November 30, 2017

Is your new home in a resilient city?

By Marcie Geffner

LOS ANGELES — Shopping for a new home involves more than looking at houses. It’s also about choosing a community where you want to live. Among the key factors to consider is whether your community will be resilient.

So, what is a resilient city and a resilient community? Resiliency refers to a community’s ability to recovery and rebuild when a natural disaster, public tragedy or other emergency strikes. If your home is badly damaged or destroyed, will your community be able to help you pick up the pieces?

There’s no single rating system or comprehensive score that measures community resiliency, so you’ll have to do some research to figure out how resilient various communities seem to you and whether they prioritize resiliencies that may be important to you and your family in an emergency.

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Innovations in new construction homes

By Marcie Geffner - New Home Source

LOS ANGELES — In these days of technological wonders, housing might not seem like a hot bed of innovation.

But, homebuilders are well ahead of many other industries when it comes to offering their customers new and different products designed to meet specific needs and wants.

For builders, innovation might mean a twist on modern architecture, creative floor plan or new way to make homes affordable for budget-conscious buyers.

These ideas and others were the topic of a panel discussion at the Urban Land Institute fall meeting here in late October. The participants — all homebuilders — talked about housing innovations and what innovative ideas bring to the table for builders and homebuyers.

Three projects — one each in North Carolina, Maryland and Los Angeles — stood out as giving buyers new choices in today’s markets.

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Downsizing into a new construction home

By Marcie Geffner - New Home Source

When Teris Pantazes and his wife Kate had their first child, they did exactly the opposite of what many couples in their situation want do: rather than move into a larger home, they bought a smaller one.

The move made sense because the new, smaller home was newly built, which meant it came with numerous benefits that made it the right choice.

The couple, who now have three daughters, moved from a 4,000-square-foot house built in the 1920s to a brand-new house with just 2,500 square feet, a sacrifice of 1,500 square feet. Both houses were in Baltimore, the older in the city proper, the newer near the outskirts of town.

“The new home felt just as big because the useable space was what we needed,” Pantazes says.

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'Don’t call us Millennials': sharers and connectors of the Millennial generation

By Marcie Geffner - New Home Source

Millennials are often lumped into one massive generational group. But they’re not all alike.

In fact, those born in the 1980s differ significantly from those born in the 1990s. Rather than “Millennials,” the older group might be better characterized as Sharers, the younger as Connectors.

John Burns, CEO of an eponymous real estate consulting company in Irvine, Calif., explained during a panel at the recent Urban Land Institute Fall Meeting in Los Angeles how Sharers’ and Connectors’ different economic experiences and demographics impact their desire to become homeowners.

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Buying your dream home later in life

By Marcie Geffner - NewHomeSource

Most homebuyers have a “dream house” that includes everything they want, whether it’s a new kitchen, open floor plan, lots of bedrooms and bathrooms or all that and more.

So, how can you buy your dream house, whether you are in your 40s, 50s or 60s?

The answer might be as simple as deciding to go for it, says Tom Page, vice president of iStar, a community developer in Richmond, Va., and general manager of Magnolia Green, a residential community in Moseley, Va.

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Builders give buyers their 'forever home'

By Marcie Geffner - NewHomeSource

Old-fashioned starter homes were designed decades ago to offer homebuyers just the basics: two or three small bedrooms, one or two bathrooms, a functional kitchen, minimal living space and a large backyard that needed a lot of maintenance.

Today’s buyers want more than a shoebox that will meet their needs for a few years before they have to trade up. They want a home that’s nicer, bigger and has enough features not just for today, but for many years down the road.

This new desire for a home that’s “forever” isn’t just anecdotal. The federal government recently reported that the proportion of people moving to a new residence over a one-year period fell to an all-time low of 11.2 percent in 2016. The percentage has trended steadily downward since 1985, when it was 20.2, almost double today’s rate.

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November 13, 2017

Chase Slate review: paying down credit-card debt

By Marcie Geffner - Credit Karma

Chase Slate is a type of credit card known as a balance transfer card. This type of card offers you a low or 0 percent introductory rate for a set period of time so you can transfer and more easily pay off a balance you owe on another card. After that, your interest rate will rise substantially.

With Chase Slate, there’s a 0 percent intro APR offer for the first 15 months for both purchases and balance transfers. After the intro period, this rises to a variable APR of 15.99 to 24.74 percent.

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November 9, 2017

Buyer's home inspection checklist

By Marcie Geffner - Opendoor

When it comes to buying a home, what you see isn’t exactly what you get.

You’ll see colorful flowers, freshly painted walls, granite counter tops, gleaming hardwood floors and other superficial touches. What you can’t see is the foundation cracks, ancient plumbing, dangerous wiring, broken appliances or other defects that might be revealed when you hire a home inspector.

What is a home inspection?
A home inspection is an opportunity for you to hire an expert to walk through the home and prepare a report that outlines the home’s major components, their current condition, what needs immediate attention and what will require maintenance after you move in.

