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You’ll encounter special joys and hurdles when you’re alone in the deal. These 8 strategies will smooth your path to buying.

If you’re single and thinking of buying a home, you’re in great company. Solo buyers made a quarter of all U.S. real-estate purchases last year, according to the National Association of Realtors’ Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers 2012. Twice as many single women bought homes as did single men. 

Buying a home as a single person is much like buying with a partner. You shop, select and finance a piece of property, as all buyers do.

But there are distinct differences when you’re alone in the deal. All the joys and burdens are yours alone. The research, the shopping, the financing and, eventually, the bills and upkeep – yep, all yours. While that probably sounds obvious, there are implications you may not have considered.

Master of his domain
Carl Toll, a single, 36-year-old network technician, bought his 1,600-square-foot Denver home in 2007, after a bad roommate experience soured him on the rental life.

“This isn’t working out,” he decided after the housemate moved out without telling him. “I want to be the master of my own domain.”

Shopping and purchasing were pretty easy, he says. He thought through each aspect of his purchase carefully. He wanted a low-maintenance home: “I didn’t want to have to replace water heaters and furnaces right off the bat.” So he looked for something built recently.

He’s not a parent, but he shopped only in highly rated school districts to help ensure the resale value of his purchase. He has enjoyed the house, the neighborhood and the sense of independence that owning his own home gives him, he says.

Getting a mortgage alone
Toll’s experience was smooth, but many solo buyers face challenges. The recession has been one of the biggest. In the early recession years, single homebuyers enjoyed a boost from federal first-time-homebuyer tax credits in 2009 and 2010.

Stacy Erickson, a 29-year-old professional organizer, bought her 700-square-foot co-op apartment on Seattle’s Capitol Hill in 2009. “That was a really good year for people like me,” she says. “I was able to borrow some money for a down payment and then pay it all back with the tax credit.”

But by 2011, the recession hit solo buyers hard. “Single-income households are more reluctant to make big-ticket purchases in times of economic uncertainty,” according to the NAR’s Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. Home purchases by singles fell an “unprecedented” 7% between 2010 and 2012.

The biggest hurdle for singles is qualifying for a mortgage. “In most cases that I see, it is more difficult for a single buyer to purchase than a two-person household,” says Craig Tashjian, vice president at Fairway Independent Mortgage in Needham, Mass.

One bonus: Singles aren’t dragged down by a partner’s credit score, loans or credit card debt. Tashjian says couples often get stuck with a higher interest rate because of one member’s low credit score.

Couples, though, usually have an advantage, says Marcus McCue, executive vice president at Guardian Mortgage Co., which operates in Texas and Michigan. Not only do they have two incomes but also, when sharing overhead, “one plus one usually equals more than two, as many expenses are joint and not duplicated.”

Difficulties in qualifying sometimes lead buyers, especially younger ones, to ask parents or other relatives for financial help.

“I have seen people choose to continue renting as a result of not wanting to involve any other parties in a purchase and pay more rent than they would if they purchased,” New York real-estate agent Brad Malow says.

Shopping solo — the triumphs
Single shoppers are alone with all the decisions required to buy a home. That can be harrowing. But there’s also a special sense of accomplishment to buying a home alone.

“I was the one who had to come up with all of the financing without support from a spouse or partner,” Erickson says. “However, I was also the one who got the choices and all of the decisions. I didn’t have to worry about someone else and what they liked or didn’t like.”

Homebuying is a means of self-expression, particularly for singles, says Jennifer De Vivo, an Orlando, Fla., real-estate agent. “It’s a way for singles to express their lifestyles and values. They are able to focus on the exact communities, home styles and features that cater to their individuality with much less compromise.”

Despite the exhilaration, buying solo can be nerve-wracking without a confidant and sounding board. To compensate, singles often work more closely with their agents. In the best cases, they form a tight bond.

“I find that I become more involved, like a friend,” says Jerry Grodesky, managing broker at Farm and Lake Houses Real Estate Inc. in Loda, Ill.

Watching the satisfaction that single buyers get from tackling one of life’s major milestones on their own is rewarding for an agent, Malow says. “I have to say that the closings with these buyers just thrill me.”

 

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

Original article by: Marilyn Lewis of MSN Real Estate

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These homes still watch programs but mostly on laptops, tablets and phones.

There are 5 million “zero-TV” households in the U.S., more than double from 2 million in 2007. It’s a small but growing trend that has the media establishment plenty worried.

