No Magic Formula for ‘Best Time to Book Airfare’

(TNS)—Search on the web for “best time to book airfare” and you’ll find many conflicting answers, all of them completely wrong—and not only are they wrong, but they do a disservice to consumers who fall for this “voodoo” airfare economics.

One site gives a “guide” of 47 days before travel, although it admits that there is “quite a variance” depending on route and destination. Keep in mind that the booking site in question doesn’t offer or track Delta or Southwest, which together control about 35 percent of the domestic market, so its predictions have to be taken in that context.

Another site’s founder has infamously insisted that the best time is Tuesday at 3 p.m., (that site also doesn’t track Southwest or Delta). Expedia and the Airlines Reporting Company claimed earlier this year that the best day is not Tuesday but—wait for it—Sunday.

But wait: Skyscanner says it’s exactly seven weeks in advance of travel.

So who can you believe? Answer: none of the above.

There is no magic formula.

The best idea: sign up for “airfare alerts” by email. Search the term on the web and you’ll find many options from reputable companies that send out email alerts. Before you sign up, however, make sure that they at least include Delta Air Lines (that excludes such popular apps and sites as Hipmunk and Hopper along, with several others). If they also include Southwest, all the better, but few do.

These alerts all work a bit differently. Some only allow you to track specific dates, which is cool, except what if leaving a day or two earlier would have saved you hundreds? Some allow you to specify “to” and “from” specific airports, because a fare from Baltimore Washington International (BWI) might not be as ideal as one from closer-in Washington National DCA. Most alert systems treat “nearby” airports as equal, but tell that to someone who doesn’t want to trek out to Baltimore or Dulles when National is just a Metro ride away.

Another big annoyance is that the lowest fares are often on airlines that people hate to fly (because they charge for carry-on bags and seat assignments), so look for a service that allows you to eliminate alerts from airlines you’d never fly even if they were free (Airfarewatchdog.com does allow specific airline choice).

Another reason for signing up for several alerts: all online travel agencies do not show the same prices. I recently saw a fare from New York to South Africa flown on Delta and KLM for $200 less round trip if bought on Priceline versus the exact same flights, dates and airlines if booked on Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity, or on KLM’s or Delta’s own websites. Some online travel agencies offer negotiated rates that are far less than the airlines themselves sell for. It’s worth searching more than one site.

Twitter is another great source for being alerted to short-lived airfare deals. Follow the #airfare hashtag, where over a half-dozen accounts tweet out unadvertised deals. The #flights hashtag is also useful. Follow the accounts you find there.

Once you’re signed up or following, you have to act. An airfare from L.A. to Singapore (this is a recent example) might go down, unadvertised, to $398 round-trip including tax on Singapore Airlines, whereas other airlines were charging $800 for the same travel dates but on less desirable connecting flights. But that fare, even if it’s good over several months of travel, might appear for just three or four hours and then it goes back up to $800. Now that airlines allow you to pay for a fare and cancel within 24 hours without paying a fee, the strategy is to book it, hold it, and then get your friends and family on board and sort out hotels.

George Hobica is founder of the low-airfare listing website Airfarewatchdog.com.
(c)2017 Airfarewatchdog.com

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(TNS)—When you find the home of your dreams, make an offer and apply for a mortgage, you might not give much thought to the cost of title insurance—but that can be a mistake.

A title policy defends buyers (and their lenders) from future property ownership claims, surprise liens and other potentially costly complications with property titles.

Homebuyers usually purchase title insurance as part of closing costs and often take the first title insurer suggested by the seller, says Rafael Castellanos, founder of a title insurance agency in New York.

Unfortunately, many buyers get sticker shock when they realize how much title insurance is. “The fees are generally about 1 percent of the loan amount,” Castellanos says.

However, buyers can cut the cost of a title insurance policy by hundreds of dollars if they are willing to ask questions and get independent guidance.

Here are four ways you can save money on title insurance.

Shop Around for the Best Deal
Title insurance involves a two-part process. First, a search of a property’s title history is conducted to look for errors or problems with the deed. Then, an insurance policy is underwritten to protect the buyer if any issues are discovered.

In several states, insurance providers are allowed to set their own prices, which means the insurance premiums can vary widely. Homebuyers won’t know which title companies offer the best rates unless they shop around.

