I’m here to share the 10 commandments of financial health. There is nothing new here….just good ole money wisdom. I wish I had followed this advice during the past 10 years!
1. Always save something, no matter how much or how little you make.
2. Save as much as possible (until it hurts!) during the early working years. Then the magic of compound interest appears and helps your money grow.
3. Be very clear with yourself as to what is a NEED and what is a WANT. Needs are those things which provide shelter and sustain our health….our home, food, medical care, and a form of transportation. Wants are usually impulse purchases, like a new cell phone or a shiny gadget on QVC.
4. Consider the true cost of your purchase. Do you truly need a bottle of water? That Dunkin Donuts coffee? Train yourself to put that money aside as a saving…a gift to yourself!
5. Always, always, always buy quality goods. Cheaply made cars, shoes, clothing, furniture will not pass the test of time. I have a pair of black slacks purchased years ago from TJ Maxx. The original price was $250(!!!!) which I would NEVER spend on such a thing but they were maked at $55. I have worn them for years and they still look new because the material and cut is quality. Same goes for furniture and shoes
6. Spend less than you make. Period.
7. Do NOT pay interest on anything which loses value. That includes credit cards, boats, cars, furnishings. Save the money and pay cash.
8. If you need more money spend less and find a way to earn more. Always evaluate the benefits of what you are paying for.
9. You pay in advance for future earning capacity. A college education or learning a highly skilled trade takes time and money now and will pay you more in the future.
10. It’s easy to live on less when you have no debt. Borrow only what you must and pay it back as quickly as possible. You will sleep better at night and have more control over your life.
We may be under a winter storm advisory but mark my words (as my grandmother Mullen would always say), Spring IS coming. The dogwoods will bloom, the Bradford Pears will burst open and then shed their blossoms like snow, and the hardwood trees will become greener by the hour. So we enter one of my four favorite seasons….Spring! It’s time to make our cleaning and gardening list.
- Replace old mulch, prune and discard wayward stems and limbs
- Plant fresh annuals
- Wash screens and windows
- Power wash exterior as well as walkways and driveway
- Clean out garage, wash trash cans
- Replace worn and faded doormats
- Polish door hardware
Your home is one of your most prized and expensive investments. It requires care and planned maintenance. Deferred treatment of your home, like deferred care of your vehicles, can lead to costly repairs when least expected. Being proactive will save you time and money. So get out there and perk up those Pansies!
Start writing here…
I have lived and worked in Greenville, NC for just shy of 30 years. When I moved to “the best little city in the South” we had a population inside the city of about 30,000. Today we have approximately 80,000. East Carolina is now the second largest university in the state system. Our hospital, Pitt County Memorial, has the only level I trauma center east of I-95. We have 5 East Care helicopters, the Heart Center at PCMH has the largest operating rooms east of the Mississippi River and the Heart Center at ECU is the home of Dr. Randolph Chitwood and his merry band of world-class cardiologists. The new Dental School is under construction. The six-story Children’s Hospital has been approved. Brody School of Medicine is expanding and is adding a School of Public Health. Pitt Community College hs over 6000 students and is adding a 71,000 square foot classroom building on campus. In addition to that, our housing market is stable, afforable and attractive. Our median sales price is below $150,000 which makes home ownership possible for many people. Being a college town, we also have a variety of rentals available for both students and your professionals. The average age in Pitt County is 32…a byproduct of the university, community college and medical campus. So while we have a long history our population is fairly young. So….with interest rates low and home prices afforable this is an excellent time to buy a home. And Greenville/Pitt County is an excellent place in which to buy.
