Friday, October 28, 2011

4 Great Mini-Vacations Right in Your Back Yard

Autumn is a great time of year in Indiana. It’s great time to get out of town and enjoy everything that our state has to offer. Here are 4 great mini-vacation destinations within a hundred miles of Indianapolis.

Beautiful Parke County, Indiana
Parke County is truly one of Indiana’s treasures. Hike the trails and watch the leaves change at Turkey Run and Shades State Parks. The annual Covered Bridge Festival just wrapped up this past weekend, but it is a Parke County event worth checking out next year.  With almost 40 covered bridges scattered around the county and festivals throughout the year, Parke County is a great destination.  Look for their Maple Syrup Festival in the early Spring, the Mansfield Mushroom Festival in April, Stawberry Festival in June and Farmer's Markets in the summer.  You can find more information about all their events on their website.

Visit Historic Nashville, Indiana
Nashville, Indiana is one of the coolest places to visit in the state. With dozens of shops and restaurants, it’s the perfect place to spend the day. Its close proximity to Brown County State Park means that you can do some hiking and enjoy the fall foliage.  To learn more about what Nashville has to offer check out the Brown County Tourism website.

Spend the Day at Oliver Winery in Bloomington, IN
Located just North of Bloomington on State Road 37, Oliver Winery has held its place as Indiana’s premier winery since its inception in 1972. Fall is a great time to visit the winery grounds, enjoy a wine tasting, have a picnic and tour the facilities. This year Oliver released Beanblossom Hard Cider, which is a made with locally grown Indiana apples.Visit their website to plan out your visit.

Family Fun in Kokomo
Kokomo is Halloween central with more haunted attractions than anywhere else in the state of Indiana. The list of haunted attractions includes:

Haunted Trail Walk – Saturday October 29 – 6:00pm to 8:30pm at Jackson Morrow.
The Haunt at Easy Acre Farm – October 22 & 29 – Features haunted barns & a corn maze.
Edge of Insanity – Haunted Insane Asylum – Open every weekend in October.
Gray’s Fright Night – Haunted House – Open every weekend in October.
Twisted Darkness – A Haunted House in Downtown Kokomo – Open every weekend in October.

The Kokomo Visitor's Bureau can give you specific dates and times of these events.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Creating a Backyard Oasis

The weather has cooled down and it's that time of year where we instinctively want to spend time outdoors trying to extend summer.  Now is a the perfect time to create that backyard oasis and enjoy what is still left of summer. 

If you're planning to stay where you are, chances are you may already have your ideas.  But if not, or you are considering selling in the spring here are some thoughts to help you get started.

• Make your Backyard Homey: Create a conversation area with some furniture. The area needn’t be elaborate; just two chairs pulled close together with a table between can make even the most basic concrete patio special. Just the idea that an outdoor eating option is possible makes a property more inviting. Adding accessories like a small table, an inexpensive outdoor rug or a few pots filled with flowers will make the area even more attractive.

• Remember the Kids: If you have an old tree house, fix it up and paint it bright colors or add sporty designs that will make other kids fall in love with it. Just make sure the tree house is safe. Add a tire swing to a tree and keep an orderly basket of balls, flying disks and a jump rope so kids dragged along on the showing can play in the yard. Swing sets that are old and unsightly should be removed or refurbished to look new.

• Fire is Hot: There’s nothing like sitting around a fire and enjoying the company of friends and loved ones, which explains the growing popularity of fire pits and outdoor hearths. Few home improvements create the “wow” factor that a backyard fireplace will, and many homeowners are adding a fireplace to their outdoor landscape to recreate all the appeal of their home’s interior outside in the backyard.

• Simple Fixes: You needn’t go overboard with the changes in your yard. Sometimes, the easiest fixes will create a look that people will remember. Do a thorough inspection and replace any damaged boards on your deck or fence, and apply a fresh coat of paint, stain and sealant if the finish requires it. You should also weed and groom your garden and add some perennials for color.

Creating a backyard sanctuary is one of the smartest things you can do to make your home stand out, so make your outdoor space a destination to remember.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Indianapolis Tops The List!

