8 Brilliant New Year’s Eve Decorations You Can Make

If you prefer to have friends over to celebrate the new year rather than go out to some big bash, Here's some tips to give your place that festive air.

End the year on a high note. Set the scene for an unforgettable bash of your own with these DIY New Year’s Eve party crafts. For pictures and details, click here

Simple Home Repair Jobs You Can Do Now

Winter's doldrums got you down? Grab a screwdriver and a hammer and fight back with easy home repairs that’ll raise spirits and get your house ready for spring.

What to Look (and Listen) For

In each room, look around and take stock of what needs fixing or improving. Focus on small, quick-hit changes, not major redos. Here are some likely suspects:

1. Sagging towel rack or wobbly toilet tissue holder. Unscrew the fixture and look for the culprit. It’s probably a wimpy, push-in type plastic drywall anchor. Pull that out (or just poke it through the wall) and replace it with something more substantial. Toggle bolts are strongest, and threaded types such as E-Z Ancor are easy to install.

2. Squeaky door hinges. Eliminate squeaks by squirting a puff of powdered graphite ($2.50 for a 3-gram tube) alongside the pin where the hinge turns. If the door sticks, plane off a bit of the wood, then touch up the paint so the surgery isn’t noticeable.

3. Creaky floor boards. They’ll shush if you fasten them down better. Anti-squeak repair kits, such as Squeeeeek No More ($23), feature specially designed screws that are easy to conceal. A low-cost alternative: Dust a little talcum powder into the seam where floorboards meet — the talcum acts as a lubricant to quiet boards that rub against each other.

4. Rusty shutoff valves. Check under sinks and behind toilets for the shutoff valves on your water supply lines. These little-used valves may slowly rust in place over time, and might not work when you need them most. Keep them operating by putting a little machine oil or WD-40 on the handle shafts. Twist the handles back and forth to work the oil into the threads. If they won’t budge, give the oil a couple of hours to penetrate, and try again.

5. Blistered paint on shower ceilings. This area gets a lot of heat and moisture that stresses paint finishes. Scrape off old paint and recoat, using a high-quality exterior-grade paint. Also, be sure everyone uses the bathroom vent when showering to help get rid of excess moisture.

6. Loose handles or hinges on furniture, cabinets, and doors. You can probably fix these with a few quick turns of a screwdriver. But if a screw just spins in place, try making the hole fit the screw better by stuffing in a toothpick coated with glue, or switching to a larger screw.

Read more: http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/repair-tips/home-repair-jobs-winter/#ixzz3uhoxXq1A

Give Your Pet The Gift Of Holiday Safety

As we head into the thick of the gift-giving season, make sure you’re giving your pets the gift of holiday safety! It’s easy to get wrapped up in our pets’ adoring, curious and begging eyes, but now is not the time to indulge them in table scraps, an abundance of treats or cute holiday toys with jingle bells or other choking hazards.

Here are some essential tips and important pet facts to help you keep your furry friends safe this holiday season:

Food
While it’s true that sharing a tiny bit of turkey with your dog or other pet may seem harmless, you may want to reconsider! Think about it … when was the last time you saw your dog politely sampling just a bite of anything? A “tiny bit of turkey” doesn’t exist in a dog’s world! And unfortunately, too much turkey, particularly the skin, bones and fatty parts, can lead to a serious and sometimes fatal condition called pancreatitis.

But turkey isn’t the only danger. Too much of any fatty foods, including those delicious holiday table sides or desserts, and too many seasonally-decorated dog treats that are high in fat content, can cause pancreatitis in dogs.

Pancreatitis occurs when fatty foods cause a pet’s pancreas to become inflamed and begin leaking digestive enzymes, which in turn start breaking down intestinal tissue. Although symptoms are not always apparent, they can include poor appetite, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and abdominal pain. Treatment may include hospitalization, IV fluids, pain relievers, anti-nausea medications, antibiotics and even plasma transfusions.

The best rule of thumb is to stick to your pet’s normal diet and avoid introducing too much of anything new.

Decorations
As mentioned in our “It’s All Fun And Games, Until …” blog, there is a significant increase in ER visits during the holiday months due to injuries caused by holiday cooking accidents, decorating hazards and house fires. And those holiday-related injuries aren’t exclusive to humans! Our fur babies can just as easily (and often easier) wind up in a dangerous situation due to lack of holiday precautions. To keep your pets safe from injury when your home is decked out, consider these tips:
When choosing a location to display your decorated tree, choose a room that your pet can’t access. If your home has an open-floor plan, making it harder to isolate your tree from your pet, consider using some temporary pet gates to secure an area.
Poinsettias, mistletoe and other popular holiday and winter plants can be very poisonous to animals. Display your plants in a room that your pet can’t access, or on a high shelf that is out of reach.
Make sure strands of lights and electrical plugs are safely blocked and out of reach to your pet.
Never leave lit candles on low tables or ledges that your pets can get to.
If your pet gets nervous around guests, have a safe place away from guests for him/her to rest during social gatherings.

Santa Suits
Have you noticed the many adorable pet holiday costumes and accessories available in stores these days? While it’s fun to dress up our dogs and cats in seasonal-themed attire, it is important to remember that those santa suits, jingle bell collars, etc., can lead to harm. Never leave your pet unsupervised when he/she is “suited up” for holiday cheer.

Source: Prime Lending - Kim Kelman 210-421-8854

Home Maintenance: What to do about a faulty GFCI outlet?

You're probably using a lot more of your electrical outlets this time of year. Did you know you’re supposed to test them the GFCI ones that you find in your kitchen,bathrooms and outside outlets once a month? If you haven't done this you don't remember when, why not check them now to keep yourself safe. great time. Just check to make sure the device trips and resets correctly.

Do it yourself or call an electrician - which could cost you up to $100 depending on where you live.

Click here to see the video

e





8 Ways to Cut Your Holiday Energy Bill

The holidays can be an expensive time of year with house guests, holiday meals, and festive lights pushing up your utility bill. Now if you do your lights up as much as the house here, these tips won't save you that much. However, for the rest of us, these tips can be money savers,

1. Set time on your side - Set timers for your holiday displays to turn off before bedtime so you don’t accidentally leave the lights on all night.

2. Get guests on board with saving energy - Remind guests to turn off lights and fans when they leave the room. Stopping one ceiling fan from running all the time and turning at least one light off when you leave the room can save you more than $7 a month on your electric bill.

3. Stop peeking at cooking food - Ovens lose a lot of heat when opened and require significant energy to heat back up to the appropriate temperature. Instead, when you have to sneak a peek, turn the oven light on and look through the interior window.

4. Choose glass or ceramic pans for the oven -These pans heat faster than metal ones and allow you to set the temperature 25 degrees lower than a recipe suggests for the same cooking time.

5. Use Crock-Pots and microwaves - Use smaller appliances such as Crock-Pots, microwaves, and toaster ovens when possible. These can be much more energy-efficient for side dishes or small meals.

