Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tips to Prepare Your Grill for Spring & Summer

Well here we are, roughly two days in from what we calendarize as the 1st day of spring! I must say, yesterday sure felt like it as we had some sunshine and temparatures that rose as high as the low 60's! Felt like spring to me and when this weather warms up, we so often rush to start our grills and that wonderful smell of grilled food floods our senses and sends neighbors outside to do the same.

In our haste, have you ever thought what should be done to the grill in order to ensure that its ready for another full season of grilling? Well, here is your "HOW TO" guide when it comes to grill preparation.

Step 1) Turn the grill on and close the lid and get it super hot and burn off the gunk left from the previous year. Let it run for a good 10-15 minutes and as it heats up, old food and residue will burn off the grill making it easier to scrape the remains.

Step 2) Scrub the grates - Remove the charred residue from the grates with a semi-flexible stainless steel brush. If the grates undersides are greasy, remove them and wipe them down with a wet, soapy sponge. Once your finished with the above, be sure to rinse the grates and them dry them off.

Step 3) Attack the Burners - Pricier grills often have burner protectors - V shaped metal guarding the gas jets from food dripping. Remove the protectors, and use a putty knife or something similar to scrape the grease off. If this isn't doing the trick, get some hot soapy water and scrub away. Then as above, rinse and dry.

Step 4) Attack the Burners Part II - Clean the burners with a stainless steel brush using a side to side motion, not a length wise motion. Are the gas jets open or clogged? If clogged, use a thin wire, a close hanger may work to poke a hole through the center of each one. If the holes are rusted, its time to replace the burners. Now remove the burners in prepartion for the next step.

Step 5) Hit the Walls of the grill, also known as the cook box. You want to remove carbonized grease so it doesn't affect the taste of the food. If scraping it off isn't working, agian revert to dish soap and water.

Step 6) Clean it up - Make that grill sparkle on the outside as well. Rub it down and wipe away grease with a dedicated stainless steel cleaner and semi-soft sponge. Warm water works too!

Hope the above useful tips help you make the most of the upcoming grilling season. Now if only we can have mother nature cooperate so that the weather continues to improve then we'll all soon be enjoying the smell of those neighbors grill as well as your own filling the air with that sweet smell that only a grill creates :)

Happy Spring and as always, if you know anyone that you feel would benefit from my blog or find this useful, please feel free to share, thank you! Ben

Friday, March 18, 2011

10 Tax Deductions for Realtors or Brokerages

I wanted to pass along this wonderful article. If your like me and in this business, then more now than ever its vital to keep each and every penny earned as the business is far from that one would compare to "easy money". Hope this article comes to you as useful as it came to me!

10 tax deductions: in time for the April 18 deadlineReal Estate Tax Talk
By Stephen FishmanInman News™
March 18, 2011

Your tax return is due by April 18, 2011 (the deadline was extended three days this year because of weekends and holidays).

If you haven't filed yet, make sure you haven't forgotten the following 10 tax deductions, which are often overlooked by real estate agents and brokers.

1. Business clothing with logos: You can deduct clothing you buy for business use only if it can't be used for ordinary street wear. This means you can't deduct a regular business suit. However, you may deduct the cost of a sport jacket, coat or other clothing item with a company logo on it.

2. Car expenses if you take standard mileage rate: If, like most small businesspeople, you use the standard mileage rate to deduct your car expenses, you get to deduct 50 cents for every business mile you drove in 2010. You don't get to separately deduct the cost of gas, insurance, depreciation and similar items because these are all included in the standard mileage rate.
However, you can still deduct certain expenses, including the interest you pay on a loan for your business car, parking and tolls. However, you can't deduct the cost of parking tickets.

. Home telephone expenses: You get no deduction for a single phone in your home; but you may deduct the cost of long-distance phone calls and special phone services you use for business such as call waiting or message center. You may deduct the full cost of a second phone line you use at home for business, including a cell phone.

4. Business gifts: Gifts you purchase for clients are deductible as a business expense, but the deduction is limited to $25 per person per year. However, the $25 limit applies only to gifts to individuals.
It doesn't apply if you give a gift to an entire company, unless the gift was intended for a particular person or group of people within the company. Such companywide gifts are deductible in any amount, as long as it is reasonable.

5. Continuing-education courses: You can't deduct the education expenses you incur to qualify for a new business or profession. For example, you can't deduct the cost of studying for your real estate license.
However, you can deduct the cost of continuing-education courses you must take each year to maintain your license. Education that improves your knowledge and skills as a real estate professional is also deductible -- for example, you can deduct the cost of a webinar on how to use social media to find sales prospects.

