Thinking of Refinancing? Do It Now to Avoid Fees

As the U.S. slowly returns to work, analysts are warning of another possible wave of layoffs as businesses restructure in a post-coronavirus economy. You may find yourself or a loved one in financial difficulty — even if it’s a temporary situation.

In this case, when household budgets are stretched to the maximum, you have the option of requesting forbearance which can temporarily postpone your mortgage payments and those will be tacked on to the end of your mortgage term. Don’t mistake forbearance for debt

If you’ve been patiently waiting to refinance at the lowest possible rate, you should do it right now before they go up in December.

The government has taken a major COVID hit and it intends to recoup any lost funds by imposing a 0.5% new mortgage refinancing fee on December 1. If half a percent doesn’t seem like much, let’s put it in perspective: the average U.S. homeowner will pay, on average, $1400 for that bump.

Rates haven’t been this low since the 1970s (yes, 50 years ago). While no one can predict the future, it’s not a bad bet that today’s rates through November 30th could be the lowest you’ll see for a very long time.

Yes, it’s a short window, but it could be worse. The Adverse Market Refinance Fee was slated to begin in September, but industry pushback forced the FHFA to hold off until December. Consider this your window of opportunity.

Here are the rates right now (source: Freddie Mac)

If you’ve been waiting for the right time, the time is now. Get in touch and let’s look at your options. If you hadn’t considered a refinance but would like to discuss the possibility, please call me at 617-965-1236. I have been very busy helping homeowners save money and I’d love to do the same for you.

Ready to buy a new home or refinance the one you own? Please get in touch and I’ll be happy to answer your questions and help guide you through the process. I look forward to speaking with you.


Website Refresh!

One thing we’ve learned during the pandemic is to take a closer look at our marketing.

If it’s been a few years since you’ve updated your website you may find that it looks and feels dated. There may be some broken links, an outdated logo, and a need to add or delete services.

I love the new and improved Westchester Mortgage. It fits with my style and looks like the kinds of clients I love to help.

Have a look and let me know what you think! I value your opinion.

By the way, if you’d like a referral to my trusted marketing team, send an email and I’ll put you in touch with the best people I know to help you market your business.


September’s Home Improver: White Vinegar: The All-Purpose Cleaning Solution

Having company this weekend and need to clean in a hurry? No time to shop for products? Grab some white vinegar and get cleaning!

As a non-toxic, natural cleaning agent, white vinegar is great for little jobs where either commercial cleaning products don’t exist, or they contain chemicals that may be less eco-friendly or less healthy for a house with small children and pets. Always remember, as with any cleaning agent, do a spot test on fabrics.

1. Kitchen. Using equal parts water and vinegar, clean the inside of your refrigerator. You can even leave a bottle of solution in the door when you’re done. To clean your microwave, place a half cup each of water and vinegar in a glass bowl and run the microwave for 3 minutes. Then simply wipe away and greasy buildup with ease.

2. Bathroom. When paired with baking soda, you can remove all the nasty stains and odors from around the toilet and tub. It won’t have a negative effect on tiles, grout, and metals the way bleach does.

3. Bedroom. Mix white vinegar, rubbing alcohol, and some tea tree oil in a spray bottle. Lightly spritz on your mattress to help combat dust mites, mildew, and general odors. For a deeper clean, follow with a dusting of baking soda. Let dry, then vacuum the mattress.

 

Is Forbearance a Good Option or a Re-fi Trap?

As the U.S. slowly returns to work, analysts are warning of another possible wave of layoffs as businesses restructure in a post-coronavirus economy. You may find yourself or a loved one in financial difficulty — even if it’s a temporary situation.

In this case, when household budgets are stretched to the maximum, you have the option of requesting forbearance which can temporarily postpone your mortgage payments and those will be tacked on to the end of your mortgage term. Don’t mistake forbearance for debt forgiveness.

This may seem like a godsend in difficult times – and it can be – but read on to learn about how being granted forbearance can work against you.

As of this past Monday, nearly 4.3 million homeowners were in forbearance plans.

The Massachusetts Division of Banks, in a memo sent in late March, said that “institutions will implement all reasonable and necessary change to provide relief to those adversely impacted borrowers during this state of emergency, and continuing thereafter, as necessary.”

