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Updated: Monday, September 01, 2014

The Best Advice For First-time Home Buyers

Before you start seriously shopping for a home, theres some groundwork you should do to put yourself in the best position to buy a home.

Start early, a couple of months before you talk to a lender or hire a real estate professional.

Check and repair your credit

The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the three nationwide consumer credit report companies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, to provide you with a free copy of your credit report and FICO scores upon request once a year. You can order the reports by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com, or call 1-877-322-8228.

Each credit report company has its own criteria for scoring your credit report. A lender will usually use the middle FICO score. All three scores need to be as high as possible for you to receive the best interest rates.

If you can, order the reports at least three months before applying for your home loan. If you find a mistake you need to correct, or you want to improve your score by paying down an account, youll need at least two months before the credit score improves.

You can dispute an inaccurate item on the report by contacting the consumer reporting company and the information provider in writing. Be sure to include copies of your proof.

Dont accidentally raise your scores

Lenders not only look at how much credit youre using, they consider how much credit you have available. However, now is not the time to be opening any new accounts or closing existing accounts.

Dont purchase furniture or a new car or any other big ticket item before buying a home. Lenders are very careful about the amount of debt you have and how much you pay down every month on the debt payments you have.

Get Loan Pre-approval

Dont start house hunting without knowing how much home you can buy. To find out, you have to apply for a loan, which means youre sharing financial information with the lender such as income and work history, student loans, child support or alimony, and credit card balances.

Contact your lender for a preapproval letter. The letter shows that the lender has taken a 1003 loan application, studied your debt ratios to your income, and helped you select a loan program such as fixed rate, ARMs adjustable rate mortgages, FHA or VA government-backed loans, etc.

Your lender will confirm your down payment source, interest rate, type of loan thats best for your circumstances, and the terms of your loan. The lender will give you a loan commitment based on your qualifications. The home you select must meet appraisal, and the underwriting department must approve the loan.

A preapproval letter will open doors for you, pardon the pun. Sellers will be impressed because youre prepared to buy and that a lender has agreed to process your loan. Your real estate agent will have to know the terms of your loan in order to write your offer.

Find out about federal, state, and local government incentives

Get help with your loan rate, closing costs and/or down payments through federal and state housing authority programs. For example, there are also incentives for workforce personnel police, fire fighters/emergency services personnel and teachers.

Each community is different, so click on HUDs Housing Authorities to find out whats being offered in your community. Your city may be offering tax incentives to revitalize a designated public improvement area.

Narrow the choices

Think about how you want to live. One story or two? Low-maintenance condo or big yard for the kids? New or older home?

Drive through the neighborhoods youre interested in and look at homes. Visit a few open houses in the neighborhoods you will consider. They will usually be listed in your local newspaper with the hours hosted. Be sure to tell the real estate professional hosting the open house that you are already working with a buyers agent.

With Google maps, video, virtual tours, multiple photos, school reports, neighborhood reports and more available online or on phone apps, you can get a good idea of what neighborhoods, home >

Find an Experienced Real Estate Broker or Agent

Buying a first home is a complex process. An experienced real estate broker or agent will assist you all through the process: the home search, comparable homes sold, making an offer, inspection, repairs, and the appraisal, as well as help you find the best value, neighborhood, and quality home for your budget and requirements.

The sellers real estate broker pays your broker or agent out of your loan proceeds. If you dont use your own agent, the sellers broker keeps the commission, so you might as well avail yourself of professional advice. Your real estate broker or agent works in your best interest.

Dont expect perfection

Theres no perfect home. You may want all the latest amenities of a new home, but even new homes come at a price, including longer commutes, higher community fees, and bigger pricetags.

Homes that need updating are priced below homes that are up to the minute and move-in ready. That could be to your financial advantage, so try to look beyond outdated fixtures and focus instead on the floorplan and dimensions. Ignore the sellers tastes and imagine each room clean and clear of clutter and with your own things in them.

Most cosmetic changes are >

Think long-term investment

Buying a home can be a wise financial investment, if you buy right and hold your home for long-term gain. Because of closing and moving costs, its nearly impossible to buy a home and sell it immediately for a large gain, but it is possible to sell after a couple of years with no capital gains tax should you make a profit.

