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Tips to Get Through the Holidays without Accumulating Debt

by Lorna Calder

Tips to Get Through the Holidays without Accumulating Debt

According to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) 2011 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, Americans will spend an average of $704.18 on holiday gifts and decorations, down slightly from last year’s average of $718.98. However, retail sales expectations for November and December show a 2.8% growth to $465.6 billion. Even in a shaky economy, consumers are willing to swipe for the right price.

Declining credit card usage over the past year has credit card companies boosting their reward incentives in hopes of luring customers back. This holiday season consumers are more likely to use cash for purchases, hinting they’re concerned about taking on high-interest debt in a weak economy. Creditors are offering free gift cards, triple bonus points and air miles, but consumers need to understand the broadening restrictions that apply to these rewards.

“People need to read the fine print and speak with the card issuer about details related to bonus points and incentives. If you have the money to pay-off the credit card purchases before payment is due it is OK to use your card to get additional rewards,” says Howard Dvorkin, author and founder of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services, Inc., a financial literacy provider that has helped more than 5 million Americans pay off their credit card debt. “Let’s say you sign up for a Target card which offers 5 percent off every purchase. If you don’t pay the balance within 30 days of the purchase, that 5 percent becomes nonexistent when the 25 percent interest rate is added onto your balance. It is important to know all aspects of your credit card contract and act wisely,” Dvorkin continues.

Tips for managing credit cards this holiday season include:

1. Read the fine print. Become educated about new rewards/bonus points/incentives creditors are offering for swiping a credit card. Shoppers can’t expect to follow rules and guidelines if they don’t know what they are.


2. Only swipe what can be paid off in 30 days. To establish a positive credit score people can use credit to pay for monthly bills such as electric, auto payments, etc. This is a good way to get rewards because the money to pay the bills should be in their monthly budget. Caution: this method can backfire if a person is not saving enough money to pay off the balances each month.

3. Know interest rates and credit balances before holiday shopping begins. In order for people to be successful managing their credit, they must be up-to-date about their credit card balances, interest rates, payment due dates, and how long specific interest rates last.


4. Seek out cards with the best rewards. Find a credit card that offers double or triple points. One resource to find the best credit card is creditcards.com.

5. Pay credit card bills on time every month. By paying credit card bills in full and on time each month, people can prove they are trustworthy.

Source: Consolidated Credit Counseling Services, Inc.

Lorna Calder is a RE/MAX REALTOR® helping home buyers and sellers in Kingwood, Atascocita, Humble, The Woodlands and Houston.

Licensed content reprinted with permission.

Real Estate Impacts are Local

by Lorna Calder

If you are thing about making a move consider that Real Estate impacts are local....

Throw Away the Bandaids!

by Lorna Calder

Monday Morning Coffee

INSPIRATION FOR TODAY:

"It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires great strength to decide on what to do."
- Elbert Hubbard


THROW AWAY THE BAND-AIDS!

What do Scotch Tape, Post-It Notes, and paper clips have in common? Each apparently has a different function, is made of a different material, and serves its own purpose. Oh sure, you can say they're all office supplies - and you'd be right - but look a little deeper for their common purpose.

Scotch Tape pieces are placed along the edges and on the ends of holiday gifts - for a short period of time. Post-It Notes are stuck to documents suggesting that a signature is needed, or some action be taken. Once the action is complete, the note is discarded. Paper clips hold two or more things together for a few hours or days, and are then returned to the desk drawer.

Figured it out yet? They are all just a temporary "fix" - a momentary solution to a temporary need. They are used in "reaction" to a short-term need. They are also similar to our daily personal lives. When feelings are hurt and the tears come, we automatically reach for a Kleenex. We might, on the other hand, have taken time to determine the source of those feelings and concentrated on resolving a difference before tears were necessary.