This relief package includes:

  • Forbearing mortgage payments for 60 or more days from their due dates
  • Waiving late payment fees and any online payment fees for a period of 60 days
  • Postponing foreclosures for 60 days
  • Offering borrowers an additional 60-day grace period to complete trial loan modifications, and ensuring that late payments during the COVID-19 pandemic do not affect their ability to obtain permanent loan modifications

While an approved forbearance request can be a much-needed relief in difficult times, it is part of your mortgage history and will remain on your record, though not necessarily in a punitive way.

For more information on COVID-19 assistance, visit the CARES Act government website.

If you are planning to take advantage of a lower rate through a refinance, you should be aware that you may have to get caught up in full before your new loan is approved. So if your three-month forbearance was tacked to the end of your mortgage, you would essentially be undoing the forbearance and paying the months you had skipped in order for your refinance to go through.

Coming up with three three months of mortgage payments may be insurmountable at this time, especially when you opted for forbearance in the first place. In addition, you may need to show where the funds came from to cover the months of forbearance. Whether you borrowed the money or if it was gifted to you, the banks may choose to decline the refinance if they conclude that you’re still too deep in financial difficulty or uncertainty.

If you would like to discuss financial options, please call me at 617-965-1236.

Ready to buy a new home or refinance the one you own? Please get in touch and I’ll be happy to answer your questions and help guide you through the process. I look forward to speaking with you.


Happy Juneteenth!

Juneteenth is a holiday celebrated annually in almost every state on June 19 and often through the weekend. Its name is a portmanteau (combination) of the date.

Although the Emancipation Proclamation had formally freed enslaved people almost two-and-a-half years earlier, Texas was the most remote of the slave-states, with a low presence of Union troops, so enforcement of the proclamation had been slow and inconsistent. It finally came on June 19, 1865 in Galveston, Texas.

In 1980, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday. In 2020, all but three states observe it as a state holiday.

In 2007, Massachusetts was the 25th state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday and as recognition of this event gains momentum, it is possible that Juneteenth could become a federal holiday in a few years.


June’s Home Improver: The Best Toilet Paper for Septic Systems

We are in our third month of COVID-19 and even though many are returning to regular day-to-day activities, one thing remains constant: toilet paper is still hard to find and many continue to hoard it. Because of the scarcity you may have gladly accepted whatever was on the supermarket’s shelves, but that could be an issue if your home has a septic system.

Not all toilet paper is the same, and those differences could create issues with your septic system. Your best bets are products that are biodegradable, made from recycled paper, and, of course, septic-safe. Here are the brands offering the best results for problem-free flushing. You may be surprised (and relieved) to see some familiar brands.

  1. Scott – Rapid Dissolving Toilet Paper
  2. Angel Soft
  3. Quilted Northern Regular or Ultra Plush
  4. Cottonelle Ultra Comfort Care
  5. Amazon Brand – Presto! Ultra Soft
  6. Firebelly Outfitters Brand – RV Toilet Paper
  7. Whole Foods Brand – Seventh Generation Toilet Paper

These papers are fast-dissolving and that includes multi-ply and quilted. Other bands may seem thinner, but that does not guarantee their ability to dissolve quickly. If your store is out of your favorite brand, consider one of the above to keep your septic system safe.

 

The Effect of Coronavirus On Mortgages

There is no question the coronavrius pandemic has had a severe impact on our daily lives. Financially, it’s brought a very strong economy into a recession almost overnight. In the past three weeks more than 17 million U.S. workers filed for unemployment after a staggering number of layoffs.

Real estate sales slowed during stay-at-home orders and as of April 5, new home listings were down 27% nationally year-over-year.

You may have heard talk of the Fed cutting rates to 0%. Let’s be clear, though, that mortgage rates and the Fed’s rates are two different things. But there is some good news for buyers. Two weeks ago, the rates for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage dropped to 3.29%, hitting an all-time low. This week, they rose to 3.33%, but that’s still significantly lower than the very reasonable 4.12% from a year ago.

While a low rate may make purchasing a new home or refinancing your existing one a desirable option, there are things you should consider. Is your job and income secure? (That may be difficult to answer given the uncertainty of what’s to come.) Do you have assets and savings along with good credit? This is particularly important now because banks may be more stringent than ever in approving mortgage applications.

