respond well to working while listening to nature sounds, but what about decidedly more human-centric ambient noise soundtracks? Say, for instance, an office noises soundtrack. Though it hasn’t been studied, it’s possible that listening to office sounds could give someone a sense of normalization, Braasch says. So if you’re someone who works best in the office or at a coffee shop, finding some ambient sounds or background noises that replicate your preferred workspace may help restore some sense of order to your days. Ultimately, “people should listen to what they think is good for them,” Braasch advises.

Need a few recommendations for background sounds? Here are a few of our favorites:
With Coffivity, listeners can immerse themselves in chatty settings like a university cafe or coffee house. Rainy Mood puts listeners in the midst of a gentle rainstorm. For people missing the social experience of the office, this adjustable office sounds experience may provide some comfort. A word of warning: playing with the settings is very addictive. This ocean noise generator is perfect for anyone missing lazy days at the beach. You can adjust your wave experience to settings like “Distant Shore” or “Windy Coast.” Feeling some wanderlust right now? Quench it using Noises.Online, which offers soundtracks like “An enchanted forest in Slovenia” and “A starry night in Morocco. “Calling all Harry Potter fans: Be transported to your favorite fantastical places like the Leaky Cauldron, Hogwarts Express and the Gryffindor common room on

©2020 Los Angeles Times
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Categories: Real Estate

Refinancing Your Mortgage in a Pandemic: Expect Longer Waits, Virtual Process

Daily Real Estate News - May 25, 2020 - 4:05pm

(TNS)—Heather Morris wanted to pull some cash from her Georgia home to pay for renovations, and she was eager to take advantage of rock-bottom mortgage rates. But when her lender told her in March that it could take six months to process her refinancing, Morris wasn’t hopeful.

“I didn’t think it was going to happen,” Morris recalls.

She persevered, and Morris’ refinance with Navy Federal Credit Union closed in mid-May. In addition to a longer-than-normal wait, Morris experienced other oddities, such as donning a mask and staying inside her house while a masked notary stood on her front porch. They passed documents back and forth through the front door. “Doing the paperwork was different,” Morris says.

As Morris saw firsthand, the mortgage industry is coping with a one-two punch that has complicated the process of refinancing. First, a drop in rates in March led to an avalanche of applications. Then the coronavirus pandemic disrupted long-established processes for guiding refinances through the lending system.

As a result, a refinancing process that once required just three or four weeks now can drag on for eight or nine weeks.

“The clients understand what’s happening, and they’re dealing with it,” says Joe Rodriguez, vice president of residential lending at Provident Bank in Jersey City, N.J.
In March, mortgage rates fell to historic lows. That led to a flood of applications from homeowners looking to lower their rates, or to take advantage of equity gains delivered by a decade of rising home values. “The whole industry got slammed in March with new applications,” Rodriguez says.

Inevitably, all those new applications created backlogs. “Our volume went up 400 percent,” says Kevin Parker, vice president at Navy Federal Credit Union. “Imagine anyone having 400 percent more work.”

Navy Federal has been warning borrowers like Morris that the process could take up to six months, although Parker says it rarely drags on that long.

Approving a mortgage is a complicated process, one that requires a lender to validate a borrower’s income, check the value of the home being used as collateral and scrutinize the title history of the property.

Just as refinancing applications picked up, the coronavirus pandemic dramatically changed the way everyone in the mortgage industry works. Loan officers no longer go to the office. Appraisers stopped walking through houses. And no one gathers around the title company’s closing table.

“We had to figure out how to deal with the virus and still do business,” Rodriguez says. “The process is a little slower because everybody’s working from home right now. Things that would take an hour to do are taking a day sometimes.”

For instance, Rodriguez and Parker both say it’s harder to verify a borrower’s employment. A task once dispatched with a quick call to the borrower’s human resources department now means leaving a voicemail and waiting a day or two for a response.

The combination of large volumes of applications and the coronavirus’ curveball means loan processors must be meticulously organized, says Ed Conarchy, a mortgage adviser at Cherry Creek Mortgage Co. in Gurnee, Illinois. “Any trip-up in meeting those important milestones and the refi process can unravel.”

Meanwhile, homeowners looking to refinance may have to get in line behind buyers who need a mortgage so they can close on a house.

The mortgage industry already had been digitizing, and lenders quickly adapted to many changes. One stumbling block, though, is that most lenders still require some documents to be signed in the presence of a legal witness and notarized—”wet ink” signatures, in industry jargon.

That was what led Heather Morris to put on a mask and pass papers to the notary on her front porch. Morris’ elderly mother was staying with her, and she didn’t want to take a chance by letting someone into the house.

Outdoor signings have become something like the new normal, says Navy Federal’s Parker. “We’re seeing settlements being done in driveways, or on decks.”

And sometimes, documents are being signed remotely. Jim Campagna, founder of SnapFi, a mortgage lender in San Jose, California, says he pulled off his state’s first remote online notarization in early May.

California requires notaries to personally witness the signing of documents, but the state has relaxed those rules a bit during the pandemic. That led to Campagna’s client, a Silicon Valley homeowner, signing documents while a notary in Virginia looked on by videoconference. To prove his identity, the borrower held up a driver’s license to his computer’s camera.

Campagna hopes remote online notarization grows more common, and allows for refinancing to complete its transformation to an all-digital exercise.

“The majority of our other documents have been digitized for some time,” Campagna says. “So what’s really been holding back the transaction is the notarization process.”

What You Can Do to Secure a Smooth Refinance

Here are a few ways you can make the refi process as smooth as possible:

— Get your paperwork in order. Don’t let something simple like a missing document delay your refinance. Collect PDFs of financial documents, including pay stubs, bank statements, tax returns and retirement accounts.

— Make sure the lender will honor your rate lock. In normal times, lenders extend rate locks for 30 to 60 days, meaning you won’t have to pay more if rates go up before your loan closes. These aren’t normal times, though, and many refinances aren’t closing within 30 to 60 days, so make sure your lender is willing to extend your rate lock if your deal is delayed.

— Keep your credit score tight. Now isn’t the time to miss a payment, take on new debt or otherwise do anything to lower your credit score. Lenders are being especially strict about borrowers’ credit histories.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Categories: Real Estate

Mayo Clinic Minute: Health Benefits of Gardening

Daily Real Estate News - May 18, 2020 - 3:51pm

(TNS)—Practicing social distancing means more time spent at home. And many people use this time to start a garden in their backyard. There’s a saying that you reap what you sow. And in the case of a vegetable garden, a rich harvest may bring more than dinner. Anya Guy, a Mayo Clinic dietitian, says gardening is good for your body and mind.

Go ahead, dig in. You may go from an empty plot to a bounty. Guy says tending a garden offers an abundance of health benefits.

“You will increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, ultimately because you have them right in your backyard,” says Guy.

Gardening also can help reduce stress and anxiety levels, and offer light physical activity. Wondering what to grow? Guys says to consider a rainbow variety.

“Different vegetables have a variety of different health benefits unique to each of them,” says Guy.

Chili peppers and banana peppers, for example, contain capsaicin, which has been shown to have a number of health benefits. And then there’s eggplant.

“Eggplant actually grows surprisingly well in a home garden. It’s easy to grow and it can feed a lot of people in the family.”

A homegrown tomato is often a gardener’s pride. Rich in antioxidants, tomatoes contain potassium, vitamin C and are a source of fiber.

“If you don’t have the option to garden at home, keep in mind that community gardens are another option,” says Guy.

By embracing your green thumb, you may be able to unpack your vegetable basket instead of a grocery bag.

©2020 Mayo Clinic News Network
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Categories: Real Estate

Everything You Should Know About Mortgage Forbearance

Daily Real Estate News - May 12, 2020 - 4:11pm

(TNS)— More than 3.4 million Americans are in mortgage forbearance plans, which allows them to pause payments for a month to as long as a year. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to jolt the economy, more people will face financial difficulty, including how to pay their monthly mortgage bill.

