How To Increase Your Home Value

July 16, 2008 by  
Filed under Home & Garden

how do I increase the value of a homeRead a home decorating magazine or watch a cable-TV home improvement show, and you might easily conclude that any upgrade will pay off when you sell. This is simply not so because even in good times, not all projects have widespread appeal. You’ll earn back virtually your entire investment in a kitchen or deck, but less than 75 cents on the dollar if you add a home office or sunroom, according to "Remodeling" magazine’s annual cost vs. value survey.

What’s worse, some renovations can even hurt you in the eyes of home buyers, a costly problem if you hope to sell in a softening market like today’s.

The Swimming Pool:

In some areas, especially hot-weather spots like Arizona and Florida, a pool is a must-have. In the Southwest, adding one boosts your home’s value by 11 percent on average, according to a National Association of Realtors study. But elsewhere it can just as easily turn off buyers, who worry about affording the upkeep and insurance. And if the most likely buyer of your home is a family with small children, think long and hard before installing a pool.

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"People with younger children may be leery of houses with pools for safety reasons," says Barry Graziano, a real estate agent with Prudential Rand Realty in White Plains, N. Y. "I’ve had families walk away. A pool can cut down on the number of people who will want to buy your house."

The Addition:

You’ve thought about how that great room and master bedroom wing will let the family spread out. But what you probably haven’t considered is what the space will look like from the outside.

"A badly designed addition can kill your resale value," says Sal Alfano, the editorial director of Remodeling. "People focus on the floor plan and the flow, but not on how it fits into the neighborhood or even the house itself."

Watch out for boxy, poorly detailed additions and be careful of a style that will look dated when you throw your open house. Spotting the trend that’s on its way out is trickier than you think. While it is easy to assume that sleek red European kitchen cabinetry is tomorrow’s harvest gold fridge, other design staples that seem like sure bets can quickly drift into obscurity too.

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That’s what Mark Johnson, a Whirlpool design manager, says is happening to stainless-steel appliances. "For a period of time, people aspired to a commercial kitchen" he says. "What I am seeing is more interest in warmer finishes."

You want a design trend with legs. Johnson says custom panels that dress appliances in maple or mahogany finishes are likely to remain popular for several years. Also, think about the materials for hardware like hinges and light fixtures. Polished brass or anything shiny is out. Brushed nickel is a better option. Johnson is betting that oiled-bronze finishes will take off next.

The Jacuzzi:

The elaborate master bath is okay, but the big circular tub with 15 jets that can pulse or massage is risky.

According to Holly Slaughter, brand manager at RealEstate.com, you’re better off with an oversize shower that has a rain showerhead and multiple jets (think of it as a car wash for humans).

Baby boomers have little time to spend hanging out in the bathtub, and parents with small kids prefer a conventional tub. Ultimately, don’t expect a future buyer to pay up for the luxury you considered an essential.

How to Plan a Pregnancy

July 14, 2008 by  
Filed under Family & Parenting

how to plan a pregnancyA pregnancy is an exciting time. But many fail to realize that preparing for pregnancy is as important as actual conception. If you’re ready to become a parent, here’s how to plan your pregnancy.

Prepare the Body For Pregnancy

The woman’s body should be as prepared as possible for pregnancy. She should stop taking birth control pills or remove any other chemical or hormonal birth control devices well before starting work on conception to give her hormones a chance to stabilize. This also gives the body time to clear away any lingering chemicals.

The mother should be at a healthy weight for her size for an easier conception and to ensure fewer complications during pregnancy and delivery. Regular exercise is good during pregnancy, so it is wise to be in the habit prior to conception.

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The prospective mother should also begin taking prenatal vitamins before conception. The first few weeks of a pregnancy are when these extra vitamins and minerals are most important, but often a woman doesn’t experience pregnancy symptoms until five or six weeks into the pregnancy.

Prepare the Home For Pregnancy

Is there space for a baby and all the large items that come with it? It is far easier to move before pregnancy than during it to avoid stain and stress on the pregnant mother.

Prepare the Finances For Pregnancy

Babies are expensive. While there is no perfect time to become pregnant, if you are facing financial difficulties, can’t pay your existing bills or foresee financial difficulties you might be better waiting until you are in a comfortable or stable position before conceiving.

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Prepare the Mind For Pregnancy

You should be in a steady place in your mind. A baby should not be a solution to any problems or a method to save a relationship. Both partners should agree to try for the baby before stopping birth control.