Where Can You Get Your Best Bargain for a House and a Job?

It’s not always easy to find a great job and a reasonably priced home in the same area, especially in today’s economy. Deerfield, Florida is known for it’s affordable housing, but finding employment might be difficult.

States like Arizona, South Carolina, and Maine have a high cost of living and low earning potential, while states like Texas, Utah, and Nebraska are better cost-of-living bargains with higher wages. What are the best cities? They might surprise you.

Yahoo Finance combined several lists: the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Forbes, CNN, and Sperling’s Best Places to rate the top five cities for both job opportunities and affordable housing.

No. 1 Indianapolis, Indiana
Yes, there’s more than corn in Indiana. This Hoosier city is the 12th largest city in the country, according to the 2010 Census and it received high marks for a wide range of offerings. It’s home to the Colts and the Indianapolis 500. There’s a romantic Canal Walk, clean downtown and it’s known as the Amateur Sports Capital of the World featuring the NCAA headquarters. Plus, the Racing Capital of the World as it is home to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Indianapolis has one of the lowest costs of living for a major metro area at nearly 18% less than the national average while the median price for a home is $120,000.

Plus there’s a solid job market in Indy, which has a wide range of pharmaceutical, scientific and tech jobs. Corporations like Eli Lilly and Company, Brightpoint, Finish Line, Roche Diagnostics, CNO, Emmis Communications, Steak ‘n Shake and many others. The jobless rate in Indianapolis is 8%, nearly 3-5% below the national average .

The other cities on the list in order of their ranking:

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Omaha, Nebraska; Columbus, Ohio; and Austin-Round, Texas.
Second ranked, Pittsburgh was ranked No. 1 by Forbes in 2010 as their top most livable city for its culture scene and revitalizing job market, which includes a Google test site for the company’s new high-speed broadband network, has expanded its Pittsburgh offices.

Others on Forbes’ list include college towns like: Ogden, Utah, home to Weber State University, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Provo, Utah, and Manchester, N.H. because there is a constant job market demand thanks to the universities. Ogden ranked No. 2 on the Forbes list followed by Provo, which is just 80 miles away, since unemployment in the Ogden metro area is below average, incomes have increased by 3.4% over the last five years.

What to Look For?
If you’re looking to move, make sure you check out an area that has the potential for steady or increasing incomes and a job market which allows housing to remain affordable.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The 203K Mortgage

Real estate consumers today can find ample value in distressed homes – properties that are under a foreclosure order or up for short sale. In many cases, however, “distressed” speaks more for the condition of the homes than their recent financial histories, as they’ve sat empty for extended periods and have been subject to vandalism and theft.

Those considering homes in need of repair and renovation should consider a 203k mortgage, which enables homebuyers to finance both the acquisition and rehabilitation of the property with just one loan.

“FHA 203k purchase loans are the perfect financing vehicle for homeowners seeking the value proposition offered by REO homes,” said David Wind, president and board chairman of White Plains, N.Y.-based Guaranteed Home Mortgage Company, in a company statement this June. “Home buyers’ ‘perfect’ home can be purchased in less than perfect condition with a single-close loan product that allows repairs and remodeling.”

There are two types of 203k loans: the 203k streamline and the full 203k. The 203k streamline is the most popular among homebuyers and lenders.

“The maximum allowable in repairs is $35,000 under the 203k streamline and it does not allow any structural repairs to be done to the home, unless [the repairs are] a result of an unforeseen circumstance,” explained David Krushinsky, a certified mortgage planning specialist for Mesa, Ariz.-based AmeriFirst Financial Inc. “The full 203k allows structural repairs and will allow the buyer to exceed the $35,000 in home repairs. Both loans allow up to $1,500 in swimming pool repairs.”

Contractors chosen to perform repairs must be licensed, bonded and insured, and they usually must provide the lender with a resume and two client-reference letters.

“After the close of escrow is when all the rehabilitation work begins,” said Krushinsky. “Funds usually aren’t released immediately so it’s important for your contractor to start work in a timely manner. Typically, if they’ve been in business, they have existing relationships with vendors so they can order materials and begin work. If not, the project may take longer than anticipated.”