As the helicopter mother of one son I planned his graduation in detail…the young men in crisp school blazers, dappled sunlight under the towering oaks of the lawn, the muted voices of the families as they waited for the ceremonies to begin. Alas, this was not to be. Number one son decided he wanted to experience public school and the subsequent graduation looked and sounded nothing like I had anticipated. After one year of university number one son decided he didn’t know what he wanted from life and promptly joined the U.S. Marine Corp. Weeks later as I sat on the cold hard bleachers of the parade ground at Parris Island, S.C., anxiously scanning the rows of impeccably groomed young men for our number one son…it hit me. This was a graduation, I was sitting in the sun with the families of other Parris Island recruits. There was music, uniforms, speeches…..this was what I had planned! And the lesson here? Be careful what you pray for and be VERY, VERY, specific! What does this little story have to do with real estate, you ask? Everything, I answer. We connect with our buyer/seller, the most wonderful home is found, the offer is made and accepted, the inspections are done and the closing is scheduled. Happy people leave the closing with checks and keys in hand, ready to move on to the next chapter of their lives. Then reality hits. The stainless steel refrigerator is not in the house, nor is the lovely mirror which was in the powder room…and the dining room light fixture is definitely NOT the one they vividly remember! Oh, the specifics of writing offers and counseling our clients. There are blank spaces in the offer to purchase papers for a reason. Ask for the refrigerator (at no additional value) in writing; if you represent the seller and they plan to replace the light fixture or remove a valued mirror put it in writing and have all parties agree/acknowledge the change. Do not assume the sellers will patch the holes left in the walls from the removal of pictures and plates. Do the carpets need to be stretched? Then ASK for that in writing and inspect it before the closing. Be tediously specific! We get what we expect when we inspect what we get. As I post this offering, number one son is somewhere in Afghanistan and you can be assured that my prayers are VERY, VERY specific and that he will be carefully inspected when he returns.
Taxes this year will be more complicated than unusal due to new deductions and tax credits created last your. Many of the new tax breaks are credits and those reduce your bottom -line taxes dollar for dollar. Here are a few to keep in mind as you prepare your taxes.
1. Haiti Donations: Money given to Haiti prior to March 1st 2010 can be deducted on your 2009 itemized tax return. This applies to cash donations, not food and clothing.
2. Making-Work-Pay Credit: This applies to people within certain income limits and involved authorizing your employer to deduct fewer taxes from your pay. Check with your tax preparer regarding the amount of taxes to withhold.
3. Home Buyer Credit: This is the Golden Egg of tax credits! For first time home buyers or those who have not owned a home in three years the credit is $8000. If a homeowner has lived in their house for five out of the past eight years and purchased their next house after Novemebr 6, 2009 the tax credit is up to $6500. Buyers must be under contract by the end of May and closed by the end of June. Tax credits can be claimed on the 2009 tax return.
4. Car Sales Tax Deduction: If you bought a new car, motorcycle or mobile home between February 17th and the end of 2009 you may be eligible to deduct the sales tax paid on the first $49,500.
5. Energy Credits: Did you buy energy effecient windows, doors, heating units, AC, water heaters in 2009 and this year? You may be able to deduct up to $1500 or 30% of the cost (whichever is less). Certain items, like solar energy systems, may be deducted at 30% with no dollar limiit.
6. Unemployed Credit: If you received unemployment benefits in 2009 you will not pay income taxes on the first $2400. Your tax preparer can explain additional credits regarding the expense of health insurance purchased through COBRA.
7. Education Credit: The Opportunity Tax Credit covers the first $2000 spent on tuition, book, required fees, and 25% of the next $2000 in expenses. If you do not owe any taxes you can receive up to $1000 back as a refund.
8. Savings Bonds: You can instruct the IRS to use part of your refund to purchase US Savings Bonds, up to $5000 of series I bonds.
So keep your receipts and do some basic planning. Consult a tax professional for advice. This could be the year you save big on taxes!
Ten ways the new economy will look different:
1. Value is the new virtue. Out with the expensive “extras” and in with the discounts. Looking for and asking for discounts is now cool.
2. The return of the Tightwad! Out with entitlements and in with the discerning shopper. Discount stores such as Marshalls and TJMaxx are booming. Bargain shoppers, those who can find coupons and spot values, are the winners in the new economy. Consider them the hunters and gatherers of today.
3. The ebay of America. Need I say more? You want something…you google it and go to eBay. We’ve moved from boutique shopping to consignment shops. And it ‘s fun!!
4. There’s money in the mattress. Free spending is down, savings are up, credit card companies are nervous. It’s okay to say, “I don’t need it, I don’t want it, I choose not to buy at this time.”.
5. What happened to the Big Three? There was a shift and the goverment swallowed a large share. So free enterprise is down, goverment is up.
6. Our resumes are moveable. We are in the most fluid job market in history. Gone are the days of 30 year jobs and 30 year pensions.