6. Wait to wash - Wash only full loads in laundry machines and dishwashers. Use the energy saver, air-dry cycle in the dishwasher and cold water in the washing machine.

7. Bake before you clean - Use the self-cleaning oven feature only when necessary and start the self-cleaning cycle immediately after the oven is used to take advantage of pre-existing heat.

8. Deck the halls with LEDs - When it comes to holiday lighting, LED lights are the bright choice to get you more for your money. The amount of power it takes to operate just one 7-watt incandescent holiday bulb could power two 24-foot LED strings — enough to light a 6-foot tree. Additionally, LED light strings last about 10 times longer.

Sources: Florida Power & Light, Pacific Gas and Electric Company
Read more: http://www.houselogic.com/news/saving-energy/8-ways-cut-your-holiday-energy-bill/#ixzz3uhcnYNzQ

Bad Tree Choices

This story and photo gallery caught my eye, and I thought you might find it interesting. It shows 11 trees that you should never plant in your yard for the problems they can cause. One of those is a mountain cedar - which if you live in South Texas it may be the bane of your existence if you have allergies. It's so prevalent that newscasters give the pollen count during pollen season.

Another no-no tree is a willow, which I take exception to as we had a big, beautiful one in our yard when I was growing up. It gave great shade for several tables and chairs when we had parties outside.

What trees do you have in your yard that have caused you problems? In our last house, we had a big palm tree that was dangerous when it had to be trimmed because of the big spikes in the palms.

Now click here to see the other trees to avoid.

2015’s Hottest Holiday Toys for Kids 6 and Up

If  you're looking for gifts for children and haven't a clue as to what is currently hot on the Santa list, here's some tips. Of course, if you expect to find the Star Wars toys at the store that are included here, you may have to travel to another galaxy  or time to find them.

The pros at The Toy Insider have projected this year's hottest buys for the holiday season. Here, co-publisher Laurie Schacht shares the list for children six years and up, based on their own research and market trends. Check out the list for kids here.

7 Ways to Decorate Your Dining Chairs for the Holidays

If you're having guests over for the holidays you can make your home more merry and fun with these tips. 

When setting your Christmas table, don’t forget about the chairs. Some festive details will spruce up everyday seating, while uniform accents can streamline a mix of dining and folding chairs.

To see samples of what you can do click here.

Is an Interest Rate Hike Imminent?


In a Congressional hearing this week,lawmakers bombarded Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet L. Yellen with reasons to hold off on raising a key interest rate for the first time in nearly a decade: slow wage growth, the strong dollar, recession fears and recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

Yellen downplayed each one of them Thursday. She didn't definitively indicate that Fed policymakers would nudge up the benchmark rate when they meet Dec. 15-16, but Yellen solidified the expectations of analysts who now see it as a near certainty.

“It sure sounds to me like she's seen what she's looking for” in the recovery, said Gus Faucher, senior economist at PNC Financial Services Group. “If anybody's surprised the Fed raises rates in two weeks, they haven't been paying attention.”

Although Yellen said the U.S. economy has “recovered substantially since the Great Recession,” she acknowledged risks, including slower global growth and outbreaks of domestic or international violence.

But she said one reason to raise the so-called federal funds rate, which affects terms for consumer and business loans, is so the Fed has the flexibility to lower it if those risks cause the economy to falter in the future.

The federal funds rate has been near zero since December 2008 in an attempt to boost economic growth during the Great Recession and its aftermath. The Fed began lowering the rate in 2007 from 5.25% as the economy slowed.

A rate increase “will be a testament … to how far our economy has come in recovering from the effects of the financial crisis and the Great Recession,” Yellen said during a hearing by Congress' Joint Economic Committee.

“In that sense, it is a day that I expect we all are looking forward to,” she said.

But several lawmakers peppered her with worries about the state of the U.S. economy and concerns that the Fed was moving in a different direction than the European Central Bank, which announced new stimulus measures Thursday.

Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), the committee's chairman, asked Yellen whether “coordinated terrorist attacks or just an acceleration of the kind of violence we're seeing — mass shootings and so forth” could have a negative effect on the economy by causing people to hold back on spending or fear going to a mall to shop.

Yellen said the Fed watches those risks “very carefully.”

“I would not say that I see a significant effect at this point, although certainly in the aftermath of the financial crisis, we've seen rather cautious behavior on the part of households and firms,” she said.

She promised that the Fed would move cautiously, inching the interest rate up slowly. Some analysts have predicted the Fed could wait as long as six months after the first 0.25 percentage point increase to enact another one.

But Yellen warned that Fed policymakers couldn't wait too long because there are “well-documented lags in the effect of monetary policy” on the broader economy. The longer the Fed waits, the faster it might have to raise rates, which could harm the economy, she said.

“Such an abrupt tightening would risk disrupting financial markets and perhaps even inadvertently push the economy into a recession,” Yellen said.

She downplayed the short-term risk of a U.S. recession, discounting a Citigroup report this week that there was a 65% chance that would happen next year.

“I can't put a number on the risk of a recession, but I absolutely wouldn't see it as anything approaching 65%,” Yellen said.

Based on history, the economy is well past due for a recession after expanding for more than six years. But the sluggish pace of economic growth has helped stave off circumstances, like a housing bubble or overextended consumers, that would trigger a downturn, said Faucher, the economist.

“The flip side of the disappointing recovery means we can continue at this pace for a while longer without creating the conditions for a recession,” he said, putting the risk at 15% next year.

Fed policymakers will look closely at Friday's job report, the last before their meeting, Yellen said. The report is expected to show solid growth of about 190,000 net new jobs in November — although down from 271,000 the previous month — and the unemployment rate holding steady at 5%.

Wages also are forecast to increase, continuing what Yellen said was “tentative evidence” of a trend that would push low inflation closer to the Fed's 2% annual target.

But she indicated that a weaker-than-expected report might not be enough to wait on a rate hike.

“We need to be looking at underlying trends in the data and not over-weighting any number,” Yellen said.
SoHiurce: http://www.latimes.com/la-bio-jim-puzzanghera-staff.html#nt=byline

How Do You Envision Your Retirement?

It's never too late to start planning for retirement. But the earlier you begin, the likelier it is that you'll have the freedom to live those years in the manner you choose.

Here are four important steps to take now to set up your retirement plans.

Pin Down Your Vision -- The conventional picture of retirement has been one of leisure (cue the extended golf game). But to an increasing number of people, that vision now includes employment -- whether it's extending an existing job or business into retirement, or taking a new path with part-time or volunteer work. Know which version is a fit for you.

Estimate Expenses -- Next, calculate how much you'll need to fund that lifestyle. Estimate your retirement expenses. Will you still have a mortgage? Will you relocate? What about health care costs? (Here's a calculator for those.) Don't forget travel and other discretionary spending too.

Identify Income Streams -- Now identify any sources of income you will have. Social Security is usually the first that comes to mind. Though that system isn't designed to be a primary income stream, Social Security provides an average of about 40 percent of a pre-retirement salary. (Get a more accurate estimate based on your actual earnings here.) Pensions, annuities, stock dividends and part-time employment are other income sources to consider.

