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7 Tips for Staging Your Home

By: G. M. Filisko

Make your home warm and inviting to boost your home’s value and speed up the sale process.

The first step to getting buyers to make an offer on your home is to impress them with its appearance so they begin to envision themselves living there. Here are seven tips for making your home look bigger, brighter, and more desirable.

1. Start with a clean slate
Before you can worry about where to place furniture and which wall hanging should go where, each room in your home must be spotless. Do a thorough cleaning right down to the nitpicky details like wiping down light switch covers. Deep clean and deodorize carpets and window coverings.

2. Stow away your clutter
It’s harder for buyers to picture themselves in your home when they’re looking at your family photos, collectibles, and knickknacks. Pack up all your personal decorations. However, don’t make spaces like mantles and coffee and end tables barren. Leave three items of varying heights on each surface, suggests Barb Schwarz of www.StagedHomes.com (http://www.StagedHomes.com) in Concord, Pa. For example, place a lamp, a small plant, and a book on an end table.

3. Scale back on your furniture
When a room is packed with furniture, it looks smaller, which will make buyers think your home is less valuable than it is. Make sure buyers appreciate the size of each room by removing one or two pieces of furniture. If you have an eat-in dining area, using a small table and chair set makes the area seem bigger.

4. Rethink your furniture placement
Highlight the flow of your rooms by arranging the furniture to guide buyers from one room to another. In each room, create a focal point on the farthest wall from the doorway and arrange the other pieces of furniture in a triangle around the focal point, advises Schwarz. In the bedroom, the bed should be the focal point. In the living room, it may be the fireplace, and your couch and sofa can form the triangle in front of it.

5. Add color to brighten your rooms
Brush on a fresh coat of warm, neutral-color paint in each room. Ask your real estate agent for help choosing the right shade. Then accessorize. Adding a vibrant afghan, throw, or accent pillows for the couch will jazz up a muted living room, as will a healthy plant or a bright vase on your mantle. High-wattage bulbs in your light fixtures will also brighten up rooms and basements.

6. Set the scene
Lay logs in the fireplace, and set your dining room table with dishes and a centerpiece of fresh fruit or flowers. Create other vignettes throughout the home-such as a chess game in progress-to help buyers envision living there. Replace heavy curtains with sheer ones that let in more light.
Make your bathrooms feel luxurious by adding a new shower curtain, towels, and fancy guest soaps (after you put all your personal toiletry items are out of sight). Judiciously add subtle potpourri, scented candles, or boil water with a bit of vanilla mixed in. If you have pets, clean bedding frequently and spray an odor remover before each showing.

7. Make the entrance grand
Mow your lawn and trim your hedges, and turn on the sprinklers for 30 minutes before showings to make your lawn sparkle. If flowers or plants don’t surround your home’s entrance, add a pot of bright flowers. Top it all off by buying a new doormat and adding a seasonal wreath to your front door.

More from HouseLogic
Spring cleaning guide (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/spring-cleaning-guide/)

Green cleaning products for the bathroom (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/green-cleaning-products-for-the-bathroom/)

Green cleaning products for the kitchen (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/green-cleaning-products-for-the-bathroom/)

Other web resources
How to make a small room look larger (http://www.lowes.com/cd_Ten+Ways+to+Make+a+Small+Room+Look+Larger_506205068_)

How to arrange bedrooms (http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/arranging-your-bedroom-furniture.html)

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who occasionally rearranges her furniture to find the best placement-and keep her dog on his toes. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

Website Resources for Foreclosure Help

Here are some legitimate resources to help you fight the foreclosure crisis.

You’ve been warned about foreclosure scams. But sometimes it’s really hard to tell if something is a scam or not. Some less-than-reliable outfits have even taken to including “hud” or “gov” in their URLs to fool you into thinking they are legitimate foreclosure counselors. It pays to be wary. Below are some websites from government and non-profit agencies that can help you with foreclosure. Some are seeking volunteers and donations to help stop the foreclosure crisis.

