Each month, we publish a series of articles of interest to homeowners -- money-saving tips, household safety checklists, home improvement advice, real estate insider secrets, etc. Whether you currently are in the market for a new home, or not, we hope that this information is of value to you. Please feel free to pass these articles on to your family and friends.
Fixing Up Your Home: Protect Your Housing Investment
Your home is an investment in living as well as in savings. If neglected, it will pay no dividends. If properly maintained and improved, it will pay a high yield in comfort and usefulness for your family and in avoidance of costly repair bills. Home improvements also tend to raise neighborhood standards and, as a result, property values. From an economic standpoint, home improvements mean higher employment, increased markets for materials and home products--and therefore a more flourishing community.
If You Do It Yourself
If you are handy with tools and have the experience, you can save money by doing many jobs yourself. But unless you are skilled in wiring, plumbing, installing heat systems, and cutting through walls, you should rely on professionals for such work.
When you buy the required materials, it pays not to skimp. Good materials are not necessarily the most expensive. What you need are products that look good, are easy to maintain, and last a long time. Buy only from reliable dealers.
If You Use a Contractor
If you plan to use the services of a dealer or contractor, take care to choose one with a reputation for honesty and good workmanship. There are several ways to check on a contractor:
Compare Contractor Offers
Before deciding on a contractor, you may want to get bids from two or three different firms. Make sure that each bid is based on the same specifications and the same grade of materials. If these bids vary widely, find out why.
Many contractors offer package plans that cover the whole transaction. Under such a plan the contractor provides all materials used, takes care of all work involved, and arranges for your loan.
Your contractor can make the loan application for you, but you are the one who must repay the loan, so you should see that the work is done correctly.
Understand What You Sign
The contract that both you and the contractor sign should state clearly the type and extent of improvements to be made and the materials to be used. Before you sign, get the contractor to spell out for you in exact terms:
After the entire job is finished in the manner set forth in your contract, you sign a completion certificate. By signing this paper you certify that you approve the work and materials and you authorize the lender to pay the contractor the money you borrowed.
Beware of Fraud
Most dealers and contractors conscientiously try to give their customers service equivalent to the full value of their money. Unfortunately, home improvement rackets do exist. Here are a few common sense rules to follow:
9 Buyer Traps and How to Avoid Them
" A systemized approach to the homebuying process can help you steer clear of these common traps, allowing you to not only cut costs, but also secure the home thats best for you."
No matter which way you look at it buying a home is a major investment. But for many homebuyers, it can be an even more expensive process than it needs to be because many fall prey to at least a few of the many common and costly mistakes which trap them into either:
A systemized approach to the homebuying process can help you steer clear of these common traps, allowing you to not only cut costs, but also secure the home thats best for you.
9 Buyer Traps
This important report discusses the 9 most common and costly of these homebuyer traps, how to identify them, and what you can do to avoid them:
1. Bidding Blind
What price should you offer when you bid on a home? Is the sellers asking price too high, or does it represent a great deal. If you fail to research the market in order to understand what comparable homes are selling for, making your offer would be like bidding blind. Without this knowledge of market value, you could easily bid too much, or fail to make a competitive offer at all on an excellent value.
2. Buying the Wrong Home
What are you looking for in a home? A simple enough question, but the answer can be quite complex. More than one buyer has been swept up in the emotion and excitement of the buying process only to find themselves the owner of a home that is either too big or too small. Maybe theyre stuck with a longer than desired commute to work, or a dozen more fix-ups than they really want to deal with now that the excitement has died down. Take the time upfront to clearly define your wants and needs. Put it in writing and then use it as a yard stick with which to measure every home you look at.
3. Unclear Title
Make sure very early on in the negotiation that you will own your new home free and clear by having a title search completed. The last thing you want to discover when youre in the back stretch of a transaction is that there are encumbrances on the property such as tax liens, undisclosed owners, easements, leases or the like.
4. Inaccurate Survey
As part of your offer to purchase, make sure you request an updated property survey which clearly marks your boundaries. If the survey is not current, you may find that there are structural changes that are not shown (e.g. additions to the house, a new swimming pool, a neighbors new fence which is extending a boundary line, etc.). Be very clear on these issues.
5. Undisclosed Fix-ups
Dont expect every seller to own up to every physical detail that will need to be attended to. Both you and the seller are out to maximize your investment. Ensure that you conduct a thorough inspection of the home early in the process. Consider hiring an independent inspector to objectively view the home inside and out, and make the final contract contingent upon this inspectors report. This inspector should be able to give you a report of any item that needs to be fixed with associated, approximate cost.
