Early-morning alarm clocks, growing paper piles and calendars filling up with sports, activities and events can only mean one thing: it’s back-to-school time. Don’t start the school year off on the wrong foot! Get your house ready for it with these tips.

1. Organize your entry way and your closets to make room for all the extra items your kids will be bringing home.

2. Keep sports gear, instruments, coats, boots and more organized by installing cubbies. Build them with different compartments for large and small items, and don’t forget hooks for jackets.

3. Load your kids’ rooms with shelving; they’re going to need it to help them stay organized. Plus, starting them with basic organization tools will help them kick off the year on the right foot.

4. Designate a paper area and a homework zone. Organize them with folders, shelving and labels. Coffee mugs and small kitchen bowls are nice alternatives for keeping utensils and desk supplies corralled. You can also hang things from peg boards.

5. Organize your week with a calendar. Whether you use smartphones and sync them to computers, paper calendars on the refrigerator or a freestanding chalkboard in the kitchen, make sure everyone has access to it and reads it daily.

6. Clean out and organize the refrigerator. Think about creating a snack bar or snack shelf for after school hunger. Throw out all old food and defrost the freezer. Scrub the barbecue and its tools as well!

7. Get rid of all that summertime dirt and dust that the kids drag in with a deep cleaning.  Power-wash your driveway and outside toys and furniture, all of which probably have taken a beating from extra company, sidewalk chalk, grass and mud.

Goodbye summer and hello fall….I hear those holidays knocking.

Finding the right neighborhood is as important as finding the right home. You should make a list of things you want in a neighborhood before you start looking for homes. Some criteria to think about include schools; commute time; walking distance to amenities; look, feel and sound of the area; and tourist attractions. Here are some things to consider.

  1. The time of day when you first lay eyes on a prospective house can affect your impression of the neighborhood, so visit at various hours. Everything always looks pretty in the sunshine.
  2. Don’t forget to factor in commuting costs to the home price. Also, think about the costs to get to things you like to do and proximity to basic services such as a grocery store, post office, freeway or train station. Gas isn’t cheap, neither is inconvenience.
  3. Consider the area’s amenities. Just because an area is safe and the homes are pretty doesn’t mean it has what you are looking for culturally. Are schools important to you or medical facilities or parks or museums? Figure out what type of lifestyle you are living and what your personal future holds.
  4. Research the future of the neighborhood such as future developments that could increase taxes or traffic. Also, look at property value over time.
  5. Characteristic of the neighborhood are important because you will want to “fit in” in your new neighborhood. Research the demographics, types of housing and neighbor values to see if they match yours.

There are some great tools on the web to help you choose the perfect neighborhood. Play around with these and you might even learn something about your current neighborhood.

neighborhood scout
walk score
zip skinny

There has been a lot of buzz lately about the rise in existing home sales and the rise in new home construction. This, coupled with the record-low interest rates, has made the market ideal for potential home sellers.

Nearly 10% more existing homes were sold in May than in the same month a year earlier, many purchased by investors who plan to rent them for now and sell them later, an important sign of an inflection point. In something of a surprise, the inventory of existing homes for sale has fallen close to the normal level of six months’ worth despite all the foreclosed homes that lenders own. The fraction of homes that are vacant is at its lowest level since 2006.

Builders began work on 26% more single-family homes in May 2012 than the depressed levels of May 2011. The stock of unsold newly built homes is back to 2005 levels. In each of the past four quarters, housing construction has added to economic growth. In the first quarter, it accounted for 0.4 percentage points of the meager 1.9% growth rate.

As the buyer-seller playing field begins to level out, it’s important to understand SMART buying. Start with the basics and don’t get ahead of yourself.

  1. Get your credit score up.
  2. Save for at least a 20% down payment.
  3. Create a household budget.

There are many advantages to home ownership and just because there are more buyers out there doesn’t mean you can’t still get a great deal.

Mortgage interest rates continue to fall, making homes even more affordable and more attractive. However, qualifying for a mortgage can be the biggest road block to cashing in on these low interest rates.

Freddie Mac reports the average rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate loan, the most popular mortgage product, dropped to 3.62 percent from 3.66 percent last week.

As the mortgage rate drops, so does a buyer’s monthly payment. So if you narrowly missed getting a loan the first time around, you should think about trying again. With the lower rate and lower monthly payment, the home you want to buy might now be in your price range.

Of course there are other factors to consider such as credit scores and down payment options.

If you aren’t in a position to buy a new home, you can still take advantage of the record low interest rates by refinancing. While refinancing does not come without its own hurdles, you could end up saving thousands of dollars over the lifetime of your loan.

Finally, if you really want to take advantage of low interest rates and see significant cost savings with your loan, repay it early. Check out how here.


Deciding where to spend your golden years is just as important as deciding where to raise your kids. There are a lot of factors that need to be considered when choosing a town and a home for your retirement. Some of those factors include weather, serious crime rates, taxes and availability of doctors. It is also important to take into consideration what you want to spend your free time doing. Some states offer incentives for active retirement and unemployment rates and economic growth should also be looked at (in case you want a part time job).