Timing of Conception

Once you are prepared, the trying can begin. This should be a joyful time, not stressful. While it is hard to wait, most couples take more than one or two months to become pregnant. If you are looking for a specific time of delivery, for example the spring, get started a bit early to give yourself some time for false starts.

While every woman is different and every lifestyle is different, fertility begins to wane earlier than most women realize. In your twenties you have an 80% or higher chance of getting pregnant easily. By your early thirties your odds have dropped to 60%, and by thirty-five you have only a 50% chance of easily becoming pregnant.

Boosting Your Chances To Get Pregnant

To boost your chances of becoming pregnant each cycle, you can monitor for ovulation using basal readings or an ovulation predictor kit. You also are more likely to conceive if you are at a healthy weight, are active, are not overly stressed and eat a healthy and balanced diet.

Timing Sex

You should ideally have sex the exact moment your body releases an egg. Since most women have no idea when this is occurring, you can chart your ovulation using a kit or your temperature to get an idea of when you should be having sex. At the very least, you should be having sex every two or three days to ensure there are sperm ready and waiting for the egg whenever it releases. (Sperm can live up to five or more days.)

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How To Pay For College

July 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Education & Reading / Writing

how to pay for collegePaying for college can be a daunting feat. There is no doubt that the value of a college education is immeasurable, but the tuition and fees make it hard to remember that sometimes. There are many ways to pay for college. So many, in fact, it’s feasible for anyone to get the training they need to be successful.

How to Save

If you are lucky enough to be planning for college down the road, there are many instruments to help you save.

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Start a savings account as soon as possible. The earlier you start saving, the more money you will have when its time to start school. Once you have a solid start in your savings account, transfer that money to a mutual fund.

You can take advantage of a 529 plan which will offer some tax breaks inside the United States or just invest in a traditional mutual fund. Be sure to make your choice of instruments aggressive. The cost of college tuition is outpacing inflation, so lean toward stocks to make sure your money is earning as much as possible. Of course, you should scale back the intensity of the aggressiveness as the college years actually approach.

How to Get Loans

Many families and individuals, even if they have savings, are still unable to pay all college costs without taking out a loan. Fortunately a university student loan is far easier to apply and qualify for than any other loan.

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Begin your loan process by researching your options. You might qualify for special grant and loan programs or be better off with government sponsored programs including Canada student loans. You must also come up with an actual amount that you will need to get through your school years.

Once you have established your needs and desired programs fill out the student loan application. Be sure to include all necessary information. This is not the time to try and hide certain facts. Parents can apply for loans on behalf of their children, but student loans are simple for most young people to qualify for on their own.

Once you have the application completed, always read back over it to be sure all information is correct. Then move on to any letter or essay requirements. Not all applications have essay requirements.

Take some time to create and proofread and revise any required letter or essay. Try to be creative without losing your theme and focus, but make it entertaining and pertinent. This letter or essay will be your first impression on the committee or banker, so you want it to count.

Finally, double-check your writing and read back through it. Then submit your application online or mail it. If you are mailing it, be sure to leave at least seven days prior to the deadline for any mishaps in the mail. It is also a good idea to mail the application from the post office so that it is metered rather than stamped as this will make it less likely an incident of any kind will occur.

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How To Refinance A Home

July 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Business & Finance

how to refinance a home When interest rates drop, many homeowners rush to the bank to lock in a lower rate on their existing home loan. When interest rates rise, those with variable rate loans begin to seek refinancing options on their homes as well. When you think it might be time for you to refinance here is how to refinance your home.

Determine the Value

Use a free mortgage payment calculator to see if it is even worth refinancing before you begin the process with the bank. Unless interest rates have fallen two percent or more below your current loan value, it’s unlikely the monthly savings would offset the cost of the loan itself. Some refinancing calculators will take you through the estimation process in greater detail, but remember to factor in closing costs on the new loan if you’re simply comparing two mortgage payments.

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Shop for Loans

When you’ve decided you’re ready to commit, begin shopping for loans. Speak to your current bank to see if they have a special rate for existing customers and be sure to browse online banks to see if those rates are lower than brick and mortar financial institutions. Find the loan with the lowest rate, but be sure to weigh the amount of fees and closing costs along with the interest rate to find the best deal.

Apply for the Loan

When you apply to refinance your home, you are essentially applying for a new mortgage. This means you’ll need almost as many documents to refinance as you did to buy your home the first time. Work with your lender to complete the application and be sure you’ve cleaned your credit and established a savings account with money for closing if you’re not taking cash out of the home’s equity.

