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Buyer Agency Options

In my last column I explained what agency is and why it is important to sellers. This month I would like to explain the different types of agency available to buyers and what you should know about each of them. When you decide to buy a house you will probably work with a Realtor. You will also probably assume that that Realtor is working to represent your best interests. That may or may not be true based on your agency agreement with them. According to our license law, you will be presumed to be represented by the agent you are working with unless you have a written agreement otherwise. That seems pretty simple but what if you don’t have any agreement with your agent? Are they working on your behalf or not? All clients should have a written agency disclosure with their agent when they start working with them so there is no misunderstanding about their level of representation. That is also the reason why you want to work with one Realtor that is representing you, not a different agent for every house you look at. Since our new agency laws went into effect in 2000 Buyers now have the right to their own representation. There are several different types of agency available to buyers. Probably the most common type of buyer agency is non-exclusive buyer agency. This means that you will have a designated agent representing you as a client and assisting you in finding and purchasing a property. You can terminate the relationship at any time and you usually will not have to compensate your agent for... read more

What You Should Know About Designated Agency

What is Designated Agency and why does it matter to you? Licensed Illinois Realtors are governed by the Real Estate License Act of 2000. According to Section 15-10 of that Act, “Licensees shall be considered to be representing the consumer they are working with as a designated agent for the consumer unless there is a written agreement” stating otherwise. That means that unless you are given a written disclosure that you are not being represented by the Realtor you are working with, you are a client of that Realtor and are owed certain duties. These laws were put in place to protect the consumer and to make sure they are being properly represented in real estate transactions. It used to be that all agents worked for the seller and no one represented the buyer in a home purchase. It was the “let the buyer beware” model for a very long time. Because the seller paid the commission or compensation to the Realtors involved, it was thought that the Realtors’ owed duties only to that seller and the buyers were on their own. Our industry has evolved past that thinking and now buyers and sellers both have the right to representation by their Realtor. Even when the seller is paying the compensation to both Realtors, the buyer is allowed to have their own Designated Agent representing their interests in a purchase. When you begin to work with a Realtor, you should be given a written disclosure telling you who your designated agent will be and what kind of representation you will have with that agent. Depending on the type of... read more

Income Tax Tips for Homeowners

Its tax time again and if you are a homeowner there are some things you should know before you file your taxes this year. If you are not a homeowner yet, what are you waiting for? Interest rates are not going to get any lower and there are some great loan programs like Rural Development Loans that don’t require a down payment. If you are getting a tax refund this year, put it towards buying a house so you can reap the benefits of home ownership next year at tax time. For those of you that do currently own a home and have a mortgage, mortgage interest is still tax deductible. Congress has tried several times to repeal this deduction but thanks, in part, to the National Association of Realtors they have been unsuccessful. Mortgage interest is most people’s largest deduction if you are able to itemize your taxes. If you have a mortgage, more than likely you will have enough mortgage interest to itemize and be able to deduct what you paid in interest on your taxes. Real estate property taxes are also deductible in most cases. If you live in this area, your property tax bill is probably sizeable and will also give you a nice tax deduction. Make sure you check with your accountant or tax preparer for advice on your own tax situation as everyone’s circumstances are different. If you are paying PMI (Private Mortgage Insurance) on your mortgage those premiums are no longer tax deductible. The premiums were deductible in some situations previously, but sadly that ended in 2015. If you have taken out... read more

Home Décor Trends for 2016

If redecorating is on your to- do list for 2016, here are some of the top trends in home décor for this year and some ideas on how to use them in your home. Some of these trends may be especially useful to you if your house is on the market or you are going to be selling this year. Some inexpensive updates can help you sell your house quickly and for top dollar. Today’s buyer is interested in move in ready, up dated homes which is why incorporating some of these ideas may increase your bottom line when selling. The color palette for 2016 is fresh and calming. The Pantone colors of the year are Serenity  ( a pale blue) and Rose Quartz( a blush pink) which will instantly refresh a tired room when used correctly. Paint is one of the most inexpensive ways to update your home and by choosing colors in this modern palette you can have a big impact for a small cost. You want to keep your living room from looking like a nursery so the key is to use these wall colors with furniture and accessories in the correct palette. Rose quartz walls should be paired with furniture in jewel tones like sapphire or burgundy and metallic accents to keep the look fresh.  Serenity can be paired with neutrals like camel or gray and pewter accents for an understated elegant look. One of the top colors for bedrooms in 2016 is lavender. Choose a lavender with gray undertones for a relaxing backdrop to steel blue, charcoal gray, antique  white and metallics.  Master baths... read more

Are You Ready For A Second Home?

