Hire the Right Contractor

Get referrals. Ask your family, friends and neighbors for the names of contractors or trades  professionals they've used and make a list of companies that serve your area.

Get in touch. Once you have a list of companies, call them and ask if they specialize in your type of project.

Research your options. Contact your local Better Business Bureau and your state's consumer protection agency to review the reputation of the companies on your list.

Meet the contractors in person. Meeting face-to-face not only allows you to ask more questions, it also provides insight into the contractor's communication style, character, and attention to detail.

Get estimates. Ask the companies on your list for an estimate and have them break down the costs, including materials, labor and expenses.

Be on the lookout. Beware of doing business with contractors who do the following:

  • Give you a quote before seeing the job.
  • Demand a large deposit upfront to purchase materials.
  • Insist you sign a contract on the first visit.

Sort out the details before work begins:

  • Payment
  • Time
  • Expectations
  • Get everything in writing.

How to Boost Curb Appeal

If you're thinking of selling this year we would be happy to help you decide which of these projects would net the best value based on our experience. Even if you're not planning to sell any time soon, updating and maintaining your home regularly shows you take pride in owning it.

  • Wash the exterior
  • Paint
  • Install vinyl siding
  • Repair or replace the roof
  • Pay attention to the details
  • Nurture your landscape
  • Build a fence
  • Stay on top of maintenance

It's Tax Time!

Tax day, April 17, 2018, is just around the corner. Whether you plan to complete them in a weekend or are pulling together the information to give to your tax preparer, here are a few tips to get started.

Be Prepared

  • Create a tax checklist to gather all of the documents you'll need.
  • Download the latest catalog of forms and publications from IRS.gov or have it mailed to you.
  • Most tax software programs will allow you to input your information early. Start filling in your information now, so that you're not rushing to complete it in April.
  • If you have dependents, make sure you know their Social Security numbers so that your return isn't delayed. If you are divorced, decide which parent will claim the children beforehand to prevent an audit or delay.
  • You may have until April 17, 2018 to contribute to your traditional and Roth IRA for 2017. Check the IRS for specific contribution information.

Expecting a Refund? Plan ahead to Avoid Delays

Create a file for all of your forms.

Keep a copy of your previous year's tax return.

Choose to e-file your taxes.

Get your refund earlier by choosing direct deposit.

4 Ways to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft This Season

1. Watch your mailbox. When income tax forms start coming in the mail, a potential ID thief can easily gain access to personal information.

2. Destroy Sensitive Material. Use a confetti paper shredder to ensure that your documents are properly destroyed.

3. Choose the Right Tax People. Beware of companies that hire seasonal workers with minimal training.

4. Be careful Online. If you plan to use an online tax service, ensure the site is reputable.

 

What to Do if Your Information Has been Stolen

Identity theft can happen to anyone. Even if you're careful, a thief may be able to attain your information by hacking into the systems of larger businesses, as millions of people learned last year with the Equifax data breach.

The rise of data breaches

The Equifax data breach in 2017 showed that even if you're vigilant about protecting your personal information, it may still be compromised. In this breach, hackers stole information from 143 million Americans, including people's names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and driver's license numbers, as well as the credit card numbers of 209,000 people. Equifax has set up a page for those who may have been impacted:Equifaxsecurity2017.com. Due to the size of the breach, Equifax has made everyone eligible for a year of free credit monitoring.

What to do if you're the victim of a data breach:

The first thing you should do if you suspect you're a victim is to check all of your credit reports-Equifax, Experian and TransUnion-by getting a free credit report at annualcreditreport.com. If you've already accessed your credit report this year, you may have to pay a fee.

Next, monitor your credit card and bank accounts for unauthorized activity and review each charge carefully. If you find or suspect you're a victim of fraudulent activity put a freeze on your credit file. You may also place a fraud alert on your credit file to warn creditors that your identity was stolen. Additionally, file your taxes early to prevent a scammer from filing for you and collecting your refund.

What to do if your information has been stolen:

Although credit card microchips have curtailed counterfeiting, thieves gave become focused on opening new accounts with stolen information.