These people, who make up fewer than 5% of U.S. households, haven’t stopped watching television shows. They just do it on their own terms over laptops, tablets and cellphones.

As Nielsen notes, about 75% of these homes still have TVs, but people use them mostly to play video games and watch DVDs.

This creates a huge problem for the industry, one that will likely be a key topic at this week’s National Association of Broadcasters’ annual trade show. Content creators and broadcast networks make money from these viewers through arrangements with streaming sites such as Netflix (NFLX) and Hulu and through advertising on their websites and apps, according to The Associated Press. Television stations, however, get shut out.

“Unless broadcasters can adapt to modern platforms, their revenue from zero-TV viewers will be zero,” the AP says.

The New York Times on Monday noted the trend of people sharing passwords for video-streaming sites such as HBO Go, which is owned by Time Warner (TWX +0.74%), making it even easier for cable users to cut the cord.

Though more than 130 TV stations in the U.S. broadcast live signals to mobile devices, most users don’t have the tools to receive them. The dongles that catch those signals are just starting to be sold, according to the AP.

A handful of video-streaming sites have become hot properties. Hulu, for example, has reportedly received a $500 million bid from former News Corp. (NWS +2.20%) president Peter Chernin. The site is jointly controlled by News Corp. and Walt Disney (DIS +1.86%).

Luckily for broadcasters, most people are still transfixed by the boob tube. According to Nielsen, Americans spend an average of nearly 41 hours a week, or about 5.5 hours a day, watching content across all screens. People spend more than 34 of those hours in front of a TV.

Even so, given the technological changes in the works, the television industry 10 years from now may not look much like it does today.

 

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

Original Article by: Jonathan Berr

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When we were building our new construction home, the driveway almost seemed like an afterthought. With everything else so close to being finished, we walked around with a can of orange spray paint imagining the ideal path from the street to our garage doors.

So, if not in our experience, then generally speaking, the driveway occupies an important place in overall home and property design. When planning your driveway, there are several things to consider:

Budget
Sometimes money plays a big role in decision-making on materials. As you are thinking about budget, be sure to factor in the varying long-term costs associated with different types of driveways. While a paver driveway carries relatively high upfront costs, maintaining one isn’t expensive. Gravel, on the other hand, is perhaps the least expensive to install but requires the sort of regular maintenance that doesn’t come cheap. Before deciding on a material, make sure you understand what the driveway’s total cost will be over its anticipated lifetime.

Curb appeal
As viewed from the street, your driveway can make a big impression on the look of your house. And certain materials complement certain architectural styles more than others. A gravel driveway would make a nice visual accompaniment to a farmhouse cottage, whereas a herringbone-pattern brick driveway would better suit a colonial-style residence. In short, think about what your choice of driveway will add to, or take away from, curb appeal.

Climate
Some driveway materials may not be appropriate for the climate where you live. For instance, asphalt endures freeze-thaw cycles better than concrete. And heavy rainfalls can negatively affect driveway surfaces that are more prone to erosion, such as gravel and pea stone. Snow, humidity, rainfall and temperature changes are all factors that ought to influence your final decision. Do your homework.

Maintenance
Each material has its own maintenance requirements. For instance, asphalt requires resealing every three to five years. If you live in a place where plowing snow is necessary, a gravel drive will require replacement of moved material each spring. Is the maintenance required of a given material such that you can do it yourself, or will you need to contract someone to handle the work? A smart driveway design will take these questions into account.

Durability
What kind of traffic will your driveway be getting? Will there be lots of heavy trucks on it, or just passenger cars? Some materials are durable, others more finicky. And what’s the grade like? Gravel and pea-stone drives with a pitch are prone to erosion. Also, how long will the driveway be expected to last — 20 years? 40 years? And what kind of maintenance is required to maximize lifespan?

Whatever material you decide to use for your driveway, make sure you take time to lay it out right. If you’ll need space for guests to park, make sure to allow for that.

Once the rough grading is done, take a test drive into the garage from the street (and back the other way) to make sure it tracks comfortably for your biggest vehicle. You don’t want to swipe off your side-view mirror!

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.468.5753

Original Article By: Jennifer Noonan of BobVila.com

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Here’s just how seriously you should take the radiation emanating from your granite counters, among other potential home hazards.

Every now and then a news report gets people worked up about hidden dangers lurking in their homes. Should you be afraid that the radiation coming from your granite countertop or the flame retardants in your furniture are trying to kill you?