HOPENOW.COM
Research your options with this web form (http://www.hopenow.com/homeowner-options.php)
Find your mortgage lender (http://www.hopenow.com/mortgage-directory.php)
Find a foreclosure counselor in your area (http://www.hopenow.com/hopenow-counseling.php)
Focused on helping homeowners in crisis, this alliance helps you determine your options

FTC.GOV
Find a foreclosure counselor (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre26.shtm)
Raise your own credit score (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre03.shtm)
Fix mistakes on your credit report (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre13.shtm)
The Federal Trade Commission has expert advice

FINDAFORECLOSURECOUNSELOR.ORG
Find a legitimate foreclosure counselor near you (http://www.findaforeclosurecounselor.org/network/nfmc%5Flookup/)
This non-profit organization was created by Congress to provide financial support, technical assistance, and training for community-based revitalization efforts

MAKINGHOMEAFFORDABLE.GOV
Making Home Affordable (http://www.makinghomeaffordable.gov/)
Making Home Affordable: short sale documents (https://www.hmpadmin.com/portal/programs/foreclosure_alternatives.html)
Making Home Affordable: deed in lieu documents (https://www.hmpadmin.com/portal/programs/foreclosure_alternatives.html)
The official government site for loan modifications and foreclosure alternatives

PORTAL.HUD.GOV
Find resources to avoid foreclosure in your state (http://portal.hud.gov/portal/page/portal/HUD/topics/avoiding_foreclosure/local)
Consult state and local resources

MYFICO.COM
Improve You Credit Score
(http://www.myfico.com/CreditEducation/ImproveYourScore.aspx) Credit Q&A (http://www.myfico.com/crediteducation/questions/)
Credit Basics ( http://www.myfico.com/crediteducation/articles/)

Understand credit and your credit scores

ANNUALCREDITREPORT.COM
See your credit report (https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/index.jsp)
Get all the details on late payments and other information, but not your actual credit score

RESPONSIBLELENDING.ORG
The Center for Responsible Lending (http://www.responsiblelending.org/)
A non-profit organization that works to stop predatory lending practices

CREDITEDUCATION.ORG
Volunteer to be a credit counselor (http://www.crediteducation.org/Become-a-Volunteer.aspx)
Non-profit agency that works to provide financial literacy

LIVEUNITED.ORG
United Way (http://www.liveunited.org/income/)
Donate or volunteer to decrease the number of families that are financially unstable

NCRC.ORG
Donate to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (http://www.ncrc.org/index.php)
Send a donation to help NCRC “ensure that people in traditionally underserved communities are treated fairly and justly when applying for credit, opening a bank account, getting a mortgage, a loan, or other financial product or service.”

IRS.GOV
The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act (http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=179414,00.html)
Get the details about when you might owe taxes on any debt that is canceled through a short sale or deed in lieu of foreclosure

OCC.GOV
Download a PDF on identifying a loan modification scam (http://www.occ.gov/ftp/advisory/2009-1.pdf)
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency provides detail about scams, including “10 Warning Signs of a Loan Modification Scam.”

Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

Determine How Much Mortgage You Can Afford

By: G. M. Filisko

By knowing how much mortgage you can handle, you can ensure that home ownership will fit in your budget.

Homeownership should make you feel safe and secure, and that includes financially. Be sure you can afford your home by calculating how much of a mortgage you can safely fit into your budget.

Instead of just taking out the biggest mortgage a lender qualifies you to borrow, consider how much you want to pay each month for housing based on your financial and personal goals.

Think ahead to major life events and consider how those might influence your budget. Do you want to return to school for an advanced degree Will a new child add day care to your monthly expenses Does a relative plan to eventually live with you and contribute to the mortgage

Still not sure how much you can afford You can use the same formulas that most lenders use, or try another of these traditional methods for estimating the amount of mortgage you can afford.

1. The general rule of mortgage affordability
As a rule of thumb, you can typically afford a home priced two to three times your gross income. If you earn $100,000, you can typically afford a home between $200,000 and $300,000.

