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By Michelle Cannon | Agent in The Woodlands, TX

    Posted Under: Home Buying in The Woodlands, Foreclosure in The Woodlands  |  April 23, 2012 1:12 PM  |  532 views  |  No comments

    Buying A Fixer Upper

    When purchasing a fixer upper home there is certainly some risk involved, but for many, the benefits far exceed the risks. There are several things to consider first, some positive and some negative.

    Things to Consider When Buying A Fixer Upper

    Anytime that you purchase a home, whether it needs love or if it is move-in ready, you already need to be considering the resale of that home, no matter what your plans for the future might be. This will better enable you to make the right choices at the right time. Making good buying choices will help you make good selling choices later, and you wouldn’t want to make a purchase that will not return your investment plus a profit later.

    The Perks

    The price of a house that needs some attention is one of the main draws behind purchasing a fixer upper. A large number of buyers are looking for something that is move-in ready so the competition for fixer-upper properties won’t be as high. Many people are not willing to look beyond a building’s flaws to see its amazing potential, and sometimes you can find killer deals on overlooked homes because of some torn up carpet and a few broken windows. There is also the ultimate advantage of being able to transform the home with your own ideas and visions, giving it the character you’ve always wanted in a home without spending a fortune.

    The Downsides

    Since the price of many fixer uppers seem so affordable up front, many people focus on “today’s costs” and don’t think about the costs of tomorrow. While many common issues with fixer uppers are relatively inexpensive to solve, some are not. Painting, replacing carpet or adding a deck are pretty affordable, while replacing HVAC systems or re-roofing can get pricey. Having inspections performed by professionals is never a bad idea before you buy, but make sure you look for experienced inspectors, as they are not regulated by state.

    Location, Location, Location

    It stands true no matter how you look at it. Location is the first thing to consider when purchasing any home whether it’s move-in ready or a fixer upper. Buyers will be more interested in appealing neighborhoods, than the character of the home. Fixer uppers in nice neighborhoods that are owner friendly will always sell more successfully than those that are close to industrial areas, or less accessible to schools, and other necessities. Take the neighborhood’s growth into account when you purchase as well. If it is in an area where new housing developments are being built there will be a lot of buyers in the area in the future.


    Consider the layout of the home carefully. What are its biggest selling points? Buyers that have small children may not want to purchase a home where the bedrooms are too far away from one another. Also, consider the size of the home. Buyers looking for a certain size home may buy something larger, but rarely buy something smaller that what they had in mind. Kitchens that have more than one entrance are a selling point, as is homes that open to a common room with multiple entrances.


    Posted Under: Home Buying in The Woodlands, Financing in The Woodlands, Foreclosure in The Woodlands  |  April 2, 2012 10:37 AM  |  667 views  |  No comments

    What You Need to Know about Cancellation of Mortgage Debt

    A lender will, on occasion, forgive some portion of a borrower’s debt. The general tax rule that applies to any debt forgiveness is that the amount forgiven is treated as taxable income to the borrower. Some exceptions to this rule are available, but, until recently, the borrower was required to pay tax on the debt forgiven. A new law enacted in December 2007 provides relief to troubled borrowers when some portion of mortgage debt is forgiven. However, this relief expires on December 31, 2012 and NAR will be working to obtain an extension throughout the year.

    Below is some general information you need to know about this law and cancellation of mortgage debt.

    General Rule for Debt Forgiveness
    If a lender forgives some or all of an individual’s debts, the general rule is that the forgiven amount is treated as ordinary income and the borrower must pay tax on the forgiven amount. Exceptions apply for bankruptcy, insolvency and certain other situations, including mortgage debt.

    Current Law for Mortgage Debt
    (Jan. 1, 2007 through Dec. 31, 2012): A borrower can be excused from paying tax on forgiven mortgage debt. The debt must be secured by a principal residence and the total amount of the outstanding obligation may not exceed the original mortgage amount plus the cost of any improvements.