Build Your Savings -- Your retirement savings are meant to bridge any gaps between your expected income and expenses. Your best bets for socking away funds: IRAs and work-based 401(k) plans.
There's the traditional IRA, which saves you taxes now (if you qualify) while you're still working and likely to be in a higher tax bracket. There's also a Roth IRA, which provides tax-free withdrawals during retirement. (You pay the tax man now, although there are income-eligibility restrictions.) As for a 401(k), your contribution lowers the income you're currently taxed on and often results in a matching contribution from your employer. Take advantage of that free money.

Take these four simple steps now and you may find that your retirement years become your happiest!
Source: Sharon Floyd - Residence Lending (210) 317-8834

Road Trip? Tips for Comfort in the Drive

 If you are planning a road trip or are on the road a lot as part of your job, here's some tips keep you more comfortable...

Adjust Your Seat: Adjust your seat so your legs are neither bunched up nor so far from the pedals that you feel the stretch in your hamstrings. About.com recommends tilting the seatback at around a 100-110 degree angle in relation to the bottom of the seat. This evenly distributes the weight between your thighs and your buttocks, allowing you to lean back ever so slightly.

Let Your Mirror Be Your Guide: Here's a simple trick that will help you maintain proper posture. Sit up straight and adjust the mirror so that the reflection is lined up with the top edge of the rear window. If you start to slouch, the reflection will shift, reminding you to straighten your spine.

Add Extra Lumbar Support: Even some very nice cars come with little in the way of lumbar support, but you can add a cushion that supports your lower back. Brookstone sells a variety of cushions filled with memory foam that just might give your back some much needed relief.

Relax Your Grip: If you find yourself stuck in traffic or making your way through a busy part of town, you might succumb to the temptation to grip the steering wheel a little too tightly. This places extra stress on the joints in your fingers and your wrist. When you notice you're doing the vice grip, try to relax with a deep breath or two. It's good for the mind and the body!

Stop and Stretch: Long, uninterrupted drives can reduce blood flow and cause muscle cramps. Consider stopping and stretching your legs to break up a longer trip if your schedule allows.   


Source: Old Republic Home Warranty      

Consumer Attitudes Signal Healthier Purchase Market Ahead

Americans’ outlook toward the current home selling market and the future of home rental prices may bode well for purchase activity this year, according to results from Fannie Mae's June 2015 National Housing Survey™. Amid continued strong job and income growth, consumers are looking more favorably on the current selling climate, perhaps portending an uptick in the existing home supply. Among those surveyed, the share who believe now is a good time to sell a home reached a new survey high, increasing three percentage points to 52 percent and crossing the 50-percent threshold for the first time in the survey’s history. At the same time, the share who said they expect home rental prices to go up in the next 12 months rose four percentage points to 59 percent, also an all-time survey high. With an increase in housing supply from those ready to sell, combined with higher rental cost expectations, more potential homebuyers may be encouraged to leave the sidelines.

“Our June survey results show the positive impact on housing of job and income growth,” said Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae. “The expectation of higher rents is a natural outgrowth of increasing household formation by newly employed individuals putting upward pressure on rental rates. A complementary rise in the good time to sell measure suggests that limited inventory, which is putting upward pressure on house prices, gives an increasing advantage to sellers. Together, these results point to a healthier home purchase market, with more renters likely to find owning to be more cost-effective than renting and more sellers likely to put their homes on the market.”

SURVEY HIGHLIGHTS: Homeownership and Renting
  • The average 12-month home price change expectation fell to 2.6 percent.
  • The share of respondents who say home prices will go up in the next 12 months fell to 47 percent. The share who say home prices will go down rose to 7 percent.
  • The share of respondents who say mortgage rates will go up in the next 12 months rose 3 percentage points to 50 percent.
  • Those who say it is a good time to buy a house fell to 63 percent – tying a survey low – while those who say it is a good time to sell rose to 52 percent – a new survey high.
  • The average 12-month rental price change expectation fell to 4.2 percent.
  • The percentage of respondents who expect home rental prices to go up rose to 59 percent – a new survey high.
  • Those who think it would be easy to get a home mortgage remained at 50 percent, while those who think it would be difficult remained at 46 percent.
  • The share who say they would buy if they were going to move fell 2 percentage points to 64 percent, while the share who would rent increased to 30 percent.
The Economy and Household Finances
  • The share of respondents who say the economy is on the right track increased by 1 percentage point to 39 percent, while those who say the economy is on the wrong track fell by 1 percentage point to 51 percent.
  • The percentage of respondents who expect their personal financial situation to get worse over the next 12 months fell back to 10 percent – tying a survey low.
  • The share of respondents who say their household income is significantly higher than it was 12 months ago fell 1 percentage point to 27 percent.
  • The percentage of respondents say their household expenses are significantly higher than they were 12 months ago remained at 31 percent.
The most detailed consumer attitudinal survey of its kind, Fannie Mae’s National Housing Survey™ polled 1,000 Americans via live telephone interview to assess their attitudes toward owning and renting a home, home and rental price changes, homeownership distress, the economy, household finances, and overall consumer confidence. Homeowners and renters are asked more than 100 questions used to track attitudinal shifts (findings are compared to the same survey conducted monthly beginning June 2010). To reflect the growing share of households with a cell phone but no landline, the National Housing Survey has increased its cell phone dialing rate to 60 percent as of October 2014. For more information, please see the Technical Notes. Fannie Mae conducts this survey and shares monthly and quarterly results so that we may help industry partners and market participants target our collective efforts to stabilize the housing market in the near-term, and provide support in the future.

For detailed findings from the June 2015 survey, as well as technical notes on survey methodology and questions asked of respondents associated with each monthly indicator, please visit the Fannie Mae Monthly National Housing Survey page on fanniemae.com. Also available on the site are in-depth topic analyses, which provide a detailed assessment of combined data results from three monthly studies. The June 2015 National Housing Survey was conducted between June 1, 2015 and June 23, 2015. Most of the data collection occurred during the first two weeks of this period. Interviews were conducted by Penn Schoen Berland, in coordination with Fannie Mae.

