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Updated: Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Unique Ways To Dress Up Your Kitchen Cabinets With Hardware

Hardware is the jewelry of the kitchen. In a well-designed space, it can add an important finishing touch. In a space that needs a little help, it can provide some sparkle to help distract from worn or outdated features that may be more difficult to update. And, its an easy, inexpensive project you can do yourself.

"Hardware is an often-overlooked accessory that can completely change the look of room or even an exterior," said Huffington Post. "Of course, were referring to hardware in the design sense: Knobs, pulls, hooks, knockers, brackets, railings, handles an d any other metal flourish that can go in or on a home. Its a huge category, but few really give it a lot of thought."

Whether your taste runs to traditional, transitional, modern, vintage, or funky, hardware can help you express your >

Just beware of hardware that makes such noticeable holes in your cabinets they cant be easily repaired if you remove them when you sell your home.

Huffington Post

Huffington Posts handy guide provides a list of websites for hardware options ranging from vintage to distinctive and different to >

The latest trends

Hardware is a great way to bring the latest trends into your kitchen. Because they can be easily changed out, you dont have to worry about your space becoming outdated when brass and golden-hued hardware is no longer the latest thing again.


These oversized pulls would look snazzy on any color cabinets, but really stand up to the bold red.

Caf Galante


In a high-end kitchen, the right hardware can offer just the right touch to bring it all together. Exposed hardware adds another unique element.

Caf Galante

In this kitchen, modern lines accentuate the cabinet design, creating a standout, custom look.

Snipe righ

For some, kitchen hardware offers the perfect opportunity to express their individuality and creativity, with spoons turned handles....

Bob Vila

or even concrete. These knobs are "as easy as creating a form out of a something small, in the shape you desire for your knob," said Bob Vila. "Then fill it, and let the concrete set for a few minutes. Insert the head of a bolt, and let the concrete dry. Once removed from the mold, sand the knob smooth with silicon carbide wet/dry paper and rub the surface with talcum powder to create a shine."

Bob Vila


Bring an artistic feel to your kitchen with a touch of glassart glass, to be specific. Available in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, it might be just the right thing to bring a personal touch to your kitchen.

Or use metal in a different way. Who says it has to be linear? Take artistic license with shapes that contrast with the lines of your cabinets.

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Easy Architectural Details You Can Add To Your Home

Newer homes, especially those geared toward first-time buyers, are often devoid of the level of architectural detail you would find in older or more expensive homes. If youre not a fan of the big, boring box look, you can easily add in some detail to up the charm factor. And, many of these projects can be done yourself with minimal skill and money.

"Nothing jump-starts design envy more than walking into a home with stunning architectural details like interesting ceilings, textured walls, charming stained glass and more," said Apartment Therapy. "Dont despair if you dont have any built-in architectural details in your home; there are some ideas you can try that just might give your space a similar feel as those bursting with architectural character and charm."


If you have a Spanish or Mediterranean home, or just want to make your home look and feel like one, adding an archway can help.

"Here, we transformed an ordinary rectangular cased opening into a beautiful elliptical archway featuring fluted columns, and an arched header with keystone accents," said This Old House. "We used a prefabricated 4-foot Model B poplar elliptical-archway kit from CurveMakers. On day one, we prepped the existing opening. On day two, we completed the installation and painted."

Crown molding

Crown molding can transform the look of a space, taking it from blah to beautiful. And it doesnt have to be traditional.

"The three-piece crown molding on this upper kitchen cabinet matches the >

Ceiling Beams

"Ceiling beams can be added to any ceiling and come in a wide variety of >

You can also paint your beams for a different look.

"Wood beams can give a rustic or antique looks but painted beams bring a different type of warmth and character," said Better Homes and Gardens. "Dont forget to look up when designing your space. In this kitchen, the box beams on the ceiling are a sunny shade of yellow to match the cabinets. Exposed ceiling beams make a space with a high ceiling feel more welcoming."

Better Homes and Gardens

Another popular option is faux wood beams that give you the look you want without the weight of real wood. You can get a step-by-step guide to installing beams yourself here. Keep in mind if youre doing it yourself, higher ceilings may require stilts or scaffolding. If you have an issue with heights or are a klutz, you may want to consider hiring a pro.

Panel moldings

Plain walls can easily be dressed up by creating panels with strips of molding. If you can miter a corner and use a paintbrush, you can create standout room like this one.

Better Homes and Gardens

Accentuating the architectural details you do have

"Think you dont have any architectural details at all? Well thats just not true Youve got windows...consider painting the window frame a bold, contrasting color," said Apartment Therapy.

Or, paint your doors or your ceiling, like this one. Who wouldve thought this emerald green would be so inviting.

Apartment Therapy

Tin ceilings

Another way to accentuate the ceiling is by applying tin tiles. Tin ceilings date back to the "1880s as an affordable way for people to dress up a rooms fifth wall," said This Old House. "Tin was not only an aesthetic upgrade, meant to emulate high-end decorative plaster, it also offered a measure of fire protectiona big concern at a time when home cooking, lighting, and heating were largely done with open flames."

Today, theyre used in modern spaces as well, to add interest up top with linear metal looks, corrugated metal, and an array of stamped tiles.

