Category Archives: Real estate advice

Why Hiring a Licensed Contractor is a Smart Move

Hiring a Licensed Contractor

Hiring a Licensed Contractor

 

Hiring a Licensed Contractor

 

You’ve decided to remodel your kitchen, move walls, update bathrooms and take advantage of the equity you could be building in your home. If you’ve never done these types of renovations you will probably want to hire a contractor to do the work for you. Keeping the costs down is always important, but the one place you don’t want to cut corners on is hiring a licensed contractor.

 

 

It can actually save you money

 

 

While paying significantly less for the seemingly same work may seem like a steal, hiring a licensed contractor can actually save you money. Unlicensed and uninsured contractors are able to offer lower prices because they often don’t carry worker’s compensation insurance required by the state. This means that if an employee is hurt on the job in your home you could be liable for missed work and bills due to injury if you go with the less expensive unlicensed contractor.

 

 

Have questions about how much your home is worth after renovations? Contact us today!

 

 

Licensing also ensures that they are knowledgeable their field. This can save you money by not only having the work done correctly the first time, but for legal fees in going after an unlicensed person who did shoddy work or did not complete the work paid for. What you’re paying for is more than work, it’s peace of mind.

 

 

 

Finding reputable contractors

 

 

The state of Florida has recently cracked down on unlicensed contractors. According to the Tampa Bay Times, 11 people face felony charges of doing work that requires a license without worker’s compensation. There are resources to help you find the best, licensed company or individual to do the work you need. Visit the Better Business Bureau here to find accredited, trustworthy businesses. You can also visit the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation here. They have a list of work that requires and does not require a license. You can report unlicensed activity here.

 

 

Understanding HOA Rules: Why it’s Important

price group realtors st pete

 

Home Owner’s Associations have a variety of different functions. They may collect fees that are collected monthly, quarterly or yearly and cover anything from gates to the community, buildings, landscaping and general maintenance of the common areas. There are also rules, or covenants, that must be followed.

 

These covenants can be quite restrictive, but with the right HOA rules not only will your neighborhood remain beautiful and functioning well, your property value will not be diminished due to neighbors untidy keeping of their homes. Understanding these rules before you buy is crucial because once you agree to them, changing the ones you cannot live with can be quite difficult.

 

First, read the HOA documents thoroughly. Then think about how the rules will affect your way of life. To put is plainly, if you own a boat and large trucks, you may want to reconsider the condo where the HOA prevents you from owning a vehicle larger than mid-sized SUVs. If something isn’t clear, ask your realtor for clarification. After all, a professional realtor will know or find the answers for you.

 

Want more home-buying tips? Check out our buyer’s guide here!

 

Also, double check to see if the home you fell in love with isn’t already out of compliance with the current HOA rules. Otherwise that’s an extra expense you may have to deal with, or rely on the seller to fix which can delay closing. Something as small as an unapproved paint color can be a major pain if you’re not expecting it.

 

Finally, double check that there aren’t any major assessments coming up. (This is something your realtor should ask, too.) Sometimes condo buildings and communities will have assessments to make major changes, improvements or repairs to the community. This means each resident is charged a fee to cover these costs. While you’re at it, check to see what kind of insurance the HOA has. Especially in St. Pete where (knock on wood) we are vulnerable to flooding and hurricanes.

 

 

Thinking of Selling Your Home?

If you’ve been sitting on the fence on whether or not to sell your home, it’s time to hop off. According to an article in the Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Bay led the state in sales of single family homes for the month September.

homes for sale in tampa bay

 

The article goes on to say that within our area home prices rose over 13% while the state average was around 11% growth. Pinellas’ gain was at 16.6%. Let’s break that down: If you were reluctant to sell your home valued at $250,000, you could sell it now for $41,500 more. Competition is fierce now with the new generation of millennial first time buyers, which means selling your home just got easier.

 

In order to sell your home, all you need to do is make the decision to call us. We can handle the rest. Now is the time to contact us. Our proven track record in aggressive marketing, alongside our huge online presence puts us in the top 1% of Realtors in Pinellas County. Call us today, to find out what we can do for you!

Tips For Buying A Home in St. Petersburg

Buying a home is an exciting event. It can also be stressful. The Price Group can help make your transition into your new home seamless. Here are some tips for buying a home in St. Petersburg.

Get your finances in order.tips for buying a home

Consider the costs of buying a home. Ideally, you want to have money saved for closing costs, down payments, inspections and moving and repair costs. Also consider costs after move in. Some of the missed costs of a home are insurance, property taxes and HOA dues. Let buyers know you’re serious and get pre-approved for your home loan. Not only will this save you time because you’ll be looking at houses you can afford, it will also give you an edge against a buyer who may not have lending set up. Also, don’t move money around or open up any credit lines at least six months prior as this may affect your loan.

Use your instincts, not your heart.

Remember that there is no such thing as a flawless house. Buyers should not expect the seller to address every cosmetic issue in the home. The main thing to remember is to keep your expectations realistic. There may be some issues the buyer may need to compromise on in order to find their dream home. (For example, walls can always be painted.) The same can be said for the neighborhood you choose. Researching the neighborhoods and surrounding areas can help you focus in on available houses and make the search less overwhelming. 

Some neighborhood questions you may want to consider:

  • Are there schools nearby?
  • Do the amenities in the neighborhood fit my lifestyle?
  • What is the commute to work like?
  • Are there public utilities such as recycling, garbage, water, etc?

(Psst – You can visit our Links & Resources page for local government, school, and neighborhood information.)

Stay on top of deadlines.

This is something your realtor should help you with, especially if you’re a first time home buyer. Depending on the closing dates and type of property the schedule can vary. Some of the most important events that you want to keep track of are escrow deadlines, final walk-thru, and closing. Other things to consider are making sure your utilities are canceled, opened, or transferred and packing up your home to move.

(Use our handy moving schedule so that you know what needs to be done when during the closing process.)

Moving in.

You made it! Home ownership is finally yours and you deserve to celebrate. But before you do, you have to move in. In the weeks before the move-in day, you should inventory your home and decide what to keep and what can be donated in order to de-clutter and make your move easier (the fewer boxes to carry the better). If you’re done with the days of bribing friends with pizza and beer to help, professional movers may be a great option for you. It may also be a good idea to have your furniture cleaned before you have it moved into the new home. Lastly, check out local restaurants and food delivery service such as Uber Eats. After a long day (or two) of moving, the last thing you’ll want to do is make dinner. Order in or go out and enjoy what your new neighborhood has to offer.

Insurance companies issues

Insurance company underwriting guidelines force sellers to spend thousands of dollars on upgrades so buyers can obtain insurance, without insurance a buyer isn’t able to obtain a mortgage.

More and more we see changes in what insurance companies requires before they will bind a policy. Some of the bigest issues we are seeing in St. Petersburg FL is electrical upgrades to come build before the 50’s. Homes build before this date often have cloth wiring which today is almost impossible to insure today.

Before considering selling a home, have the wiring checked, if you have cloth wiring, have it replaced before you list the home. I recommend this so you have time to shop around and get the best price rather than working on a timeline in the contract and end up paying more.