If your debit or credit card number has been stolen:

  • Contact your bank or credit card company to cancel your card and get a new one.
  • Review all of your transactions and call the fraud department if you notice fraudulent charges.
  • Update your automatic payments with the new card number as soon as it arrives.

If your bank account information has been stolen:

  • Contact your bank to close your account and open a new one.
  • Review your transactions and contact the fraud department to report false charges.
  • Update automatic payments with your new information.

If your driver's license information has been stolen:

  • Contact the DMV and report your license stolen. The state may then flag the number in case someone tries to use it.

 

Market Insights 2018

While the national market offers insight on overall trends in real estate, we can give you the scoop on what's happening in our local market. Whether you're thinking of buying or selling or you just want to know more about our local real estate market, give us a call!

Home prices and values are expected to rise modestly.

Home prices have been increasing around the country, with cities such as Dallas, Portland, and Seattle experiencing the largest year-over-year gains. In fact, Washington has experienced the fastest rise in housing prices in the United States over the past few years. While the National Association of Realtors anticipates 2018 home prices will rise by 3.5 percent, Freddie Mac predicts they'll increase 4.9 percent.

Existing home sales have leveled off for now.

Experts predict 2018 will spell more of the same for home sales. Many believe this is due to the increase in interest rates in 2017, which may have reduced the purchasing power of many homebuyers.

Will 2018 be a banner year for new homes?

Many experts predict that new home sales will drive the market in 2018. A total of 1.33 million housing starts are expected for 2018, an increase from 1.22 million in 2017. While total home sales are expected to increase over two percent, new home sales are expected to increase eight percent, reaching 670,000 sales.

What about mortgages?

Although mortgage rates may have increased slightly, over the last few years, rates have remained at historically low levels. Freddie Mac, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, predicts an increase in the volume of mortgages, which follows other predictions that signal an increase in home sales.

Why learning about the real estate market matters (even if you're not currently in the market for a home)...

1. The health of the local market influences the value of your home.

2. Make the right decision if you're thinking about buying or selling later in the year.

3. Get the full economic picture.

Holiday Travel Tips

If You're Flying

  • Do your research. Whether you're planning weeks in advance or you're trying to get a last-minute deal, it helps to do your research. Choose flexible travel dates to help you pinpoint the best deal.
  • Plan carefully. Flying in the winter may increase the chances of flight delays due to inclement weather. Avoid narrow layover times.
  • Pack light. More airlines are charging to check bags. Save money by packing lighter or sending items ahead to your destination instead of bringing them on the plane.
  • Leave early, whether you're flying or driving. This will allow you the buffer time necessary to deal with traffic jams, parking, and security.
  • Stay up-to-date on flight changes. Download your airline's app to get alerts about gate changes and delays.

Stay Healthy While You Travel

  • Stay hydrated. Bring a water bottle and fill it at the water fountain once you pass through security or purchase water from a vendor in the secured area.
  • Bring your own blanket and pillow. While some airlines still provide these amenities, most do not.
  • Bring healthy snacks, including nuts, dried fruit and other easily portable food items.
  • Move around to avoid blood clots.

If You're Driving

  • Get your car ready. Take your car in for a tuneup and address any potential issues beforehand.
  • Plan your route ahead of time. Whether you're driving a few hours or a few days, it helps to know the route you're taking.
  • Keep roadside assistance information on hand. Having this information readily available will help you think clearly and act quickly in the event of car problems.
  • Store a cell phone charger in the car. Keep a charger in the glove compartment or center console to keep it charged in case of an emergency.
  • Pack a winter safety kit if you're traveling through a snowy area. The kit should include an ice scraper, a small snow shovel, tire chains, tow rope, jumper cables, a blanket, flashlights, a first-aid kit and a portable radio.

Tips For Traveling With Children

  • Take your time.
  • Pack small toys.
  • Pack a change of clothing.
  • Have a small bag with only diaper-changing items.
  • Remind your children not to talk to strangers.

Tips For Traveling With Pets

  • Make sure your pet has identification.
  • Get your pet up-to-date on its vaccinations.
  • Secure the animal properly in the car.
  • If you're traveling by air and crating your pet, ensure it has room to move and stand.
  • Take a direct flight to reduce stress on the animal.
  • If you're traveling by car, stop frequently.

