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Avoiding Loan Scams

by Jon Smith, CRB, CRS, GRI

One of the major things you will need to do if you are purchasing a new home, is to obtain a home loan. Unfortunately with the difficult economy and the availablity of loans more difficult, loan scams are on the rise. People with bad credit and the elderly are the most vulenderable and often targeted. Below are some tips to help you from being a victim.


Avoid Being A Victim

  • Avoid Unsolicited phone calls. Be wary of any phone call offering remarkably low interest rates on loans, especially if you have registered your phone number with the Do Not Call Registry. Most major nationwide lenders do not solicit business over the phone. Never give out personal information over the phone unless you are absolutely sure who you are speaking with.
  • Don't agree to anything with a too-high interest rate
  • Don't buy insurance from a lender without shopping around first.
  • Watch the terms for reinforcing. They might end up worse than what you've got now.
  • Don't sign anything that's been given to you as a surprise! If the terms aren't what you'd agreed on, do not sign the document.
  • Avoid bad credit mortgage rates when looking for a loan.
  • Many loan scammers use high pressure sales tactics, so if you feel pressured or uncomfortable in anyway, never sign anything. It is a good idea to contact a real estate lawyer if in doubt to review the documents. If the company is legit, they should have no objection to a lawyer looking over the loan agreements before you will sign them.

Warning Signs

  • Do business with reputable companies, stay away from unsolicited calls, e-mails or letters offering you a loan.
  • Never do business with anyone who asks for money to be sent in advance to cover "processing", "application", "insurance", or the "first month's payment". Legitimate lenders never ask for these things to be paid before a loan is disbursed.
  • Requests that you "wire" or "send" money, as soon as possible to a large U.S. city or to another country, such as Canada, England, or Nigeria, by Western Union, Moneygram, or similar means.

What To Do If You Think You Have Been Scammed?

If you feel that you have been scammed or the company you have been in touch with is suspicious, contact the below agencies.

  • The FTC
  • The FBI
  • File fraud alerts with each of the three credit bureaus. This is important if you have provided the scammers with your sensitive information, such as your Social Security Number and information on your driver's license. They can use this to obtain credit in your name.

Reverse Mortgages

by Jon Smith, CRB, CRS, GRI

Reverse mortgages are becoming more popular as a alternative for senior citizens who are homeowners. A reverse mortgage provides a way for seniors to borrow against the equity in their home with no repayment due until the homeowner dies, moves or sells. Any remaining equity after repayment goes to the borrower or the estate.  

 If you are considering a reverse mortgage, it may be of benefit if:

•You need cash assets or income and have no other source available.
•You are unable or unwilling to sell your house.
•You do not care what the costs are to get the income or assets you need. (Recent law has helped limit the outrageous costs of reverse mortgages.)
•You have no concern about which assets are left to your heirs.
Make sure you thoroughly scrutinize all costs and provisions.

The amount of money you can borrow depends on your age, the current interest rate, and the appraised value of your home or FHA's mortgage limits for your area, whichever is less. Generally, the more valuable your home is, the older you are, the lower the interest, the more you can borrow. You can use this online calculator on the AARP website to get an idea of what you may be able to borrow.

There are some cost involved, many of the same costs that someone pays to obtain a home purchase loan, or to refinance their existing mortgage, apply to reverse mortgages too. You can expect to be charged an origination fee, up-front mortgage insurance premium (for the FHA Home Equity Conversion Mortgage or HECM), an appraisal fee, and certain other standard closing costs.In most cases, these fees and costs are capped and may be financed as part of the reverse mortgage. If a reverse mortgage sounds like it might be a solution for your situation, visit this website to locate a lender in your area.

Snow Removal Options

by Jon Smith, CRB, CRS, GRI

Winter is in full swing in the Des Moines area and with the recent storms, snow removal is a necessity. Waking up to a driveway buried in snow is not always a welcome sight--especially on days that you need to be to work on time! Whether you want to remove the snow yourself or you would rather pay for the service, you have some different options to clear the snow from around your home and get on your way.

 Snow Blowers

Also called snow throwers, these come in both gas and electric. If you don't have too long a driveway, electric snow blowers provide an alternative to heavy, high-maintenance gas snow blowers. While they are sometimes less powerful, they typically require less maintenance. Gas snowblowers will have a wider clearing width and you don't have to worry about the cord but they are more expensive and require more maintenance such as tuning and yearly checkups.

