Preparing To Buy A Home
by Phoebe Chongchua
|Preparing to buy a home is a bit like preparing to go on a very long journey. You have to have your finances in order, know where you’re going, what you’re hoping to accomplish and how much time and how much money you can afford to spend.
Financial matters. When it comes to owning real estate nothing is more important, for obvious reasons. As we’ve seen, if you get locked into a mortgage you can’t afford, the result can be devastating. But even if you can afford the mortgage, you might not want to be “house rich and cash poor”. You have to consider other things that are important to you such as travel and your spending habits. If for instance, you like to travel for months at a time, it might be wise to consider a smaller house with a less expensive mortgage instead of a large home with a big mortgage, which could cause you more work and less financial ability to spend on other things you like.
Another consideration is the length of time you want to have the mortgage. Many young people choose a 30-year fixed mortgage but if you’re a senior citizen you might want to opt for a 15-year loan. The best thing you can do is make a list of your financial matters and the questions you have about buying a home and then consult with a highly experienced loan officer. A knowledgeable loan officer can be like having a tour guide with you all the time in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. The jargon used in the mortgage industry documents can be confusing. Having someone who can clearly explain the documents, what to expect, the time frame, and the process is priceless.
Debt-to-income. The ratio of your debt-to-income is vital when purchasing a home. These guidelines have become more strict since the housing crisis so it’s critical to consult with experts about your personal financial situation. Generally speaking, you should have a debt-to-income ratio of no more that 36 percent–meaning all you owe (including your mortgage, taxes, and insurance) should not equal more than 36 percent of your income. Remember there are still monthly expenses of your home on top of your debt. And, of course, the less you owe and the more you make, the better position you’re in for buying a home and creating your own financial freedom.
These days, along with keeping your expenses and debt manageable, a key factor to buying a home is having a healthy downpayment. Most lenders would consider 20 percent a good downpayment. The more you bring in, the less you have to borrow. Remember the collapse of the housing market was brought on by small or no downpayment loans and many buyers who simply didn’t understand the risks.
Know how long you’ll stay. This is really important because the cost of buying and selling a home is expensive and very time-consuming. If you’re not planning on staying in your home more than seven to ten years, think about renting. You may still decide to buy, but you need to understand the cost of purchasing and maintaining a home. Investigate the economic difference between buying and renting. Be realistic about how frequently you’ve moved in the past and whether you’re now ready to settle in for several years. You can always rent your home out but this assumes that you’ll be a landlord (willing to take on all those duties) and then also have to find another place to live and either rent or buy.
After considering all of these factors and making certain that you’re ready to buy, then take the next step and find the best agent in your real estate market. Your agent will help you further prepare to buy the home of your dreams.
Copyright © 2013 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved.
8 Ways to Start a Money-Saving Routine
Holiday Safety for Homeowners
For many homeowners, decorating is one of the most exciting and tradition-driven parts of the holiday season. Lights, candles and other bright decorations can all be greatways to make your home look festive for the holidays, but faulty wires and open flames can quickly lead to disaster if precautions aren’t taken. There are several steps you can take to holiday-proof your house in order to prevent accidents and ensure that your family and home remain safe—and festive—all season long.
Lights and Electricity
Purchase lights and equipment from a reputable vendor and check labels for safety certification. If you’re taking old décor out of storage, inspect all lights and cords for damage before plugging them in. If a string of lights has broken bulbs or exposed wires, throw it out. Invest in a light timer or set a schedule to ensure you never leave lights on too long, and make sure to unplug everything before leaving the house or going to bed. Avoid overloading outlets or extension cords with too many plugs. Not only is this a potential fire hazard, it can cause electrical damage that could leave you with a hefty repair bill.
If you buy a real tree, be sure to keep it watered at all times. A dry tree will catch fire much faster than a well-hydrated one, and in heated rooms, trees lose water rapidly. For those who prefer artificial trees, make sure to choose one labeled “fire-resistant.” In addition, use non-flammable ornaments and tree trimmings for maximum protection.