When our children misbehave, we react with a 15-minute (or 3-day) "time-out." We might have avoided that temporary fix by listening to their concerns and teaching appropriate behavior before the fact. Then, there are all the excuses we make, used like Band-Aids, to temporarily cover the flaws in our own behavior. Wouldn't a more permanent solution like performing to expectations, learning from past experience, or practicing excellence be more appropriate?

Yes, we live in a very fast-paced world. Quick solutions are the order of the day, yet we must eventually realize that we continually seem to need a fresh supply of Scotch Tape, Kleenex, or paper clips. By taking more time to look ahead, it is possible to eliminate many of the situations that require those one-minute Band-Aids. Avoid future "boo-boos." Search for, learn, and practice a more permanent and proactive life. That's right - "No more tears!"

 

Stand Up and Be Counted!

by Lorna Calder

Monday Morning Coffee

INSPIRATION FOR TODAY:

"The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in time of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality."
-Dante


STAND UP AND BE COUNTED!

Think there's any "moral crisis" going on in our country right now? What about in our city? Our schools? Our neighborhood? Where did it come from, and why are we facing these challenges?

We are a country - city - neighborhood - blessed with peace and prosperity. Our daily choices range from which SUV we will drive, to where we will dine next, to how we will redecorate our home this year. Our concerns include our child's upcoming soccer match, whether or not to refinance the house, making "Salesperson of the Year," and taking more time for golf or tennis.

With all the choices complemented by our affluence, we have also become compliant, accepting, and politically correct. We strive to please everyone, avoid "rocking the boat," and prefer the status quo. It's so much easier that way, isn't it?

In doing so, however, we may also abdicate responsibility for teaching our children the value of principle-centered living. What principles should we be teaching - and practicing? Why not adopt and teach the value of courage, diligence, faithfulness, generosity, cleanliness, honesty, encouragement, frugality, humility, industry, justice, moderation, order, resolution, silence, honesty, sincerity, temperance, and tranquility?

Imagine how the world around us would change if we taught and participated in more of these time-honored values. Remember that our country IS our cities, our neighborhoods, and our homes. What begins at the grass roots level - literally in our own backyards - can be spread throughout the world. Abandon neutrality and you can change the world!

On My Honor...!

by Lorna Calder

Monday Morning Coffee

INSPIRATION FOR TODAY:

"We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us."
- Marcel Proust


ON MY HONOR . . . !

The Boy Scouts have long espoused the same set of principles. It goes like this: "A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent." How simple life could be if we all practiced just that short list. Each in itself denotes a wonderful trait. When put into action, all can make the world a better place.

So, what happens between the age of scouting and age 30, 50, or 75? How is it that we turn from being a friendly 12-year-old to a suspicious, stand-offish adult? How do we turn the corner from being obedient to our elders to challenging the authority of our employers or government? Why won't we open the door for someone who can't? Did simple courtesy die with our youth?

Perhaps experience has taught us that others are not always friendly, courteous and kind. "Turn-about is fair play," we may respond. Why should we be thrifty, taking care to save for our future, when everyone around us has "maxed out" their credit cards? Reverence for all we know to be of value seems to have become the victim of political correctness. Why should we be any different?

The greatness of our country was built on the solid rock of "principles." The soft, easy life of an affluent society may be our undoing. Our forefathers had it tough. Most of us living today had a cake-walk, comparatively speaking. Our forbearers had to live their principles - or face the defeat of poverty, ill-health, and despair.

Our children can bring us back if only we will take the time to teach them those simple principles. More than teaching, we might help them practice those principles in their daily lives until habit makes them permanent. Begin while they are still playing in the sandbox. They will grow soon enough into men and women who live principle-centered lives!

How's Your Credit?

by Lorna Calder

Monday Morning Coffee

INSPIRATION FOR TODAY:

"A man's reputation is the opinion people have of him; his character is what he really is."
- Jack Miner, conservationist (1865-1944)


HOW'S YOUR CREDIT?