To understand how that rule applies to your particular financial situation, prepare a family budget and list all the costs of homeownership, like property taxes, insurance, maintenance, utilities, and community association fees, if applicable, as well as costs specific to your family, such as day care costs.

2. Factor in your downpayment
How much money do you have for a downpayment The higher your downpayment, the lower your monthly payments will be. If you put down at least 20% of the home’s cost, you may not have to get private mortgage insurance, which costs hundreds each month. That leaves more money for your mortgage payment.
The lower your downpayment, the higher the loan amount you’ll need to qualify for and the higher your monthly mortgage payment.

3. Consider your overall debt
Lenders generally follow the 28/41 rule. Your monthly mortgage payments covering your home loan principal, interest, taxes, and insurance shouldn’t total more than 28% of your gross annual income. Your overall monthly payments for your mortgage plus all your other bills, like car loans, utilities, and credit cards, shouldn’t exceed 41% of your gross annual income.

Here’s how that works. If your gross annual income is $100,000, multiply by 28% and then divide by 12 months to arrive at a monthly mortgage payment of $2,333 or less. Next, check the total of all your monthly bills including your potential mortgage and make sure they don’t top 41%, or $3,416 in our example.

4. Use your rent as a mortgage guide
The tax benefits of homeownership generally allow you to afford a mortgage payment-including taxes and insurance-of about one-third more than your current rent payment without changing your lifestyle. So you can multiply your current rent by 1.33 to arrive at a rough estimate of a mortgage payment.

Here’s an example. If you currently pay $1,500 per month in rent, you should be able to comfortably afford a $2,000 monthly mortgage payment after factoring in the tax benefits of homeownership.

However, if you’re struggling to keep up with your rent, consider what amount would be comfortable and use that for the calcuation instead.

Also consider whether or not you’ll itemize your deductions. If you take the standard deduction, you can’t also deduct mortgage interest payments. Talking to a tax adviser, or using a tax software program to do a “what if” tax return, can help you see your tax situation more clearly.

More from HouseLogic
More on the mortgage interest deduction (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/mortgage-interest-deduction-vital-housing-market/)

More on the tax advantages of homeownership (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/tax-tips-homeowners-preparing-2009-returns/)

Other web resources
A worksheet on home affordability (http://www.ginniemae.gov/2_prequal/intro_questions.asp Section=YPTH)

Freddie Mac information on home affordability (http://www.freddiemac.com/corporate/buyown/english/preparing/right_for_you/afford.html)
G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who’s owned her own home for more than 20 years. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

8 Tips for Finding Your New Home

By: G. M. Filisko

A solid game plan can help you narrow your homebuying search to find the best home for you.

House hunting is just like any other shopping expedition. If you identify exactly what you want and do some research, you’ll zoom in on the home you want at the best price. These eight tips will guide you through a smart homebuying process.

1. Know thyself
Understand the type of home that suits your personality. Do you prefer a new or existing home A ranch or a multistory home If you’re leaning toward a fixer-upper, are you truly handy, or will you need to budget for contractors

2. Research before you look
List the features you most want in a home and identify which are necessities and which are extras. Identify three to four neighborhoods you’d like to live in based on commute time, schools, recreation, crime, and price. Then hop onto REALTOR.com (http://REALTOR.com) to get a feel for the homes available in your price range in your favorite neighborhoods. Use the results to prioritize your wants and needs so you can add in and weed out properties from the inventory you’d like to view.

3. Get your finances in order
Generally, lenders say you can afford a home priced two to three times your gross income. Create a budget so you know how much you’re comfortable spending each month on housing. Don’t wait until you’ve found a home and made an offer to investigate financing.

Gather your financial records and meet with a lender to get a prequalification letter spelling out how much you’re eligible to borrow. The lender won’t necessarily consider the extra fees you’ll pay when you purchase or your plans to begin a family or purchase a new car, so shop in a price range you’re comfortable with. Also, presenting an offer contingent on financing will make your bid less attractive to sellers.