Source: Fannie Mae

Top 10 Summer Energy-Saving Tips - Stay Cool Without Going Broke:

When temperatures rise, your utility bill doesn’t have to follow suit. Try these 10 tips to cut your summer energy use:
  • Work your thermostat. Electric thermostats can be programmed so that the A/C isn’t on when you don’t need it. Set the thermostat at 82° before you leave for work in the morning and at 77° when you get home.
  • Live off-peak. In many cities, electricity usage is calculated on a time-of-use rate. Go online and determine when your off-peak hours are and run your dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer at these times. Often, electricity rates are the lowest early in the morning, at night, and on the weekends.
  • Draft-proof. Drafts in your homes are big energy wasters. Find out where air is escaping by performing a simple air-leak test. Take a piece of tissue and go through your entire house holding the tissue near windows and door frames, electrical outlets, baseboards, and other possible leakage locations. If the tissue moves, consider sealing in these gaps with caulking and weather stripping. The materials you need are relatively inexpensive and can reduce loss energy loss by up to 10%.
  • Keep the light out. Closing your blinds and curtains during the day can naturally cool your home by blocking heat that otherwise would have come in through your windows.
  • Improve your habits. Do you let the water run when you brush your teeth? Do you keep your fridge door open for a long time while you decide what to eat? Be aware of these bad habits and try to pick up a few good ones, including: taking shorter showers, turning off the lights when you leave the room, and watering the lawn at night.
  • Reduce your phantom load. Phantom load is the electricity consumed by a device when it is turned off. For example, your television, video game console, cable box, laptop, and cell phone chargers all suck up energy even when they’re not on. Ensure that these devices are unplugged when they’re not being used. Alternatively, plug them into a power bar and turn off the bar before you go to bed and when you leave for work in the morning.
  • Wash laundry efficiently. Becoming smarter about how you do your laundry not only saves you money, but it also protects valuable fresh-water resources. Roughly 90% of your washing machine’s energy consumption comes from heating water, so wash your laundry in cold water whenever possible. Loading the washer to its capacity at all times uses up less energy than washing two medium loads. Also, set your machine to the shortest wash time, and forgo the extra rinse cycle.
  • Hang your clothes to dry. The dryer is a huge source of energy. During the summer, hang your clothes outside to dry and/or dry them on a clothes rack indoors.
  • Lighten up with energy-efficient bulbs. The electricity used over the lifetime of a single incandescent bulb costs five to 10 times the original purchase price of the bulb itself. Replace your regular light bulbs with either Light Emitting Diode (LED) or Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL) bulbs, which are more energy-efficient and longer lasting.
  • Get informed about your energy use. Understand the options you have available for managing your energy consumption, such as home energy monitors and other applications. And take advantage of the many rebates and incentives available from your government or utility.
Source:  Centre for Urban Energy at Ryerson University

New Heating and Cooling Regulations

It’s important to know that the Department of Energy (DOE) raised the minimum efficiency standard for HVAC units to 14 SEER in most regions of the U.S. as of January 1, 2015.
What is SEER?
SEER stands for “Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio.” SEER can be compared to miles per gallon on your car. The higher the number, the more efficient the HVAC unit.


What are the new SEER regulations in the SOUTH Region? 

Heat Pumps
The standard for all split-system heat pumps has increased to the new national heat pump efficiency minimum of 14 SEER and 8.2 HSPF (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor).
Air Conditioners

The AC standard has increased to 14 SEER.


Exceptions
Existing systems less than 14 SEER may continue to be used as long as they can be repaired with available parts. Replacement systems less than 14 SEER may continue to be purchased and installed as long as the system was manufactured prior to January 1, 2015. 13 SEER (straight cool units) may still be installed until June 30, 2016.


More efficient systems are often larger and contain more expensive components. When you purchase a home, this is an important reason to get a one-year home warranty on the property. Most policies will protect you from potentially higher repair and replacement costs, and they will continue to install the appropriate SEER equipment for covered breakdowns. It’s always important to check contract details to understand coverage limitations. For example, making structural changes to accommodate the new larger systems will not be covered.

A significant value to consider is that when a covered breakdown occurs, the repair may require installation of more efficient equipment which could present compatibility problems with the existing system components. In these situations most home warranty companies will replace the covered components necessary to make the system compatible. Just make sure you read the policy to know what's covered and call the company to do the repairs.

For more details on the new guidelines, go to: http://www.energy.gov/energysaver/articles/central-air-conditioning

Student Loans - Planning for and paying for them

Not sure how you (or your kids) will pay for college? You might be planning on a combination of savings, scholarships and grants, but it doesn't hurt to understand your options for student loans too.
Where can students get a loan?
There are two main categories of student loans:
  • Federal loans -- Federal government loans with fixed interest rates. Repayment isn't required until after graduation.
  • Private loans -- From a bank or other entity, these loans often have variable rates. Repayment may begin while the student is still in school.
Federal or private -- which is best?
Experts generally recommend applying for federal loans first because they typically come with lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options. The first step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and then to consider three types of federal loans:
  • Federal Direct Loans -- Unsubsidized loans are available to all students, regardless of financial need. These loans start accumulating interest as soon as they are received. Some students may qualify for subsidized loans, which cover the interest while the recipient is in school.
  • Federal PLUS Loans -- Geared to graduate and professional degree students, or parents of students pursuing undergraduate degrees, a PLUS loan requires a credit check.
  • Federal Perkins Loans -- These are need-based, government-funded loans administered by the college or university. The amount available to an individual student depends on how much is still available at the school, so apply early.
How to "fill in the gaps." Federal loans may not be enough to cover all education costs. In that case, a private loan may help. The school's financial aid office can help identify the available options, but they generally fall into three categories:
  • State agency loans (for residents or students enrolled at a school in the state)
  • Traditional bank loans (credit check and co-signer are typically required)
  • School loans (administered by the school, often with fixed rates)
With all of these alternatives, it may be tempting to borrow too much. Students should consider the earning potential of their major before borrowing, and take only what can be repaid within a reasonable timeframe (usually about 10 years).

That way, student loans won't end up as a burden; instead, they'll be a smart investment in the future.

Source: Sharon Floyd, Residence Lending (210) 317-8834

Tips for Choosing the Right Paint Sheen

There’s a basic rule of thumb to follow when choosing paint sheens: The higher the sheen, the higher the shine — and the higher the shine, the more durable it will be.
Flat paint has no shine; high-gloss is all shine. In between are eggshell, satin, and semi-gloss, each with its own practical and decorative job to do.

High Gloss
The most durable and easiest to clean of all paint sheens, high-gloss paint is hard, ultra-shiny, and light-reflecting. Think appliance-paint tough.
High gloss is a good choice for area that sticky fingers touch — cabinets, trim, and doors. High-gloss, however, is too much shine for interior walls. And like a Spandex dress, high gloss shows every bump and roll, so don’t skimp on prep work.
  • Practical application: kitchens, door, and window trim
  • Durability: very high
Semi-Gloss
Good for rooms where moisture, drips, and grease stains challenge walls. Also great for trim work that takes a lot of abuse.
  • Practical application: kitchens, bathrooms, trim, chair rails
  • Durability: high
Satin
Has a yummy luster that, despite the name, is often described as velvety. It’s easy to clean, making it excellent for high-traffic areas. Its biggest flaw is it reveals application flaws, such as roller or brush strokes. Touch-ups later can be tricky.
  • Practical application: family rooms, foyers, hallways, kids’ bedrooms
  • Durability: high
Eggshell
Between satin and flat on the sheen (and durability) scale is eggshell, so named because it’s essentially a flat (no-shine) finish with little luster, like a chicken’s egg. Eggshell covers wall imperfections well and is a great finish for gathering spaces that don’t get a lot of bumps and scuffs.
  • Practical application: dining rooms, living rooms
  • Durability: medium
Flat or Matte
A friend to walls that have something to hide, flat/matte soaks up, rather than reflects, light. It has the most pigment and will provide the most coverage, which translates to time and money savings. However, it’s tough to clean without taking paint off with the grime.
  • Practical application: adults’ bedrooms and other interior rooms that won’t be roughed up by kids
  • Durability: medium-low
Source: http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/painting/paint-sheen-guide/#ixzz3bGyjhvtr

Home Improvements that Add Value

It's easy to break the budget when you think about upgrading your home with huge undertakings of remodeling the kitchen with the trendiest appliances and gadgets or making your master bathroom a wonderful spa retreat. However, small changes can make a difference in how you feel about your home and how it will show to potential buyers. Here's some great starters to consider.