    Does the relief apply only to a sale?
    No. The provision has broader application. Lenders might forgive some portion of mortgage debt in a short sale (when value at sale is less than the amount owed) or in a foreclosure where the debt is wiped out. In addition, if a borrower still living in the home is able to make an arrangement with a lender that reduces the principal balance of a mortgage, the amount forgiven in that workout will not be taxed.

    Can the homeowners in a short sale or foreclosure claim a loss?
    No. The loss is considered a personal loss and is, therefore, ineligible for either capital loss or ordinary loss treatment.

    What happens to the seller when mortgage debt is forgiven?
    Until January 1, 2013, the homeowner will pay no tax on any forgiven amount.

    Does this provision apply to a refinanced mortgage?
    Only in limited circumstances. The relief provision can apply to either an original or a refinanced mortgage. If the mortgage has been refinanced at any time, the relief is available only up to the amount of the original debt (plus the cost of any improvements). Tax relief is generally not available for second mortgages or home-equity lines of credit where the funds are not used for home improvement. Any amount that is not eligible for the relief provision will be taxed as ordinary income.

    How does the homeowner get the correct information to the IRS?
    The lender is required to provide the homeowner and the IRS with a Form 1099 reflecting the amount of the forgiven debt. The borrower/homeowner must file a Form 982 to reflect the amount forgiven and to show the reason why the forgiven amount is not taxable. Any taxable portion of forgiven debt will then be reported on the homeowner’s Form 1040 for the tax year in which the debt was forgiven.

    What if a property declines in value but the owner stays in the house?
    The provision would not apply. The provision applies only at the time of sale or other disposition or when there is a workout (reduction of existing debt) with the lender.

    Do all lenders forgive mortgage debt when property values decline or the home is in foreclosure?
    No. Some states have laws that allow a lender to require a repayment arrangement, particularly if the borrower has other assets. Forgiveness of debt is always at the lender’s discretion.

    Linda Goold is the Tax Counsel for National Association of REALTORS®.


    Posted Under: Financing in The Woodlands  |  March 5, 2012 7:24 PM  |  349 views  |  No comments

    How-To: Get More out of Low-Interest Savings

    The peace of mind that comes with having emergency savings is worth far more than any interest rate.

    But it’s really too bad there’s so little reward for funding a cash cushion. Interest rates on most bank savings accounts are close to zero. Even the so-called high-yielding savings accounts pay out less than 1 percent.

    With interest rates so low, some banks have gotten creative, trying to attract deposits through programs that reward consumers once they meet their goals.

    I’m not talking toasters.

    Banks are paying cash bonuses and offering premium interest rates to attract your spare cash.

    U.S. Bank created the START program (which stands for Savings Today and Rewards Tomorrow) in late 2009. “We all have a desire to save, but it can be hard to get started and to stick with that plan,” said Stephanie Miller, the bank’s vice president of consumer product and segment management. With START, you choose how and when to save, whether it’s a certain dollar amount per pay period, or a small dollar amount each time you use your check card.

    After the account reaches $1,000, savers are given a $50 U.S. Bank Visa gift card. If they can keep at least $1,000 in that account for another year, they’re rewarded with another $50. Miller said the interest rate is in line with other savings account interest rates at the bank.

    So far, the program has netted more than $2.6 billion in savings deposits, and consumers have earned more than $20 million in rewards.

    Wells Fargo has the Way2Save program, which offers $1 transfers to savings with certain financial transactions as well as automatic monthly transfers from checking to savings. The first $500 deposited earns 3 percent interest for the first year.

    With Bank of America’s Keep the Change program, every debit card transaction is rounded up to the nearest dollar, with that excess amount going into a savings account. The bank also matches 100 percent of rounded-up savings for the first three months up to $250. For example, spending $32.17 on gas would amount to $1.66 deposited into savings.

    Jim Bruene, editor of the Online Banking Report, said these savings programs make a lot of sense, although “in such a low-interest-rate environment, deposit margins are very tight so that doesn’t leave a ton of cash available to fund prizes.”

    Miller says the cost is worth it because the START program is “a really great way to get consumers engaged with our bank, and when they continue to be a customer with us in the long run, that’s really a great investment that we’ve made.”