4. Set a moving timeline
Do you have blemishes on your credit that will take time to clear up If you already own, have you sold your current home If not, you’ll need to factor in the time needed to sell. If you rent, when is your lease up Do you expect interest rates to jump anytime soon All these factors will affect your buying, closing, and moving timelines.

5. Think long term
Your future plans may dictate the type of home you’ll buy. Are you looking for a starter house with plans to move up in a few years, or do you hope to stay in the home for five to 10 years With a starter, you may need to adjust your expectations. If you plan to nest, be sure your priority list helps you identify a home you’ll still love years from now.

6. Work with a REALTOR®
Ask people you trust for referrals to a real estate professional they trust. Interview agents to determine which have expertise in the neighborhoods and type of homes you’re interested in. Because homebuying triggers many emotions, consider whether an agent’s style meshes with your personality.

Also ask if the agent specializes in buyer representation. Unlike listing agents, whose first duty is to the seller, buyers’ reps work only for you even though they’re typically paid by the seller. Finally, check whether agents are REALTORS®, which means they’re members of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. NAR has been a champion of homeownership rights for more than a century.

7. Be realistic
It’s OK to be picky about the home and neighborhood you want, but don’t be close-minded, unrealistic, or blinded by minor imperfections. If you insist on living in a cul-de-sac, you may miss out on great homes on streets that are just as quiet and secluded.

On the flip side, don’t be so swayed by a “wow” feature that you forget about other issues-like noise levels-that can have a big impact on your quality of life. Use your priority list to evaluate each property, remembering there’s no such thing as the perfect home.

8. Limit the opinions you solicit
It’s natural to seek reassurance when making a big financial decision. But you know that saying about too many cooks in the kitchen. If you need a second opinion, select one or two people. But remain true to your list of wants and needs so the final decision is based on criteria you’ve identified as important.

More from HouseLogic
HOAs: What You Need to Know About Rules (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/hoas-what-you-need-to-know-about-rules/)

A Financial Plan for Your Home (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/a-financial-plan-for-your-home/)

When It Pays to Do It Yourself (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/when-it-pays-to-do-it-yourself/)

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who has found happiness in a brownstone in a historic Chicago neighborhood. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

Find the Home Loan that Fits Your Needs

By: G. M. Filisko

Understand which mortgage loan is best for you so your budget is not stretched too thin.

It’s easier to settle happily into your new home if you’re confident you can afford it. That requires that you understand your mortgage financing options and choose the loan that best suits your income and ability to tolerate risk.

The basics of mortgage financing
The most important features of your mortgage loan are its term and interest rate. Mortgages typically come in 15-, 20-, 30- or 40-year lengths. The longer the term, the lower your monthly payment. However, the tradeoff for a lower payment is that the longer the life of your loan, the more interest you’ll pay.

Mortgage interest rates generally come in two flavors: fixed and adjustable. A fixed rate allows you to lock in your interest rate for the entire mortgage term. That’s attractive if you’re risk-averse, on a fixed income, or when interest rates are low.

The risks and rewards of ARMs
An adjustable-rate mortgage does just what its name implies: Its interest rate adjusts at a future date listed in the loan documents. It moves up and down according to a particular financial market index, such as Treasury bills. A 3/1 ARM will have the same interest rate for three years and then adjust every year after that; likewise a 5/1 ARM remains unchanged until the five-year mark. Typically, ARMs include a cap on how much the interest rate can increase, such as 3% at each adjustment, or 5% over the life of the loan.

Why agree to such uncertainty ARMs can be a good choice if you expect your income to grow significantly in the coming years. The interest rate on some-but not all-ARMs can even drop if the benchmark to which they’re tied also dips. ARMs also often offer a lower interest rate than fixed-rate mortgages during the first few years of the mortgage, which means big savings for you-even if there’s only a half-point difference.