Forbes Magazine recently released the top 25 cities to retire in for 2012. The list takes into consideration the average home price, overall taxes and taxes on retirees, air quality, weather, crime and more.

Before you invest in your retirement home and town, check out the cities on this list.

  1. Albuquerque, New Mexico – average home price $166,000
  2. Alexandria, Louisiana – average home price $148,000
  3. Asheville, North Carolina – average home price $198,000
  4. Atlanta, Georgia – average home price $96,000
  5. Austin, Texas – average home price $188,000
  6. Bloomington, Indiana – average home price $144,000
  7. Boise, Idaho – average home price $118,000
  8. Cape Coral, Florida – average home price $108,000
  9. Columbia, Missouri – average home price – $152,000
  10. Columbia, South Carolina – average home price $141,000
  11. Corpus Christie, Texas – average home price $136,000
  12. Fargo, North Dakota – average home price $154,000
  13. Fort Myers, Florida – average home price $119,000
  14. Huntsville, Alabama – average home price $170,000
  15. Knoxville, Tennessee – average home price $137,000
  16. Las Cruces, New Mexico – average home price $116,000
  17. Lynchburg, Virginia – average home price $134,000
  18. Pensacola, Florida – average home price $134,000
  19. Phoenix, Arizona – average home price $119,000
  20. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – average home price $121,000
  21. Salt Lake City, Utah – average home price $183,000
  22. San Antonio, Texas – average home price $150,000
  23. Savannah, Georgia – average home price $137,000
  24. Tuscon, Arizona – average home price $131,000
  25. Tulsa, Oklahoma – average home price $129,000

see full story at http://www.forbes.com/pictures/mjf45gdef/golden-plans/

When making your budget to buy a home, you should think about the cost of furnishing that home. Whether you plan on decorating it all at once or over time, the size and style of the home will impact the decorating budget. The general rule of thumb when it comes to a budget is that you will spend 25% of the total cost of the home to decorate. This means, a mid-range living room will cost about $14,000.

Obviously there are ways you can increase or decrease your budget. If you buy everything from Pottery Barn, you will spend at least 25% of your home value, but if you go to Ikea that cost will likely go down. The biggest suggestion I can give you when it comes to decorating is that you should live in your new home for a few months before deciding on major furniture pieces because once you have been in a house for a while your ideas might totally change.

A few other ways to help you save money on your decorating budget include giving old furniture a facelift with new paint, fabric, accessories; building it yourself such as coffee tables, end tables, liquor cabinets; and splurging on one big bold piece of furniture in a room and accenting it with cheaper things.

The decorating trends for 2012 are not about flashy, over-the-top design; but rather, about decorating for real life. Homeowners and decorators will be trying to tell a story through their decorating, with pieces that put a personal stamp on their spaces. People are stylizing the most-used room in the home—the kitchen—by adding workstations, artwork, photography and more furniture-like cabinetry enhanced by decorative cabinet knobs and pulls.

In a recent survey, people looking to buy a home listed the following as the most important rooms.

  • Kitchen – 90% of respondents
  • Master Bedroom – 79% of respondents
  • Family Room – 34% of respondents
  • Garage – 31% of respondents
  • Living Room – 26% of respondents
  • Basement – 26% of respondents

As the economy slowly improves and some consumers’ anxieties ease, buyers are upsizing again. In recent years, most borrowers were looking for homes with about 2,200-2,300 square feet. They were trying to downsize and get rid of high mortgage payments. But over the past year the average square footage has risen to about 2,500. And in some parts of the country, it has risen even higher. One New Jersey developer has clients who, previously were asking for homes in the 3,500 to 5,500 square foot range, are now asking for 7,000+ square foot homes.

The news gets bigger…I mean better! According to the National Association of Home Builders, the sale of newly built homes rose 3.3% in April and 9.9% over last year. Thirty percent of those homes were 3,000 square foot or bigger, which means the McMansions are back!  In some cases, builders are making homes larger for the same price as a smaller one would cost to increase sales. They are making rooms more spacious, adding crown molding and making kitchens larger to appeal to the buyers.

Sales of single-family homes regardless of price were up 19 percent for the first four months of 2012 compared with the same period last year. In April, the average home price was $282,600, up from $268,900 a year earlier, according to census data, though that is down from $329,400 in early 2007.

Check out this story from the Wall Street Journal for more.

On the flip side, here are 10 tiny homes you will just love.

The playbook of life looks something like this: Go to school. Get a job. Get married. Buy a house. Have kids. How to do each one of these steps is sometimes left out of the playbook. While the time between the school, job and marriage parts might be long, the time between the marriage, house and kids never is. Once you get married, the pressure to buy a house and have kids is inevitable and you are bound to feel overwhelmed. I have provided a few very simple things to think about before buying your first home as a newlywed. Hopefully, these tips ease the fear you may have of this phase of your life.  When you are thinking about these, remember that you are now thinking in “we” terms, not “I” ones.  You both have to feel comfortable with your new home and the lifestyle changes that come with it.