This is where I can help. I know how to navigate towards a mortgage approval in difficult times. I have experience and success working with clients in the post-9/11 economy as well as during the recession in 2009. This is a similar situation and together we can figure out if buying now is right for you, your family, or friends.

We’ll get through this as we have in the past. We have learned hard lessons and that makes us more equipped to take on challenges as we adjust to the new economy.

I wish you all good health and if I can be of any help to you myself or through my trusted network, please call me at 617-965-1236.

Ready to buy a new home or refinance the one you own? Please get in touch and I’ll be happy to answer your questions and help guide you through the process. I look forward to speaking with you.


Tips for Making Staying Home More Interesting

If you are a non-essential worker and you find yourself housebound during the coronavirus, you may find yourself getting restless. If you live alone, you may feel isolated and if you have a family, you may feel like there’s no escape from the kids running around and looking for something to do. After all, how much Tiger King can you take?

Here are some ideas to make your 24/7 stay-at-home life a little more interesting.

  1. Learn something new. Watch a TED Talk every day.
  2. Start a blog on Medium and get paid for if it takes off. Or just read the thousands of articles published daily.
  3. Update your résumé and use free Canva templates to get creative with it.
  4. Self-publish that book that’s been sitting on your computer for free with Kindle Direct Publishing.
  5. Have fun with leftovers and miscellaneous food items and stage a “Chopped” competition with your family.
  6. Try 63 science experiments with the kids using stuff from around the house.
  7. Do the Getty Museum challenge. It’s becoming very popular! Use household items to recreate famous works of art.
  8. Have Virtual Happy Hour with friends (for adults) and Virtual play dates (for the kids) with Zoom or Google Hangouts.
  9. Plan a scavenger hunt in your house by hiding items in different rooms and have the kids hunt them down.
  10. Try a free 30-day yoga challenge.

April’s Home Improver: Spring Cleaning & Donating

Since most non-essential workers are spending more time at home than they have in years, we’re hearing of a lot of small home improvement projects. But most of all, people are keeping busy with spring cleaning. You may notice you have quite a few things in your home that you no longer use or need. Donating to charities can give your possessions a second life while decluttering your home. Here are a few ideas of places to donate.

  1. Non-perishable foods. Local food pantries are always in need of non-perishable items. If you have canned goods you’ll probably never use as you clean out the cupboard, you can always donate them to a food pantry in your neighborhood.
  2. Old books. For those who prefer paper books to Kindle or Apple e-books, you may have accumulated a stockpile of novels you no longer need. Why not donate them to the military? Check out Operation Paperback and send some books to our troops!
  3. Old clothes. If you have gone through your closets and realized you’ve got clothes in good shape that you and your family will probably never wear again, you can always make a donation to a charity that will gladly accept them along with other household items you may want to donate. Here is a list of charities you can help.

Case Study: Help with Refinancing

The Situation:

Julie is a divorced mom with a teenager at home. Her finances were perilously low, and she needed help. A friend of hers who had worked with me previously asked Julie to call me to explore her options.

The Challenges:

Julie felt she didn’t have the credit history or sufficient income to refinance and was hesitant to even start. She assumed her application to refinance her home would not be approved.

The Actions:

We had an initial conversation and I gave her suggestions on how to increase her credit scores. (Julie jokingly said “OK, Mom,” when I gave her the list of suggestions.) By her own admission, she was dragging her feet during the process and I encouraged her to continue. She felt completely overwhelmed and frozen from taking action. I helped organize her finances and get her paperwork in order to put the plan in motion. She needed a Marie Kondo of mortgages to “tidy up” her financials and I acted as her coach. From there, good things started to happen. She got a promotion, she updated and completed her paperwork, and I submitted the mortgage application and documentation.

The Results:

Four months and lots of encouragement later, her new mortgage was approved, closed and funded! Julie said, “Debbie is a life-saver. I could not have done this without her help and guidance. My life continues to improve as my credit score is steadily rising and new opportunities are presenting themselves.

“Thank you, Debbie, for helping me get back on my feet. I appreciate the care you took with me that went beyond anything I had ever expected. You kept me on track and accountable through this whole process. I would recommend Westchester Mortgage to anyone concerned about qualifying for a mortgage or refinance, especially those who need some extra hand-holding during a challenging process.”

