Date Archives: April 2014

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agent&customer12Buying your first home takes stamina, desire and commitment not only to navigate the complicated and time-consuming purchase process, but also to learn the ropes of being a responsible homeowner. Maybe you've dreamed about buying. Or perhaps you've researched for-sale homes online, tried to calculate how much you can afford to spend, or peeked inside a few open houses. But are you really ready, emotionally and financially, to step up your game and make your move? Here's a look at what mortgage and real estate pros know about who's good to go and who needs more time to prepare for homeownership - five ways to know if you're ready to buy your first home. PLAN TO STAY: Buying a home might seem like a no-brainer if your mortgage payment would be less than the rent you're paying. But that comparison doesn't account for other costs of homeownership, including down payment, mortgage-related fees and home maintenance and repair expenses. With those factors considered, short-term homeownership rarely makes sense. When you buy a home, you should know you're going to stay for a minimum of five to seven years, and longer is better. If you try to do everything you need to do to make that house yours and then you turn around and sell it after three years, you're not going to break even. If your employment situation feels secure and you're prepared to stay in one place for a while, you might be ready to buy. GET PRE-APPROVED: Very few people have enough cash to buy their first home without a mortgage. Rather, most need financing to afford today's home prices. REALTORS® know that all too well, which is why many won't spend much time with would-be buyers who haven't had a serious talk with a mortgage professional. A good REALTOR® will ask you what your criteria are and set up a search through the MLS for you, but a good REALTOR® is also going to say, 'The next step is for you to contact a mortgage professional and make sure you're pre-approved. The loan approval process is no different for first-timers than it is for experienced home purchaser. READY, SET, FLEXIBLE: Timing is another crucial element in homebuyer readiness. A time frame that's too long doesn't make sense. But neither does a time frame that's too short. For example, if your lease doesn't expire for many months or you need to move within 30 days, buying a home might not be practical for you right now. The ideal situation is to be ready to buy and able to wait, especially if your housing market is a hotbed of multiple offers. There's no place in the market for a buyer who's hesitant. But they can't only be ready and raring to go because there will be disappointments - that's just how the market is right now. You have to go into it with realistic expectations. SAVE UP: Saving a sizable nest egg is another important milestone for would-be homebuyers. That's because you'll need savings not only for your down payment, but also your emergency fund, moving expenses and home maintenance costs. A lot of people forget that there is a lot of maintenance with owning a home, especially if you've been used to renting. From a financial perspective, (it's important to) make sure that even if you're emotionally ready or excited to buy, that you have nest eggs set up as well. Examples of home maintenance chores include mowing lawns; trimming trees and hedges; shoveling snow; exterminating termites, rats or other pests; clearing out rain gutters; cleaning major appliances; and washing windows, walls and doors. Even if you do a lot of the work yourself, you'll still need to buy supplies and equipment. GET REAL: First-time buyers often believe buying a home will be easy. Giving up that misconception and being realistic about the time, effort, money, stress and hassle involved is an important step toward being ready to move forward. Most first-timers think buying will be a perfect scenario where it all happens like it does on HGTV. They see three houses. They pick one, and it all works out beautifully, That doesn't always happens, unfortunately. Instead, prospective buyers who are successful understand that they might run into some bumps, but the end product is going to be a home they love.   Distributed by MCT Information Services Published with permission from RISMedia.