Why some new-home lots are worth more

By Marcie Geffner - New Home Source

When you purchase a new home, you also purchase the lot that it is built on. Some lots may cost more than others, due to many factors.

How much more (or less) you’ll pay for a lot you like depends on the lot’s characteristics and how the builder adds the perceived value of those characteristics to the home’s price, says Priscilla Schumacher, director of sales and marketing at Edward R. James Homes, a homebuilder in Glenview, Ill.

“Let’s say one home is set further up than another,” Schumacher says. “Is the view going to be stopped or will you see a wider range? Are you looking at a pond? A park? A golf course? You plus this and minus that and that’s what we add to the base price of that home.”

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Smart technology brings malls into digital age

By Marcie Geffner - JLL Real Views

For today’s shoppers, going to the mall is more of a digital experience than many might realize.

As their mobile devices connect to the mall’s wi-fi network it opens up a new channel of direct communication giving them relevant information from where to park to special offers from their favorite retailers to make their shopping experience more personalized, convenient and enjoyable.

In return, malls get a huge hit of data on their customers and their shopping habits which can help them promote products and services more effectively as well as ensure they have the right mix of retailers for the local market.

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October 31, 2017

Gold credit card: Stylish, but lacking in substance

By Marcie Geffner - Credit Karma

If you're looking for a credit card, is the Mastercard Gold Card a smart choice? Probably not, unless you’re willing to pay $995 annually to flash a 24-karat gold-plated credit card around town. But if you’re looking for a truly luxurious status-symbol card and are willing to shell out almost a grand for it each year, you might indeed be tempted.

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September 20, 2017

Days on market and why they matter

By Marcie Geffner - Open Door

Bread. Cake. Data. News.

Sooner or later, they all get stale.

The same can be said of for-sale homes. When you’re trying to sell, stale is one thing you don’t want your home to be.

While there’s no hard-and-fast rule for when a home becomes stale, there is a key metric that tells buyers how long your home has been for sale. Known as days on the market, or DOM, this metric counts up by one every day your home remains unsold.

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September 19, 2017

Yes, retail store cards are easier to get

By Marcie Geffner - Credit Karma

It’s generally believed that retail credit cards (sometimes called “store” credit cards) come with better approval odds. But they may also come with some big negatives, such as relatively high annual percentage rates (APRs) and steep penalty fees.

And then there’s the matter of actually using them. As personal finance expert Alex Gerard notes in our article on easier approval credit cards, “[Retail] cards are easier on approval but have limited use – mostly you can use them only at that particular store chain.”

Given the pros and cons, are retail cards worth the potential disadvantages for consumers looking to improve their credit?

The answer is more complicated than yes or no.

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September 14, 2017

6 reasons to refinance when rates are rising

By Marcie Geffner -

Rising rates tend to discourage homeowners from refinancing, but there are good reasons to refinance even when rates are going up.

“The direction of interest rates shouldn’t impact your decision. Instead, you should refinance when it makes sense to you and based on how long you expect to hold on to the mortgage and property,” says Brian Koss, executive vice president at Mortgage Network in Danvers, Mass.

With that in mind, here are six scenarios for refinancing while rates are rising.

1. If you don’t already have a super-low rate, you might still be able to get a rate that’s lower than your current one.

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5 ways reverse mortgages help senior homeowners

By Marcie Geffner

Seniors can get big benefits from reverse mortgages.

Financial planner Todd Burkhalter at Drive Planning in Johns Creek, Ga., says he's seen "countless situations" where a reverse mortgage is "a perfect fit" for a senior homeowner. Consider five significant reverse mortgage benefits:

1. Reverse mortgage pays for long-term care insurance

Burkhalter recently recommended this type of loan to a widow in her early 70s who owned a condominium, but wanted to leave cash to her grown children who owned their own homes. The income from the reverse mortgage was used to purchase long-term care insurance, which the woman had wanted but felt she couldn't afford. If she doesn't utilize the insurance, her heirs are entitled to receive a death benefit.

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June 13, 2017

VA loan helps buyers purchase upscale homes

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate

Most home mortgages have a so-called loan limit, which caps how much a homebuyer can borrow to purchase a home.
The VA loan is an exception.
Instead of a loan amount limit, the VA loan has a loan guaranty limit, says Michael Frueh, former director of the Loan Guaranty Service and current chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, in Washington, D.C.
The difference has major implications for veteran borrowers who want to purchase a home with a VA loan and no down payment. Understanding these implications can mean big savings for some borrowers.
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Should you make a downpayment on a VA loan?

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate

Many VA borrowers know that the VA home loan doesn't require a down payment.
Indeed, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which guarantees this type of mortgage, is practically famous for its zero-down option, which opens the doors of homeownership to veterans, active-duty service members, surviving spouses and other VA-eligible buyers. Many VA borrowers have little or no cash to purchase their first home.
VA loans also don't require mortgage insurance, which is usually the case when you don't put down 20 percent.
Though a down payment isn't required for a VA loan, borrowers can still make one. Should they? Or is the no-money-down strategy so attractive that a down payment never makes sense?
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New cutting-edge home-building tech

By Marcie Geffner - NewHomeSource

Slowly but surely, new technologies like drones, virtual reality, 3-D laser scanning and 3-D printing are bound to make their way into the homebuilding process.