Ready to buy a new home or refinance the one you own? Please get in touch and I’ll be happy to answer your questions and help guide you through the process. I look forward to speaking with you.


Happy Leap Year Day!

Just when you thought winter couldn’t possibly drag on further, we’ve got an extra day of February this year.

Here are some Leap Year facts you may not know

  1. Julius Caesar added the first Leap Year Day to his Julian Calendar in 45 BCE. The date was February 24 and in his calendar, February was the last month of the year.
  2. Babies born on Leap Year Day are called “leaplings” and there are approximately 4 million leaplings out in the world.
  3. Famous “leaplings” include Dinah Shore, Dennis Farina, Tony Robbins and Pope Paul III.
  4. The odds of being born on February 29 are just 1 in 1,461.
  5. Leap years are also Summer Olympics years as well as US Presidential election years.

February’s Home Improver: Cleaning a Sewage Spill

Sewage can flood your basement when pipes break or when drains are backed up. Raw sewage can damage your basement and cause severe health problems. If your flooding is significant, please call a professional. For smaller leaks you feel confident in handling yourself, here are a few tips:

  1. Dress appropriately. Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, boots or waders and rubber gloves. No exceptions!
  2. Turn off gas or water lines and keep a window open when possible. This will keep fresh air coming in and air circulating.
  3. Use a hose to rinse the floor and direct water towards the basement drain.
  4. Fill a bucket with a gallon of water and a cup of bleach. Swirl a stiff-bristled brush broom into the mixture. Scrub the walls of the basement and move down toward the floor. Continue saturating the brush broom and scrubbing the basement.
  5. Hose everything down again. Very important to keep going. Rinse off your brush, too.
  6. Repeat step 4. Yes, you have to do it twice! This is non-negotiable, even for minor seepage.
  7. Hose a third and final time. Then turn on fans and use a dehumidifer to help rid the basement of water.

Why Holiday House Hunting Makes Sense

Yeah, we get it. The weather outside is frightful. You haven’t even started holiday shopping. Family is expected any minute. Why in the world would you start looking for a home now — or worse, or in the dead of winter?

Most families wait for the spring market to rev up. More houses are available and that means it’s easier to find a great deal, right? Not necessarily. Here’s why.

The winter can be a great time to purchase a home, especially for buyers without kids or with grown children. No worries about changing schools or making sure they get enrolled for the fall.

There is also a lot less competition. Last year’s peak market had buyers waiving home inspections and increasing down payments — doing whatever they could to get a leg up on other eager buyers while making purchases nearly impossible for those on a tight budget. Because of this, waiting for the spring market can be a mistake. Winter can be a very good time to buy.

So yes, the spring has more inventory, but that brings more buyers. When you look for homes at this time of year, you’ll have a better chance at avoiding aggressive bidding wars. Sellers who list during this time are typically ready to move as soon as possible due to job changes, relocating, downsizing or retiring. They tend to be less ambitious in their asking price. And although it’s never a guarantee, interest rates tend to be lower in a softer market.

If your Thanksgiving dinner conversation includes a friend or family member talking about buying a home — or if you’re considering it yourself — please give me a call at 617-965-1236.

Ready to buy a new home or refinance the one you own? Please get in touch and I’ll be happy to answer your questions and help guide you through the process. I look forward to speaking with you.


Happy Thanksgiving!

I wanted to take a moment to express my gratitude for all of you — friends, family, colleagues and clients.

You have supported me and made Westchester Mortgage successful for many years. I am so grateful for the friendships, connections, and long-lasting, meaningful relationships I’ve built with so many of you over the years. It means so much to me!

My favorite part of my work is helping those who needed guidance in getting approved for a mortgage. People who had no idea that together we could figure out how to come up with a down payment, or navigate through all the variables related to their homes and finances following a divorce or breakup. These are the times I feel like I’m making a difference in peoples’ lives. It means everything to me. I am truly thankful.

So whether you’re celebrating with family and friends or going it solo this year, I wanted to wish you all a wonderful, healthy and happy Thanksgiving.