    Banks aren’t the only ones thinking about how to get Americans, who save far less than citizens in many European countries and China, to put more money aside for the future. Online personal finance management tools such as Mint.com and Hello Wallet provide users visual tools that encourage debt payoff and savings increases.

    SmartyPig asks users to create specific savings goals and share those goals through social media. Fund the goals through automatic transfers from checking to your SmartyPig savings account, an FDIC-insured account opened through partner bank Birmingham, Ala.-based BBVA Compass. Once you reach your goal, redeem your cash for gift cards through partner institutions or a SmartyPig prepaid card and receive as much as 11 percent more than you saved.

    One of the most interesting savings tools I’ve come across has got to be SaveUp, a company that rewards your positive financial behaviors with chances to win high-dollar-value prizes. Here’s how it works: Link your savings account, 401(k) or consumer debt to SaveUp, which boasts bank-level security and has a strategic partnership with Turbo Tax maker Intuit. Then earn credits as you save, pay down debt and increase your financial capability by watching videos and taking quizzes. The credits are used to enter sweepstakes, funded through sponsorships and advertising.

    Since the launch in November, users have saved $5.8 million in linked savings accounts and paid down $4.8 million in debt. Prizes given away include video game systems, Amazon Kindle e-readers and gift cards to retailers such as Banana Republic and Best Buy. There’s still a chance to win the $2 million jackpot.

    ©2012 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)


    Posted Under: Home Selling in The Woodlands, Design & Decor in The Woodlands, How To... in The Woodlands  |  February 20, 2012 7:24 AM  |  328 views  |  No comments

    Clever Disguises Hide Decorating Problems

    Just about every home has an eyesore. Maybe it’s a wonky window or flooring that’s seen better days. It grates on your nerves, but fixing or replacing it is too expensive, too impractical or too far down the priority list.

    Still, that doesn’t mean you have to look the other way. We’ve gathered a few solutions for disguising some common decorating problems, so put on your can-do attitude and get ready to tackle that trouble spot.

    Weird windows:
    Windows that are oddly shaped or just plain unattractive can get a greatly improved view with clever window treatments.

    Bath Township, Ohio, interior designer Alan Garren offers this trick for hiding those too-short, too-high, too-plain windows that are common in ranch homes from the 1960s: Extend the window frame all the way to the floor, then install a two-part shutter. One part covers the window; the other covers the wall below it. Keep the bottom part closed, and no one will know there isn’t a window behind it.

    Or cover the window with an attractive shade that extends below the window, suggested Christine Haught, who operates Christine Haught Ltd. Interior Design in Bath. Adding drapery panels on either side would give the windows more visual weight, she said.

    Haught took a similar tack on an ’80s-style round-top window for which a client had lost the love. She mounted a woven wood shade to cover both the half-round window and the window below it, and flanked the shade with silk panels that extended from ceiling to floor. The shade didn’t entirely obscure the window when the sun shone through, but it made the window less apparent.

    Uneven walls:
    A plain coat of paint won’t do much to hide an uneven wall surface, but an eye-fooling paint finish can make the flaws seem to disappear.

    In the book “The Decorator’s Problem Solver: 100 Creative Answers to Your Most Common Decorating Dilemmas,” author Sacha Cohen recommends creating a mottled paint finish with a masonry roller and matte latex paint in two colors that look well together. The more uneven the walls, the stronger the contrast between the paint colors should be, she says.

    Pour a pint of each color into opposite sides of a roller tray, so they sit next to each other without mixing too much. Working in sections about 3 feet square, roll the roller once through the paint tray, and then roll the paint onto the wall in single, long, spaced-apart strokes.

    Once most of the paint has been transferred from the roller to the surface, roll over the first strokes to gently blend the colors. Roll at different angles to create a subtle, dappled effect.

    Cruddy carpet:
    Renters, in particular, are often stuck with carpet that doesn’t suit their taste. You can cover part of it with a rug, but it’s pretty hard to blanket an entire room without spending just as much as you would to replace the carpet.