Another possible issue we see coming up is galvanized water supply lines, over the last 6 to 12 months home inspectors are required to list the percentage of galvanized supply lines in a home on a 4 point insurance form, right now I’m not seeing insurance companies requiring it be replaced before they write a policy, however when they start gathering information like this I see a change in the near future.

Considering selling or buying a home? Might working with a Realtor who knows about construction & keeps upto date with insurance requirements help to keep the sale on tract and deal with issues in advance? Call us today.

4 Tips for a No-Stress Move

Moving can lead to new, exciting possibilities, but it also means leaving behind the people and places you love. While some sentimental items can be taken to your new place, many memories just aren’t transportable. To ensure your treasured belongings arrive safely to your new home, be prepared with these no-stress tips.

1. Make Room for New Memories

Taking every item of sentimental value with you to your new home is not always possible. Moving is the perfect opportunity to organize and purge items you don’t need or won’t use in your new home. To lessen the load on moving day, hold a garage sale or donate unwanted items to a local charity. If you’re trying to sell your current home, the less clutter the better.

Once you’ve determined which objects will make the move, decide where they’ll go in your new place. Make the unpacking process simpler by creating a plan for your new space in advance and pack according to where things will go, not by where they’ve been.

2. Organize, Don’t Agonize

Starting the process early can help avoid nerve-wracking, last-minute packing, and give you time to be a bit nostalgic. Before you begin boxing things up, take videos and photos of each room to preserve your memories of that space. Don’t forget to include outdoor areas like a backyard tree house or handprints in the patio cement.

Then, make a checklist of everything you need to accomplish before moving—packing, cleaning, cancelling and restarting utilities, registering the kids for school—and set a timeline for completing each step. Once you’re ready to start packing, work room by room to make the task seem more manageable. Start with decorative pieces that you can go without for a month or so, keeping items you use daily for last.

3. Protect Delicate Possessions

To ensure your belongings arrive safely, it’s essential to pack possessions with extra care. Safeguard breakables with wrapping materials designed to protect fragile goods, such as bubble wrap cushioning, for the best protection.

Next, pack items in clean, sturdy containers in a variety of sizes. Use large boxes for bulky, yet lighter furnishings, such as pillows and blankets, and place heavier objects in smaller boxes to avoid unnecessary strain. Seal boxes securely with a durable packaging tape.

Be sure to label boxes clearly, marking them on the sides of the boxes, not the top. This step makes it obvious what’s inside, even if they’re stacked. You also can use different colored or printed packaging tapes to color code each room—red for the bedroom, blue for the kitchen, and so on.

4. Have Help on Hand

If you’re moving to a location close to your old home, recruit friends and family to help with packing and unloading on moving day. You’ll love showing off your new place, and it’ll help with the transition to see that loved ones aren’t too far away to make the trip.

Put together an “open me first” box with the gear you’ll need immediately, such as tools to assemble furniture, cleaning supplies and shelf liner for drawers, closets and kitchen cabinets.

Can you say Fall! Now is the times to work on your homes Curb Appeal

With a cool front moving in this weekend, now’s a great time to work on curb appeal!

1:Dress up the front door
Your home’s front entry is the focal point of its curb appeal. Make a statement by giving your front door a blast of color with paint or by installing a custom wood door. Clean off any dirty spots around the knob, and use metal polish on the door fixtures. Your entry should also reflect the home’s interior, so choose a swag or a wreath that reflects your personal style.
2: Replace old hardware
House numbers, the entry door lockset, a wall-mounted mailbox, and an overhead light fixture are all elements that can add style and interest to your home’s exterior curb appeal. If they’re out of date or dingy, your home may not be conveying the aesthetic you think it is. These elements add the most appeal when they function collectively, rather than as mix-and-match pieces. Oiled-bronze finishes suit traditional homes, while brushed nickel suits more contemporary ones.
3:Install outdoor lighting
Low-voltage landscape lighting makes a huge impact on your home’s curb appeal while also providing safety and security. Fixtures can add accent lighting to trees or the house or can illuminate a walking path. If you aren’t able to use lights that require wiring, install solar fixtures (but understand that their light levels are not as bright or as reliable).
4:Create an instant garden
Container gardens add a welcoming feel and colorful curb appeal to any home exterior — quickly and affordably. You can buy ready-made containers from garden centers or create your own with your favorite plants. For most landscapes, a staggered, asymmetrical arrangement works best to create a dynamic setting.
5:Do a mailbox makeover
Mailboxes should complement the home and express the homeowner’s personality. When choosing a hanging drop box, pick a box that mirrors your home’s trimmings. Dress up mail boxes for curb appeal by painting the wooden post to match the house’s exterior color, or by surrounding it by a beautiful flowering garden.
6:Renew planter beds
Get garden beds into shape by pruning growth, pulling weeds, planting flowers, and adding new mulch to restore color that was taken away by sunlight and harsh weather. If stone or brick borders your bed, consider cleaning and resetting any pieces that are soiled or dislodged. If your border is old or tired-looking, try upgrading to stone or a decorative cast-concrete edging system for improved curb appeal.
7:Add outdoor art
Give your yard a little spunk and curb appeal by adding weather-resistant artwork. Choose pieces that complement your home’s natural palette and exterior elements. Birdbaths, metal cutouts, sculptures, and wind chimes are good choices for outdoor art. Water sculptures not only function as yard art, but the burbling sounds soothe and make hot days feel cooler. Place fountains on level ground in optimum hearing and sight vantage points. Avoid spots in leaf-dropping range.
8:Add shutters or accent trim
Shutters and trim add a welcoming layer of beauty and curb appeal to your home’s exterior. Shutters also control light and ventilation, and provide additional security. Exterior shutters can be made of wood, aluminum, vinyl, composite, or fiberglass. New composite materials, such as PVC resins or polyurethane, make trim details durable and low maintenance.

Downtown St Petersburg FL Home For Sale

Property values in most of the downtown St. Petersburg neighborhoods have been roaring back from the lows of 2009. We are seeing homes selling in Old Northeast (Old NE) at above their 2006 highs and in some cases 5-10% above those numbers.

Some cities in the center of Pinellas County are lagging behind which were hardest hit, due to the number of foreclosures and short sales, however condos in downtown St. Pete like,  The Madison, Parkshore, Signature Place and other are all seeing huge value gains over the past 18 months. With a major lack of inventory in the condo market downtown (view available downtown condos here) we expect to see values continue to rise over the next 12 months.

Waterfront homes in St Petersburg NE area have on average seen $100,000 jumps in the past 12-18 months. Many homeowners who have been waiting for the past 10 years to move can now finally make their move if they can find a home or condo to move into. Check out the Sold St Pete waterfront home here.

If you are considering selling a home in St. Petersburg, Gulfport, Seminole or the Gulf Beaches contact us now for a free property value analysis or click here and we’ll prepare a custom market snapshot of your home so you can quickly guage where your home stands in the marketplace.

In May, some flood policy costs revert to 2013 levels

David L. Miller, associate administrator with the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration, part of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), released a memorandum with guidelines for insurance companies that sell flood insurance on behalf of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

The guidelines – called “Phase I Implementation of the Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014” – generally roll back the cost of flood insurance policies for most homeowners and buyers to the level charged before October 2013 when higher rates kicked in. The new guidelines become effective May 1, 2014.