6. Tax-preparation fees: You can deduct the cost of hiring a tax professional to prepare your business tax return. If the same tax pro prepares your personal and business return, you can deduct only the cost of preparing the business portion. Make sure that you get an itemized bill showing the portion of the tax preparation fee allocated to your business.

7. ATM fees, credit card fees, and interest: You can deduct ATM fees, credit card fees and other bank charges you paid during 2010 for all your business accounts.

8. Subscriptions: Real estate-related magazines and trade publications are deductible. You can also deduct the cost of subscribing to an online real estate news service.

9. Greeting cards: Greeting cards you send to clients and sales prospects are a deductible advertising expense.

10. Websites: You can deduct the cost of designing and maintaining a website you use for business. You can also deduct your Internet hosting fees and the cost of obtaining a domain name for your business.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Make a Home Investment in 2011

Location, location, location. In the latter half of 2011 that adage should come back into vogue. But first, more declines. C'mon, you're thinking, you've been hearing for months that prices have been more or less stable nationwide. True, but the still-soft job market, the foreclosure crisis, and the absence of incentives such as the homebuyers tax credit will push down the median home price another 5% or so next year, according to Moody's and Fiserv, before it stabilizes by late 2011 or early 2012.

Individual markets, though, will start diverging from the downtrend by summer. About one-quarter of the nation's 384 metro areas should see higher prices by year-end, and half will see drops of less than 3%.

Certainly, conditions will favor anyone in the market to buy a new home -- or homeowners looking to refinance. Today's record low mortgage rates, averaging 4.2% for a 30-year fixed term, are expected to remain low at least through the first half of the year.

Even if the economy picks up steam in the latter half of 2011, rates are unlikely to climb higher than 5%, says Amy Crews Cutts, deputy chief economist at Freddie Mac.

On top of that, assuming that banks can solve their issues with poorly documented foreclosures, home seizures will revert back to record highs, creating competition for sellers and keeping a lid on home values.

The combination of low prices, cheap mortgages, and a slowly improving job market should gradually entice buyers back to the market, setting the stage for prices to stabilize.

Demand, though, won't be strong enough for values to rise substantially, largely because the weak labor market is depressing new household formation as family and friends opt to live together, and recent graduates return to their childhood bedrooms, says Patrick Newport of IHS Global Insight.
Only about 350,000 households are forming a year, vs. 1.3 million typically. "All you hear about is foreclosures and the supply problem," says Michael Castleman Sr., CEO of housing research firm Metrostudy. "But the bigger problem is demand."

Wildcards: Foreclosures. If the investigations into robo-signed seizure documents and other issues turn up more problems for banks, foreclosures could be halted indefinitely. That would prop up prices in the short run but weigh them down over the long run.

Jobs. Housing demand could rise if the labor market picks up faster than expected. In that case, prices would firm up earlier in the year.

What to Watch: Signs of an improving market: three straight months of rising sales and a decreasing inventory of homes (a six-month supply is considered healthy; today it's 11 months). A local agent or realtor's association can supply you with that data.

Action Plan: Buyers. Don't try to time the market perfectly. Even if prices fall a bit more in your area, mortgage rates could rise later in the year, offsetting the drop. Initially bid about 10% below what comparable homes have sold for over the past three months; go even lower if the area is rife with foreclosures.

By contrast, if well-priced houses in your desired area are receiving multiple offers -- your agent will know -- bid close to list price. But don't engage in a bidding war, plenty more homes will be coming onto the market.

Until your house keys are in hand, don't change your financial profile don't buy a car, take a new job, or pay a loan late. Increasingly lenders are re-pulling credit reports and reconfirming jobs just before closing,

Action Plan: Sellers. Hang on a few more years until the market recovers. Can't hold off? Then try to unload fast.

Prices will be falling in most areas for the next several months and, depending on your location, the foreclosure slowdown in place may temporarily reduce your competition, advises Ellen Klein, a realtor in Rockaway, N.J.

Wherever you are, pricing your home right is key. Buyers typically put an upper limit on their search in increments of $25,000 or $50,000. If your house is priced at $365,000, shoppers who cut their search at $350,000 may never see your home.

Best idea: Slightly underprice your house. More often than not you'll attract numerous buyers who bid up the price, and you'll end up getting fair value in much less time.

Action Plan: Investors. Assuming foreclosures have slowed where you are, hold off until a few months after they ramp up again. Until then, inventory will be limited, and that will set a floor under prices. When you're ready to make your move, paying in cash will better the odds of a winning bid, says Foreman.

Action Plan: Owners. One word: refinance -- even if you just did it a few years ago, urges Keith Gumbinger of HSH.com, a mortgage information publisher.