But if rates go up, your ARM payment will jump dramatically, so before you choose an ARM, answer these questions:

  • How much can my monthly payments increase at each adjustment
  • How soon and how often can increases occur
  • Can I afford the maximum increase permitted
  • Do I expect my income to increase or decrease
  • Am I paying down my loan balance each month, or is it staying the same or even increasing
  • Do I plan to own the home for longer than the initial low-interest-rate period, or do I plan to sell before the rate adjusts
  • Will I have to pay a penalty if I refinance into a lower-rate mortgage or sell my house
  • What’s my goal in buying this property Am I considering a riskier mortgage to buy a more expensive house than I can realistically afford

Consider a government-backed mortgage loan
If you’ve saved less than the ideal downpayment of 20%, or your credit score isn’t high enough for you to qualify for a fixed-rate or ARM with a conventional lender, consider a government-backed loan from the Federal Housing Administration (http://www.hud.gov/fha/choosefha.cfm) or Department of Veterans Affairs (http://www.homeloans.va.gov/vap26-91-1.htm/).

FHA offers adjustable and fixed-rate loans at reduced interest rates and with as little as 3.5% down and VA offers no-money-down loans. FHA and VA also let you use cash gifts from family members.

Before you decide on any mortgage, remember that slight variations in interest rates, loan amounts, and terms can significantly affect your monthly payment. To determine how much your monthly payment will be with various terms and loan amounts, try REALTOR.com’s online mortgage calculators (http://www.realtor.com/home-finance/financial-calculators/mortgage-payment-calculator.aspx).

More from HouseLogic
Evaluate Your Adjustable Rate Mortgage (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/evaluate-your-adjustable-rate-mortgage/)
Show Your Support for FHA (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/show-your-support-for-FHA/)

Other web resources
How much home can you afford (http://www.ginniemae.gov/2_prequal/intro_questions.asp Section=YPTH)
Why ask for an FHA loan (http://www.hud.gov/fha/choosefha.cfm)

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who’s opted for both fixed and adjustable-rate mortgages. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

5 Tips for Buying a Foreclosure

By: G. M. Filisko

Get prequalified for a loan and set aside funds, and you’ll be ready to purchase a foreclosed home.

When lenders take over a home through foreclosure, they want to sell it as quickly as possible. Since lenders aren’t in the real estate business, they turn to real estate brokers for help marketing their properties. Buying a foreclosed home through the multiple listing service can be a bargain, but it can also be a problem-filled process. Here are five tips to help you buy smart.

1. Choose a foreclosure sale expert. Lenders rarely sell their own foreclosures directly to consumers. They list them with real estate brokers. You can work with a real estate agent who sells foreclosed homes for lenders, or have a buyer’s agent find foreclosure properties for you. To locate a foreclosure sales specialist, call local brokers and ask if they are the listing agent for any banks.

Either way, ask the real estate professional which lenders’ homes they’ve sold, how many buyers they’ve represented in a foreclosed property purchase, how many of those sales they closed last year, and who they legally represent.

If the agent represents the lender, don’t reveal anything to her that you don’t want the lender to know, like whether you’re willing to spend more than you offer for a house.

2. Be ready for complications. In some states, the former owner of a foreclosed home can challenge the foreclosure in court, even after you’ve closed the sale. Ask your agent to recommend a real estate attorney who has negotiated with lenders selling foreclosed homes and has defended legal challenges to foreclosures.

Have your attorney explain your state’s foreclosure process and your risks in purchasing a foreclosed home. Set aside as much as $5,000 to cover potential legal fees.

3. Work with your agent to set a price. Ask your real estate agent to show you closed sales of comparable homes, which you can use to set your price. Start with an amount well under market value because the lender may be in a hurry to get rid of the home.

4. Get your financing in order. Many mortgage market players, such as Fannie Mae, require buyers to submit financing preapproval letters with a purchase offer. They’ll also reject all contingencies. Since most foreclosed homes are vacant, closings can be quick. Make sure you have the cash you’ll need to close your purchase.

5. Expect an as-is sale. Most homeowners stopped maintaining their home long before they could no longer make mortgage payments. Be sure to have enough money left after the sale to make at least minor, and sometimes substantive, repairs.