“The purpose of this bulletin is to stop charging full risk-rates for all types of Pre-Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) properties covered by section 3 of the (newest flood law), which includes primary residences and businesses,” Miller says in the memorandum.

Section 3 of the new flood law requires insurance companies that sell flood insurance on behalf of FEMA – called Write-Your-Own (WYO) companies – to restore Pre-FIRM subsidized rates for:

″ Pre-FIRM properties not insured when Biggert Waters was enacted

″ Pre-FIRM properties sold after Biggert Waters was enacted

″ Policies for Pre-FIRM properties rated full-risk under Biggert Waters due to a lapse in coverage

There are two gray areas in the memorandum for homebuyers. Since May 1 is two weeks away, what happens to homebuyers who need flood insurance before then? Until today’s memo was issued, owners and buyers paid the higher flood insurance rate to get or maintain coverage, and they expected to receive a rebate sometime in the future.

“Some insurers are ‘working it out,’ but supposedly, the full-risk rate premium is to be charged until May 1,” says Lisa S. Jones, a flood insurance specialist with Carolina Flood Solutions and consultant to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). The two-week hiatus is awkward, and it’s not clear how individual insurance companies will choose to handle it. However, going against the rules “could get them into trouble,” Jones says.

The second gray area involves the actual charge for a flood insurance policy, and some homeowners could face a surcharge later after FEMA completely rolls in the new law.

“Currently, homeowners are paying the higher rates and expecting a refund later,” says Jones. “Under the new rules, rates temporarily roll back completely to their pre-October 2013 level. But the new law still allows some increases. Once the law is fully implemented, some individual homeowners and buyers may not see a difference, or will have to pay higher premiums on secondary homes once the surcharges and annual increases are applied at renewal.”

The complete memorandum, including a list of the homes and flood zones affected, is posted on Florida Realtors Flood Insurance Toolkit.

© 2014 Florida Realtors®

Termites – Fumigate or Spot-treat for termites… which is best for your house?

If you ARE ONE of the lucky homeowners this year that DID NOT see any termite wings or evidence of their presence…..well congratulations!!

Unfortunately their are MILLIONS OF HOMEOWNERS around the nation that saw termites flying around their homes and/ or found evidence of wings on a window sill or sawdust droppings near a door / window frame.  This occurrence of having termites in their house is like lighting a stick of dynamite and not knowing how long it will be before the dynamite detonates.

The ‘stick of dynamite’ analogy brings up good questions like:  “How long have they been here? ….. Is it that I just have not ever noticed them before?”    “I wonder where they are feeding that I don’t even know about?”    

Unfortunately with termites, you see a few here and there…but there is absolutely NO DOUBT that the colony of termites embedded inside your home’s wooden structure supports is in the tens of thousands and growing every day exponentially!!!!

What do you do when this happens to you?  Well the cost-efficient homeowner would call Geiger’s Pest Services for a free inspection and estimate on solving their problem.  After the inspection, Geiger’s would give the results to the homeowner…..and those results 99.9% of the time are that you need to fumigate your home.  Fumigation is one of the best things you can do for your house…it kills all the bugs to include dry wood termites.  We all want to live in a bug free home…right?

Some pest companies would recommend you to ‘spot treat’ for termites! This spot method  is only a ploy to create a money stream for their company….this ‘treatment’ would continue and continue until one day the home owner finally sees the light and determines that what they have been doing for  termite control is not effective!  The money the homeowner spent on ‘spot treatments’ could have probably paid for a fumigation job and established a quarterly pest control contract for a year!

Do yourself, your home and your pocketbook a favor…..if you have termites and want to get rid of them…call Geiger’s!  We want to complete the job so you are happy.

http://gpsbugs.com/
(727) 785-2030

Flood Insurance FAQ’s

Many older homes in flood zones have long benefited from a subsidy that kept flood insurance rates very low. Starting next month, those homeowners will typically see annual rates jump more than 25 percent, including a fee for a new reserve fund.

Can you do anything to fight higher rates? Yes!

– Obtain an elevation certificate to show how high your home is compared with flood levels. There is an initial cost, but it may help reduce your rate.
Murphy’s Land Surveying specialize in surveys and elevation certificates,

Review your flood zone maps to see your property’s current flood risk and how close it is to a potential change in risk status if a new map is adopted.

And don’t let your policy lapse, this could be a trigger for a big rate increase.

Call Rachel Keeser at Commonwealth Insurance of Seminole on 727-392-1090 or email Rachel@cwagent.net
and she will be happy to give you a competitive flood quote after you have an elevation certificate.

Other Links:
Interactive Map for NFIP Subsidized Policies by State and County
FEMA: Homeowner’s Guide to Elevation Certificates
FEMA: Flood Insurance Rate Maps
FEMA: Flood Insurance Rate Maps

short sale sellers qualify for new mortgage

For home short-sellers, finally comes some good news
Saturday, September 7, 2013 — Anonymous (not verified)
Sections:
Real Estate.Sunday, September 8, 2013

Author(s):

Kenneth R. Harney

WASHINGTON — Policy changes by two of the biggest mortgage market players could open doors to home buys this fall by thousands hard-hit by the housing bust and who thought they’d have to wait for years before owning again.

Fannie Mae, the federally controlled mortgage investor, has come up with a “fix” designed to help the many consumers whose short sales were misidentified as foreclosures by credit bureaus. Under previous rules, short-sellers would have to wait for up to seven years before becoming eligible for a new mortgage. Under the revised plan, they may be able to qualify for a mortgage in as little as two years. 
Homeowners who are foreclosed upon often must still wait for up to seven years before becoming eligible again to finance a house through Fannie. Industry estimates suggest that more than 2 million short-sellers might be affected by inaccurate descriptions of their transactions.

Meanwhile, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has announced a new program allowing borrowers whose previous mortgage troubles were caused by “extenuating circumstances” beyond their control to obtain new mortgages in as little as a year after losing their homes instead of the current three years. They will need to show that their delinquency problem was caused by a 
20 percent or greater drop in income that continued for at least six months, and that they are now back to work, paying bills on time and earning enough to qualify for a new FHA-insured mortgage.

Fannie’s policy change came after months of prodding by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla), the National Consumer Reporting Association, the National Association of Realtors and Pam Marron, an outspoken Florida consumer advocate. They all sought fairer treatment of borrowers who had participated in short sales in recent years.

In a short sale, the lender approves the sale of a house to a new buyer but typically receives less than the balance owed. In a foreclosure, the bank takes title to the property and seeks to recover whatever it can through a resale. Though the two types of transactions are distinct and involve significantly different losses for banks, with foreclosures usually far more costly, credit bureaus have no special reporting code to ID short sales. As a result, say critics, millions of people who have undertaken short sales in recent years may have their transactions coded as foreclosures on their credit bureau reports.

That matters — a lot — because Fannie Mae and other major financing sources have mandated different waiting periods for new loans to borrowers who have completed short sales compared with borrowers who were foreclosed upon — in this case, two years versus seven. Under the new policy in effect Nov. 16, short-sellers who find that their transactions were miscoded on credit reports and are able to put 
20 percent down, should alert their loan officers and provide transaction documentation. The loan officer should advise Fannie about the coding error. Fannie will then run the loan application through its revised automated underwriting system.