Granite countertops
A beautiful granite countertop can make any kitchen pop. Yet every once in a while people go into panic mode, freaking out about the fact that granite is a rock that can have some radioactive elements and could potentially give off radon, which can be harmful in high concentrations. But while the very mention of the word radiation is enough to stoke fears, you don’t really need to worry about this one. The EPA says that radon is more likely to come into your house from the soil than from your kitchen counters (and granite isn’t a very porous stone to begin with, meaning it doesn’t give out as much radiation as others).

Furthermore, any buildup of radon in the kitchen or bathroom is unlikely, as those rooms tend to have good ventilation systems. “It is extremely unlikely that granite countertops in homes could increase the radiation dose above the normal, natural background dose that comes from soil and rocks,” the EPA says.
Fear rating: Extremely low
Precautions: Be more worried about legitimate dangers in the kitchen, such as food safety and keeping sharp objects and cleaning solutions away from kids.

Particleboard and formaldehyde

Particleboard-based furniture may be great for furnishing your place on a budget. But pressed wood products such as particleboard tend to contain formaldehyde resins in the adhesives that hold the wood particles together. Formaldehyde is a surprisingly common volatile chemical, but it’s definitely not good for you. Luckily, good ventilation and keeping heat and humidity to a minimum can reduce the amount of formaldehyde released from furniture.

Fear Rating: Low
Precautions: Check what kind of adhesives furniture manufacturers used to make your products. Since the 1980s, when the EPA restricted the maximum allowable formaldehyde emissions from this kind of furniture, many companies have made efforts to substantially reduce the amount of the chemical in their production.

Flame retardants

A recent study found that 85% of couches tested in California contained flame retardants that have not been evaluated for human safety.

Couches in California are required to have flame-retardant properties, but some scientists worry that the chemicals used to prevent flaming sofas might be linked to hormone disruption, cancer and neurological issues — not to mention that these flame retardants aren’t necessarily present at levels in which they are effective at fire prevention.

No decisive link to health problems has been proved. The problem is that the replacements for pentabromodiphenyl ether, which the EPA banned from new products after 2005, haven’t been fully tested, according to study author Heather Stapleton of Duke University. Stapleton says that she and her colleagues are pursuing long-term health studies. The presence of these chemicals in the air outside the couch is worrying — especially as the same kinds of foam are currently used in baby mattresses and supplies.

Look for a label that mentions Technical Bulletin 117 — if it’s there then your couch probably has flame retardants. If it’s not, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t flame retardants, it just means that you don’t know for certain.
Fear rating: Medium
Precautions: Stapleton says that people worried about the dust should wash their hands frequently, especially before eating, to reduce chances of ingesting any toxic chemicals. Removing dust by cleaning regularly can help, too, but Stapleton cautions that vacuuming and dusting can cause some particles to become airborne.

 

Microwaves

Microwaves have been in our homes long enough to inspire lots of fear mongering, worries and urban legends. Rumors that microwaving plastic will poison your food, or that the radiation will disrupt pacemakers, have been around for years. According to the FDA, most of this is nonsense. No, you shouldn’t use some plastics in the microwave — because they could melt —but you can solve that problem by checking the bottom of the package to see what’s allowed; if the item is microwave-safe, there is sometimes a symbol (a box with wavy lines inside it) that indicates it is safe for microwave use. Pacemakers used to be affected by microwaves, but are now shielded. And you’re not going to get radiation injuries from a microwave; it just isn’t powerful enough to do any damage.

Interestingly, the FDA does warn about erupting hot water. Apparently, heating water in a clean cup for a long time can cause the water to get superheated. It reaches temperatures above the boiling point without the distinctive bubbling of a rolling boil. When anything is added to the water, or it is shaken, then it can erupt, causing burns.
Fear Rating: Medium
Precautions: Check labels, and don’t heat that cup of water for tea for too long.

 

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

Original Article by: Mary Beth Griggs of Popular Mechanics

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

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You’ve got winter prep down pat. But what happens when you move to a climate with 70-degree February days? Here’s what you should know.

So you’ve finally fled the cold to somewhere where it’s warm year-round, and you’ve packed your garden trowel — lucky you.

Chances are you’ve also packed some northern notions about how to handle your new lawn and garden during your winter stay in the South or Southwest. Beware: Those carpet-bagging misconceptions could prove frustrating — and costly.