Reclaimed Home
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Real Broker Supervision Is Needed

As is true in many states, real estate brokers in California are required to "exercise reasonable supervision" over the activities of their salespersons. Section 2725 of the Real Estate Commissioners Regulations spells out that this supervision "includes, as appropriate, the establishment of policies, rules, procedures and systems to review, oversee, inspect and manage" such things as transactions, maintenance of documents, trust fund handling, advertising, and more. The Regulation also notes "The form and extent of such policies, rules, procedures, and systems shall take into consideration the number of salespersons employed and the number and location of branch offices." Also, "A broker may use the services of brokers and salespersons to assist in administering the provisions of this section"

So how is all this working out? Do California brokers generally exercise reasonable supervision over the activities of their salespeople? On the whole, I think not. Which is not to imply anything negative about most salespeople. I suspect that most -- certainly not all -- are competent in their craft and decent in their intentions. But I doubt that they are properly supervised.

My opinions are anecdotal, of course. I have neither the time, the resources, nor the inclination to conduct a statewide analysis of broker supervision. My thoughts expressed here are simply based on observations and interactions accumulated during nearly 40 years of practice in the field of residential real estate.

What I have seen is this: Most brokers -- even those with a detailed set of policies and procedures -- are likely to practice their supervision retroactively. That is, their requirements, at best, are designed to ensure that they have a record of what was done.

Typically, transaction "oversight" consists in requiring that no commission checks will be issued unless there is a file containing a list -- often a substantial list -- of mandatory documents disclosures, disclaimers and advisories, inspections, addenda and modifications, etc.. It doesnt require approval, or consultation about, these items at or near the time that they were generated, it simply requires that, at the end, they be in the file, signed and dated.

The Oxford dictionaries define supervision as to observe and direct the execution of a task, project, or activity. It is "to be in charge of somebody/something and make sure that everything is done correctly, safely, etc." Supervising an activity requires observing it as it takes place and, if necessary, becoming involved with it.

The kind of after-closing file review practiced by many real estate companies is not supervision; rather it is, at best, reviewing.It enables one to know what happened. It certainly does nothing to protect the consumer who is presumably meant to be the beneficiary of the regulations.

Not long ago we wrote of a recent California law that mandates a new continuing education course in Management and Supervision for brokers who are renewing their licenses. As the Bureau of Real Estate reviews submitted courses for approval, there is a great opportunity to ensure that brokers will be acquainted with the fact that supervising an agent in a transaction doesnt just mean compiling a record of what they did. It also means at least trying to make sure that everything that is done is done correctly. And that means, keeping an eye on the transaction as it is going along.

Yes, what has been discussed here would su>

Bob Hunt is a director of the California Association of Realtors. He is the author of Real Estate the Ethical Way.

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Ontario May Demand Mandatory Energy Audits In Property Listings

The Ontario Real Estate Association OREA says the provincial government is moving forward with a plan that would require an energy audit to be part of every property listing.

OREA says the Ministry of Energy is "exploring an enforcement regime which would make the Realtor responsible for ensuring that the audit was completed and posted to MLS."

OREA adds, "In essence, the province is actively considering mandating requirements on the MLS."

The idea of making mandatory energy audits part of every home sale has been on the governments radar for many years. The Energy Conservation Leadership Act, 2006, gave the province the ability to require people who are selling, leasing or transferring property to provide energy->

The 2006 act was replaced in 2009 with the Green Energy Act, which included a provision that would require "information, reports or ratings" at the time of sale or lease. After public consultation, amendments were made that would allow home buyers to waive the right to receive the energy information, and excluded leased buildings. The provision that requires mandatory energy disclosure required a proclamation before it came into force. OREA says that its advocacy efforts have so far been successful and the provision is still an unproclaimed piece of legislation.

However, in May 2015 OREA was informed that the ministry was planning to go ahead with a new plan for mandatory energy audits, which shifts the time when the audit is required to prior to the listing appearing on the MLS.

"Ontario Realtors are extremely concerned about the mandatory aspects of the proposal and any attempt to legislate real estate listing services in Ontario," says OREA. "Realtors believe that mandatory home energy audits are unfair, will put consumers at risk, hurt the housing market and will do little to curb greenhouse gas emissions."

In 2012 Gord Miller, then the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario ECO wrote, "Despite years of voluntary programs, the real estate market has failed to serve the public interest by providing needed information on a homes energy use. The ECO believes mandatory home energy labels are necessary to increase residential energy awareness and provide home buyers with the necessary information to factor environmental and operating energy costs into an assessment of the homes value."

Miller wrote, "Real estate agents made little use of the Multiple Listing Service to promote such literacy and assist home purchasers. Mandatory labelling of houses at time of sale would overcome the asymmetry of knowledge that exists between the buyer and seller of a home. Labelling would also confirm that the construction of efficient new or retrofitting of existing houses increases home asset values. In other words, it raises home equity."

OREA is proposing that instead of mandatory audits prior to the listing, the audits should be included within a standard home inspection. "This would ensure that the majority of home buyers have access to important home energy efficiency information when they are making an offer on a property," says the association. This will lower the costs of the program and be easier for the province to implement, while protecting consumers, it says.

