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You can save 75% — or even more — when you buy these gently used items.

If you’re an avid thrift shopper like me, you know that every secondhand store has its own unique personality. Some stores are great for furniture, others for clothing; some seem to have the market cornered on books, and a few just seem to have older and more unique items than all the rest.Regardless of the personality of your favorite store, there are five standard items that you should always be on the lookout for in every thrift store. Here’s my not-so-scientific list of the top five items that offer the highest savings when compared with retail.

 

1. Shoes

If you can get over the mental roadblock of buying used shoes, it’ll do wonders for your budget. With decent-quality leather shoes ranging anywhere from $65 to $85 retail, scoring a gently used pair for $6 means you’re saving at least 90%. Focus on condition and pay special attention to soles and heels; avoid wear patterns that might affect your stride. Give leather some TLC with mink oil or shoe polish.

 

2. Belts

When did a buckled strip of leather with some holes at one end become worth $32? I’m pretty picky and my wardrobe reflects it, but I haven’t paid more than $4 for a belt in years. Sure, sometimes you walk away empty-handed. But if you’re willing to look and wait for just the right item, you can find great deals on all kinds of leather accessories like belts, wallets, and purses too.

 

3. Jeans

When I was a teenager, I saved for three months to buy a new pair of Guess jeans. I still remember the price back then ($40). Even in all their acid-washed glory, that seemed like an outrageous sum. Today, that’s a bargain price for an off-brand. Thrift stores are great places to take advantage of the growth spurts and fickle tastes of kids and pick up good-quality jeans for about $7. Deals on adult denim are easy to find too. It just takes a little patience, a few trips to the dressing room, and maybe a quick alteration.

4. Furniture

After you’ve been thrifting for a few years, strolling through most retail settings is like visiting a foreign land: You can appreciate the beauty, but you don’t understand what’s being said. Nowhere is this feeling more pronounced than in furniture stores. Spending $219 for a nightstand or $389 for an accent chair? What language are they speaking?

 

Last month I made a quick stop at a local charity’s thrift center and found a club chair and matching ottoman for $80. It was so new it still smelled like the furniture store that had donated it. All it needed was one small repair to the roping detail along the top edge of the ottoman. It took all of 10 minutes to make it look showroom perfect.

 

Check your local thrift store for lamps, nightstands, coffee tables, and bed frames. They can usually be found in perfect or near-perfect condition. Items in rougher shape can become weekend projects and get a second life with a bit of sanding and varnish or paint. Often the sheer quality of older items makes them worthy candidates for a salvage project. Look for quality markers like solid wood construction and dovetail joints.

 

5. Books

Even if you have an e-reader, sometimes it’s nice to hold a book in your hands. And thrift stores are treasure-troves of good used books. Retail prices for paperbacks range from $12.99 to $14; at most thrift shops, they’re 89 cents to $2.99. That’s a minimum savings of about 75%. Thrift stores in college towns and larger cities seem to have the quickest turnover in books and the best selection. Grab some coffee and stroll through their stacks.

 

Successful thrifting is all about being persistent, knowing what you need today and might need tomorrow, and seizing a good a deal when you find it. If you know the right categories to mine, thrift shopping can be a way to save some serious cash by avoiding retail prices on as much as you can whenever you can.

 

Do you focus on certain categories when you thrift shop? What’s the best deal you’ve ever scored secondhand?

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Karen Datko

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Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

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Here are the alternative routes to approval.

For many homebuyers, establishing credit came naturally once they began working, applied for a credit card, took out a car loan or paid back student loans. But what about potential homebuyers who don’t have a credit score, either because they are averse to credit cards or have yet to build up a substantive credit history? Can they still apply for a mortgage?

The answer is yes, but “it’s exceedingly difficult to obtain a mortgage without a credit score,” says Tim Ross, president and CEO of Ross Mortgage Corp. in Royal Oak, Mich. “Lenders use automated underwriting systems that base a loan decision on certain criteria, including a credit score. But there are some nontraditional sources that can be used for credit verification.”

Mortgage lenders typically require a credit score of at least 620 or 640 to even consider an applicant for a loan.

Whether you prefer not to use credit cards, are new to this country or are simply a younger borrower who hasn’t built up enough credit history, there are some alternative sources that mortgage lenders can use to determine your credit risk.

While most lenders require three or more sources of credit, Clint Madison, a senior mortgage banker with Envoy Mortgage in Walnut Creek, Calif., says, “I’ve worked with borrowers who have a slim credit file and been able to get them approved for a loan. The first thing we look for would be 12 to 24 months of canceled checks or verification from a landlord of on-time rent payments.”

Alternative sources of credit
Here are several other items that can be used for nontraditional credit verification, Ross says:

  • Utility bills for gas, electricity or water, as long as they are paid separately from your monthly rent.
  • Phone and cable bills.
  • Car insurance, renters insurance, life insurance or medical insurance payments, if they are not paid by payroll deduction.
  • Child care or school tuition payments.

The more evidence you can provide that indicates a history of on-time payments, the greater your chances of qualifying.