    That’s when a little distraction is called for.

    Interior designer and home stager Lynn Koerner of Interiors by Lynn in Streetsboro, Ohio, recommended starting by anchoring a seating area with an area rug. Choose a solid-color rug if the carpeting is busy, or a patterned rug on solid-color carpeting. A budget-friendly approach is to buy a carpet remnant and have the carpet store bind the edges to create a rug, Haught said.

    Then perform a little sleight of hand, Koerner said. Create interest higher in the room to draw attention up and away from the floor. She did that in one client’s living room by covering a fireplace wall in a subtle patterned wallpaper and creating an eye-catching arrangement of artwork and accessories on the mantel.

    Ugly wall tile:
    The durability of ceramic tile is both a blessing and a bane. It lasts and lasts and lasts, even decades after your tastes have changed.

    Painting it is possible, but it’s important to do so carefully so the paint job doesn’t look obvious.

    Before you paint, clean the tile thoroughly with trisodium phosphate, a heavy-duty cleaner sold at paint stores. Then prime both tile and grout with a good primer.

    Author Cohen recommends using a paintbrush to cover the tile edges and grout with the primer, and a roller on the tiles to create a smooth finish. Then paint only the tiles with satin paint and a gloss roller, applying in thin layers and avoiding the grout lines, she says.

    When all the layers are dry, roll over the tiles with a high-gloss, clear enamel, again avoiding the grout lines.

    This isn’t the best approach for surfaces such as shower walls that are subjected to a lot of moisture, however. In that case, you can use a marine-grade coating such as a polyurethane oil-based enamel on both tile and grout. If you want contrasting grout lines, you’ll need to paint them in by hand.

    It might just be easier to hide unsightly tub or shower tile by hanging a pretty shower curtain, Haught said. It’s also a good way to hide an unattractive shower door, she said.

    Too-high ceilings:
    Cathedral ceilings look great in photographs, but sometimes they can make a room feel too cavernous for comfort.

    Haught recommended making the ceiling less obvious by painting it the same color as the walls, but in a lighter tint. Ask the paint store to mix the ceiling paint in a half formula of what’s used on the walls. And choose flat paint for ceilings, so it doesn’t draw attention by reflecting light.

    You can also create the perception that the ceiling is lower by hanging a large-scale lighting fixture that brings the eye down, she said. Drapery panels that extend only partway up the tall walls will also help bring the living space down to human scale.

    Overbearing fireplaces:
    Brick fireplaces that cover most or all of a wall were the rage a few decades ago. Now that look can seem dated and the dark brick oppressive.

    Neither Koerner nor Haught has any qualms about painting the brick. Usually a neutral color is best, Koerner said, so the fireplace becomes less dominant in the room.

    If you like a more contemporary appearance, consider removing or changing the mantel or other moldings, Haught said. She once filled in the flutings in an oak fireplace surround and painted it to create the more updated appearance her client wanted.

    Open layouts:
    Rooms that are open to one another create a great flow, but they can make varying the wall colors difficult. Where does one color start and the next begin?

    In cases like that, it’s better to choose a single wall color for all the adjoining spaces and then add color to surfaces that aren’t walls, Haught said. In an adjoining kitchen and great room, for example, you might be able to add a pop of color in the cabinets or the backsplash. Or perhaps choose one accent wall to paint in a color that’s different from the other walls, she said.

    Don’t worry about the single wall color being too boring. Haught said the continuity creates a more relaxing backdrop than one that’s chopped up by a variety of colors.

    ©2012 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)


    Posted Under: How To... in The Woodlands  |  February 17, 2012 7:27 AM  |  235 views  |  No comments

    6 Ways to Save Money on Auto Insurance

    Government officials and insurers are pushing for changes aimed at lowering automobile premiums by fighting inflated or fraudulent personal injury protection claims, but there are other ways you can save.

    Consider this advice from industry experts.

    Shop around: Too many consumers don’t take advantage of the competition among insurers for policies, said Alex Hageli, director of personal lines policy at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

    “Once they get a policy, it’s almost like it’s on auto pilot, and they’re really missing out because there are a lot of good companies out there,” he said.