A good place to start comparison-shopping is the website of the American Land Title Association, which provides a search engine based on geography.

Another option is to ask an independent attorney for help in understanding local regulations, costs involved and insurance company recommendations.

“Buyers need someone who has an independent thought and who is well-versed in real estate,” Castellanos says. “The best person for that is often an attorney.”

Negotiate the Add-On Fees
In states where insurance is highly regulated, title insurers don’t have much wiggle room on their rates. So, homebuyers won’t find much difference in premiums from one company to another.

However, in nearly all cases, extra fees are part of the transaction when you buy a title insurance policy. These add-on expenses include mail and courier charges, copy fees, and costs for searches and certificates—and these charges can be negotiable, even when the insurance premiums are not.

Experts say you often can reduce these costs simply by calling the title insurance company and asking to have some of the fees removed. If the insurer balks, you can always look for another provider.

Ask for the ‘Simultaneous Issue Rate’
Homebuyers purchase title insurance to protect themselves. At the same time, their mortgage company will likely require that a separate insurance policy be issued in the lender’s name.

It is typically the borrower’s responsibility to pay for both.

“The bank partners with you,” Castellanos explains, “but they need to be protected and confident that they have a valid first lien against the property, so they require this insurance.”

Although the two insurance policies are independent of one other, borrowers can buy them together and save.

“When the policies are issued at the same time, in some states there is something called the ‘simultaneous issue rate,'” Castellanos says. It includes a highly discounted premium for the lender’s insurance.

As a result, the total title cost for both policies is usually a lot less than if they were purchased independent of each other. Always be sure to ask for this discount.

Ask the Seller to Pay for Your Policy
When a local real estate market favors buyers over sellers, homebuyers may feel emboldened to ask sellers to pay for title insurance.

That used to be a very unusual request; however, in a buyer’s market, sellers are motivated and may be more willing to negotiate.

“You will see people financially negotiating on every term, including asking someone to pay for their title insurance,” says Edward Mermelstein, a real estate attorney in New York.

However, he cautions buyers not to lose sight of the overall goal, which is to close the sale.

There are many other concessions buyers can ask for in a deal—such as a reduced purchase price or a home warranty—that save even more money than having the seller pay for title insurance.

©2017 Bankrate.com

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Editor’s Note: This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. See what else is cookin’ now at blog.rismedia.com:

It’s an amazing neighborhood, the price is right—but is the house your dream home?

That’s the ultimate question, and there’s no one correct answer or even a single way to determine that.

Ultimately, a mix of listening to your emotions and turning to the facts will help you paint a clear picture of what life would be like in this new house. Below are a few tips for determining if the home you really like is the one that you’ll love forever.

Listen to Yourself—Literally
The way you react when you see and walk through the home is an important indicator of how you feel about the home. Pat Trainor, a REALTOR® in Blue Ridge, Ga., told Forbes that he knows a house is a good fit when people start talking about furniture as they’re touring the house.

“I believe that most buyers form an impression in the first few seconds after they walk into a house. Is this a happy house? Or does it depress me? Notice how you respond—and trust your reactions,” explains Trainor.

If you’re looking at a number of houses, jot down what you felt as you walked through immediately after you leave. These notes will be helpful as you look back and compare emotions with features, needs met, etc.

Ask Yourself: How Much of My Priority List Is Compromised?
You have a list of non-negotiable items going into the house-hunting process. From number of rooms to floor plan, how many items can you check off your list? If you find that you’re compromising on more than half of the items that matter most to you, it may not be your dream home—even if you love the style or location.

Laura Gummerman explains that it’s important to make sure you’re not confusing must-haves with preferences, as well. She shares her experience with this “mental negotiation” process:

“Decide which things are preferences vs. needs on your list…For example, I loved the vaulted ceilings we had at our last house and really wanted to have them in our next space, as well. I kept trying to hold out for tall ceilings, but the house that fit our top priorities was actually a mid-century ranch. No vaulted ceilings anywhere. I had to realize that what was a ‘need’ was actually more of a ‘want’ and just switch my visual expectations a bit to get the things that really mattered most.”

Turn to the Data
Buying a home is emotional: stressful, frustrating, exciting, scary, and more, all at once. When deciding if a potential house is your dream home, it’s important not to get too wrapped up in the emotion and take time to check out the data. You can’t deny the facts, and the following tools will help you get them.