The Ontario Home Builders Association OHBA has supported the idea of mandatory energy audits since the 2009 act came into place, as long as new homes are excluded. The association says the current building code already mandates that residential buildings must meet certain energy performance levels, so the "the idea of labelling new homes is redundant for the new home consumer," says the association.

"OHBA has been consistent in our support of energy labelling of resale homes since the introduction of the Green Energy Act, as we see it as an extension of important and necessary disclosure when determining housing options," it says.

Miller, who left the ECO post in 2015, wrote in a blog post two years ago: "When we buy a car, we expect to know how far it will take us on one tank of gas and how much that gas will cost us. Its about time we expect the same of our homes.By promoting transparency in the true cost of a home after purchase, we are getting closer to integrating environmental protection and home operating costs with property valuesResearch shows that energy efficient homes sell for up to nine times more than homes which are energy hogs."

Miller was referring to a 2012 study, The Value of Green Labels in the California Housing Market.

OREA says it will continue to fight the introduction of the mandatory energy labelling on property listings.

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4 Ways To Use the Internet To Spread the Word About Your Estate Sale

You have spent hours organizing, cleaning and pricing your items for your estate sale, and you have chosen a date that is not on a holiday weekend. You have made some eye-catching signs to entice people to come by and shop, and you have told every family member and friend about your upcoming sale. Now, its time to harness the power of the Internet and get the word out about your estate sale online.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so make the photos great

To promote your estate sale on your blog, website or social media, take and post plenty of eye-catching photos of the available merchandise. Its not unusual for online ads for estate sales to have 500 photos or more, so dont stop after 10 or 20 shots. Take as many clear photos as you can of most of the items that you have for sale. Focus on posting photos that you know will tempt shoppers, such as antiques, artwork and collectibles, and add them to your sites. To really grab the readers attention, consider adding high-quality and professional videos to your website that go along with the theme of the sale. For example, Shutterstock has some amazing vintage footage that would complement photos of antique furniture, rugs and art.

Consider advertising on estate sale websites

Unless you are a professional estate sale company and most people who hold estate sales are not you dont have a large following of buyers who are waiting for the sale. To help get the word out, post the details of your sale on websites that are devoted to advertising estate sales online. For example,, and are three popular and effective sites to advertise your upcoming estate sale. For best results, post your sale one to two weeks ahead of time and have those photos ready to share.

Tweet amp; share the details

Social media is an outstanding way to advertise your estate sale. You can post the details on your Facebook account by creating an album and event on Facebook. Then, invite your friends and family members to join. Every day, post a new photo of something that will be in the sale, and be sure to include basic information like the address, date and time of the event. Dont stop at Facebook though. You also should tweet the details of your sale on Twitter, post photos on Instagram and make a YouTube video featuring some of the inventory. You can then post the video on all of the other social media sites.

Dont forget Craigslist amp; other local websites

Craigslist has a garage sale section that you can use to post the details about your sale as well as photos. Make it clear in your listing that you are hosting an estate sale; this will separate it from the pack of generic garage sales.

If you live in a neighborhood with a Homeowners Association, contact them to see if you can post your sale on their website, or if they can include the information in a weekly or monthly email blast to residents.

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How To Deal With Collecting HOA Delinquencies

There are few things more basic to a homeowners association than the fees it takes to keep the place running. When one or more owners default in the payment of fees, the impact is felt by all. And the longer the delinquency, the deeper the cut. It is a situation that many boards dread because of having to deal with neighbors. Here are a number of ways to reduce the impact of, cure or avoid collection problems in your community:

Establish a collection policy with teeth. While this sounds simple enough, many HOAs have nothing more in place than the often inadequate provisions of the governing documents. The collection policy needs to be clear and concise. Some of the basic provisions should include:

  • Date the fee is due

  • Date its late

  • Penalty for late payments

  • How late payments will be applied to outstanding balances

  • Legal procedures that may be invoked after a certain period or level of delinquency is reached

  • Who pays collection costs

  • Lien filing rights on an owners property if payment is not received and,

  • Foreclosure provisions.

The goal of the well written collection policy is to move the HOAs bill to the top of the payment pile. As with any policy enacted by the board:

Apply the policy consistently. Once the policy is agreed upon, do not deviate from it. While there are great excuses still to be heard, the board has a fiduciary duty to protect the HOAs rights. If one owner doesnt pay, other owners have to ante up the difference or services will need to be curtailed. The board must absolutely avoid selective enforcement due to a friends, family members or a personal default.

Apply the policy in its entirety. The typical collection policy is made up of a series of sequential events that are triggered by time and/or dollar amount. Once put into motion, allow it to run its course. This typically ends in placing a lien on a members property. Garnishing wages, seizing property and foreclosure are possible but usually not invoked unless the case is extreme.

Use an attorney well versed in legal collection procedures. While attorneys should not be the first line of defense, the procedure should include them once the size or age of the balance due reaches a certain proportions. Liens and foreclosures are an attorneys domain. The impact of an attorney letter alone may be sufficient to turn the collection tide.

Hire a property manager. Collections and rules enforcement are the main reasons folks dont want to serve on the board. A manager doesnt live there and for them, collections are business as usual. If your HOA is experiencing greater than normal collection problems, this may be the best step to getting collections back in line.