(BPT) - It's a common financial predicament for most 20-something-year-olds: You need credit to get credit. But even if you're older and have been through some credit-wrecking havoc in your life, you could face the same issue. 'The only way to build a credit history is to use credit,' explains Maxine Sweet, vice president of public education at the credit bureau Experian. So here are five easy steps to help get you started. * Know the score: Figure out what credit history you've established. Even if you've never had a loan or credit card, there's a good chance you have information on your credit reports that has been compiled by the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. For instance, Experian now collects rental payment histories, so some landlords submit reports to credit bureaus. Under federal law, the three credit agencies are required to provide you with a free report every 12 months. JJ Montanaro, a certified financial planner with USAA, suggests taking advantage of your free annual report from Your credit score isn't included in your free annual credit report. In most states, the credit bureaus each charge around $10 for your score. The higher your score, the lower risk you are to lenders and insurers. This means you'll generally have a better chance of receiving credit along with lower interest rates. Be aware that this all-important number, which ranges from around 300 to around 850, can vary depending on the scoring model used by credit agencies and lenders. * Research your choices: If you have little or no credit history, your choices for loans or credit cards may be limited, Montanaro says. Retail or gas cards, and loans secured by property, such as furniture or a car, may be easier to get. Montanaro also suggests asking your parents, or someone else with good credit, to cosign on a low-limit credit card with you. Your bank or credit union may provide another alternative. Sometimes they offer special programs for customers who need to establish credit. 'It can be a great way to help build credit history,' says Jennifer Adams, executive director of product management at USAA. * Establish a track record: Once you have some credit accounts, it's important to use but not abuse them. 'It's counterintuitive, but if you don't use credit, you won't be able to build a solid history,' Montanaro says. * A good habit: Use your card to make small purchases and pay off the balance each month. 'By charging a small amount on at least one card and paying the balance on time and, ideally, in full, you'll show that you can manage credit without charging more than you can afford to pay,' Sweet says. * Use credit wisely: If you want to be a credit superstar, follow two basic rules: Pay on time and don't go over your credit limits. For those just starting out, this is even more critical. 'It is important to start carefully. At this point, you don't have a long and distinguished track record that can help alleviate the impact of a small mistake, so tread carefully,' Montanaro says. 'Using credit responsibly means you use and pay off your cards monthly, make payments on time every time, don't apply for numerous accounts and check your report periodically.' Don't make these mistakes: * Applying for several lines of credit and loans within a short period of time can give lenders the impression you're in desperate need of money and may have trouble paying back the debt. Keep your number of applications at a minimum and only go for the opportunities that offer the best deal. * Part of your score is based on the amount of credit you have available but aren't using. The lower your balance (in proportion to the credit limit), the better. * If you decide you no longer need a particular account, don't close it. The age of your accounts affects your score, so keep the oldest ones to show as long a credit history as possible. * Don't turn a blind eye on those reports. Once you've established credit, get in the habit of periodically checking for any fraudulent activity, as well as any reporting mistakes.

Daffodils, April showers, robins and a new crop of For Sale signs seem to be working their seasonal magic on home buyers. The latest Fannie Mae survey, conducted in March, reports that the gloominess that shrouded buyers during the bitter winter months has melted away and attitudes are nearly as positive as they were a year ago. Consumers who say it's a good time to buy reached 69 percent, the highest buyer confidence has been since September and just below 71 percent levels of March and April last year. Confidence fell as low as 65 percent in January when concern over interest rates was high. Concern over rates fell markedly in March. The percentage of those who expect rates to rise fell from 56 to 54 percent from February to March and those who expect rates to fall rose from 34 to 38 percent. Expectations that prices will increase also declined from February to March and contributed to buyer confidence. Those who expect prices to increase fell slightly from 50 to 48 percent and those who expect prices to stay the same shot up from 38 to 42 percent. Some 7 percent expect prices to fall, up from 5 percent in February. Overall, those participating in the survey expect prices to rise only 2.7 percent in 2014, down from 3.2 percent in February. Sellers are feeling better about the real estate markets as well. Some 38 percent of consumers say this is a good time to sell, up from 34 percent in February. The Fannie Mae National Housing Survey polled a nationally representative sample of 1,005 respondents aged 18 and older between March 1, 2014 and March 23, 2014. Most of the data collection occurred during the first two weeks of this period. Findings were compared to the same survey conducted monthly beginning June 2010. For more information, visit Published with permission from RISMedia.