“People are generally pretty stupid when it comes to something new — and I was, too,” says Chase Landre, author of “Snowbird Gardening: A Guide for South Florida’s Winter Residents,” of when she started gardening in Florida. “It’s a completely different microcosm” in warm-weather areas.

Landre and other horticultural experts in snowbird hot spots have identified some of the top mistakes that new arrivals make so that you don’t repeat them.

Mistake No. 1: Importing your northern garden
When many snowbirds move to Florida, “They want the same stuff they were growing in Pennsylvania or in New York — which is kind of strange, because Florida offers so many other opportunities,” says Hank Bruce, a columnist, horticultural therapist and co-author of “Yankee’s Guide to Florida Gardening,” among many books. “You will try to grow lilacs, bearded iris, forsythia, lily of the valley and all those delightful spring-flowering bulbs, like daffodils and tulips — even when the neighbor tells you [they] ain’t gonna grow.”

What you should do: “Make friends with Mama Nature,” Bruce says. “You will be far more successful if you cooperate rather than compete with her. She’s gonna win regardless of what you do.”

In other words, plant what will grow in your warm-weather home, not in your cold-weather one.

Bruce suggests buying plants from independent garden centers. The stock at big-box stores may come from hothouse growers, Landre says, so the plants may not be right for the area or ready for a life in the blazing sun.

For Florida snowbirds, Bruce suggests visiting Walt Disney World in Orlando and taking pictures. “Nobody does it better than the Disney horticulture people,” he says. After all, they have to keep the park looking great every day of the year.

Mistake No. 2: Watering poorly
Snowbirds migrate south thinking about swimming pools and assuming that their plants want lots of water, too, says Peter Warren, urban-horticulture extension agent for Pima County in Tucson, Ariz. Driving to work in January, Warren will see puddles on the ground from people watering their gardens.

What you should do: Adjust. “Irrigation is … the No. 1 reason plants don’t do well — either under- or overwatering,” Warren says.

Plants need more water in the hotter, drier months in the desert — especially in May and June, before Arizona’s monsoon rains arrive. “In the winter, it’s the opposite,” he says. With higher humidity and lower temperatures, plants don’t grow much and don’t need much water. Overwatering is costly and can kill plants, he says.

In Florida, Landre suggests watering plants and lawns just once a week or once every 10 days in winter. Adjust the irrigation again for summer watering, if you leave in the spring, she says. Leaving the water off then can invite plant stress and insect infestation — and nothing for you to return to the next winter but disaster.

What you should do: “If your soil has no nutrients, you have to learn about amending the soil,” she says. That means giving your plants food. In a sandy place such as Florida, add organic peat moss to the soil before planting to “give the root ball a drink,” Landre says. Add composted cow manure, which enriches the soil. Fertilize the soil periodically, she says.

In the desert, the soil is more alkaline, with less organic material and higher salinity than in the North or East, Warren says.

“If you’re desperate to have hydrangeas or blueberries or something from back East, plant them in a container, where you can control the environment,” he says. “In other words, don’t force them into inhospitable soil. Even amending the soil in the desert isn’t successful in the long run. “It won’t work, and it will eventually kill them.”

Mistake  No. 4: Forgetting that things grow year-round
Snowbirds might reasonably come south in a northern frame of mind, thinking that their lawn and garden won’t grow much in the winter. They buy plants without much attention to how much things grow — and grow. (Bing: Find drought-tolerant plants)

What you should do: Plan for the growth cycle. Plants can grow larger and faster, but that may mean more work for you.

Not interested in more maintenance? Buy slow-growing or low-maintenance dwarf plants, Landre says. In central Florida, that might include evergreens such as Indian hawthorn, low-spreading junipers, giant evergreen liriope and dwarf nandina, according to Polk County’s master-gardener program’s tip sheet for snowbirds.

Mistake No. 5: Just watching the grass grow
Many snowbirds envision a lush, close-clipped green carpet of the kind of grass to which they’re accustomed. Reality is a bit more complicated.

“The grass is shy and retiring down here,” Bruce says. “Beautiful Florida lawns grow on sweat — your sweat.”

What you should do: Get ready for some hard work, or plant grass that’s easier to maintain. For Floridians, Bruce suggests annual rye.

“It grows fast, it’s dark green, it’s tough, it gives you something to mow for the winter months and then it’s going to die out in the spring,” he says.