Determining Your Home's Value: Effective Pricing is Critical!

Even in today's active market with challenging inventory levels, when it's time to market your home, you will be faced with this question: What is my house worth? Ordinarily, real estate agents and those doing home appraisals will look into house valuation by comparing homes currently available and the recent home sales in your area to be able to come up with a suitable value for your home.

What are the factors affecting home values@

  • Location
  • Condition
  • improvements
  • Current state of the market

Not every home has its price. This is why determining your home's value is extremely vital. There is a complete home value range for every home. Understanding this will give both the buyer and you as the seller a benchmark to make wise decisions. Need to know more? Call us today!

How to Throw a Party Without Going Broke

Set a budget. List potential expenses such as invitations, decorations, entertainment, food and drink. If you're not sure how much each item will cost, look online for estimated pricing.

*Prioritize where you'd like to spend most of your money.

*Choose a venue.

Create your guest list. Although your budget may dictate the size of your party, there are ways to cut costs so you can entertain more people.

*Save money with email invitations.

Plan your entertainment. Make sure your guests have fun at your party. Use a digital music service such as Pandora to choose holiday-themed playlists, or create a music list with a digital service like Spotify.

Plan your menu. Whether you're having your party catered, making everything yourself, or having a potluck, it helps to plan your menu.

*If you're having the party catered, hire a caterer as soon as possible, since the holiday season is the busiest time of the year.

*If you're cooking the meal yourself, scour the internet and your favorite cookbooks and magazines for recipes.

*If you're planning a potluck, supply the main dish and ask your guests to bring their favorite dish to share.

*Save money on drinks by creating a signature drink to serve, such as eggnog or a seasonal cocktail.

Decorate. Holiday decorations don't have to break the bank. Reuse old decorations to save money or borrow décor from family and friends.

Save money by co-hosting with someone else, such as a sibling, a friend, or a neighbor. This allows you to share the planning and the budget.

 

Make Moving Easier

1. Lighten Up. Whether you're hiring movers or renting a truck and getting help with the heavy lifting, it pays to lighten the load of stuff you plan to move. Now is the time to go through your belongings and be intentional about your goal-if it's broken, underused or you don't see yourself needing it in the future, it's time to donate it.

  • Sell or donate unused items that are still in good condition. Sites like Craigslist and eBay , or apps like Letgo allow you to sell your items easily. Start the process at least a month before your moving date.
  • Recycle items that are broken or worn out.

2. Take breaks. One of the reasons people find moving so stressful is they're overwhelmed by all the tasks that need to get done. While trying to stay on top of everything, it's easy to forget to take breaks and eat. Taking a break will give you the energy you need to recharge before you tackle the next room or task.

3. Pack smart. Be mindful of what you are packing and when you pack it to ensure your valuables are not lost or broken.

  • Start Early
  • Pack by room and number your boxes
  • Pack valuable items yourself
  • If you need certain items right away, pack them in clear plastic bins

6 Major Mistakes Buyers Make In A Seller's Market

1. Not making your best offer

The motivation to buy what we want for as little money as possible is deeply engrained in us. So when most people see the listing price of a home, they naturally wonder what they can really get the house for. Offering lower than asking price is a reasonable strategy, especially if the house is overpriced compared with other similar homes in the area, or if it's a buyer's market with lots of available inventory. But trying to get a deal when you're in a seller's market might not be the best tactic.

2. Over-Analyzing the Purchase Price

Just as impulse-buying a home is risky, over-analyzing a home purchase in a seller's market is ill-advised as well. Once you've determined the type of home you want, the location you desire, and your price range, and finally find a home that meets your qualifications, don't wait to make an offer.

3. Working with an inexperienced agent

In a seller's market, it benefits buyers to get all the help they can. If you have a seasoned agent on your side, you'll probably have a better chance of getting the home you want.

4. Not being pre-approved for a loan

You might know that you'll be approved for a mortgage loan based on your steady income, your low debt-to-income ratio, and your high credit score-but the seller doesn't know that. The only way to prove to the seller that you're a qualified buyer is to be pre-approved from a lender.