Never leave candles unattended. Keep open flames out of the way, where small children and pets can’t knock them over. Be sure to extinguish candles before leaving the house or going to bed, and take care to ensure that wax drippings don’t damage flooring or furniture.
Test your home’s ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) to make sure they are working properly—they are the first line of defense against electrocution. Ensure that all decorations and extension cords are designed for outdoor use and keep electric objects away from snow and water. Inspect all equipment for damage before use, and take proper safety precautions when using ladders and power tools.
Test all fire and carbon monoxide alarms to make sure they work correctly. If a rogue candle or faulty wiring leads to a fire, you want to be alerted as soon as possible. On a similar note, prepare an emergency plan for fires or other disasters, and make sure your family and house-guests know what to do in the event that something does happen. Keep fabrics and other flammable materials a safe distance (three feet is a good rule of thumb) away from heaters and vents, and consider childproofing electrical outlets.
By following these tips and sharing them, you can ensure a happy, healthy and safe holiday for all.
Healthier Living-Room Checklist
[Going green at home doesn’t mean spending a whole lot of money on home improvements or investing in expensive pieces of furniture or the latest and greatest in green technology. Instead, there are ways to find all sorts of ways to use less, waste less, and save more without blowing your budget. Today I’m focusing on how to Do Your Part in the living room for a healthier home.
Save Energy and Money
Start with the small stuff such as sealing up leaks around doors and windows. Caulk and weather stripping are inexpensive and a quick fix for rising energy costs. Since the fireplace is an easy target for hot air to escape, a fireplace plug for around $60 can put a stop to that waste. Also, pick better light bulbs. There are many energy efficient ones available including CFLs, LEDs, and halogens. Check out DoYourPart.com/Columns to see which ones work best in your particular fixtures. Another thing that adds to your electric costs are electronics that sip electricity even when not being used. Using a power strip with an on/off button will put an end to that expensive phantom power.
Shop for Safer Furniture and Flooring
Furniture made from medium density fiberboard (MDF) and some furniture adhesives can contain a formaldehyde-based resin that can actually pollute the air inside your home. Seek out furniture that is specifically labeled formaldehyde-free. Buying used, wood furniture pieces are another way to have cleaner indoor air because many of those dangerous chemicals have already evaporated.
And, many popular choices of flooring also emit formaldehyde. Whether it is certain imitation wood floors or new carpet — know what’s in the flooring and the adhesives you use and choose safer options.
From paint to plants, a lot of what we put in our living rooms can make big impact. Choose paints that are labeled no or low VOC. The costs of ones that don’t emit volatile organic compounds are comparable to conventional ones and they last just as long. You’ll also want to avoid pieces of upholstery and fabrics that are treated with synthetic chemicals that can get into the air and on our bodies. When choosing candles, opt for ones made of soy or beeswax rather than polluting petroleum products. And even a few plants placed around the living room can improve the air quality immediately.
Whether you’re looking for ways to cut costs or clean up the air in your home, the living room is the perfect place to Do Your Part for healthier living.
Article printed from RISMedia: http://rismedia.com
Main Street, Ellicott City
Historic Ellicott City – 1771
In 1850 Ellicott Mills was a growing, bustling community. Baltimore County had early mills and homes. Anne Arundel County (Howard County Today) had its courthouse, schools, churches dwellings, and businesses. During this time there was discussion of renaming Ellicott Mills “Patapsco.”
Settlement at Ellicott Mills – 1771
Joseph, Andrew and John Ellicott were Quakers who had grown up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania , the sons of Andrew Ellicott, an Englishman who came to the Pennsylvania colony in 1730. Andrew married, had five sons, and died young, leaving his widow to raise the young family. As the boys grew they were apprenticed to learn the trades that led to their later success in Maryland.
Lush vegetation and the swiftly flowing Patapsco River must have captivated the three Ellicott brothers when they searched for land in the late 1760’s. The brothers had searched throughout Maryland and Pennsylvania for a site where they could grow wheat and harness water power for a mill. In 1771 the Ellicott brothers purchased many acres east of the river in the valley known as the “Hollow.” Although the valley was uninhabitable, they were not alone; other settlers lived along the bluffs overlooking the river.