“You need at least 12 months and sometimes as many as 24 months of payments to prove your creditworthiness,” Ross says. “A bigger down payment offsets your credit risk, and so does your job stability, your cash reserves and a high income in relation to your debts.”

Credit history matters
The reason for your lack of credit history will also affect your ability to qualify for a loan.

“If you’re living with your parents and have yet to establish any credit, it’s pretty much impossible to get a loan unless your parents are willing to co-sign for you,” Madison says. “The parents will need a credit score at a minimum of 660, and you’ll need to have at least two months, or maybe as much as six months, of principal, interest, taxes and insurance payments in cash reserves in the bank.”

Borrowers who are new to the United States may have a credit report from another country. Ross says those credit reports can be used to create a record of bill payments for a loan application.

You may not know your true credit score
Even consumers who have a credit history long enough to produce a score still need alternative sources of credit when applying for a loan. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently released a study that showed there are often discrepancies between the credit score given to a consumer and one reported to a lender.

“This study highlights the complexities consumers face in the credit-scoring market,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a news release. “When consumers buy a credit score, they should be aware that a lender may be using a very different score in making a credit decision.”

The problem, Madison says, is that borrowers are set up for false expectations.

“They may either be expecting to qualify for a better rate than they do, or they may lose out on opportunities for which they don’t believe they will qualify, when in reality they can,” he says. This is why having alternative sources of credit, which can help prove your ability to repay a loan, is important.

Establishing credit
Ross says it takes just six months of credit-card usage to generate a credit score, but lenders would also need other sources of credit in addition to your six-month-old score.

“Using alternative credit doesn’t change someone’s credit score, so if your score is low, all you can do is let time pass while you do the right thing over and over again,” Madison says.

It’s especially important that prospective buyers with thin credit consult with a mortgage lender, Ross says. A lender can provide them with a plan to follow to improve their chances of qualifying for a mortgage.

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original article by: Michele Lerner of HSH.com

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If you’re justifying home renovations thinking that you’ll recover the costs when you sell, you may want to recalculate.

Homeowners who want to remodel will find both joy and sorrow in the 2013 Cost vs. Value Report, recently published by Remodeling Magazine.

The joy comes from the report’s finding that remodeling projects overall could be expected to return a higher percentage of their cost at resale in 2013, reversing a six-year decline in the recovered value of such investments. Every project on the national list posted a higher return in 2012 than it did in the prior year. The sorrow is that while returns are higher than they were, they’re still far short of 100%.

The complete list included 22 midrange projects, ranging from a $1,137 steel entry door replacement to a $152,470 second-story addition, and 13 upscale projects, ranging from a $2,720 garage door replacement to a $220,086 master suite addition.

Best return

In the mid-range category, the least costly project — that steel entry door replacement — posted the highest return at 85.6%  of the cost.

Other midrange projects that returned 70% or better were an attic bedroom, basement remodel, wood deck addition, garage door replacement, minor kitchen remodel, vinyl siding replacement and vinyl window replacement. The lowest-returning mid-range project was a home office remodel, which recouped just 43.6%.

In the upscale category, the highest-returning project was a fiber-cement siding replacement, which recaptured 79.3%. Other upscale projects that returned 60% or better were a garage door replacement, foam-backed vinyl siding replacement and vinyl window replacement. The lowest-returning upscale project was the master suite addition, which recouped just 52.1%.

Money-losers

And in those figures also lies the sorrow. That steel entry door replacement was the only project in the midrange or upscale category that achieved at least an 80% cost recovery, nationally. The home-improvement projects returned only a 60.6% national average. That’s not much of an incentive, financially speaking, for home improvements.

Replacement projects generally were a better investment than remodeling or room additions. Cost-and-value-recapture percentages varied widely on a regional basis.

Contractors agree with the positive outlook

Remodeling contractors have high expectations for 2013, according to a fourth-quarter 2012 survey by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry in Des Plaines, Ill.

The survey found remodelers reported better business conditions, more inquires, more requests for bids, more conversions of bids into jobs and a higher value of total jobs compared with the prior quarter.

Tom O’Grady, chairman of the NARI strategic planning committee and president of O’Grady Builders, a remodeling company, in Drexel Hill, Pa., said in a statement that remodelers were anticipating major growth in their businesses.

“Many (remodelers are) saying that their clients are feeling more stable in their financial future and their employment situations; therefore, they are spending more freely on remodeling needs,” O’Grady said.

The 2013 Cost vs. Value Report is a snapshot of generic projects and shouldn’t be applied to individual homes. Instead, homeowners should get estimates from local remodelers and discuss home values with a local real estate professional.

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Marcie Geffner, HSH.com

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Solo women are the second-largest group of home purchasers. Their wants and needs are helping to shape the real-estate market.

Kishia S. Ward wasn’t looking for the home of her dreams when she bought her two-bedroom, 2½-bath townhouse. The 25-year-old student and former business analyst wanted a place “not so much to live in forever but as an investment property, something temporary that, later on when I get married and have a family, I can rent out.”