According to the National Association of REALTORS, home equity growth beats inflation by about one to two percent annually, not to mention government subsidies for home ownership in the form of tax >

However, if you look at owning a home strictly as an investment, youll miss many pleasures. Look at your home as a home, rather than part of your portfolio. Buying a home allows you to live in the neighborhood you want for as long as you want, without having to worry that the landlord is going to sell out from under you. Your stake in a home makes you part of the community, committed to making it a better place to live.

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Agents: Are You Sending MIXED Messages?

8 Ways to Mix Your Message Mediums to Attract More Business

While coaches, experts, trainers, top agents, and our own marketing team will all tell you that consistency in your message is key to staying top of mind and a consistent pipeline of referrals -- most will also share that is not only fine to mix up the mediums -- its a smart strategy for success. Why? Because lets face it -- were all DIFFERENT. Which is a good thing Makes life WAY less boring -- dont you think?

So because were all different -- the way we view, absorb and react to marketing messages is different too. Using email, direct mail, social media, video, audio, visuals, phone calls, personal visits and everything in between will help you reach the folks in your sphere or farm in the ways that make the most sense for them.

First lets start with the obvious -- NAR tells us that more than 90 of home buyers and sellers START their search for their new home or REALTOR online, which is great news for you if youre busily building an online presenceright? Theres just a little hitch -- according to a study of Broker Website Effectiveness conducted by the WAV Group 69 of visitors to broker websites type the address directly into the browser, 20 use search engine -- but with keywords such as agent or brokerage name, which means that more than 85 of all traffic to the brokers websites were coming from people who ALREADY knew them. This is good in terms of retention of customers -- but not so good news in terms of driving NEW eyes to your website, blog or social media channels.

So if NEW traffics your goal, then youve got to find some ways to get consumers in YOUR MARKET who are looking for information about buying or selling a house and they start to type something into that search bar.They know YOUR NAME amp; Company name

1. Make direct mail your friend. Dont start yelling at me and saying direct mail is dead -- before you consider a few facts. According to a survey conducted by the Direct Marketing Association nearly 70 of consumers prefer to receive announcements and information from companies they are familiar with via conventional mail, versus less than 20 who prefer e-mail pitches.

Dont get me wrong, Im a big fan of email marketing, but I have agents asking me week after week -- "How do I get email addresses?" And thats where I believe direct mail postcards can really compliment an agents marketing plan. Theyre affordable, fast, dont have to be opened first, quick to make an impression and done right -- a great way to brand yourself, get your name TOP OF MIND for area consumers and drive people looking for real estate answers or information -- Straight to your website

We even developed a great line of postcards to help you develop a social media following Sowhether youre posting, pinning, blogging, tweeting, linking, or a combo platter -- weve got you covered -- theyre called our

On-the-Web postcards and theyre really helping drive traffic to your social media sites. Check them out: On the Web Templates

Need help finding addresses to mail to? Check out our MapMyMail feature. It allows you to identify addresses in the geo farms where youre looking to brand yourself.

And now with the addition of Every Door Direct Mail -- you can send larger pieces like newsletters and flyers for a fraction of the cost and make sure you are literally getting in EVERY door. This is great news -- especially if youre marketing luxury homes and you want to saturate a high end market with larger Just Listed/Just Sold brochures. In fact our Dominator System is really taking things to an even higher level -- it allows you to send a 12 x 15 poster-size piece with done-for-you, direct response content for 1 or less a piece Learn more here.

And one of the BEST things you can do in todays market is to share your STATS. Let people know what you are listing and selling. Heres a great way to showcase your success stories...

2. Next, add QR codes to all of your printed materials. Postcards, business cards, flyers -- even sign riders Point those QR Quick Response codes to your Facebook Fanpage, your lead capture forms on your website, your single property websites or just about anywhere on the web you want to drive new customer attention. Ive even seen them on car magnets

Here are a couple of QR Code Generators for you to try:

  • http://delivr.com/qr-code-generator
  • http://www.beqrious.com/generator love the name of that one

If you dont like either of those just Google "QR Code Generator" and youll find a bunch Id look for ones that have analytics attached so that you can track your results.