Lets face it, collections are an unpleasant but necessary part of homeowners association living. Rather than reacting or overreacting, prepare for them with a strong yet fair policy. If the members know the will of the board, most wont tempt the process.

For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to

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You Dont Need Your Old Deed

Question: We recently read about a possible scam operation, whereby a company advises homeowners that to protect themselves -- and their valuable home -- they have to spend a lot of money to get a certified copy of their deed. We own our house and obviously want to protect this large investment. How do we determine which company is legitimate and which is not.

Answer: The simple answer is that you do not need a certified copy of your deed. In fact, once the deed to your house is recorded into your names, you really do not even need the deed at all.

Typically, when a consumer buys a house, he/she goes to a settlement attorney or title company. The settlement officer has the responsibility of gathering in all of the sales proceeds, making sure that the buyer signs the loan papers and the settlement statementcalled a HUD-1. Note: as of October 3rd, the HUD-1 and the final Truth in Lending statement have been replaced by a new document known simply as "closing disclosure".

The seller provides the settlement company with the names and loan numbers of all existing loans, and signs the deed and other >

When settlement has been completed, the deed and the loan papers are sent to the recorder of deeds in the jurisdiction where the property is located. These documents are recorded, and then sent back to the settlement attorney. The recorded loan documents are then returned to the mortgage lender and the deed and the title insurance policy is sent to the buyer.

It is a good idea to keep all of your settlement documents, especially the HUD-1 settlement statement. When you go to sell the property, and if you have made more than the 250,000/500,000 exclusion of gain currently allowed under the tax laws, the settlement statement will come in handy to justify various settlement expenses so as to reduce your overall profit.

You should also get a copy of the deed of trust the mortgage document and the promissory note which you signed at settlement. Hopefully, you will never need these documents, but should the lender send you a letter stating you are in default on your loan obligations, it is always a good idea to refer back to these documents. They spell out what the lender can and cannot do, and the process by which you can be determined to be in default.

The title insurance policy is also a very important document. In the event someone suddenly raises an issue against or about your property, you may be able to file a claim with the title insurance company that issued the policy. For example, an old mortgage was never >

Another document you should get at settlement is the survey. This is known as a house location survey, and will give you a general picture of where your property lines are. If, for example, your neighbors fence encroaches on your property, -- or vice versa -- the survey should depict this and you should be advised of this issue when you are at the settlement table. There is a concept known as "adverse possession". Many states provide that if you are on someone elses property for a period of time, and this encroachment is "open, notorious and hostile", you will ultimately own the property if you seek court approval.

One Judge defined adverse possession as follows:

"the person claiming the property by adverse possession must unfurl his flag on the land and keep it flying so that the owner may see, if he wishes, that an enemy has invaded his domain and planted the flag of conquest."

State laws differ, and you should consult your own attorney for more details should you be involved in such a situation. For example, in the District of Columbia and in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the statutory limit is 15 years. In Maryland. 20 years are required before you can claim title by adverse possession.

But what about the deed to your property? Once it has been recorded, you should never need it again. When you go to sell the property or refinance your current mortgage the settlement attorney or escrow company will conduct a title search which should show you own the property. You do not have to give the deed to anyone.

If you are concerned about ownership, here are two suggestions: first, go to the office of the recorder of deeds in the jurisdiction where your property is located, and ask to confirm you own the property. A helpful clerk may even be able to provide you with a copy. In fact, many jurisdictions such as the District of Columbia have web sites whereby you can search all transactions going back a number of years, and for a nominal charge, print up a copy.

Alternatively, you can ask your attorney to run a title search just to confirm that you are, in fact, the lawful owner of your property.

Under no circumstances, however, should you waste your money with any company that offers you a certified true copy of your deed. It is absolutely unnecessary.

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The Most Complete List of Marketing Tips and Ideas for Agents

If youre looking for a comprehensive resource of real estate marketing tips, our friends over at Point2 just put together a practical list of 75 Marketing Ideas for Real Estate Agents.

Here are the highlights of the best tips to put into practice:

Email is a great starting point to get in touch with prospects and referral sources. Use subject lines that are short, personalized, and contain positive words like "invitation" and "thank you." To make your job easier, use drip email campaigns.

The listing is the first encounter a buyer has with the property for sale. A great listing description will make them want to see it in person. Write concise descriptions that make use of popular buzzwords. Listing photos are the face of your listing, so use beautiful, clear photos that make a good first impression.

Seasonal marketing and client appreciation go hand in hand. Take advantage of holidays to show your clients that you are thinking of them. Customized notes, cards and fun freebies can break the ice with prospective and existing clients alike, and keep you at the top of their mind. Custom mugs or sweet treats are a great way to pass along a business card.

Social media is a real estate agents best friend, an inexpensive and solid source of lead generation. Social media marketing doesnt have to be complicated or overwhelming, use these strategies to make the best of it.


Telephone marketing is nothing new, but it remains an effective marketing tool. Keep in mind that good phone etiquette will never go out of >

Position yourself for success with a great website and a blog. A professional website is your businesss window to the world, it lets people find you, see you, learn about you, and connect with you. Add a blog to let your community find out more about you and that you are good at what you do.

Point2 is a leading provider of real estate marketing and lead management solutions specially designed for top performing brokers and agents.

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Should You Rent Your Home to Others?

