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Suzanne Macdowell's Blog

By Suzanne MacDowell | Agent in Mount Arlington, NJ
  • technology on overload - bring back the personal touch!

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in New Jersey, Agent2Agent in New Jersey, Rental Basics in New Jersey  |  February 11, 2014 7:17 AM  |  469 views  |  4 comments
    I got a call from a Trulia lead yesterday.  She saw my blog posts and felt I was someone she could talk to.  It seems she had called another agent regarding a rental and got his/her voicemail.  Shortly after she got a text message that simply said, "Text me."  She didn't realize who it was and so she texted back, "Who is this?"  And the reply was, "You called me."  She felt quite disturbed by this and called me to see if I would answer my phone and could help her.  She asked me if this was the way realtors do business now, if this is 'normal'. 

    I was not able to help this young woman because she was from a neighboring state, but I told her it is not how I do business!  I may text clients, but not as an initial contact.  I told her that if it made her uncomfortable, I felt fairly sure any realtor in her State could help her, she didn't have to work with the listing agent.  And, of course, that is exactly what she did.

    I bring this up because sometimes, in our quest to do more in less time, we forget that we are dealing with human beings and not machines.  Facebook may be a terrific way to stay in touch with our sphere but it is not a substitute for good old fashioned human contact.  Realtors, be careful not to become too dependent on technology.  We are all still made of flesh and blood, and, as someone reminded me recently, people may not remember what you do but they will remember how you make them feel.  Make them feel important! 
  • Surviving Sandy

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in Morris County, Agent2Agent in Morris County  |  November 10, 2012 7:30 AM  |  1,502 views  |  4 comments
    I was lucky enough to live in an area that was strongly effected by Hurricane Sandy but not so much as to be completley devastated.  Still, we spent 10 days with no power, which means no internet service,no heat and in most cases, no hot water.  This made life difficult and doing business interesting to say the least.  Here are somethings I learned that may help others that face such conditions in the future.

    1.   Follow the advice of government officials and other professionals, if they say get out, GET  OUT! 

    2.   Fill your gas tank before the storm hits.  And if you have them, some extra gas cans as well.

    3.   Fill your bathtub with water for washing and sanitation purposes.

    4.   Remove EVERYTHING from your yard, porch and deck.  If you can't remove it, tie it down.

    5.   Stock up on candles, batteries, lanterns and matches.

    6.   Make sure you have a battery operated radio, it may be your only source of news.

    6.   Fill your refrigerator and freezer with water bottles, they will retain the cold longer so the food will stay fresh longer. 

    7.   Stock up on food that does not require refrigeration or preparation.  Canned Tuna and Peanut Butter provide much needed protein.  If you have a gas or propane range you may be able to light it with matches, in which case soup is also a good option. 

    8.   Be sure to have a large cooler on hand and know where to get ice. 

    9.   Know in advance where you can go after the storm for a warming station, charging station and a hot meal.  You may not be able to find out after the storm.  The information in my own was only published on the internet and we could not access the internet so we did not get the information.

    10. Make sure your cell phone is fully charged and keep it charged.  I have a converter in my car  that allows me to charge devices with USB port, a power cord and my cigarette lighter adaptor.

    11. Know where you can find wifi hot spots after the storm.  I have met clients in parking lots, once with a notary public in tow, and then sat in the parking lot using wifi to send emails.

    12. Befriend your local government officials on Facebook and check their page for updates, another good source of local news. 

    13. Consider buying a generator BEFORE the storm and have it installed by an electrician.  I learned that generators can pose special hazards in and of them selves, they need to be placed in the correct place, it has to be well ventilated.  They have to be filled carefully with gasoline or you can get burned or start a fire and, when power returns, if they are not properly installed, the ower serve can cause a fire or other electrical issues. 

    14. STAY HOME.  Once the storm has passed, stay off the roads.  You are only adding to the problems and wasting much needed resources, gasoline and so on, by driving around gawking at the damage.  Keep the roads clear for rescue and utility workers. 

    If anyone reading this blog can think of other things that will help the next person weathering such a storm, please feel free to comment.  Let's all learn from one another's experiences so that, if and when we face another such disaster, we all come through it safely.
  • 7 Mortgage Interest Deduction Myths

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in Morris County, Home Buying in Morris County, Home Selling in Morris County  |  April 24, 2011 7:05 AM  |  559 views  |  No comments

    Think losing the mortgage interest deduction would be no big deal? We bust seven myths to show why the cost is bigger than you think.


    Proposals floating on Capitol Hill to curb the mortgage interest deduction (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/mortgage-interest-deduction-vital-housing-market/) gloss over all the ways home owners, and even renters, would be hurt by the change. Let's set the record straight.

    Myth #1: The mortgage deduction is just for rich people.

        •The mortgage interest deduction helps mostly middle- and lower-income families.

        •65% of families who use it earn less than $100,000 per year.

        •91% earn less than $200,000 per year (that's where most economists draw the line between rich and middle-class).

        •Only 9% earn more than $200,000 per year.

