Is clutter making you crazy?

With as crazy busy as we all are…. I thought this might be appropriate. Take a minute – breathe and read this…

When was the last time you saw the top of your desk?  Your car seat?  The bottom of your briefcase?  Here are a couple of ideas on how to de-clutter your life and become more organized this year.

There are Two Types of Clutter

Peter Walsh (a de-clutter expert) says there is “memory clutter” (I-might-need-this-some-day) and “lazy clutter” that just accumulates over time.

Lazy clutter is junk mail, magazines, brochures, free stuff (you picked it up just because it was free), which just takes up space. If you haven’t given your clutter a second glance within the last 60 days, grab a trash bag and just start filling it.

Memory clutter reminds us of a person or a past event.  When you get rid of your lazy clutter, then sort through your memory clutter and make piles of what you think you need to keep and what will be thrown away.  Then either file it or throw it away.

Get Real

If you haven’t touched it in 6 months – get rid of it!  With each piece of clutter that you pick up, ask yourself: “Do I use this? How long has it been since I used it? Will I use it again? Is it worth the space it takes up?” The objective is to get rid of it—not move it to another area.

Don’t Buy Anything New

Even if it’s on sale or a great deal—don’t buy anything until you purge and de-clutter first.

Take Pride in Your Trash

Make a game out of it and see how much you can throw away.  Set up a competition with a friend and see who can get rid of the most trash.

Purge Again

If you still have piles of stuff you simply can’t part with, wait about 30 days and de-clutter again.  You’ll be surprised how much you’ll get rid of the second time around.

And when it comes to “memory” clutter…

Are you the type of person who has sticky notes all over your desk?  Or keeps a list of things to do on their phone or legal pad?  The problem here is that you have to “remember” to find it and then “remember” to take action or do something about it.

By setting up a calendar (electronic or book) and entering tasks and deadlines, this allows you permission to “forget” (i.e., declutter your memory) up until the time it pops up on your to-do or call list.

Please share some of the tips that you have used to create an organized work space or the calendar system that you use declutter your memory.

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25 Ways to dramatically increase the value of your home

Whether you are thinking of selling your home—or just want to spruce it up—here are some inexpensive ways to increase the value of your home. Some require plain old elbow grease.  Some require you spend a little bit of money.  However, each suggestion offered will take less than a day to complete (unless you consider yourself “home-improvement challenged”).

1.Cut bushes, trim trees, edge sidewalks and driveways

2.Install matching light fixtures

3.Refinish or paint your front door

4.Refinish your hardwood and tile floors

5.Clean out the clutter—everywhere

6.Shampoo your carpets

7.Power wash the exterior of your home

8.Install matching switch plates and outlet covers

9.Replace door knobs

10.Reseal your concrete or asphalt driveway

11.Oil your door hinges

12.Replace your doorbell

13.Paint your kitchen, living rooms & bathrooms

14.Add crown molding

15.Install a new mailbox

16.Get rid of weeds growing in cracks in sidewalks & driveways

17.Paint your front & back steps/deck

18.Power wash sidewalks & patios

19.Replace kitchen & bath with faucets that match

20.Hang a mirror to create the illusion of more space

21.Install new towel bars and toilet paper holders

22.Paint your fence or railings

23.Install new street numbers on your home

24.Plant perennials/flowers

25.Fertilize your lawn

What would you add to this list?

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Helping your homebuyers write a “Letter to the Seller”

In a hot real estate market, where there can be 7 offers on one home, your home buyers need that competitive “edge,” especially those who have to compete with “cash” offers.

However, presenting the homebuyer as a “person” and not just another “contract” appeals to the seller’s emotional side of the transaction—that they are selling their home to someone who cares about it as much as they do.

Not all buyers can write a great letter—so this is where you might pitch in to help them.  Here are a few tips to get them thinking about it from both the seller’s and the buyer’s point of view.

1.Flatter the Seller: Write about the reasons why they like the home, commenting on the decorating, how clean the home is, certain features that are unique versus the other homes they have viewed.

2.Why They Are the Best Buyers for the Home: Keep it short—and keep it personal. Two or three reasons are enough.  An example would be, “If we are lucky enough to buy your home, it would mean______.”

3.Paint a Mental Picture for the Sellers: Write about the things they intend to do if they win the bid. An example would be, “Your back patio is perfect and I can see our family and friends gather there for our annual pig roast.”

4.Show Financial Stability: Explain why they are financially able to buy the home, including a copy of a pre-approval letter, how long the buyers have been on the job and what they do for a living.

