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Archive for 'Real Estate and Housing' Category

Easy and cheap ways to boost your home's value

Published 1/31/15

Easy and cheap ways to boost your home's value By Peter Andrew

Regular readers may be shocked by my grubby little secret: I can waste hours online reading about, looking at floor plans and pictures of, and fantasizing over other people's very expensive homes.

What do I get out of this? Some of my motivations may be shameful, and driven by insecurities about my own modest accomplishments. It's fun to see how the ultra-rich can expend vast sums of money on spectacularly garish -- almost Trump-esque -- monuments to vulgarity, ostentation and bad taste. Though one has to admire the equal-opportunities ethos of those who employ interior decorators who must surely be legally blind.

But the main pleasure I get is imagining what I'd do to the homes were I to be able to afford to buy them and then remodel with money-no-object budgets. Short of a lottery win or the discovery of a previously unknown and recently deceased billionaire relation, these fantasies are unlikely to come true, but I enjoy them. Still, it's embarrassing, so I'd be grateful if you keep my little secret strictly between the two of us.

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How to save money during a move

Published 8/5/14  (Modified 8/12/14)

How to save money during a move By Georgie Miller

My husband and I recently moved after living in the same place for over five years. Whew! I'd forgotten how much work it is. While moving expenses can add up fast, your move doesn't have to become a cash emergency. Think ahead and try these strategies on for size.

1. Only move what you have to

There's no sense in moving more stuff than is necessary. Depending on how far in advance you start making your plans, you have several options for getting rid of stuff you no longer want or need.

  • Start by selling. If you have valuable items that are in good condition, selling is the first step. Selling items online, hosting a yard sale and consigning items at thrift stores are all options.

  • Then try donation. Anything that doesn't sell but is still in nice condition can be donated to a charitable organization. You get a tax break and will have fewer boxes to pack. Plus, many organizations will come and pick items up from your house!

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Are you suited to real estate investing?

Published 7/29/14

Are you suited to real estate investing? By Peter Andrew

The last time I wrote about investing in real estate, I told you I was building up the courage to buy a nearby house to rent out to vacationers. Well, guess what? I didn't. I didn't buy it because I didn't build up the courage.

Every time I tried to picture happy families returning year after year to joyfully hand me a significant proportion of their disposable incomes, the only mental images I could actually conjure were of unpaid bills, foreclosure notices and someone changing the locks on my vacation home.

This glass-half-smashed-into-a-million-pieces mentality may well be the reason I'm not rich. You have to speculate to accumulate, and all investments involve some sort of risk. Turns out, I'm risk-averse, so the tiny puddle of money that might have been the down payment on my vacation rental remains in an online savings account.

Recognize your weaknesses

Actually, it may be less a question of risk-aversion than realism. In the late 1990s, my parents came to visit me in London where I was then living. We went to Columbia Road market one Sunday morning, which combined flowers and plants with exotic foods and antiques.

My mom and dad strolled with me down the center of the road as my partner raced around the stalls, buying armfuls of cut flowers, a triumph of 19th-century taxidermy in the form of a turtle (see the photo on the right), miscellaneous bric-a-brac, and quantities of obscure Asian foodstuffs. Within 30 minutes, the bill was well over $350.

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Is it safe to invest in real estate again?

Published 10/30/13

Is it safe to invest in real estate again? By Peter Andrew

My dad worked in real estate his whole life. By the time I was 10 years old, I'd learned more through breakfast- and dinner-table conversations about the jargon and mechanics of buying, selling and renting homes than most adults ever know. Later, I spent the first five years of my working life in the business.

And yet I still get sleepless nights whenever I'm buying property. Sometimes I worry I'm paying too much. Other times I wonder why the home's so cheap. What's wrong with it? The neighboring homes look fine, but suppose one's a crack den. Is the house structurally sound, or will I discover some defect when I move in that's impossibly expensive to fix? Does the seller have good title, and are there plans to build an airport nearby or run a highway past it?

I can while away hours (usually the later ones) pondering such things when I'm buying a home to live in myself. Some people buy multiple homes they plan to flip or offer as rentals, and I admire their nerves of steel. Now, a new generation of entrepreneurs is seeing real estate as an investment opportunity, and starting to get into the market. Are they being wise or foolish?

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The home you rent is in foreclosure. What happens now?

Published 10/4/13  (Modified 10/5/13)

The home you rent is in foreclosure. What happens now? By Georgie Miller

A couple of years ago, a letter came to the condo that my husband and I rent. I read it and said, "Honey, I think our house is being foreclosed on."

He hopped online and went to the website where foreclosure notices for our county are posted, which confirmed the bad news. The home we were living in was, indeed, going into foreclosure.

We were shocked -- though we knew our landlord was underwater on the home -- but maybe we shouldn't have been. Since the economy crashed in 2008, millions of properties have been foreclosed on. While the economy seems to be recovering at the moment, there's still a long way to go. And even in the best economy, a property owner can get into financial troubles and lose their rental property.

If you are facing this situation, you may be wondering: What are your rights? Fortunately, in 2009 President Obama signed into law the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act (PTFA) that specifically addresses this issue. This act was initially set to expire at the end of 2012, but it's been extended to the end of 2014. Here are some things you should know if the home you rent goes into foreclosure.

1. Your rights

PTFA gives a renter the right to finish out their lease if the home is foreclosed upon. There are some exceptions, such as if the new owner intends to reside in the property or if your lease is month-to-month.

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How far underwater are you?

Published 3/17/12  (Modified 3/19/12)

By Marc Pearlman

Back in 1986, President Ronald Reagan referred to the line "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you", as the ten most terrifying words in the English language. Well, as the housing crisis continues, the government is knocking on the door again as they roll out HARP 2.0.

The original Home Affordable Refinance Program, HARP, was created in 2009 to assist struggling "underwater" homeowners who owed more money on their homes than the home was worth. Homeowners could refinance their mortgages and take advantage of the historic low rates if they met certain eligibility requirements. However, the plan has been criticized by some pundits for falling short of expectations.

"HARP has been around for a couple of years but hasn't been that helpful to that many people," says Bob Walters, chief economist at Quicken Loans, according to Fox Business, adding that many people who needed the help were unable to qualify for it.

What's new with HARP 2.0

HARP 2.0 extends the original program until the end of 2013 and loosens some of the eligibility restrictions of the original HARP program.

In order to qualify for the original HARP program rolled out in 2009, a homeowner's loan-to-value ratio needed to be less than 125 percent. This cap left many homeowners out in the cold as their home prices dropped sharply in price causing their LTV to rise above 125 percent.

Under HARP 2.0, the 125-percent LTV cap has been removed for homeowners looking to refinance Read the full article »