TIME FOR A HOME OF YOUR OWN?
Today, you can get all of what you need and most of what you want.
When it comes to fine kitchens, more bedrooms, storage space, and great features, your chance of getting them all is better than in many previous years. How about a deck and a sunroom?
How to qualify
The average price for a single-family home in the index is $170,300. To qualify for that purchase at an interest rate of 5.09 percent, buyers would only need a family income of $34,512.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the cost of a home now is equivalent to about 19 months of total income for an average family. Previously, home prices averaged about 24 months of an individual or family income. That means more buyers can afford a home right now.
While the affordability numbers are a good indication, the number of available homes is also a plus. Home buyers can find many in their price range to choose from. Why should they pay high rents when they could be accumulating equity?
What mortgage brokers say
Home ownership is a smart choice when you have reached a stable situation in your life. According to mortgage brokers, that means you have decided on a life path and are taking steps to achieve it. Your income is secure.
When you aren't moving to another city in the next several years, and you have savings for a down payment, you are ready to move forward with your housing plans.
An idealized vision of how life should be will help you choose a home, but the mortgage brokers say the basic facts to justify The American Dream should be in place.
Down payment help
Gifts from parents are a popular choice. Or the down payment money could be a loan that will be repaid in the future.
Sometimes sellers will provide all or part of the down payment. In cases where the home is part of an inheritance, or where the homeowner has already moved to another city, they are more likely to consider it.
They're your people and they want to be productive and do a good job. But when office workers around the country were survey by Microsoft, they said about 16 hours of their work week were unproductive.
Some of that time is the boss's fault. Workers say 5.5 hours each week are spent in meetings, and most of that time is not productive.
Some things to consider before setting up your next meeting:
* Invite only those who need to attend and are relevant to the purpose of the meeting.
* Have an agenda. Know what you are going to say. Put it in writing so attendees know the topics and how much time will be spent on each. * Stick to business and avoid chit-chat. Some bosses hold meetings where everyone is standing up.
* Don't hold a meeting if it isn't needed. Regular meetings for no specific purpose are a waste of time.
What to advise your workers
Have a real to-do list that includes only those projects that will be done today. Don't rely on memory, because other matters will enter your mind and create stress.
Avoid surfing the Internet during business hours. If you must search for non-business matters, do it on your lunch hour. Break time is too short. Rest instead of surfing.
Take notes. Write down ideas to consider at a later time. Always have a note pad handy.
Stay organized. Keep material you are not presently working on off of your desk so you can concentrate on one thing at a time.
Break a big task into smaller segments that can be worked on for part of each day.
Write brief text messages and emails. If what you have to say doesn't fit, pick up the telephone.
Use the last 15 or 20 minutes of each day to set up work for tomorrow. Clean out the email in-box.
Low mortgage rates and low returns on other investments are prompting people to invest more in their homes.
In the past, financial advisors recommended that people devote less cash to homes and more to other investments. With iffy returns from the stock market, they now say investing in their homes could be a better move.
Some homes in the United States are worth less than the owners paid for them. If they want to trade up to a better home, they feel trapped where they are. But some are not as trapped as they think.
Low mortgage interest rates and low home prices are presenting unusual opportunities in the housing market.
According to The Wall Street Journal, some underwater homeowners are selling their homes for less than they owe on them. They write a check for the difference. Doesn't sound smart?
Economists say it can be. They can now buy a bigger, better home for not much more money. The home they want is also bought for less than its actual value.
They are essentially trading up, but monthly payments are less because their new interest rate is lower. And they may have reduced the term to 15 years. Right now, the average 15-year rate is 4.17 percent, but some lenders are charging much less.
At the Mortgage Bankers Association, they say if people don't have anything else that is bringing a tremendous return, paying their houses off sooner than they need to is like buying themselves an annuity.
One real estate broker in Denver says about half of home sellers are paying $5,000 to $45,000 in cash to sell their homes. Some people are doing the same thing just to refinance.
Economists are saying trading up can be smart even if it means plunking down some cash. In cases where people live in less-desirable neighborhoods, they can find better homes that offer better appreciation potential for the future.
FAMILY FUN: BUILD A SCARECROW
It's too late to celebrate "Build a Scarecrow Day" (Yes there really is a day for this. It's the first Sunday in July 5, but it was for gardeners and farmers).
Your fall scarecrow will be more festive. You can dress it in whatever outfit you like from formal on down, because it doesn't have to scare birds away. It can stand, sit, or lean, and it will be part of your Halloween and Thanksgiving decor.
Decide if your work of art will be stuck into the ground or tied to a fence, drainpipe or whatever. If it goes into the ground, the main pole will be longer.