Although lenders may do minor cosmetic repairs to make foreclosed homes more marketable, they won’t give you credits for repair costs (or make additional repairs) because they’ve already factored the property’s condition into their asking price.

Lenders will also require that you purchase the home “as is,” which means in its current condition. Protect yourself by ordering a home inspection to uncover the true condition of the property, getting a pest inspection, and purchasing a home warranty.

Be sure you also do all the environmental testing that’s common to your region to find hazards such as radon, mold, lead-based paint, or underground storage tanks.

More from HouseLogic
What you need to know about the homebuyer tax credit (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/homebuyer-tax-credit-what-you-need-know/)

How to claim your homebuyer tax credit (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/claim-your-homebuyer-tax-credits/)

Other web resources
How to buy a foreclosure from Fannie Mae (http://www.fanniemae.com/homepath/homebuyers/buying_fanniemaeowned.jhtml)

What to consider when buying a foreclosure as your first home (http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/article-29589.html)

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who purchased a foreclosed condominium and found herself in the middle of a months-long dispute between the former homeowner and the bank over whether the foreclosure was conducted properly. Six months after paying the full purchase price, she was finally able to enter the property. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

Keep Your Home Sale from Falling Apart

By: G. M. Filisko

After finding a buyer, all you have to do to make it to closing is to avoid these five traps.

Finding a buyer for your home is just the first step on the home selling path. Tread carefully in the weeks ahead because if you make one of these common seller mistakes, your deal may not close.

Mistake #1: Ignore contingencies
If your contract requires you to do something before the sale, do it. If the buyers make the sale contingent on certain repairs, don’t do cheap patch-jobs and expect the buyers not to notice the fixes weren’t done properly.

Mistake #2: Don’t bother to fix things that break
The last thing any seller needs is for the buyers to notice on the pre-closing walk-through that the home isn’t in the same condition as when they made their offer. When things fall apart in a home about to be purchased, sellers must make the repairs. If the furnace fails, get a professional to fix it, and inform the buyers that the work was done. When you fail to maintain the home, the buyers may lose confidence in your integrity and the condition of the home and back out of the sale.

Mistake #3: Get lax about deadlines
Treat deadlines as sacrosanct. If you have three days to accept or reject the home inspection, make your decision within three days. If you’re selling, move out a few days early, so you can turn over the keys at closing.

Mistake #4: Refuse to negotiate any further
Once you’ve negotiated a price, it’s natural to calculate how much you’ll walk away with from the closing table. However, problems uncovered during inspections will have to be fixed. The appraisal may come in at a price below what the buyers offered to pay. Be prepared to negotiate with the buyers over these bottom-line-influencing issues.

Mistake #5: Hide liens from buyers
Did you neglect to mention that Uncle Sam has placed a tax lien on your home or you owe six months of homeowners association fees The title search is going to turn up any liens filed on your house. To sell your house, you have to pay off the lien (or get the borrower to agree to pay it off). If you can do that with the sales proceeds, great. If not, the sale isn’t going to close.

More from HouseLogic
How maintenance adds to home values (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/value-home-maintenance/)

Reducing closing stress (http://buyandsell.houselogic.com/articles/7-steps-stress-free-home-closing/)

Other web resources
More on calculating closing costs (http://www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/ramh/res/sc3sectb.cfm)

More on the closing process (http://www.homeclosing101.org/closing.cfm)

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who wanted a successful closing on a Wisconsin property so bad that she probably made her agent rethink going into real estate. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

6 Tips for Choosing the Best Offer for Your Home

By: G. M. Filisko

Have a plan for reviewing purchase offers so you don’t let the best slip through your fingers.

You’ve worked hard to get your home ready for sale and to price it properly. With any luck, offers will come quickly. You’ll need to review each carefully to determine its strengths and drawbacks and pick one to accept. Here’s a plan for evaluating offers.

1. Understand the process
All offers are negotiable, as your agent will tell you. When you receive an offer, you can accept it, reject it, or respond by asking that terms be modified, which is called making a counteroffer.

