Consumer Real Estate News

    • How to Search for Homes Remotely

      1 April 2020

      For future homebuyers, especially those who were mid-search when the COVID-19 pandemic started, being able to explore potential homes has drastically changed. As social distancing has increased across the country, and with an unknown time frame of how long this isolation will actually last, many open houses and meetings with agents and sellers have been cancelled. However, just because you can’t see homes in person, doesn’t mean your search needs to end. 

      Talk to a Real Estate Agent
      The real estate business is one of thousands that has had to adjust and adapt during this pandemic. Utilizing social media and today’s technology has given agents the opportunity to communicate with clients in new, virtual ways. If you were planning on attending an open-house or walk-through for a specific property, talk to your agent and see if you can set up a virtual tour. Some agents may even have pre-recorded video tours to share. 

      Utilize Listing Websites
      If you’re looking to explore new properties, your local real estate brokerage and agent websites, and portals like realtor.com and Zillow, feature thousands of listings, categorized by location, price range, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, quality of schools and much more. While you’re stuck at home, take some time to research homes in the areas you are interested in moving to and view information, images and sometimes even virtual tours to expand your home search.

      Explore Neighborhoods on Facebook
      Deciding on a neighborhood, or simply getting to know the ones you’re interested in moving to, can be tough when you can’t visit it. But don’t fret—social media is here to help. Many communities have Facebooks groups, run by local schools and businesses, parents or individuals to stay connected and share information. Exploring these pages is a great way to get to know a neighborhood, from dining, activities and schools to learning about your potential future neighbors and community.

      Your home search may be affected by the current state of this virus, but shouldn’t stop you from exploring potential homes and neighborhoods. With the vast resources available, from experienced real estate agents to the expansive search tools online, future homebuyers have the opportunity to shop around from the comfort of their homes. 

      Published with permission from RISMedia.

    • What to Do If You Find an Error on Your Credit Report

      1 April 2020

      Lenders look at your credit report to determine whether you qualify for a loan or credit card. Inaccurate information could lead to an unfavorable interest rate or outright denial of your application. You should periodically request copies of your credit reports and check them for errors. If you find a mistake, act immediately to have it corrected so it doesn't hurt your chances of obtaining credit.

      How an Error Might Have Occurred
      If you have a common name, your records could have gotten mixed up with someone else's. If you are divorced, a joint account that you had with your former spouse might not have been removed from your credit report, even if it was supposed to be according to your divorce settlement. Someone might also have made an error when entering your personal information. An account might be listed on your credit report more than once, or an account that was closed might not have been removed. In a more extreme scenario, someone might have stolen your identity and opened a fraudulent account in your name.

      How to Dispute an Error
      Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, credit bureaus are required to investigate any alleged errors reported by consumers, unless those claims are deemed frivolous. If you find what you believe to be an error, write to the credit bureau or fill out an online form. Explain what you believe is incorrect and provide copies of any documents that support your position. If you send letters via the postal service, mail them certified and request receipt confirmation. Keep copies of all letters you send to the credit bureau and any responses you receive.

      You should also contact the company that provided the information to the credit bureau and explain why you believe it is incorrect. Include copies of supporting documents and state that you have filed a dispute with the credit bureau.

      Possible Outcomes
      The credit bureau should complete its investigation within 30 days. In many states, a consumer who disputes an error is entitled to receive a free copy of a new credit report showing that the mistake has been corrected.

      If the credit bureau does not agree that there is an error in your report, you can ask it to include your statement disputing the information in your file. Your statement can be provided to anyone who received your credit report recently or who will in the future. You may have to pay a fee for this service, but it can be worthwhile if it helps you avoid getting turned down for a loan or credit card. If you suffer harm as a result of an error on your credit report, you may need to hire a lawyer to help you resolve the issue.

      Check Your Credit Reports
      An error on a credit report can prevent you from achieving your financial goals. Request free copies of your credit reports and check them for errors. If you find any, take steps to address the situation as soon as possible.

      Published with permission from RISMedia.

    • When Should You Start Saving for Your Children's College Education?

      1 April 2020

      If you have or plan to have children, you want them to have a bright future and to be successful and financially secure. That may mean that you hope (or expect) that they will obtain a college degree. With tuition and other costs steadily climbing every year, many parents worry that they won't be able to afford to pay for their children's college education.

      Set Clear Priorities
      Before you start saving for college, you need to get your finances in order in other areas. Make sure you have an emergency fund with enough money to cover at least three months' worth of expenses in case you suffer an illness or injury or lose your job. It's also important to set aside enough money for your own retirement. You won't be doing your kids a favor if you're too old or ill to work, don't have enough saved to support yourself, and have to rely on them when they're starting out in their own careers and are not yet financially secure.

      Lower Current Expenses
      Find ways to cut your expenditures to make room for college savings in your budget. If you have any high-interest credit cards or loans, pay them off, or at least get the balances under control before you start setting aside money for your children's future education. Consolidating credit card balances to lower your interest rates and refinancing your mortgage or other loans can save you money each month.

      Eating out less often and reducing your spending on clothing and entertainment are other ways to lower expenses. These changes could allow you to save money for college without having a major impact on your current quality of life.

      Ways to Save for College
      Once your own financial situation is secure, you can begin to save money for your children's college education. The earlier you start, the better. Because of compounded interest, even a small amount, when consistently set aside each month and left to accrue interest, can grow into a sizable nest egg.