Handle the hardware. If a complete kitchen or bathroom overhaul is out of the budget, give it a fresh look by simply replacing the hardware (drawer pulls, knobs) and faucets, you can create an entirely different look. There are lots of options online or at your local home improvement stores. Another option is updating the backsplash in the kitchen to tie the look together.

Splash on some paint. Paint an accent wall to give a room ‘pop’ with appeal. If it's bright and vibrant to suit your tastes, it will be a lot easier to neutralize one wall when you're ready to move than a whole room.

Entryway update. The entryway is the first impression for guests or prospective buyers. If the door is faded, freshen it up. Once inside show your style with welcoming wall art.

Flooring Counts. Replace old carpets with tile, laminate or hardwood floors that will last longer, look better are easier to care for than carpets that trap allergens and dirt.

Add more space with a porch or patio. An inviting front patio with paces to sit or display your potted plants adds to curb appeal and may even give you a new opportunity to get to know your neighbors as they stroll by. In Texas we love our barbecue, so adding or enlarging your back patio is always a plus.

No matter what type of DIY project you choose to undertake, remember that it’s okay to call in the experts when needed to get the job done right.

5 Mistakes Sellers Make When Selling

Even though it's just the beginning of May, we are already in full swing of the home buying season. Buyers are looking and making decisions for their next home. As a seller, you may be anxious about putting your home on the market.  Here are five too-common errors that sellers make that you should avoid.  
1. Expecting the High-Dollar Sale Overnight
Current news stories point to increasing sales and low-inventory. This can give you the confidence to get in the game, however don't get overconfident. National numbers show that homes are selling slightly faster than normal, but homes still require competitive pricing. When your home is priced right you have a greater pool of buyers who could be bidding on your home.

2. Forgetting the Importance of Staging
Even if there is “low inventory” that doesn't mean buyers will buy any home. They still have standards for what they want to buy. Seeing a home is like going on a date. You want to make the best first impression to capture the interest of the buyer.

3. Failing to Make Needed Repairs
Contrary to many sellers beliefs, most buyers don’t want to make critical repairs and updates when making a purchase. If a buyer sees issues with a  home, they will probably pass on it and look for another.

4. Scent Ignorance
As a part of your staging plan, don’t forget that “scents” leave a lingering memories some good some bad. Neutralize strong odors with solutions that deodorize. Here's a couple of natural options to try.
Place a bowl of vinegar in a smelly room overnight and it will help soak up the unwelcomed odor.
Add coffee grounds and orange peels to a bowl in the room, inside the trash can, or down the garbage disposal to ensure showing-friendly smells.

5. Neglecting Your Personal Security
Strangers will be roaming through your homes. Don't leave temptation to little children's hands or curious adults. Secure important documents, jewelry and electronics.

National Real Estate Market Recap

Here’s what happened this week in the real estate market:

The number of seriously underwater homeowners inched up slightly during the first quarter due to slow home price appreciation, according to housing data provider RealtyTrac.

Home prices continued to rise in February, posting higher annual gains than in January, according to the latest Case-Shiller 20-city Composite.

The rate of distressed home sales fell to 2008 levels in February and should return to a historically normal level in mid-2017 if the annual decrease seen that month holds steady, according to data aggregator CoreLogic.

The number of homes that went under contract rose for the third straight month in March, the National Association of Realtors reported.

Although most analysts have shown optimism for a strong spring homebuying season, online mortgage marketplace provider Zillow reported that its 30-year fixed mortgage rates have been flat for the past month.

Better inventories and softer prices in the mid and upper tiers, improved levels of equity, strengthening income levels, and forecasts of rising rates coupled with pent-up demand and faster rising prices for entry-level homes could make this the perfect year for move-up sellers and buyers to move on up.

Purchase mortgage loan activity is gaining momentum as the housing market enters the peak spring buying season, according to Ellie Mae’s latest Origination Insight Report.

The big news of the week: The U.S. economy stalled in the first quarter, GDP rising 0.2 percent. And long-term rates, which go down on weak economic news, instead went up.
Soiurce:Inman News

Why Do You Need Homeowners Iinsurance?

People take out homeowners insurance for the same reason they take out car and health insurance: If a home is damaged or someone else injured on the property, insurance helps owners cope with the financial consequences. Homeowners insurance is actually a combination of two different types of protection, hazard insurance and liability insurance.

Hazard insurance:
Hazard insurance protects you against unintentional damage or destruction to your house or its contents, including fire, storm, theft, vandalism and similar threats, the Nolo legal website states. It can cover the cash value of the damages or the replacement value; replacement value pays enough to replace what you lost, but cash value only pays what a property is worth. The cash value for a five-year-old $1,000 television won't be $1,000, for instance, because it depreciates with age, making it worth less in the insurer's eyes.


Liability insurance:
Liability insurance covers personal liability for accidents on your property. If your neighbor trips on a hose in your yard and breaks his ankle, for example, liability insurance will pay for his medical expenses, up to the policy limit.


Mortgage Requirement:
One reason homeowners need insurance is that mortgage companies require it. If you take out a mortgage, your house is the lender's collateral, so your lender will require you to buy a minimum level of hazard insurance. That doesn't prevent you from buying a greater amount than the minimum, Nolo states, if you think it necessary.


Special Property:
Homeowners insurance covers most of the property in your home, but there are limits to what the insurer will pay for certain items, such as cash or jewelry, the "This Old House" website states. If you have a home office, hazard insurance doesn't cover business equipment either. If you have personal or business property that isn't covered, consider paying more money for a supplemental policy that will protect you if they're damaged.


Exclusions:
Homeowners insurance doesn't protect you against everything: Insurers routinely exclude things such as flood damage and earthquake damage from coverage, though separate flood and earthquake policies may be available where you live. "This Old House" states that a "law exclusion" in your policy can be very expensive. If an older building is damaged more than 50 percent, it will have to be rebuilt to the current building-code standards; the law exclusion means the insurer won't pay the cost of upgrading wiring or roofs to meet the code.

Source: www.homeguides.sfgate.com/need-homeowners-insurance-1664.html

Making the Most of Your Rainy Day Time

When you can't do the work you want to do outside, make the most of what you can do in the house. Here's a room by room breakdown of the work you can do.