Master suite upgrades: the secret to a speedier home sale(BPT) - All signs point to a hearty real estate market this summer. Experts say more inventory will be available and buyers will have an easier time getting mortgages, all of which means more competition among sellers.   If you plan to put your home on the market this spring or summer, you might be looking for the most cost-effective renovations to set your house apart from the competition. Assuming you've already taken care of the two top rooms to renovate - kitchen and bathroom - what's your next move?   Three words: master suite upgrades.   Americans spend a lot of time in the bedroom. The master suite is, arguably, the area of the house where you most want to feel like the king or queen of your domain. After you've wowed potential buyers with a great kitchen and bathroom, a beautiful master suite could be the feature that seals the deal.   A mid-range master suite addition recoups 67.5 percent of its cost at the time of resale, according to Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value Report. Fortunately, you can create a big impact on a master suite with a modest remodeling budget.   The luxury of light and fresh air   Many masters occupy the second floor, making them prime locations for an upgrade that is attention-grabbing, energy-efficient and practical, all without being costly: adding skylights.   Natural light and fresh air can make a room feel larger, more open and more welcoming. Opening a wall to add a window is rarely practical, but skylights can bring natural light and improve air quality in a master with less fuss. If yours is on the first floor, tubular skylights,can deliver natural light into spots where a traditional skylight won't work.   For your second-floor master, an ENERGY STAR-certified solar-powered, fresh-air skylight provides daylighting, privacy and more security than an open window (always a concern for a bedroom), as well as cost-effective passive ventilation. Add solar-powered blinds and skylight energy performance ratings improve by as much as 45 percent. Even better, the installation of solar-powered skylights and blinds, plus installation costs, can be eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit.   Little things mean a lot   Often, sellers focus on big-picture issues and overlook the small details that win buyers' hearts. For example, while it's important to paint the walls a neutral, appealing color, don't forget to repaint baseboards, window trim, ceilings and inside closets, too - all significantly affect the overall look of a room. Even when you account for the extra time and paint needed for trim, painting remains one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to freshen a room's appearance.   Be sure to repaint the master bathroom in a color that complements the master bedroom. Add decadent but cost-effective touches like plush towels, a towel-warming rack and an upgraded shower head and faucets. Consider the shower door. Is it old and shabby-looking with glass that has become hazy? Replacing it is a simple, quick fix that will put a bright face on the shower stall. Swap out a straight shower curtain rod for a curved one that greatly increases the spaciousness of the shower area.   Add light, airy curtains to make the room look bigger and brighter, luxurious bedding to impart a restful atmosphere, and you'll have created a master suite that's sure to be an asset when it's time to sell.

Mortgage Rates Dip as Spring Home-Buying Season BeginsMortgage rates across the United States have dropped slightly, just as the spring home-buying season has kicked into gear.   The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage dipped to 4.34% from 4.41% last week, according to the latest survey from mortgage buyer Freddie Mac. At this time last year-when rates hit record lows-the average was 3.43%.   "Mortgage rates eased a bit following the decline in 10-year Treasury yields." Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist at Freddie Mac, said in a statement. "Also, the economy added 192,000 jobs in March, which was below the market consensus forecast but followed an upward revision of 22,000 jobs in February. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate held steady at 6.7%."   The average rate on a 15-year fixed mortgage also registered a small decline, to 3.38% from 3.47% last week. A year ago, it averaged 2.62%, according to Freddie Mac.   Averages for the two most popular hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages also slipped slightly from last week: The five-year ARM dropped to 3.09% from 3.12%, and the one-year ARM went down to 2.41% from 2.45%.   Analysts are split on where mortgage rates will go next week. In the latest Mortgage Rate Trend Index, 24% of the analysts predicted mortgage rates will rise over the next week, 38% said rates will continue to decline, and another 38% believed rates will hold steady.   "Rates should improve slightly following the improvement we have seen since the release of the employment report," said Jim Sahnger, a mortgage planner with Schaffer Mortgage in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. "There are a couple of data points ahead that could impact rates, but I really don't see them driving us off point."   The post Mortgage Rates Dip as Spring Home-Buying Season Begins appeared first on® news.