Ever hear someone say, "I have good credit"?  They are probably referring to their credit "rating" - a score bestowed upon them by creditors, banks or rating agencies.  Simply stating, "I have good credit" changes nothing, nor does the statement merit the attention of creditors.  Credit can only be given by others for service to them, i.e. paying them on time.

So, credit is the result of serving others - in many ways.  You cannot claim education, victory, experience, success, reputation, or a suave demeanor.  Each of these is a gift from others, as a result of your service to them.  Friends recognize your courage as a result of your being cool under pressure.  Your success is recognized by others only once you have served them well.  Knowledge of your career field is recognized by others only after it's been applied to situations in the form of more service.

In the accounting world of income and expense, a debit is something paid out, while a credit is something received.  Thus all credits are received from others - not by our own making.  The debits - what we pay out - are our efforts, persistence, and service.  How they are rated is not under our control, but is determined by those served.

Without service, there are few rewards.  Yet, you've seen those who insist on getting more attention than they deserve.  They feel they're being short-changed, that they are not appreciated, that they are always the victim.  If you look more closely at their contributions, you are also likely to see the dearth of service they are offering.

With service, credit follows.  It may be subtle or quite visible - but it always follows.  Concentrate on what you have to offer and forget the rewards.  Those who are served will pick up the tab!

Eight Insider Tips for Home Buyers

by Lorna Calder

One question many buyers will ask me is how do I get started.... they know they want to purchase a home but are at a loss as to where the process actually begins. Rather than start looking at homes, buyers should get pre-approved so that their level of purchasing comfort and affordibility is established up front.

  1. Be a Pre-Approved Buyer: A pre-approved buyer always has the advantage in an offer situation. Becoming pre-approved is very easy: you complete your loan application with a credit check prior to beginning your home search process. Pre-approval means that you have actually been approved for the purchase by a lender after they have checked your credit and debt and also verified income and assets in writing (this means you have provided supporting documentation). This gives you the edge in home purchase negotiating over a buyer who is just pre-qualified - meaning they have only had their credit checked by the lender.

  2. Beat The Competition to The Best New Listings: The search process can be both fun and trying. You will notice that some homes sell very fast and others hang around for long periods of time. The best homes at the best prices sell fast. Keeping on top of this is essential. Connect with a professional Real Estate agent that knows the market and keeps you updated.

  3. Do The Research: Make yourself a "home value expert." Investigate the areas and price ranges for the kind of home you are looking for. Get a good idea of the price ranges these homes sell for and how long the market time is for them. Your agent is a great asset here.

  4. Have Your Offer Presented in Person: Your agent represents you and your best interests. To adequately do this, make sure that your home offer is presented by them directly to the seller. The personal touch will give you the edge. Your agent also might pick up critical information during this meeting.

  5. Prove That You Are a Serious Buyer: The best way to accomplish this is with strong earnest money. This might mean that you put 5% or more down to get the sellers attention.

  6. Don't Go Crazy: Even in a hot market, be cool and calculated with your decisions. A knowledgeable agent can really help you here. Your home purchase may be your single largest investment. It is important to make sure that you get the best deal possible. Overpaying now will make it harder to get your value back when you sell.

  7. Keep Your Offer Simple and Clean: Make sure that your contract to purchase is simple, clean and not bogged down with unnecessary contingencies, especially repairs. Keep the time frames of repairs and responses to a minimum. The cleaner your offer, the more interested the seller will become. This may help you purchase the property at the best price.

  8. Don't Wing It Alone: What you need most in today's complex marketplace is an experienced and professional real estate agent who represents your interests only. No matter how heated the competition or the negotiations, a professional agent will represent your best interests, keep you from paying too much and help you maximize your investment.

 

Are you looking for a RE/MAX buyer's agent to represent you and your best interests? You, the home buyer, pay nothing for a professional buyer's agent. Their fees are paid for by the seller. Click here to contact us today and find out how we can help you find the most house for the best price.

Lorna Calder is a RE/MAX REALTOR® helping home buyers and sellers in Kingwood, Atascocita, Humble, The Woodlands and Houston.