Professional Snow Removal Services

If you prefer to just hire a professional to clear the snow for you, commercial snow removal companies are the way to go. Snow removal cost can vary greatly, some companies will offer a lump sum seasonal rate for businesses or residential. Others will charge on a each time basis which can range from $35 to $100. The downside can be a long wait if you are not a regular customer and a big storm hits. It is important to make sure the person you hire is experienced and insured. Visit the Snow and Ice management association's website to find a qualified company near you.

Lawnmower/Tractor Attachments

If you have a long driveway and have a riding lawn mower or lawn tractor, you may want to invest in a blade attachment or snow blower attachment for snow removal.  These attachments fastens to the front of the mower and throws snow or plows to the front or side. For longer and wider driveways, a snow plow attached to the front of the mower can quickly remove large amounts of snow. You can also purchase tire chains to help prevent the mower's wheels from spinning in their tracks.

 Shovels

Some homeowners prefer to use the tried and true traditional snow shovels and moves the snow themselves. It is important however to consider your physical condition. If you have a heart condition or other health issues, you should proceed with caution. Snow is heavy and shoveling is hard work - you don't want to risk a serious injury or jeopardize your health. On the positive side, it is a great way to burn calories and it doesn't cost you a thing! 

 

 

Deductions For Homeowners

by Jon Smith, CRB, CRS, GRI

With the new year also comes tax time, and homeowners may be able to deduct many home-related expenses. Keep in mind these tax breaks are available for any type of home whether it be a mobile home, single-family residence, townhouse or condominium.


Deducting Loan Points Paid on a Purchase or Refinance
The points you pay on a loan for a
home purchase are tax-deductible for the year you made the purchase. You can deduct the points you paid as well as those a seller paid on your behalf if you meet the following criteria:

  •   The loan is secured by your primary residence
  •   The loan was used to buy, improve or build the home
  •   Paying points is a common practice in your geographic area
  •   The points are calculated as a percentage of the loan principal

First-time home buyer credit.  A $7,500 tax credit is available to eligible taxpayers must have bought, buy, or enter into a binding contract to buy, a principal residence on or before April 30, 2010 and close on the home by June 30, 2010. For qualifying purchases in 2010, taxpayers have the option of claiming the credit on either their 2009 or 2010 return. and before July 1, 2009.  You are considered a first-time home buyer as long as you did not own a home during the three years leading up to the purchase of your new home.

Moving expenses. If a move is connected with taking a new job that is at least 50 miles farther from your old home than your old job was, you can deduct travel and lodging expenses for you and your family and the cost of moving your household goods. 

Deducting Real Estate Taxes. Real estate taxes are deductible in the year paid. They are generally reported on Form 1098, Mortgage Interest Statement, the annual statement from the financial institution holding your mortgage, or on your county real estate tax assessment statement. You should also deduct any prorated taxes collected from you at closing. These amounts are not always included on Form 1098, but may be itemized on your real estate closing statement.

Make sure you’re not missing out on important home-related tax deductions. Everyone has a different situation and you may actually qualify for other deductions you were not aware of, so always check with your tax advisor to find out which deductions apply to you.

Do You Have Hard Water?

by Jon Smith, CRB, CRS, GRI

You may have heard the term 'hard water' but many homeowners do not understand exactly what it is and even if they have this problem. According to the U.S. Geologic Survey, 85 percent of the homes in the United States have hard water.  While hard water is not considered to be unhealthy for people to drink, it can be damaging to household plumbing, water-using appliances and it can make it difficult to clean. Below are the basics of hard water, how to tell if you have it and what can be done about it.

 
What Is Hard Water?

Hard water contains calcium and magnesium and while this is quite natural, excessive amounts create what is commonly referred to as hard water. Hard water is not considered a serious health risk but people who are more prone to rashes and skin problems can have problems because it changes the skin’s pH and soap remains on the skin, clogging pores.

Ways To Tell If You Have Hard Water

The best way to tell whether water is hard or soft is the soapy factor. Soap and toothpaste do not lather up as quickly in hard water as it clogs skin pores and coats hair. The minerals in hard water can affect the ability of soap to clean kitchen and bath surfaces, dishware and laundry. Most homes have hard water problems without necessarily knowing about it.

Hard Water Solutions

If you suspect you have hard water, call a professional to test your water and recommend soft water solutions. The most common solution is to use a water softeners or water treatment systems. While many systems use salt, there are several water softeners available that have a salt free system. However if you are concerned about the presence of sodium ions in their water, use of sodium ions does not make the water noticeably salty or cause a significant increase in a person’s sodium intake. In fact, the FDA defines water that would result from softening 75 gpg hard water (where much more sodium ions would have to be exchanged that is typically the case) as a “low sodium” beverage.

