4 Steps to Regain Some Savings Self-Control

(TNS)—Opening a savings account is easy, but committing to savings? Now that can be hard.

From struggling to find places where you can reduce spending to falling into the temptation of instant retail gratification, saving money can be really challenging.

“You really have to know yourself and discipline yourself if you’re going to be an effective saver,” says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate’s chief financial analyst.

Learning to live on less may feel difficult initially, but it will pay off in the future.

Here are four steps to start exercising savings self-control today.

Pay your account out of your paycheck.
Automate your savings by having money moved to your savings account regularly, either through elections with your direct deposit if you receive a regular paycheck or by setting up a recurring transfer to your savings account.

Moving money directly to your savings account is a crucial first step in building a nest egg, McBride says.

“Paying yourself first clears the biggest hurdle for saving, which is simply not being in the habit of saving,” McBride says. “It takes care of saving money before you have a chance to spend it.”

Similar to putting money in your 401(k), the idea is that if it never touches your hand, you won’t miss it.

Avoid the temptation of transfers.
Moving money into your savings does you little good if you constantly raid the account.

To effectively grow a savings account, you have to restrict yourself from the temptation to transfer those funds to your checking account.

“If you’re going to build your savings, your deposits have to outnumber your withdrawals, not just in number but also in magnitude,” McBride says.

Do what it takes to control yourself. Perhaps the solution is as easy as naming that account based on a goal—”house down payment” or “Christmas money”—to make the connection of immediate gratification robbing your ultimate goal.

If that isn’t enough to stop you, put some distance between your checking and your savings. While there are often advantages of having your money at one institution, opening up a savings account a different bank might be what you need to stop you from spending money that is supposed to be away.

Once you’ve hit your emergency fund savings goal, you ought to consider a CD or even a CD ladder to pick up some yield and keep you from spending your money.

Put banking technology to work.
Banks and financial technology companies are obsessed right now with helping you save money, and each product seems to have its own bent.

There are ones that let you set rules, like adding $10 to your savings every time you buy a latte. Finn, the new mobile-only account Chase Bank is piloting in St. Louis for iOS users, is offering such features. The bank says it expects to launch it in additional cities and for Android users next year.

Others, like Simple and Moven, help you save for a specific goal or multiple goals at a time.

There are also some, like Digit, Chime and Acorns, that focus on moving small amounts of money into an account for you. This is similar to Bank of America’s popular Keep The Change Savings program, which puts the difference between your purchases and the nearest dollar in a savings account—$10.75 for lunch, 25 cents for savings, for example.

MoneyLion, another FinTech app, launched a virtual reality feature on the augmented reality platform of Apple’s iOS 11 release. MoneyLion customers with iPhones 6S and newer can now visualize their money as stacks on the phone. The rationale is that if you can see your money pile increasing, you’re less likely to spend it.

Suffice to say, there are a lot of savings options out there right now and you ought to do your research before committing to one. Ultimately, their effectiveness is dependent on your ability to not frivolously spend the money you’ve worked hard to save.

Save for the long term.
While you may want to enjoy the here and now, short-term spending can cost big time down the road.

“If you’re going to be a saver, it’s going to require some tough decisions,” McBride says. “It means passing up consumption today so that you can instead save for consumption in the future.”

McBride highlights that saving is not simply geared toward building up money to use in the event of emergencies.

“Americans are woefully under-saved for retirement,” McBride says.

McBride points to the increasing number of seniors who are unable to retire and the overwhelming amount of outstanding student debt as a reminder that consumers must save for long-term goals.

“You can build an emergency savings fund while building a retirement fund or a college fund at the same time,” McBride says. “You have to attack both at the same time in the same way by automating your contributions.”

©2017 Bankrate.com

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(TNS)—When people want to find out how much their mortgages cost, lenders often give them quotes that include loan rates and points.

What Is a Mortgage Point?
A mortgage point is a fee equal to 1 percent of the loan amount. A 30-year, $150,000 mortgage might have a rate of 7 percent but come with a charge of one mortgage point, or $1,500.