Thanksgiving Home Improver: The Great Cranberry Sauce Debate

It’s that time of year again. Forget about turkey, football, and family — and avoid talk of politics entirely if possible. Instead, focus on that other hot topic that’s become a Thanksgiving tradition: canned or fresh? Yes, it’s time for the Umpteenth Annual Great Cranberry Sauce Debate.

Let’s not kid ourselves here. Fresh cranberry sauce is the only choice for foodies with sophisticated palates. It has the consistency of jam and let’s be honest–it’s far more of an actual sauce than the tart, jellied blob that comes a-slidin’ out of the can. When it comes to pure fruit flavor, there is no debate: fresh cranberry wins in a landslide.

But there’s another side of the argument. For many generations, canned cranberry sauce is both a tradition and a guilty pleasure. Just look at it. It retains the shape of the can, including those lines which canned purists feel adds some extra texture and mouth feel that takes them back to the happy and carefree days of their youth.

Here’s our take: Yeah, we get it. Fresh cranberry sauce tastes great. However, Thanksgiving comes but once a year, and it’s a holiday of family and traditions. That’s enough for us. Slide out that bouncy jellied blob, slice it up and serve it next to the turkey and stuffing!

Solutions for Separations

Divorces and separations can be very stressful and complex situations to resolve. They are especially difficult when homes and children are involved.

How do you work out a fair arrangement? Can child support be extended? How do figure out what to do when one partner leaves and the other stays?

This is another reason why working with professionals and asking the right questions can reduce the anxiety and help you financially. We all know that attorneys will be involved, but sometimes asking your mortgage broker for advice can be a big help. I’m happy to partner with attorneys and mediators to be a sounding board for things like debt-to-income ratio calculations, housing budgets, realistic mortgage payment options, and income sources. I do not give legal advice but I understand what attorneys look for and provide them with helpful information.

Over the years, I have worked with clients in these situations and offered advice that has made a difference in their lives. Recently I worked with a couple to arrange a buyout when one partner stayed in the home while the other bought a condo nearby and needed a new mortgage. This involved a re-finance on the home which resulted in a lower rate, and the mortgage on the condo.

Recently, I helped a divorcing woman buy her husband out of the family home. She needed the child support to count as part of her income. The underwriter looked at the children’s ages (18+) and initially declined it. But I knew the kids were still living at home with their mom when not in school. With the help of a family law attorney who provided Massachusetts-specific statutes around this issue, I was able to ultimately get it approved when it would otherwise have been declined.

If you or someone you know is thinking of separating or is in the process of divorcing, it’s worth your time to discuss your options with me. Give me a call at 617-965-1236.

Ready to buy a new home or refinance the one you own? Please get in touch and I’ll be happy to answer your questions and help guide you through the process. I look forward to speaking with you.


Autum Musings

The fall season is here and it’s starting to feel like it outside. Mornings are darker and chillier. Leaves are changing color. Pumpkin spice is everywhere. Here are a few things you may not know about the fall.

  1. Leaves don’t actually change color. Well, they do, but they’ve had those colors all along.
    Those stunning red, orange, and yellow pigments are actually present all year; they’re hiding under the surface. When sunlight diminishes in fall, chlorophyll breaks down, letting the plant’s hidden red, yellow, and orange hues shine.
  2. Squirrels get smarter in the fall. When they bury nuts and seeds in hundreds of scattered hiding places that serve as emergency winter reserves, a typical squirrel shows a 15 percent increase in the size of its hippocampus –the memory and emotion center of the brain –compared to the rest of the year.
  3. In foliage-blessed states like ours, “leaf peeping” is a $3 billion dollar business in New England, where millions of out-of-state visitors flock to take in the changing colors.
  4. In Massachusetts, the most popular Halloween candy is Butterfinger. Here’s a map with the most popular Halloween candy by state.

October’s Home Improver: Using the Whole Pumpkin

OK, so for years you’ve mastered the art of pumpkin carving. Your jack-o-lanterns are the envy of the neighborhood. But what have you done with the inside of the pumpkin? Did you just scoop it out and toss it in the trash? If you did, you’ve missed out on the benefits of this versatile member of the squash family.