Cut a 10-foot stake or piece of bamboo into two pieces, one 6-foot piece (shorter if it won't go into the ground) and the other 3 or 4 feet long.
Place the smaller section across the 6-foot piece about 1 foot down from the top. Secure with wire or twine.
Put a shirt on the crosspiece and button it. Stuff it loosely with hay, dry leaves or rags.
Secure the stuffed gloves to the ends of the arms with a rubber band.
Some people tie another small section onto the long stake to make a waist for the pants. Others just tuck in the stuffed shirt and secure the pants to the main stake with rope or twine.
Pull one leg of a pair of trousers onto the stake. The other leg hangs freely. (You could bend it at the "knee" to rest on a bale of hay or planter.) Stuff the pants with the same material as the shirt.
Make a head for your scarecrow by stuffing a pillowcase and using marker pens to make the face or gluing on buttons for the eyes. Make the mouth from yarn.
Tie the opening onto the stake with a rope. Add a hat for more interest.
SHOULD YOU HIRE PROS FOR SHORT DISTANCE MOVES?
It's not as easy as you think.
Before moving to a townhouse right around the corner from my apartment, a friend warned me, "Those short-distance moves are the most difficult."
I couldn't understand why ... that is, until a few
Here's a news flash: That's not easier. It's harder. Moving cross-country is a comparative breeze, in a sense, because you're forced to load everything up at one time and haul it to your destination once. When you move locally, you delude yourself into thinking that you really don't own as much as you thought you did, and it really won't be that labor-intensive to bring it over in several smaller loads.
Then something strange happens. Your car seems to shrink as you realize that it really won't hold as much as you thought it would. The number of trips between point A and point B increases exponentially, and finally you're so worn out, you swear you'll never move again -- or if you do, it will be somewhere far, far away.
Another side effect of local moves: Many of us convince ourselves we don't need the services of a professional moving company. You'll just move it all in your car... why pay for a professional when they're not traveling any great distance?
Here's another revelation: Your possessions break just as easily when they're in your care (sometimes more easily). While loading up everything into your car at once, especially considering that you're weary and trying to do the entire job on your own, it's quite possible that you're going to either damage or destroy some of your valuables.
You're more likely to take shortcuts on your packing, tossing things into paper bags, open boxes or just by themselves into the back seat of your car.
For the sake of your worldly goods and your own peace of mind, not to mention your tolerance level for moving heavy loads, you should consider hiring a professional moving company. They won't look at you cross-eyed when you tell them that the distance between your old and new residences is a mere 10 minutes.
The most valid reason of all to hire a professional moving company is your furniture. You may have several large friends who kindly volunteer their services to help you move the heavy, bulky pieces, and they might do the job well. But it's clearly in your best interests to have insurance for your furniture in the event it becomes damaged. Your chances of having a piece lost, of course, are much, much less given the distance you're traveling.
You may want to consider hiring movers to haul your furniture and heaviest items, and assuming the rest of the job yourself. Just keep in mind this is a big job. From your dishes and appliances to your decorative pieces, clothes, shoes and office supplies, you own a lot more than you probably realize.
But the good news is that you can make short-distance moving manageable. Here's where the aid of friends can be utilized.
Your friends and family can divide up the job, each of them transporting several boxes in their own vehicles, even over the course of a week's time if you have the luxury of easing your way into your new residence.
You may even hiring a moving company for furniture, then rent a small truck for everything else and transporting those items yourself. Truck-rental companies will allow you to keep the vehicle 24 to 48 hours, enough time to make multiple trips between residences if necessary and complete the job in a cost-effective manner.
If you can afford it, however, nothing beats the convenience of hiring a moving company to haul everything you own. To cut huge costs, purchase your own packaging material, and pack everything yourself.
Furthermore, instead of buying packaging material, pay visits to local retailers and grocery stores either late in the evenings or on weekly delivery days, and ask them if you can their boxes off their hands. Nine times out of 10, they'll happily agree.
If you know someone at a retail store or grocery store, such connections can be invaluable; before my own move, a friend not only contributed boxes from the store where she worked; she also threw in a few rolls of packing tape to boot.
Ask around your office, as well, to see if any of your colleagues have boxes they'd be willing to unload. Because of frequent office supply deliveries, your employer probably has plenty of boxes merely waiting to be thrown out.
HOW TO WASTE YOUR MONEY
You constantly see 'ways to save money'. But we challenge you to start using just one of these immediately and start saving money (after of course you read the rest of our newsletter).
