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How to Balance Wants with Needs

When you decide it’s time to go house hunting, you probably imagine finding your perfect house. Let me give you a reality check- there is no such thing as a “perfect” house. The challenge in finding a home is to strike a balance between what you need in a home and what you want in a home at a price you can afford. Before you embark on your home search, you should sit down with your partner and each make a list of the 10 things that are most important to you in a home. Compare lists and see how many of those things you have in common. The items that made both your lists should be a priority when you combine them to make a master list. Next, decide what items are “deal breakers”- things you just can’t live without. If you absolutely will not consider a home that doesn’t have at least 2 bathrooms, then all homes with less than 2 bathrooms should be off your list. Those non-negotiable items should be at the top of your list. Next should be the things that you both agree you would like in your next home and finally the things that would be nice to have but you could live without. When you are editing your needs and wants list it may be difficult to separate the two. You may think you need granite countertops and stainless steel appliances but that shouldn’t take priority over something like your child’s school district. You can always update a kitchen but you can’t change a school district. You need to look at...

Tax Tips for Homeowners

Tax Tips for Homeowners It’s everyone’s favorite time of year again-tax time! This is my annual column about tax deductions for homeowners so if you are a procrastinator and have not yet completed your taxes, here are some deductions you can use. Let me start by saying that you should always check with your accountant or tax preparer to make sure you can use these deductions as everyone’s tax situation is different. I am just giving you the information on what deductions may be available to you. If you have a mortgage on your primary residence you may be able to deduct the interest portion of your mortgage payments. This can amount to a very large deduction for most people and is one of the benefits of being a homeowner. In most cases, you can also deduct your property taxes. Again, if you own a home in Freeport or Stephenson County your property taxes are a significant tax deduction. Both of these deductions are being debated in Washington as part of income tax reform but for this year, you can still deduct them from your taxes. If you purchased a new home in 2016, you may also be able to deduct your origination fee and any discount points you may have paid. Check with your tax preparer to see if you can qualify for these deductions. Also, if you have a home improvement loan or home equity line of credit (also known as HELOC) the interest on those payments may also be tax deductible. Making your home more energy efficient may also provide you with some tax deductions. Installing...

What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You

Back in September of 2014 I wrote a column about radon. At that time, most people had never heard of radon unless they had bought or sold a home recently and were asked if they wanted a radon test done. Even then, most people didn’t really know what the big deal was. I recently attended a training session on radon and even though I knew what radon was and the potential health threat it caused, I was surprised at how much I had under-estimated the dangers of radon. What is radon anyway? Radon is a colorless, tasteless, odorless radioactive gas that comes from uranium in the soil. Radon enters your home through openings between your house and the soil underneath. It doesn’t matter if you have a basement, a crawl space or even a concrete slab, the only way to tell if you have a radon problem in your home is to test for it. Why should you worry about testing your home for radon? Radon is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. It is estimated that over 1100 people in Illinois will develop radon related lung cancer every year. Elevated levels of radon have been found throughout Illinois and we are located in the “high potential” area of the state. Think about how much time you spend in your home, how much time your children spend in your home and the possibility that the radon level in your home could potentially be causing cancer. I can’t urge you strongly enough to get your home tested. What you don’t know can be killing you. Homeowners can...

Get To Know HomeStart

It is the beginning of a new year and many people are setting goals for 2017. If your goal is to become a homeowner in 2017, I want to let you know about an organization that might be able to help. HomeStart is a HUD approved non-profit housing counseling organization located right here in downtown Freeport. It just might be the best kept secret in town! HomeStart is part of the National NeighborWorks Network and they work with people to help them attain their housing goals. They accomplish this in two ways. They help people become homeowners by providing support, guidance and education about the home buying process. HomeStart also helps connect people to down payment assistance for those that qualify. Since the organization merged in 2013, they have assisted almost 700 first –time homeowners achieve the Great American Dream. Studies have shown that people who receive homebuyer counseling and education are statistically more successful than those who don’t. HomeStart also helps people with sustainable home ownership when there is a foreclosure pending. They have several options available in this situation, the newest being the Illinois Hardest Hit Program. This program focuses on home owners that have lost income through no fault of their own such as unemployment, underemployment, death of a spouse or divorce. If you are eligible and have not received these funds in the past, the program provides funding for mortgage assistance to help people keep their homes. HomeStart is a sponsoring organization and helps with completing and submitting applications for assistance. HomeStart also assists people with accessing the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) rural...

Preparing Your Home For Winter

We have had the luxury of enjoying a very long fall this year but it is December and winter is here. If you haven’t already winter-proofed your home, here are somethings to do to keep your home safe and comfortable throughout the winter. Starting with the exterior, disconnect your outside hose from the spigot and drain it. Invest in a faucet protector to keep the cold air from getting into the pipes. You can buy one for under $10 at the home improvement store. If you have exposed pipes in your basement or garage, make sure you wrap them with insulation to keep them from freezing. Make sure your gutters are cleaned out and free from leaves. Gutters that are clogged will cause water from melting snow to freeze and expand causing them to crack or worse yet, forcing the water in through the foundation. Fixing that problem can be very expensive. If you are unable to clean the gutters yourself, hire it done. It may cost 100 to 200 dollars but it is much cheaper than repairing your foundation or having to buy new gutters. Walk around your house and look for any cracks or gaps around windows and doors. Caulk can close the gaps very inexpensively and can save heat loss and save on your heating bill. If you have old or ill- fitting windows that requires more than a tube of caulk. If replacing them is not in the budget, you can get plastic wrap kits at the home improvement store that can help keep the heat from escaping and cold air from coming in. They...

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