Kitchen

Clean out the fridge - If I were to ask you right now if you had any expired food or condiments in your fridge, could you confidently say no? If you haven’t done it in a while, use this day to go through your fridge and throw away any spoiled items or unwanted leftovers. Make a list of what you throw away so you can be sure to pick them up next time you’re at the grocery store.

Disinfect the sink - Did you know your kitchen sink usually has more germs than your toilet? There are typically more than 500,000 bacteria per square inch in the drain alone. Use a solution of about 1 tablespoon of bleach mixed with warm water to kill most of the germs lingering. If there is an odor coming from your drain, squeeze lemon juice into it, and then throw the lemon into the disposal and grind away.

Bathroom

Uneven fixtures - If you have a sagging towel rack or uneven toilet paper holder, now is the time to fix it. Unscrew the fixture and look for the culprit. Most likely it’s a cheap plastic drywall anchor or screw that wasn’t screwed in straight. A few minutes can fix that eyesore you’ve been looking at since you moved in.

Clean the mirror - If you take a second and look at your bathroom mirror, you may be shocked at what you see. Take a few minutes and some window washing spray to make your mirror shine.
Bedroom

Clean out your closet - Who couldn’t use a little more closet space? Instead of looking at a full closet remodel, make a donation bag of clothes you haven’t worn in a while. A great way to easily decipher the clothes you wear from the ones you don’t is to turn all of your hangers backwards. When you wear something from your closet, turn that hanger forwards. After 6 months, whichever hangers are still backwards are the clothes that you don’t wear.
Clean out “that” drawer - Everyone has “that” drawer in their bedroom that they don’t open (either because it’s a mess or because it’s so full that it won’t budge). Whether that be a drawer of junk in your nightstand or an overstuffed dresser drawer, use this rainy day to finally go through it and discard the things you don’t want. If you can’t remember the last time you went through that drawer, throw everything in it away – you obviously haven’t needed anything in there in a while.

Are You Ready to Buy A Home?

Whether you're currently renting or own a home, there is preliminary work you need to do and things you need to know to make the borrowing process easier.

Choosing a Lender
Ask family and friends whom they would recommend. Also ask your Realtor for recommendations as an agent deals with multiple lenders and knows which ones will be easily accessible during the buying process. Interview more than one lender, preferably a mortgage broker, your current bank or credit union and a lender from a national bank. Ask questions such as how long they've been in business, how long they take to close the average loan, and how much experience they have with loans you're interested in, such as FHA or VA, or a jumbo conforming loan.  Most lenders won't choose to share their list of fees until you apply for a loan and they know what your qualifications are. Some loan fees are state mandated while others are determined by your credit worthiness..The lender needs your personal information to decide whether to give you the loan and how much to charge you in interest.

Applying for a LoanOnce you apply for a loan, your lender will run your credit. He or she will contact one or more of the three credit reporting bureaus to get your credit report and your credit score. If you have late payments, an account in collections, or a dispute with someone that has resulted in a judgment against you, this will show up when your credit is run.. Your lender could help you fix  any derogatory issues. However, some of them may take time to be cleared up.. According to a study by myfico.com, a 30-day delinquency can drop an otherwise good credit score by as much as 90 points. And only top credit scores of 740 or higher get the best interest rates.

Dealing with Credit IsssuesA delinquency stays on your report for seven years, says credit reporting bureau Experian. According to MyFICO.com, the difference between a credit score of 700 and 698 can cost you more than $13,378 in interest on a $165,000 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. That's because a 700 credit score may get you a 4.5 percent interest rate, while the 698 score gets a 4.875 rate.  Your lender will know how to help you raise your scores, if your scores are too low to get a good rate, because your rate will also make your monthly payments higher. Once you repair your negative credit problem, take proof of payment or release of lien to your lender. You may have to wait a month or two or three for your credit scores to reflect your improved credit history.

Be RealisticTell your lender all you can about your finances. Don't shave time off your present job or inflate your earnings if you're self-employed. Trying to reach for more home than you can truly afford can be a problem for you now and later. The lender may catch you and decline the loan, or at worst, you could be committing mortgage fraud.  Once your lender knows all the problems that could impact the loan, and all the steps you've taken to improve your credit, that's the time to make your application. From there it will take about 30 to 45 days for the loan to close.

Most home buying advice says to apply for a loan before you do anything else, but it's a much better idea to take a few weeks or months in advance to get your credit to the best place you can. That's the best way to afford more home.

Top 10 Common Repair Costs

In the life of every home, repairs happen. Here are the top 10 most common repairs that, sooner or later, your house will require.  To be safe, you should set aside money every year — 1% to 3% of your home’s purchase price — for repairs and maintenance.

The good news is that most repairs are simple, inexpensive, and DIY-friendly. If you can fix stuff yourself, you’ll only pay for the cost of materials and save a bundle on these common repairs and replacements.

1. Replace Toilet Fill Valves - That annoying sound of water continually filling and draining from your toilet tank is often caused by leaky fill valve, which a plumber can replace, stopping water waste and restoring quiet. Plumber rates vary widely around the country, from $45 to $150 per hour, and the job will take about two hours — the minimum some plumbers require just to take the job.

Labor: $50 to $200                  Materials: $11 to $23               Total: $61 to $223

2. Repair a Leaky Faucet - The water torture drip-drip-drip from a leaky faucet won’t just drive you insane, it can drive up water bills, too. Depending on the type of faucet you have, fixes typically involve replacing damaged rubber washers (10 for $2), O-rings (10 for $2), or a faucet cartridge ($8 to $30).

Labor: $95 to $300                   Materials: $2 to $30                 Total: $97 to $330

3. Replace Ceiling Fan - If you’ve got a ceiling fan, sooner or later the motor will burn out, the blades will warp, and fashions will change, so you’ll need to replace it. Replacing isn’t a big deal, because upgraded wiring, a reinforced ceiling box, and a light switch with ceiling fan controls are already in place. What you’re paying for is an electrician’s time — one or two hours — and a new fixture.

Labor: $50 to $200                   Materials: $54 to $1,000 and up               Total: $104 to $1,200

4. Repair Drywall - Nicks, gashes, and smashes inevitably mar your beautiful walls. You’ll have to patch and paint to make them look as good as new. A painter can do both jobs and will probably give you a flat rate that will include patching or filling blemishes, then sanding, priming, and painting.

Painters charge $25 to $62 per hour for labor or $2.68 to $4.60 per square foot including materials. Figure it will take about three hours to repair a wall, including drying time for the patching compound and paint. It’s a good idea to save up painting chores so you have enough to keep a painter busy while repairs cure.

Materials include paint at $12 to $50 or more a gallon, which should cover about 350 square feet; plus another $10 to $50 for brushes, rollers, drop clothes, and drywall patching compound.