1. Buy new instead of used. Cars aren't the only things worth buying used. Consider the savings on pre-owned books (Amazon has many books for a penny), toys, exercise equipment and furniture.
2. Carry a credit-card balance. The average family has $10,700 in unpaid credit cards. At 18%, you lose about $2000. every year on interest. That's money you could certainly put to better use elsewhere. Get in the habit of paying off your balance in full each month.
3. Buy brand-name instead of generic. There are times, that the brand-name is worth it. But many times from groceries to clothing to prescription drugs, you could save money by choosing the off-brand over the fancy label. And in many cases, you won't sacrifice much in quality. Clever advertising and fancy packaging don't make brand-name products better than lesser-known brands.
4. Waste electricity. Of the total energy used to run home electronics, 40% is consumed when the appliances are turned off. Appliances with a clock or that operate by remote are typical culprits. The obvious way to pull the plug on your energy vampires is to do just that -- pull the plug. Or buy a device to do it for you, such as a Smart Power Strip ($31 to $44 at www.smarthomeusa.com, which will stop drawing electricity when the gadgets are turned off and pay for itself within a few months.
5. Ignore your local dollar store.Shopping at the dollar store can be hit-and-miss, but it's not all kitsch or junk. For instance, my local dollar store charges 50 cents for greeting cards versus the $3-plus at a drug store or gift shop. You can also score a deal on cleaning supplies, small kitchen tools, shampoos and soaps, holiday decorations, gift wrap and balloon bouquets.
6. Keep unhealthy habits.Smoking, tanning beds and soda. Stop now, think of the money you will save today and medical bills you will save tomorrow.
7. Be complacent about insurance.Reshopping your auto, home or renters insurance might save you hundreds of dollars. Upping your out-of-pocket deductible from $250 to $1,000 can save you 15% or more on your car insurance.
8. Give Uncle Sam an interest-free loan.If you get a tax refund each April, you let the government take too much money in taxes from your paycheck all year long. Get that money back in your pocket by adjusting your tax withholding. With a little discipline, you can use that extra cash each month to pay off #2.
9. Pay for something you can get for free. Dust off your library card and check out books, music and movies for free (or dirt-cheap). Don't pay to receive your credit report when you're allowed to get it at no charge by law. Take advantage of kids-eat-free promotions. And dial 1-800-FREE-411 for free directory assistance.
10. Your TV bill. How many channels can a person watch? Can you reduce your channels and save $10 per month, $120 over the next year?
FACEBOOK: 7 THINGS TO STOP DOING NOW
1. Using a Weak Password
Avoid simple names or words you can find in a dictionary, even with numbers tacked on the end. Instead, mix upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols. A password should have at least eight characters. One good technique is to insert numbers or symbols in the middle of a word, such as this variant on the word "houses": hO27usEs!
2. Leaving Your Full Birth Date in Your Profile
It's an ideal target for identity thieves, who could use it to obtain more information about you and potentially gain access to your bank or credit card account. If you've already entered a birth date, go to your profile page and click on the Info tab, then on Edit Information. Under the Basic Information section, choose to show only the month and day or no birthday at all.
3. Posting Your Child's Name in a Caption
Don't use a child's name in photo tags or captions. If someone else does, delete it by clicking on Remove Tag. If your child isn't on Facebook and someone includes his or her name in a caption, ask that person to remove the name.
4. Overlooking Useful Privacy Controls
For almost everything in your Facebook profile, you can limit access to only your friends, friends of friends, or yourself. Restrict access to photos, birth date, religious views, and family information, among other things. You can give only certain people or groups access to items such as photos, or block particular people from seeing them. Consider leaving out contact info, such as phone number and address, since you probably don't want anyone to have access to that information anyway.
5. Mentioning That You'll Be Away From Home
That's like putting a "no one's home" sign on your door. Wait until you get home to tell everyone how awesome your vacation was and be vague about the date of any trip.
6. Letting Search Engines Find You
To help prevent strangers from accessing your page, go to the Search section of Facebook's privacy controls and select Only Friends for Facebook search results. Be sure the box for public search results isn't checked.
7. Permitting Youngsters to Use Facebook Unsupervised
Facebook limits its members to ages 13 and over, but children younger than that do use it. If you have a young child or teenager on Facebook, the best way to provide oversight is to become one of their online friends. Use your e-mail address as the contact for their account so that you receive their notifications and monitor thei
.r activities. "What they think is nothing can actually be pretty serious," says Charles Pavelites, a supervisory special agent at the InternetCrimeComplaintCenter. For example, a child who posts the comment "Mom will be home soon, I need to do the dishes" every day at the same time is revealing too much about the parents' regular comings and goings.
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