“The forbearance program is obviously designed to deal with the characteristics of this pandemic. This isn’t related to mortgage underwriting or a downturn in the economy—it’s a sudden disruption that’s believed to be temporary in which people can resume their normal life,” says Ed DeMarco, president of the Housing Policy Council (HPC). “A forbearance is a normal tool in the toolkit, it’s been used with some regularity with natural disasters, or any temporary emergency which disrupts normal living and income.”

Some 6.4 percent of all active mortgages are in forbearance. So far, the total amount of unpaid principal due to forbearance is $754 billion, according to Black Knight. This includes 5.6 percent of loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and 8.9 percent of all FHA and VA loans.

Going into forbearance might be worrisome for many borrowers who are facing financial problems they didn’t expect or plan for. Understanding the basic facts might help alleviate some of the worry. Here we’ll cover essential forbearance questions borrowers have.

What is a mortgage forbearance?
Mortgage forbearance allows homeowners to pause their mortgage payments while dealing with a short-term crisis. In the case of coronavirus-related forbearance requests, most lenders are not requiring proof of hardship outside of verbal or written verification from the borrower.

Depending on whether you have a government-backed or privately-owned mortgage, your forbearance options might differ. Before you apply for forbearance, find out from your lender which type of loan you have.

What does forbearance mean under the CARES Act?
The CARES Act is the federal government’s relief response to the economic blow delivered by the coronavirus pandemic. The trillion-dollar relief package includes help for homeowners with government-backed mortgages, which make up about three out of four mortgages in this country. That includes home loans owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as well as VA, USDA and FHA mortgages.

Under the CARES Act, borrowers facing economic hardship because of COVID-19 can get mortgage forbearance for up to a year. During this time, lenders cannot foreclose on your property. There are several repayment options available to homeowners once the forbearance ends. You can read about these options here.

What happens if you’re not protected under the CARES Act?
Borrowers with privately-owned mortgages are not covered under the CARES Act. Nevertheless, most lenders are offering forbearance and loan modification options for borrowers with privately owned mortgages.

“The congressional mandate and CARES Act only covers loans owned by the government, loans that don’t meet those qualifiers aren’t guaranteed forbearance. However, the forbearance take-up rates for non-federally backed loans is pretty meaningful,” DeMarco says.

Regardless of who owns your loan, be sure to talk to your lender if you’re having trouble paying your mortgage. The worst thing you can do for your credit is to simply stop paying the bill.

Can a private mortgage be switched to a government-backed mortgage?
The only way to get out of your current mortgage is to pay it off and get a new one via mortgage refinancing.

“There might some loans on a bank balance sheet that are available for Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to buy,” DeMarco says. “But if they’re already in forbearance, it’s unclear if Fannie and Freddie will buy them.”

Will mortgage forbearance hurt your credit?
No, mortgage forbearance does not appear on your credit report as a negative activity.

Do borrowers pay extra interest if they get a forbearance?
Borrowers typically won’t have to pay additional interest on their mortgage in forbearance. The amount of interest and interest rate stays the same according to the borrower’s contract.

“During a forbearance plan, interest is not paid but still accrues in accordance with the terms of the note,” says Tom Goyda, senior vice president, consumer lending communications at Wells Fargo. “Additionally, as required by the CARES Act, no interest accrues during the forbearance period beyond the amounts scheduled or calculated as if the borrower made all contractual payments on time and in full under the terms of the note.”

The only situation in which the loan interest might change is if the lender extends the loan maturity date or increases the loan interest rate, says Andrew Demers, partner at Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman in Boca Raton, Florida, specializing in banking and real estate law. Demers points out that it’s critical for borrowers to understand the payment terms of the forbearance and says they should ask a few key questions, including:

– Do I have to pay interest or escrow advances during this time, or is this a complete payment deferral?
– Is the loan maturity date being extended?
– Will the lender recapture the deferred through a balloon payment at loan maturity, an extended maturity date, or some other catch-up method?

“Technically speaking, a deferment agreement is a modification and amendment to the loan documents, which requires a clear understanding of the parties’ respective rights and obligations,” Demers says.

After the forbearance plan is complete, if the borrower is approved for another workout option, the type of workout option offered will determine how the interest is handled.

“Interest accrues during the forbearance, but it doesn’t have to be repaid until later. At the end of the forbearance, the delayed payments and interest accrued can be paid in full by the client, resolved through an extended repayment plan or the loan may be modified, depending on the client’s needs,” says Susan Atran, spokesperson for Bank of America.

Can you refinance your mortgage during forbearance?
The chances of refinancing during a forbearance are slim. Lender will likely not be able to resecuritize your loan during forbearance.

Can lenders refinance once forbearance ends?
Generally, the borrower would have to pay off the foreborn amount (either with a new mortgage or cash) in order to refinance. However, there are variables that might affect whether a refinance is possible. Things like the type of loan you’re trying to refinance into, whether you ended up with a loan modification at the end of the forbearance and how the missed payments are being handled can all play a role in getting approved for a refinance.

“If they tack on mortgage payments to the back of the loan and resume normal monthly payments, the principal amount of the new, refinanced loan will have to capture the forbearance payments,” DeMarco says.

Can you sell your home during forbearance?
Yes, homeowners in forbearance can sell their homes. The foreborn amount would become payable upon sale of your property.

Are rental properties or second homes eligible for forbearance?
It depends on the type of mortgage you have. GSE-backed mortgages—i.e., owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac—are eligible for forbearance if they’re used as rental properties or second homes. However, FHA, VA or USDA loans cannot be put into forbearance if the property is used as rental property or second home.

Can you get a forbearance if you have a HEL or HELOC?
Some banks, like Wells Fargo, are offering forbearance to home equity customers. So check with your lender.

“At the end of the initial three-month payment suspension, Wells Fargo has a number of potential options available for mortgage and home equity customers,” Goyda says. “Depending on the loan investor and other factors, those options could include a continuation of the payment suspension, moving the missed payments to end of the loan or a modification to address longer-term financial changes that may impact their ability to keep up with their monthly payments. We’ll need to talk with them directly to understand their circumstances and identify the best way to help them going forward.”

Bottom Line
If your finances were hit by COVID-19, talk to your lender as soon as possible about your mortgage relief options. A mortgage forbearance is not automatic, so you can’t just stop making payments otherwise your credit report will suffer and you can end up in default.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Categories: Real Estate

Carbon Monoxide: Potential Hazard

Daily Real Estate News - May 11, 2020 - 4:36pm

It’s worthwhile to address a potential hazard that arises with use of fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces and water heaters: carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas produced by the combustion of fuels such as natural gas, oil, and propane in devices including furnaces, water heaters and stoves. These items are designed to vent the CO to the outside, but harmful interior levels of CO can result from incomplete combustion of fuel, improper installation, or blockages, leaks or cracks in the venting systems. Very high levels of CO can lead to incapacitation or death, with victims sometimes never having been aware they were being poisoned.

Homeowners can take action against potential carbon monoxide poisoning by taking the following steps:

– Never use a gas stove or oven to heat the home, even temporarily.

– Have all fuel-burning appliances professionally inspected annually, preferably before the start of the cold weather season when heaters and furnaces are first used.

– These appliances include gas stoves and ovens, furnaces and heaters, water heaters and gas clothes dryers.

– All such devices should be properly installed and vented to the outside.

– If repairs are necessary, have them performed by a qualified technician.

– Always use the proper fuel specified for the device.

– Have flues and chimneys for gas fireplaces inspected regularly for cracks, leaks and blockages that may allow a buildup of CO to occur.

– Do not start a vehicle in a closed garage or idle the engine in the garage even when the garage door is open.

– Gasoline-powered generators and charcoal grills must never be used indoors.

– Purchase a CO detector (either battery operated, hard wired or plug-in) and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper location and installation.

-Installation of working CO detectors in residential properties is now required by law in most states.

– Learn what to do if the CO alarm activates. If anyone in the home experiences symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, or confusion, everyone should leave immediately and seek medical attention. If no symptoms are felt, open doors and windows immediately and shut off all fuel-burning devices that may be potential sources of CO.

Enjoy the comfort and safety of home all year long.