Some of the tracts of land the Ellicotts bought later spanned both sides of the Patapsco; the west bank was part of Anne Arundel County (now Howard County), and the east bank was in Baltimore County.
The Quakers cleared and plowed fields and cut timber for the first buildings. Slowly the beginnings of a village rose from the landscape – a sawmill, a flour mill, a large log dwelling, a store, and John’s home.
Although the Ellicotts grew wheat, earlier settlers in that area had planted tobacco for export to England. However, tobacco exhausted the soil, and after several successive plantings, the land became unproductive. As a result of this, many Marylanders moved west into Ohio and Kentucky to find new farmland. However, the Ellicotts learned that through the use of ground plaster of Paris to fertilize the depleted soils, the land could be made suitable for growing grain. Thus, the idea for a mill to produce plaster of Paris was born.
By 1774 the Ellicotts were milling wheat and other grains at their new mill on the east side of the river in Baltimore County. Other farmers in the area also began growing grain and sent their harvests to the Ellicotts for milling.
As farmers prospered, the wheat supply increased; and with the end of the Revolutionary War, the Ellicotts were ready to export their flour. They purchased a waterfront lot in Baltimore and built their first wharf at the comer of Pratt and Light streets.
Locally, the brothers spread their milling operations along the banks of the Patapsco. Joseph, the eldest, lived up the river about two miles and operated the Upper Mills. Andrew and John settled at the Lower Mills, now Ellicott City. Andrew and his sons were responsible for the milling operation. Brother John managed a large store that offered fine goods and furnishings.
By the early 1800s the mills had developed a respected reputation. “Here is one of the largest and most elegant merchant mills in the United States,” wrote Joseph Scott in 1807. “It is 100 feet long and 40 feet wide, with four water wheels, which turn three pair of seven feet stones and one of five feet. She is capable of manufacturing 150 barrels of flour in a day.
The Ellicotts were industrious, inventive, and practical. They developed new methods for milling flour, constructed machine shops, and experimented in farming and technology. This large Quaker family also stressed the importance of education. They brought the best teachers to the community to operate a school for all local children. The Ellicotts attended Meeting (the Quaker religious service) and eventually were instrumental in building a new Quaker meeting house near the mills. After construction of the first mills and workmen’s houses in the 1780s, two sons of founder Andrew Ellicott built large stone houses. Jonathan and George chose the east bank of the river, which was near the flour mill, for their large and imposing houses. The homes overlooked the mill race, a man-made canal that provided the water power to operate the mill.
Extensive granite quarries lining the Patapsco River provided the building material for many of the buildings, and in later years, the curbings and walls walls throughout the old town, and the blocks for the laying of the original railroad tracks. Some of these quarries are still discernible today; one can be seen along Frederick Road where a gas station is located today.
Jonathan Ellicott (1756-1826)
As a young man, Jonathan was caught up in the Revolutionary War. Although Quakers are known for their stand against war, Jonathan became a captain in a militia company but saw no action. He also had manufactured the long swords used by officers of the Maryland Line and the dragoons under the command of Colonel Washington. At the same time, Jonathan was active in the mill operations and was responsible for planning and directing the construction of the road that eventually became the Baltimore-Frederick Turnpike (Route 144).
Standing on a grassy knoll by Frederick Road, Johnathan Ellicott’s 1780’s home is seen here as it was before Hurricane Agnes destroyed it in 1972. Ripped open by debris carried by the raging Patapsco River, the house was subsequently torn down.