It’s winter in northern Illinois and you have been thinking this might be the year to start looking to buy that second home.  Whether the warmth of the Florida beaches, the Arizona golf courses or the mountains of Colorado are calling you, there are some things to consider before you take the plunge. The first item on the list should be the financial aspect of buying and owning a second home. Aside from the purchase price of the property, you need to factor in the costs of actually owning the home.  Taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance and HOA (home owner association) fees need to be budgeted just as they would be for your primary home. Even though you may only be living there several months out of the year, remember you will have these costs 12 months out of the year. You may be able to rent out the home for the months that you are not using it which can help offset the cost. Don’t forget to consider the transportation costs to and from the property, especially if it is a great distance away from where you now live. If you will be getting a mortgage to pay for the home talk to your lender about the loan costs involved for a second home. Typically the down payment will be higher because it will not be your principle residence and there may be other additional costs as well. Property taxes and homeowner’s insurance may cost more too since you this is not your primary home. Don’t forget to talk with your accountant about how owning a second home could... read more

How to Burglar Proof Your Home

September is Realtor Safety Month and that got me thinking about how most of us don’t give enough thought to safety.  Your home should be your refuge and the place where you feel safe. Having your home burglarized is a traumatic occurrence that we would all like to avoid. Here are a few simple things you can do to discourage break- ins and give you piece of mind. Keep your shrubs and landscaping trimmed back by windows and doors. These areas are prime hiding places for would be burglars, so make sure access to windows and doors is unobstructed. Overgrown landscaping, un-mowed grass or un-shoveled walkways are all signs that the house is vacant. If you are going to be away for any length of time, make sure someone is maintaining your yard as well as bringing in mail and newspapers. A pile of newspapers on the front porch is a dead giveaway that no one is home.  Install motion sensor lights which come on if anyone gets too close to your house. Having your home well-lit will deter thieves.  If you are going to be traveling consider putting lights on timers so rooms are lit up at different times of the night. On trash day, don’t advertise to thieves that you just got a new 60 inch TV or state of the art computer by leaving the boxes on your curb. Take the time to break down the boxes and conceal them in the recycling bin. Also, don’t leave ladders outside and easily accessible to someone looking to break in. Burglars don’t usually carry their own ladders around... read more

Fall Home Maintenance Tips

Ready or not fall is here and that means winter isn’t far behind. Take advantage of the beautiful weather now to get your home ready for winter. If you are a new homeowner, you may not know what you need to do to get your home ready for winter.  If you have owned your home for a while, this will be a good refresher. Let’s start with the exterior of the house. Take a walk around the outside of your home and see if you notice any peeling paint. This is a sign that your paint’s finish is failing and can no longer protect the wood underneath. Scrape and re-paint now before it leads to a bigger problem. Look up at your roof from all angles. Do you see any loose or missing shingles? This may be a sign that it’s time for a new roof and you should have a roofer inspect it now before it is covered in snow and ice. Don’t forget to check your gutters and downspouts. They probably need a good cleaning to get rid of built up leaves and debris. Clogged gutters can lead to ice jams and roof leaks, so if you can’t clean them out yourself, hire it done before winter. Check the caulking and weather stripping around doors and windows.   Replace any loose or missing areas which can lead to drafts and heat loss. Don’t forget your garage door. Make sure there are no gaps when it is closed. If your home has storm windows, remove the screens and put the storms up.  Leaving just the screens on all... read more