Since the 203k mortgage is based on the home’s potential value after repairs -- not its existing value -- you can be approved for a higher loan amount. The mortgages also carry long-term-fixed rates, are insured as soon as they fund, and include escrow accounts for the scheduled repairs.

Loan amounts are capped according to local FHA limits. Only owner-occupied properties of one to four units qualify for 203k mortage financing; homes also must be at least one year old.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Homeownership....Dream or Reality?

Homeownership...for years we have been told it is the American Dream. And for many people it may be in fact just that, a dream. 

If you are one of the many people in Central Indiana who struggle with credit issues or have good credit but are unable to secure down payment funds owning your own home could seem like just a dream.  Working to repair credit or save funds for a down payment could be such a daunting task that you choose to give up on the dream. 

Maybe you are one of the many who have concerns and fears about what all is involved in homeownership and wonder if it is really for you.

Let me tell you that help could be just a phone call away.

The Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership is a non-profit organization that empowers people in Indianapolis and Central Indiana to be able to realize this dream.  INHP offers a variety of programs designed to help individuals and families in the Indianapolis Metro area to become successful homeowners.

With serivces ranging from credit counseling and one-on-one advising to homebuyer & homeowner education courses to mortgage lending, INHP goals are to make buyers credit worthy, get buyers qualified to purchase and eliminate homebuyer fears.

According to advisors at INHP, the typical timeframe for clients to repair their credit is 10-12 months although some individuals may take a longer time period.  During this time, advisors will meet with the clients on a regular basis to help them develop a personal work plan to achieve their goals, support and guide the client in removing credit barriers and establish a savings plan.  When the client is credit worthy, INHP will make recommendations as to the various loan options that best fit the needs of the client depending on the client's specific set of circumstances.

The Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership works with a variety of programs such as Habitat for Humanity, the Intercultural Homeownership Preparation Program and Section 8 to Homeownership.  INHP also provides a variety of mortgage options such as their lender referral progam and their Partnership Loan Program which carries no PMI with a minimum 580 credit score requirement as well as a low down payment.

If you would like more information about how INHP can benefit you please contact me or visit their website.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mortgage Points: To Pay or Not to Pay

If William Shakespeare financed a home today he’d probably ask on the subject of mortgage points: “To pay or not to pay? That is the question.”

Homebuyers direct the same question to their real estate agents. Here are some perspectives:

In its simplest definition, a point is an additional loan fee that is paid to the lender in exchange for a lower interest rate. It’s called “buying down,” and it allows you to reduce your rate for the life of the loan.

Let’s say you secured a mortgage loan for $500,000 without points, at 4.6% on a 30-year mortgage, your payment would be approximately $2,560 a month. If you paid two points ($10,000), the interest rate in this example would go down to 4.1% and the monthly payment would decrease to around $2,415, a savings of $145 a month.

In this scenario, it would take you about eight years to recoup the money you paid up front, so if you are planning on staying in your home a while, this will save you money in the long-run.

Home buyers must answer some key questions to determine if paying points is a wise decision. Specifically:

• How long will you keep the home?

• Do you have extra money to pay points?

• Could that money be better used for something else?

Money managers may suggest that a smarter option is to invest that $10,000 because you could do much better than your $140 savings, but you have to weigh the variables.

“Paying points depends on your career, your interests and all the things that predict your future,” said financial advisor Thomas Watkins of Total Mortgage Services in Milford, Conn. “Points are paid up front while your savings will be spread out into the future. Therefore, you get more benefit if you own your home longer, or if you don’t refinance for a long time.”

The rule of thumb when it comes to points is simple: If you plan to stay in the house for less than three years, do not pay points. If you plan to stay in the house for more than five years, pay 1 to 2 points. If you’ll be in the house for three to five years, paying points doesn’t make a significant difference.

Another important aspect to consider: Since points are interest-payment related, they are fully deductible on your taxes in the year that you close. See your tax advisor for details.