2. Set baselines
Decide in advance what terms are most important to you. For instance, if price is most important, you may need to be flexible on your closing date. Or if you want certainty that the transaction won’t fall apart because the buyer can’t get a mortgage, require a prequalified or cash buyer.

3. Create an offer review process
If you think your home will receive multiple offers, work with your agent to establish a time frame during which buyers must submit offers. That gives your agent time to market your home to as many potential buyers as possible, and you time to review all the offers you receive.

4. Don’t take offers personally
Selling your home can be emotional. But it’s simply a business transaction, and you should treat it that way. If your agent tells you a buyer complained that your kitchen is horribly outdated, justifying a lowball offer, don’t be offended. Consider it a sign the buyer is interested and understand that those comments are a negotiating tactic. Negotiate in kind.

5. Review every term
Carefully evaluate all the terms of each offer. Price is important, but so are other terms. Is the buyer asking for property or fixtures-such as appliances, furniture, or window treatments-to be included in the sale that you plan to take with you

Is the amount of earnest money the buyer proposes to deposit toward the downpayment sufficient The lower the earnest money, the less painful it will be for the buyer to forfeit those funds by walking away from the purchase if problems arise.

Have the buyers attached a prequalification or pre-approval letter, which means they’ve already been approved for financing Or does the offer include a financing or other contingency If so, the buyers can walk away from the deal if they can’t get a mortgage, and they’ll take their earnest money back, too. Are you comfortable with that uncertainty

Is the buyer asking you to make concessions, like covering some closing costs Are you willing, and can you afford to do that Does the buyer’s proposed closing date mesh with your timeline

With each factor, ask yourself: Is this a deal breaker, or can I compromise to achieve my ultimate goal of closing the sale

6. Be creative
If you’ve received an unacceptable offer through your agent, ask questions to determine what’s most important to the buyer and see if you can meet that need. You may learn the buyer has to move quickly. That may allow you to stand firm on price but offer to close quickly. The key to successfully negotiating the sale is to remain flexible.
G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who has survived several closings. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

Top 5 Craziest Foreclosure Rescue Attempts

Treasure hunting, demolition, forgery–even a telethon. Our picks for the top five most bizarre foreclosure rescue attempts.

Three years after the recession hit, Americans still are losing their homes to foreclosure in record numbers. Not even celebrities are immune. Wanting to do anything you can to avoid losing your home is only natural. There are a wealth of resources on HouseLogic (http://www.houselogic.com/guides/finances-insurance/home-finance/foreclosure-guide) to help you take action. Still, some homeowners have tried other, less-proven methods. Here’s a countdown of some outlandish foreclosure rescue attempts:

5. I pimped my yard to PETA.
This past March, “Octomom” Nadya Suleman was reportedly approached by PETA when word got out about her mortgage woes. The offer: A billboard sign urging pet owners not to let their dog or cat become an “Octomom” in a campaign to raise awareness about controlling the pet population. Suleman ended up letting PETA advertise on her front yard for $5,000. In April, Suleman reached an agreement (

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/04/15/entertainment/main6399349.shtml ) with the mortgage holder for a sixth-month extension to pay off the $450,000 debt.

4. God made me do it.
Earlier this month, a Montana man, Brent Arthur Wilson, was convicted for removing For Sale signs and forging ownership papers on a foreclosed home in a bizarre effort (

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38242178/ns/business-real_estate/) to keep a roof over his head. During his trial, Wilson claimed that “Yaweh,” or “the creator,” gave him the home. The jury was out for less than an hour before finding Wilson guilty. He now faces up to 30 years in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced August 19.

3. Buy my T-shirt, save my house.
To raise the $250,000 he needed to avoid foreclosure on his Port Washington, Wis., pad, former Saved by the Bell star Dustin Diamond sold T-shirts (

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,199934,00.html) with his photo and a caption reading, “I paid $15 to save Screeech’s house.” (The extra “e” in “Screeech” was to get around copyright laws.)