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Complete the Refinance

Refinancing can take months if the paperwork and approval process drags, but most refinances are complete in less than a month. Work closely with your bank to ensure you’re on top of all paperwork and have given the underwriters and officers everything they need to successfully approve your loan.

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How to Find the Best Home Mortgage

July 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Business & Finance

how to find the best mortgageThe housing market is always fluctuating, but regardless of the overall market, you can always work to find a great deal on mortgage rates and terms. Here’s how to find the best home mortgage.

Determine Your Needs

Before contacting any bank, you need to start with your own needs and a bit of research. Presumably you’re buying a home, but what kind of home? How long are you going to stay in that home? How much money do you have available for a down payment?

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Your situation has more to do with the best home mortgage for you than any special offers a bank might be offering.

  • If you’re only staying in a home for a few years, a variable rate mortgage will help keep your payments low, provided you’re out or refinanced before interest rates rise.
  • A fixed term loan of thirty or fifteen years is the most traditional mortgage, and it works well for most buyers as payments are set for life.
  • Variations on the fixed and variable loans are programs that offer two loans – one for 80% of the mortgage and one for 20% to cover what should be a down payment. The more money you have to put down the better your options.
  • Interest Only Loans are fine if you’re planning on refinancing or leaving in a year or two, but they aren’t for the average buyer.

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Clean Up Your Act

Clean up your credit report and organize your paperwork before contacting any lender. Your credit needs to shine to get the best home mortgage. You’ll almost most likely need your last two tax returns and supporting documents as well as bank statements. To qualify for many loans, you’ll also need to have money in the bank ready to pay for closing costs and a down payment. Once you’re ready with money in your account, your paperwork on hand, and a squeaky clean credit report, you can start your search.

Find the Best Home Mortgage

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the best terms will come from a bidding or well advertised website. It may be that a website does have the best terms, but it is also possible your neighborhood bank has favorable terms as well. Without applying for any loans, simply look around for the mortgages being offered in your area.

Get online and look at as many websites as you can stand, and stroll into your own bank or others in your neighborhood to see if they are offering something more favorable. The best home mortgage will have:

  • A low interest rate
  • A reasonable amount of points to buy down the interest rate
  • Low or possibly fixed closing costs
  • A suitable down payment
  • A competent professional to guide your through the application process
Act on Your Decision

Finally, when you’ve made your decision, work with a lender to apply for the loan. You can possibly apply online, but for a loan of this size, you would do best to work with someone who might know a few tricks and tips to speed up the acceptance process or help remove obstacles. Congratulations – you’ll be a home owner in no time!

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How to Do a Short Sale

July 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Business & Finance

how to complete a short home saleA short sale, or flip, seems simple enough when you watch a television program or read of other people’s success. Flipping a home can be simple if you know what you’re doing and the real estate markets support you. But short sales can be risky at the best of times. Here’s how to do a short sale.

Find a Market

Before you even think about a home, you must first find a housing market with conditions accommodating to a short sale. Area such as California have seem home prices rise dramatically in almost all areas, especially for homes that have been updated. Rising home prices and high levels of demand are ideal for a short sale. Be sure you’ve found a neighborhood where fixing up a home will bring you profits, not be lost in the sale process if the upgrades don’t add the right balance of value to the home for the area.

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Find the Right Home

Look within your selected market for a home that is in need of updating but that doesn’t have expensive necessary repairs such as roofing or foundation work. Redoing a kitchen and updating fixtures is one thing, but repairing termite and water damage is another. Find a home that seems to be behind its neighbors. By bringing that home up to date, it should make it more valuable if the entire neighborhood is increasing in value.

Find a Cheap Home Loan

When you’re doing a short sale, you’re not interested in building equity over time. You want to mortgage the house for as little as possible for the six months to a year that you’ll be holding it. California mortgage options include interest only and short-term variable rate loans ideally suited for this purpose.

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Complete Home Upgrades

To maximize profits, you must complete repairs as quickly as possible without spending an arm and a leg. Find a good general contractor if you’re too busy or inexperienced to act as your own and keep the workers coming. The longer it takes to sell, the more profit is lost. Upgrade areas that are obviously in need of updating, but focus your attention on areas that make a substantial impact such as kitchens, bathrooms, flooring and the living areas.

Sell Your Home!