For more information, please visit

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Categories: Real Estate

Steps to Buying a Foreclosed Home

Daily Real Estate News - May 5, 2020 - 4:31pm

Let me guess: You are interested in buying a foreclosure property? When you want to buy a home, but the mortgage payments are difficult to afford, buying a foreclosure can look attractive. The unfortunate previous homeowner will have struggled with the costs of the mortgage, ending up with the home foreclosing to the lender.

The bank or other financial lender wants to sell these homes and get as much of their money back as they can. They are looking to get their money back quickly, and this can mean selling for less than the market value. This is where you can pick up a bargain that would otherwise cost more than you could afford.

Buying a foreclosed home is a little different from a standard sale, and there are some things you need to know. While you might be concerned about purchasing a foreclosure, if you are prepared to do more research and take slightly more risk, there could be significant savings to be made.

Let’s review the foreclosure procedures and the steps you should follow to successfully close on a home.

Stages of Foreclosure

A foreclosure goes through different stages, and this will change what you have to do to buy the home.

Short Sale
The pre-foreclosure is when the property is still owned by the person who is having difficulty with the mortgage payments. They are keen to sell to avoid the full foreclosure of their home. This is also known as a short sale, and the seller will often need the permission of the lender to sell the home for less than the loan amount. This can be a difficult situation, with two parties having a say in the sale.

A short sale will need to make financial sense to the lender for them to approve it. Don’t think you can make an offer on a short sale that is not within a reasonable amount from the fair market value. The mortgage holder will send an appraiser out to evaluate the property. The lender will not agree to sell the home significantly under what the appraiser has reported.

Can you get a discount? Sure, in most cases, you can—just don’t expect it to be monumental.

Auction Sale
The next stage in a foreclosure process is the property getting auctioned. Typically, the seller will have missed quite a few mortgage payments. They will also be notified that if they don’t catch up on the mortgage payments due, the lender will initiate foreclosure proceedings. If the owner does not catch up, the lender will eventually file for foreclosure.

Once the home has gone into foreclosure, it will be offered for sale in an auction. This is the most common way to buy a foreclosed home and can mean that the transaction happens quickly. A buyer will typically need cash to buy, and there are other risks involved.

There may not be the chance to properly research an auction property. This could mean that there are repairs needed or a lien on the title, which could result in unforeseen expenses. You, unfortunately, are buying the home “as is” and “where-is.” Many times, you will not be able to set foot inside the property before the auction takes place. Buying a home at auction is not for the faint of heart.

There is a significant risk you are buying a money pit or a home that could have any number of problems, including liens or title issues. You could spend tens of thousands of dollars trying to clear up these problems. The keyword? RISKY!

If the home doesn’t sell at auction, the property moves to the real estate-owned or REO stage. This means that the lender owns the house and will likely sell it through a real estate agency. Bank-owned homes are far less risky to an end buyer because by the time the bank owns the property and sells it again, all the liens and issues will be squared away.

The bank will be selling the home to the buyer with a clean title. Bank-owned homes are usually priced near market value, but if they don’t sell reasonably quickly, the bank will often discount them to get it off the books. Banks are not interested in being property owners.

Setting Your Budget

Understanding what you can afford is an integral part of buying a home, and this is particularly true with a foreclosed home. You may be able to find a home that is far cheaper than it would otherwise be, but you still need to set your budget to avoid problems.

Write down your monthly income and costs, so that you can better understand what mortgage payments you can cope with. Failure to do this could lead to your new home becoming a foreclosure once again. It is also advisable when you’re about to purchase any home to make sure your financial house is in order. Getting a copy of your credit report and checking it for errors will be prudent as they can severely impact the loan terms you’ll get.

Loan Pre-Approval

When you know your budget, you should get pre-approved by a lender. They will check your credit and tell you how much they are willing to offer you. This enables you to narrow down your search to foreclosures within the mortgage pre-approval amount.

With a pre-approval letter in hand, you will be a more attractive buyer. The bank selling the home will know that the sale should close faster, and this could be the difference if there are multiple interested buyers.

Your credit score is essential during the pre-approval process. Any changes to your score or financial situation after the pre-approval could result in you not getting final approval for the loan amount expected. You should avoid taking out any new credit in that period, to prevent the chance of your mortgage not being approved.

The Benefits of Experience

One of the best tips for buying a foreclosure is to find a real estate agent who has experience with distressed properties. If you aren’t entirely familiar with either purchasing a foreclosure property or the area you are looking to buy, the services of an experienced buyer’s real estate agent will be essential to guide you in the right direction.
They will have an understanding of the prices in the area and will know if the foreclosure is really the bargain you are looking for. Finding the right agent should also give you access to properties you might have otherwise missed.

The experience of the real estate agent should help you to understand the issues involved in the purchase and alert you to any legal concerns which you could run into.

Presenting an Offer

How you make an offer on the property will depend on the foreclosure stage it is at. Your real estate agent will contact the owner of the home or will be with you during the auction. During an auction, you need to stick to your budget and not get in a bidding war with another party.

When buying a short sale or bank-owned property, the offer should be contingent on having a home inspection. If there are significant problems, however, don’t expect the lender to make the repairs. Home inspections will generally be for informational purposes only. They won’t be interested in negotiations or fixing problems with the home, so walk away if the issues are too much for you.

Make sure you stay in line with all of the contract dates, so you don’t forfeit your earnest money.

Final Thoughts on Buying a Foreclosure

Do research where you can and avoid making a quick decision to reduce the risk. If you are prepared for the extra issues of a foreclosure property, you could find yourself a good deal. There should be far more due diligence on your part to make sure you’re not walking into a hornet’s nest. Hiring an attorney will be highly advisable to make sure your interests are protected.

Bill Gassett is a nationally recognized real estate leader who has been helping people buy and sell Metrowest Massachusetts real estate for the past 33 years. He has been one of the top RE/MAX REALTORS® in New England for the past decade. In 2018, he was the No. 1 RE/MAX real estate agent in Massachusetts. He works for RE/MAX Executive Realty in Hopkinton Mass.

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Categories: Real Estate

Ask the Expert: Useful Ways to Spend Your Time at Home

Daily Real Estate News - May 4, 2020 - 5:01pm

Today’s Ask the Expert column features Dan Steward, president and CEO of Pillar To Post Home Inspectors®.

Dan Steward
Pillar To Post Home Inspectors®

Q: What are your best tips for homeowners when it comes to useful ways to spend their time while at home?

A: As a homeowner, there’s no shortage of things that need to get done around the house—no matter the season. If you’re looking to get your property in tip-top shape, there’s no better time to take a close look around your home (inside and out) and put together a list of things that need some attention.

– Deterioration and rot can remove caulk and grout around a bathtub, which can cause leaks and lead to extensive damage to the surrounding walls. You can determine if there’s insufficient grout by checking between tiled enclosures for voids. Caulk integrity can be determined by gently pressing and checking for any sponginess, a sign of weakened integrity.

– Seals around kitchen and bathroom sink fixtures can become loose, leading to water damage in cabinets below. Examine seals and test them to see if they feel loose. If so, repair or replace them immediately.

– Add style to kitchens and bathrooms by installing new faucets. A stylish new kitchen faucet doesn’t have to cost a lot and can instantly update the look of the room. Updated faucets and towel bars in the bathroom will have a similar effect. While you’re at it, take a look at the door knobs and handle sets of interior doors. If the hardware is dated, unmatched or in poor condition, it may be time to replace it.

– Plants too close to a home’s siding can cause moisture damage and premature wear. Make sure to keep vegetation in control by keeping plants neat and trim.

– Downspouts often release against walls, which can cause the foundation to deteriorate, causing water to enter the basement. Redirect these downspouts away from the structure.

– Ensure that your property is safe by checking patios and walkways for cracks and loose bricks or pavers. These are a tripping hazard that should be addressed promptly.

– Inspect the irrigation system for broken sprinkler heads and emitters. Also, be sure to check for overspray, and adjust the system as necessary to prevent water waste.

– Update your home’s curb appeal by tackling basic maintenance and repairs. Clear clutter from the yard, clean up dead branches and trees, trim overgrown shrubs and keep the lawn mowed so that your property always has its best foot forward.