Mortgage points can add up to valuable savings over the course of your loan, but the future isn’t always predictable. Even if you “plan” on staying in your home for 20 years, changes in your career or family life could alter the plan.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Home Sellers: A Deck May Make the Difference

With spring in the air, the exterior of a home becomes even more important when putting your house on the market because buyers now will spend more time outside looking at your property and envisioning what their summer barbeques and family playtime will look like.

The addition of any amount of usable real estate to a property increases value. Customized decks and personalized outdoor living areas are a hot trend in home improvement upgrades, and a great-looking deck may entice more people to come see your home.

Building or updating an existing deck isn’t simply a great investment; it also provides opportunities to personalize your backyard and customize the look to your taste. And with many families staying home this summer to save money, why not think about creating the perfect location for entertaining?

Deck experts agree that multi-level decks are the most popular now. These are a series of decks connected by stairways or walkways, which are aesthetically pleasing and can be used for different purposes. One level can be used to catch the sun, one level can be positioned for shade and another can be set close to the house for entertaining and barbequing.

Wood decks have always been the most popular, but caring for them is tough. They will rot over time, are subject to insect infestation and require a great deal of maintenance to keep the wood from fading. Accordingly, people are embracing composite materials for their decks, which cost significantly more but will last longer with less maintenance.

For those homes that already have a deck, it’s important to make sure that it’s still in good shape and adds to the attractiveness of a property. You can change your deck’s appearance with interesting balusters to match other decorative accents on your house or in your yard and really add unique touches to make the deck a personal haven. Meanwhile, railings offer a good opportunity to pull in color and ornamental detail that complements the house.

By designing your deck with accents, lights and unique accessories, you can transform your backyard into an outdoor retreat one will never want to leave. Whether you’re catching up with friends over a grilled dinner in the evening or are curled up with a book in a lounge chair on a sunny afternoon, a deck is the perfect place to be.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Eleven Reasons to Use a Real Estate Sales Professional When Buying a Brand-New Home

Existing and potential homeowners are looking at real estate from all angles as the U.S. economy and local housing markets continue their recovery. For many, there is strong appeal in buying brand-new homes as myriad builder incentives and low interest rates create significant value.

Today’s new homes boast exciting floor plans and designs tailored for specific lifestyles, complete with a huge array of features and appointments. They include energy efficient products and building techniques, reducing buyers’ utility bills. Of course, new-home consumers love that their properties, from roofs to appliances, will not need replacement for many years.

It might not seem necessary to involve a real estate professional in a transaction where a buyer can deal directly with a builder. Yet by using a real estate professional you gain a skilled professional to protect your interests and guide you along the right path.

Here are 11 advantages to using a real estate professional when buying a newly constructed home.

1. Just as a real estate professional calls on experience and knowledge of an area to help buyers locate pre-owned homes in a community, he or she can also direct buyers interested in newly built homes to developments and communities that match client specifications.

2. A sales professional can suggest builders with reputations for delivering a high-quality product, responding quickly to issues, and being financially sound.

3. A sales professional may be familiar with how a builder prices his products and where there may be room to negotiate price or upgrades.

4. Without representation, you are one buyer purchasing only one home. But a sales professional can significantly impact a builder’s bottom line by providing a steady supply of customers. This leverage may work in your favor at the negotiating table. [Note: The builder may require your sales professional to accompany you on your first visit to the site. Check with the builder.]

5. The lender approval process may go smoother if a sales professional schedules visits, accompanies you to lenders, and helps expedite required documents.

6. What may seem like a simple transaction can grow legally complex and risky. A sales professional is familiar with those complexities and risks inherent in the homebuying process. When such questions arise, we can steer you to the right advisors and services you may require.

7. If your contract includes a contingency to sell an existing home your real estate sales professional assuredly can help, though your sales professional will explain that buying before selling isn’t always in your best interest as it can undermine your bargaining.

8. When relocating to a new area, sales professionals can be particularly valuable resources. In addition to providing local area information regarding schools, day care or elder care services, public transportation, proposed development, and so on, once construction is under way, they can periodically stop by the work site, supply you with progress reports, and photograph or videotape phases of the construction.

9. A sales professional can assist you as you face hundreds of design choices and consider which upgrades could potentially add value to the home when it comes time to sell.