Sell the home as quickly as you can. Short sales can take as little as a few weeks or might take up to a year. The moment your house is presentable, put it back on the market. Stage it well and work on curb appeal to sell it quickly. Every month it sits, you’re losing money in mortgage payments, so be flexible in your sale price – price it to sell, not necessarily to maximize profit. Waiting three months to sell $10,000 higher might net you nothing if you paid as much in mortgage payments during that time.

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How to Buy Your First Home

July 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Business & Finance

how to buy a new houseBuying a home is one of the primary goals of most citizens. There is nothing like the satisfaction of owning your own property. But buying your own home can be a challenge, especially if you are a first-time home buyer. Here’s how to buy your first house.

Clean Up Your Credit

The first step to buying a new home is to clean up your credit. A home loan is a huge undertaking and the bank is going to want to be sure you are worthy of the risk. Pay off old loans and close all the little credit cards you don’t use or need any more. Leave your oldest cards open, however, unless they charge a fee – these show how long you’ve had credit.

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Save Up for a Down Payment

Unless you’re entitled to a government loan, it is likely you’ll need at least 5% of the home’s price to put down when you buy. You’ll also need cash for closing costs which can be another 2-3% of the home’s price. Stash money away in a safe place or get help from family to set up a small nest egg so that you’re ready to buy when the bank checks to be sure you can actually afford the down payment on the home.

Establish the Budget

Before you shop, you should take the time to figure out your budget. A very rough guideline is that your new home should cost no more than twice your annual salary. If you make $50,000, your home should be $100,000. Obviously co-borrowers can afford more. Think about your future before deciding on an expensive home, however. If one of you will be staying home with future children, a smaller mortgage payment might be beneficial. Add up your monthly obligations, take out money for savings and other odds and ends and look at the amount you can pay monthly without feeling pinched.

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Get Pre approval

If you’ve worked with a monthly number rather than a broad total, head online to a free mortgage calculator to see exactly what your payments will be with mortgage, taxes and insurance each month. Then, when you’ve reached a number you’re comfortable with, apply with a finance company to become pre approved. Getting pre approval on a mortgage tells sellers that you are a safe buyer and that you can get the loan when the time comes for money to change hands.

Shop For Home Loan Options

Finally, with your pre approval complete, contact a realtor or browse listings yourself and start shopping. By staying carefully within your budget, you’ll find the perfect home in no time at all.

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How to Help a Loved One Out of Debt

July 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Business & Finance

how to help someone with debtWhen a family member is financial trouble, we often feel it is our duty to step in and help. Of course, if your loved one is in debt due to poor choices rather than an unexpected emergency or situation you must be very careful about how to help your loved one out of debt.

Come to Terms

If a loved one approaches you for help with debt and you are agreeable, you must first examine the situation. Does this person need money because they managed their own poorly or if this is an unusual situation brought on by an emergency or life event? If it is an emergency situation and you know the person has the wherewithal to repay you as quickly as possibly, terms will be simple. If your borrower has a bad financial past, you need to help your loved one but protect yourself in the process.

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To lend money to anyone, including a loved one, you should come to terms with that individual. If possible, get those terms in writing just to make the exchange more official. If you’re dealing with a poor money manager, be ready to add very specific terms to the arrangement. If you are helping a loved one out of serious debt, you have every right to request a structured repayment plan. You may even require collateral, but be careful to not strain your relationship.

You basically need to know how much money your loved one needs, and your loved one should be able to tell you exactly where every dime of the money is going to go. You have rights to his financial information, so ask how much will be going to each credit card or loan. Don’t forget to set up a repeating payment plan to make repayment of the loan simple.

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Arrange the Money

If you have the money you need sitting in a savings account, you are able to loan it easily without any additional work. If it is in stocks or invested, it may be better to arrange short term installment loans to keep your investments working for you. If you don’t have cash on hand, but do have solid credit, a personal loan can be arranged, but realize that taking out a loan to help a loved one can potentially put your credit at risk if they flake out.

Don’t Give – Teach

Finally, when you offer money or help to a loved one in debt, truly help them. There is an old saying, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”

Rather than just coming to terms and writing a check, work with your relative to develop healthy spending habits and to avoid the pitfalls of repeated debt performances. Your loved one may resent the interference, but if they have made poor money decisions in the past, they are likely to do so again if they aren’t shown the correct way. Your money is bailing your loved one out; it entitles you to a bit of time on the soapbox.