Labor: $75 to $186                      Materials: $22 to $100                           Total: $97 to $286

5. Repair Cracked Tile - Tile is hard and durable, but drop something heavy on it and it’s likely to crack — a reason to always order more tile than you need so you’ll always have spares. To replace cracked tiles, a handyman must pry out the damaged tiles, scrape away old fixative, re-glue new tiles, and spread new grout. Replacing a 2-foot-by-2-foot section of tile should take one to two hours, not including the drying time required for the adhesive to set.

Labor: $30 to $125 per hour; with possible $150 to $350 minimum charge for a handyman

Materials: $1 to $20 per square foot                                                          Total: $34 to $430


6. Replace Caulk Around Tubs, Sinks, and Showers
Caulk is the waterproof seal around sinks, tubs, and showers that prevents moisture from seeping through gaps and onto drywall and flooring. When caulk cracks or peels, it should be replaced immediately to prevent mold and rot. A handyman can dig out old caulk around a tub and reseal with new in about an hour.

Labor: $30 to $125 per hour; with possible $150 to $350 minimum charge for a handyman

Materials: $1 to $4 for a tube of bathroom caulk                          Total: $31 to $354

7. Fix Gutters - Gutters and downspouts carry water from rain and snow away from your house and onto the ground. Sometimes the weight of wet snow and soggy leaves puts too much pressure on gutters, causing them to pull away from the house or pitch at inefficient angles.

A gutter contractor will clean gutters, and replace or reinstall supportive hardware and hangers. To restore the correct pitch, the contractor must detach and reattach each gutter section.

Labor: $127 to $282 (depending on length of gutter)

Materials: $10 for five hangers; $6 to $9 for gutter sealant                  Total: $143 to $301

8. Fix Out-of-Alignment Doors - Over time, your house moves as its foundation settles and building materials expand and contract with changes in humidity. The movement often is noticed when doorframes shift slightly, causing hinges to creak and doors to not shut properly.

Adding wooden shims to frames and hinges can bring doors back into alignment and let them easily open and close once again. Replacing worn-out screws with longer screws helps secure hinges tightly. A handyman can fix a door in about an hour. Materials will include shims and screws.

Labor: $30 to $125 per hour; with possible $150 to $350 minimum charge for a handyman

Materials: $5                                                                                          Total: $35 to $355

9. Fix a Faulty Light Switch
Sometimes you turn on the light but nothing happens; or sparks crackle, and the light turns on. It’s disconcerting, but most likely it’s an easy fix. An electrician will turn off the power, take off the faceplate, check and perhaps tighten wires; or replace the switch. All told, it will take less than an hour.

Labor: $50 to $100 per hour                        Materials: $1 to $6 for a single pole light switch

Total: $41 to $106

Source: HouseLogic. Read more: http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/repair-tips/home-repair-costs/#ixzz3UxfHx4s5

Tax Implications and Deductions of Home Ownership

Buying a home is often the biggest purchase we make in our lifetime. It can provide financial and income tax benefits, as well as emotional satisfaction. With the buying season just around the corner, potential buyers should get their finances in order and get pre-approved for a mortgage before starting their hunt.

It’s important for buyers to know the tax implications and deductions of becoming a homeowner. Did you know that buying a house can qualify you for breaks on your income tax like tax deductions for mortgage interest, property taxes, and special treatment of gains when the home is sold? You should consult with your tax advisor to get a complete understanding of how the tax laws may apply to your situation.

Let’s take a quick look at the applicable tax credits and deductions when it comes to owning a home. Keep in mind these rules only apply to a personal residence, not an investment property, vacation home, home office or rental unit. The tax benefits of home ownership can be substantial.

Down Payment

Even though your down payment is not tax deductible, using cash from your retirement plan to fund the down payment can have tax advantages. When you cash out, let the plan administrator know you intention for the distribution. If you are under age 59 ½, you can avoid the early withdrawal penalty if you are a first time home buyer and the funds are used for things like buying, building or rebuilding a first home. Keep in mind that even though you avoid the penalty you will still owe taxes on the amount of the distribution.

Closing Costs

Closing costs are not deductible. However, be sure to carefully review the escrow settlement statement for deductible items such as property taxes and loan origination fees (points). Keep track of the closing costs associated with any refinancing as these can lower a profit when you sell the home. Points paid in a refinance can be amortized over the life of the loan and deducted on your tax return.

Repairs, Remodeling, Construction Costs

Any repairs, remodeling, and construction costs made to your home are also not deductible unless they are for major improvement such as a new water heater, roof replacement, additions, kitchen remodels, new windows, etc. Non-deductible items include plumbing repairs, maintenance, painting, and cleaning. Do not dispose of any of these receipts while you own the home as all of these expenses can be added to basis to reduce taxable gains when you sell.

So, what can I deduct?

Many homeowners find that the amount they pay in interest on their mortgage and annual property taxes is enough to incent them to itemize their deductions. Should you chose to deduct mortgage interest and property taxes, you can use Form 1098 which you will receive in January of each year, showing how much you paid in mortgage interest. If you have an impound account with the lender, the total amount paid in property taxes will be reflected on this form as well.
Another way some homeowners can qualify for additional deductions is by getting a home equity loan. Since the interest paid on a home equity loan qualifies as a deduction, the money borrowed could be used to pay off other debts where the interest is not deductible.

Benefits on the sale of your home

For many years, tax laws allowed you to avoid paying capital gain taxes when selling your home only if you rolled over the proceeds into a home that was more expensive. There were also some rules that allowed individuals over the age of 55 to avoid some taxes.

In 1997, those rules were changed. Now the IRS may allow you to exclude any gains on selling your house if you meet certain requirements. Always consult your tax advisor for more details.
The tax benefits of home ownership can be substantial. Always check with a tax expert prior to purchasing your home to make sure you’re getting the tax benefits you’re expecting. Be sure to keep good records regarding the purchase of the home and any improvements you make. Pay attention to when you make property tax and mortgage payments to ensure they fall in the year you want to take them as itemized deductions. Finally, if you have special circumstances (including a potential large gain if selling your home), always get expert advice to make sure you get the maximum benefits allowed under tax laws.
Source: Home Care Buzz

It's Home Buying Season: New Home Sales Surge

Though there was lots of snow and wintery bluster in many parts of the country, that didn't stop consumers from making the decision to buy a home. Home builders signed contracts on more homes in February 2015 than any time since early 2008 according to the Census Bureau and HUD. February seasonally-adjusted annual new home sales topped out at 539,000, up 7.8% from a healthy 500,000 in January.

Sales increased a whopping 153% in the Northeast region but that was a make-up from an overabundance of snow in January that slowed the rate of sales to its lowest level in the 43 year history of the series. Sales were up 10.1% in the South to the highest level since early 2008. Sales were down 6% in the West but back to the level established in the fourth quarter of 2014. The Midwest saw a slight softening in sales (down 12.9% monthly and 3.6% annually) but still within the range of sales in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Inventories dropped slightly to 210,000, which with the increased sales rate, dropped the month’s supply to 4.7 months. Builders were able to sell an increased share of their homes from inventory in December and January. Along with the rise in sales suggests an improved starts picture in the future.