New Website for Illinois Property Owners Launches

The Illinois Association of Realtors Real Property Alliance has launched a new website for Illinois property owners: www.realpropertyalliance.org The Real Property Alliance is a non-profit educational foundation for consumers that was founded in 2015. Their goal is promoting growth and limiting taxes and regulations while providing a voice for establishing sound real estate policy. The Real Property Alliance provides services for Illinois property owners and those who are interested in owning property in Illinois. They keep the public up dated on state and local ordinances which have an impact on property owners. They also provide resources for all areas of the buying and selling process. Through a partnership with houselogic ™, information is available on home improvement, home financing and tax tips. The Illinois Association of Realtors provides updates on Illinois real estate trends and market statistics. Realtor.com has mortgage calculators, nationwide real estate listings and a wealth of other real estate information. Links to all these sites can be found on www.realpropertyalliance.org. This new website has information on laws that relate to property owners such as the Illinois law requiring carbon monoxide detectors. A free download for a brochure explaining the law can be found here. Information on other laws affecting Illinois property owners as well as other free downloadable brochures are also available on this website. Are you interested in what the housing market is doing in your area? Market statistics for all of Illinois can also be found here. Is this a good time to buy or sell? Up to date market statistics and current trends are all available here. Wondering what mortgage rates are doing?... read more


The trend now is that if a potential buyer does not have perfect credit they are less likely to even try getting preapproved.  If you know of someone who might be in this boat please forward this communication to them to let them know, it’s ok to try!  They might get a more favorable response than what they thought… The reason there are more buyers out there right now – here is the mortgage credit availability. This is right from the MBA – the Mortgage Bankers Association. “The higher that number is, the more credit is available.” Now obviously, this number would be skyrocketing in, you know, 2004 and 2005, where anyone can get a mortgage. It’d be much higher than it is right now. But I took a look over since April 2013 all the way through this past month, and what we can see is that the availability of credit through a buyer is becoming easier and easier. Meaning even though, you know, we’re hearing things to the contrary, the actual mortgage that are available to a buyer coming in, the chance of them getting that mortgage is dramatically increasing. As a matter of fact, let’s break down some of the numbers. Here are the average FICO scores on conventional purchase loans – people bought a house – this is the average FICO score. What was the 2012 average, the 2013 average, and what was last month’s average? What this graph shows us is that the average FICO score has steadily dropped from 2012 to 2013 to just last month. That’s important. What we’re showing is that... read more

What is a fixture?

One of the biggest sources of misunderstanding in the sale of a home is what stays with the home and what goes with the seller. At the time of sale, fixtures transfer to the new owner with the property unless they are specifically excluded in the purchase contract. Sounds simple enough but just what is a fixture? Look at this list of items and see what you think is a fixture and should stay with the house: dining room chandelier, furnace, dishwasher, window air conditioner, refrigerator, area rug, water heater and countertop microwave. The items that should stay with the house are the dining room chandelier, the furnace, the dishwasher and the water heater. The window air conditioner, refrigerator, area rug and countertop microwave are all considered personal property of the seller and he is free to take them out of the house. So just what is a “fixture” in real estate? A fixture is personal property permanently attached to the structure or land. For example, a dining room chandelier new in the box is personal property but once it is installed and wired into the ceiling it becomes a fixture. A pile of lumber in the backyard is personal property but once it is used to build a deck attached to the house it becomes a fixture. Area rugs are not usually permanently attached and are considered personal property but wall to wall carpeting would be considered a fixture. A window air conditioner can be easily removed and is personal property but a central air conditioner unit is attached to the home and is a fixture. You can... read more

Can You Afford To Buy A Fixer-Upper?

First, some good news: If you read my last column about the new mortgage disclosure laws going in to effect on August 1, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has delayed the start date to October 1. This means the banks, title companies, Realtors and consumers will get 2 more months to get ready for all the changes. Are you thinking of buying a “fixer-upper”? Here are some things to consider before putting in an offer. How much of the work can you do yourself? Some of the fixes may be relatively easy like painting, stripping wallpaper and tearing up carpet. Other repairs such as electrical & plumbing take more skill and knowledge. Be honest about your abilities because mistakes can be dangerous and costly to fix. You also need to ask yourself if you have the time to devote to a large remodeling project. Everything takes twice as long as you think it will and living in a construction zone can have it ís own set of challenges. You will also need to estimate the cost of the repairs needed and add that to the price of the home. If you are using a contractor, have him do a walk through before you make an offer to give you a sense of what needs to be done and how costly it will be. If you are planning on doing the work yourself you will save on labor costs but you will need to price out supplies. Either way you go, tack on an additional 10 to 20% for those surprise costs that always arise in any remodel . Don’t... read more