A lender can charge one, two or more mortgage points. There are two kinds of points:

  1. Discount points
  2. Origination points

Discount Points
These are actually prepaid interest on the mortgage loan. The more points you pay, the lower the interest rate on the loan and vice versa. Borrowers typically can pay anywhere from zero to three or four points, depending on how much they want to lower their rates. This kind of point is tax-deductible.

Origination Points
This is charged by the lender to cover the costs of making the loan. The origination fee is tax-deductible if it was used to obtain the mortgage and not to pay other closing costs. The IRS specifically states that if the fee is for items that would normally be itemized on a settlement statement, such as notary fees, preparation costs and inspection fees, it is not deductible.

How do you decide whether to pay mortgage points, and how many? That depends on a number of factors, such as:

  • How much money you have available to put down at closing
  • How long you plan on staying in your house

Points as prepaid interest reduce the interest rate—an advantage if you plan to stay in your home for a while—but if you need the lowest possible closing costs, choose the zero-point option on your loan program.

By the Numbers…
A lender might offer you a 30-year fixed mortgage of $165,000 at 6 percent interest with no points. The monthly mortgage principal and interest payment would be $989. If you pay two points at closing (that’s $3,300) you might be able to drop the interest rate down to 5.5 percent, with a monthly payment of $937. The savings difference would be $52 per month, but it would take 64 months to earn back the $3,300 spent upfront via lower payments. If you’re sure you will own the house for more than five years, you save money by paying the points.

©2017 Bankrate.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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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The real estate world lies within a network of sensitive contact information, financial records, identifying paperwork and the team of experts that keeps these things secure. So, what happens when this information isn’t properly safeguarded? Or when companies use information to take advantage of consumers? Between financial corporation scandals, like the cyber attacks on Equifax, and the recent repeal of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) arbitration rule, consumers are having trouble trusting financial institutions with their personal information.

Equifax
In September, Equifax—one of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies— announced a massive cyber breach that may have affected 143 million people in the U.S. The company is being criticized for its security practices, especially since this is the third major cybersecurity threat on Equifax since 2015.

It took Equifax nearly four months to identify the intrusion after hackers stole personal information through a simple website vulnerability. Along with 209,000 credit card numbers, hackers got their hands on Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, names, birthdates and addresses. It is one of the largest hacks on record.

Equifax hired cybersecurity firm Mandiant to perform an in-depth investigation of the cyber attack to find out how many consumers are at risk. Results are in and estimated totals for impacted individuals has risen by 2.5 million to a total of 145.5 million at risk. Even the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority is investigating the incident, as nearly 700,000 U.K consumers were also affected.

“I want to apologize again to all impacted consumers,” said Paulino do Rego Barros, Jr., CEO of Equifax, following the Mandiant results.”As this important phase of our work is now completed, we continue to take numerous steps to review and enhance our cybersecurity practices. We also continue to work closely with our internal team and outside advisors to implement and accelerate long-term security improvements.”

Impact on Real Estate
Credit plays a major role in lending and the real estate industry. The cyber attack could not only weaken consumer confidence, but may add some challenges if the hacked information is used fraudulently.

Compromised personal information can be used in a variety of damaging ways. Borrowers may have to deal with stalled or rejected loans if hackers purchase expensive items using the stolen credit card numbers. Additionally, new accounts could be opened up in borrowers’ names using their Social Security numbers. Not only are loans at risk, but hackers also have the potential to demolish credit scores via identity theft—an infinitely harder problem to fix.

Equifax’s cyber attack may also lead to a spike in illegal mortgage and refinance applications. According to National Mortgage News, the mortgage industry widely uses The Work Number for employment verification during the underwriting process. The service is also the designated third-party provider of income and employment data for Fannie Mae’s Day 1 Certainty™ program. The cyber security breach leaked the information collected by the Work Number, leaving financial institutions unsure of whether the source has been corrupted.