    Some insurers offer quotes online or over the phone. Or you can find an independent agent near you who can give you quotes for about 10 companies, including large reputable insurers, according to Kyle Ulrich, a senior vice president at the Florida Association of Insurance Agents.

    Look for the best coverage and service at the best price. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has tallies of complaints against insurers on its website and customer satisfaction ratings are available from Consumer Reports and J.D. Power & Associates.

    Check for Discounts: Discounts can lower rates for good students, senior citizens, people who haven’t had tickets in the past few years, and people who work for certain companies or are members of professional or alumni associations.

    The logic is that “responsible students are typically responsible drivers,” said Lynne McChristian, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, an insurance group. She said discounts may not renew automatically, so remind your insurer when your policy is up for renewal.

    Factors that determine your price may also change—such as the safety of the neighborhood if you move or the distance you drive to work—so updating that may help, said Rick Bogani, with Connect-Bogani Insurance agency in Royal Palm Beach, Fla.

    “If there is a student who may have an auto away at college, alternate ZIP codes may be more competitive so those should be checked as well,” he said.

    Some insurers give discounts to drivers who spend less time on the road.

    Progressive recently rolled out a program to provide discounts to eligible customers who allow the insurance company to track how much they drive. The insurer reports that customers in 40 states that have the program saved $20 as of this fall, an average of about $150 per driver per year.

    There are discounts for safety features such as air bags, anti-lock brakes, lights that automatically turn on during the day, and car alarms or other anti-theft devices.

    Some companies also have discounts for customers who renew their policies or buy multiple policies from them.

    Drivers over age 55 can take a safe driving course online for $15 to save 10 percent on their auto insurance for three years, McChristian said.

    “Check with your insurer first to see if there are online courses that they offer discounts for, and make sure you select a program approved by your Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles she said. “Some insurers may allow drivers as young as 50 to get a discount after taking an online course, so it pays to ask.”

    Consider Dropping Some Coverage: “A general rule of thumb is that if the car is worth less than 10 times what you pay for insurance coverage, it may not be cost effective to continue collision and comprehensive coverage,” McChristian wrote in an email.

    Hageli said one option is to get the minimum amount of coverage required under state law—$10,000 personal injury protection and $10,000 property damage liability. “It’s not ideal,” he said, but it may be the only option for people struggling to make ends meet.

    Avoid Extra Fees: Don’t pay for rental car coverage if you don’t plan to use one or for towing coverage if you’re a member of an automobile club that provides roadside assistance. If you can pay your premium upfront, you could save on administrative fees that are typically charged for monthly or quarterly payments.

    Increase Your Deductable: This is a particularly good option for people who don’t drive a lot and are good, defensive drivers.

    “Increasing your deductible from $500 to $1,000 can save you 40 percent or more. But never choose a higher deductible than you think you can afford if you were to be involved in a car crash,” McChristian said.

    Check Your Credit Report: You can check it online for free once a year, Hageli said. Dispute inaccurate information in the report. In the meantime, if you suspect your credit score is unfairly affecting your insurance premium, ask your insurance company whether it’s a factor in determining the premium and if it can be removed.

    You can also work to improve the score.

    Other life decisions that seem independent of insurance can also have an impact on your rates, such as the frequency of accidents near your home and the type of car you own.

    ©2012 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
     Distributed by MCT Information Services


    Posted Under: Home Buying in The Woodlands  |  February 3, 2012 9:52 AM  |  266 views  |  No comments

    Tips for a First-Time Home Buyer

    Defining Search Parameters for a First-Time Home Buyer

    Almost 80% of all home searches today begin on the Internet. With just a few clicks of the mouse, home buyers can search through hundreds of online listings, view virtual tours, and sort through dozens of photographs and aerial shots of neighborhoods and homes. You’ve probably defined your goals and have a pretty good idea of the type of home and neighborhood you want. By the time you reach your real estate agent’s office, you are halfway to home ownership.