3. Add your social media addresses to everything just like your QR codes Your business cards, email signatures, newsletters, printed materials, websites, blogs, the works. Make sure everything has got all the myriad of ways people can find you and create some great backlinks for your different sites at the same time And please dont make the mistake that I see many businesses make where they simply say "follow us on Facebook" -- you have to go the extra step. Tell them HOW For example -- Follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/ProspectsPLUS. A shameless plug -- but a good example I see business signs, cards, brochures etc. that just have the icons for social media and blogs but not the actual address. Make it EASY for folks to find you

4. Join the online conversation. Dont expect immediate results, but also dont discount the power of the internet to help establish and fuel new >

Another great strategy is to interview area business owners. If youre tweeting or facebooking about them, theres a good chance theyll do the same for you Ask an area roofer how what are the signs of a roof that needs to be replaced. Ask a plumber about winter pipe maintenance. Ask a local restaurateur about new menu items and promotions they might be having. Start conversing and connecting Ask a local pediatrician about school vaccinations or seasonal allergies. Ask a new shop owner what brings them to the area. You get the idea

5. Offer items of value on your website or blog. A great way to capture email addresses is to offer free reports and value items to your website in exchange for email addresses. People are information hungry these days and if you can satisfy that hunger with the right collateral pieces- theyll share their contact information and their loyalty Weve got lots of free reports and handy tools that you can download for free -- find them here: ProspectsPLUS.com Resource Page.

6. Event marketing. People are thirsty for information -- invite them to learn what you know by hosting workshops in your market on popular topics such as First Time Home Buying, Real Estate Investing, Real Estate and Todays Seniors, What You Need to Know About Short Sales and Foreclosures. PTAs and PTSAs are always on the look out for local professionals that can speak for 15-20 minutes or more at their meetings to draw more attendance, libraries are another great place to host meetings, or talk to some of the HOAs in your area about community meetings that you can take part in. All great ways to reach out to folks in your area. Here is a link to some handy workshop invites

7. eMail is still viable: eMail is tough in a lot of ways -- spam blockers and just a saturation of inbox items can make it hard to get seen from the rest -- but it is a good way to just touch base with your sphere -- especially if there is something new in the market to talk about. Stay in tuned with whats going on in your area so that you have little sound bites to share with people for that kind of hyper-local touch thats so important. Things like school events, neighborhood block parties, community garage sales, new business openings, special offers and items of interest that people are happy to learn about and grateful to have a resource to remind them

8. Stop being camera shy. Awesome GoPro and iPhone videos are becoming more and more a powerful marketing tool for agents who are stepping in front of the camera to share everything from market information tidbits to house tours to great news sound bites and featuring local businesses. They spotlight community attributes, share valuable content, are a great way to get seen, heard AND build SEO-friendly websites Be sure to have links to all of them on your website, drive people to your YouTube account and break out your inner movie star Go ahead -- its fun

So start mixing and matching and building both your email database as well as your book of business database so that you can whether whatever market storm comes your way. Good luck and remember were here when you need us Call our team at 866.405.3638 or visit www.prospectsplus.com/specials if you need help with mastering any of your marketing needs or implementing any of the direct mail solutions weve spotlighted here

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Trend Alert: Pops of Red

There was a time when red was the color of choice, and rooms were designed in Mediterranean palettes with gold and green or graphic black and white. In the past few years, white, gray, and blue have taken over as the main color trends, but there is a new red rising. This time, its showing up as a bright pop to an otherwise subdued color story so those gray walls you just painted are still perfectly on trend, and should be for some time to come.

Red also plays well with the metallic finishes that are hot right now. But no matter what you pair it with, be aware that if you use too much, you just might raise the room temperature.

"Red is a good choice when you want to stir up excitement, particularly at night," said Freshome. "In the living room or dining room, red draws people together and stimulates conversation. In an entryway, it creates a strong first impression. Red has been shown to raise blood pressure, speed respiration and heart rate. It is usually considered too stimulating for bedrooms, but if youre only in the room after dark, youll be seeing it mostly by lamplight, when the color will appear muted, rich, and elegant. Red, the most intense, pumps the adrenaline like no other hue."

Here are a few ways to bring modern pops of red into your space.


Perhaps the days of red-painted rooms are behind you, but that doesnt mean you cant splash it up on your wall. A bold piece of art can provide a potent contrast to an otherwise sedate space. Or, embrace the wallpaper craze for a big pop that works great as a focal point.


Red bedding can liven up a room in the same way as wallpaper, providing a jumpstart for your dcor. And the best part is its easy and inexpensive to change out on days when youre feeling the need to go for cooler colors.