With rental prices rising, you may be wondering if nows the time to become a landlord. There are advantages to renting your current home while you purchase another to live in.

The advantage to renting your home is that youre likely paying a homestead mortgage interest rate, which will make it easier to make a profit than if you purchased rental property with a mortgage at a higher interest rate. As youve owned your home, its likely appreciated in value, allowing your home to compete well in the rental market so you can use profits to put back into the home to keep it rentable.

Assuming youre current on your mortgage, have the credit scores to buy another home, and have saved enough cash for a down payment, now may be the ideal time to add a rental investment to your portfolio.

Real estate has always served as a hedge against inflation and against other investments, so the first thing to do is find out how rents compare to home prices in your area. Your real estate professional can provide you with market comparables that show you how much homes are renting for per square foot and how quickly they rent, as well as for what prices comparable homes are selling.

If the rental income is enough to cover your mortgage, youre in good shape, but there are other expenses to consider, such as income taxes, advertising, listing and management fees, and maintenance.

For income tax purposes, your current mortgage isnt considered a cost of doing business that you can deduct like office supplies or equipment purchases. Youll pay taxes on this gross amount, less repairs and management fees, if any. On the bright side, if you sell the property within five years and youve occupied the home two of those five years, youll likely pay no capital gains at all up to 250,000 for an individual or 500,000 for a couple.

To qualify for a mortgage on another home, your lender follows a typical multiple home formula. Even though you may have your home rented, plan to deduct approximately 20 of rental income from your "investment." Why? Most homes have a period where they are not rented while theyre on the market, which means no rental income. Your lender wants to make sure you can handle periods when your home isnt rented.

When you turn your home into a rental, its no longer a homestead, but an enterprise. Tax laws require you to make a profit within three years of launching an enterprise, or otherwise you wont be able to take deductions associated with it. Also, expect to pay more in property taxes as you will also lose the homestead deduction rate, since youll be applying for the homestead deduction on your new home.

On the other hand, one of the best ways to build equity is to have someone else pay your mortgage for you. The longer you own your home and the longer its rented, the more the amortization tables turn in your favor. Every loan payment is made of principal and interest. The longer you own your home, the larger the percentage that goes toward reducing principal.

Based on the purchase price of your home, you can deduct "depreciation" from your income every year you rent it, but this amount decreases with time. You can also deduct some maintenance and improvement expenses which are not available to homesteaders. See your tax professional for more information.

There are other pros and cons of becoming a landlord. Youll be dealing with people who dont respect your home as much as you do and could cause damages. They may skip out without paying the final months rent. Youll have two homes to maintain, and could get broken plumbing or appliance calls in the middle of the night. On the bright side, renters of single-family homes tend to be older, more responsible and remain occupants longer. Also many losses are tax-deductible to landlords.

Ask your real estate professional or someone else that you know who owns rental property for more insights. Theyll be able to share real-life property management situations and costs that may help you to decide if this is the right step for you.

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The Know Before You Owe Disclosures Start Now

The Know Before You Owe disclosure form issued by The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will go into effect on October 3, 2015. The rule provides for easier-to-use mortgage disclosure forms that clearly lay out the terms of a mortgage for a homebuyer.

But some lenders and real estate agents say the new mortgage rules may delay closings. What will change is that three documents, the HUD-1 Settlement Statement, the Good Faith Estimate, and the Truth-in-Lending disclosure will be pared down to two new closing forms called a Loan Estimate and a Closing Disclosure.

The Loan Estimate form must be given to consumers no later than three days after they formally apply for a loan. That means providing financial information to the lender and signing a mortgage application.

When the consumer receives the Loan Estimate form, he or she will know what the loan amount and the interest rate will be, how much the monthly payment is, an estimate of taxes and insurance based on local rates, and how much down payment is required.

To prepare for settlement, homebuyers will have a three-day period to review the Closing Disclosure form. Because of the added review period, lenders are recommending that borrowers lock in their mortgage rates for longer periods than they normally would.

CNBC real estate reporter Diane Olick explains that the "new rules will require lenders, title companies, real estate professionals and insurance representatives to all come together sooner in the process to ensure the disclosures do get out in time."

For example, a 30-day rate lock is typical, but borrowers can extend the lock period up to 45 days or 60 days. However, there may be a question as to whether or not more time is really needed to close the loan.

According to, Borrowers are often told theres no charge for a rate lock. Thats true in the sense that the rate lock isnt associated with a fee. But a rate lock isnt free.

Josh: A longer rate lock typically involves a higher interest rate, which is more expensive for the borrower. The interest rate or "pricing" difference between a 15-day rate lock and 60-day rate lock might be as little as one-eighth or as much as half of a percentage point, or roughly 25 to 50 per month for the life of the loan.

Laura: Meanwhile, real estate agents are preparing for the worst. According to a new survey by the National Association of REALTORS says that about 56 percent of REALTORS say they plan to add more time to their contracts.

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17 Things First-Time Buyers Need To Know

Few things in life are more exciting than buying your first home. The feeling of turning the key for the first time or clicking the garage door opener is thrilling. Youll likely feel a sense of pride like never before. But getting to that point may be a challenge. And the challenges wont end once you move in.