Overall, loan processors may delay closings to ensure that employment data has not been affected by the breach. Fannie Mae is keeping an eye on its dealings with Equifax, as well.

CFPB Arbitration Rule
The repeal of the CFPB arbitration rule comes at a time when consumers are searching for ways to protect themselves against dishonest business practices. The rule was created over the span of five years and was set to go into effect in 2019. It would have allowed millions of U.S. consumers to pool resources in class-action lawsuits against financial corporations.

The rule was widely approved by Democrats, but Senate Republicans overturned it, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 tie. According to supporters, the ruling would have protected consumers, and, at the same time, held financial institutions responsible for upholding ethical business practices.

“[This] vote is a giant setback for every consumer in this country,” said Richard Cordray, director of the CFPB, in a statement. “As a result, companies like Wells Fargo and Equifax remain free to break the law without fear of legal blowback from their customers.”

Those opposed believed the rule would have a negative impact on lawsuit payouts for consumers.

“This is good news for the American consumer,” said Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) in a statement.” A ban on arbitration clauses would very likely have resulted in lower reward payments for wronged customers and higher credit costs for everybody. There’s little evidence to suggest that class-action lawsuits actually stop the behavior they seek to punish, and there’s plenty of evidence to show they give the lion’s share of money to the lawyers who file them.”

As a result of the repeal, financial corporations will be able to continue using arbitration clauses in their fine print as a way to protect themselves against the courts. Since consumers will not be able to use class action lawsuits as a catalyst for changing a company’s business practices, they will have to familiarize themselves on what to look for so they don’t fall victim to malpractice.

How Consumers Can Protect Themselves
Unfortunately, data breaches and business practices are not just tied to credit reporting agencies. Everyone remembers the Target hack, various large banks like Bank of America have had their share of financial scandals and global accounting firm Deloitte recently announced that it fell victim to a cyber attack, as well.

While these companies are working toward regaining the trust of their consumers, the damage has been done. These business mistakes happen often, especially with companies that are intertwined with the real estate industry. According to a survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit and Deutsche Bank, the real estate industry features one of the lowest percentages of authentication testing. Don’t wait for the next data breach to protect yourself. Here’s what you can do to ensure you don’t fall victim to flawed business practices or cyber attacks:

Check in with Equifax. Find out, if you haven’t already, if you were exposed during the Equifax data breach.

Keep an eye on your credit. Watch out for any sudden changes in your score. If you really want to make sure you’re not at risk, sign up for a credit monitoring service.

Freeze your accounts. If you are vulnerable, go online or call the three major consumer credit reporting agencies to put a freeze on your account. This will keep hackers from checking your credit score or using your personal information. Once you are certain the risk has been taken care of, you may unfreeze your account.

Equifax: 800-349-9960
Experian: 888‑397‑3742
TransUnion: 888-909-8872.

Read the fine print. Don’t sign up for any services, even if they advocate privacy and security, without reading the terms first. Make sure your information isn’t being released to third-party vendors.

Before you apply for a loan, ask for a breakdown of all fees. Get everything in writing so you have evidence of malpractice or fee discrepancies should a conflict arise during the lending process.

Ask how your information is being protected. Any time you need to submit sensitive information that can leave you vulnerable if in the wrong hands, inquire about the company’s cyber security practices. Due diligence before forming a business relationship with any type of financial institution and being a savvy consumer is your best defense against flawed business practices.

Liz Dominguez is RISMedia’s associate content editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at ldominguez@rismedia.com.

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(TNS)—You’ve found the perfect house. Interest rates are still low. There’s just one thing standing between you and your dream home: a down payment.

Don’t abandon your homeownership dreams just yet. Here are nine ways to come up with the cash for your new home.

Pay Off Your Credit Cards
Paying bills will help in your hunt for down payment money. When you carry a credit card balance, the ever-accumulating interest charges mean more of your money goes to the card company each month. Keep that cash for yourself by cutting your debt load.

With the “avalanche” method, you prioritize your debts and pay the most on the one with the highest interest rate. Once that’s paid, shift your focus to the next highest rate and so on. You’ll get the most money-sucking credit card bills out of the way more quickly, freeing up more of your income to go toward building your savings.