10. A sales professional can accompany you at the site while you okay the plumbing and electrical locations prior to dry walling, as well as on the walk-through or builder orientation.

11. Lastly, most often the builder pays the sales professional’s commission. You enjoy individual attention and support at no cost to you.

Builder incentives and heightened affordability have many real estate consumers considering brand-new homes. Rather than rely on builders’ agents – who are paid by the builders – savvy shoppers are hiring real estate sales professionals to help them through the buying process and on to the American dream.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Floor the Competition

When people enter your home they usually look down before up, so that first step is vital for attracting a homebuyer and making a great first impression. This is one reason why more people are installing hardwood floors in their homes.

Hardwood flooring enhances the look of any room and can create a classic ambiance that will beautify the interior design of your home. Residential real estate agents agree that homes with wood floors hold their value better, sell faster and fetch higher prices.

Last year, 99 percent of real estate agents responding to a national survey conducted by the National Wood Flooring Association agreed that homes with hardwood floors are easier to sell. The survey also found that 82 percent believe that homes with hardwood floors sell faster and 90 percent said they would sell for more money.

The American Hardwood Information Center adds that restoring hardwood flooring in the home is one of the best long-term investments to be made.

“Hardwood floors are environmentally friendly, forever fashionable, and will last for generations,” said Pembroke Jacobs, president of the Hardwood Manufacturers Association. “Plus, with an expected life span of up to 100 years for certain premium hardwood flooring, you can be assured that that the hardwood really is a one-time investment with a very long-term payoff.”

Real estate agents also agree that carpeting does not impress potential buyers, but hardwood floors are always a draw. Engineered wood floors impart warmth, depth and richness to a home’s decor that cannot be matched by carpeting, tile or vinyl flooring. Despite the existence of modern architectural trends in flooring, hardwood can still compete with floor tiles and other artificial materials. It comes in a variety of colors and grains; light, medium, or dark shades; and a variety of sizes, styles, finishes and species.

Maple, mahogany and oak are the most popular woods, but some homeowners are investing in exotics such as Brazilian cherry and purpleheart.

The Environmental Protection Agency has said that indoor air quality is one of the top health threats and wood floors can help contribute to a healthy living environment. In fact, a recent EPA study found that pesticides used in gardens and homes accumulate on floors and other surfaces in the home, but that wood floors greatly reduce the accumulation of such toxins. Hardwood floors also do not trap or harbor dust mites or molds.

Though wood floors will probably need to be refinished at some point, when properly taken care of they are much easier to maintain than other floor surfaces.
The NWFA recommends regular sweeping of hardwood floors with a soft-bristle broom or dust mop to remove surface dirt and debris. If your floor contains beveled edges, it recommends using a vacuum with a soft bristle brush attachment to remove dirt and debris from between the floorboards.

Having hardwood floors could be the difference between selling your home or watching a potential buyer walk out the door on a less-appealing type of flooring.

Monday, April 4, 2011

‘Tis the Season for Tax Breaks

With April 15 rapidly approaching many are scrambling to complete their taxes. For those who have recently bought or sold a home, there are a number of tax deductions that that may be available to them.

Real estate broker’s commissions, title insurance, legal fees, advertising costs, administrative costs, and inspection fees are all considered selling costs and may be used to reduce one’s taxable capital gain by the amount of the selling costs. That could result in a big savings depending on the final sale price.

Interest that is paid on a mortgage is also tax-deductible, within limits. A married couple filing jointly can deduct all their interest payments on a maximum of $1 million in mortgage debt secured by a first or second home.

Buyers may also be able to deduct some of the interest they paid on a home equity loan or similar line of credit.

One deduction that many buyers often overlook is points. Points or origination fees on a home loan that were paid during the purchase of a home are generally tax-deductible in full for the year in which they were paid.

Refinanced mortgage points are also deductible but only over the life of the loan – not all at once. Homeowners who refinance can immediately write off the balance of the old points and begin to amortize the new.

If your lender required private mortgage insurance, the PMI premiums are tax-deductible for mortgages taken out from 2007 through 2011.