For more information, please visit

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Categories: Real Estate

Colorful Bowl Recipe Perfect for Mother’s Day

Daily Real Estate News - April 30, 2020 - 4:49pm

(TNS)—Even in these challenging times, we want to honor mom on her day. If you’re thinking about making something easy and light, this is perfect. It’s a colorful meal in a bowl with Asian flavors and will brighten up your dinner with very little effort. The only cooking needed is to microwave some rice. Use this recipe as a guideline if you don’t have all of the ingredients on hand, just substitute whatever vegetables or cooked meat, even deli meat you have using the proportions given in the recipe. This recipe is so easy, use it to cheer up your family on any day.

The dressing recipe is easy and quick, but you can use a bought ginger or Asian-flavored dressing, too.

Helpful Hints:
– Napa cabbage is also called Chinese cabbage. Bok choy can be used instead.
– Use a bowl about 8 inches in diameter. If a large bowl isn’t available, arrange the ingredients on a dinner plate.
– The recipe can be made ahead and refrigerated. Bring it to room temperature and add the dressing before serving.
– Use the leftover chicken from the rotisserie chicken for another meal or chicken salad.

– Make dressing and set aside.
– Prepare all ingredients.
– Assemble them into the bowls.

Shopping List:
To buy: 1 bottle reduced-sodium soy sauce, 1 bottle sesame oil, 1 bottle honey, 1 piece fresh ginger or 1 bottle ground ginger, 1 cucumber, 1 small head Napa cabbage, 1 red bell pepper, 1 package frozen or fresh edamame, 1 small rotisserie chicken (1/2 pound breast meat needed), 1 package microwaveable brown rice, 1 package fresh snow peas, 1 bottle unsalted peanuts, 1 bunch scallions.

Recipe by Linda Gassenheimer

1/2 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 tablespoon honey
1/2 tablespoon grated fresh ginger or 1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups napa cabbage, thinly sliced
1 cup sliced cucumber with skin
1 cup red bell pepper strips, cut lengthwise into strips
1 cup frozen or fresh shelled edamame
1/2 pound rotisserie chicken breast or dark meat, skin and bones removed, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup brown microwaveable rice
1 cup snow peas
1/4 cup unsalted peanuts
1/3 cup sliced scallions

Mix reduced-sodium soy sauce, sesame oil, honey and ginger together in a small bowl and set aside. Microwave rice according to package instructions, measure 1 cup. Save remaining rice for another meal. Set aside. Divide the cabbage between 2 large bowls. Divide the remaining ingredients including the rice in half to place in the two bowls. Add the cucumber slices to one side of the bowl. Place the red bell pepper strips and cucumbers, moving in a circle around the bowl. Add the edamame, rice and snow peas completing the circle. Add the chicken cubes to the center. Drizzle the dressing over the bowl ingredients. Sprinkle the peanuts and scallions on top.
Yield 2 servings.

Per serving: 599 calories (36 percent from fat), 24.1 g fat (3.6 g saturated, 9 g monounsaturated), 105 mg cholesterol, 49.1 g protein, 49.1 g carbohydrates, 9.5 g fiber, 216 mg sodium.

Linda Gassenheimer is an author of over 30 cookbooks. Her newest is “The 12-Week Diabetes Cookbook.” Find her on Facebook (@FoodNewsandViews) and Twitter (@LGassenheimer), and listen to her podcasts at

©2020 Tribune Content Agency, LLC
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Categories: Real Estate

The Guide to Rent-to-Own Homes

Daily Real Estate News - April 29, 2020 - 4:43pm

Have you been hearing about renting to own a home and wondered how it works? You are not alone, as many folks do online searches trying to understand the process involved. If you have some problems qualifying for a mortgage, a rent-to-own arrangement can seem like the perfect solution.

You avoid the need for a good credit score and don’t have to save a down payment. Two major stumbling blocks are removed for those who would really love to live in a particular property but might not be in a financial position to do so.

As great as renting to own might first appear, there are some downsides which you might not be aware of. We’ll take a look at the benefits and the problems when renting to own.

When you pay rent to your landlord, a portion of the monthly fee goes toward the purchase of the house. You will have to sign an agreement with the landlord covering how long the rental period will last and other important terms of the contract.

When the rental period ends, which is commonly between one and five years, you will have the chance to purchase the home. This can be great if you are unable to buy now, and it can be an excellent arrangement for the seller in a slow market. Sometimes the owner might not be ready to sell but would like an income stream—a win-win!

Sometimes a rent-to-own agreement can include a lease-to-own clause. This can protect the seller by obligating the tenant to purchase at the end of the agreement term. The lease-to-own clause can either be an option to purchase or a legally-binding contract to buy. Whichever of these contracts the seller wants you to sign, you should consult an attorney first.

Pros and Cons of Rent to Own
There are good things about renting to own, for both the buyer and the seller, but there are some significant potential pitfalls as well.

Pros of Rent to Own
For the tenant, it allows them to move into a home that they want to own even if their financial situation isn’t good enough to qualify for a mortgage. While they are living in the home, they have the opportunity to save for a down payment and improve their credit. It also means that the purchase price is fixed even if the value increases over the rental term.

From the landlord’s perspective, it gives them a greater opportunity to sell the home in a slow market. They could get more money for the property because of the advantages this type of sale offers to buyers. If the seller doesn’t take up the option to purchase at the end of the term, then the landlord gets to keep the extra money which has been paid.

Cons of Rent to Own
There are some significant risks for tenants under this type of agreement. If they are unable to qualify for a mortgage when the rental period ends, they will have spent more to live in the home than they would in a normal rental. They won’t get this money back, which will leave them with more of an uphill struggle to find a down payment in the future.

If the landlord doesn’t use the rental money to pay the mortgage, the property could end in foreclosure. The renter will lose the chance to purchase the home and they will also lose their place to live.

There is also the risk of the property’s value falling. This will leave the buyer paying more than the home is worth, and they may find it difficult to get a mortgage for the full amount.

The seller can lose out if the house prices rise and they have agreed to a lower price. There is also the possibility that they won’t sell the house at the end of the agreement and have to begin the sales process again.

The Rent-to-Own Process
The first stage is to work with the seller to agree to the terms of the contract. This will include the eventual purchase price, the rental cost, the maintenance responsibilities and the length of the agreement.

There will likely be more to pay than a normal rental agreement, including extra money that goes toward the purchase and a fee for the option to buy. This fee could be anywhere from 1 to 5 percent of the agreed value of the home and won’t be refundable.

As a buyer, you should treat an agreement like this with the same importance as if you were buying a home the normal way. Think of the money you are putting up as akin to losing your earnest money when buying a home. It is highly advisable to think about the transaction in these terms. For example, getting a home inspection and having the value appraised are two items that should be at the top of your due diligence list.
When you have signed on the dotted line, you have to make sure you make all your rental payments on time. If you don’t, you risk breaching the terms of the agreement and losing the chance to purchase the home.

Final Thoughts on Lease to Own
The choice of renting to own brings with it many risks for the buyer and a few for the seller. When entering into an agreement like this, careful consideration needs to be given as a buyer and you have to make sure you will be in a position to purchase when the contract ends.

You may find that the risks outweigh the chance to purchase, and waiting longer may be the better option. There are upsides and downsides for both parties in these type of real estate agreements. Hopefully, you now have a better understanding on how the rent-to-own process works, so you can make an informed decision.

Bill Gassett is a nationally recognized real estate leader who has been helping people buy and sell Metrowest Massachusetts real estate for the past 33 years. He has been one of the top RE/MAX REALTORS® in New England for the past decade. In 2018, he was the No. 1 RE/MAX real estate agent in Massachusetts. He works for RE/MAX Executive Realty in Hopkinton Mass.

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Categories: Real Estate

How to Strengthen Your Resolve to Exercise During Quarantine

Daily Real Estate News - April 27, 2020 - 4:27pm

(TNS)—The COVID-19 quarantine has left our routines in shambles, including our exercise routines. Without the structure provided by a daily schedule, it’s easy to have workout sessions fall by the wayside.

Consider the office worker who normally unwinds from a long day of staring at a computer screen by swinging past the gym on their way home to jump on an elliptical machine or take a yoga class. But when working at home, there are many other things that provide escape. You can catch up with a TV show you missed. You can play tug of war with the dog. Or you can just veg out.