George Ellicott (1760-1832)
George Ellicott, according to his daughter, was one of the best mathematicians and finest amateur astronomers of the time. In the publication Settlement of Ellicott’s Mills, Martha Ellicott Tyson wrote that her father was fond of “imparting instruction to every youthful enquirer after knowledge who came to his house. As early as the year 1782,” she wrote, “he was in the habit of giving gratuitous lessons on astronomy to any of the inhabitants of the village who wished to hear him. To many of these his celestial globe was an object of great interest and curiosity. He was perfectly at home on a map of the heavens as far as the telescopes and writers of his time had given revelations.” It may be that Benjamin Banneker’s interest in astronomy was stimulated by these early sessions. George Ellicott was also interested in bettering the lives of the American Indian. In 1799 he and other Quakers visited the principal village of the Wyandots in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. Later George and his friend, Gerard Hopkins, made a second trip to instruct the Indians in farming. George was also concerned about the evil affects of alcohol on the American Indian. In 1801 George wrote a letter to Congress asking that the sale of “spiritous liquors” to the Indians be outlawed; such a law was eventually passed.
Jonathan and George Ellicott, sons of founder Andrew, built large granite housesin the 1780s. Cousin John’s home is to the left. These landmarks remained in place until recently. Jonathan’s house was so badly damaged by the 1972 flood that it was razed to the ground. Although George’sh ouses urvived that flood, it was damaged in the 1975 flood and stood abandoned until 1987, when it was relocated across Frederick Road.
1. Proceed with caution. To avoid mishaps, read the recipe from start to finish — twice — before beginning. Many recipes require the dough to be refrigerated for a period of time.
2. Shop carefully. Many recipes use large eggs and all-purpose flour, unless otherwise noted. Invest in fresh baking powder, baking soda and spices.
3. Equip your kitchen. Use flat, shiny, rimless and insulated medium- to heavy-gauge aluminum baking sheets. Eliminate greasy baking sheets by using parchment paper or reusable silicon (such as Silpat) baking mats.
4. Measure carefully. Spoon flour and powdered sugar into the measuring cup (rather than using the measuring cup as a scoop) and level ingredients with a straight edge, such as a knife. Soften butter at room temperature until a light touch leaves a slight indentation, about 30 to 45 minutes.
5. Bake evenly. Preheat the oven for at least 20 minutes. Adjust baking rack to the oven’s middle position. For true accuracy, invest in an oven thermometer. Use one baking sheet at a time in the oven, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking time. Cool baking sheets completely between batches either by alternating among several cookie sheets or running hot ones under cold water.
6. Store wisely. Most cookies remain fresh for up to a week when stored in an airtight container at room temperature. Use separate containers to store different types of cookies.
©2012 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Distributed by MCT Information Services 
Article printed from RISMedia: http://rismedia.com
8 Tips for Holiday Shopping
Then Black Friday, which tumbled right into Small Business Saturday. And then? It was Cyber Monday.
And it’s only November.
With that in mind, here are 10 tips to keep your holiday shopping season a little more jolly and a lot less jarring on the wallet.
1. Makin’ a list: One of the best ways to avoid overspending is to write down a list of everyone you want to give to, from your kids to your haircutter. Decide what you can comfortably spend for each person.
“(A list) helps you prioritize how much you can realistically spend for the season,” says Casey Bond, managing editor for GoBankingRates.com, a personal finance site based in El Segundo, Calif. “Sit down, make that plan: This is how much I really want to spend.”
2. Embrace technology: A number of new tech tools make it easier than ever to snag holiday bargains, says Jake Gibson, chief operating officer of consumer finance site NerdWallet.com in San Francisco.
One of his favorites: Passbook, an iPhone application through which you gather all your gift cards, boarding passes, digital tickets, rewards cards and coupons on your smartphone.
“It’s a pop-up notification on your phone… If you walk into Sears or Old Navy, it’ll alert you that coupons are available,” said Gibson. “I use it every day to buy my coffee because my Starbucks’ gift card is loaded onto Passbook.”
Another bit of shopper tech, he noted: Target’s mobile shopping tool for top-selling kids’ toys. In a Target store, you scan the toy’s QR code and it can be purchased and shipped via your mobile phone.
3. Credit, cash or debit? We all know that credit card spending can spiral out of control, which is why many experts recommend using cash or a debit card.
But the holidays can be different, says John Ulzheimer, consumer education president with SmartCredit.com. With identity thieves “working overtime” during the holidays, he said credit cards offer more ID theft protection, especially if you dispute fraudulent charges.
