Entertaining At Home

One of the joys of homeownership is getting to host your friends and family on various occasions. Here are a few hosting tips for your next party!

Pick a theme. Once you select a theme, planning the rest of the party is simplified. The menu options are pared down, finding decor inspiration is as easy as a Google search, and guests will have attire direction. Some common themes are fiesta, backyard BBQ, wine and cheese night, and garden party.

Plan your menu. Whether you are serving small appetizers or a formal dinner, it’s important to survey your guests for food allergies or preferences (ie. vegan, vegetarian) to ensure you offer options for everyone.

Stock up on refreshments. When it comes to drinks, it’s better to overstock than understock. Make sure to have alcohol staples on hand, such as beer, wine, vodka, and bourbon. Equally important is ice, fruit garnishes, and a good supply of juices and soda that can be used for mixing as well as drinks for children and those who don’t partake in alcohol.

Don’t forget the kids. Hosting a party with children in attendance? To ensure their parents get to enjoy the party, plan a few child-friendly activities. Purchase coloring books and crayons, pick up children’s board games, or have a couple age-appropriate movies queued up.

Make sure you have fun too. By having a flexible timeline for the party and setting aside time to prep ahead of people arriving, you can minimize the stress of hosting. Make sure you take time to talk to all your guests, enjoy the food you’ve prepared, and have some drinks (alcoholic or not) too!

Save Or Pay? Which Route Should You Choose

The balancing act between paying more than the minimum payment to rid yourself of debts and building solid savings can be a difficult one for some. Here are some things to consider when making this decision.

What’s the interest rate on your loan or credit card? If your debt carries high interest, choosing to pay more and settle that bill first can be more financially beneficial in the long run. You will likely gain more by paying it off than the return on the average savings account or stock if you were to invest that sum.

Do you have a cushioned savings account? Failing to maintain a solid emergency fund can potentially get you into bigger financial trouble down the road. Anything from a tire replacement on your car to an expected doctor bill can throw you off track. It is recommended to try and pad your account with enough money to cover at least three months of living expenses.

Do you have an employer match through your job? If your job offers a retirement savings plan that has an employer match available, you want to contribute at least the maximum amount each month for the match. Forfeiting that benefit is essentially turning down free money.

Will payments reduce your monthly minimum? Making payments to standard loans such as student loans and mortgages generally only reduces the outstanding principal. Paying over the minimum usually doesn’t cause your lender to recalculate and lower your monthly payment. In a case like this, it may be more beneficial to save some extra money instead.

Mortgage Interest Deductions 101

Purchasing a home comes with many tangible and intangible benefits. One that is commonly overlooked until the start of the year rolls around is the deductions you get on your taxes. As a homeowner, you’re likely able to deduct most, if not all, of your home mortgage interest resulting in a lower tax bill.

Interest paid on a loan that was used to buy, build, or complete substantial renovations on your primary or secondary home falls into the deductible mortgage interest bucket. The property can be a house, apartment, condominium, mobile home, house trailer, or co-op. The amount of interest you can deduct does cap out at $750,000, although most homeowners do not reach that threshold.

At the end of each tax year, your lender will provide you with a mortgage interest statement, or Form 1098, that states the total amount of interest paid for that year. You are responsible for reporting an accurate total of interest paid when you file. This requires you to itemize your taxes. If you have purchased a home with one or more people, each homeowner can deduct the amount of interest they personally pay.

There are a few others payments that may count as mortgage interest and could be added to your deductible amount. These include mortgage points, late payment charges, prepayment penalties, interest on a home equity loan, and certain mortgage insurance premiums.

By deducting mortgage interest from your taxes, you are reducing your taxable income. As a result, you have less tax liability and reduce the amount of taxes you owe which is more money in your pocket!

Put More Money In Your Pocket Each Month

Reviewing your monthly expenses once a year is a great practice to get into. As you look at your monthly budget, you will find some expenses that are fixed, like your rent or mortgage, car payments, and child care expenses. But there are several other common monthly expenses that should be reviewed and re-negotiated each year.

Call your current car insurance provider and shop other providers to make sure you have the lowest possible premium at that time. Contact your cell phone carrier to make sure you have the best and lowest cost package currently available. Shop health insurance each year to make sure you are covered at the best possible price. Contact your gym to make sure you are paying the best current pricing for your membership.