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How to Live Within Your Budget

July 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Business & Finance

how to live with and use a bidgetIf you realize that you are in desperate need of a budget to control wild spending, take time to create one properly. Do your research to determine the amount you should be spending on various bills and items, and distribute your cash to meet those goals. Then, once the budget is set up, you can begin the truly hard work as you learn to live within your budget.

Reduce Payments

The first step for many people who are looking to live within a budget is to reduce payments. Your home is most likely your largest payment and you may be able to reduce your mortgage payment if you refinance or decide remortgages are applicable and helpful in your situation.

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Seriously consider refinancing if you would be able to reduce your payments and plan on staying in the house long enough to recoup the cost of the new loan.

You might also consider selling an expensive car or trading it in for something less expensive if you are not upside down on payments. See if there is a way to raise your deductible to reduce your insurance payments, and limit or remove perks such as cable and cell phones if you find they are costing you more than they are worth.

Spend Wisely

Once you’ve cut as many payments as possible, you must begin to focus on spending your money wisely. More money than most people realize is spent on extras and splurges throughout the month. So rather than use a debit card or credit card to buy a little something new or pay for dinner and movie, pull that budgeted money out in cash in the beginning of the month. Use it to pay for your frivolous purchases (which you should never give up completely), and when it’s gone, it’s gone.

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Make lists to reduce the amount you spend at the grocery store. Plan meals by the day and schedule the nights you’ll be getting take out or going out to eat. Then buy only the ingredients for the meals and possibly a few snacks. You may find that avoiding random items in the grocery store helps trim your tummy fat in addition to your spending.

Save Your Money

Be sure you are creating a savings account as part of your new budget. In fact, create two. One should be for long-term goals such as additional retirement savings, college funds, and large trips or purchases. The other should be savings for all of those things that seem to pop up over time. By saving a small amount every month, you will be able to pay cash for a new water heater or to fix a leaky roof. That will help keep the rest of your spending consistent with your budget.

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How To Consolidate Debt

July 10, 2008 by  
Filed under Business & Finance

how to consolidate debtWhen you realize that your bills are overwhelming you and your minimum payments are getting to be too much to bear, many immediately think of declaring bankruptcy. This may seem like an easy out, but in actuality is a decision that can affect your life in a far more negative way than by simply paying off what you owe.

But if paying off what you own is virtually impossible in your current situation and you can’t find another source of income to bridge the gap, consider debt settlement or credit card debt consolidation help. To consolidate debt you need to follow these steps.

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Find Your Debt

Before you can do anything else, you must find all of the debt you owe to others. Make a list of the credit cards you have, the balances, the minimum payments and the interest rates. Be sure to find all of the credit cards including gas cards and department store credit cards.

Add It All Up

When you’ve assembled everything, your next step is to see exactly how much you owe and how much you’re currently paying every month. The number will most likely be shocking, but that’s okay – this is exactly what you’re trying to fix. When you know how much you’re currently paying and who you’re paying it to, you can move on to the next step.

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Create a Budget

Paying the minimum payments on credit card debt isn’t enough to ever really clear the debt completely, but you should know if it’s even possible for you. Create a budget of all of your monthly bills. Be sure to include:

  • mortgage or rent
  • car payment
  • insurance (life, car, home, renters, etc..)
  • maintenance costs for your home and car
  • utilities
  • student loans
  • cable
  • phones
  • clothing
  • recreation
  • savings
  • groceries
  • other spending

Then add in all the minimum credit card payments you’re making every month. Subtract the total from your paycheck – is there anything left? That money goes immediately to paying more on your debt. But if you are currently spending more than you’re making, and there isn’t anything you can cut such as cable, spending or clothing, you need the help of a professional.

Work with a Professional

Much of what a professional does you can do yourself. A professional debt counselor will help you understand how your payments are currently affecting your debt and look for ways to make a bigger dent in the debt without hurting your credit score. If there is no other choice, that professional will negotiate on your behalf with the credit card companies to reduce what you owe or lower the interest rates so that your payment has a bigger impact.

He may also help you find ways to consolidate your debt. Consolidating your debt means you find a single instrument to pay off all your loans and credit cards and then you simply pay on the single loan. This can actually improve your credit if you qualify for a good loan program.

A debt consolidation loan can be a secured loan such as a home equity loan or an unsecured personal line of credit or other type of loan. Be sure to understand the details of the loan and work only with a lender and professional you trust. A quality professional can help you reduce your debt amount, then find a suitable loan to cover all of the outstanding amounts.

Once your debt is consolidated, each payment will make a large impact on the bottom line and before you know it, you’ll be living debt free.
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