Freddie Mac, the other government-administered mortgage investor, continues to require a four-year waiting period for short-sellers who cannot demonstrate “extenuating circumstances” as having caused their problems. If they can do so — documenting income reductions beyond their control that wrecked their credit — they may be able to qualify for a new Freddie Mac loan in two years.

FHA’s policy change may prove to be an even more generous deal for some previous homeowners. Like Freddie Mac, FHA wants to see hard evidence of what economic events beyond the borrowers’ control — loss of a job, serious illness or death of a wage earner, for example — led to the delinquency or loss of the house. Applicants must be able to show 12 months of solid credit behavior, participate in a housing counseling program and get through the agency’s underwriting hoops. But unlike either Fannie or Freddie, if you qualify under FHA’s revised rules, which are now in effect, and your lender approves, you might be able to buy a house with a new, low-down-payment mortgage in as little as a year.

It’s worth checking out.
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Source URL: http://bostonherald.com/business/real_estate/2013/09/for_home_short_sellers_finally_comes

Deed Notice SCAM

Home Buyer’s across the country are getting official looking notices in their mailboxes asking them to pay for a copy of their deed. Companies are sending out mailers to home buyers asking for a lot of money for a document you can get for next to nothing. This is not a government agency; they are private companies trying to take advantage of unsuspecting people. Two of the companies were contacted asking why anyone should pay a high price for a copy of their Deed, one stated “We offer a service and it’s an optional service. If you’re interested in the service, you can pay the fee and if you’re not interested, you can disregard the letter.” The other company said “We offer this as a convenience for customers. It can be difficult to find time to stand in line at the county recorder’s office. We are just an alternative source for getting the deed.” Counties automatically provide homeowners with their original deed for no cost. Homeowners can also obtain copies for a few dollars at the recorder’s office or even get it by mail. If you receive a notice like this, do not respond this is a SCAM. Click to see an example Deed Processing Notice.

Buying tips

Buying Tip: when I show property to clients one of the 1st things I look at when we arrive is the roof! In today’s market where insurance in Florida is so hard to obtain and expensive. A newer roof can save you hundreds of dollars a year.

If you buy a home with a new or newer (2002 on) it should have been in stalled with new nails and maybe special clips and a secondary waterproof barrier.

The second reason I look at the roof is quite often homes build in the 60’s and 70’s had tile roofs. Looking at the homes in the area if you see 50% of them have shingle roofs it could be a strong indication that the roof is at the end of its life. If that’s the case you maybe unable to get insurance. Insurance companies want to see at leased 3 years of life remaining.

Fannie Mae increases options for surrendering deed, called mortgage release

If a homeowner wants to walk away from a home by mailing in the deed and seeking forgiveness, it’s no longer a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure, according to Fannie Mae. From now on, it’s a mortgage release.

Under the changes, Fannie Mae gives owners three options:

• an immediate move
• a three-month transition with no rent payment
• a twelve-month lease with market rent payment

Other rule changes focus on the mortgage servicers. They don’t, for example, have to get written approval to postpone a foreclosure sale on a home more than 12 months delinquent.

However if you have a 2nd mortgage or an equity line of credit you would need to get approval from that bank to take advantage of this program.

To find out if your loan is a Fannie Mae mortgage click here

What Turns Renters Into Home Owners?

It’s not what you know about home ownership that makes you want to own a home, but rather how you value it. Or so says a new study from Fannie Mae that concludes having a personal experience like being unable to pay a mortgage, thinking home values will fall in the future, or being underwater on a home loan don’t play a big part in renters wanting to be home owners.

The key drivers pushing renters toward home ownership are attitudes and beliefs. Those who believe “owning makes more sense financially over the long term” do indeed go on to buy homes.

Things that are much less important factors for renters:

· The perceived ease of getting a mortgage

· Knowing someone who defaulted on a mortgage

· The belief that home values will rise or fall

· The desire to have a good place to raise and educate children

· Safety

· More space and control over your living environment

The study suggests Americans’ desire to own homes is strong, even when the housing market undergoes dramatic challenges.

“Our study shows that the negative housing events of the past few years have not discouraged
people from wanting to own a home,” the study authors wrote. “Exposure to mortgage default, perceived home value appreciation/depreciation, and self-reported underwater status are not significant factors in the models predicting individuals’ intentions to own a home for their next move.”

Source: Fannie Mae

Updated mortgage-aid program aims to pick up slack

PHILADELPHIA – April 5, 2012 – After months in the works, HARP 2.0 is available to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac borrowers who want to refinance but owe more on their mortgages than their houses now are worth.

HARP 2.0 – HARP stands for Home Affordable Refinance Program – is being billed as an improvement over the three-year-old version that just about everyone acknowledges didn’t help anyone.

The reason for that failure: The original program had limits on loan-to-value ratio, the amount of a mortgage as a percentage of the appraised value of a property. If the balance of a mortgage exceeded the appraised value – say, $300,000 versus $150,000 – the borrower wasn’t allowed to refinance.

Recognizing that none of the borrowers the program was intended to help would be able to qualify, the limits were dropped when the new version of HARP was heralded in October.

Does that mean all lenders have agreed to no limits?

“I have lenders that have limited the loan-to-values. Some have even differentiated between attached and detached homes,” said Philadelphia mortgage broker Fred Glick, who has launched a blog, http://harp2.com, to update consumers. “They still are limiting what they will do” with loan-to-value ratios of 150 percent and no more.

“All in all, it is a great way to get people’s rates down in spite of low values,” Glick said. “This will decrease the supply of homes for sale and increase values over the long run.”

As with all these programs, the months since HARP 2.0 was announced have been spent trying to get lenders on board – no easy task since Fannie and Freddie loans are pooled as mortgage-backed securities that are owned by many investors. All the investors need to agree before borrowers can apply to reduce monthly payments to today’s low fixed interest rates, which remained under 4 percent for many months but now are beginning to increase as bond yields rise in an apparently improving economy.

As of March 17, HARP 2.0 has been in place to help keep homeowners above water. About four million Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac borrowers nationwide owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.

The government has a website, http://www.makinghomeaffordable.gov, (link) that has details about HARP 2.0 and other information.

Underwater loans might also be eligible to refinance under provisions of the recent National Mortgage Settlement. That applies to loans neither owned by Freddie or Fannie nor insured by the Federal Housing Administration, which has its own streamlined refinancing under a program announced in January. Details of that settlement are being worked out, and eligible borrowers will be notified by the five participating lenders – Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Ally Financial, and Citibank – at some point.

To be eligible for HARP, homeowners must be current on their mortgage. That means paid in full up to date, with no late payments in the past six months and only one in the past 12. They also need to show that they can afford the new payments gained through refinancing without any trouble.

Borrowers must have closed on their current mortgage on or before May 31, 2009, and cannot have refinanced through HARP before. In addition, mortgages must fall under current “conforming-loan limits,” which vary by region.

One thing both Fannie and Freddie want to see is whether borrowers refinance to loans with terms shorter than 30 years. They call this “movement to a more stable product.”

Borrowers with an interest-only loan will be urged to refinance to a mortgage product that provides amortization of principal and accumulation of equity in the property.

Those who have an adjustable-rate mortgage will be encouraged to refinance to a fixed-rate loan that eliminates the potential for payment shock, or to an adjustable with an initial fixed period of five years or more and equal to or greater than the existing mortgage.