Big Changes Are Coming

Beginning August 1, major changes are coming to mortgages. Any real estate transaction involving a mortgage will use new disclosure forms created by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). This new disclosures will change the timing requirements for disclosures that lenders make to consumers. What does this mean to you? The strong possibility that your closing may be delayed. If you have taken out a mortgage in the past, you probably were able to close on your purchase within 30 to 45 days. Because of the new requirements beginning August 1, closings will take a minimum of 45 days and may take as long as 90 days or more. Through the Dodd-Frank Act, Congress has ordered the creation of a new form called a TRID. This form contains many intricate requirements for how and when disclosures are made to the consumer. Because of this new timing requirement, a missed date or a change in any of the financial components of the transaction can trigger a delay. A new loan estimate document that will replace the Good Faith Estimate and the initial Truth in Lending Disclosure must be given to a consumer within 3 days of submitting a loan application.. The final loan estimate must be given 7 days prior to the closing. The customer has 10 days then to decide whether to proceed with the transaction. A Closing Disclosure must be given to the consumer 3 days prior to the closing. This disclosure will include all costs related to the transaction. Any changes made after initial receipt will require a new 3 day waiting period. What do all these... read more

5 Common Real Estate Myths Exposed

I’m sure most of you have heard some of the common real estate myths out there. Although they may contain some truth, they tend to be fairly black and white instead of the gray area that lives somewhere in the middle. Here are some of the more frequently heard myths and the real truth about them. 1. The first offer is always the best. This one is usually true. When a home first goes on the market, it has the most appeal to buyers. It is usually when you will have the most activity and hopefully generate an offer. Generally, the longer the home is on the market the less the offers tend to be when they come in. Buyers assume if your home as been on the market awhile the seller is desperate to sell or there is something wrong with the property. Either way, the offers tend to get lower the more days it has been on the market. 2. If your house sells quickly, it wasnít priced high enough. This is usually not true. If your home sells quickly, it was priced correctly. Buyers are smart these days and do their homework. A buyer knows when a home is priced competitively and will choose this home more often than one they know is overpriced. A home that is priced correctly will usually sell for closer to asking price and in a shorter amount of time as opposed to an overpriced home that will take longer to sell and will usually have to settle for a much lower price. 3. I donít have to fix anything, I... read more

Tips on Buying Investment Property

Since the housing market crash has made home ownership difficult for many people, the demand for rental property has increased. If you are thinking about becoming a real estate investor there are some things you will need to consider. Before you start looking for property to purchase, you will need to get qualified for financing unless you are paying cash. If you are not going to be occupying the property yourself you will need a 20-40% down payment depending on your lender. Decide on an area where you would like to invest. If you are looking to invest in single family homes pay attention to school districts, proximity to parks, shopping and locations which would be desirable for families. If you are looking at multi unit buildings which tend to attract more singles than families, then schools and parks may not be that important. Develop a relationship with a Realtor that has experience with investors. They can keep you informed of the inventory and can help you decide which properties would be good investments. Look at as many properties as you can in your price range. That will help you determine market value for the properties you are interested in purchasing. Most properties that are priced to appeal to investors will need some rehab. Be familiar with construction and remodeling costs so you know if having to put a new roof on a house is cost effective or not. If you can do a lot of the work yourself, the costs will be much less than if you have to hire contractors. When considering properties to purchase, foundation issues,... read more

Thinking of Going it Alone?