Ladder CDs to Boost Savings
Once you have a few extra bucks, put it to work making more money for you. Certificates of deposit are low-risk and relatively accessible. But when interest rates are low, the return isn’t always what a saver hopes. You can maximize the earning power of CDs by opening different certificates at varying maturity dates.

For example, instead of buying one big CD, spread your money into three-month, six-month and one-year certificates. Known as laddering, this gives you flexibility to adjust your savings as rates change. Laddering allows you to lock in when rates are high and when rates are not so good. The process keeps you from being stuck for too long with low earnings.

Use Special Programs
There are many programs for homebuyers struggling to save for a down payment, especially for first-time homebuyers. Borrowers in a wide range of incomes, locales and professional groups may have access to aid from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored offices that buy mortgages and package them as investments. Various nonprofit and community groups also lend a hand to buyers struggling to put money down on a home. And don’t forget about assistance from state agencies.

Tap Your IRA
If you’re looking to buy your first home, let the IRS help. Tax laws allow you to use up to $10,000 in IRA funds as a down payment if you’ve never owned a house. If you’re married and you both are first-time buyers, you each can pull from your retirement accounts, meaning a potential $20,000 down payment.

Even better is the IRS definition of “first-time homebuyer.” Technically, you don’t have to be purchasing your very first home. You qualify under the tax rules as long as you (or your spouse) did not own a principal residence at any time during the two years prior to the purchase of the new home. In these instances, Uncle Sam waives the penalty for early withdrawal, but you may owe tax on the money, depending on the type of IRA.

Get a Gift
Aunt Edna always liked you best. Take advantage of that favored family status and ask her to make a present of your down payment. Tax law allows gifts of several thousand dollars a year to be bestowed without tax consequences to either the giver or recipient. The gift-exclusion amount is $14,000 for 2017 and is adjusted annually for inflation.

The gift exclusion isn’t limited to relatives. The monetary present can be from anyone, so track down a well-off friend now.

Ask for a Raise
No luck finding a benefactor? Then maybe it’s time to ask your boss for more money. Just make sure you do your homework beforehand and base your request for a salary increase on your accomplishments rather than your needs.

Get a Second Job
Boss turned down your request for a raise? Moonlighting could help you earn the extra money. This option makes the most sense for those who are young and not yet fully established in their professional lives.

Look for Lost Money
Do you have any money stashed somewhere? Around $23.5 billion worth of matured savings bonds remains unredeemed, according to the Treasury Department, ignored by owners and not earning a penny of interest. Make sure your bonds and other investments are still adding to your net worth.

You could also have money languishing in an old bank account somewhere. You can file a claim with the Treasury to claim lost, stolen or destroyed savings bonds, or check the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators to see if you have any missing money.

Sell Unwanted Items
You likely have some used furniture you no longer use or old clothes that are no longer in style. Sell it to make a few more bucks to use for your down payment.

You can sell your items on sites like Craigslist, eBay, Facebook and Amazon to turn your trash into someone else’s treasure.

©2017 Bankrate.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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(TNS)—Buying a house is a life-changing process that requires lots of upfront financial planning.

When looking for a home, keep certain factors in mind, including your financial situation, types of available loans, your credit score, the price of the house and your down payment so you can navigate the process smoothly.

Your Financial Situation
Before you buy a house, make sure that your monthly budget can handle such a large expense. Unless you’re one of the few people who can pay cash for a home, you’ll likely be paying it off for 15 or 30 years, depending on the length of your loan.

In addition to the mortgage payment, you’ll want to factor in expenses like property taxes, homeowners insurance and routine maintenance.

Types of Mortgages
When buying a home, you have a few options for the type of loan you want to use. Two of the most common mortgage types are fixed-rate and adjustable-rate mortgages.