(BPT) - As summer approaches and your thoughts turn to home improvement and the outdoors, you're probably considering a variety of ways to make your home more comfortable, and attractive, while hopefully increasing its value as well. One feature that can achieve all these goals is a healthy lawn. Perhaps surprisingly, installing and maintaining a natural turf lawn is one of the best home improvement investments a homeowner can make. If you're weighing your options and wondering whether a lawn is worth the effort, consider the following 10 benefits. 1. Outdoor recreation: An inviting, low-maintenance outdoor space can provide a significant boost to your quality of life. From picnics and games to lounging in the shade with a drink and a good book, a lawn offers the perfect setting for outdoor entertainment and relaxation. 2. Increased home value: Grass makes a home more appealing. A well-maintained lawn is recognized as such a desirable feature to potential homebuyers that it can boost a home's value by as much as 15 percent, according to a Gallup survey. 3. Excellent return on investment: When it comes time to sell your home, good landscaping can give you a much higher return on your investment than many other home improvement projects. According to a Gallup survey, you can generally expect to recover 40 to 70 percent of the cost of building a deck or patio, while landscaping can offer a 100 to 200 percent return. 4. Stress relief: Grass areas are naturally calming and stress relieving, and the visual appeal contributes to improved mental health and better quality of life. The healing power of nature can work its magic even in your own backyard. 5. Urban benefits: In cities, grass absorbs noise and provides a beneficial link with nature. Studies have shown that well-maintained lawns also promote greater community pride and deter littering and vandalism. 6. Cooling: On hot days, grass is much cooler than cement, asphalt and dirt, which trap heat. And grass doesn't just stay cool to the touch - it cools the atmosphere as well. Each blade acts as an evaporative cooler, and by transpiring water to cool itself, grass also cools the environment, reducing the energy requirements for air-conditioning in buildings surrounded by lawns. According to the academic professionals with Grass Seed USA, the front lawns of eight average-size homes have the same cooling effect as the air-conditioning systems of about 20 homes. 7. Conversion of carbon dioxide to oxygen: Trees may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but all plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. According to the academic professionals with Grass Seed USA, a lawn of just 50 square feet releases enough oxygen to meet the needs of a family of four.* 8. Natural weed control: If you want a relatively low-maintenance landscaping option for an area of bare ground, try grass. A healthy lawn discourages the growth of weeds, and grass will easily outcompete other plants when you create the conditions that favor it. 9. Erosion prevention: Grass is one of the most efficient and inexpensive ways to prevent erosion caused by wind and water. A thick lawn absorbs rainfall, virtually eliminating any runoff, and the extensive root systems of the individual grass plants bind the soil more effectively than many other ground covers. 10. Self-repair: A lawn is naturally self-repairing. If you choose the right grass for your climate conditions and lawn use patterns, it will be highly resilient and regenerate quickly in response to stresses such as drought, frost or foot traffic. 'There are many reasons to love your lawn,' says Bryan Ostlund, executive director of Grass Seed USA, a coalition of American grass seed farmers and turf specialists. 'Whether you want a safe place for the kids to play or a welcoming outdoor space for a barbecue, grass fits the bill. It's a remarkably easy and budget-friendly way to add aesthetic, recreational and economic value to your home.'

Top 10 Tips Every Renter Should KnowThe number of U.S. renters has expanded significantly nationwide since the burst of the housing bubble. Between 2009 (the start of the housing market decline) to 2013, the U.S. rental vacancy rate decreased 8.4 percent to 4.1 percent. Meanwhile, rents climbed 3.2 percent for all of 2013. Still, the demand for apartments remains strong. According to the U.S. Census ACS (2007-2011), renter households represented 34 percent of all households in the country. As such, it is important that renters know the proper steps to take to secure the property they desire and successfully navigate the rental landscape.   With increased activity in the rental space, renters who take the time to study the eccentricities of their particular market will fare better. The experts at, with partner, have put together a list of the "Top 10 Tips Every Renter Should Know" – a comprehensive checklist to help renters get started on the right path to stress-free renting. 1. Be Prepared When it comes to winning over your prospective property owner or management company, being prepared and organized is the best way to get a leg up on the competition. For a smooth approval process, be prepared with a completed rental application, written references from a previous property owner and/or employer, and your apartment hunting checklist. 2. Budget Wisely Financial experts suggest that no more than 25 to 30 percent of monthly income be spent on housing. Be sure to create a realistic budget before deciding to move into a rental. Besides the cost of rent, consider the costs associated with your daily routines, including daily commute and lifestyle amenities like gym/fitness or a pool. It is wise to evaluate the direct and indirect costs saved or incurred by renting at a specific property. Lastly, confirm what is included in the lease agreement and who bears the responsibility for specific costs. Determining the party responsible for water and sewer, refuse, utilities, lawn maintenance, cable or internet costs, etc. is not always easy. That can often shift from lessee to lessor and vary from lease to lease. 3. Choose Which Amenities Are Important Consider which amenities you and your family really need. Although a large number of amenities can be very attractive and enticing, be honest about which ones are essential. Being able to compromise on some amenities – like an outdoor pool or water view -- may result in finding a home in a better location that is closer to your favorite activities. Don't get caught up in all the bells and whistles and forget about all the other important factors that go into choosing your perfect rental home.   4. Decide on Ideal Location One main thing to keep in mind is location. What is most important? Is the school district the number one priority? Do you prefer being close to the action of the city or to the laid-back country lifestyle? Use the search feature on to easily search rentals by zip code and find listings in nearby locations. This will ensure you don't miss your dream home in the locations that best fit your personality.   5. Search Outside the Box It's up to each individual to select the best rental option based on budget and personal preference. Prospective renters should review the varying rental types -- from residential apartment buildings and multi-unit rentals, to extending their search to single-family homes and/or townhomes. There are often great deals to be uncovered, especially if the rent will be split with roommates. Still nothing catching your interest? Take a look at the for sale listings. People aren't typically selling unless they have to, so they may be willing to rent listed homes or condos instead.   6. Never Sign a Lease without Visiting the Property First It is important to visit the apartment you will actually be living in, not just the apartment model. Carry out a walk-through of the entire space before signing a lease. Make sure that all of the faucets and appliances work, open all cabinets and closets, and be aware of any issues that need to be taken care of prior to moving in.   7. Review the Lease Agreement Thoroughly Make sure to review and understand all of the terms and conditions outlined in the leasing agreement before signing. There could be restrictions or clauses that inhibit how you want to live. Details to pay attention to include the effective date of commencement and duration, security deposit amount paid (whether it is interest-free or not), and the circumstances that make the deposit refundable. Additionally, consider rent escalation, grounds for termination, and the notice period required for termination of the lease. It may be possible to negotiate the specifics of some of the terms, but most important is being knowledgeable about lease details to make the best decision.   8. Purchase Renters Insurance What are your personal belongings worth? While the landlord or property management company has an insurance policy for the property you are renting, that does not mean your personal belongings are covered. Purchasing renters insurance covers you and your belongings in most instances of theft and damage, including natural disasters. It also protects you from anyone who claims to have been injured in your rental due to your fault or negligence. While renters insurance rates vary from state to state, there are great options available. The average cost for renters insurance is about $12 per month to cover $30,000 worth of property, according to Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIAB).   9. Take the Steps Necessary to Get Your Security Deposit Back Do an extensive walk-through of the space, taking pictures and/or video of what the rental looks like on the day you move in as well as when you move out. Keep documentation of repairs, upgrades and any modifications made to the property while you are living there. When your lease term has ended, insist on completing a final walk-through with the property owner. That way, both parties can compare the space before and after your occupancy. Familiarize yourself with the security deposit terms outlined in your lease. If property management ever changes, request a review with them to ensure both parties are on the same page. Finally, request that your security deposit be returned to you in a timely manner.   10. Be Efficient with Space Once you have found the place of your dreams on, make it your own. Take advantage of wireless technology and multi-use fixtures/storage to eliminate any unnecessary clutter from your apartment. Putting your furniture on casters makes for easy redecorating. Use temporary décor ideas to turn your rental into a home, making you feel renewed and unique without making significant changes or spending a lot of money. Source: Published with permission from RISMedia.