It ís already March and Spring is just around the corner. Time to think about getting your house on the market. You may be thinking of trying to sell it yourself to save some money. How hard can it be, right? Here are some things to consider before you stick that For Sale By Owner sign in your yard. The most difficult part of the process is pricing your home correctly in todayís market. Price it too high and it will sit on the market for months. Price it too low and you are potentially leaving money on the table. Most homeowners have an emotional attachment to their home, which is natural, but it can make it very difficult to establish the correct asking price. A local Realtor is an expert in our current market and has access to both current and sold listings to use in correctly pricing your home. They are a neutral party and can look at your home with an objective eye. Homeowners tend to base their asking price on emotions rather than actual market data. The National Association of Realtors statistics show that homes sold with the aid of a Realtor actually sold for 19% more on average than those sold by owners. Trying to decide what to do to get your home market ready can also be difficult. You think your home is perfect just the way it is. You did all the decorating and you love your lime green bathroom and your completely wall papered kitchen. You may be lucky enough to find a buyer that shares your enthusiasm but in todayís... read more

Demystifying Property Taxes

As a Realtor, the subject I hear most about seems to be property taxes. No one likes them and everyone thinks they are too high, but they arenít going away. From talking with clients about property taxes I have discovered that there are many people that donít understand how property taxes are calculated. I canít tell you how many times I have heard ì I donít want to look at houses in that neighborhood because taxes are too high thereî. Please pay close attention to this: THE TAX RATE IN FREEPORT IS THE SAME ALL OVER FREEPORT!! Shocking isnít it? Property taxes are based on the assessed value of the property. A $100,000 house in the City of Freeport will have the same tax amount no matter where it is located within the city. Once the market value has been established on January 1 of each year, the assessed value will be 1/3 or 33.33% of the market value for that year. The assessed value is multiplied by that yearís tax rate and that is how your property tax amount is calculated. If the property owner is eligible for certain exemptions ( Owner Occupied, Senior Freeze or Disabled Veteran for example) those exemptions are subtracted from the assessed value. As a result, the property taxes are reduced. Obviously, there are areas in Freeport where the assessed value of properties will be higher than in other areas, but the assessment determines the amount of the tax. The actual tax rate does not vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. As long as it is in the city, the tax rate is the... read more

Should I List My House In The Winter?

It ís December and you need to sell your house. You are probably wondering if you should try to put it on the market now or wait until Spring. Houses do sell in the winter and there may be some benefits to listing your house this time of year. Everyone knows that the prime buying season is during the Spring and Summer months, but just because there is snow on the ground doesnít mean that the buyers have disappeared. People need to, or decide to move all year long. Itís true that the buyer pool dwindles in the winter but life happens, circumstances change and people need to move. Re-locating for a job, growing families, divorce, marriage and death are all reasons people may be in the market for a home and these things can happen any time of year. Obviously, the weather is a disadvantage during this time of year. Cold temperatures, snow and ice are not what most people consider ideal moving weather. Thatís just the reason most people delay listing their house until Spring. The housing inventory is significantly lower during the winter months, which means buyers have less to choose from. If you list your house this time of year you have significantly less competition. Listing your house at holiday time can be a little tricky. Should you put up your Christmas decorations? What if someone wants to see your house and you are in the middle of your holiday baking? Itís ok to decorate your home for the holidays as long as you donít go too crazy. Remember, people need to see your home... read more

My Listing Expired…Now What?

Having your listing expire is frustrating to say the least. The way the Freeport IL area real estate market is right now, there are a lot of homes that don’t get sold by the end of their listing period.    The unfortunate fact is that there are about 342 homes and condos for sale in Freeport.  On average about 25 or so get sold each month.  I wish the news was better, but it is what it is.  The homes that sell are the ones that are correctly priced for the market, area, and condition and that are marketed aggressively by the listing agent.    Ok, your home listing has expired so now what do you do. Option A:  Re-List the House If you feel that your agent did a good job, by all means re-list with your original agent.  If they gave you good advice (did you take it?) and worked hard to market the home, you’re better off staying with them and extending your listing.  They already know your home, your financial situation, and your personal goals. If you feel that your real estate agent is partly to blame for your house not selling, then find a new one. Get the real estate agent that you feel will do the best job marketing your home, not based on what they say they will list it for. We don’t decide what houses will sell for.  Buyers do.  Reaching the right buyer is critical, and marketing is how that happens. Speaking of listing price, whichever agent you choose to re-list you’ll need to take another look at your bottom line and your asking price.    With the market... read more