Making improvements to property prior to the sale or once one moves in might qualify for an interest deduction on your home-improvement loan. Qualifying capital improvements are those that increase your home’s value, prolong its life, or adapt it to new uses, such as adding a porch or installing energy-efficient windows.

Many times during a sale, the seller will send the local tax collector’s office a check for real estate taxes prior to the closing. In many circumstances, however, the buyer will pay a pro-rated portion of the taxes for the year at closing. This tax deduction also gets overlooked.

For those working from their new home: If a room is used exclusively for business purposes, they may be able to deduct home costs related to that portion, such as a percentage of your insurance and repair costs, and depreciation.

In some instances, if you have moved because of a new job, moving costs may be deducted. These can include travel or transportation costs, expenses for lodging, and fees for storing your household goods.

Every year the tax laws change and certain tax deductions become available while others phase out. If you have recently bought or sold a home, it’s probably a good idea to seek out a professional tax consultant to do your taxes as missing deductions that you can legally claim can add up to quite a bit of money.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Make Sure Your Property Is Ready for a Warmer Market

Spring is a season of renewal – this year in particular. Just as the birds are chirping and flowers are starting to bloom, the U.S. economy is moving forward with real estate sales percolating in many markets. Indeed, the days grow longer in spring, allowing more time for consumers – especially those motivated by current, historically low interest rates and attractive home prices – to shop for their American dream.

If you’re considering selling your property this spring, now's a good time to complete some spring maintenance to make sure your home is in tip-top shape. Even if you aren't planning to sell your home, you should still add these chores to your list to help preserve your home's value and help avoid major repairs later on.

Walk Around the Outside

Check for any damage caused by winter's cold weather. Look for those sagging or loose gutters, window frames or siding. Is your roof missing any shingles, or is there any water damage under the eaves? Promptly schedule repairs for those items you can't do yourself.

Over the fall and winter, leaves, mud and debris may have accumulated in your gutters. Check your gutters for clogging and damage and schedule an appointment for cleaning.

Walk around your yard as if you were a first-time visitor. What impression does your home make? Be sure to clear away fallen branches and leaves. Loosen the soil around perennials, plant annuals or a vegetable garden. Prune shrubs and trees.

If your water supply has been off for the winter, turn it back on. Test your automatic sprinkler system or connect your water hose and check for cracks and leaks. Replace old washers or sprinkler heads.

Don't forget the backyard! Is it time to condition your deck? Be sure to hammer in any loose nails, or replace them with galvanized deck screws. Replace any broken boards or rails. Consider renting a power washer to clean dirt and mildew from the wood, and then apply an all-weather sealer or stain. Then dust off that patio furniture you kept protected over the winter.

Repair any broken fence boards and paint or seal them as needed. Clean the pool if it has been covered all winter. Wash windows, screens and windowsills; repair any winter damage.

Take a Tour Inside

Start making a list of things to do in each room. Then go to work. Dust walls and ceilings to remove cobwebs and wash any grimy areas. Wash window curtains or remove drapes for dry cleaning. Deep clean rugs and carpets. Dust and polish wood or laminate floors.

Clean fan blades using mild soapy water. Check the central air-conditioning unit for debris and obstructions; vacuum the main condenser coil on top of the unit. Check the operating condition of window air-conditioning units; remove and wash filters in mild soapy water.

Make sure all exhaust fans and vents are clean and clear. Don't forget to remove the lint buildup from the clothes dryer vent.

One often-overlooked area is the fireplace. Be sure to sweep ashes carefully into your fireplace's ash pit or into a dustpan. Clean and lightly oil fireplace tools. Remember it's springtime, so you may want to decorate the fireplace or wood stove with a large silk flower arrangement.

Look around for clutter. Are there items you don't use any longer? If you are planning on moving, what items will you not need? Consider having a garage sale and then either donate or trash the remaining items.

And lastly, don't forget to replace batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. A good time to change them is when you change your clock for daylight savings.

Although performing these spring chores may be dreaded task, they go a long way in maintaining and even enhancing the attractiveness and quality your home. With more buyers out and about, you must be sure your property is ready for its next new owner!