  1. Pumpkin Stew. It may sound weird, but don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. Pumpkin in stew adds texture and flavor that will make you want to use it for every stew you cook this fall. It’s also delicious (and full of nutrients) in your Chili.
  2. Pumpkin Pie. Where do you get your pumpkin pie? At the store? Come on now! You just pulled the main ingredient out of your Halloween pumpkin. Make a pie out of it!
  3. Roasted Pumpkin Seeds. After you’ve taken the time to carefully pick out the, I don’t know, million or so pumpkin seeds, don’t toss them! Roast them.
  4. Make a Cocktail. This Pumpkin Spice cocktail is described as “interesting” by the author, but hey, it’ll be a big hit with the adults at your Halloween party!
  5. Feed the Animals. If you are allowed to feed wildlife that may be passing by your home, consider carving up your pumpkin into chunks after Halloween and leaving it out for deer and other animals who might enjoy it.

Refinancing? Assess Before You Say Yes

There’s been a recent re-financing boom like we haven’t seen in a few years, when rates dipped to their lowest in decades. Now the fed has dropped rates below 4% and homeowners are considering refinancing now because rates may never be this low again.

Currently the rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage is at 3.94%, which is the lowest it’s been since November of 2016. For perspective, the rate was 4.71% a year ago and 4.20% just four weeks ago.

Seeing this sharp decline makes refinancing very attractive to homeowners, but let’s look at three questions you may want to ask yourself before pulling the trigger on a refinance.

Can you say yes to the following?

  1. With the new proposed rate, will I consistently save $80 or more per month off my current mortgage payment?
  2. Am I in a position to eliminate my mortgage insurance based on the remaining balance of my current mortgage and increased property values?
  3. Will I be able to recoup the cost of this refinance in under two years?

If you said yes to all three, then you’re probably in a strong position to refinance your mortgage. If you answered yes to at least one, get in touch and let’s determine if a refi is right for you.

Ready to buy a new home or refinance the one you own? Please get in touch and I’ll be happy to answer your questions and help guide you through the process. I look forward to speaking with you.


Happy Independence Day!

This year is flying by and I hope you’re all squeezing in a little vacation time, even if you’re just taking a few days off to relax and not think about work for a while.

Many families will be away over the next few weeks. Whether you’ve planned a fun getaway or you’re simply barbecuing in the backyard with friends and family, time away from the daily grind is essential for recharging your body and brain.

If you are afforded vacation time by your employer and don’t take it, you’re doing yourself (and your company) a disservice.

Research consistently shows the health benefits of taking vacation time, like improved productivity, lower stress and better mental health.

So take that vacation (or staycation) and enjoy yourself this summer. You’ve earned it!


June’s Home Improver: Keep Bugs Out of Your Home This Summer

You may have noticed the spring has been particularly rainy and damp this year. You may not have loved it, but the many species of insects thrive on it. That means a summer filled with mosquitoes, ticks, ants, beetles, houseflies, spiders, centipedes and stink bugs.

Those creepy crawlies are bad enough outdoors, but they’re far more annoying when they invade your home. So what can you do to keep those invasive bugs out of your house? Here are a few tips:

  1. Pest control. If you live in a heavily wooded area and you regularly find insects crawling or flying around the house, you may want to call a professional to spray the rooms of your home.
  2. Declutter, clean, vacuum and sweep. Critters love a mess and thrive under boxes, in dark corners and in your carpet. The more you clean, the less chance of infestation.
  3. Seal your doors. The tiniest space in your door is a giant welcome sign to an insect. Head on over to your home improvement center and buy an inexpensive but effective door sweep.
  4. Repair or replace screens. See that tiny hole in your window screen? So do hundreds of creatures flying by and they will make themselves right at home if you don’t take care of it.

Honorable mention: Get some bats! Bats eat insects like people eat potato chips. You can’t have just one. In fact, the average American bat eats up to 1,200 mosquito-sized insects every hour, and each bat usually eats 6,000 to 8,000 insects each night.

When the Best Rate Isn’t the Best Deal

It can be frustrating when anxious homebuyers call to see if I can match a rate from a big bank because they think they are getting the best deal–and in a way they are, at least on paper. But there’s so much more to consider.

When a client calls me and says they heard about a super-low rate on a 15-year fixed loan, they are thinking in the short-term and it’s my job to talk to them about the ramifications of diving into a loan that could potentially cripple their financial future.