The trick to using a red piece of furniture is making sure its worthy of the attention it gets. After all, you dont want to draw eyes toward something that doesnt deserve it. If you dont want to buy something new, a glossy finish on an antique piece will give it a fresh new look.

Go big

If you love red enough to make a big impact, think big: counters, cabinets, and couches. A big red couch is a statement piece, and one in a quality fabric can be pricey, but it still requires the least amount of commitment among the big three.

Counters and cabinets are not the types of thing youll want to change out in a year, so youll want to make sure you really love the colorand that youre not planning to sell soon. The next buyer may not be as bold as you.

For more red kitchen ideas, see Houzz.

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Solutions For Lack Of Storage Space

No matter how much we like our home in every other way, a lack of storage will always make us cranky. After all, as George Carlin said, "A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff."

In the spirit of every person everywhere who wants more and better places to put all their things, no matter whether they live in a New York studio or a mega-estate, here are a few ingenious storage ideas.

1. Frame a doorway, said Sunset magazine.

"Bookshelves surrounding the entry from a living room to a dining room make creative use of what might otherwise be under-utilized wall space."

Storage-rich bookshelves are also great for lining a hallway or flanking a desk or bed, and you can get an inexpensive pair for under 150.

2. Take advantage of under-the-bed space

As long as youre hitting up IKEA, pick up a few under-the-bed storage boxes. These can be used for extra bedding, off-season clothes, and anything that you dont need to see or use regularly. "Hide what you ra>

3. Take it to the stairs

The area under the stairs is wasted space that can serve a myriad of storage needs. And it doesnt have to be open space to do it. Check out this bookcase and this doghouse, both of which could be created by cutting into the existing wall.

You can even turn the stairs themselves into a linen closet.

"Look for available wall space in high-traffic areas throughout your house," said HGTV Remodels. "Utilize an awkward space under stairs for cabinets, desk space or shelving for storing various home and work essentials.

Check out more ideas here.

4. Take advantage of other unused space throughout the house

If you have unused space in a corner, shelves can provide extra storage. Buy a few attractive baskets or containers and people will never know this was need-based.

A wide staircase can host its own mudroom and look good too.

5. Get the garage in order

If your garage storage is lacking, invest in some wall-to-wall shelving units, and thenlook up. Ceiling-mounted storage is perfect for stuff that you dont need frequent access to. Its also a great place to put Christmas decorations since you are only taking them down once a year.

Speaking of Christmas trees...we love this idea for putting the tree away fully decorated. If you have an attic or another place you can store it standing upright or hanging upside down, this may be a timesaving and space-saving answer for you.

Of course, it does take the fun out of decorating the tree. But just think about the mess youll avoid

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Labor Day Steals amp; Deals

"With pumpkin beer on shelves and discount stores behaving as if its already Black Friday, no one can blame consumers for not wanting to spend their Labor Day weekend shopping," said The Street. "But, seriously, why arent you at your local home and garden supply store grabbing whatever you can? After an entire summer of milking shoppers for all they were worth, home and garden chains including Home Depot and Lowes are entering their slow season and making it just a bit easier for customers to get deals. We dont just mean Home Depot and Lowes, specifically, but Menards, Ace Hardware stores, True Value stores and even Sears, if theres still one in your area."

What they said.

Yes, its the mother load for people looking for discounted patio items. Labor Day weekend is when big box stores typically start offering big discounts on patio furniture and outdoor accessories, and this year is no different.

Lowes is offering savings of up to 75 percent this weekend on a slew of outdoor items including furniture, outdoor dcor, landscaping, and more.

This Garden Treasures Hunter Woods Balau Wood Cushioned Patio Chair is now just 37.50, down from 150, and this stylish allen roth Set of 2 Hayton Gray Aluminum Woven Patio Spring Motion Chairs are just 88, down from 352.

You can also pick up planters, pillows and tables at Lowes for a steal.

Nerdwallet advises shoppers to check out Walmart and Target. "Online shoppers can find great deals at Walmart, with patio sets from 99. Target has an ongoing sale on grills and outdoor cooking supplies, including items not sold in stores."

The best deals on mattresses this weekend are at Sears 60 percent off sale, like this Sealy Posturpedic queen size for 378, down from 520. Sears is also offering up to 40 percent off on appliances.