      You might want to open a 529 savings account to set aside funds for college costs. You can even establish an account in your own name before a child is born and then transfer it to your child's name later. Another option is to put money in an IRA to be used for your own retirement or for your children's college education. Discuss your options and tax implications with a financial advisor.

      Be Ambitious, but Realistic
      With higher education costs soaring, the key to building a substantial amount of savings is to start early. The more you set aside, and the longer it can collect interest, the better off your children will be when they're ready to enter college. If you can't save as much as you would like, remember that grants, scholarships and loans may be available to help. Make your own retirement and your family's current financial security your first priorities as you save for college.

      Published with permission from RISMedia.

    • How to Help Home-Bound Teenagers Cope

      31 March 2020

      Stay-at-home restrictions are challenging for everyone, especially teenagers.

      In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, teens - who would normally just be starting to enjoy life as independent beings in the world - are suddenly back under the purview of mom and dad. To make matters worse, many teens have had something extremely important to them suddenly ripped away: a lead in the school play, a varsity spot on the team, prom, graduation, a part-time job, etc. On top of that, their all-important social life is now off limits as well.

      What’s a parent to do? While nothing will come close to replacing the life your teenager had been living, here are a few strategies to help your teen cope:

      Make sure they’re informed. Teens are masters of disguising their true feelings, so don’t misread their cool demeanor as apathy. They might be getting the bulk of their information through social media, which is not always accurate and may be causing undue alarm. Be sure to calmly keep them apprised of the developments surrounding the coronavirus, explaining why the restrictions are important. Don’t withhold information out of fear of worrying them. Listen to a trusted news source together so that the information is coming directly from the experts, not their “overreacting” parents.

      Give them a social outlet. It’s critical that your teenager is still able to connect with friends during this time. Encourage social distancing activities they can do with a friend, such as hiking, running or biking. Let them take the car to a nearby scenic spot and hang out side-by-side with a friend in another car. Give them privacy to use the family computer to host a Zoom “meeting” or Google hangout with multiple friends. At all costs, make sure your wifi is up to snuff so that your teens can easily text, use social media and Facetime to stay connected.

      Help them earn money. Your teenager may be depressed about losing a job, but you can easily come up with some jobs around the house for your teen to take on to earn some money. Have them help you with some small tasks related to your job while you’re working from home, or a project that will get them outside, such as spring yard clean-up. While the financial incentive is a big plus, the real benefit is getting their minds focused on something other than the situation at hand.

      Keep student athletes in shape. While staying active is essential for all teens in this situation, it’s particularly important for your student athlete who is used to a rigorous work-out schedule, and could respond negatively to suddenly being sedentary. Check in with coaches to see if they’ve put a work-out schedule in place or are perhaps hosting online group workouts. Remind your athlete that keeping their fitness level up is essential so that they can return to sports without missing a beat.

      Embrace family time. While the hectic pace of life before the pandemic might have made you and your teenager ships that pass in the night, you’ve now got lots of time together, so make the most of it. Eat meals together, binge watch a series together, play cards, get the old photo albums out, etc. The idea is to make sure your teenager doesn’t stay holed up all day in his or her room. So make some interactive time mandatory.  

      Published with permission from RISMedia.

    • How to Retain Your Home's Value

      31 March 2020

      If you plan to sell your home in the future, you want to earn a profit...or at least get back what you paid for it. A house can depreciate, or lose value, for a variety of reasons. Some are beyond your control, but you can take steps in other areas to help your home retain its value.

      Location
      A home's proximity to an undesirable site can lower property values. For example, buyers may not be interested in a house near a highway, train station, airport, large sports arena or performing arts venue because of concerns about noise and traffic. Buyers might also be wary of a house located near a factory or landfill because of concerns about pollution and unpleasant smells. People generally prefer homes that are located relatively close to schools, stores, restaurants and parks.

      Local Issues
      A house can lose value because of a struggling economy, several properties in foreclosure in a small area, crime, underperforming schools or troublesome neighbors. You can't do much on your own to fix a troubled economy, but you and other residents can band together to lower crime rates by starting a neighborhood watch and installing security cameras. Get involved with other parents at local schools and offer suggestions and assistance to improve the quality of education children receive. If a neighbor throws loud parties or does not take care of home maintenance and landscaping, have a polite but direct conversation. Emphasize how creating a more pleasant neighborhood can help all homeowners retain their property values. 

      Maintenance and Curb Appeal
      Prospective buyers want a house that has been well maintained. Any serious problems, such as a leaking roof, a damp basement, drafty windows or mold, should be addressed before you put your home on the market. Most buyers would pass on a house in need of substantial work. You might be able to find a buyer willing to make the repairs, but you would not get as much money as you would if you were to take care of the problems yourself first.

      The house should be aesthetically appealing. Trim the grass, prune the trees and plant a garden. Painting the house or replacing the siding can give potential buyers a positive first impression. Even painting the front door can boost your home's curb appeal.

      Find the Right Home and Work to Retain Its Value
      If you have not yet bought a house and want to choose one that is not likely to depreciate substantially, consider the pros and cons of the neighborhood. You can't predict what the area might be like years from now, but if there are any obvious red flags today, you would be better off looking elsewhere.

      Houses can depreciate over time for many reasons. In some cases, there is nothing you can do, but if you can take steps to retain your home's value, you should. Maintain your house and yard and help create a neighborhood of which everyone can be proud.

      Published with permission from RISMedia.