  • Have a solid credit score; 750 or higher should get you the best mortgage rates.  Alternatively, have no credit score because you don’t borrow money and get a manually underwritten mortgage.
  • Have at least 5-10% of the purchase price to apply as a down payment (in addition to closing costs).
  • Ideally, become totally debt-free, but at a minimum you should pay off all unsecured consumer debt.
  • Have an emergency fund of 3-6 months of household expenses saved up.
  • Only take on a mortgage where your total payment (including taxes and insurance) will be no more than 25- 30% of your monthly take-home pay based on a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage.
  • Will our careers keep us in this general area?
  • Are we each comfortable with the daily commute that will be required?
  • Is this neighborhood up-and-coming and do other young couples live here?
  • Given we’ll be here for a while (and maybe you have children already), is this the school district we want to send our children?
  • Are we an appropriate distance from our mothers-in-law!?!

For the past few year, all people were talking about was how it was a buyers market in real estate. Low prices, great deals and low interest rates were popular news headlines. If you were in the market for a new home, everyone’s advice to you was buy, buy buy. Lately, however, the idea of building your new home has slowly been making a comeback. The headlines from just this past week have all been about the rise of confidence for home builders. So, which is better: buying or building? Check out this Pros and Cons list from newhomeguide.com.

Home building pros:

·       Control: Building a home lets you have control over all the features and options that will affect you on a daily basis.

·       Knowledge: As you monitor the construction process, you’ll learn useful things about home construction and gain a sense of ownership that can only come from watching your house take shape step by step.

·       Expert advice:  You’ll have the expertise of the builder, contractors, and an architect to guide you.  Have peace of mind knowing that the pros are thinking about code, permits, and energy efficiency — not you.

·       The eco-friendly edge:  You have the option of using environmentally sound materials and energy-saving features that will both make your conscience feel good and keep more cash in your wallet over the years.

Home building cons:

Cost overruns:  You could have to pay extra for unexpected expenses.  Unexpected costs can occur in any home construction project.

Time: Waiting for construction to finish can be disheartening, not to mention that having to come up with alternate living arrangements while you wait can be costly.

Stress:  Every time a decision has to be made or a problem arises, you’ll hear about it.  Dealing with those considerations on a daily basis throughout the home building process can take their toll unless you’ve got a positive mental attitude.

Buying a new home
Buying a new home involves scouring real estate listings with an agent to find a home that suits your needs.  The process can take a few days or a few months, depending on how fast you want to move.

Home buying pros:

·       Shopping around:  You get to be a critical shopper, comparing different features until you find exactly the right combination at the right price.

·       Bargaining:  You can drive a tough bargain and get the best deal possible, knowing that, in a competitive market, there are other options waiting for you right up the road.

·       Taking your time: When buying a new home, you get to work at your own pace.  You can take your time house hunting.  And when it comes to moving in, you work with the seller to choose a date that’s soon or a few months away.

Home buying cons:

·       Concessions: When buying a home, may have to make concessions in regards to features you want.  You may not find the “perfect” house since you didn’t design it yourself.  And you may need to spend money making updates or repairs.

·       Stress:  Finding and making an offer on a new home can be stressful, especially if you are in a seller’s market.  You may need to act fast or make an offer that’s more than the listing price if you get stuck in a bidding war.

Maintain, maintain, maintain the status quo! This is the best advice anyone could give a potential home buyer. No matter what type of credit you have, there are things you can do to make lenders think twice. Here are 12 things you should NOT do if you are trying to get a home loan.

  1. Don’t change your job.
  2. Don’t change banks.
  3. Don’t buy a car or truck or any other form of transportation that you have to finance. This will increase your debt-to-income ratio. Typically this ratio should be at or below 12% before buying a home. Once you buy a home, that ratio will skyrocket but shouldn’t be higher than 43% of your income. Check yours here.
  4. Don’t buy furniture on credit before buying your house.
  5. Don’t make large deposits into your bank accounts. Lenders like the money that will be your down payment to be sitting in your account for at least two months.
  6. Don’t co-sign a loan for anyone.
  7. Don’t shift money between accounts.
  8. Don’t give deposits to a seller. The deposit should always go into a trust account because sometimes, if sellers have access to this money, they might even start spending it before the deal is closed.
  9. Don’t buy the house alone. It is always best to hire an agent to do the job for you.
  10. Don’t attempt to consolidate bills before speaking with your lender. The lender can advise you if this needs to be done.
  11. Don’t pack information that may be needed for the loan application.  Important paperwork such as W-2 forms, bank statements and tax returns should not be packed with your household goods. Duplicate copies could take weeks to obtain and could stall the closing date on your transaction.
  12. Don’t run a credit report on yourself or let anyone else for that matter!  This will show as an inquiry on your lender’s credit report. Inquires can lower your credit score a little bit and they must be explained in writing.