Homeowners with a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage will be advised to refinance to a 15-, 20- or 25-year fixed that offers, in Fannie Mae’s words, accelerated amortization of principal and equity building. But borrowers won’t be allowed to cash out equity under this refinancing “except for closing costs and certain allowances to cover items such as association fees, property tax bills, insurance costs and rounding adjustments.”

Plus, borrowers may not satisfy subordinate financing in the form of a home-equity line of credit or a closed-end second mortgage with the proceeds of the refinance mortgage.

Balloon mortgages and convertible adjustable-rate mortgages are eligible for HARP 2.0 if the conditional right to refinance the balloon or convert the ARM was exercised by the borrower and “redelivered” to Fannie Mae before June 1, 2009.

Resources

• To determine whether Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac owns your mortgage, check at http://fanniemae.com/loanlookup and http://freddiemac.com/mymortgage.

• To access Fannie Mae’s frequently asked questions file, go to http://goo.gl/pN54x.

• Many of the rules and regulations outlined in the latest information from Fannie and Freddie are far beyond the understanding of the typical homeowner, and, as the government warns, scam artists are already hovering above borrowers, waiting to pounce. For information about mortgage-assistance-relief scams, visit http://FTC.gov.

• Some underwater homeowners will qualify for assistance under the Mortgage Settlement. The Center for Responsible Lending has a downloadable consumer’s guide for that program at http://goo.gl/2FZKM.

Copyright © 2012 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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Pinellas County real estate monthly indicators

Click to view the Pinellas County real estate Monthly Indicators

The media sometimes obsesses over the negatives, but last year brought several important improvements in key metrics that should not be brushed aside, such as an improved inventory picture. Foreclosures also dominate news stories, and for good reason. People should occupy homes, not banks. Which means qualified buyers need reliable access to mortgage capital, and distressed properties may need further attention in 2012 to expedite transfer of ownership and tax-base recapture. As we delve into a new year, we’re seeing mostly positive signs. Let’s examine some of them.

New Listings were down 18.3 percent for detached homes and 29.9 percent for attached properties. Pending Sales increased 2.9 percent for single-family homes but decreased 11.3 percent for townhouse-condo properties.The Median Sales Price was up 9.8 percent to $118,000 for detached homes and 14.5 percent to $85,000 for attached properties. Months Supply of Inventory decreased 39.7 percent for single-family units and 36.7 percent for townhouse-condo units.

U.S. economic data has been encouraging. The unemployment rate flirted with a 3-year low and an initial reading on the fourth quarter of 2011 GDP was in-line with expectations. Mortgage rates posted yet another fresh new record low. At the risk of sounding redundant (at the risk of sounding redundant), the missing puzzle piece is still jobs. Improvements in the labor market will spur housing demand through new household formations, improve family financials and galvanize consumer confidence.

Click to view the Pinellas County real estate Monthly Indicators

ForSalebyOwner.com founder uses agent to sell home

The founder of ForSalebyOwner.com, a popular for-sale by owner (FSBO) website, used a real estate broker to help sell his 2,000-square-foot, two-bedroom New York apartment after it lingered on the market for six months.

Colby Sambrotto, founder and former chief operating officer of ForSalebyOwner.com, tried to sell the property FSBO by listing it online and through classified ads – but after six months of sitting on the market, he sought the help of a real estate broker.

Broker Jesse Buckler told Sambrotto the condo was priced too low and wasn’t attracting the right buyer for the condo.

“At first he wouldn’t let me increase the price,” Buckler said. “I told him I know what I am doing – the market is picking up.”

The condo soon attracted multiple offers and ended up closing for $150,000 more than the original asking price.

Source: “DIY Guru Gets Broker Help,” The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 3, 2011)

Home Security Check

The first step toward protecting your home from break-ins is to conduct a home security check that will show where your property is most vulnerable.

This step-by-step list, arranged according to the hierarchy of risk, is a good place to start.

Your home’s appearance
Burglars want an easy target. Stand on the street outside your house and ask yourself: Does my property look neglected, hidden, or uninhabited? A front door or walkway that’s obscured by shrubbery offers crooks the perfect cover they need while they break a door or window.

Consider trimming shrubs away from windows, widening front walks, and installing outdoor lighting with motion detectors. Simple motion-activated floodlights cost less than $50, and installing them is an easy DIY job if the wiring is already in place. All sides of your house should be well-lit, not just the front.

Doors: The first line of defense
Are your front and back doors vulnerable? Steel, solid wood, and impact-resistant fiberglass are all good choices for security. If you must have glass, make sure it is tempered or reinforced for added strength, and that sidelights are positioned where somebody can’t easily reach in and turn the lock.

Open all doors and check the strike plates, the metal fittings that catch bolts and latches. Chances are, the strike plates are fastened to the soft wood of the door jamb with two screws only. Not good. Best are four-screw strike plates with 3-inch screws that penetrate the jamb and bite into the hard wood of the stud behind the jamb. All exterior doors should have deadbolts that throw at least a 1-inch bolt. Ask your locksmith to upgrade to Grade 1 or Grade 2 locksets and deadbolts, the most secure options.

Back doors and garage doors are more likely to be attacked before the front door, according to Chris McGoey, a Los Angeles-based home security consultant. If you have an attached garage, secure the door by disabling the automatic opener and locking the door before you go away on a long trip. The door leading from the garage into the house should be outfitted with the same hardware as all other exterior doors and be kept locked at all times.

Windows
In order of risk, ground-floor and basement windows are more likely to be attacked than second-floor windows. The exception is second-floor windows that can be easily accessed by a deck or other elevated structure outside the home. Make sure all windows can be opened, closed, and locked with relative ease–and then remember to lock them. The biggest problem with windows is that homeowners leave the house and leave them wide open.

For added security, consider installing blocking devices on the most easily accessed windows so they can’t be opened from outside, says McGoey. Wooden dowels laid in the track block windows that slide horizontally, and steel locking pins (about $7 each) inserted in small holes drilled through the frames prevent windows from sliding vertically. If you install a home security system later, the pros will install glass-break sensors on your most vulnerable windows.

Storage sheds
Don’t ignore the doors and windows on your outdoor storage shed, especially if you store tools such as ladders, saws, screwdrivers, and hammers, any of which would be handy to a burglar. As with house doors, the best option is a secure deadbolt. Hasp closures are easily defeated because someone can insert a crowbar behind the hasp and snap it.

Not all storage shed doors are able to accommodate a deadbolt. In that case, opt for a heavy-duty slide bolt ($15-$25) instead of a hasp closure. With one of these, a tough steel bolt slides into a fitting attached to the shed door frame or a second shed door. The bolt is then rotated down and locked in place with a padlock. When attaching a slide bolt, avoid screws, which can be easily undone. You’re better off using nuts and bolts because they’re stronger, and because the nut does its job from the interior of the shed.

Patio doors
It’s relatively easy to lift a set of older patio doors off the track, even when they are locked. Don’t attempt to do this on your audit, but take time to inspect the doors and hardware. Replace any missing or broken locks, and consider installing and using locking pins to prevent them from sliding.

Consider your family’s habits: Do you leave the patio doors open all summer? Locking the screen door isn’t good enough; it keeps out bugs, not thieves. Get in the habit of closing and locking patio doors when they’re unattended or you’re not home.