The interest rate on a fixed-rate mortgage stays the same over the life of the loan, with payments divided up into equal amounts that you pay on a monthly basis. The longer the loan term, the less you have to pay each month; however, you’ll likely pay more in interest than you would with a shorter-term loan.

An adjustable-rate mortgage, or ARM, has a fixed interest rate for an initial period, followed by a period when the lender may periodically adjust the interest rate. For example, a 5/1 ARM has an introductory rate of five years. After that five-year period, the interest rate can change annually. With an ARM, you need to consider how much your monthly payment could increase and your ability to pay if it does go up.

Your Credit Score
You also need to review your credit score before buying a house. Your credit score helps creditors determine your creditworthiness. Borrowers with credit scores of 740 or higher generally qualify for the best mortgage deals.

It’s still possible to buy a house if you have bad credit. You likely will have to accept a higher interest rate on your mortgage, which could cost you hundreds of dollars extra per month.

If your credit score drops too low, though, you might not qualify for a mortgage at all. Consider improving your credit score first before trying to buy a house.

The Price of the Home
The higher the price of the house you want to buy, the more you can expect to pay on a monthly basis. When looking at houses, consider your budget and how much you can afford to spend.

Remember to consider your needs, too. Do you have a new addition to the family and need the room? Have your kids moved out and you want a smaller home?

Also, take a look at the price range of the houses available in the area where you want to buy. Compare the prices you find to your budget and determine what home you can afford.

The Down Payment
A large down payment represents one way to reduce the monthly cost of your mortgage. As a matter of fact, a down payment of 20 percent gives you access to better interest rates and prevents you from having to pay private mortgage insurance. So, in addition to lowering the amount you owe initially, a down payment also can get you a lower interest rate, making a house more affordable. There are also mortgages that require no down payment or a small one.

©2017 Bankrate.com

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Today’s Ask the Expert column features Dan Steward, president of Pillar To Post Home Inspectors.

Q: What are your top tips for preparing to sell a home in the fall?

A: First and foremost, use the beauty of the season. If you’re lucky enough to live in a region that experiences changing seasons, take advantage of everything the season has to offer by incorporating autumnal flowers, plants and floral arrangements into the mix. Whether it’s colorful mums or adding intense color and drama to the home’s exterior with perennials, feature a variety of fall floral arrangements both inside and outside the home.

Next, be sure to check the roof and gutters. While a roof’s drainage system diverts thousands of gallons of water from a home’s exterior and foundation walls, it’s important to keep the process moving in order to avoid water damage. In addition to taking the time to unclog and clean the gutters, now is also a good time to inspect the roof from top to bottom. In addition to looking for damage to metal flashing in and around vents and chimneys, check ridge shingles for cracks and wind damage.

While outside, take the time to check driveways, walkways and steps for any noticeable damage. Fixing any problem areas during the fall is critical in order to prevent little problems from becoming expensive headaches down the line. Look for cracks that are more than 1/8-inch wide, uneven sections and loose railings on steps.

Before the bitter temperatures of the winter season move in, take the necessary steps to ensure that outside faucets and in-ground irrigation systems don’t freeze and burst. Close any shut-off valves serving outside faucets, then open the outside faucet to the drain line. If you don’t have shut-off valves, or freeze-proof faucets, you can buy faucet covers at your local home improvement store.

Moving inside, check the home for air leaks, as gaps in caulk and weather-stripping can account for 10 percent of a home’s heating bills, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. While weather-stripping is the most cost-effective way to control heating and cooling costs, it should be checked and replaced as needed every six months.

And last, but not least, bring in a professional to inspect the home’s heating system to ensure it’s working properly before the cold weather arrives.

For more information, please visit www.pillartopost.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:

There’s a reason that spring and summer are the major seasons for selling houses. Most people want to move at a time that allows them to be settled by the fall, when kids go back to school and daylight shortens.

However, you might find yourself having to sell a vacant home in the off-season. The home might be empty because the seller had to move on for reasons of work or had to move into a house he or she was paying for.