So how do we keep motivated to exercise when plopping on the couch and eating ice cream is so tantalizing?

For starters, give up the notion that the inspiration to exercise is going to sweep over you like a sweaty tsunami.

“Stop waiting for or looking for a ‘feeling’ of motivation,” said Tom Nikkola, vice president of nutrition and virtual training at Life Time. “Like many other feelings, feeling motivated is something that comes and goes.”

“Exercise,” he said “needs to be a nonnegotiable if we want to stick with it. That’s especially the case right now for those of us sheltering in place. We’re surrounded by the comforts of home, and if exercise isn’t a nonnegotiable, we’ll talk ourselves out of it.
“We don’t need motivation when exercise is a nonnegotiable.”

One of the best ways to create an exercise mandate is to make an appointment with yourself, said Jennifer Menk, senior director of Health and Well-Being for the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities.

“You should be very intentional about it,” she said. “You should dedicate time in your schedule for it. Schedule a workout just like you schedule a meeting. And if you can, do it the same time every day. It’s important to be consistent.”

It also helps to be consistent in where you work out.

“If it’s possible, you should set up an exercise area,” Menk said. “It doesn’t have to be a big area. Just a place where you can say, ‘This is where I do stretches’ or ‘This is where I jump rope.'”

During the quarantine, the vast majority of fitness centers are offering online training sessions (some require club membership, but others are open to everyone). Offerings cover the gamut from strenuous boot camps to soothing meditation sessions. Both Nikkola and Menk highly recommend them.

“You don’t feel so alone,” Menk said. “You can tell who else is there. There can be 40 or more of us there.”

This is motivating for people who enjoy the social aspect of workout classes.

“You get energized when you’re around other people actively pursuing health and fitness,” Nikkola said. “Nothing is as effective as that live community. However, that’s not possible for most of us right now. For now, connecting with others online who are committed to health and fitness helps you shape your thinking and behavior.

“One other benefit of finding an online health and fitness community is that the conversations tend to be more positive. Where there’s so much negativity and divisiveness online, pursuing fitness has a unifying effect on us.”

A classic piece of motivational advice is to have a workout partner whose presence makes you less likely to skip a session. Social distancing makes that difficult, but there are workarounds.

“You can have an accountability partner,” Menk said. “This is someone you can check in with” to report when you have worked out. And if you like a little challenge, you can compete to see who works out more.

If you lack discipline, it’s helpful to find a partner who won’t buy lame excuses.
“If you have a tendency to make poor health choices, you need someone to call you out on it with a certain level of candor,” Nikkola said. “It doesn’t feel good, but when you have someone who won’t let you lean on your excuses, you’ll be more likely to stop leaning on them.”

Many of the motivational steps that worked pre-quarantine still can be effective: Vary your exercise routine to avoid boredom. Keep a workout log (“What is tracked is done,” Menk said). Set a series of smaller, achievable goals instead of a big, pie-in-the-sky objective. And speaking of pie, “Earn the food you eat,” Nikkola said.

Need one more incentive? With all the emotional turmoil that has come with the COVID-19 pandemic, working out is more important than ever.

Exercise relieves stress and anxiety, Menk said. “There’s no doubt about it—you benefit mentally as much or even more than you do physically.”

©2020 Star Tribune
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Categories: Real Estate

Tips for Your Next Virtual Happy Hour or Party

Daily Real Estate News - April 23, 2020 - 4:04pm

(TNS)—We have all suddenly and somewhat unwillingly been ushered into the age of the social video call.

Yes, we’ve all been on a few video conferences for work here and there—a necessary evil of remote teams and global businesses. But this is the first time we’ve all found ourselves celebrating birthdays, baby showers, engagements and even weddings with our friends and family compacted into boxes on a screen. The ink was barely dry on the shutdown orders last month before people started organizing happy hours, game nights, book clubs, watch parties, brunches and other gatherings online.

The age of social distancing has proved to be remarkably social. But there’s a bit of a learning curve to using video conferencing, even if you’ve done it for work before. The etiquette and expectations are a little different when you’re just vibing with your friends— but they still exist.

There’s a lot of overlap between pro tips for using Zoom, Skype or Google Hangouts for work and with your friends.

If you’ve never joined or set up a video call before, our ultimate guide to hanging out with your friends online has instructions. Once you’re ready to attain the next level of video-conferencing capabilities, come back here.

Using your laptop is better than your phone. You’ll quickly discover that holding a phone up at face height for an extended period of time is no fun. The video and sound quality tend to be lower coming from your phone. Also, if you have your laptop set up on a table in front of you, it’s easier to eat and drink. It also makes it feel a little more natural if you need to get up—like you’re just pushing your chair back from the table at a dinner party instead of making everyone else stare at your ceiling as your phone sits face-up while you refill your drink.

With Zoom, gallery view is better than speaker video. With speaker video, the person who’s making the most noise is a big picture, while everyone else is in a little bar at the side or along the top. Speaker view makes sense when you’re watching a work presentation but feels less natural in a group setting. Sometimes, more than one person is talking, or some other noise prompts the camera to switch over, like sirens outside or a dog barking. Gallery view gives you the “Brady Bunch”-style grid where you’re all in the same sized window. To change which view you’re seeing, go to the top right of the screen and click “Gallery View.”

Muting yourself still applies. In a get-together with a couple of other friends, sure, leave yourself unmuted. But when five or more people are joining the video call, it’s polite to mute yourself when you aren’t speaking. Laptop and phone microphones pick up sound differently than our ears do. What sounds to you like the normal hustle and bustle of making dinner in the background while you listen to your friends talk might be a magnified banging and clashing to them.

To look your best, put your laptop on a stack of books and check your background before you go live. I covered this in my complete guide to working from home, but it all still applies here. Put your laptop on top of a stack of books so the camera is at about eye level while you’re sitting down. Otherwise, you risk incurring the dreaded down-facing double chin.

Your friends are going to care less about what your house looks like than your boss might, but it’s still good to tidy up before guests come over, even if they’re only in attendance virtually.

“In a sense we’ve all become set designers,” said Mark Marino, who says he’d used Zoom a handful of times before coronavirus but now uses it regularly in his job as a professor who teaches writing at USC.

Just double-check that people aren’t staring at a mountain of dirty laundry or empty cans before you click “join meeting.” An alternative: Queue up some good virtual backgrounds.

Be the host with the most.

If you’re hosting the meeting with Zoom, you’ll need to upgrade to a Pro account or have to restart the meeting every 40 minutes when the free version runs out. Google Hangouts and Skype don’t set time limits. Try to start your gatherings on time so people aren’t left hanging on the hold screen.

Also, if you’re setting it up, plan some games that take advantage of the technology instead of trying to work around it. For more on that, keep reading.
OK, we’re on the call. Now what?

Social events via video conference require a bit more planning and finesse than a casual hang.

Plan things to do other things than just talking.

In a normal party setting, you’d split off and have side conversations among a few people and migrate around to different groups. Here, you have to keep a conversation going among everyone at once. That’s challenging. If you’re hosting, it might be more helpful to set an agenda so people know what to expect: “We’ll chat from 6 to 6:30-ish, then I was thinking we could (play some games / do a scavenger hunt / watch the new season of “Nailed It!” on Netflix / work on our separate crafting projects simultaneously.)”

We have a ton of ideas for that in our ultimate online hangout guide. A few to get your started: Jackbox games, virtual card and board games on, or tabletop RPGs—either standbys like Dungeons and Dragons, or ones designed specifically to be played virtually, like the #ZoomJam games Mark Marino’s students have been challenged to make. Party classics like Charades, Pictionary and Bingo are easily transferable to a video call.

Another idea: Be apart, together.

Pull out your Nintendo Switches and play Animal Crossing (the ultimate game for this moment in history) at the same time. Do crafts or a DIY project. You don’t have to be actively engaging with one another the entire time to feel together. Jennifer Peepas, who writes the advice blog Captain Awkward, called it “parallel socializing.” She and her friends have logged onto Zoom to knit together.