Safeguarding household valuables
Thieves want easy-to-grab electronics, cash, jewelry, and other valuables, though some are not above running down the street with your flat-screen TV. Most make a beeline for the master bedroom, because that’s where we’re likely to hide spare cash, jewelry, even guns.

Tour each room and ask yourself: Is there anything here that I can move to my safe deposit box? Consider getting rid of old jewelry you never wear. A home safe, bolted to your basement slab, is a good spot for everything else. Have you made a video inventory of other items of value in your home? Are you properly insured for theft? Understand that high-ticket items in your home office, such as computers, professional camera equipment, or other business essentials, may require an additional rider or a separate policy. And take steps to back up the personal information stored on your home computer.

Home Office Security Check

This quick home-office security check will help you protect computer equipment, electronics, and personal data from theft, fire, and other dangers.

A professional home security system can help reduce your losses, but not taking a few extra steps is asking for trouble. This home-office security check is designed to highlight the hot spots and help you protect valuable home-office equipment and information.

Make sure you’re insured
Take a look around your office. Are you properly insured for all of your equipment and possessions? Don’t assume that your umbrella homeowner’s policy is sufficient. Most policies will cover replacement of computers only up to a specific dollar amount, say $1,000 or $2,500. You’ll bear the rest of the cost, unless you add a rider to your existing policy. (Riders tend to be inexpensive; you may pay an extra $50 a year to cover all your camera equipment, for example.)

Equipment that you use solely for business may not be covered at all by your homeowner’s policy, necessitating a separate commercial policy. The cost of these policies varies widely, depending on the type of work you do and the value of the items. Equipment on loan from your employer, such as an office laptop, should be covered under your employer’s policy.

Back it up–twice
Are you are currently backing up your data to an external hard drive? If you are, good for you, but you can’t rest there. If you lost both computer and backup drive to theft or fire, you’d be out of luck. Better is a service such as CrashPlan, which charges $100 a year to constantly back up all your critical data to a remote server.

Paper documents are slightly trickier than the digital variety, because they’re usually one-of-a-kind. That’s why important data–insurance policies, Social Security cards, passports, auto titles, a list of your family’s credit card numbers, etc.–should be stored off-site in a safe deposit box ($50 to $75 a year) or in a fireproof safe bolted to your basement slab. You can scan and digitize these documents to keep them handy, but be sure to back up the digital versions, too.

Bear in mind that digital media, such as DVDs and CDs, can still melt in a fireproof safe. Media safes constructed by companies such as FireKing are built to block heat transfer, but you’ll pay for the extra protection. A 650-pound, 1.5-cubic-foot safe that can hold 140 CDs might run you $3,000; smaller ones that hold 20 CDs cost about $400.

Avoid data and identity theft
Backups are fine, but they won’t keep prying eyes off your data if your computer is stolen. Most computers have built-in security features–controlled via their system preferences panel–that you probably aren’t using. For example, you can drag your most sensitive data into a single password-protected folder. Or you can “disable automatic login” so the computer can’t boot up without a password.

If you want to go whole hog, activate your built-in encryption program or install a third-party program such as the free download True Crypt that will scramble every file on your computer. Without the password, no one can access a single file. The downside: If you lose or forget the password, adios data. If you’re not comfortable with high-tech data security measures, then the best advice is probably the simplest: Install a solid office door with a good lock.

Protect against power surges
Electronic equipment that you use every day should be plugged into surge protectors ($40 and up). These devices, which look like high-end power strips, guard against occasional fluctuations in electricity coming from your local power company, or from electrical appliances cycling on and off inside the house.

Surge protectors can’t make up for improper wiring or insufficient power coming into the house. If you’re unsure of your home’s power capacity, consider hiring an electrician to do a wiring inspection. Ask him to check how many amps your electrical panel carries (200 amps is typical of most modern homes).

Even if a wiring upgrade isn’t in order, ask him to clamp a whole-house surge protector onto your electrical panel and to any other incoming transmission lines, such as cable or data lines. These units, which cost between $200 and $300 installed, can stop a 40,000-amp surge in its tracks.

Not even a top-of-the-line surge protector, however, can guard against a direct lighting strike. As an added measure, unplug all sensitive appliances during a lightning storm, or if you’re leaving your home for a lengthy period of time.

Home Security Cameras: Peace of Mind While You’re Away

Easy-to-install security cameras let you keep an eye on your home from afar, ensuring safety and security for you and your family.

Network cameras
Internet-based network cameras are a quick solution in setting up home surveillance. They connect to your broadband connection and don’t require difficult wiring or mounting.

Logitech’s Alert lets you view either real-time or recorded footage—with audio—of the inside and outside of your house through your iPhone, Android, or BlackBerry smartphone, and the system is expandable by adding additional cameras. You’ll get text or email notifications on your phone or computer if the camera’s motion sensor is triggered.

Panasonic’s BL-C131A goes one step further by giving you remote pan and tilt control from your smartphone or computer, allowing you to view in eight different positions.

The Alert 750i Master System starts at $299.99. (A similar device from D-Link costs $119.99.) The Panasonic BL-C131A costs around $300.

Riding the Z-Wave
If you have a Z-Wave-based home automation system installed, you can add wireless cameras to create a security network inside and outside of your house.

ADT’s Pulse is a complete home alarm system that uses Z-Wave cameras for home monitoring from your iPhone, BlackBerry, or Android. ADT Pulse service plans start at $48 a month, not including installation and cameras.

Schlage’s LiNK offers its Z-Wave Wireless Camera as an option to its electronic locks. Like ADT’s Pulse, you can also perform additional home management functions with compatible Z-Wave products like thermostats. Schlage LiNK starter kits cost around $300, and the Wireless Camera costs around $150.

Similar wireless security cameras are available for X10 home automation systems.

DIY camera
You can turn a basic computer webcam into a surveillance system using free downloadable software from Yawcam and EyeSpyFX. You’re required to have your computer remain on, but once set up you can log in remotely from another computer—say, at work—and view streaming video of your home. Just position the camera at what you want to monitor.

Yawcam offers motion detection and can send a snapshot to your email when triggered, while EyeSpyFX lets you view footage from dedicated iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry apps.

An affordable webcam like Microsoft’s LifeCam VX-2000 costs about $30 or less.

Do-It-Yourself Home Security: Windows May Leave You Vulnerable

Protecting your home from break-ins starts with a do-it-yourself home security check to indicate whether your windows are an open invitation to criminals.

Check ground-floor and basement windows
Ground-floor and basement windows are more likely to be targeted than those on the second floor, and deserve the most attention. The exception is those second-floor windows that can be easily accessed by a deck or other elevated structure outside the home.

Start your home security check by looking at your ground-floor windows from afar. Are they blocked by high shrubbery? Bushes give ideal cover for someone planning to break or force open a window; cut greenery back so that front windows are fully visible from the street.

Keep locks locked
Make sure all windows can be opened, closed, and locked with relative ease—and then remember to keep them locked whenever you’re not around. The biggest problem that occurs with windows is when home owners exit their home and leave windows wide open—and vulnerable.

In spring and fall, when daytime temperatures swing and windows are frequently opened and closed, get in the habit of locking windows as you shut them.