    This myth may have arisen because of a related fact: If you buy a house, you're much more likely to accumulate wealth by the end of your life. Home owners have an average net worth of $200,000, while the average renter's net worth is $5,000, according to the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances (http://www.federalreserve.gov/pubs/oss/oss2/scfindex.html).

    Myth #2: I'm not affected by the mortgage deduction because I don't own a home.

     

     If the mortgage interest deduction (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/mortgage-interest-deduction-vital-housing-market/) goes away, home values would fall by 15%, the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® estimates. When home values fall, tax revenues follow suit, giving your local government two choices:

        •Raise property taxes. Not only will home owners pay more in taxes, renters won't escape unscathed either as landlords raise rents to cover their costs.

        •Cut services that everyone-renters and owners-enjoys.

    Myth #3: Switching to a 12% mortgage interest credit would be a wash for most.

     

     One proposal floating around Congress is to replace the mortgage interest deduction with a 12% nonrefundable mortgage interest tax credit. (Deductions reduce your taxable income; credits reduce your tax liability.) This plan would increase taxes for many home owners.

    Example: If you paid $10,000 in mortgage interest, and you're in the 25% bracket, you'd pay $1,300 in extra taxes.

        •The $10,000 deduction you have now saves you $2,500 on your taxes (25% x 10,000).

        •The 12% credit would save you only $1,200 (12% x 10,000) on your taxes.

        •In this scenario, if the mortgage interest deduction (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/deduct-mortgage-interest-home-equity-loans/) is changed to a 12% credit, you'd lose $1,300 (the current $2,500 savings minus the $1,200 you'll save under the 12% plan).

    Myth #4: Not that many people take the mortgage interest deduction.

     

     There are 75 million American home owners, and 38.5 million of them take the mortgage interest deduction. The average mortgage interest tax deduction is $12,200, and a typical benefit for home owners is $3,050 a year.

    The mortgage deduction is a key benefit to first-time home owners (http://buyandsell.houselogic.com/articles/4-tips-determine-how-much-mortgage-you-can-afford/) and trade-up buyers because you pay the most mortgage interest when you first take out a mortgage. (You won't pay equal amounts of principal and interest until year 13 or later, depending on your interest rate.)

    People with large families also get a lot of bang from mortgage interest deductibility-they buy relatively big houses for their big families.

    Myth #5: Getting rid of the deduction won't affect me or my housing market.

     

     It will mean lower property values for all American home owners, including the one-third who own their homes outright and the 12 million who take the standard deduction.

    Even if you don't have a mortgage, getting rid of the MID will affect how much home you can afford to buy (http://buyandsell.houselogic.com/articles/negotiate-best-house-buy/) -and how much a buyer will pay for your home.

    Myth #6: People will still buy my house without the mortgage interest deduction.

     

     Yes, people will still value home ownership, but it will be harder for them to buy your house. The mortgage interest deduction makes it cheaper to buy a home because it saves real money at tax time.

    If you bought a home last year with a $200,000, 30-year, 5% fixed-rate mortgage and you're in a 25% tax bracket, you'd save about $2,500 from the mortgage interest deduction alone (http://www.bankrate.com/calculators/mortgages/loan-tax-deduction-calculator.aspx) in the first year you own your home. That's money you can use to pay down other debts, save for your children's college education, or put away to buy a move-up house.

    Myth #7: Solving the U.S. budget problems requires everyone to sacrifice.

     

     Home owners already pay 80% to 90% of the federal income tax collected. If mortgage interest deductibility (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/mortgage-interest-deduction-vital-housing-market/) disappears, you and your fellow home owners could foot 95% of federal income tax.

    If you're at the beginning of your mortgage, losing the mortgage deduction will cost you a bundle:

        •$26,685-a 15% drop in value for the median home valued at $177,900.

        •A proportionally smaller gain in overall home equity over your lifetime, because your home now starts from a lower value.

    Article From HouseLogic.com

    By: Dona DeZube
    Published:
    February 16, 2011

    Dona DeZube has been writing about real estate for more than two decades. She lives a suburban Baltimore 1970s rancher on a 3-acre lot shared with possums, raccoons, foxes, a herd of deer, and her blue-tick hound.

  • The American Dream – not just for some, but for everyone!

    Posted Under: Quality of Life, Market Conditions, Home Buying  |  February 27, 2011 4:51 AM  |  475 views  |  1 comment

    “Our families and our homes are the center of American life.  And everything we do is to make those homes – and the lives in them – more beautiful, more comfortable, more functional, and more full of life, and light and joy for those we love.  At the end of the day, that is the American Dream.  All the rest is window dressing.“ - Martha Stewart

     

    Besides the fact that humans just feel more secure in a home of their own, what are some of the other benefits of home ownership? 

     

    Home owners have higher net worth.  Owners’ net worth, on average, is two to three times their before taxes earnings while renters net worth is only 20 – 25% of their before tax income.   Home ownership is perhaps the surest way to accumulate net worth.  It tends to be a slow wealth builder.  Each mortgage payments act like a deposit in a savings account, slowly building equity while paying down debt.