This is what separates me from the competition. I’m not afraid to talk people out of a deal that could leave them with mortgage-buyer’s remorse just weeks after they sign the contract.

I don’t believe in assembly line mortgages that get rubber-stamped just because the buyer qualifies for it. Those companies pay little attention to how your long-term financial well-being is addressed.

I believe strongly in the analysis of each homebuyer’s unique situation and then acting as a sounding board for them to find the right programs and consultants to help them make the smartest decision possible. For example, they may need to meet with a CPA or Financial Advisor first.

Walk into a big bank and the starting point is typically, “What can you afford?” They’re starting with their endgame in mind, telling you about the great rate but not necessarily caring if the payment is too high or if they’ve chosen the right program for you.

Buying a home takes time, care and analysis on my part to help you find the best path to secure and pay off your mortgage. Call me at 617-965-1236 to discuss how I can help.

Ready to buy a new home or refinance the one you own? Please get in touch and I’ll be happy to answer your questions and help guide you through the process. I look forward to speaking with you.


Happy 4/20!

That’s the numerical code for marijuana’s high holiday, and millions will be lighting up this afternoon to pay tribute to their favorite weed — for medicinal purposes, of course!

So where did 4/20 (or 4:20) come from? Back in 1971, five high school seniors from San Francisco took a break to take a toke and the code 4:20 soon caught on and “went viral” in the days before things went viral.

My husband, Dr. Kevin Hill, published a book on marijuana and is an expert in his field on the subject. Find out more about it here.


April’s Home Improver: Caulk vs. Grout: What’s the Difference?

There are several choices you must make in life: Democrat or Republican? Cat or Dog? Red Sox or Yankees? But no question confounds the average homeowner more than grout vs. caulk.

You didn’t think they were the same, did you? No worries. It’s a common mistake. While they may look similar, each has a specific function for your tile.

Grout is a kind of cement, and because of its porous properties, water can filter through it. It’s perfect for holding your tiles in place. Unfortunately, it’s less effective at the “joints” where the walls come together and where the walls meet the floor.

Movement happens in all houses. They settle or shift on the foundation. This is what causes those cracks in the grout. Using caulk in these areas is the better solution.

You may have noticed mold and mildew between the tiles and joints. It’s best to scrape it out and start fresh, eliminating grout and using only caulk.

Caulk is flexible and can help absorb movement so it’s the better choice for wall or floor joints. It won’t crack and will keep your tiles work looking newer for a longer period. Remember to apply it smoothly and accurately to avoid uneven lines and drips.

Finding the Money for Your Downpayment

In an ideal world you’ll have saved enough money for the downpayment on your home and you’ll be easily approved for your new mortgage. Unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world and certain circumstances can make you feel like you’ve got no choice but to find a way to raise the funds necessary for your downpayment. Some of these scenarios include:

  • Divorce, especially when children are involved
  • Moving out of parents’ home in an uncomfortable situation
  • Skyrocketing rents that are higher than mortgage payments

Reasons like these and others may inspire you to get creative in finding the money you need to buy your home. The one thing you should never do is take out a big loan. Even if your intentions are honorable, your debt-to-income ratio can be skewed to the point where you’ll be instantly turned down. Here are some other ideas:

  1. Borrow from a family member. Yes, this can be dangerous if you’re concerned about paying it back quickly, but if you have the ability to repay the loan, you’ll probably get it at a very low rate of interest or possibly without interest at all. Some families who have money saved may even gift it to you so you won’t have to pay it back unless you want to.
  2. Cash in your 401(k). Be careful here. Severe penalties and taxes could diminish the total. You may have $30,000 saved, but with penalties and tax payments, it could drop that amount to somewhere around $14,000. Still, dire circumstances call for big sacrifices. This is a personal decision that only you can make.
  3. Take a second job. If you can handle it, the extra money should go straight to your downpayment fund. It’s not easy, but millions of Americans hold down multiple jobs and deposit their paychecks directly into a bank account for their downpayment.
  4. Government programs. Veterans can apply for assistance through VA loans. In some cases you won’t need a downpayment for your mortgage and the rate is usually lower than what is offered by commercial lenders.

Making these hard decisions can require some help. I provide my clients the most sensible options for their unique situations and act like a sounding board to help them make the best decisions.