Install simple security devices
Add blocking devices to the most easily accessed windows so they can’t be opened from outside.

Wooden dowels placed in the track block windows that slide horizontally, and require no installation.
Steel locking pins (about $7 each), inserted in small holes that must be drilled through the frames, prevent vertically-sliding windows from being opened.
If you install a home security system later, the pros will install glass-break sensors on your most vulnerable windows.

Check garage windows
Garage windows are often forgotten—give them a home security check to make sure they’re securely locked. Install curtains or apply translucent security film on garage windows so that valuables aren’t readily visible. Thieves are more likely to attempt a break-in if they see items worth stealing.

Do-It-Yourself Home Security Check: Doors are First Line of Defense

Protect against break-ins with a security check that shows where the entrances to your house—your doors—are vulnerable.

Think like a burglar
First, stand back: is your front door visible from the street, or is it obscured by bushes? A door that’s covered by shrubbery offers thieves the perfect chance to break in without being seen.

Trim back or remove shrubbery that offers cover for potential intruders.

Upgrade strike plates and deadbolts
Open all doors and check the strike plates, the metal fittings that catch bolts and latches. Chances are, they’re fastened to the soft wood of the door jamb with two screws only. Not good. Upgrade security with four-screw strike plates ($3) and 3-inch screws that bite all the way into the stud behind the jamb.

When conducting your home security check, make sure exterior doors have deadbolts that throw at least a 1-inch bolt. Ask your locksmith to upgrade to Grade 1 or Grade 2 locksets and deadbolts ($25 to $80), the most secure options.

Check garage doors
Back doors and garage doors are more likely to be attacked than the front door. If you have an attached garage, disable the automatic opener and lock the garage door before you go away on a long trip. The door leading from the garage into the house should be outfitted with the same hardware as exterior doors and kept locked at all times.

Patio doors are vulnerable
Sliding doors leading to a patio can be a home’s weak spot. To beef up security:

Closely inspect the doors and their hardware.
Replace any missing or broken locks.
Consider installing locking pins to prevent the doors from sliding.
Get into the habit of locking the doors, not just the screen, when patio doors are unattended.
Replace your entry door
Check the construction of your entry doors. Those made of steel, solid wood, and impact-resistant fiberglass are all good choices for security. If you must have glass, make sure it is tempered or reinforced for added strength. Expect to pay $1,400 to $2,300 for an exterior replacement door, including installation.

Strengthen the lock on your outdoor storage shed
Don’t ignore the doors on your outdoor storage shed, especially if you store tools there; they could be useful to a burglar. As with house doors, the best option is a secure deadbolt. If your shed doors are unable to accommodate a deadbolt, a heavy-duty slide bolt ($15 to $25) secured by a padlock is a good substitute.


If disaster strikes, will your insurance come through?

Most people don’t give much thought to their homeowners insurance policy unless a tree punches a hole in their roof or they come home from vacation to find that the basement has been transformed into an indoor swimming pool.

But if your homeowners insurance claims have been limited to those types of calamities, count yourself among the fortunate. Thousands of families in Joplin, Tuscaloosa and other tornado-stricken communities have seen their homes flattened and the contents destroyed. And sadly, many of these homeowners will soon discover that their insurance won’t cover all of their rebuilding costs.

The good news is that typical homeowners insurance covers damage from tornadoes. Other natural disasters, such as floods and earthquakes, aren’t covered under standard policies. But while 96 percent of homeowners have insurance, 64 percent of homes are undervalued for insurance purposes, according to a 2008 study by Marshall & Swift, a research firm.

Even if you don’t live in Tornado Alley, you should review your policy periodically to make sure you could recover from a catastrophe. Typical homeowners coverage falls into three categories:

Replacement cost. This covers the cost of repairing or replacing your home, based on a set dollar limit. The problem is that it may not reflect increases in the cost of construction and labor since you took out your policy. If a disaster strikes your entire community as was the case in Joplin higher demand could push up the cost of building materials and labor, says Amy Danise, managing editor of Insure.com.

Extended replacement cost. In this case, the insurer agrees to pay a certain percentage above the replacement cost to account for inflation, Danise says. For example, if your replacement cost is $250,000, extended replacement cost coverage would pay up to 120 percent of that, or $300,000. Even with this adjustment, you could come up short, particularly if it has been a long time since you updated your coverage. There are several online tools you can use to calculate the current replacement cost of your home. You can get an estimate at AccuCoverage.com for $7.95.

Guaranteed replacement cost. This coverage will pay the total cost of replacing your home, no matter how much prices have increased since you took out the policy, Danise says. This type of coverage is more expensive and increasingly difficult to obtain because insurers want to control their costs, she says.

In addition to these levels of coverage, many policies include an “inflation guard” provision that automatically adjusts your coverage limit when you renew your policy to reflect increases in construction costs. Some policies include this as part of standard coverage; for others, it costs extra, says Jeanne Salvatore, spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute.

Replacing your stuff

Most homeowners policies also cover lost or damaged possessions. Typical coverage ranges from 50 percent to 70 percent of the amount of insurance you have on the structure of your home. For example, if your policy provides up to $250,000 to rebuild your home, you could get an additional $125,000 to $175,000 to replace your belongings.

Again, though, there are different levels of coverage. You can insure belongings for their actual cash value, or the replacement cost. Actual cash value means what it says: If you lose a 10-year-old TV, your payment would be based on the value of a 10-year-old TV. Replacement cost coverage would get you enough money to buy a new TV.

Replacement coverage costs about 10 percent more, but it’s worth it, Salvatore says, because most household items depreciate quickly.

All homeowners should do an inventory of their belongings to figure out how much insurance they need and make it easier to file a claim, Salvatore says. Store a record of your inventory on a secure website, in a safe deposit box or with a relative or friend.

The Insurance Information Institute offers free home inventory software. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners also has information.

© Copyright 2011 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

529 College fund or invest in real estate?

So what does your kid’s college fund have to do with real estate? A whole lot if you’d like to have more control and leverage your money to reap a greater return on your investment.
When you say the words “College Fund” what usually comes to mind is the 529 plan. The 529 plan is an education savings plan that is managed by a state or educational institution that is designed specifically for families to save money for future college costs. These plans are simple to set up and as long as the plan meets certain qualifications there are some tax benefits. Your financial advisor or the 529 plan manager can help you set up the account.
Now let’s talk money. If your child is 1 today, you will have 17 years to sock away money every month. How much do you need to pay for 4 years of college in 17 years time? This number will vary depending on the college that your child will attend and if you plan on paying for room and board. To get a more accurate number visit http://www.savingforcollege.com/college-savings-calculator This tool will help you calculate the future costs of attending university and will allow you to base the calculation on your school of choice. When I did a calculation of $17,336/year which is the national average for an in-state school including room and board and transportation, for 4 years, the amount that I’d have to save monthly was $432. We would invest $88,128 over the next 17 years and at 7% interest that would yield us $204,215. And that is for just one child. We have two so to make it easy, let’s double that. Yes $864 each and every month for the next 17 years or a whopping $176,256. That’s another mortgage payment that we would have to pay for the next 204 months. Yowch! But it is a good return, right?