Good year-round grasses include St. Augustine, a rugged grass that looks like crabgrass, grows well in the sand, handles pests well and can stay green. It must be laid as sod, however. Two other grass options, which can be seeded and need less water, are Argentine and Pensacola Bahia, Bruce says.

Homeowners in the Southwest desert usually choose a hybrid Bermuda grass, says Paul Ellis, a master gardener with the Pima County Master Gardener Program.

“That’s a grass here that in the winter is going to be dormant,” or brown, he says. Its growing season is the summer. Expect to water it a lot, he says.

Most experienced snowbirds, however choose xeriscaping — or low-water, natural landscaping — instead of grass. It’s less expensive and less of a hassle.

Mistake No. 6: Forgetting about the vegetable garden
For Northerners, winter is a time to leave the vegetable garden alone and let it rest and recuperate before planting again in the spring.

What you should do: Take advantage of winter weather that’s warm enough for plants, too cold for insects and just right for working in the garden. In Florida, for instance, fruits, potatoes and collard greens can grow in the winter, Bruce says.

Mistake No. 7: Thinking the sun sits still
You’ve planted local plants. You’ve watered them correctly. You have a timer set so they’re irrigated when you leave town. You’ve thought of everything — or have you?

Have you forgotten to account for the reason you came here in the first place: the sun?

What you should do: Know that the sun moves a lot throughout the year. “The sun moves more to the south in the winter and more to the north in the summer. And people don’t think about that when they are planting,” Landre says. “They don’t plant plants in the right spot, and the [plants] will cook in other times of year.”

Before you plant, ask yourself: Where will the sun and light be later in the summer? What’s shady now may not be in a few months.

“The solution to this is to find plants that like … both sun and shade,” says Landre, citing croton, arboricola and pygmy date palms, among others.

Mistake  No. 8: Ignoring microclimates
People come to the desert to warm their bones, and they naturally think that heat-loving plants will thrive everywhere. But microclimates, especially in the desert, can create extreme cold spots that must be considered. Without much cloud cover, winter nights can be chilly, with huge temperature fluctuations over 24 hours. (Bing: Find lawn-care services)

What you should do: “Consider the topography of your house and garden before you plant,” Warren says. For example, perhaps don’t stick that citrus tree down at the base of a hill. Cold travels downhill easily and pools in the low places. So if you’ve got a low point on your property, such as a dry riverbed, that place can be much colder there than elsewhere.

“Use mostly low-maintenance, slow growing, non-fussy shrubs and trees,” Landre says. “For lots of color, plant annuals, have year-round irrigation and become a patron of a good local plant nursery.”

 

 

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

Original article by: Christopher Solomon of MSN Real Estate

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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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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.

Click here to view original article

 

 

 

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There are steps you can take now to substantially increase your Social Security payments during retirement.

The average monthly Social Security benefit for a retiree in 2013 is estimated at $1,261, according to the Social Security Administration. That’s just $15,132 a year — for many people, hardly enough to live on.

 

Hopefully when you reach retirement, you’ll have a nice nest egg to offset hurdles like vanishing pensions and unpredictable stock market returns. But either way, there are certain actions you can take today to boost your Social Security payments during retirement, and they can add up to thousands of extra dollars in your golden years.

13 ways to get more Social Security

There are steps you can take now to substantially increase your Social Security payments during retirement.

By Stacy Johnson Jan 18, 2013 5:29PM

This post comes from Renee Morad at partner site Money Talks News.

 

Money Talks News logoThe average monthly Social Security benefit for a retiree in 2013 is estimated at $1,261, according to the Social Security Administration. That’s just $15,132 a year — for many people, hardly enough to live on.

 

Hopefully when you reach retirement, you’ll have a nice nest egg to offset hurdles like vanishing pensions and unpredictable stock market returns. But either way, there are certain actions you can take today to boost your Social Security payments during retirement, and they can add up to thousands of extra dollars in your golden years.

 

Here are 13 things you can think about today to increase your Social Security payments during retirement:

 

1. Work at least 35 years

Social Security benefits are calculated based on your 35 highest-earning working years. If you work fewer years, you’ll have years with zero income averaged in, which will lower your payout.

 

2. Ask for a raise

If you experience a jump in salary, you’ll likely boost your future earning potential and may see an increase in your Social Security payments down the road because, as we just explained, Social Security takes into account the 35 top-earning years of your career.

 

3. Take a second job

The same logic applies: If you earn more each year, you’ll likely increase the amount you get in Social Security when you retire.