6. Not Getting Mortgage Pre-approval
Pre-approval is fast, easy and free. When you have a pre-approved mortgage, you can shop for your home with a greater sense of freedom and security, knowing that the money will be there when you find the home of your dreams.
7. Contract Misses
If a seller fails to comply to the letter of the contract by neglecting to attend to some repair issues, or changing the spirit of the agreement in some way, this could delay the final closing and settlement. Agree ahead of time on a dollar amount for an escrow fund to cover items that the seller fails to follow through on. Prepare a list of agreed issues, walk through them, and check them off one by one.
8. Hidden Costs
Make sure you identify and uncover all costs - large and small -far enough ahead of time. When a transaction closes, you will sometimes find fees for this or that sneaking through after the "sub"-total - fees such as loan disbursement charges, underwriting fees etc. Understand these in advance by having your lender project total charges for you in writing.
9. Rushing the Closing
Take your time during this critical part of the process, and insist on seeing all paperwork the day before you sign. Make sure this documentation perfectly reflects your understanding of the transaction, and that nothing has been added or subtracted. Is the interest rate right? Is everything covered? If you rush this process on the day of closing, you may run into a last minute snag that you cant fix without compromising the terms of the deal, the financing, or even the sale itself.
10 Questions To Ask When Choosing A Financial Planner
These questions will help you interview and evaluate several financial planners to find the one that's right for you. You will want to select a competent, qualified professional with whom you feel comfortable, one whose business style suits your financial planning needs. An interview checklist has been included for your convenience.
1. What experience do you have?
Find out how long the planner has been in practice and the number and types of companies with which she has been associated. Ask the planner to briefly describe her work experience and how it relates to her current practice. Choose a financial planner who has a minimum of three years experience counseling individuals on their financial needs.
2. What are your qualifications?
The term "financial planner" is used by many financial professionals. Ask the planner what qualifies him to offer financial planning advice and whether he holds a financial planning designation such as the Certified Financial Planner mark. Look for a planner who has proven experience in financial planning topics such as insurance, tax planning, investments, estate planning or retirement planning. Determine what steps the planner takes to stay current with changes and developments in the financial planning field. If the planner holds a financial planning designation, check on his background with the CFP Board or other relevant professional organizations.
3. What services do you offer?
The services a financial planner offers depend on a number of factors including credentials, licenses and areas of expertise. Financial planners cannot sell insurance or securities products such as mutual funds or stocks without the proper licenses, or give investment advice unless registered with state or Federal authorities. Some planners offer financial planning advice on a range of topics but do not sell financial products. Others may provide advice only in specific areas such as estate planning or on tax matters.
4. What is your approach to financial planning?
Ask the financial planner about the type of clients and financial situations she typically likes to work with. Some planners prefer to develop one plan by bringing together all of your financial goals. Others provide advice on specific areas, as needed. Make sure the planner's viewpoint on investing is not too cautious or overly aggressive for you. Some planners require you to have a certain net worth before offering services. Find out if the planner will carry out the financial recommendations developed for you or refer you to others who will do so.
5. Will you be the only person working with me?
The financial planner may work with you himself or have others in the office assist him. You may want to meet everyone who will be working with you. If the planner works with professionals outside his own practice (such as attorneys, insurance agents or tax specialists) to develop or carry out financial planning recommendations, get a list of their names to check on their backgrounds.
6. How will I pay for your services?
As part of your financial planning agreement, the financial planner should clearly tell you in writing how she will be paid for the services to be provided. Planners can be paid in several ways:
7. How much do you typically charge?
While the amount you pay the planner will depend on your particular needs, the financial planner should be able to provide you with an estimate of possible costs based on the work to be performed. Such costs would include the planner's hourly rates or flat fees or the percentage he would receive as commission on products you may purchase as part of the financial planning recommendations.
8. Could anyone besides me benefit from your recommendations?
Some business relationships or partnerships that a planner has could affect her professional judgment while working with you, inhibiting the planner from acting in your best interest. Ask the planner to provide you with a description of her conflicts of interest in writing. For example, financial planners who sell insurance policies, securities or mutual funds have a business relationship with the companies that provide these financial products. The planner may also have relationships or partnerships that should be disclosed to you, such as business she receives for referring you to an insurance agent, accountant or attorney for implementation of planning suggestions.
9. Have you ever been publicly disciplined for any unlawful or unethical actions in your professional career?
Several government and professional regulatory organizations, keep records on the disciplinary history of financial planners and advisers. Ask what organizations the planner is regulated by, and contact these groups to conduct a background check.
10. Can I have it in writing?
Ask the planner to provide you with a written agreement that details the services that will be provided. Keep this document in your files for future reference.