If you can shave at least one point off your rate and plan to stay in your home for at least four years, a refi makes sense. On a two-year-old $300,000 loan at 6.5%, refinancing will save you $465 a month and $120,000 in interest.

Or go with a 15-year loan, which averages 3.7%. Your payment will jump $225, but you'll own your home 13 years earlier and save $253,000 in interest.

Underwater or have little equity? You may be able to refinance through a federal program known as HARP (for details go to makinghomeaffordable.gov). Have funds to spare? A cash-in refi, in which you put in enough to reach 10% or 20% equity, will let you nab those record low rates.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Flaws in Obama's Mortgage Reform Plan?

Attached is a great article to help you understand better the administrations mortage reform plan and potential flaws in it.

Scaling back housing finance: Fallout feared

Flaws in Obama's mortgage reform plan
By Jack GuttentagInman News™
March 07, 2011
Editor's note: This is Part 1 of a multipart series.

The document the administration recently sent to Congress outlining its game plan for housing finance has both scale-down and ramp-up thrusts. The scale-down thrust, comprising most of the report, involves shrinking the federal government's involvement in the market.
The ramp-up thrust would create a new federal program designed to support the private market. This article is about the scale-down.

The point of departure for this proposal is a post-crisis housing finance system in which only about 10 percent of all new home loans are strictly private. The remaining 90 percent are either acquired by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, or insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

Further, qualification requirements set by the strictly private market are far more restrictive than they were before the crisis, which is the reason their market share is now so low. Before the crisis, risk-based pricing was widely practiced, making loans available over a wide range of risks.

Today, only a sliver of risk-based pricing remains. For the most part, risk-based pricing has been replaced by risk cutoffs. At many lenders, borrowers with a credit score of 800 have to put 20 percent down, and borrowers who put 40 percent down still need a 700 score to qualify. Some lenders will go to 10 percent at 680, but limit the loan size.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have tightened their requirements, but by much less than the strictly private sector. The agencies today will accept a credit score of 620 at 20 percent down, and 680 at 5 percent down. However, risk-based pricing is extensive and many borrowers with mediocre credit, small down payments or both, choose to opt out.

The average down payment on new loans is about 35 percent, and the average FICO is about 765. The agencies have also tightened their documentation and appraisal requirements significantly.
FHA has the most liberal requirements, which are little changed from what they were before the crisis. FHA accepts 3 percent down with a credit score of 580, though many lenders require higher scores so that they won't be tarred with originating too many loans that default. FHA has also increased its insurance premiums.

What scale-down means
The crux of the Obama administration's scale-down plan is a gradual phaseout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, combined with a reduction in the scope of FHA operations. The ultimate goal seems to be a system in which the strictly private market would account for about 85 percent of the traffic, and FHA would have about 15 percent.

The report suggests a number of ways of accomplishing this, including reductions in the maximum qualifying loan size at all three agencies, and increases in insurance charges. The first reduces the number of borrowers who qualify, while the second forces price increases by the agencies that would make the strictly private market more price-competitive.

Implications and consequences
The volume of risky loans, already down sharply from the post-crisis tightening of qualification requirements, will shrink further as the scale-down proceeds. Because a large proportion of risky mortgages are generated by disadvantaged groups, this approach constitutes a reversal of what had been public policy for at least four decades, which was to encourage homeownership among such groups.

Sometime this year, the regulatory agencies will promulgate new rules implementing provisions of the Dodd-Frank bill that require them to define "qualified residential mortgage" (QRM).
These are low-risk loans that exempt originators from having to assume 5 percent of the risk of loss. The split in the market following implementation of this rule will further disadvantage weaker borrowers, since non-QRM loans will carry a higher price if they are available at all.

Softening the blow
The report recognizes the need to go slow and cautiously, but offers no concrete ideas on how to soften the blow. Here are two.

1. The administration ought to set up a task force to determine whether the existing regulatory structure, including the bank examination process, is unduly constraining the strictly private market. If government wants lenders to expand into the space vacated by Fannie, Freddie and FHA, government ought to make sure that it has not itself constructed roadblocks to such expansion.
2. FHA should extend its tentative steps toward risk-based pricing to a comprehensive system in which the insurance premium on every loan reflects the risk of loss to FHA of that loan. This will help keep FHA financially sound, reduce concerns if FHA is pressed to expand into some of the space vacated by Fannie and Freddie, and neutralize political pressures to liberalize terms unduly.

Thanks to Guy Cecala of Inside Mortgage Finance.

Next week: The ramp-up proposal.

Well, please feel free to share your thoughts and insight on the above. Also, please share this and any articles of mine that you feel may benefit friends or family! Thank you and have a wonderful day! Ben