Buying a home takes time, care and analysis on my part to help you find the best path to secure and pay off your mortgage. Call me at 617-965-1236 to discuss how I can help.

Ready to buy a new home or refinance the one you own? Please get in touch and I’ll be happy to answer your questions and help guide you through the process. I look forward to speaking with you.


Om

Today is National Meditation Day, so let’s take a moment to focus on the benefits of this ancient practice.
Did you know that more than 380 peer-reviewed research studies on transcendental meditation have been published in over 160 scientific journals?
The research shows that meditating regularly has some very specific health benefits.
  1. Reduced cortisol. This is a stress hormone. Meditating can reduce the release of it. The studies found a noticeable reduction of stroke and heart attack in those with coronary diseases compared with people who did not meditate.
  2. Reduced anxiety and depression.
  3. Improved memory and brain function.
  4. Reduced insomnia.
  5. Greater inner calm.
  6. Normalized blood pressure.
To learn more about different types and techniques of meditation, check out this article from the Mayo clinic.

May’s Home Improver: Know Your Ants!

There are many types of ants crawling in yards, trees and homes around the world. Some are harmless and others, like the notorious bulldog ant of Australia, will bite and sting you until you’re dead.

In Massachusetts, we mostly have kindler, gentler ants, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be aggressive and hazardous to your health.

Let’s start with the common little black ant. What’s he doing in your house and why is he traveling with so many friends? He’s probably foraging for food. If you’ve ever seen a long trail of ants heading for your trash bin or trudging towards an errant fruit loop, it’s because they’re hungry. They won’t bite you but they have a sweet tooth, so be careful what you leave around the house.

Next, we have the flying ant, also called the swarmer. Mostly harmless, but menacing. I hate these things! Who thought it was a cool idea to give ants wings? I suppose its better than a flying rat, but aren’t those just bats?

OK, time for some next-level ant toughness. The carpenter ant. Now don’t expect them to make you a bookshelf. Their name implies that they’re workers, but they can be quite destructive. Carpenter ants
enjoy infesting wood that’s been weakened by moisture. Some people mistake their them for termites when they gather during mating season. But carpenter ants don’t actually eat wood like termites. Instead, they destroy wood by burrowing down into it and building nests. Fun!

Finally we have the fire ant. Stay away from these freaks! The good news is they’ll probably avoid coming into your home. But if their nest is upset in the yard, they get mean. They have no problem racing after you and stinging you (yes, they both bite and sting). The stings are very painful and can be dangerous for people and pets with certain allergies. Lucky for us, these fire ants aren’t the same as the venomous South American fire ant, which has made its way to Australia and causes millions of dollars in damage every year.

Is Zillow the Uber of Real Estate?

There’s no question that Zillow.com has evolved from a real estate curiosity to a major player in the industry. While some may think of it as a starting point for future homebuyers or simply an entertaining way for house-hunters to kill some time online, Zillow is emerging as a force that could disrupt the entire real estate process. In fact, it already has.

If you’re wondering if Zillow will eventually displace real estate agents, I suppose it’s possible, though highly unlikely — and it would be years away if Zillow were to consider such a pivot.

The more likely lasting scenario is their current model, which uses real estate agents the way Uber uses vetted drivers to close business for them.

Here’s how it works: Zillow sells leads to agents backed by large real estate brokers like Keller Williams, Re/Max and Coldwell Banker. Users sign up and explore locales where they want to buy. Zillow provides their “Zestimate,” which is sometimes less of an estimate and more of a guesstimate. Eventually, Zillow will suggest one of their recommended agents to work with the homebuyer, gather as much accurate data as they can and seal the deal. So the agent gets paid, but so does the broker and now Zillow gets their cut.

Now, whether these agents are any good at selling is no guarantee. The agents Zillow recommends are the ones paying thousands of dollars a year for leads. They are not necessarily the cream of the crop, though some are. Bottom line: it’s a crapshoot.

And that’s the risk you take when starting with software rather than a human. Real estate is almost always an emotional purchase and you need a sentient human to make it all work. Zillow knows that and that’s why they invest in human capital to power their sales engine. At least for now.

Ready to buy a new home or refinance the one you own? Please get in touch and I’ll be happy to answer your questions and help guide you through the process. I look forward to speaking with you.