Research your cable and internet provider’s offers online then give them a call to make sure you have the best pricing for your services. Cable and internet companies often have promotions or package pricing that could be lower than your current bill. Do an audit of all online and app subscriptions you have to make sure you are not paying monthly fees for apps you signed up for in the past that you are no longer using. You will be surprised what the small fees add up to!

Don’t stop here! Analyze your monthly recurring payments and see how many of them you can bring down. The compound effect will give you a nice monthly raise.

Tips To Light Your Home

Lighting is such a crucial aspect of your home and can affect the ambiance, energy, and vibe in each room. However, sifting through the various styles, bulbs, and placement options can feel overwhelming. Here are a few tips to get you started!

Types of Lighting
There are three different types of lighting. Ambient lighting (or general lighting) fills the room, accent lighting is used to highlight something, such as art, and task lighting is used to help you complete various tasks, such as desk lamps and vanity lights. It’s recommended you have at least two types in each room.

Task and Accent Lighting
Start with selecting task and accent lighting in each room. Many times, the combination of these two provide enough light in a room so overhead lighting may not be needed.

Will it Mesh?
To ensure lighting fixtures will mesh well together, try placing images of the fixtures on a Word document or Pages to see the full picture before purchasing.

Choosing the Right Bulb
Light bulb selection is equally important as fixture selection. By choosing incandescent or halogen bulbs, you can add a warm, sunny feel to a room. Fluorescent bulbs can provide warm white, cool white, or daylight color temperatures and radiate light 360 degrees around the bulb. Finally, LED bulbs can range from blue-white to neutral white to yellow-white and are the most energy efficient option.

Dark Areas
Factor natural lighting into your light design by mapping out where the sun falls and how it moves across the room. Then, place lighting in darker areas.

Common Home Issues Inspectors Uncover

Before finalizing your home purchase, one crucial step in the process is the home inspection, during which a licensed inspector looks at the structure, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, and more. Here are 5 common home issues inspectors keep an eye out for.

Faulty electrical systems. Out-of-date electrical systems, lack of adequate power supply, faulty circuit breakers, or exposed wiring can spell disaster for a home. Inspectors can sniff these issues out and recommend repairs to ensure the home is wired safely and properly.

Poor drainage. If the home has landscaping that causes water to drain towards the home, it can cause foundation shifts or cracks, wet crawl spaces, mold, and rot. This can be incredibly costly to correct, so it’s important to determine this before going through with the home purchase.

Leaks. Inspectors look for leaks in the roof to ensure there are no damaged shingles, gutters, flashing, or other issues. They also look for any possible causes of plumbing leaks, such as broken seals, corrosion, clogs, damaged pipe joints, and more.

Mold. Showers, tubs, air conditioning and heating vents, attics, and basements are some of the most common places inspectors find mold. This can lead to various health issues for the home’s occupants, like headaches, skin irritation, and respiratory issues.

HVAC issues. During an inspection, the inspector looks for issues that could impact your ability to heat or cool your home. These include blown fuses, pilot and ignition issues, damaged coils, dirty filters, gas leaks, and cracks in the ductwork and pipes.

With the inspector’s report, you can head to the closing table with more confidence and be prepared to negotiate repairs with the seller if necessary.

Grocery Shopping On A Budget

As a homeowner, it’s never a bad idea to look at different ways to cut costs and one of the easiest areas to tweak is your grocery budget. Take a look at the tips below to help you tighten it up.

Test out stores. Take a couple weeks to trial some neighborhood grocery stores and track how much your staple foods cost at each, such as eggs, milk, vegetables, and chicken. Once you’ve completed your survey, determine if one store offers more savings overall and try to primarily shop at that location.

Plan ahead. Everyone has heard the sound advice to never shop while hungry. But, it’s also a good idea to never shop without a well formulated grocery list. Before heading to the store, outline your meals for the week, keeping in mind breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Don’t forget any condiments, seasonings, etc. you may be out of. Then stick to the list, preventing overspending.