There are really two issues here. The first is selling a vacant house. The second is selling a house in the off-season. Here are some tips on how to do both:

Selling a Vacant House

Keep Up Maintenance and Repair – Even with no one around, surfaces need to be dusted and kept clean. Once people move out, minor items needing repair, like a leaky faucet or a burned-out light bulb, might not be noticed. It’s your job to notice, though, because signs of even minor disrepair or lack of maintenance can quickly turn off prospective buyers.

Clean the house or hire someone to clean it at least once a month. Surfaces need to be dusted, for example, and floors mopped or vacuumed. Do a walkthrough looking for repairs once a month, or hire a property manager to do it.

Make Sure the House Doesn’t Look Vacant  A vacant property shouldn’t look vacant for two reasons: First, it’s uninviting to see an empty property. It’s less likely that a buyer will see themselves in the space; second, it’s an open invitation to thieves, vandals and even squatters. You don’t want to open the door one day and see that vandals spray-painted all over the walls.

Develop a plan. Pick up mail if the seller isn’t having it forwarded. Place lights on timers so that they go on automatically in the evening, just as they would if someone still lived there. Many have remote apps that make this easy.

Turn Heat or Air Conditioning on Regularly  Don’t leave the heat or air conditioning off for long periods of time. Lack of heat can cause pipes to freeze or burst. Lack of air conditioning may make it difficult to cool the house properly when it comes time to show it. In addition, lack of proper ventilation can make the house smell musty and unused.

It’s best to run the heat and air conditioning at regular intervals while the house is vacant.

Focus on Curb Appeal  Don’t skimp on curb appeal just because the house is vacant. If anything, making the house look inviting becomes even more critical if no one lives there. Keep the grounds and garden in the same pristine condition as the house. Paint the door a vibrant color. Place small trees on either side to frame it.

Stage the Interior  When prospective buyers come, they need to see an interior that looks welcoming, and that allows them to visualize themselves in the house. They may not be able to do that fully if the house is completely empty.

On the other hand, completely furnishing an empty house may not be practical. What you need to do is stage the interior. Put focal pieces in each room, for example. You don’t need to create a functional room; you just have to give clients a sense of how the room would look if they lived there. In other words: a fireplace with wood, a lamp and a sofa in the living room might be enough. No need for matching armchairs and two more lamps!

Selling in the Off-Season

Price to Sell  While you likely won’t attract the maximum number of buyers in the off-season, some people do look in the fall and winter. To move the house, the most prudent move is to price it to sell. If you’re in a hot market, that may be at a market price. If demand is a tad sluggish, price it slightly under. For most sellers, it’s better to sell at a price slightly under the asking price in October than to wait five more months, especially if they’re carrying the mortgage.

Sweeten the Offer  Sweetening the offer may also help sell the house in the off-season. Nicely enough, sweeteners abound, depending on the property. Does a patio look as if it may need replacement in the next five years? See if the seller will replace it as a sweetener. Do the same with any major appliance that may go in five years, such as water heaters.

The other sweetener strategy is to wait for buyers to suggest things. Some may want a reseeded lawn or pruned trees. Entertain these offers if they look likely to result in a sale.

It can be more challenging to sell a vacant home in the off-season, but by utilizing these tips, you’ll place yourself at a strategic advantage in moving a house in the off-season.

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What’s that smell? The sense of smell is the strongest of all the senses to connect buyers to a home. While a bad smell can really deter buyers, a good smell can tempt buyers to a sale. From “green” scents to seasonal scents, discover the right smells for triggering positive emotions and home sales.