“If you have the self-control to not spend more than planned, credit cards are a safer option.”
4. Be card wise: “If you can’t afford to pay off your credit card in November, then you can’t afford to add a lot more to it in December,” says Bill Hardekopf, CEO of LowCards.com, a credit card comparison site. “If you must use a credit card to pay for Christmas, make sure you can pay it off by Easter.”
If you have more than one card, use the one with the highest limit, so holiday purchases don’t push you into debt ratios that can hurt your credit score.
5. Skip the store cards: Avoid those tempting store credit cards offered when you’re standing at the cash register. Their discounts — 10 percent to 20 percent off everything you’re buying — are enticing. But the cards often carry some of the worst terms out there, says Ulzheimer, with interest rates as high as 24.99 percent and low credit limits of $1,000 or less.
6. Shop thrifty: Be creative and check out local thrift shops that sell “gently used” goods to benefit various charities. It’s a very “green” way to pick up bargain gifts, many of which are new and unused, from sports equipment to fine china to appliances.
At Second Season, a shop that benefits the Assistance League of Sacramento, the like-new holiday decorations, linens and clothes have “just flown off the shelves and racks” this year, says Katie Kunz, a longtime volunteer.
7. Gift card trading: Want to buy or sell your gift cards? Sites like Cardpool.com, GiftCardRescue.com or PlasticJungle.com let you sell unwanted gift cards for cash or buy other people’s cards at a discount. The gift cards are from hundreds of well-known brands: from Sears to Victoria’s Secret, from Macy’s to Home Depot.
Say you want to unload a $100 gift card from American Eagle Outfitters. Cardpool, a San Francisco-based site, will pay you $79 — by check — if you mail in the card; for a $100 Babies R Us card, they’ll pay $82.
If you want to buy gift cards, they’re sold at discounts of up to 30 percent off. At GiftCardRescue, for example, you’ll pay $22.50 for a $25 Sunglass Hut card or $45 for a Pottery Barn $50 card.
8. Play it safe: One of the worst ways to lose money during the holidays is theft. When out shopping, follow these common-sense reminders:
Don’t carry more than one credit card, in case your wallet or purse is lost or stolen. Don’t leave packages, laptops or cellphones visible in your back or front seat; if you don’t have a trunk, bring a blanket to throw over valuables. Keep your purse tucked under an arm and strapped across your torso; stick your wallet in a front pocket. Don’t pull out a wad of cash at the register. Always be aware of your surroundings and park in well-lit areas.
And a final note: Go easy on yourself during the seasonal spending spree.
“It’s so easy to get caught up in the consumer side of the holidays,” says Bond. “The best thing is to stick to your budget and not set yourself up for a debt hangover in January. Just because it’s a great deal doesn’t mean you need it.”
©2012 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)
Distributed by MCT Information Services 
Top Shopping Destinations Worldwide
So it’s not so hard for us to believe that the holiday season is right around the corner. In fact, we feel it’s time we start shopping now! Cheapflights.com just announced a fun list of the top shopping experiences worldwide. Continue reading
Sustained home price gains show strength of recovery
Case-Shiller indices post 6th consecutive month-to-month gain
BY INMAN NEWS, TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 27, 2012.
Consistent home price gains demonstrate that the housing recovery is on solid ground, the publishers of a leading home price index and other industry experts say.
The S&P/Case-Shiller national home price index — which tracks single-family home prices in all nine U.S. Census divisions on a quarterly basis — was up 3.6 percent from a year ago during the third quarter, and 2.2 percent from the second quarter.
The 10- and 20-city S&P/Case-Shiller home price indices posted month-to-month gains for the sixth month in a row, both rising 0.3 percent in September. The composites also posted annual gains for the fourth month in a row, rising 2.1 percent and 3.0 percent in September, respectively.
“We are entering the seasonally weak part of the year,” said David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at the S&P Dow Jones Indices, in a statement. “Despite the seasons, housing continues to improve.”
“With six months of consistently rising home prices, it is safe to say that we are now in the midst of a recovery in the housing market,” Biltzer said.