5.No Whining: Keep the letter positive and upbeat. The seller doesn’t care how many offers they lost out on, or if they want to buy the home because there are no stairs.

6.Ask the Question: This is the part where they ask the seller to consider their offer. An example would be, “We would be thrilled and honored if you would accept our offer.”

7.Recap the Important Reasons: This could be short sentences or bullet points listing the reasons why they want the seller to consider their offer.

8.Thank You: The thank you part of the letter is also important. Instead of signing “Yours Truly,” they might thank them for their time reading the letter and considering their offer.  If there are other family members (like children or parents), ask them to sign the letter too.

9.Grammar and Spell Check: While their “personality” has to shine through with the letter, spelling and grammar are important because they will also be “judged” on the level of care they put into writing it.

Other tips:

  • Read the homebuyers’ letter and make suggestions—they may have forgotten to mention an important reason to buy the home. A sentence might be confusing.  Or maybe it could be worded a little bit better.
  • Keep the letter to one page, or about 500 words.

Have you helped homebuyers write a letter to the seller?  What would you add to this list?

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Avoiding Coronavirus Scams

Whenever there is money involved, the scammers go into high gear.

I wanted to share this with you from the IRS website on the things scammers may say to access your financial and personal information.

The IRS reminds taxpayers that scammers may:

  • Emphasize the words “Stimulus Check” or “Stimulus Payment.” The official term is economic impact payment.
  • Ask the taxpayer to sign over their economic impact payment check to them.
  • Ask by phone, email, text or social media for verification of personal and/or banking information saying that the information is needed to receive or speed up their economic impact payment.
  • Suggest that they can get a tax refund or economic impact payment faster by working on the taxpayer’s behalf. This scam could be conducted by social media or even in person.
  • Mail the taxpayer a bogus check, perhaps in an odd amount, then tell the taxpayer to call a number or verify information online in order to cash it.

Reporting Coronavirus-related or other phishing attempts-

Those who receive unsolicited emails, text messages or social media attempts to gather information that appear to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), should forward it to phishing@irs.gov.

Have you received phone calls or emails like this from scammers?

Dollar Bank is celebrating it’s 165th anniversary this year!!

We are here to help with all your financial needs.

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How to help your sellers prepare for an appraisal

I want to begin by stating that not all homes that you sell will require an appraisal.  Some of them will qualify for the automated appraisal as determined by the lender or if the buyer is paying cash- no appraisal is needed. 

But when homes were selling like hotcakes, the property appraisal was one of the major hurdles for sellers, buyers and lenders—because values change so quickly. 

While the actual appraisal inspection may only take an hour or so, the appraiser must still go back to the office, do the research and write the report. 

Here are a few tips to share with the sellers to help move the process along more smoothly.

•Compile a list of recent improvements. If possible, include before and after pictures, and copies of paid receipts for the work completed. If major updates, detailed copy of the contractor’s bid.

•Make sure all areas are accessible, including the attic, basement and crawl spaces. This includes the garage.

•If the home is part of a homeowner’s association, include a copy of the fees paid and name and phone number of the association president or association administrator.

•Straighten up each room. Appraisers are required to photograph each room, and while it may not make a difference to them if the room is messy, there is an underwriter who may be less objective.

•If there are any unfinished projects, make sure the seller completes them before the appraiser’s inspection.

•If there are any easements, encroachments, or any unusual covenants associated with the title, provide a copy to the appraiser.

•If the seller knows of any recent “For Sale by Owner” sales that will help support the value, ask them if they are able to get additional information from the home buyers living there now. 

Prepare your sellers for one more thing:  Since the appraisal is paid for and completed for the buyer and the lender, the seller does NOT have the right to know the final value—that is, unless the buyer gives permission to share the information. 

So, what would you add to this list?

 

PS With Dollar Bank’s direct submit process for purchases we are closing loans in under 30 days so the appraisal is ordered as soon as the borrower esigns their loan application documents. Direct Submit lets us submit the loan to underwriting and obtaining a conditional loan commitment/approval- usually the only condition is the appraisal. Dollar Bank is getting your buyers home quicker!

 

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MI Deduction Reinstated

Congress recently reinstated the Mortgage Insurance deduction.

The new law is effective for amounts paid for MI attributable to the 2018, 2019 and 2020 tax years.

The federal government supports home ownership and helps make home ownership more affordable for more homebuyers through this MI tax deduction.

The federal MI tax deduction allows borrowers with adjusted gross incomes up to $100,000 to take advantage of the full MI tax deduction — 100% of the MI premium for a qualifying loan is subject to this tax deduction.