Shop local. Farmers markets are an amazing way to save money. Not only are you likely to find amazing deals, but often the quality of the fruits and vegetables is higher than at chain grocery stores. Many of these markets offer “stuff your bag” deals where they allow you to fill a bag with as many yummy items as you can and pay one set price.

Don’t knock the freezer. Although it’s best to pick up fresh groceries, there are certain items you can venture into the frozen aisle for, like organic fruits and veggies. Plus, if there’s a great deal on a fresh item, like chicken, consider buying in bulk and safely freezing some for later.

State Of The National Real Estate Market

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the real estate market continues to trend upward. According to analytics firm CoreLogic, in November, home prices were up 8.2% year over year. Interestingly, Idaho (15.7%), Maine (15.4%), and Indiana (13.6%) were the states with the highest increases. Plus, this past year saw record low interest rates, which is certainly a driving factor in the current hot real estate market. While this is great news for existing homeowners, it has posed some difficulties for lower income individuals to afford homes.

One major challenge facing the industry is inventory for would-be buyers is at a 12-month low. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), inventory nationwide is down to a 2.1 month supply. This is a 30% decrease in available homes for sale from the same time period last year. Most real estate professionals consider a six-month supply of homes a healthy balance between a buyer and seller market. This low supply, or low inventory, generally indicates a strong seller’s market. NAR also reported the median days on market in December 2020 was only 16 days, further indicating that it is a strong seller’s market.

Because the real estate market is very dynamic, whether you are thinking about selling or buying, it’s more important than ever to work with an agent who understands the local market. Often, homes are sold where the seller may have netted a higher amount or there are buyers who lose out on a great home because their agent may not understand these market forces. Find an agent with knowledge and experience locally who can understand your unique needs. Contact me for more information today!

Your Guide To Recycling

Recycling has a positive impact on the environment for many reasons. It helps conserve natural resources, prevent waste from piling up in landfills, and protect nature. However, if not done correctly, your recycling efforts can be in vain. Here are 5 tips to follow!

Know what can and can’t be recycled. Paper, plastic containers, glass, cans, and cardboard are the most commonly recycled materials. Items like plastic bags, plastic wrap, styrofoam, paper towels, tissues, and aluminum foil are commonly mistaken as recyclable materials. However, they should be placed in the trash. If you place materials that cannot be recycled into the bin, they can ruin the entire load and cause it to end up in a landfill instead.

Avoid small items. Avoid recycling small items, such as caps, pieces of paper, can tabs, plastic cutlery, and pen caps, even if they are made of recyclable materials. These items can get lodged in sorting machinery at the recycling center.

Clean before recycling. Containers should be free of food waste, rinsed, and dried before being placed into a recycling bin to avoid contaminating the entire batch.

Keep a list of recycling guidelines nearby. Every community has a different recycling program depending on what local facilities can process. Keep a list of the guidelines nearby to ensure you are recycling correctly.

Pay attention to the numbers. Not all plastic and glass containers are made equally and many may not be recyclable in your area. Make sure to check the numbers inside the recycle symbol on the bottom of the container and refer to your recycling guidelines to determine which types will be accepted by your local facility before placing them in the bin.

Credit Scores & Buying A Home

Before you jump head first into searching for your dream home, you need to ensure your finances are in order. This includes reviewing and strengthening your credit. Here’s what you need to know!

Why Your Credit Score and Report Matters

As a buyer, a strong credit score and report makes you a more desirable loan candidate. When deciding to approve you for a home loan, mortgage lenders take a deep dive into past car loans, student loans, credit cards, bills, and more. They also review your history of repayment and public-record information. If their findings are positive, they will be much more likely to approve you for a loan and offer lower interest rates and better terms.

What Credit Score Do You Need

The credit score required for a loan depends on the type of mortgage you select, the size of your down payment, and your lender. According to QuickenLoans, most lenders require around a score of 620 or higher to be approved for a conventional mortgage with lower interest rates and flexible repayment periods. If a buyer would like a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan, they require a minimum score of 580 and, for a loan through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), score requirements differ depending on the private lender.

How to Improve Your Credit

Reviewed your credit score and realized it may need some work? There are ways to improve your score. These include, but are not limited to, correcting payment errors on your credit report, ensuring you make all payments on time, making micropayments in between due dates, and paying down credit cards.