Prices rose 2.6% from February 2014 to a median of $275,500. The shift is due to more sales at the upper end of the price spectrum as fewer first time buyers continue to push the only new sales more to the repeat buyer market. The share of homes sold for more than $500,000 increased from 11% in February 2014 to 15% in February 2015.

Source: National Association of Home Builders

Your Responsibility as a Buyer

For most first-time buyers, if you want to make the move to owning your own home, you have to do some homework. As a homeowner, you will be far more independent than you would as a renter, but you will still have some very real responsibilities to make home ownership work. Here are the top three responsibilities you'll have as a homeowner.

Financial responsibilities
 You will be responsible for making timely payments to your lender. Paying on time helps you build your credit. With great credit, you can take on more projects such as remodeling, or you'll be able to buy furniture, cars or other things you want with lower interest on your payments.  Your debts should never be more than 40 percent of your income. If you get overextended, you'll have problems meeting the minimum payments. Instead, limit the amount of credit you actively use and pay off balances every month. Don't add new charges until you've paid off your balances.  You should also be in a position to save money, which you can do several ways. You can put money in your 401K, you can pay extra on your principal every month, or you can buy bonds or invest in the stock market, according to your tolerance for risk. You can put money in a safety deposit box or under the mattress as long as you are saving rather than overspending.  Common wisdom is to build six months of cash so you can continue to make your house payments if you lose your job or become ill. You need savings for emergencies, large expenses such as student debt, and retirement.  
Neighborhood responsibilities
 When you buy a home, your household becomes part of the neighborhood. You can influence whether or not the neighborhood prospers or declines simply by the way you treat your neighbors and your home. It's up to you to uphold or to set a higher standard for the neighborhood by keeping your lawn and trees trimmed, your home freshly painted, and toys and trash picked up from the entry.   This is the way you can protect your investment and those of your neighbors. It's one of the reasons many neighborhoods have homeowners associations -- to protect values by standardizing safety and maintenance for the community.  To get the benefits the HOA provides such as higher and consistent home values, you have to pay your dues and obey the covenants. You can volunteer to help or you'll have to abide by the decisions others make. Before you buy a home in a HOA-managed community, read the covenants so you'll know what you're getting into. If not being able to use certain exterior paint colors bothers you, then don't buy the home. Find something else.  
Household responsibilities
 Buying a new home is a great time to improve your lifestyle and dream for your future. Your home should help you be who you want to be. That's the purpose of shaping your environment. You have control over whether you entertain like Martha Stewart, enjoy your hobbies at home, or grow a lawn as sleek as a golf course fairway..  Choose a home that meets as many needs as you can within your means. Separate bedrooms for the kids may be doable, but you may have to compromise on a Jack and Jill shared bath. This is an excellent opportunity to teach your older children about prioritizing, delayed gratification, give and take and winning and losing gracefully.  Make sure the area you select offers amenities that your building doesn't have. If you don't have a yard for the kids and the dog, make sure there's a park and playground nearby.  Think about how far and how long it will take you to get to shopping, work, and other friends and family. Think about how a long commute will affect your family. Would you rather be sitting in traffic or attending your son's ball game?  You and your spouse may want the prestige of living in a certain area, but if your house-payment is too high, you'll introduce problems into the relationship you don't need. It's about making choices that make sense. Better to buy a smaller home in a great neighborhood and keep the arguing down.

Buy the best home you can that's within your means and it will see you through years of comfort.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Vintage Homes

There’s something about older homes that make them appealing to many buyers. Maybe it’s the ornate, decorative aesthetics and the fact that they aren’t the cookie-cutter homes of today, or maybe it’s the high standard of quality in the structure. Regardless of what it is that you’re drawn to, it’s important to be aware of the potential trials and tribulations you may be about to face.  Here are a few of the things to be aware of when purchasing an older home – or to keep in mind when selling yours.

Updating or Correcting 
One of the main concerns with older homes is that many of them predate current-day safety features. For example, homes built between the 1940’s and 1970’s often use dangerous asbestos as insulation for pipes, and homes built prior to 1978 may contain lead-based paint. You’ll also want to make sure you thoroughly inspect the wiring in any home built before the 1950’s as they may use a rubber compound that becomes brittle over time, which can pose a fire hazard.

Consider the Cracks
Signs of aging like cracks and leaks are inevitable in older homes regardless of the quality of the materials and workmanship. Seemingly superficial issues may lead to further trouble down the road, so it’s important to be aware of potential damage that may eventually result if they aren’t dealt with. One small leak today may be one large pool tomorrow.

Insulation
Houses that come from an era before the Cold War could easily leave you shivering. In many older homes, not only could the existing insulation contain dangerous asbestos, it could be letting tons of heat escape. The other culprit of a chilly home could be outdoor facing doors and windows allowing air leaks and drafts. A little caulk goes a long way – According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a homeowner may save anywhere from 5 – 30 percent per year on energy costs by plugging leaks.

Insurance
Like old vintage cars, old homes come with a slew of insurance problems. Insurers may demand that many of the issues mentioned above be fixed before they’re willing to insure you. They could require an outdated electrical system be upgraded or an oil tanker be removed if it’s more than 20 years old which means big expenses, and big headaches.

Buying an older home can be rewarding and give you that antique charm you’re so desperately craving, but each one poses its own unique challenges. It’s important to be aware of your home’s specific situation so that you may make the most informed decision possible and be happy with your purchase. Here’s a tip: a home warranty can help cover some of the expenses associated with major systems and appliances failing and is especially important in an older home. Learn more about what a home warranty is here.
Source: First American Home Buyer's Protection Corporation

Is Solar or Wind Energy Right for You?

Do your past winter and summer utility bills have you considering a utility switch? Some consumers have decided solar or wind power is the way to go. But is stepping away from electric or gas power right for you? 

Solar upfront costs - Installing solar panels and their equipment, including an inverter and metering equipment, comprises most of the costs associated with switching to solar at your home. The good news is that prices have been falling since 2009.
 
Wind upfront costs - Residential wind turbines can range from $10,000 to $70,000 depending on the size of the system you need to power your home.
 
Tax breaks - Solar and wind tax incentives are offered by municipal, state and federal government agencies and can help tremendously with the immediate costs of setting up your new system. However, like sales those incentives won't be around forever.
 
Solar payoff expectancy - The time it takes for your panels to "pay for themselves" can vary depending on cost, installation size and local utility prices. But a payback period under 10 years isn't unheard of these days (in some areas it's four to six years).

Wind payoff expectancy - The payback period for turbines also depends on several factors, including size, kilowatts and energy costs in your area. Experts estimate payoff could be as short as 15 years to as long as nearly 50 years.

Sustainability - Money isn't the only reason to consider these renewable energy sources. Many homeowners have made the switch due to their beliefs of the environmental benefits of moving away from the use of fossil fuels.

Info provided by Sharon Floyd at Residential Lending. (210) 317-8834