  • How will the home appreciate?Use this home appreciation tool to see how much it will appreciate based on the listing price.
  • Is the home accessible?What’s the Walk Score of the home? If you want to be close to stores, retailers, restaurants and parks, look for a Walk Score of 70 or above.
  • Is the house overpriced?Use this home value estimator tool to get five value estimates from leading sources, like Zillow. Is the house priced appropriately?
  • Is the area loud?Get the Soundscore of your potential dream home—the heat-mapping technology will allow you to see how loud or quiet the area is.

Learn More About the Community
Whether you’re a single homeowner or a family of four, the community surrounding your home will be a big part of your life. As such, you need to know as much about it as possible. Start to learn by doing research. Look up everything that’s most important to you, including:

  • Crime rates
  • School quality and availability
  • Public transportation (School buses, too—do they come to the neighborhood to pick up the kids?)
  • Commute to work (Is there a lot of traffic in the morning or at night?)

Finding your dream home isn’t easy, but when you tune into your emotions, check out facts and stay true to your list of needs, the process is easier. Use these tips to make the best decision and find the home you’ll love forever.

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Editor’s Note: This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. See what else is cookin’ now at blog.rismedia.com:

If you own some property that you are not actively living in, you might be thinking about renting the property out and becoming a landlord. Renting usable property is a great way to make some extra money, but if not done carefully, it can turn into a disaster. Here is a list of some of the most important things to learn before taking the plunge.

Study Local Laws
Since shelter is a basic human need, a large body of legal rules and regulations apply to the process. Rental laws vary a great deal from state to state, so you’ll need to find a good resource for researching these laws, unless you are already a lawyer yourself. While looking around online is a good start, you’ll probably also need to consult a legal professional, or at least some books on the subject. Your local library is an excellent resource to find any of the information without spending an arm and a leg.

Set Up Your Maintenance Team
As the rental owner, for the most part, you will be legally liable for keeping up the property in terms of basic maintenance. Between electrical, gas, water, HVAC, and other systems, a home is a bundle of potential maintenance issues waiting to explode in your face. Hiring good people to keep everything working properly is important to staying ahead of the curve, especially if you are renting out multiple properties; the more locations you are leasing, the more maintenance hours you will log. Of course, sometimes the problems will go beyond what a maintenance team can cover. For those cases, you’ll want a working relationship with a good local contractor.

Get the Proper Insurance
However many steps you go through in your tenant screening process, the fact remains that problems can and will occur. Whether from unruly and careless tenants, freak accidents that cause serious damage, or simply from regular wear and tear, your property is at risk when you rent it out. You can protect your investment by making sure you are covered by the best home insurance possible, so you can recover against any losses. Protect your home further with a home warranty that can keep your pricey appliances covered in case of expensive damages.

Set Up Your Lease Properly
With all the knowledge you’ve acquired in the previous steps, you should be well prepared to put together a strong lease at this point. This document is hugely important to beginning your time as a landlord right, since it outlines the rights and responsibilities of both you and your tenant. As such, it protects both people in the relationship from problems, intentional and otherwise. You’ll definitely want to get a lawyer involved in at least one draft of the document, and ask him or her how to make sure you aren’t put in a dubious legal position.

Whether you are renting out a single property or operating multiple rental properties, the basic requirements for success are fundamentally the same. With a little work, you can turn that property into money in your pocket.

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Editor’s Note: This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. See what else is cookin’ now at blog.rismedia.com:

Forecasters say that mortgage rates above 4 percent are here to stay. With that in mind, it’s important to realize what high mortgage rates mean and how they affect your current and future real estate investments.

As a seasoned real estate investor and house flipper, I’ve seen a lot of changes come and go in the housing market. I’ve come to realize that even the toughest and hottest housing market can still leave investors reaping the rewards.

Right now, prices for houses are higher due to the extremely low supply of homes. Very few homes are being built, especially in the low end-range. While it may seem like it’s slim pickings in terms of real estate investing, there are still good deals available; it just takes time and savvy investing smarts to find them.