    How Long Should It Take to Buy Your First Home?

    A motivated buyer will find a home within two weeks. Good real estate agents will listen to your wants and needs and arrange to show only those homes that fit your particular parameters.

    How Many Homes Will a Home Buyer See?

    Studies show that your memory dramatically improves after consumption of carbs and slows upon consuming sugar. So, lay off the soft drinks and have a hearty meal of carbs before venturing out to tour homes. The average number of homes a buyer will see in one day is seven. Any more than that, and the brain is on overload. Therefore, don’t expect to see 20 or 30 homes; although it’s physically possible to do so, you probably will not remember specific details about any of them.

    The “Red Shoes” Experience for a Home Buyer

    Women will relate to this. Say, you need a new pair of red shoes. You go to the mall. At the first shoe store, you find a fabulous pair of red shoes. You try them on. They fit perfectly. They are glamorous. Priced right, too. Do you buy them? Of course not! You go to every other store in the mall trying on red shoes until you are ready to drop from exhaustion. Then you return to the first store and buy those red shoes. Do not shop for a home this way. When you find the perfect home, buy it.

    How a First-Time Home Buyer Can Rate Inventory

    • Bring a digital camera and begin each series of photos with a close-up of the house number to identify where each group of home photos start and end.
    • Take copious notes of unusual features, colors and design elements.
    • Pay attention to the home’s surroundings. What is next door? Do 2-story homes tower over your single story?
    • Do you like the location? Is it near a park or a power plant?
    • Immediately after leaving, rate each home on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest.

    View Top Choices a Second Time Before Buying That First Home

    After touring homes for a few days, you will probably instinctively know which one or two homes you would like to buy. Ask to see them again. You will see them with different eyes and notice elements that were overlooked the first go-around.

    At this point, your agent should call the listing agents to find out more about the sellers’ motivation and to double-check that an offer hasn’t come in, making sure these homes are still available to purchase.

    Making the Selection To Buy a Home

    Real estate agents are required, however, to point out defects and should help buyers feel confident that the home selected meets the buyer’s search parameters.


    Posted Under: Home Buying in The Woodlands, Financing in The Woodlands, Rent vs Buy in The Woodlands  |  January 6, 2012 8:30 AM  |  475 views  |  No comments
     Mortgage Rates Stay Low Helping to Keep Housing Affordability High

    Freddie Mac (OTC: FMCC) recently released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey [1](R) (PMMS(R)), showing average fixed mortgage rates largely unchanged and near their record lows helping to keep housing affordability high for those borrowers who are in the market. The 30-year fixed dipped to 3.99 percent, and at 3.27 percent, the 15-year fixed averaged just slightly above its all-time low of 3.26 percent on October 6, 2011. According to the report:

    • 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.99 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending December 8, 2011, down from last week when it averaged 4.00 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.61 percent.

    • 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.27 percent with an average 0.8 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.30 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.96 percent.

    • 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.93 percent this week, with an average 0.5 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.90 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.60 percent.

    • 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.80 percent this week with an average 0.6 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.78 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 3.27 percent.

    Average commitment rates should be reported along with average fees and points to reflect the total upfront cost of obtaining the mortgage. Visit the following links for Regional and National Mortgage Rate Details [2] and Definitions [3]. Borrowers may still pay closing costs which are not included in the survey.

    According to Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac, “Thirty-year fixed-rate loans have declined 0.62 percentage points from a year ago, and median sales prices on existing homes are off 4.7 percent in the year ending with October. These low rates and home prices have pushed housing affordability to record highs this year. For instance, the National Housing Affordability Index, which dates back to 1971, reached another all-time record high in October for the sixth time in 2011, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Monthly principal and mortgage interest payments accounted for a mere 12.6 percent of median family incomes that month. This level of affordability likely contributed to the rise in conventional mortgage applications for home purchases over the week of December 2nd to the most in nearly a year.”

    Get the latest information from Freddie Mac’s Office of the Chief Economist on Twitter: @FreddieMac [4].
    For more information, visit http://www.freddiemac.com [5]
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