The more you know about the process, the more prepared you can be for the wrinkles that pop up, and the more you can >

1. It may cost more than you expect.

When youre calculating your monthly payment, dont leave anything out. Add in principal, interest, taxes, and insurance, plus any HOA fee. Then estimate landscaping, pool maintenance if needed, and any other fees there may be. Dont forget to include your monthly home warranty cost if you have one.

Experts recommend putting aside a minimum of one percent of your home price for repairs and maintenance per year, so add that in. Think also about utilities. If youre coming from a small apartment, you might have a bump in that monthly cost. Only by taking a real look at the numbers can you get a true feeling for what youll pay every month as a homeowner.

2. You may only have to put three percent down.

FHA loans arent your only low down payment option anymore. Ask your lender about 97 LTV loans that require only three percent down for first-time buyers.

3. You can probably afford it more easily than you think.

Rents have been going up way more than home prices in many real estate markets. A recent analysis by RealtyTrac found that, "Payments on a mortgage used to purchase a three-bedroom home were more affordable than paying rent on a similar home in 66 percent of the counties."

4. Butknow how much you can really afford.

Your loan approval will tell you how much the bank thinks you can afford. But they only know so much. If youre planning to have a baby or change careers sometime soon and your income could be affected, you may want to stay lower on the payment scale, which means a higher down payment or a less expensive house or both.

5. You need a preapproval.

Your REALTOR will tell you this. Believe him. Even if he takes you out to look at houses without a preapproval many wont, since it could be seen as an indication that youre not serious about buying, you wont be in a good position to make an offer if you find a place you like. And in a competitive market, that could be disastrous.

6. It may be easier to buy a single-family home than a condo.

Strict FHA restrictions on condos can make for a limited pool of options, and, if you can find one that is approved, it might have a higher interest rate. Be sure to ask your lender to provide a side-by-side analysis of a condo and single-family home in similar price ranges; a home that is priced slightly higher may end up being the answer when you examine the numbers carefully.

7. You might be able to get money to fix up your home.

Fashion yourself a DIYer? Ask your lender about 203k and Home>

8. You might be able to get a gift for your down payment.

"Cash gifts are also allowed for low-down payment mortgages including the FHA purchase mortgage, which requires a 3.5 down payment and the Conventional 97 mortgage from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which requires just 3 down," said The Mortgage Reports.

Theyre also allowed on many other conventional loans, and can help a first-time buyer get to a 20 percent down payment that would help them qualify for the lowest rates. Check out The Mortgage Reports for important details about down payment gifts. Do it wrong, and your application can be rejected. There also may be tax implications for improper gifting.

9. Gift funds may also be allowed for your closing costs.

Be sure to ask your lender. Not having to come up with thousands of dollars at closing means money for new furniture

10. Youll have a love-hate >

Youll appreciate them when the car up on blocks for a week in front of the neighbors house is towed. Not so much if its your car up on blocks.

11. Youll want to thoroughly check out the neighborhood.

Make sure there are no development plans that may affect your home value in the neighborhood youre looking at. Talk to the neighbors. Check for sexual predators nearby. And spend some time in the area at different times and on different days so you can observe the neighborhood flavor. You also might want to arrange to commute from/to the house one day to see what you have in store.


12. Youll want good schools. Even if you have no kids.

Families inherently seek a neighborhood with quality schools. But studies show that good schools can dramatically affect home value, making these neighborhoods desirable to buyers without kids as well. "Living near a high-scoring school can increase your homes value by over 200,000, according to the Brookings Institution," said AOL.

13. You can derail your loan approval.

Dont check your credit, get a new store credit card, close an account, or buy a new car while youre in escrow - you might not stay in escrow. Listen to your lender and hold off on anything that could affect your credit or financial situation until you close.

14. The home inspection will reveal some issues. It always does.

Keep a cool head and let your Realtor handle any negotiations. You just might come out better than before.

15. Youre gonna get a tax break.

Youre probably already looking forward to this, but do you know the details? Your mortgage interest is a write off. So are your Private Mortgage Interest PMI fees and any points you pay to buy down the rate on your mortgage. All told, you could be getting a nice little return come tax day. Check out this calculator to estimate your tax break.

16. It will be more work than you imagined.

Stuff leaks, breaks, makes weird noises, shuts down, peels, crumbles, flames out, and falls off. You will learn how to fix it all, or at least how to make a phone call to someone who can.

17. It will all be worth it.

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Home Repairs VS Improvements: No Clear Answer

Question: I am having trouble figuring out what constitutes an improvement and what is ordinary maintenance. Thinking ahead to selling my house in a few years when the market rebounds, I have been keeping accurate records so that I can deduct these costs to lower the capital gains. Recently, I remodeled a bathroom, replaced a deck, replaced and upgraded the spa filter and motor, replaced the front door with a fiberglass model guaranteed to last more than my lifetime, and replaced a roof and rain gutters. Which of these can I safely regard as improvements, and which are just maintenance?

Answer: The line between repairs and improvements is fuzzy. The Court cases that have analyzed this issue are all over the place, with Judges deciding the exact same work going in opposite directions.

If your property is a rental, then in most cases you want to call the work a repair. Repairs can be deducted as rental expenses in the year that you pay them, thereby reducing your rental income. But discuss this with your tax advisors or your accountant first.