Even though there are fewer listings in today’s market, rising prices present opportunities for people to sell homes that need work. While there are opportunities in both buyers’ and sellers’ markets, my advice when it comes to real estate investing is to always leave yourself plenty of room for unknown costs or changes in the market. That way, you can flip in good, bad or even mediocre markets. The trick is never assuming prices will increase and accounting for all costs. Investors get in the biggest trouble when markets change and they bought based on estimated future appreciation.

Real estate agents have also felt the effects of the current housing market. Along with the market changes and higher rates, real estate agents are competing in a smaller pool of homes. There are many buyers and prices are rising. Normally this makes a good seller’s market, which is good for agents, but this market is different because there are so few homes for sale. (Agents love a seller’s market, but not when there are no homes to sell!) They are suffering under fewer sales and less money, causing many to drop out of the business altogether. The bright spot for investors is that agents still in the game have much more time on their hands and investors may be able to find hungry agents who have both the time and the drive to find them deals.

As far as worrying about the current political climate, I don’t think the market will change much based on new policies. If anything, lending guidelines will get looser, making it easier to get loans. Prices are higher, but if you invest wisely based on ratios and profit margins, you can make money with low or high prices. It can be tougher to get cash flow on rentals in a hot market, but there are many markets in the U.S. that are still great for rental property investing. I think supply and demand are the biggest factors when looking at housing prices, and supply is not going to increase for single-family homes any time soon, so bear that in mind.

While rising mortgage interest rates can hurt buyer demand and buying power, you can still make money in real estate no matter what the market is like. It takes a huge jump in rates to significantly affect buying power.

Furthermore, I don’t think rates will cause a housing crash, either. The last crash happened because of inflated demand caused by loose lending guidelines. The builders over-built, and it all started to crumble when everyone realized how many people who should have never gotten a loan in the first place got one they really couldn’t afford. This time around, the people who are getting loans have much stronger financial capabilities and stability. There is also not the over-building that caused issues we saw in the past. So, even if there is a crash, many investors will do just fine. In fact, the last crash created more tenants and increased rents in some areas, while prices decreased. The trick is creating equity by purchasing below market, buying with cash flow, and not over-leveraging.

Regardless of the current interest rates, people will always buy and sell homes, which means there will always be opportunity to make money flipping or as a landlord.

Mark Ferguson is a real estate agent, real estate investor, author and the creator of Investfourmore.com.

This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as professional advice. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of RISMedia.

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Editor’s Note: This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. See what else is cookin’ now at blog.rismedia.com:

A smoker’s home can be a massive deterrent to potential buyers. Not only does smoking leave strong smells in your house, it can also stain walls, cause wallpaper to peel, and stick to furniture. Trapped nicotine residue, known as thirdhand smoke, can pose a threat to anyone living in the home. Here are five ways to get rid of signs of smoking from your home to make it appealing to buyers.

Steam Clean Carpets
Carpets trap nicotine residue more than anything else in the home and can protrude lingering odors. If you have a carpeted home, take the time to deep clean it with a powerful steam vacuum. Use carpet shampoo and routinely go over areas where smoke stains and odor are most prevalent. Hire a professional steam vacuuming company if you need help.

Replace Old Wallpaper and Paint Over Walls
Stained, peeling wallpaper discourages people from buying your home. Replace old wallpaper with an elegant new design. Pick a print and color that complements any aesthetic. If your wallpaper is slightly stained and salvageable, spray a mixture of vinegar and water on your wall and wipe away with a clean, damp sponge. Clean walls before painting them if they need a fresh coat. Use a paint primer to create an extra layer to cover old smoke stains.

Purify the Air
Smoke travels through air vents and fans. Clean out your air vents and replace HVAC filters to optimize clean air flow in your home. Air purifiers can be a costly but provide both a quick fix and a long-term solution for removing smoke odor from the home. High-end air purifiers can eliminate the particles and chemicals that create smoke odors down to the molecular level. Invest in an air purifier with an HEPA filter designed to deal with chemical odors for immediate relief. Most air purifiers will include a thick bed of activated carbon.

Wash Upholstery and Curtains
Like walls and wallpaper, smoke toxins can be entrapped in fabric furniture. Consult an expert before cleaning your upholstery, as some pieces may be ruined if washed. Most furniture tags include labels which let you know how to handle cleaning them. If you cannot vacuum or wet your furniture, try placing it outside in a dry and sunny environment. Wash curtains to remove smoke smells or replace them.