5. Not being prepared for a bidding war

If there is ever a time when a bidding war could be imminent, it's during a seller's market. No buyer wants to be involved in such a battle for fear of possible going over budget. Search below your max budget to leave room in case of an over-asking bidding war.

6. Not learning from your mistakes

There's no shame in learning that your offer has been declined, but it's easy to get frustrated if your offers are declined repeatedly. Learn from your last transaction so that you can move in to your dream home.

Spruce up Your Space with New Paint

Choose the Right Color

1. Paint makers offer new color options each year based on the most current design sensibilities, and their cues are commonly highlighted on company websites and in home and garden media. Trends aside, the color you choose should reflect your family's tastes and personalities.

2. It also helps to keep the room's purpose in mind. For example, a relaxing green or blue hue suits a bedroom or bath, and a deep red adds sophistication to a room that's intended for entertaining. Furthermore, light shades can make a small space seem larger, while dark ones may be used to create a warmer feeling in a large room.

3. Ultimately, it's usually best to select a shade that will balance out the room. If most of your furnishings are bold, go with a subdued look on the walls so they won't compete. When the big pieces in the room are neutrals, consider adding a punch of color that is pulled from the decorative accessories or artwork.

All About Finishes

Flat: Matte finishes are good at concealing flaws but more difficult to maintain; flat paints work best for old walls and low-traffic areas.

Satin or Eggshell: Versatile and attractive satin finishes are great for the walls in high traffic areas and family spaces because they are easier to wipe clean.

Semi-gloss: With its visible shine, this durable finish is suitable for trim, woodwork, and high-moisture areas in the bath or kitchen.

Gloss: These are the shiniest finishes and are sometimes used to draw attention to doors, mantels and other special architectural features.

Are You Planning to Sell Soon?

Don't feel the need to neutralize a nicely staged interior if you already have custom paint colors that coordinate well with your furnishings. However, if your home's décor is dated or the walls are in rough condition, it's best to create a blank canvas for potential buyers by applying a popular neutral color such as white, cream, or beige.

7 Ways to Invest in Yourself

1. Take a class or seminar. Learning doesn't need to stop once you've graduated.  Signing up for a class or seminar, either on-line or in-person, gives you the opportunity to learn and grow outside of the traditional confines of school. Websites such as Coursera, Udemy, and Skillshare allow you to learn new skills and improve the ones you have.

2. Read. The most successful people carve time out of their days to read. Not only does reading increase your knowledge, it also improve your memory, vocabulary and focus, while sharpening your analytical skills and reducing stress.

3. Watch a video. Optimize your time and watch a video from a leading personal development expert, or expert in your field, and you'll not only learn, you'll also become motivated to make lasting positive changes in your life and at work.

4. Listen to a podcast. Podcasts are a popular way to listen and learn anywhere, whether you're getting ready for work, driving to the office, or jogging on the treadmill at the gym.

5. Join a group or organization. Connect with other like-minded people who are committed to growing personally or professionally. In addition to networking, these organizations also provide opportunities to take work-shops and classes.

6. Get a mentor. If you want to get ahead in your career, a mentor can help you improve your self-confidence, tap into your potential and find balance in your life.

7. Volunteer. Volunteering is a great way to give back to your community while refining skills and traits, such as teamwork, empathy and communication.

Why commit to personal growth? It helps you to discover your purpose, gain clarity and focus, become more resilient, and improve your attitude!

The Three-Step Method for Success in Buying a Home

Follow these three-steps to successful homeownership:

Step 1: Get pre-approved for a mortgage!

a. Speak to a legitimate mortgage loan officer.

b. Understand the components of obtaining a mortgage, like down payment and closing costs, income, assets, types of credit, credit repair, debt to income ratios, co-signer, and gift letter.

Step 2: Work with the RIGHT real estate company and agent!

a. Someone who cares about YOUR goals.

b. Someone who's competent, experienced and  knowledgeable about the market and technology.

c. Understand the relationship (the law of agency).

d. Use a major firm that offers plenty of resources.

e. Choose ONE agent to work with.

Step 3: Choose your advocates carefully!

a. Home inspector

b. Real Estate attorney.

c. Insurance agent.

Happy House Hunting!