If this is your principal residence, however, while you obviously want to keep your house in good repair, the moneys you spend on ordinary maintenance provide no taxable benefits for you.

Improvements, on the other hand, may be very valuable to you when you sell your house, since they increase the tax basis in your house. The higher the basis, the less tax you have to pay.

Lets look at this example. In 1985, you bought your first house for 100,000, and sold it for 200,000 in l990. That same year, you bought another house for 200,000. Prior to l997, an important tax break for homeowners was called the "roll-over". Although you made a profit of 100,000 when you sold your first house, you did not have to pay any capital gains tax. Instead, the profit was "rolled-over" into the new house. The basis for tax purposes of the second property became 100,000.

You now want to sell, and have listed your house for 700,000. You know that under the current law, since you are married and have lived in the house for two out of the five years before sale, you can exclude up to 500,000 of your gain. You do the numbers and think that because you bought the house for 200,000, and will sell it for 700,000, you are home free on any capital gains tax.

Wrong: since you took advantage of the old "roll-over", your basis was 100,000, and when you sell it for 700,000, you will have made a profit of 600,000. While you can exclude up to 500,000 of this gain, you will have to pay capital gains tax on the 100,000 difference. Currently, the tax rate can be as high as 20 percent, so you will have to send a check to the IRS in the amount of 20,000. You may also have to pay the applicable state tax.

For purposes of this discussion, I am not taking into consideration other expenses which you have paid, such as closing costs, real estate commissions, or legal fees. These expenses will, of course, reduce your overall tax obligation.

How can you increase your tax basis? Here is where improvements play a vital role. Any work which you do to your house that adds to its value, prolongs its useful life or adapts it to new uses such as "going green" will be considered an improvement and can be added to the tax basis of your property.

Lets take your examples:

remodeled your bathroom: since this clearly prolongs the useful life, it is an improvement;

replaced a deck: this is a grey area. According to the IRS, "a repair keeps your property in good operating condition. It does not materially add to the value of your property or substantially prolong its life." IRS Publication 527, "Residential Rental Property" available free from www. Since you can claim that the new deck will increase your propertys value, I would consider it an improvement.

replaced and upgraded spa filter motor: although it sounds like a repair, since you upgraded the motor, I would consider this an improvement.

replaced the front door: clearly an improvement, since the new door has a very long useful life.

replaced roof and rain gutters: the IRS publication specifically addresses rain gutters, and states "fixing gutters" is a repair. But since you replaced your gutters, once again you are in a grey area. However, since you replaced the roof which clearly is an improvement, and had to remove the gutters during this process, I would call the entire job an improvement.

The IRS publication contains a list of "examples of improvements" but cautions: "Work you do or have done on your home that does not add much to either the value of the life of the property, but rather keeps the property in good condition, is considered a repair, not an improvement."

If your profit will be less than the exclusion of gain 500,000 for married couples; 225,000 for taxpayers filing a separate tax return, then it probably does not make a difference whether your work is a repair or an improvement.

However, for those who bought and sold homes before l997, and used the "roll-over", and for those whose property values increased dramatically in the early part of this century, improvements will assist you in reducing your capital gains tax obligations to the IRS.

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Cant Top That Tree Topping In HOAs

Homeowner associations often deal with tree issues in the form of view blocking or overcrowding as they age and grow. Tree topping is sometimes used to address the view issue. But tree topping is perhaps the most harmful tree pruning practice known. Yet despite years of explaining its harmful effects, it remains a common practice. While the object is to reduce size or improve view, there are alternatives that achieve the same goals while protecting the health of the tree.

Topping is the indiscriminate cutting back of tree branches. Other names for topping include "heading," "tipping," "hat-racking," and "rounding over." Topping often removes 50-100 of the leaf-bearing crown of a tree. Since the leaves are the "food factory" of a tree, removing large sections can starve a tree. The severity of the pruning triggers a survival mechanism. The tree activates latent buds, forcing the rapid growth of multiple shoots below each cut. The tree needs to put out a new crop of leaves as soon as possible. If a tree does not have the stored energy reserves to do this, it will be seriously weakened and may die.

A stressed tree is more vulnerable to insect and disease infestations. Large, open pruning wounds expose the sapwood and heartwood to attack. The tree may lack sufficient energy to chemically "defend" the wounds against invasion. Some insects are actually attracted to stressed trees by chemical signals.

Topping Can Lead to Sunburn. Branches within a trees crown produce thousands of leaves to absorb sunlight. When the leaves are removed, the remaining branches and trunk are suddenly exposed to high levels of light and heat. The result may be sunburn of the tissues beneath the bark. This can lead to cankers, bark splitting and death of some branches.

Topping Creates Hazards. The survival mechanism that causes a tree to produce multiple shoots below each topping cut comes at great expense to the tree. These shoots develop from buds near the surface of the old branches. Unlike normal branches that develop in a "socket" of overlapping wood tissues, these new shoots are only anchored in the outermost layers of the parent branches. The new shoots grow very quickly, as much as 20 feet in one year, in some species. Unfortunately, the shoots are very prone to breaking, especially during windy conditions.