If that number is just as staggering to you as it was to me, and expect it to be more if your child is older or if you have multiple children, don’t stop reading just yet. The 529 plan is a good plan but it’s not the only way to fund your child’s education. There has never been a better time to buy real estate than today. With the amount of foreclosures, short sales and just plain motivated sellers on the market coupled with historically low mortgage rates your child could have a much brighter future.

The typical home will double in value every 10 years and since we are at the bottom of the market, buy now and you could be the one laughing all the way to the bank. Let’s say you found a property for $50,000, the bank is going to want to see 20% down if this is an investment, so that’s $10,000. Let’s assume it needs some work for another $10,000. So you’re now at a $20,000 investment, but you decide to rent the property out and have someone else pay the mortgage on the remaining $40,000. Only buy a property that will give you a positive cash flow. So now your putting money into your pocket, there are tax benefits to owning real estate and you can expect that property to double in value every 10 years. In 17 years time you’ll be sitting on a property worth $150,000 or more. If you took that same $20,000 and invested it into your 529 plan you would only get about 5 years into the plan and you’d still be on the hook to pay for the next 12 years. So let me ask you, would you rather invest $20,000, make some additional money every month and enjoy the tax benefits or would you rather invest $88,128? Although, you end up with a $90,000 return at the end of 17 years if you were to sell the property, the initial investment and the other benefits along the way is true leverage of your money and time.

You obviously want to consult with a financial advisor, an experienced Realtor, have the home inspected thoroughly as well as speaking with a rental management company to find out what you could rent the home for before you buy. And whatever number you’re told that repairs will amount to add 20% as a buffer for the unexpected. No matter how good of a home inspector you have it’s always a good rule of thumb to plan for the unexpected.

Curb appeal even more important today

In normal market times, the National Association of Realtors says, 49 percent of buying decisions are based on curb appeal.

These are not normal times – in fact, some Realtors call current market conditions the “new normal.” Yet curb appeal is still of major importance, especially with so many houses for sale.

It’s unlikely to get you more money for your house. But it will get buyers’ eyes on your prize.

In effect, curb appeal is “outdoor staging,”. Even if the interior decor is Buckingham Palace-quality, no one will ever know if the place isn’t appealing from the street – because no one will ever ring the doorbell to see it.

“You need to pay attention to outside as well as the indoors,”.

Still, Marilou Buffum of Eichler & Moffly, Realtors in Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill neighborhood, who concentrates on Northwest Philadelphia properties, cautioned that curb appeal “depends upon what a buyer is looking for.”

“If you have an urban-oriented buyer, a house with a lovely lawn isn’t high on the list,” Buffum said. “Clean windows, paint that isn’t peeling, an attractive front door, nice plantings, leaves raked and the lawns mowed set the tone of what the buyer thinks the house should be.”

There are challenges to curb appeal everywhere.

“The city is the best place to live, and I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” said Prudential Fox & Roach agent Jeff Block, who focuses on the Center City real estate market. “But city properties do deal with unique curb-appeal issues. “One is simply windblown bags, wrappers and leaves,” he said. “You can sweep your sidewalk every day, but if the wind blows right before an appointment, the buyer doesn’t know that.”

Also affecting curb appeal may be the condition of neighboring houses.

“We deal mostly with townhouses and twins,” Block said, “so sellers can point their brick, paint their door and trim, and the house can look perfect. But it does not help if the attached house is beaten up.”

Said Buffum: “You have to look at your neighbor’s house when considering curb appeal. If there are issues, and you get along well with your neighbor, you might ask if they wouldn’t mind trimming hedges or cleaning their yards.”

In some cases, sellers have even paid to have the house next door painted, she said. “Remember, you are selling your neighborhood, not just your house.”

Among the easier-to-fix curb-appeal issues are the weeds that pop up between pavers on sidewalks and patios, said Weichert Realtors agent Carolyn L. Sabatelli. “Bushes should be trimmed neatly, and plant beds should be trimmed out,” she said. “If driveways are asphalt, they should be nice and clean, and, if needed, another coat of blacktop applied.”

Think mulch, agents say. Fresh dark mulch adorning even barren landscapes gives them a warmer look.

Except for when a property cries out for professional help, boosting curb appeal does not have to be expensive, Buffum said.

“A fresh coat of paint or windows washed and fixed don’t add up to much of an expense,” she said. “Will you get the money back on your investment? Not necessarily, but you are making your house more appealing to buyers,” she said. “It gives buyers the impression that you care.”

Some agents recommend having at-the-ready photos that show how your house looks in other, more colorful seasons. In fact, Buffum and other agents make booklets of such pictures and leave them inside the house for prospective buyers to see.

U.S. housing prices overall are expected to hit bottom by spring 2011

U.S. housing prices overall are expected to hit bottom by spring 2011 and begin a gradual rise in 2012, Frank Nothaft, chief economist and vice president of housing lender Freddie Mac said on Wednesday.

“I do think we’ll see these housing prices bottom out, maybe by the spring,” Nothaft said.

Nothaft presented Freddie Mac’s January 2011 Economic Outlook to reporters at the annual International Builders’ Show in Orlando.

Nothaft predicted that potential home buyers who have been sitting on the sidelines will start to get back into the market. He said this prediction is bolstered by historically low mortgage interest rates and other positive economic indicators, a small drop in the rate of unemployment, increases in purchases of durable goods and a slight slowing of serious delinquencies feeding the glut of foreclosed housing stock.

“This is the time to come in the market if you’ve got the financial resources and wherewithal,” Nothaft said.

However, the housing market will continue to recover unevenly around the country with regions of Florida, Nevada and California continuing to slog through the effects of the economic bust, he said.

Homebuilders and suppliers at the home builder event, where attendance is off nearly 50 percent since the show was staged in Orlando in 2005 through 2008, viewed the forecast through the lenses of their home communities’ experience of the recession.

“I’ve been in a crash for four years,” millwork supplier Jeff Thompson of Vero Beach, Florida, told Reuters. “But I’m almost seeing a glimmer of light in getting new projects.”

“We’ve pretty much already bottomed out,” said Jeffrey Capogrossi, a custom homebuilder from Columbia, South Carolina, said. “Now, how long we’re going to stay flat is hard to tell.”

Custom home builder Robert Leslie said his company in Fargo, North Dakota, never stopped growing through the national housing bust.

“Our markets, if anything, just leveled off for awhile. So now, they’re starting to move up,” he said.

Freddie Mac and the National Association of Home Builders are projecting a 20 to 21 percent increase in new housing starts – from 475,000 in 2010 to 575,000 in 2011, according to Nothaft and David Crowe, the NAHB’s chief economist.

“Twenty percent may sound like a really big increase, but keep in mind it comes off a very low base,” Nothaft said.

Justifying the projection for new housing starts, Crowe said the national inventory of new homes is at a 40-year low. In addition, Crowe estimated that 2 million people who normally would have moved into their own homes stayed put through the recession, many of them young adults who remained in their parents’ homes or continued to share living quarters with roommates.

“We have an enormous pent-up demand for households,” Crowe said.

Thompson believes Florida, one of the hardest hit states, is well positioned for a resurgence as a result of the precipitous fall in housing prices and appraisals. “You put all that together and Florida has become affordable again like back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s,” Thompson said. “I think there are a lot of opportunities that are coming our way. We are on the cusp.”

(Editing by Greg McCune)