There are many affordable solutions available for both purchase and for rent. If you are interested in a system for purchase, a typical household water softener costs around $1,000 to $1,500 with a monthly operating expense of around $2 to $8 if sodium is used. Many companies offer systems for rent with monthly costs ranging from $25-$85 depending on the model. Be sure to look for the WQA Gold Seal to find products that have been successfully tested to industry performance standards.

Tips When Househunting

by Jon Smith, CRB, CRS, GRI

Even if you know exactly what you're looking for, searching for a new home can be a time consuming and frustrating process. You may look at several homes so making the most of your time is key to finding the house of your dreams. Below are some tips to help you make the most of your search.

  1.  Start by concentrating on a few neighborhoods first.  Decide what's most important to you about the neighborhood you want. This can greatly narrow down your search.  
  2. Allow yourself plenty of time. When househunting be sure to dedicate an entire day or weekend. It is important to not rush, you want to be able to spend enough time at the home, especially if you if you find one you really like. Keep in mind you might just find one that you want to act on quickly and make an offer!
  3. Bring a checklist. Create a realistic checklist of the aspects your idea home should have. When looking at homes you can check off and make notes on which homes have or don’t have what you are looking for. This will help you analyze your needs and wants and focus on the properties that you can get serious about. 
  4. Be prepared to look at the potential of a house rather than what you see in front of you. Set your needs versus your wants so you can decide on some items that can be sacrificed. It's more important that the layout of the house and the number of bedrooms you need fit your needs and that all major systems are functional versus your dislike for the carpeting or outdated stove. Keep in mind that those types of cosmetic shortcomings can be easily remedied once you buy the house.
  5. Dress comfortably. Wear comfortable shoes but it is a good idea to wear slip on shoes as many homes might have a posted  “please remove shoes” sign to help keep the flooring clean. Having to untie and tie your shoes at every house can be a huge waste of time. Wearing comfortable clothing will allow you to focus on the aspects on the home and enjoy your experience.
  6. Bring a Digital Camera. Digital cameras are ideal for house hunting. You can take pictures of the homes you visit and save them in labeled folders on your computer. Which home had the huge walk in closet? Which one had the great backyard? Just look at the photos and you’ll remember!

Tips For Moving In Winter

by Jon Smith, CRB, CRS, GRI

Moving in any season is a chore but add cold temps, ice and snow and the task can be even more daunting. If you are moving this winter season I have some tips that can help you make your move during the winter months a little easier.

1. Be sure to have enough warm clothes with you - don't pack them. If you are moving from a warm climate to a cold one this can be even more important in case your items get delayed!
 
2. Make sure your car is serviced before the move - you don't want to break down in cold weather. A good idea for anyone who lives in cold climates is to keep an emergency 'survival' kit in your car that has canned food, bottled water, a first-aid kit and flashlights.

3. Keep plants in the passenger area of the vehicle or store them in plastic bags with holes punched for air.
 
4. Keep in mind that your belongings will be in a cold moving van for a long time, so plan accordingly. Precautions should be taken to protect expensive electronics, anything with liquid that can freeze or anything that might be damaged due to the cold.

5. In case of inclement weather be sure to clear your sidewalk, driveways and walkways of ice and snow. Remember that any accident on your property could become your liability.

Checking Your Credit Before Purchasing A Home

by Jon Smith, CRB, CRS, GRI

If you are planning to be a homeowner in the near future, you should access and check your credit report before starting to look for a home. Most lenders usually prefer to check your credit report before considering your application when you apply for a loan. The information in your credit history helps the lenders in deciding your credit worthiness and how much credit to offer you in case of a loan approval. Your credit score will also decide which interest rate you are eligible for. 

The first critical step is to review your credit report to check for any errors.  Unfortunately, many people fail to take this all important first step. Instead, they wait until they have applied for a mortgage loan to find out from the lender that there are problems with their credit scores.

By checking your credit score before you apply for a mortgage loan you gain the opportunity to find out if there are problems which you can correct and discrepancies that need to be removed. There are three national credit reporting agencies that you can choose from: Experian, Trans-Union and EquiFax. Remeber that you are also eligible for a free credit report annually by law, click here to get your free 3-in-1 credit report.

Review your credit report carefully for any errors and if you find any discrepancies you have a right to contest it. You will need to contact the credit reporting agency and explain why you believe the item is incorrect and thus you will need to provide documentation such as receipts and cancelled checks can help your claim. Bank Rate offers some great advice on fixing these errors along with the forms you will need. Although this is will be an inconvenience it is better to get everything cleared up before you fall in love with a home only to be denied a loan due to problems with your credit report.