Borrowers with adjusted gross incomes up to $109,000 can take advantage of a partial MI tax deduction. For each additional $1,000 of gross household income above $100,000, the MI deduction is reduced by 10%, with a cutoff of any deduction at $109,000.

Married persons filing separately, with adjusted gross income of $50,000 or less are each able to deduct 50% of their MI premiums. For each additional $500 of gross household income above $50,000, the MI deduction is reduced by 5%, with a cutoff of any deduction at $54,500.

The deduction applies to existing homeowners as well as to first-time homebuyers. The MI tax deduction applies to MI premiums for purchase and refinance loans for “qualified residences” as defined in the Internal Revenue Code. This generally includes the borrower’s primary residence and one other qualified residence. Investor loans are not eligible. Arch MI’s Monthly, Single- and Split-Premium MI payment plans are all eligible for the tax deduction. For upfront payment plans, borrowers should consult with a professional tax adviser to determine the amount of the MI premium eligible for the tax deduction.

The current tax deduction legislation applies to MI premiums attributable to the 2018, 2019 and 2020 tax years. Congress has the power to extend the tax deduction to later years through future legislation.

The deduction applies to a “qualified residence.”. Generally, that includes the taxpayer’s principal residence and up to one other residence selected by the taxpayer for purposes of the deduction for qualified residence interest. Note: The other residence must be used for personal purposes by the taxpayer for 14 days or 10% of the days during the tax year that the unit is rented for fair value, whichever is greater, among other tax code criteria.

The MI tax deduction applies to purchases and refinances up to the amount of acquisition indebtedness as defined in the Internal Revenue Code. This could include first and second mortgages but may not include the full amount of a cash-out refinance. Borrowers with cash-out refinances should consult a professional tax adviser to determine the amount of MI premium eligible for the tax deduction.

In order to take advantage of the MI tax deduction, borrowers must include their MI premium payment information on an itemized tax return.

As always, consult your tax professional with any questions that relate to your personal tax return.

 

 

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8 Mistakes to Avoid if you’re thinking about building or remodeling a home

Have you ever walked into a home (either a brand new one or one that’s been around for 25 years or more) and said to yourself, “I wonder what the builder was thinking when they built this house?”

Maybe you are thinking of finally building your dream home. Or considering downsizing the one you currently own. Or need to remodel the one you currently live in.

Here are 8 things to keep in mind:

  1. Have a vision of what you want your home to look like. The floor plan is just the first step in the process. There a hundreds of thousands of decisions you will need to make. Take just the bathroom – what color tile? What pattern? Will the cabinets match? Faucets? Countertops? The floor? And that’s just one bathroom!
  2. Find the right people – By people, I mean an architect, a builder, sub-contractors, suppliers. Are they licensed and bonded? More importantly, can you get along with them? Do they offer suggestions? Are they difficult to deal with?
  3. Visit the construction site often – Be sure that the home/remodeling is being built to your expectations. Ask questions. Make suggestions. Visiting your home every other day is recommended.
  4. Building too big of a home – Don’t think about what size you need right now—but what you will need 7 to 10 years from now. A well-designed 3,000 sq. ft. home may work just as well as an ill-designed 5,000 sq. ft. home.
  5. Work that you can do to reduce costs – Ask the builder what sweat equity he/she will allow you to do to help reduce costs. Painting the walls or staining the trim. Maybe you have a friend who is a licensed electrician who would charge you less.
  6. Think about the upgrades – When a builder provides you with a price to build your home/remodeling, it’s usually based on “medium grade” materials. Take kitchen cabinets for example. What type, color and grade are included? Or should you pay $8,000 extra for solid maple cabinets instead? It depends on your budget and if you can find something that you like in the medium grade so you can use the money for something else. Other than you loving maple wood, there is very little resale value in upgraded cabinets when it comes time to sell. Consider only adding your MUST HAVE upgrades.
  7. Think about selling your home in the future – Even if you never plan to sell your home, your descendants may have to do so. Build your home so it’s not a nightmare to sell.
  8. Think about monthly mortgage payments – When you have been pre-approved for your mortgage amount there are a few things to consider.
    • What will the interest rate be when the home is completed?
    • How much will extra upgrades add to the monthly payment?
    • How much money will you need after the closing (window coverings, furniture, landscaping)?

If you’d like to see new homes that are available in Northeast Ohio without leaving your home- check out the virtual parade of homes 24/7 at http://www.ncbia.com.

The North Coast Building Industry Association site (www.ncbia.com) also has a list of builders, realtors, etc that can help you build or remodel a new home.