Scavenger hunts can take advantage of your separate locations and be a fun opportunity to move around a bit. The host names an object and everyone else has a certain amount of time (say, 30 seconds) to find it in their own house. A coffee mug with writing on it. A twist tie. A sock in a color other than white. A roll of toilet paper. (Credit where credit is due: I first heard of this idea on Twitter and vowed to steal it. Mission accomplished.)

PowerPoint Parties take advantage of digital screen-sharing technology. Everyone prepares a short presentation on a topic they’re enthusiastic about, whether it’s sourdough discard recipes or obscure unsolved mysteries or reality TV contestants. Then you take turns sharing.

Know when to say goodnight.

You aren’t the only person who feels totally worn out by these. A video call requires you to be “on” and maintaining conversation and eye contact in a way you don’t have to if you’re all meeting up at a bar. Marino likened the psychic exhaustion to “encountering a dementor in Harry Potter”—it’s just a weird, soul-sucking experience. And the fact that you can see your own face all the time is frankly perturbing. Feel free to have a sticky note on hand to keep yourself out of your line of sight.

So don’t plan an all-nighter. The general rule of thumb is that the more people on the call, the shorter it should be. I have found that the one-hour-to-90-minute range tends to be the sweet spot for most online gatherings that involve more than one or two other people.

Excusing yourself from the call can be a little tricky. Most of the reasons we give to leave a social situation no longer apply. You don’t need to beat traffic. You don’t have to get home to let the dog out. You probably don’t have somewhere else you need to be (though more and more people are finding themselves double-booked for Zoom hangouts these days).

“Just say, ‘it’s time for me to take off,’ ‘time for me to go,’ that’s it,” said Lizzie Post, the president of the Emily Post Institute. She said to resist the urge to pretend you’re having technical difficulties or the WiFi is going out. Your friends will get it and probably be relieved to have an excuse to say, “You know, I’m gonna get going too.”

“Most people are going through waves of being in weird headspace of wanting to connect or not wanting to connect or needing to get things done,” Post said. “Have confidence saying things like, ‘Hey, guys, I’m gonna take off, it’s been really fun chatting with you all, see you soon.”

Peepas, the Captain Awkward advice writer, said if you don’t feel comfortable being that assertive, use some outside help: an oven timer.

“If you’re trying to keep in touch with people, you do want to talk to them but you know you don’t want to do it for an hour, set a timer in another room (for however long you’d like to talk), and then enjoy your call,” she said, “and when the oven timer goes off, just say, ‘Oh, that’s my timer! I’ll talk to you next week.'”

It creates an invisible external force that the person you’re talking to likely won’t question. Up to you whether you decide to put something delicious in the oven to bake first.

©2020 Los Angeles Times
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Categories: Real Estate

Coronavirus: Should Young Adults Move Back in With Mom and Dad?

Daily Real Estate News - April 19, 2020 - 1:04pm

(TNS)—Andres Vidaurre’s story is a lot like those of the many young adults who make their way to Los Angeles in search of work and a vibrant, diverse city to call home.

The 27-year-old Houston native moved here two years ago after attending Notre Dame University and settled down in a five-bedroom home in northeast Los Angeles that he found on Craigslist. He has roommates—22 to be exact. Each tenant pays $580 a month and each room has several bunk beds.

Vidaurre loved the vibe, and so when the house manager moved out, he took over the role, which allowed him to live there for free. The additional work came with a new set of headaches, but his duties never included “pandemic response”—until last month.

On March 14, one of his roommates texted to say he had tested positive for the novel coronavirus and had moved back with his family in Fresno.

Vidaurre delivered the news to his roommates. Almost everyone handled it calmly, he said. But there were a few exceptions, including one who started packing and left that night on a 13-hour drive back to his parents’ home in Oregon.

But moving back in with his parents isn’t an option for Vidaurre, the way it might be for others in their mid-20s. His mom has an autoimmune disorder.

“Going to Houston and coming into contact with them is really not a desire I have right now,” he said. “I just really hope they stay inside.”

In the last month, as the headlines about the pandemic have become grimmer, young people in cities across the country have contemplated the possibility of moving home to live with their parents or extended family.

Some of them can’t afford it. Others, like Vidaurre, worry that they might be asymptomatic and put their medically frail relatives at risk, as some reports suggest that infection is more likely to happen in clusters, such as with a family living under one roof.

But many others are returning to their childhood bedrooms and setting up workstations in the dining room of homes where food—and support—are in ample supply. The trade-off is often living in a household where siblings are sleeping nearby and families are trying to figure out who will do a video-conference from what room.

Decisions to stay or go have been made under pressure, sometimes in haste. For those who have moved home, it’s not clear how long they’ll be there. It’s highly unlikely that anyone was thinking about their emotional or financial independence, but their decisions could very well influence the way they and their parents navigate the world for the rest of their lives.

Young people who are hunkered down far from their immediate families may be confronted with parents whose separation anxiety is growing. Subtle cues may be missed; estrangements may be amplified.

But no one can think about any of that right now. The future will have to wait.

Cole Gilbert, 26, says the seriousness of this pandemic sneaked up on him. As California schools closed and Gov. Gavin Newsom told people over age 65 to stay home, Gilbert said, he continued to live a “normal” life, going out for drinks March 14 at a packed bar in Venice, where he lives.

Then, days later, Newsom asked restaurants to close to dine-in guests.

Gilbert thought about his routine and started to worry about washing his clothes at the laundromat. “I didn’t want to go to the grocery store,” anticipating a long shut-in.

“I feel like in a time of crisis, the places I retreat to are my comfort zones,” Gilbert said.

So he grabbed his dirty clothes, his two dogs and headed to his parents’ place in Long Beach.

Gilbert works as a production manager for his family’s aerospace finishing company. The Friday before he returned home, the company had furloughed half its staff as business dropped off. Gilbert wondered whether his move home might be permanent.

After business started to pick up again, the company was able to bring employees back on and Gilbert surveyed the landscape.

Living at home hasn’t been so bad.

“I’m more of a grown-up now about everything,” he said. “Going home and realizing I have responsibilities at the house. Now that I’m their guest, I’m not treating it like my home. I’m trying to do my part,” running errands and buying groceries.

Gilbert has given up his place in Venice and plans on being a Long Beach resident for the foreseeable future. But he swears it won’t be forever.

As the novel coronavirus continues its assault, how should families deal with the return of adult children who considered themselves launched?

Julie Lythcott-Haims is a former college administrator with two college-aged children who have returned to their Palo Alto home. Her 81-year-old mother lives in a small house on the back of the property and her 20-year-old son just came out of a 14-day quarantine after returning from Portland, where he lives and works.

The author of “How to Raise an Adult,” Lythcott-Haims said there’s a fine balance that parents need to strike between communicating the seriousness of following rules and young people’s desire for the independence they had when they were living on their own.

“Everybody is accustomed to greater autonomy and freedom, and now we’re in an environment where everyone is supposed to be locked down,” she said. “We kind of want to be sure everybody is abiding by the rules, and yet we’re all adults here. So I think there’s a lot of walking on eggshells about serious issues.”

Lythcott-Haims says this all fundamentally comes down to trust—whether the person has returned home or not.

For young adults who are far away from family, it’s also a fraught time. When twentysomethings are separated in moments like this, she says, they become more like peers with their parents. Trust comes when parents and adult children are able to have honest conversations about the risks they are facing and the precautions they are taking.

“I think they’re both worried about each other and they’re both having compassion for each other and wanting to check up and check in,” Lythcott-Haims says. “But inherently, each is required to look after oneself, which I think develops agency and resilience in those young adults who did not return home.”

Lucy Putnam, 23, didn’t have to travel far to get home. Still, it was a decision that gave her pause as she wrestled with the implications of getting her parents or siblings sick.

Putnam’s roommates at her apartment near Beverly Grove had been on the go, not paying much attention to social distancing before it was mandated. “I had been interacting with my roommates,” she said, so she asked her parents, “Would you prefer (for) me to stay in my apartment? I’m young and it won’t affect me.'”

No, her mother said, please come home.