Des Moines Holiday Events

by Jon Smith, CRB, CRS, GRI

Now that Thanksgiving is here, the holiday season has offically kicked off. The Des Moines Area is full of holiday events and fun for the whole family. Below are some dates and information for some of the area's best seasonal events.

  • What would the holiday season be without shopping? On November 27th, The annual Rockin' Shoppin' Eve at Jordan Creek Town Center means that stores will open at 12:01 a.m. for holiday shopping. Free coffee and live entertainment will keep you awake.
  • On December 3rd and 10th, Shops will stay open late during Valley Junction's Holiday Open House. The businesses in Historic Valley Junction and the streets will be lined with more than 150,000 twinkling lights.
  • If holiday crafts interest you then you will want to visit Adventureland from Nov. 27-29th they will host more than 100 craft vendors.
  • On Dec. 5th, West Glen Town Center hosts Sip and Shop, with a tree lighting on Nov. 21, carolers on Dec. 5 and visits from Santa and carriage rides both days.
  • It's the 18th and final year for Dutch Christmas in the Country, which features 55,000 lights and twelve structures that make up a Dutch Village. Starting Nov. 27 through Dec. 31 visit this amazing event which runs 5:15-10:30 p.m. Nov. 23-Dec. 31. To get there, take Highway 163 east to Pella, take exit 40 and follow the signs. Admission is free.
  • From Dec. 1-18 go back in time 150 years and visit Merry Christmas to All: A Thomas Nast Christmas in Ames. Celebrate the season and the timeless images of Thomas Nast, and experience an authentic founding farm Christmas. Visitors will see traditional holiday decor and hear Christmas songs from the 19th century while touring the 150 year old Farm House  Farm House Museum, Knapp-Wilson House, Iowa State University, 1810 Lincoln Way, 290 Scheman Building, Ames, IA 50011, (515) 294-3342
  • Don't forget that animals need help this season as well. The Animal Rescue League is hosting “Home for the Holidays” Open House and Frosty Paw Boutique. Visitors can explore the adoption area and meet adoptable pets ready for new homes, and shop the Frosty Paw Boutique, located in Mapes Auditorium. Everything from art work, pet supplies, makeup, jewelry and food items will be available for early holiday shopping. There will also be a raffle for a chance to win some fabulous prizes all while helping the animals at the ARL. Animal Rescue League, 5452 N.E. 22nd St., Des Moines, IA 50313
  • If theatre is your thing, mix together a batch of fruitcakes, dozens of Christmas trees, a chickenpox epidemic, two southern spinsters, an estranged old man, a runaway boy, and a Christmas hog, and youve got the recipe for a fun holiday show. This moving story of understanding and reconciliation provides a heaping helping of holiday warmth and Christmas cheer. Admission: $15  Ames Community Theaterof Recreation Service, 120 Abraham Drive, Ames, IA 50014

Des Moines Named #1 Most Livable Market

by Jon Smith, CRB, CRS, GRI

Des Moines was just named #1 in the 2009 MSN Real Estate Most-Livable Bargain Markets! According to their report, Des Moines may be one of the best and most overlooked places to jump-start your career.  They also rate the economy of our area as solid, with a large number of well-paying jobs in the insurance, bioscience and agribusiness fields. Yet the median house costs just $150,000. Forbes has ranked it one of the best places for business and careers three years running.

The report also notes that the Des Moines area has some of the cleanest air in the country. The residents reported that there’s enough outdoor recreation, culture and fine art to keep most people happy.  According to Lauren Burt of the Greater Des Moines Partnership “There’s so many things that are accessible here,”  “There’s a lot of volunteerism and ways to be engaged with the community.”

MSN Real Estate asked Bert Sperling of Sperling’s Best Places to evaluate the most affordable housing markets from the 100 largest U.S. metro areas and pinpoint 10 of the most livable areas: places where unemployment is low, commute times are mercifully short and there are enough interesting entertainment and cultural amenities to keep most people busy and satisfied. Congratulation Des Moines for making #1 on this list!

Displaying blog entries 21-30 of 53

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Photo of Jon Smith, CRB, CRS, SRES, SFR Real Estate
Jon Smith, CRB, CRS, SRES, SFR
Iowa Realty
3521 Beaver Ave.
Des Moines IA 50310
515-240-2692
Fax: 515-453-6404
 

 

 

Licensed in the State of Iowa