Seller Tip #1

I get so many questions from home sellers – from what repairs they should make, to what to do with the dog during showings, that I’ve decided to begin a series on seller tips… Tip #1 – Depersonalize Your House When talking with real estate agents, have you noticed that when they talk to you about selling your home they refer to it as a “house”, but when talking to you about buying a home they refer to it as a “home”?   Well, there’s a reason for this. Buying real estate is often an emotional decision, but when selling real estate you need to remove emotion from the equation. You need to think of your house as a marketable commodity. Property. Real estate. Your goal is to get others to see it as their potential home, not yours. If you do not consciously make this decision, you can inadvertently create a situation where it takes longer to sell your property.   The first step in getting your home ready to sell is to “de-personalize” it. The reason you want to “de-personalize” your home is because you want buyers to view it as their potential home. When a potential homebuyer sees your family photos hanging on the wall, it puts your own brand on the home and momentarily shatters their illusions about owning the house. Therefore, put away family photos, sports trophies, collectible items, knick-knacks, and souvenirs. Put them in a box and store them away…far, far away…. Stay tuned – more tips to... read more

Thinking of Selling By Owner? Here’s What An Agent Can Do For You

A lot of people try to sell their homes as For Sale By Owner, and some do get the home sold.  Staticstics show, however, than in many cases the sellers would ultimately have been better off in the end to have listed their homes with an agent from the start. Top 9 Reasons For Real Estate Representation: To Optimize Asking Price.Properly pricing your home is perhaps the most crucial factor in making a sale, and without access to all the data it can be really difficult.   They’ll compare your home and your asking price to similar homes on the market. If your price doesn’t stack up, they may reject it and move on to the next listing. And the longer your property sits on the market, the less marketable it becomes because buyers begin to wonder if something is wrong with it. Pricing your home too high may increase the time your home spends on the market. That’s why your first step in determining the right price for your home is to have an experienced real estate professional prepare a comparative market analysis (cma) report for your home. The report provides details on recent sales of homes similar to yours, as well as the asking price of homes currently on the market. Your agent will then balance that information with other factors such as location, condition of your home, special interior or landscaping features, age of the house, and your time frame to determine a fair and competitive asking price. To Get Your Home Ready to Show.  Is part of an agent’s job to know what buyers want to... read more

Why Does A Short Sale Take So Long?

Contrary to what the name implies, a short sale is usually a very lengthy process. A short sale is the sale of a home for less than the amount owed on the mortgage, and the lender agrees to give clear title to the new buyer. This means that the lender is forgiving the additional debt owed by the borrower and releasing their lien on the property. A short sale is generally less damaging to the sellerís credit than a foreclosure, but it will still have a negative effect on your credit score. If you own a home thatís market value is less than your mortgage balance and you are having difficulty making your mortgage payments, a short sale maybe the answer. The first thing you need to do is contact your lender. Since the housing crisis of 2006, most banks now have loss mitigation or short sale departments. You will need to fill out a short sale packet which your lender can send you. As part of that package, you will need to write a ìhardship letterî explaining why you are unable to make your mortgage payments and that the situation is unlikely to improve in the future. This is the most important step in obtaining short sale approval because the lender needs to believe that you are unable to meet your financial obligation to repay the loan. You will also need to provide financial records showing proof of income and assets to demonstrate that you do not have the ability to repay the loan. They will also want a preliminary net sheet that shows the sale price you... read more

Which Home Improvements Really Pay Off?