  1. Clean Smell
    Most of us associate “clean” with strongly scented cleaning products and disinfectants. It can even make buyers nostalgic. But remember, a little goes a long way. You should dilute your cleaning solutions so buyers don’t get overwhelmed.
  1. Citrus
    Using actual fruit is one way to get a clean smell without all the cleaning products. Lemon, orange and grapefruit scents are best. One great tip is to grind up lemon or orange rind with a few ice cubes in the garbage disposal. This will freshen up the kitchen, one of the most important rooms in the house.
  1. Natural Smell
    Sometimes the best scent is no scent at all. Try using “green” cleaning supplies, baking soda and other non-scented products that neutralize odors. The idea is that simpler is better, so you want to avoid complex, artificial smells from potpourri, sprays and plug-ins, which can actually distract buyers and turn them off.
  1. Baked Goods
    Nothing can make a house smell more like home than freshly baked goods, but be sure to stick to simple smells like vanilla, cinnamon and fresh bread. You don’t have to really bake anything. One trick is to boil some water and throw in a few cinnamon sticks an hour before a showing.
  1. Pine
    Don’t we all love that fresh pine scent? Especially with the holidays around the corner, it’s a great scent to greet buyers when they walk in the door. If you don’t want to put up a live tree, you can simply hang a wreath of tree trimmings or some fresh garland. You can’t go wrong with setting a holiday mood to inspire a sale.

There’s a lot that goes into the sale of a home. Make sure a great smell is at the top of the list. And to increase its value even more, add an American Home Shield® Home Warranty to every transaction.

For more articles like this, please visit the American Home Shield Blog at ahs.com/home-matters.

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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:

Thumb through any home decor magazine, and you’ll see a master bathroom with a soaker or shower as the showpiece. Ta-da!

Homeowners, it turns out, are splurging to scrub up, according to the recently released U.S. Houzz Bathroom Trends Study. Ninety-one percent of homeowners in the study added a spacious shower to their master bathroom (after tearing out the tub), and many added on deluxe features, like a body sprayer or rainfall showerhead, for an improved, spa-like space.

The average cost for a large-scale remodel of a master bath (sized over 100 square feet) was $21,000, shows the study. Master bath renovations cost more in pricey markets, however. In San Francisco, Calif., for example, a major remodel averages $34,100.

Accompanying a luxury shower is a soothing gray and white color palette, according to the study. Nineteen percent of homeowners installed white countertops in the master bath, and 40 percent painted its walls white. Fourteen percent added gray cabinets, as well, to complete the tone-on-tone look. The majority of homeowners (90 percent) changed the overall style of the room, some to contemporary (25 percent), some to transitional (17 percent), and some, still, to modern (15 percent).

As with other areas at home, homeowners are also integrating technology into their master baths. Atmospheric lighting, digital controls and smart toilets are all popular upgrades, shows the study.

Bathrooms—master bathrooms, especially—are key at resale. The 2017 Cost vs. Value Report by Remodeling magazine estimates the resale value of a “mid-range” bath renovation at $12,024 (a 64.8 percent return on investment), and the resale value of an “upscale” bath renovation at $35,456 (a 59.1 percent return on investment).

Beyond a master bath overhaul, another bathroom anywhere in the home can make homeowners happier with their house, a recent report by the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) showed. A bathroom earned a perfect 10 “Joy Score” in the report.

Suzanne De Vita is RISMedia’s online news editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at sdevita@rismedia.com.

For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

The post All About Clean: Master Bathroom Trends appeared first on RISMedia.

(TNS)—Only 15 percent of Americans are investing in real estate other than their primary residence, according to a real estate investing study by RealtyShares. In fact, two-thirds of Americans believe that investing in real estate is too difficult, too costly or beyond their capabilities. This might be true if they were considering commercial real estate investing, which can be a risky move for new investors, but there are safer options.

What Is Real Estate Investing?
Investing in real estate means buying property to earn income and build wealth, either on your own or with the help of real estate investment companies. Many investors own more than one property, and their earnings include rent paid by tenants and the equity they build through appreciation. Investment property owners have different tax considerations for their investment properties than they do for their primary residence.

Investing in real estate doesn’t have to be intimidating. Here are seven ways to start investing in real estate now:

Rental Properties
Buying rental property is one way to get started in real estate investing. Buying a rental property starts with choosing the right property, and then finding renters, maintaining the property, dealing with tenants and collecting rent each month.

One stumbling block might be locating an affordable property worth investing in.