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How to get rid of “You’re Pre-approved” calls and junk mail using pre-screened opt-out

Do you get junk mail from other mortgage companies, insurance agents, credit card companies and car dealers with ads telling you that you have already been pre-approved to do business with them?

Well, let me tell you why!

Credit bureaus make a ton of money selling “credit profiles” to companies that are looking for a certain type of financial history. While they don’t know your social security number, the company sending you the pre-approved offer goes to the credit bureau and pays for a list based on certain criteria—criteria like minimum credit scores, geographic areas, mortgage or car loans, or outstanding credit card balances.

If you read the tiny, tiny print, they must also disclose that you were “pre-screened” and that’s why you were sent the marketing solicitation.

Also, in the tiny, tiny print (that you can barely read), they must disclose how to Opt Out so your name and address are not sold, which also eliminates some of your junk mail.

Instead of reading the fine print, I want to tell you how to opt out of receiving the pre-screened offers.

First, the website to visit is OptOutPrescreen.com/selection. You have a couple of options:

  1. You can opt out from receiving offers for five years. This can be done online but you’ll have to renew every five years.
  2. You can opt out permanently. However, you must download a form and MAIL it to the address provided.
  3. You can also opt back in if you opted out previously.

Here’s another link to Frequently Asked Questions that describes what happens when you opt out.

If you need help opting out, please feel free to call me.

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Shopping for a competent tax preparer

 Tax season is upon us, so I thought I’d share ….. 

Last year, the IRS announced that all tax-preparers are required to

• Register with the Federal Government

• Pass a competency test

• Take continuing education courses

• Obtain a federal Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) 

But, even if they are registered and have a PTIN number, it does not necessarily mean that they are competent.  In a recent audit, the IRS had found substantial errors—overlooking common deductions, or incorrectly interpreting the tax code.  

You might even want to hire another tax preparer to review previous tax returns to make sure you claimed everything you were entitled to deduct. 

Before hiring a tax preparer, consider the following:

• Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed

• Check to see if they have a PTIN number from the IRS

• If CPA or Attorney, check with your state’s professional board for complaints and if they have a current license

• Ask what continuing education courses they have taken within the last 12 months

• Ask if they belong to any professional organizations

• Ask how long they have been preparing tax returns

• Ask if he/she is familiar with the “type” of tax return you need to file

• Find out how they determine the fees you will pay (will it be hourly or flat fee?)

• How many clients have they represented in IRS audits?

 

Steer clear of tax preparers who claim they can get you a larger refund—without reviewing your paperwork first.

 

Steer clear of tax preparers who charge a “percentage” of your refund—the tax return may contain inaccurate info in order to pump up the refund amount.

 

Steer clear of tax preparers who have “a lot” of experience with representing clients who have been audited—this may be a sign that they claim “questionable” deductions.

 

If you need a good tax preparer, please email or call me, because being in the mortgage business, I know several who are truly competent and I know will help you get your tax return filed accurately and filed on time.

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Have you ever been fired by a client?

Have you ever been “fired” by a client?  

Unfortunately, it happens. 

Experts tell us that the main reason is the real estate agent/builder/sales professional did not live up to the client’s “expectations.”  While it can be difficult to know what those are at any given time, here is a list of five questions that every real estate agent/builder/sales professional should be prepared to answer.  In fact, a written document with this information would be ideal so you can review with the client before they sign the buyer agency or any agreement.

1.What are your working hours? If you say you are available 24/7/365, be prepared to back it up by answering your phone at 2 am.  If not, be very specific.  Certain times of the day.  Days of the week.  Or if your client has a unique work schedule, a mutually agreeable time.

2.What’s your experience? Review the types of transactions you specialize in.  List the designations that you have earned.  People don’t understand “real estate/mortgage lingo” so give a short description of your niche, including what education was involved in getting your designations.

3.How many successful transactions have you closed? You don’t have to be the highest producer, but they need to know the number of transactions, the type of sales and over what period of time.

4.What to expect if you are sick, out of town or not able to call – Is there another agent, an assistant or a team to back you up? Or will they have to wait till you can get in touch with them?

5.Ask them what they EXPECT from you – It’s critical that you ask and understand what the client expects from you. Take notes, read the list back to them, and make sure you know exactly what they mean.

 

After your meeting, I suggest that you send an email outlining what you discussed, including what you think they expect from you. 

Communication is the key to happy clients! 

And I can assure you that “communication” between you and your clients is at the top of my priority list!

 

P.S What form of communication do you prefer during the loan process- phone call or email updates??

 

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