Single female homebuyers such as Ward are a powerhouse group in the real-estate market. In 2011, when Ward bought her home, three of her female friends, also singles in their 20s, also purchased homes. Single women — a group that includes the divorced, never married and widowed — make roughly one in five home purchases annually, according to the National Association of Realtors, second only to married couples, who are about two-thirds of the market.

It wasn’t always this way. In the 1970s, “it was very difficult for a single woman to get a credit card, much less a mortgage,” says Walter Molony, spokesman for the NAR.

In 1981, when the NAR started watching, single women and single men each made about 10% of home purchases. Purchases by single men have stayed steady. Single women, however, pulled ahead in the late ’80s, when women grew as a presence in the workforce and social change put pressure on lenders.

Single women’s market share reached 20% in 1985 and hovered there until recession and tight credit pulled it down to 16% in 2012. Unmarried couples make 8% of purchases.

Finally, recognition
Although single women are getting more recognition in the real-estate market, some experts say that many bankers, mortgage brokers, builders and real-estate agents fail to understand their distinct needs and shopping habits.

Jeanie Douthitt, a real-estate agent in Plano, Texas, specializes in helping single women buy and sell homes. Her experiences and her friends’ stories showed her that solo women often weren’t served well in the market. “We all, at the end of the day, had the same experience, and it was not good,” says Douthitt, owner of Smart Women Buy Homes. Her team includes a title agent and mortgage broker, and they all focus on educating clients.

Douthitt tells how one friend, a mother and capable 20-year IBM executive, struggled when she tried buying a home in 2004 after inheriting money. The woman visited a property for sale and encountered the homeowner, who asked, “Honey, do you think you can afford this?”

“He assumed that because I was a single woman I couldn’t afford it,” the friend told Douthitt. “If it was the last house on earth I wouldn’t have bought it.”

Douthitt says many women, accomplished in other realms, feel slightly intimidated by real estate and mortgages. She felt much the same in 1988, when, as a single mother, she bought her first home. She didn’t know how to find out what she could afford to spend. “Do I find the house first?” she wondered. “Or do I have to get a mortgage first?” Now she helps clients get qualified for a mortgage first, so they know what price home they’re qualified to buy.

What women want
While researching her book, “Own It! The Ups and Downs of Homebuying for Women Who Go It Alone,” Jennifer Musselman met many single female homebuyers and owners who confessed that they felt overwhelmed by shopping alone for a home and mortgage. “Women, generally speaking, always thought that home purchasing would be something we would do with someone else, as part of a relationship,” Musselman says.

This emphasis on relationships shapes many women’s approach to homebuying, Douthitt says. Often, for example, they need to develop a relationship with an agent before they feel comfortable asking questions.

“Women want a relationship,” Douthitt says. “They want that trust and respect on both sides. Men are more transactional. They just want to go get it.”

Her female buyers often need more time than men do to make a decision. They do lots of research. Agents who don’t understand this get frustrated and mistake women’s penchant for collaboration for indecisiveness, she says.

Before Ward engaged a real-estate agent, she did lots of research online to learn which neighborhoods fit her requirements, but her agent wouldn’t listen. She didn’t seem to take her seriously. “I don’t know if it was because I was a woman or because I was young,” she says. She moved on to another agent who was more attentive.

Single buyers — women in particular — like to recruit friends and family to help them decide. “Single women don’t have a spouse to bounce the decision around with,” Douthitt points out. One buyer wanted Douthitt to meet her mom, her dad, her pastor and her brother from California before she could commit to a purchase.

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Marilyn Lewis of MSN Real Estate

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How much will the first pope to retire from the job in nearly 600 years collect each month?

What kind of retirement package do you give to someone who’s spent 60-plus years on the job, including almost eight as chief executive? If you’re the Roman Catholic Church, and that someone is Pope Benedict XVI (the once and future Joseph Ratzinger), you give him a monthly pension worth 2,500 euros, or about $3,340.

The Italian newspaper La Stampa broke the story this week, reporting that the 85-year-old Benedict — the first pope in nearly 600 years to retire from office — will receive the pension that the church typically offers to retired bishops. (Don’t speak Italian? Neither do I: Britain’s Independent has the story here.)

 

Coincidentally, the pope’s pension is almost identical to the maximum Social Security benefit a U.S. retiree could earn if she retired this year — $3,350 a month, according to the Social Security Administration’s benefits calculator. To receive a check that size, that hypothetical retiree would need to retire at age 70 or later after having earned the taxable maximum salary throughout her career — the equivalent of $113,700 this year.

 

Of course, most of Benedict’s personal expenses, from food to gardening, will be covered by the Vatican for the rest of his life, so his pension is mostly play money. (Alas: no grandkids to visit.)

 

The pot could get sweeter, too, according to La Stampa: If Benedict’s successor awards him the status of emeritus cardinal — not out of the question, since Ratzinger held various cardinal titles before being elected pope — his pension could double.

 

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Matthew Heimer at  MarketWatch.

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Check out this new video highlighting some of the fabulous neighborhoods of Austin, Texas.

Click here to view more neighborhood information on my website.

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