Putnam, who works in film and TV development and can work from home, is grateful to have the means and the ability to ride this out in her childhood bedroom in West L.A. There was, however, the challenge of having a boyfriend, who had been coming and going from the house, which worried her parents. He eventually returned to his family’s home on the East Coast.

Three weeks into the stay-at-home order in Los Angeles, Vidaurre’s circle of roommates continues to shrink and his anxiety growing.

It turned out the housemate who returned to Fresno had not been infected with the coronavirus. He had influenza.

There are still about 15 people living in the house in northeast L.A.

With that many people in close quarters, Vidaurre feels like he constantly needs to clean dishes in the communal kitchen. When someone else begins cleaning, he wonders if the cutlery he just left to dry has been contaminated.

“It just increases the paranoia so much,” he said. “If it were possible to transition to living alone and creating an environment that can be clean and safe, I would do that.”

Vidaurre plans to be out of the house by the end of the month.

He and one of his roommates, Oko Carter, 30, share a box of disposable masks.

As with Vidaurre, Carter returning to his family isn’t an option. Both his grandparents are over 70 and not in great health. And his dad is a truck driver transporting medical equipment in Florida.

Carter’s dog-walking and dog-sitting business has dried up, but he has lived in Los Angeles for a decade, and he says that if he’s going to ride this out somewhere, it’s going to be here.

For now, he shares a room with two other people—one of whom works at a local 7-Eleven. Some of his housemates have lost their jobs or are struggling in the gig economy.

“The bedroom normally holds five people, but only three are here right now,” Carter says, sounding almost relieved. “It’s just been this feeling for those who have remained —it’s been a little sad seeing people who had work just have nothing.”

Still, Carter remains optimistic. He notes what’s been written on the dry-erase board in the communal kitchen.

“Keep your head up.”

©2020 Los Angeles Times
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Categories: Real Estate

7 Ways to Help Recession-Proof Your Finances

Daily Real Estate News - April 16, 2020 - 4:45pm

(TNS)—It’s not often that almost every American knows in real-time that an expansion has ended and a recession has begun—but the novel coronavirus is proving to be historic for more reasons than one.

Americans were in the middle of the longest economic expansion on record, a slow-but-steady recovery that took nearly a decade for wage growth and employment to catch back up after the Great Recession. But in a matter of days, confirmed cases of the deadly, contagious pathogen skyrocketed across the globe, forcing states to impose stay-at-home restrictions that have ultimately led to millions of layoffs and shuttered businesses.

More than 10 million Americans filed for unemployment in March, with virtually every industry seeing job loss, according to Department of Labor data. Meanwhile, estimates from Federal Reserve economists predict that joblessness could soar to 32.1 percent—higher than even during the Great Depression.

“This is so unprecedented in its sudden-stop nature,” says Nick Bunker, economic research director at the Indeed Hiring Lab. “It’s directly impacting industries that are not usually the front line of recessions.”

Expert Tips to Help Make Your Finances Recession Proof
Americans won’t know for sure that they’re living in a recession until the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Business Cycle Dating Committee says so. This private, non-profit group of economists is the sole arbiter of declaring when a recession starts and ends.

Typically, it takes months, if not a year, for the group to announce that exact timeline. The committee, for example, declared in December 2008 that the Great Recession began in December 2007.

A recession isn’t always characterized by a sudden plunge in business activity. Textbooks typically define the starting point of a downturn as the point when things just aren’t as good as they were.

But even though the economic outlook is looking grim right now, it’s never too soon to ensure that your finances are well-equipped to weather any storm. Here are seven tips to help recession-proof your finances, as recommended by experts.

Pay Down Debt
It’s crucial that you pay down any outstanding debt—more specifically, high-cost debt, such as your credit card balance—to create some breathing room in your budget.

As the coronavirus has demonstrated, economic downturns can often lead to job loss. If you’re worried about job security, paying off your obligations might bring you more peace of mind.

Prioritize credit card debt, then turn to other types of loans, such as mortgages or auto loans. Student loans, however, have more favorable provisions, which makes paying them off less of an urgency, says Greg McBride, Bankrate chief financial analyst.

Even if you’re not worried about losing your job in a downturn, it’s still good financial practice. A March 2019 Bankrate survey found that 13 percent of Americans aren’t saving more because of the amount of debt that they owe.

“Regardless of where we are in a market cycle, prioritize eliminating high-interest rate debt no matter what,” says Lauren Anastasio, CFP, a wealth adviser at SoFi, a personal finance company. “Being in a position where you’ve eliminated those types of high-cost obligations allows you to better prepare for other things financially. The more you’re able to put aside for saving and the less debt you have, it’s going to be available to you in case of an emergency.”

Use Bankrate’s tools to calculate a debt-payoff plan or take advantage of balance-transfer credit cards with zero percent intro APRs. These offers disappeared in 2008, Anastasio says, so they’re likely not going to be around when the next downturn comes.

Boost Emergency Savings
Job loss can also make it difficult for Americans to pay their day-to-day expenses.

Beefing up your emergency fund—that is, the pool of cash that you reserve specifically for events like downturns—can make it possible for you to still afford your necessities while you search for a new position.

Even if you’re paying down debt, it’s important that you prioritize saving. Focus first on loading up your emergency fund with one month’s worth of living expenses. After that, pay off your debt, and then focus on building up a reserve of three-to-six month’s worth of funds, Anastasio says.

“Everyone needs to have a cash cushion, even while they’re attempting to pay off high-interest rate debt,” Anastasio says. “It’s imperative because, if an emergency arises and you’re putting every dollar toward eliminating debt, you have no choice but to go back to credit cards to cover the expense.”

A high-yield savings account can help you earn more on the money you stash away. Shop around for the best account that suits your needs and lifestyle.

Identify Ways to Cut Back
It’s always a good idea to go through your monthly expenses and identify which items are discretionary—services or items you don’t need—and which items are a necessity. The discretionary items are most likely ones that you can either eliminate now or in the future, McBride says.

“Certainly, your starting point would be the discretionary items—subscription services or even just spending patterns,” McBride says. “Dinners out or nights out at the bar with friends can seriously add up over time.”

Live Within Your Means
Experts typically recommend spending no more than 30 percent of your net income (that is, earnings after taxes) on discretionary items. It’s a good idea to create a monthly budget to ensure that you’re living within your means and not overspending.

“You have to pay your rent; you have to pay your car insurance; you have to eat to live. Your groceries, your utilities—those are all going to be essential expenses,” Anastasio says.

“But dining out, vacations, cable—anything that you would potentially consider a luxury or a lifestyle expense—that’s discretionary spending.”

Focus on the Long Haul
After addressing your emergency savings and paying off your debt, your next worry when thinking about a downturn might be about your investments. The thought of the markets plummeting might make you fearful that you’ve lost all of your earnings after years of hard work.

Changing your strategy, however, would be the worst thing you could do, McBride says.

“It will take a tough stomach, because in a recession a stock market will easily fall 30 to 40 percent, peak to trough, but making regular contributions and reinvesting all of the distributions will make those market gyrations work to your benefit,” McBride says. “A recession is a tremendous buying opportunity.”

That goes for all individuals, whether you’re 20 or two years away from retiring, he says. If you’re planning to retire in the next few years, when a recession looks like it could be coming, it might be a good idea to have your first few years of withdrawals already in cash. But don’t shy away from equities in your portfolio. Those are often where you’ll get the most returns that provide inflation protection, he says.

“Do not make changes that jeopardize your long-term financial security based on short-term economic events,” McBride says. “Even for someone who is on the cusp of retirement, retirement is going to last 25 to 30 years. A recession is going to last a year.”

Identify Your Risk Tolerance
Still, it might not be a bad idea to work with a financial adviser on identifying your risk profile, Anastasio says. That includes identifying your risk tolerance—or how much risk you can afford to withstand—and your risk appetite—or the amount of risk you’re willing to take on.

Risk suitability is also another important factor, Anastasio says, a component that’s based on when someone plans on cashing out their investments. If you’re going to change your investing strategy at all, let it be based on this, she says.

“The sooner we expect someone to use the money, that’s where they’re going to need to be more conservative with their options: high-yield savings accounts, CDs,” Anastasio says. “On the other end of the spectrum, when we’re looking to invest for eight to 10 years or longer, that’s when it tends to be more appropriate to be invested in equities or stocks as a whole.”