7. The New Deal is “Green”. Bottom line is some jobs are gone so look for a new niche. Re-train, move, reinvent.
8. Stodgy is the “New Chic”. Who knew that boring would be cool? Family nights, home cooking, books and NetFlixs.
9. Rise of DYI investing…and the decline of the expert. So find your niche and work it!
10. Bust of the Boomtowns. Think “Vegas” where everyone, even newly hired hotel staff, was buying a house.
Most people purchase or sell a house only a few times in their life so we should not expect our clients to be mind readers. It’s our job, our fiduciary duty, to tell people what’s coming next. By doing this we can keep a mole hill from becoming a mountain. The following is a list of red flags to watch for and communicate about.
1. The dates in the contract….specifically those which are “time is of the essence”…need to be complied with. Make sure the loan has been applied for, the inspections ordered, the repair request submitted, etc. Use a check sheet to keep yourself on task.
2. If you are selling or buying an older home be aware of possible buried oil tanks. Ask lots of questions. Most agents suggest their seller remove the tank prior to putting their house on the market. Some states have funds in place to help with the expense. Waiting until an offer is made can be troublesome since there may be delays involved in the tank removal.
3. Become familiar with septic tanks in your area. Soil types will determine where the system is located as well as the repair field should the system fail and need to be relocated. Septic locations can be obtained through your county enviromental health department. Get a copy, have the system inspected and pumped prior to putting the house on the market.
4. Be aware of the pitfalls associated with buyers using out of town (or internet!!) lenders. Suggest the buyer have a back up mortgage application on file with a local mortgage lender familiar to the agent. Or better yet, make it a condition of the offer that a local or in-state lender be used by the buyer.
5. Good communication from your agent and mortgage lender is crucial. If either one does not return calls consider this a red flag and be proactive.
6. Out of town appraisers can sink a sale. Real estate is a local business and towns just a few miles apart can have very different prices. Pay attention to who is doing this work and be prepared to suggest a local appraiser. Protect your client.
7. If a garage or basement or attic has been finished after the house was built it is possible the seller may not have obtained the necessary permits. Ask for the records, check with the local building inspectors, pay close attention to how these areas may look different from the remainder of the house.
8. Inspections may open the door for a new price. The savvy seller will have a pre-inspection and address and correct those items which may be uncovered. Don’t run the risk of delays or missed sales due to water damage, electrical issues, etc.
The message is to be prepared, be pro-active, and pay attention to details. That’s what we get paid for.
Let’s put the question to rest once and for all. “Yes! Yes! Yes!!” This is the best time to buy a house since Elvis was alive and singing in the dark! The reasons are this: historically low interest rates and incredible TAX CREDITS. Those last two words mean GIFT. Rates will evenutually rise, the feds will take their gift away, and the really good deals will be snapped up by someone else…unless you act now! Home ownership in America, unlike life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is not a right. Believe me, I have met people who should never, never own a home. Home ownership is a privilege. And properly managed home ownership helps build wealth for the individual and stability for our neighborhoods and towns.
According to the National Home Builders Association each home purchase represents, on average, $35,000 to the local economy through the monies involved in the sale of the property, taxes generated, furnishings and home goods purchased, fences erected, lawns landscaped and …the family minivan in the garage. Home owners invest in their property. Most renters do not. So, if you already own your home and want or need to sell, what should your next move be?
Spring Punch List (Exterior)
1. Power wash the house, driveway and deck. Pay special attention to the north side of the house…re4member the tree and the moss.
2. Put down fresh pine straw and make sure it is “fluffy”…this is no time to scimp.
3. Plant flowers and shrubs.
4. Trim existing shrubs.
5. Clean the windows inside and out, as well as the screens and the window sills.
6. Purchase new front doot and side door mats…nothing cutesy.
7. Clean and polish door hardware.
8. Declutter the garage and storage spaces. Get everything off the floor by using shelving and pegboards. You will be thrilled with how special this makes you feel.