If you are thinking about tackling a home improvement project this summer, you might be wondering which up-dates will give you the highest return on your investment. Contrary to what you may see on HGTV, you can generally recoup the most value on projects that improve your curb appeal. Remodeling your kitchen and adding granite countertops and stainless steel appliances can improve the salability of your home but the percentage of return on your investment is relatively low. According to Remodeling Magazines 2014 Cost vs. Value report the best return on your investment dollars is replacing your front door. Installing a steel entry door with a glass panel and new hardware can yield up to a 96% return on your investment. Other projects that increase your curb appeal and have a high return on investment include adding a deck, replacing windows and siding and installing a new garage door. At the bottom of the list for projects that have the least return on your investment are roof replacements and back up generators. Obviously, if your home needs a new roof you will have to replace it but buyers look at this as a maintenance issue and you only recoup a small percentage of your expense when it comes time to sell. Similarly, a generator can provide necessary piece of mind for the owners, but most buyers do not consider this to add significant value to the price of a home. Somewhere in the middle are interior improvements such as kitchen and bathroom remodels. Both generally yield about a 67% return on your investment. Kitchens and bathrooms sell homes so... read more

Is a Reverse Mortgage Right For You?

If you watch TV, you have probably seen one of the recent commercials featuring a celebrity touting the benefits of reverse mortgages for senior citizens. It sounds too good to be true, right? Actually, it can be a valuable tool for senior homeowners struggling financially, if used properly. A reverse mortgage, called a home equity conversion mortgage (HECM), originated in 1988 and is a special type of home loan that lets seniors convert a portion of the equity in their home into cash. Unlike a traditional home equity loan or second mortgage, payments are made directly to you. No repayment is required until the last surviving homeowner permanently moves out of the property or passes away. These payments do not interfere with Social Security or Medicare benefits and are tax-free until you sell the property. In order to eligible for a reverse mortgage, all homeowners must be at least 62 years of age and the home must be free and clear of all liens. If there is a mortgage balance, it must be paid off completely with the proceeds from the loan. There are generally no income or credit score requirements, unlike traditional mortgages or home equity loans. Title remains in the homeownerís name but the bank adds a lien to the property for the amount of the debt. Almost all types of homes are eligible for a reverse mortgage including FHA approved condominium units. The amount you can borrow is based on the homeownerís age, current interest rates and the propertyís appraised value. You can receive a lump sum payment, monthly payments or a line of credit. Prior... read more

Preparing your home for sale

It only takes 15 seconds for a prospective buyer to decide how they feel about your house. That is how long your house has to make a good impression and capture that buyer. If you are getting ready to list your house, here are some tips to make yours stand out from the crowd. The first thing a potential buyer notices is your home’s exterior or “curb appeal.” If the outside of your home looks unappealing you will never get that buyer in the door. Make sure the lawn is mowed, the bushes are trimmed and all the “stuff” — kids toys, garden equipment and junk — is put away. Landscaping is important in the spring and summer months. Plant some colorful flowers and hang a few baskets with flowers and a new welcome mat by the front entrance. Make sure there is no peeling or faded paint on the exterior of your home. Paint your front door a stand-out color to make your entry pop. Moving on to the interior, the front entryway is the first impression buyers will have of the inside of your home. Again, de-clutter, you don’t want prospective buyers tripping over 10 pairs of shoes when they walk in the front door. Pack up unnecessary knickknacks and personal family photos. You want buyers to be able to picture their family living there. Make sure every room is clutter free. You may love your collections displayed throughout the house, but to a potential buyer they are distracting so pack them away to take to your new home. Most buyers are looking for a move-in ready... read more

Anne Sadler: Should my home be tested for radon?

If you have bought or sold a house in the last several years, you were probably asked if you wanted the home tested for radon. The first thing you need to know is what radon is. Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas which comes from uranium in the soil. It is classified as a Class A carcinogen by American Medical Association, American Lung Association and other health organizations. Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. Northwestern Illinois has elevated levels of radon in the soil according to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. The only way you can know for sure if there are elevated levels of radon in your home is to have it tested. The United States Environmental Protection Agency recommends that the indoor radon level be below 4.0 Pico Curies per liter of air. Any measurement above this amount would require steps to be taken to mitigate, which would reduce the level of radon present in the home. If you would like to test your own home, you can obtain a test kit at the county health department, or home improvement stores. You can get more information about home test kits and radon at radon.illinois.gov. If you are purchasing a home and you would like a radon test done, you will need to hire a licensed professional tester. The actual test takes 48 hours, and the monitor is set up in the lowest level of the home. For 12 hours before the test and the 48 hours during the test, closed house conditions must be followed. This means doors and windows must be... read more

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