Continue Your Education and Build Up Skills
But to recession-proof your life, one of the best investments you can make is pursuing an education, says Tara Sinclair, an economics professor at George Washington University and a senior fellow at Indeed’s Hiring Lab. During recessions, the unemployment rate for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher is much lower than for those who have a high school education or less.

“Economists are always emphasizing the importance of education,” Sinclair says. “That’s something, even if you can’t build up a financial buffer, focusing on making sure that you have some training and skills that are broadly going to be employable is really crucial.”

Why Predicting Recessions Is Difficult
The novel coronavirus underscores just how difficult it is to predict what will cause that turning point. At the beginning of 2020, a rapidly spreading contagion wasn’t on anyone’s radar

Even worse, information is often revised, updated and corrected. It’s released with a lag. Even so, developments shift rapidly. Fed officials, for example, pledged to keep interest rates steady through all of 2020. But they ended up slashing rates to near-zero at two emergency meetings, as the coronavirus devastated financial markets and the U.S. economy.

“Some people say economists exist to make weather forecasters look good,” Sinclair says. “The complexity of the macro economy is such that we haven’t yet figured out a clear, causal model of how things work. We can’t predict with any kind of confidence what’s going to happen, particularly when things are changing dramatically.”

Plan for the Unexpected When It Comes to the Economy
Recessions are typically defined as a drop in output or a slowdown in growth. Though most economists would lump the two causes of recessions into supply shocks or demand shocks, each of the past 33 recessions (as tracked by the NBER Business Cycle Dating Committee) have been caused by something a little different, Sinclair says.

“Obviously, if recessions were easily predictable and preventable, we’d expect policymakers to be doing just that,” Sinclair says. “If we think back to 2007, many people asked, ‘How did we not see it coming?’ But that’s the nature of recessions. They are these terrible things that we can’t predict.”

Even so, economies don’t always react to shocks in the same way. Markets panicked after the Fed in December hiked rates for the fourth time in 2018, fearing that too much monetary policy tightening would spur a downturn. The markets, however, bounced back in 2019, flirting with new highs.

If officials make progress containing the virus, investors will likely calm down.

Bottom Line
It’s hard to predict the future when you’re using the past as a guide, Sinclair says.

“Our economy is changing so dramatically,” according to Sinclair. “There’s many different sources that can lead to a recession, and it tends to be that when we look out for the next one, we’re looking for the same things that caused the recession rather than recognizing that there’s a new source.”

But you can take solace in the fact that economists are generally much better at knowing whether the U.S. economy is in a recession, Sinclair says. Even though predicting them is close to impossible, you won’t have to wait long before knowing that the U.S. economy is in one. That’s the case with what’s happening right now.

Downturns never come at a good time, but that was even more so with the coronavirus. Many Americans were already living paycheck-to-paycheck, while an October 2019 Bankrate survey found that 2 out of 5 Americans (or 40 percent) aren’t prepared for the next recession.

Regardless of whether the storm is on the horizon, it’s always a good time to make sure your financial portfolio is prepared, Anastasio says.

“I don’t think there’s ever a bad time to evaluate their finances and check in with themselves,” Anastasio says. “If someone personally feels nervous that there’s change on the horizon, it’s always a good time to say, ‘What can I do personally to put myself in a stronger financial position, so I can sleep better at night when the time comes.’ ”

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Categories: Real Estate

9 Ways to Save for a Down Payment

Daily Real Estate News - April 13, 2020 - 4:11pm

(TNS)—Saving money for a down payment on a home is one of the biggest obstacles facing buyers. Setting aside money for an extended period is tough because it requires discipline and the willingness to make sacrifices and to forego unnecessary spending.

How much should you save for the down payment? That depends. If you want to avoid the cost of private mortgage insurance, aim to save at least 20 percent of the purchase price of the home. If you plan to use an FHA loan or other program, the percentage can be 10 percent to as low as 2 percent.

How long should you plan to save for a down payment? This also depends on how much money you can comfortably set aside and how big the down payment will be. If you want to save enough money in just a year or two, plan on a low-down payment loan and/or a lot of cutting of expenses. Live with relatives, avoid eating out, defer retirement contributions‑—these are just some of the ways to get that down payment faster. Here are some more:

  1. Pay Off Your Credit Cards First
    When you carry credit card balances, the accumulating interest charges make it hard to wipe out that debt. By eliminating this debt, you pay less over time and significantly improve your credit score—a boon to getting a mortgage loan.

Pay off the cards with the highest interest rates first, then pay off the card with the second-highest rate, and so on.

You’ll have a lot more cash to build your savings by getting those money-sucking credit card bills out of the way.

  1. Ladder CDs to Boost Savings
    Once you free up some cash, put it to work to make yourself more money. Certificates of deposit are low-risk and relatively accessible. You can maximize the earning power of CDs by opening different certificates at varying maturity dates.

Instead of buying one big CD, spread your money into three-month, six-month and one-year certificates. This is called laddering—a strategy that gives you the flexibility to adjust your investment as rates change.

Laddering allows you to lock in when rates are higher. When rates are not so good, laddering keeps you from being stuck for long with low returns.

CD rates aren’t very high these days, but over time, they can protect your savings from inflation. And perhaps more importantly, they keep you from spending the money because you can’t access it until the end of a CD’s term without a penalty.

  1. Take Advantage of Special Programs
    There are numerous programs for homebuyers struggling to save for a down payment, especially first-time buyers. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored agencies that buy mortgages and package them as investments, as well as various non-profit and community groups, can aid buyers who are struggling to save down payments. There are also state agencies that may help.
  1. Tap Your IRA
    Tax laws allow you to withdraw up to $10,000 in IRA funds to buy your first home. If you’re married and you’re both first-time buyers, you each can pull from your retirement accounts, meaning a potential $20,000 down payment.

Even better is the IRS definition of first-time homebuyer. Technically, you don’t have to be purchasing your very first home. You can qualify under the tax rules as long as neither you nor your spouse has owned a principal residence at any time during the three years prior to the purchase of the new home. In these instances, Uncle Sam waives the penalty for early withdrawal, but with regular IRAs, you will have to pay tax on the money (plus a penalty if you’re under 59). Withdrawals from Roth IRAs, however, are tax- and penalty-free.

  1. Seek Out Someone Generous
    Aunt Edna always liked you best. Take advantage of that favored family status and see if she’s willing to give you the money toward the down payment. Tax law allows gifts up to a certain amount a year to be bestowed without tax consequences to either the giver or recipient. Known as the gift-exclusion, this tax-exempt amount is $15,000 for the 2019 and 2020 tax years. The gift exclusion isn’t limited to relatives; the cash gift can be from anyone.
  1. Ask for a Raise
    No luck finding a benefactor? It may be time to ask your boss for more money. Just make sure you do your homework and base your request for a raise on your accomplishments, and the company’s pay scale—not your housing needs.
  1. Get a Second Job
    Did your boss turn you down for that raise? Moonlighting could help you earn the extra money. This option makes the most sense for those who are young and not fully established in their professions.
  1. Put That Stimulus Check to Work
    The $2 trillion economic stimulus plan includes a first round of checks of up to $1,200 direct payments for eligible individuals, $2,400 for qualified married couples and also $500 per child to many Americans.

These funds can go straight toward your down payment. The law also allows people affected by the virus to take money from the IRA penalty-free if they are under age 59.

  1. Look for Lost Money
    There are about $23.8 billion worth of matured savings bonds that remain unredeemed, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. These bonds have been ignored or forgotten by their owners and aren’t earning a penny of interest. Make sure your bonds and other investments are still adding to your net worth.

You could also have money languishing in an old bank account. You can file a claim with the U.S. Treasury Department to recover lost, stolen or destroyed savings bonds. Or, check the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators to see if you have any unclaimed assets.

Best Places to Put the Down Payment Money
This is money you’ll need short-term, so you do not want to risk it. This means safe investments including savings accounts, CDs and money market accounts are best. You want the money to be there when you are ready to buy a house, which is why buying stocks is not a good move because of the volatility involved.

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