4. Wait until full retirement age to claim Social Security

You can begin collecting Social Security benefits as early as age 62, but you might not want to: Your benefit will be reduced by 25% for life. To get your full payment, wait until you reach full retirement age — 66 for anyone born between 1943 and 1954. For those born from 1955 to 1959, the age gradually rises toward 67. For those born in 1960, it’s 67.

 

5. Better yet, wait until age 70

If you can afford to wait until age 70 to claim Social Security benefits, it’ll pay off. Thanks to what the Social Security Administration calls “delayed retirement credits,” benefits increase 8% each year you delay tapping into Social Security — up until age 70. So waiting until you reach 70 means about a third more income for life.

 

When considering this strategy, it’s particularly beneficial for the higher-earning spouse in a marriage to hold out until age 70 to increase the total benefits the couple will receive throughout their lifetimes. In the event that the spouse with the higher benefit passes away, the surviving spouse will receive the higher payment.

 

If you took benefits early and regret the move, it might not be too late to fix it. Under limited circumstances, you may be able to repay all the benefits you received so far and restart them at a higher level based on your age. For more details, check out this page on the SSA website.

 

6. Use online tools

If you’re unsure about the best time to claim benefits based on your individual budget, health, life expectancy, or other factors, use online resources to help you decide. A good place to start is SocialSecurity.gov/M​yStatement, where you’ll get your personalized statement. This estimates what your benefits will be at age 62, at full retirement age, or at age 70.

 

Once you get estimates for both you and, if applicable, your spouse, there are other online tools that compare your benefits under various scenarios to help you determine the best claiming strategy. Consider AARP’s Social Security benefits calculator.

 

7. Claim spousal benefits

If you’re married, you have a choice: You can either take the benefit based on your work history, or half your spouse’s benefit. So if your spouse earned a lot more than you did, and has a higher benefit as a result, compare and see which will pay the most.

 

You can also claim Social Security benefits based on an ex-spouse’s work record if you were married for at least 10 years. Doing so doesn’t reduce your former spouse’s check or otherwise impact him or her. In fact, he or she need never know you applied.

 

8. Taking early retirement? Beware of outside income

If you start taking benefits before reaching your full retirement age, employment elsewhere can reduce your Social Security checks.

 

For example, say you started taking Social Security in 2012 at age 62 and your full retirement age is 66. For 2012, your benefit would be reduced by $1 for every $2 you earned in gross wages or net self-employment income above $14,640.

 

If you reached full retirement age in 2012, you could have earned up to $38,880 prior to the month you turned 66. More than that, and your benefit would be reduced by $1 for every $3 you earned.

 

After you reach full retirement age, you get your full benefit no matter how much you earn.

 

9. Claim twice

Let’s say the husband is 66 and the wife is 62. If the husband files for benefits, the wife could opt for half her husband’s benefit, while still earning money and letting her benefit grow. She can drop the spousal benefit and file for benefits based on her own work record whenever she wants. If she waits until age 70, she’ll have the maximum benefit using her own history.

 

There are lots of strategies like this to maximize Social Security. As you approach retirement age, be sure and do lots of reading. This article from Kiplinger is a good place to start.

 

10. Benefits for your kids

When you start collecting Social Security benefits, unmarried dependent children under age 18 may qualify to receive benefits worth up to half of your full retirement benefit amount. This can include a biological child, adopted child, stepchild or dependent grandchild. He or she may also get benefits at age 18 or 19 as a full-time student (no higher than grade 12) or 18 or older if the individual has a disability that began before age 22.

 

11. Plan ahead for taxes

If the sum of your adjusted gross income, nontaxable interest income, and half your 2012 Social Security benefits exceeds $34,000 — or $44,000 for couples — up to 85% of your benefits may be taxable.

 

There’s not much you can do about this, but there are a few strategies that might work. For example, if you earn interest from taxable savings and don’t need the income, you could transfer those savings into a tax-deferred investment, like an annuity.

 

12. Do your due diligence

Read your Social Security statements to be sure everything has been reported correctly. Although inaccuracies are uncommon, some scenarios, such as a name change, lend themselves to a greater chance of error.

 

13. Clear your debts

Your Social Security benefits are protected from most debt collections, but they can be taken for federal taxes, federal student loan balances and child support or alimony. Clearing these debts will leave your Social Security benefits untouched.

 

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

Original Article by: Stacy Johnson

Click here to view original article

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