Spring Punch List (Interior)
1. Clean the carpet and upholstery
2. Declutter the closets and cupboards (see #8 above)
3. Throw away old magazines, dead plants, etc.
4. Open the windows. Let the fresh air inside.
5. Flip your mattress (side to side, top to bottom)
6. Purchase new bed pillows.
7. Change all the filters.
8. Organize your clothes closet and throw out all wire hangers.
9. Clean out your refrigerator and throw away all items outdated oor of unknown origin.
10. Clean your oven and dishwasher.
11. Dust the blades on all ceiling fans.
Keep in mind that when buyers visit your home they are looking for a reason to mark you off the list, and buyers like short lists. So make sure your home looks and smells wonderful. Buyers will not be fooled by scented candles and plug-ins. The sale of your home is based on four basic facts: the price, the location, the condition and the terms. You control all of these except the location. This is the bottom line…we are in a price war and a beauty contest. In other words, go for cheap and pretty.
On a recent GMA sound bite it was suggested that the seller be available (as in on site) during showings of their home so they could answer questions. The reporter stated, “after all, no one can sell your home as well as you can”. I could feel the hair raising on the back of my neck as I heard those words. Having sellers in the home during a showing is the kiss of death! They talk too much, they hover over the buyer, they’re anxious…and it shows. Buyers will bolt for the door. So if you’re a seller take this advice. Stay away. Leave the lights on, toilet lids down, and make yourself scarce. Your agent will get the buyer feedback for you. And if they don’t, ask “where is it?”. Could it be that there are buyer agents out there who Don’t Give Feedback? For shame!!
Forget the heady days of 2005 and 2006 when buyers fell from the trees and sellers could expect automatic appreciation of their homes. I don’t think we’ll be seeing that again any time soon…and maybe that’s just fine. I hope we’ve learned a few lessons from this market shift. The winds have blown away the chaff and left us with a few “truisms”.
1. This is a price war and a beauty contest. If you bring your house to the dance (market place) it had better be buffed out and in its best outfit. And the price should be prettier than all the rest.
2. The marketing and selling of real estate is serious business. Those who simply dabble will not last in this market.
3. Everything (and I do mean everything) boils down to relationships. Relationships with your buyers, sellers, friends, family, neighbors, store clerks, bank tellers…people will do business with those they like and trust. So be nice to people, follow the Golden Rule, listen more than you speak.
4. The world expects you to be knowledgeable about real estate. Would you go to a dentist who did not keep up with the changes in his field? Read the trade magazines. Listen to webinars. Do not go to bed at night unless you have learned something new that day which will enrich your life.
5. This is not business as usual. So keep up.
6. Why should you pursue and understand social media? Because that’s where your clients are. Go meet them.
7. Be prepared…
8. Be available…
9. Be positive…
10. Be there…
I awoke in the middle of the night with this question on my mind, “How do I spread the word?”. Blast emails? Radio? How about an airplane banner flying over Pitt County? The “word” is that we are running out of new construction inventory!! In 2008 we had 900 building permits approved…less than a third of that in 2009. Now, we all know a few reasons for this and I won’t bore anyone with redundancy. But the ground truth is this….for the past 20 years 33% of our local market has consisted of new construction…until now. Our current new construction inventory is less than 18% of the active listings, less than 15% in the Winterville area. Factor in the last 6 month absorption rate and we now have a 9 month supply of new contruction for sale in Pitt County. So? Well, let’s add this up. Low new home inventory + Spring market + Lack of new “starts” in construction = No Sales and Huge Missed Opportunities for builders, buyers, bankers and those of us who work in the real estate/construction industry. Builders need bankers who will make loans for new construction. Bankers need to look at Pitt County and it’s strengths rather than regional data sheets. And we, the real estate professionals, need to get out the ”word” that homes are selling in Pitt County and we need more homes for our buyers! So call your bankers, builders, database…we can reverse this negative construction trend.
My favorite neighborhood is….Oak Hill Farm. That’s probably because I live there, the house was custom built and we have a private rear yard which is home to many birds, including wood peckers and owls. And we have great neighbors. After all, that is what makes a community…the people. While sitting on the front porch I can watch children and dogs from up and down the street play tag and ride their scooters. Flags fly on the 4th of July. Mailboxes are surrounded by flowers. Everyone knows your name. Neighbors pick up your mail and watch your house when you’re away. And we are 3 minutes from Harris Teeter, one mile outside city limits, and a short drive to schools. There is only one house for sale in Oak Hill Farm and we’ll be sad to see the Seissels’ move away. Perhaps you would enjoy our neighborhood so check us out….1 mile south of Firetower Rd and Portertown Road.