Archive for November, 2010

Natural Disaster Preparation: Will You Be Ready?
November 16, 2010

Throughout history, natural disasters have wreaked havoc on families, homes, communities, and even entire nations. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), every state in the country has been hit by flooding, fires, or destructive high winds. There are also 41 states that have a significant earthquake hazard.

Advanced planning and preparation can be the key to a quick response and a quick, safe recovery if you happen to face a natural disaster.

First Aid Supplies

In the case of a natural disaster, or any home emergency, it is important to have basic emergency and first aid supplies readily available, and every family member should know where these supplies are located and how to use them. These supplies should include:

  • Prescription and other OTC medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, anti-diarrhea medication, anti-nausea medication, cold medicine, throat lozenges, etc.
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • First aid instruction book
  • Blankets and sheets
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Sterile gauze pads
  • Assorted bandages
  • Small, sharp scissors
  • Instant ice pack
  • Adhesive tape
  • Absorbent cotton balls
  • Antibacterial soap
  • Water purification tablets
  • Small bottle of bleach
  • Multipurpose knife/tool
  • Large and small plastic bags

These items should be stored in a durable, waterproof container. Update items annually as some, such as medications, may expire.

Develop a Family Emergency Plan

Your family members should all be prepared to respond to a natural disaster. Take time to discuss and practice for emergency situations. Teach responsible family members how to turn off the water, gas, and electricity. Make sure your children know how to safely exit your home. Designate a gathering place near your home as well as another meeting place in the occasion that you are separated.

Knowledge of first aid procedures can be invaluable. The Red Cross chapter in your community can assist you in finding a helpful class for your family. FEMA also has some material to assist children in learning more about disaster preparedness.

Preparing your Home

  • Consult your local building authority for the base flood elevation in your area, and determine whether your home is in a Special Flood Hazard Area.
  • Secure large appliances, such as your refrigerator and water heater, with flexible cable, braided wire, or metal strapping to keep them from falling over.
  • Every home should have an ABC-rated fire extinguisher.
  • Anchor propane tanks and gas cylinders.
  • Make sure your house number is visible from the street in case emergency personnel need to find your home. Some cities offer a program to paint your house number on the curb for a small fee. The best place for your house number is near the front door or slightly above eye level and lit by a light.
  • Permanent shutters are the best protection for high winds. A lower-cost approach is to put up plywood panels.
  • Roofs can be the first to go in severe storms. Simple metal straps can keep roof rafters tied to the top wall of the house and prevent uplift during high winds.
  • Foundation bolts cost around $2 each and can save thousands of dollars worth of damage if high winds, floods, or earthquakes try to force a house off its foundation.
  • Keep important records, such as mortgage papers, medical records, insurance policies, birth certificates, marriage licenses, wills, stock and bond certificates, tax records, an inventory of your assets and personal items, and other vital documents in one central location where they can easily be transported if you must leave the area quickly. Keep all papers in a water- and fire-proof container.
  • Check your homeowner’s insurance coverage. Floods are not covered by homeowner’s insurance policies. However, flood insurance is available through the government-backed National Flood Insurance Program.
  • Make food storage a priority. Have at least a five-day supply of food and water for each family member on hand. Store water in sealed, unbreakable containers, and replace it as necessary. Food should be non-perishable goods such as canned or sealed-package items.
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6 Common Home Buyer Mistakes to Avoid
November 12, 2010

You’ve determined that you’re ready to buy a home. You’ve saved enough for a down payment, you’ve been searching for properties, and you’re ready to make your dream a reality. Buying a home is an exciting process; however, if you’re not careful, it can turn into a nightmare. Here are 6 common home buyer mistakes to avoid. 

1. Not Budgeting Properly

It’s easy to overestimate what you can afford. Although owning a home may be a better investment than renting, it’s not necessarily going to be cheaper. Take a good look at your income and expenses for a few months before determining what you can comfortably afford. Make a budget sheet using Microsoft Excel or any other budgeting software. List all your income as well as every single expense, including food, gifts, and even haircuts. Keep in mind any emergency expenses as well.

When budgeting, don’t forget about hidden costs including closing costs, homeowner’s insurance, property taxes, HOA fees, and décor and furniture to fill your new home.

2. Neglecting your Credit Report Prior to Getting Approved

Your credit score can be either helpful or detrimental to your loan process. Getting a full credit report from all three credit reporting agencies – ExperianEquifax, and TransUnion – before applying for your home loan will not only let you know how credit-worthy you are, it can lead you to possible reporting errors. One study found that as many as 25 percent of credit reports have damaging errors.