Topping Makes Trees Ugly. The natural branching structure of a tree is a biological wonder. Trees form a variety of shapes and growth habits, all with the same goal of presenting their leaves to the sun. Topping removes the ends of the branches, often leaving ugly stubs. Topping destroys the natural form of a tree. Without the leaves up to six months of the year in temperate climates a topped tree appears disfigured and mutilated. With the leaves, it is a dense ball of foliage, lacking its simple grace. A tree that has been topped can never regain its natural form.

Topping is Expensive. The cost of topping a tree is not limited to what the perpetrator is paid. If the tree survives, it will require pruning again within a few years. It will either need to be reduced again, or storm damage will have to be cleaned up. If the tree dies it will have to be removed.

Alternatives to Topping. There are times when a tree must be reduced in height or spread. Providing clearance for utility lines is an example. There are recommended techniques for doing this. If practical, branches should be removed back to their point of origin. If a branch must be shortened, it should be cut back to a lateral that is large enough to assume the terminal role. A rule of thumb for this is to cut back to a lateral that is at least 1/3 the diameter of the limb being removed. This method of branch reduction helps to preserve the natural form of the tree. Sometimes the best solution is to remove the tree and replace it with a species that is more appropriate for the site.

If pruning involves working above the ground, or using power equipment, it is best to hire a professional arborist. An arborist can determine what type of pruning is necessary to improve the health, appearance and safety of your trees. A professional arborist can provide the services of a trained crew, with all of the required safety equipment and liability insurance.

A couple of closing caveats. Avoid using any tree company that advertises topping as a service provided. Hire only a trained arborist. Arborists know that topping is not an accepted practice. Pruning work should be accomplished by free climbing, ladders or lift equipment. Climbing spikes can damage trees, and their use should be limited to trees that are being removed. And never, never, never top your trees.

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Fall Home Maintenance Checklist

With autumn here it is time to get your house in shape for the cooler months ahead. Fall is a great time to take care of the little things that can make a big difference for you and your home. Getting ready for colder weather means checking, repairing, and prepping your home to withstand the upcoming rain, wind, and snow.

Here are some helpful tips that every homeowner should do before hibernating this winter.

1. Stow Your Mower

With the cooler months ahead, its time to start thinking about how you are going to stow your lawn mower. Before saying goodbye to your lawn mower for the winter season, there are a few things you should consider. First, it will be a good idea to sharpen the blade of your lawn mower to ensure that it is in tip-top shape for the spring. Youll also want to empty your gas tank before putting your lawn mower to rest. Taking simple steps like these before putting your lawn mower into storage will help increase the longevity of your equipment.

2. Perform an energy audit

Performing an energy audit is really important because it will tell you where heat is escaping, so you can correct the problem and save money on utilities. If you are doing an energy audit yourself, first make a list of all air leaks in your home by seeing where there are drafts. You can learn how to detect air leaks by following these simple steps. Seal the air leaks that you have identified by applying caulk or weatherstripping. Potential energy savings by detecting and fixing drafts can range from 5 to 30 and will make your home much more comfortable.

3. Replace Your Storm Windows

Before it gets too cold, replace your screen windows and doors with energy-efficient storm windows. Consider a proper storage space for your screen windows so they do not get damaged over the winter months. Youll want to give them a good cleaning, along with your storm windows, so that they are ready for the upcoming colder months

4. Check your Furnace

Home heating systems that arent properly maintained may be less than 50 percent efficient. A dirty filter will increase your heating costs and reduce the life of your equipment. For these reasons, it is important to check your filter once a month and replace or clean if necessary. Have a professional take a look and perform any adjustments to your furnace during this time if needed.

5. Install Gutter Guards

Homeowners often overlook the importance of gutters, but they protect your home by diverting rain water safely away from your home. Gutter cleaning is a temporary solution to a permanent problem, but it is important to keep your gutters clear and clean in order to prevent home issues like foundation and structural issues.

If neglected long enough, these types of concerns can be serious and costly. One way to combat clogged gutters and eliminate gutter cleaning is to have gutter guards professionally installed to your home. Installing a micromesh gutter protection system, will help save you the time and hassle of cleaning your gutters when the leaves begin to fall.

6. Maintain your Homes Exterior

Trim back trees and branches that are hanging too close to your home. Fall and winter are known for unexpected weather conditions, so it is important to prevent any type of debris from falling on your home and producing serious damage. Seal driveways, brick patios, and wood decks. For long term care of your home exterior, it is important to apply a layer of sealant to prevent weed growth, repel stains, and increase the longevity of these areas.

7. Chimney and Fireplace

Youll want to call in a professional to inspect and clean your chimney. Annual cleaning of your chimney is important to prevent dangerous chimney fires. Test your fireplace flue to ensure that it is tightly sealed when closed.

8. Test smoke/carbon dioxide detectors

This is a simple task for homeowners, but it is often forgotten about. Detectors should have a "test" button. If the alarm sounds -- youre good to go If not, try replacing the batteries and test again. If the alarm still doesnt fire, you may need a new detector. Testing these systems is a quick, but very important quarterly test to perform.

Taking these steps will not only lower your utility costs, but they will protect your largest investment, your home, from the unexpected weather conditions ahead.

Article contributed by LeafFilter. LeafFilter is a micro mesh gutter guard that attaches to your existing gutters and provides you with clog free gutters for the life of your home.

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Updated: Wednesday, October 07, 2015

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