ipadliborohw The Long Island Board of Realtors® Announced it's 5th Annual Long Island and Queens Open House Weekend iPad Giveaway Sweepstakes. To enter contestants need to attend Open Houses April 5th & 6th and fill out a sweepstakes form. One entry per person per address for official rules see realtorPurchasing a home is one of the most important decisions in a person's life and deciding on a particular house comes with many options. Forty-five percent of recent buyers used open houses as a way to narrow down their choices and find their dream home. Buyers in Long Island and Queens will have the opportunity to do just that on April 5 and 6 as Century 21 American Homes Realtors® hold open houses all weekend long as part of the Long Island and Queens Realtor® Open House Weekend. "Spring is typically a busy season when it comes to home buying especially after the extreme weather conditions that this winter brought.  To celebrate spring and kick-off the season, Realtors® throughout Long Island and Queens are taking part in Realtor® Open House Weekend," Michael Litzner. "This event is a great way for buyers to get an idea of what they can afford and what kinds of homes are available in the local market. It's also a chance for sellers to market their home and attract potential buyers." Century 21 American Homes Realtors® will be present at the open houses to offer expert insight into the local housing market and answer questions from consumers concerning the home buying and selling process.  There will be plenty of open houses for you to attend, throughout Nassau, Suffolk, and Queens Counties. According to data from the National Association of REALTORS® the typical recently purchased home was 1,900 square feet and was built in 1992. The typical buyer purchased a home with three bedrooms and two full bathrooms, while slightly half of the homes purchased were on a single level.  Eighty percent of home buyers purchased a detached single-family home. When it comes to home features, heating and cooling costs were at least somewhat important to 85 percent of buyers.  The two most common rooms buyers were willing to spend more for were a laundry room and a den/home office. "Buyers need to have a clear idea of what features are important to them and know where they are willing to compromise;" said Michael Litzner "That is where visiting open houses can be helpful. Also, working with a Century 21 American Homes Realtor® can be a real asset.  Century 21 American Homes Realtors® visit hundreds of homes with buyers each year, and have a unique understanding of what buyers value in their local markets. Their expertise and knowledge can help you achieve the dream of homeownership."

For a list of this weekend's open houses please visit:

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