Don’t Smoke Inside
Practice smoking outside the home if you are an avid smoker. Indoor air is 3-5 times more polluted than outdoor air, which means smoking indoors leads to greater toxic buildup and pollution. Smoking outdoors can disperse the smoke and odor and will be worth it in the long run.

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Editor’s Note: This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. See what else is cookin’ now at blog.rismedia.com:

Should you buy or rent? Most people ask themselves this question at one point or another, and there’s no clear correct answer. Before you give up in frustration, take some time to ask yourself the following questions.

How Stable Is Your Lifestyle?
Are you the kind of person who likes to stay in one place, or do you like to move around? If your life is relatively stable and you are looking to put down roots, buying a home is probably a good idea. If you are looking to move around or you are willing to pick up stakes for your job, you should consider renting.

What Are Your Plans for the Near Future?
Your plans for the near future are also very important for deciding whether you will rent or buy. If you are planning on expanding your family, for example, it might be a good idea to buy a home that’s bigger than most apartments. Likewise, if you are planning to move soon, you’ll want to rent. Issues like adopting a pet, taking long trips or even major medical decisions can influence whether purchasing a home is the right move in your life.

What’s Important to You?
You should also take a few moments to consider what’s important for you in terms of a living situation. Do you like privacy, stability, and the feeling of owning your own home? If so, then you’ll want to buy. Do you prefer amenities, a community, and putting the responsibility for home care and maintenance in the hands of professionals? That might mean you want to rent. There’s not a right or wrong answer here, so take some time to come to your own conclusion.

Who Is Helping You?
Finally, think about who’s helping you to make this choice. If you work with professionals, you’ll have a better chance to see more properties and make a more informed decision. One of the worst moves you can make when making this decision is to rush forward without enough information. Always make sure you let a real estate professional help you in your search.

Deciding whether to rent or buy is always a deeply personal decision. Take some time and think things over, then work with a professional to help you find a living situation that suits your lifestyle.

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Today’s Ask the Expert column features Adam Long, president of HomeTeam Inspection Service.

Q: What are the best ways to prepare a client for a home inspection?

A: Today, home inspections are almost universally recommended by every real estate professional. When it comes to their clients—especially first-time buyers—many are not familiar with the home inspection process, and what they can expect. Here are a few things you can do to prepare your client for a home inspection.

Choosing a Home Inspector
All home inspection companies are not created equal. Outline criteria that distinguish a reputable home inspection company, like finding out if a company is licensed and certified (in states where applicable). Encourage clients to look at how professional a company is. Do they have a professional website? Do they arrive in uniform with marked vehicles making them easily identifiable? Do they deliver an electronic report with photos? Verify that they have both errors and omissions and general liability insurance, which covers the agent and the inspector. Consider how convenient it is to work with them. Do they make the experience easier with online scheduling? Do they text or email reminders about the inspection? Do they schedule any additional inspections that would be requested by the client, like pest and radon inspections? Each of these criteria will help enhance the client’s overall home-buying experience.

Homebuyer Preparation
Prepare buyers for the inspection by helping them understand the inspection process and how to maintain perspective. Home inspectors are generalists who have a wide range of knowledge that allows them to evaluate the readily accessible systems and components of a home, and having a home inspection enables clients to make informed decisions with confidence. Some buyers are more comfortable when their agent attends an inspection with them. This also allows you to assist with any seller issues and to see how an inspector will deal with call-backs if you or the buyer have any questions about the inspection.

Home Seller Preparation
Listing agents can help their clients prepare for the best inspection possible by reminding them that a clean and orderly home gives the impression of a well-maintained home. Encourage them to have the HVAC serviced and cleaned prior to the inspection. Check plumbing for leaks and examine ceilings for water stains or signs of other water damage. Let the client know that having a pre-sale inspection can lead to a smoother transaction and will likely identify issues the buyer’s inspector would uncover. If the house is vacant, make sure all the utilities are on and be sure the inspector has clear access to the attic, crawlspaces, heating system and garage.

After the Inspection
Agents and clients should read the home inspection report in its entirety. Follow up with the client to see if they have any questions after reviewing the report.

Knowledge Is Power
Preparing clients for a home inspection and giving them a better understanding of the home inspection process will ensure a more positive experience.

For more information, please visit www.hometeam.com.

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