“Traditional real estate investing is alive and well, although it’s largely dependent on geography,” says Aaron Milledge, founding partner and chief compliance officer of Targeted Wealth Solutions, LLC. “In some places, home prices have appreciated so much that it may be difficult to find a lucrative deal.”

Rental properties not only provide rental income, but also tax benefits not available with other investment opportunities. An additional advantage is that you have more control over your rental property than you do over investments such as the stock market.

Live-In Flips
House flipping involves buying a property at a discount, improving it for the purpose of appreciating its value, and then selling it at a profit. A live-in flip is a property the investor lives in while renovating it.

Living in your flip benefits you in two ways: First, you can make money when you sell the house later; second, you avoid having to pay for a separate home to live in.

“Flipping a house—acquiring, repairs, and selling—can be completed in six months and result in a substantial payday,” says Lucas Machado, real estate investor and founder of Home Heroes, LLC. “Flips can earn tens of thousands of dollars in a short time frame. It’s the best strategy for those that need capital in the near future.”

Multifamily Homes
Multifamily properties are buildings that house more than one family. The fact that people always need a place to live results in consistent demand for rental units regardless of the overall economic environment.

Investing in multifamily homes can be lucrative if it’s done properly. Justin Taber, real estate investor and a licensed REALTOR® in Ohio, recommends living onsite.

“While you live in this property, you will be living either for free or heavily subsidized by renters,” Taber says. “When you move out, you will be making money. In about 30 years, once this property is paid off, your cash flow will be quite substantial—just in time for you to start thinking about retirement.”

Crowdfunding
Crowdfunding is one of the newest and easiest ways to access the real estate markets. Rather than buying an entire property or financing a development project on your own, you can buy into a very small share of a property or project using a real estate crowdfunding platform.

Not all platforms are created equal. Look for one led by real estate professionals qualified to screen investments. From there, you can choose which specific real estate investments you want to buy into. Distribution of future gains is proportionally based on the ownership shares investors purchased.

“These private placements are illiquid, though, meaning that you may have a hard time selling your investment if you need to raise cash quickly,” says Milledge.

REITs
Real estate investment trusts (REITs) are a special form of security that invests in real estate. Unlike most other investment vehicles, REITs must pay out at least 90 percent of their taxable income as dividends to investors. When you invest in a REIT, you’re essentially paying a professional management team to do the work of investing your money in real estate while you reap the profits of REITs.

REITs are an easy way to invest in real estate because you don’t need tons of money.

“The initial contribution to invest in a REIT is very low,” says John Barnes, certified financial planner and founder of The Annuity Assistant. “For example, you could buy shares of a REIT which manages apartment complexes for $500. Contrast this with a direct purchase in an apartment building, which might cost you $500,000, and the many risks that go with it.”

Real Estate Wholesaling
Real estate wholesaling is when there is a middleman involved in the transaction between the seller and the buyer, with the wholesaler serving as the middleman.

Kyle Alfriend, owner of Alfriend Real Estate Group, sums up what it’s like to be the middleman: “You focus on only finding the property, negotiating the price, and then selling that agreement to another investor. This is called wholesaling and requires no out-of-pocket money from you.”

The fine line of separation between real estate wholesaling, which doesn’t require a real estate license, and real estate brokering, which does require a license, has led some states to set guidelines for wholesaling activities. Texas law, for example, requires that unlicensed wholesalers disclose their financial interest to prospective buyers.

Rent Out a Space in Your Home or on Your Property
Renting out part of your home or property is probably the most immediately lucrative investment you can make, and you won’t need outside funding or a new piece of property. Instead, find opportunities within the property you already own.

Perhaps you’re a homeowner with a garage apartment that only needs a bit of TLC to make it ready for renters, pr maybe you have a spare room in your home that’s sitting empty. With a little bit of money up front, you can start renting it to a tenant almost immediately. Alternatively, advertise the room as a vacation rental on an online booking site such as Airbnb.

Michael McDonald contributed to the reporting for this article.

©2017 GOBankingRates.com, a ConsumerTrack web property

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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.

For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

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