Question of the Day

by Lorna Calder

Question of the Day

 
Q: Should I hire a home inspector for a new home?

A: You would think not since it is new and the developer has to adhere to local construction guidelines. However, err on the side of caution – always hire an inspector, whether the home is old or new.

You can ask the builder to provide copies of any inspection reports on the property, architectural plans, surveys and pertinent construction documents for your inspector to review.

The inspector should either be a professional home inspector, an engineer, an architect or a contractor. When hiring a professional inspector, look for one who belongs to a home inspection trade organization, such as the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI).

This group has developed formal inspection guidelines and a professional code of ethics for its members. Membership in ASHI is not automatic. Proven field experience and technical knowledge about structures and their various systems and appliances are required.

As for rates, they vary greatly. Many inspectors charge about $400, but costs increase based on the scope of the inspection.

Lorna Calder is a RE/MAX REALTOR® helping home buyers and sellers in Kingwood, Atascocita, Humble, The Woodlands and Houston.

Licensed content reprinted with permission

Simplify your Lifestyle

by Lorna Calder

First-Time Buyers: How to Turn the Largest Investment You'll Ever Make Into the Best Decision of Your Life 

By Keith Loria

Purchasing a new home can be a huge undertaking, especially if you are in the market for your first home. That’s why it’s important to have an experienced real estate agent by your side to guide you along the way.

Almost every first-time buyer feels hopelessly confused in the beginning, but it’s important to remember that you hold the power and you shouldn’t feel forced into making a decision you are not comfortable with.

“In the world of real estate sales, you are the most important person in the entire process,” said John Adams, who has written six books on the process of buying and selling a home. “It’s easy to think everyone else carries more weight than you. The seller owns the house and has all the money. The agent talks fast and has an answer for everything. The lender may decline your loan application, and on and on. But the truth is that you, the buyer, are the one person in this transaction who makes it all happen. If you decide not to buy, the entire process comes to a grinding halt.”

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, the number of first-time home buyers rose to a record high 50% of all home sales last year, which can be greatly attributed to the first-time buyer tax credit which began in 2009.

For those looking to continue the upward trend in 2011, first-time buyers should consider a number of things to make the buying process as smooth a transition as possible.

First-time buyers need to look at their financial situation and crunch the numbers to see if now is the right time to buy. Chances are, the numbers they see today will be the best they will see for some time, which is why so many are considering homeownership.

Still, understanding the money that goes into a home purchase is important. The biggest mistake new buyers make is underestimating the costs of buying a house and maintaining it over time.

First-time buyers need to understand that it takes more than just the downpayment to purchase a home. When buying a home, one needs to consider the closing costs and future expenses that will come with the new property.

“As renters, people are accustomed to paying rent and basic utilities. As homeowners, you’ll also pay for water, sewer and trash collection,” said Ilyce Glink, author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask.” “Then there are property taxes, homeowners insurance and homeowners association dues, plus yard care, snow removal and other expenses unique to your location.”

Many experts agree that homeowners should have 1-3% of their homes’ purchase price in savings for improvements and surprise expenses. Mortgage experts also say it’s wise to have at least six mortgage payments in the bank after closing.

While those numbers may not be feasible for everyone, if you are spending above your means on a new home, you may quickly find yourself in financial trouble.

Inspections are also important for the first-time buyer, as they list repairs that will be needed for the home. A buyer should put together a short-term and long-term plan based on the inspection so they know how much money they will need in the months and years ahead.

Buying a home is one of the largest investments you’ll make and if it’s done wisely, it can be one of the best decisions of your life. Your real estate agent will help you do it right by providing you with a realistic price point for your home purchase and a clear understanding of monthly financial requirements.

For more information on purchasing your first home, contact our office today.

Lorna Calder is a RE/MAX REALTOR® helping home buyers and sellers in Kingwood, Atascocita, Humble, The Woodlands and Houston TX.

Licensed content reprinted with permission.

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