     

    Home owners are the glue that holds a community together.  In a recent survey of home owners and renters, the home owners said they felt more connected to their community. Home owners are more satisfied with their quality of life.  They vote more in local elections and volunteer more time to charities and non-profit organizations.  And they feel safer in their homes than do renters, possibly because they know their neighbors and their neighborhood better. 

     

    So, terrific, homeownership is good for the home owner, but what about the rest of society?  Is homeownership good for them as well?  It sure is!  Here are the facts.

    Fact:  For every additional 1,000 home sales, about 500 jobs are added to the economy.  Those are real jobs that give our families, friends and neighbors a chance to work.

    Fact:  Every home purchase pumps $60,000 into the economy.

    Fact:  Housing accounts for more than 15 percent of the national gross domestic product.

    Fact:  Home owners pay 80 to 90 percent of ALL federal income taxes.

    Homeownership is the engine that drives our national economy. Eight of the last ten recessions have ended as a result of robust housing markets.  America needs a healthy housing market to thrive.   That’s why homeownership is, and remains, and will always be, “The American Dream”, not just for homeowners, but for all of us!

  • Help for those struggling with the high cost of heating oil

    Posted Under: General Area in Morris County, Quality of Life in Morris County, Agent2Agent in Morris County  |  January 27, 2011 5:03 AM  |  766 views  |  1 comment

    With the cost of home heating oil now at more than $3.00 per gallon, many New Jersey homeowners are struggling to stay warm.  Help is available.  Here is a link to the some resources for New Jersey residents. 

    http://www.citizensenergy.com/english/pages/44/new-jersey
  • "It's deep in the race for a man to want his own roof and walls and fireplace." - Peter Bailey, It's a Wonderful Life

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in Morris County, Agent2Agent in Morris County, Foreclosure in Morris County  |  December 11, 2010 7:13 PM  |  672 views  |  No comments

    In the holiday classic, "It's a Wonderful Life" George Bailey says of his father, Peter Bailey, founder of the fictional Bedford Falls Building and Loan:

    "Now, hold on, Mr. Potter.  You're right when you say my father was no business man. I know that.  Why he ever started this cheap penny-ante Building and Loan, I'll never know…

     

    But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter. And what's wrong with that?

    Doesn't it make them better citizens?

    Doesn't it make them better customers?

    You said that they, they had to wait and save their money before they even thought of a decent home.

     

    Wait! Wait for what?  Until their children grow up and leave them?

    Until they're so old and broken-down that they...

     

    Do you know how long it takes a working man to save five thousand dollars? 

     

    Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you're talking about...they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community.

     

    Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?

     

    Anyway, my father didn't think so.  People were human beings to him…..,"

     

    Frank Capra must be turning over in his grave.

  • How to Get Your Loan Modified - Part 1

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in Morris County, Financing in Morris County, Foreclosure in Morris County  |  November 23, 2010 4:09 AM  |  597 views  |  1 comment

    There are two key things you must prove in order to get the bank to modify your mortgage; that you have suffered a financial hardship and that you can afford to pay a lower, more affordable mortgage payment.  And you prove these two things by submitting a ‘hardship letter’ and a financial worksheet, with supporting documents, to the bank.

     

    Your ‘hardship letter’ should be a narrative explaining how it is you became unable to pay your current mortgage payment.  Loss of equity in your home is NOT considered a hardship.  A hardship the bank will recognize includes temporary loss of a job, divorce, death of a spouse, loss of a business, illness or medical costs (yours or a family member), increase in monthly mortgage payments, for example when an adjustable rate mortgage resets, or even natural disaster. 

     

    Don’t hold back.  When you write your hardship letter, you want to tug at the heart strings of the person reading your letter.  Put it all in, get it off your chest.  At times during the process you may be asked to update your hardship letter.  You can use your original letter with a new date, but if things have changed, update the letter to include those changes.

     

    Secondly, you will be asked to complete a financial worksheet that lists all your monthly expenses and the entire monthly income or revenue for your household.  This is done to analyze whether or not you will be able to afford the new, lower payment.  Be honest.  This exercise will help you as much as the bank.  Be careful to include ALL of your expenses and do not overstate your revenue.  If your debt to income ratio comes in at slightly less than 100% you should qualify for a modification.  However, just because you qualify does not necessarily mean a loan modification is the right option for you.  Seriously look at your financial situation.  Don’t over-extend yourself.  Don’t make an emotional decision.  If you truly CAN afford a lower payment, then by all means work toward getting the loan modified. 

    But, if you cannot afford even a lower mortgage payment, do yourself a favor, sell the home as a short sale.  Otherwise you will expend much needed resources, both financial and emotional, clinging to a property that you will, ultimately, lose anyway.  Better to make an orderly and planned move to a rental property and end the pain.

     

    Last, whether you decide to go forward with a loan modification, or whether you decide to sell the property, you will need to provide the bank with documents to prove what you say is true.  Those documents will include your two most recent bank statements, two most recent pay stubs, and two most recent tax returns. 

     

    If all this sounds a bit overwhelming and confusing, relax, there is help at hand.  Look for Part 2 in the next few days where we will discuss the sources, both governmental and private, to help homeowners navigate the process.

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