The down-on-his-luck comedian turned his money problems into a publicity ploy, telling his story on The Howard Stern Show and even scheduling an online telethon to raise more money. The appearance was canceled moments before it went on the air. Despite all that, it looks like Diamond is still going to lose his home. Wells Fargo started foreclosure proceedings in April.

2. If I can’t live here, no one can.
This past February, Ohio carpet business owner Terry Hoskins decided that he’d rather bulldoze his $350,000 house to the ground (

http://www.wwlp.com/dpps/news/strange/ohio-man-bulldozes-home-to-avoid-foreclosure-jgr_3244918) than let the bank have it. Hoskins also basically confirmed that he’d do the same to his carpet store if he had to. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that. Although Hoskins didn’t technically break any laws, the bank did hold a sheriff’s auction of his business property to pay off the $600,000 debt he owed.

1. Superman saved our house.
On a more positive note, a rare comic book (

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/07/27/faster-speeding-bullet-superman-saves-familys-home/) (an Action Comic #1-the issue that introduced Superman to the world) was recently found in the basement of a couple facing foreclosure. Although it hasn’t been valued yet, Stephen Fishler, co-owner of ComicConnect.com, guarantees that the comic will bring in more than enough to pay off the mortgage at auction time. Other rare finds like this have been valued at more than $1 million.

The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® is dedicated to providing resources that help families facing foreclosure take every step they can to keep their home. To find out how to (legitimately) fight foreclosure, visit the HouseLogic Foreclosure Resource Guide (

http://www.houselogic.com/guides/finances-insurance/home-finance/foreclosure-guide/).

Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

7 Tips for a Profitable Home Closing

By: G. M. Filisko

Be sure you’re walking away with all the money you’re entitled to from the sale of your home.

When you’re ready to close on the sale of your home and move to your new home, you may be so close to the finish line that you coast, thinking there’s nothing left for you to do. Not so fast. It’s easy to waste a few dollars here and for mistakes to creep into your closing documents there, all adding up to a bundle of lost profit. Spot money-losing problems with these seven tips.

1. Take services out of your name
Avoid a dispute with the buyers after closing over things like fees for the cable service you forgot to discontinue. Contact every utility and service provider to end or transfer service to your new address as of the closing date.

If you’re on an automatic-fill schedule for heating oil or propane, don’t pay for a pre-closing refill that provides free fuel for the new owner. Contact your insurer to terminate coverage on your old home, get coverage on your new home, and ask whether you’re entitled to a refund of prepaid premium.

2. Spread the word on your change of address
Provide the post office with your forwarding address two to four weeks before the closing. Also notify credit card companies, publication subscription departments, friends and family, and your financial institutions of your new address.

3. Manage the movers
Scrutinize your moving company’s estimate. If you’re making a long-distance move, which is often billed according to weight, note the weight of your property and watch so the movers don’t use excessive padding to boost the weight. Also check with your homeowners insurer about coverage for your move. Usually movers cover only what they pack.

4. Do the settlement math
Title company employees are only human, so they can make mistakes. The day before your closing, check the math on your HUD-1 Settlement Statement.

5. Review charges on your settlement statement
Are all mortgages being paid off, and are the payoff amounts correct If your real estate agent promised you extras-such as a discounted commission or a home warranty policy-make sure that’s included. Also check whether your real estate agent or title company added fees that weren’t disclosed earlier. If any party suggests leaving items off the settlement statement, consult a lawyer about whether that might expose you to legal risk.

6. Search for missing credits
Be sure the settlement company properly credited you for prepaid expenses, such as property taxes and homeowners association fees, if applicable. If you’ve prepaid taxes for the year, you’re entitled to a credit for the time you no longer own the home. Have you been credited for heating oil or propane left in the tank

7. Don’t leave money in escrow
End your home sale closing with nothing unresolved. Make sure the title company releases money already held in escrow for you, and avoid leaving sales proceeds in a new escrow to be dickered over later.

Other web resources
(http://www.realtor.com/home-finance/sellers-basics/closing.aspx) Closing costs explained (http://www.homeclosing101.org/costs.cfm)

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who has survived several closings. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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