As for "big ticket" items, The Street says to hold. "Youll start to see marked-down grills around Labor Day weekend, but theyre typically lower-tier brands such as Master Forge, Savor Pro, Aussie and Brinkmann. For any brand from Char-Broil through Weber, youre likely going to have to wait until well into winter for the deepest discounts think December or January. Keep in mind that Weber treats its grills like Apple treats its smartphones, so youre not really going to get much of a discount until stores try to get rid of the previous years models.

"Its a similar story with air conditioners. Like grills, they still come in handy if summer temperatures bleed over into September. Youre not going to find them marked down by any significant margin on Labor Day weekend, but youll have a lot better luck if youre out shopping just before everyone carves up Thanksgiving dinner or just as the country nurses its New Years hangover. Its simple logic: Demand for air conditioners is lowest when everybody is figuring out how to pay their heating bills. The selection may not be outstanding, but the prices have plenty of wiggle room around that time."

Where will you be shopping this weekend?

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Questions About Your Homeowners Association? This Book Has Answers

How much should your condominium association maintain in reserves? Is your associations insurance sufficient to protect unit owners faced with some kind of disaster? What role does the Federal Housing Administration, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac play when lenders are deciding whether to make you a loan to purchase or refinance a condo unit?

There are no easy answers to these questions. But these and many other issues are discussed in detail in the new online Community Association Fact Book, which provides a lot of useful information for homeowners governed by HOAs.

The publication was prepared by the Foundation for Community Association Research, the research arm of the Community Associations Institute CAI, a Falls Church, Va.-based group that provides data to homeowner associations. "The Fact Book was developed to provide research-based information to all community association stakeholders, homeowners, board members, management professionals, including attorneys, accountants, developers, mortgage lenders," said Clifford J. Treese, who chaired the project.

As the book points out, community associations and association housing are subject to state laws and residential mortgage lending requirements that do not apply to single-family homes or voluntary community associations.

For example:

Community associations need to meet Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac requirements. Otherwise, most mortgage lenders will not approve a loan for a sale or a refinance. The fact book provides guidance on how to comply with requirements such as delinquency rates and reserve requirements.

The FHA has its own approach. If a buyer wants an FHA-insured mortgage, the condominium association must be approved by the FHA. In the past, a borrower could get what is known as a "spot loan," in which the lender would look to the creditworthiness of the buyer and do a brief analysis of the condos financial condition. Now, condos must be approved every two years.

Community associations are nonprofit corporations. However, they are not nonprofits for Internal Revenue Service purposes. Thus, an association board needs to be aware of its income sources and its use of assessments for the most advantageous federal tax filings. Associations must obtain an annual financial audit from an independent certified public accountant, who will file the appropriate tax forms with the IRS, even if no money is owed.

Given increases in severe climate phenomena, whether rainstorms, windstorms or sinkholes, the associations insurance policies need to be as comprehensive as economically feasible. Just because the condo act specifies a dollar level of required property and liability insurance, it does not mean that coverage will be adequate. The condo laws involving insurance in Maryland, Virginia and the District have not been amended in years.

These points are a reminder that a homeowner cannot go it alone. The community association needs to be a partnership of owners and board members. Community associations, which include condominiums, planned communities often called homeowner associations and cooperative apartments, have become a way of life for more than 65 million residents.

As of last year, according to one study, 328,500 associations were operating in the United States. Virginia has 8,200, Maryland 6,400, and the District nearly 2,000.

Virginia ranks 12th in the nation in the number of community associations, and Maryland is 19th.

Especially useful in the Community Association Fact Book: a summary of all state laws pertaining to community associations, as well as data on insurance, reserve requirements and housing occupancy.

The fact book is available free at www.cairf.org/research/factbook/default.aspx.

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Copyright©2014 Realty Times®.All Rights Reserved

Today's Real Estate News and Advice Updated: Monday, September 01, 2014

Trend Alert: Pops of Red
There was a time when red was the color of choice, and rooms were designed in Mediterranean pal...
> Full Story

Solutions For Lack Of Storage Space
No matter how much we like our home in every other way, a lack of storage will always make us c...
> Full Story

Labor Day Steals amp; Deals
"With pumpkin beer on shelves and discount stores behaving as if its already Black Friday, no o...
> Full Story

Copyright © 2014 Realty Times®. All Rights Reserved