3. Not Getting Pre-approved for a Home Loan before Searching

Most sellers prefer bids from prospective buyers who are already pre-approved for a home loan. Being pre-qualified and pre-approved are different. Pre-qualification is usually the unofficial process of informing a lender of your credit status, income, and debt. The lender can usually give you a ballpark figure of what type of loan they may offer. Pre-qualification is based on your word alone and doesn’t hold much weight with sellers.

Pre-approval is the verification of the information you provided to the lender. This process will give you a better idea of how much the bank will loan you. Getting pre-approved can get you a step ahead other potential bidders that have no pre-approval.

4. Skipping the Home Inspection

You love that old fixer-upper, but skipping the home inspection can cost you as much in repairs as the cost of the home itself. The home inspection should include the overall foundation and structural features of the house, the roof, walls, plumbing, the presence of mold, pest infestations, heating, air conditioning, appliances, and the electrical system. Also, ensure that your inspector is certified with the American Society of Home Inspectors.

5. Picking the wrong neighborhood

You’ve found a home you love, but do you know what happens in the neighborhood after dark? Do you know the crime rate? What is the traffic like during rush hour? How is the school district?

Knock on your potential neighbors’ doors, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Call the school principal, or talk to parents who are waiting to pick up their kids after school. Read the local newspaper to learn more about the community. There are many real estate blogs and community websites on the internet so before buying the home, check out the neighborhood.

6. Using a Bad Real Estate Agent or No Agent

You want a real estate agent who understands your needs and limitations and will work for you and look out for your interests. Get references from friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors. Consider interviewing a few different agents to find out about their activity and experience in your area.

It’s definitely possible to buy a home without the help of a professional real estate agent, but realtors have access to all the homes on the market through the multiple listing service (MLS). Unless you are in the real estate business yourself, you’ll likely not have any access to the MLS in your area. Real estate agents spend their time sifting through listings, making appointments to show homes, meeting with inspectors, and helping you create a comparative market analysis to determine proper pricing.

The real estate agent you choose could be the greatest asset or biggest obstacle to finding your dream home.


Get to Know your Community by Getting Involved
November 9, 2010

Being involved in your community doesn’t just benefit others; being involved can help you feel more connected to society. Through community service, you gain a sense of responsibility, and you set an example of sacrifice and service to your family and friends.

Here are some ways to get involved in your own community:

  • Visit volunteermatch.org: Enter your zip code and skills or interests to find volunteer opportunities suited just for you.
  • Volunteer your time at rest homes or retirement communities, developmental centers, or assisted living facilities in your area.
  • Volunteer at community events. Many community events throughout the country can be found at the Library of Congress Local Legacies website.
  • Host or sponsor an event such as a race (try Relay for Life) or a school event. Read your local newspaper or city newsletter to search for opportunities.
  • Talk to local church leaders to see what the needs of your neighborhood and community are.
  • Call your local school district to find volunteer opportunities.
  • Adopt a child or family for Christmas. Many names are also given to local church authorities. Contact local shelters to find families in need or contact your local United Way.
  • Be an informed citizen so you can be a leader in your own community.

 

Buying a Foreclosed Home
November 5, 2010


The current state of the economy has caused a flood of foreclosed properties on the market. Many home buyers are taking advantage of the extremely low cost of a foreclosed home. A foreclosure occurs when a property owner fails to make the payments on his or her loan which leads to the property being seized and sold.

 

There are generally two options when buying a foreclosed home. You can either purchase the home from the lender/bank, or you can purchase the home from a foreclosure auction or sale. Because the process is very different for each, this article will specifically focus on bank foreclosures.

 

Listings of foreclosures can be obtained from most banks. Some agents and brokers who specialize in foreclosures may also assist you in finding foreclosed property for sale. Consider the following tips when looking at a foreclosed home:

 

  • Inspect the house very carefully. Many foreclosed homes have previous homeowners who did not maintain upkeep on the home or the landscape. Sometimes the repairs are minor, but take into account any unexpected repairs when budgeting. You may want to contract a private inspection to give you a better indication of the cost of repairs.
  • Evaluate the neighborhood. Knock on your potential neighbors’ doors to ask them how they like the neighborhood. Research the crime rate in the area as well.
  • Have an agent find the prices of comparable homes in the area to ensure you are actually getting a good deal.

 

Once you have found a foreclosed property you are considering buying, go to the County Recorder’s Office. The County Recorder’s Office can provide you with the Trust Deed, the Notice of Foreclosure Sale, and the Notice of Default on the property. These documents are public record and reflect how much was originally loaned to the homeowner, when the loan was issued, how much was owed at the time the Notice of Default was filed, and how much the bank paid for the property. Since there are usually no concrete rules banks follow that determine their bottom-line price, these documents will help you explore the lowest possible price the bank is willing to sell the home for.

 

Foreclosed homes are often offered at a significant discount at upwards of 30% or more, so if you are in the market for a bargain, a bank foreclosure may be a great option for you.