Tom Page, vice president of iStar, a community developer in Richmond, Va., and general manager of Magnolia Green, a residential community in Moseley, Va., already has a few bits of modern technology up his sleeve. He says he employed a drone to fly over a golf course he was building and take aerial photographs of it during construction. The images were then posted online so current and prospect community residents could monitor the process of the course.

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Mortgage rate and APR: What's the difference?

By Marcie Geffner - Credit Karma

Choosing the right mortgage can help you save money and feel more comfortable with your monthly housing expense. One thing you'll need to know when you shop for a mortgage is how to compare a mortgage interest rate and an annual percentage rate (APR).
A mortgage interest rate is a small percentage that's applied to your loan balance to determine how much interest you owe your lender each month. When you begin to repay your loan, your rate will be used to calculate the interest portion of your monthly payment.
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Glossary of mortgage terms

By Marcie Geffner - Credit Karma

There's a lot of jargon involved in getting a mortgage. But all these vocabulary words don't have to be confusing, intimidating or overwhelming. This glossary explains mortgage terms you may encounter and what they mean.
Appraisal. A professional opinion of a property's fair market value, according to a licensed real estate appraiser. The appraiser's opinion is based on the property's location, characteristics and condition as well as recent sales prices of comparable properties.
Adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM). A mortgage that has an interest rate that can change at predetermined times over the lifetime of the loan. Most ARMs have caps that limit when and how much the rate can rise. See Hybrid loan.
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Why mortgage points matter

By Marcie Geffner - Credit Karma

Homebuyers tend to be laser-focused on getting the lowest possible interest rate for their mortgage. A low rate is desirable because the lower your interest rate, the lower your monthly payment. But a low rate isn't the only thing you need to consider when you choose a mortgage.
Mortgages typically involve a variety of fees. Some of those fees are known as "points" because they're based on a percentage, or point, of your loan amount. One point is equal to 1 percent of your home's mortgage amount. For example, a fee of one point for a $250,000 mortgage would cost $2,500, while a half-point would cost $1,250
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A guide to getting your first mortgage

By Marcie Geffner - Credit Karma

Most people need a little help buying a home. A mortgage allows you to get into a home without having to provide the entire purchase price in cash upfront. Instead, you can borrow the money you need and make monthly payments.
"A mortgage gives you the ability to keep savings in your pocket and make payments on the house," explains Michelle Velez, producing branch manager at Supreme Lending in San Mateo, Calif. Even better, "in most cases, the mortgage interest is tax-deductible
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April 24, 2017

How U.S. trade affects new-construction homes

By Marcie Geffner -

With U.S. President Donald Trump taking a keen interest in U.S. trade policy, home shoppers might well wonder how international trade policies might affect the price of new-construction homes.

Trade is far from the biggest factor that determines the price or quality of a newly built home, but it’s not negligible.

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March 27, 2017

What's the big deal about trade deals?

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate

During his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump promised voters that he would renegotiate existing U.S. trade deals to make them better for the country.
But what, exactly, are trade deals, and why do they matter?

The simplest definition is that a trade deal is an agreement between two or more countries to remove or lower barriers that might hinder the flow of imports and exports between them.

"The goal is to remove obstacles against the movement of products -- goods and services -- between the countries," says Pinar Cebi Wilber, senior economist at the American Council for Capital Formation, a Washington, D.C.-based research and policy advocacy organization.

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March 15, 2017

Outdoor advertising tips for real estate

By Marcie Geffner - BMO / Harris Bank

Online real estate marketing gets tons of attention, but the digital world isn’t the only place real estate agents can shine. Outdoor advertising, also known as out-of-home marketing, can be highly effective for both new and experienced agents.

Out-of-home (OOH) marketing typically includes ads placed on the street, such as billboards, benches and kiosks, and on or inside public transportation like buses and subways. This type of marketing can work particularly well for agents focused on a specific area, because you can place your ads right in front of your target market. In fact, research has found that the return on investment is $2.80 for every $1 spent on outdoor ads.

March 8, 2017

Just right: How big a house do you need?

By Marcie Geffner - NewHomeSource

Bigger houses offer more bedrooms, bathrooms, living spaces and bonus rooms like a home office, crafts room, playroom or game room.

Smaller houses are more affordable to heat, cool, furnish and maintain and easier to clean.

Given those tradeoffs and the obvious allure of a larger home, how much square footage do you really want?

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February 27, 2017

You're never too old for a reverse mortgage

By Marcie Geffner -

The minimum age for homeowners to take out a reverse mortgage loan is 62. But what about the maximum age? Is anyone ever too old for this type of home loan?

Formally called home equity conversion mortgages, or HECMs, reverse mortgage loans allow borrowers to tap the equity in their home. No payments are required until the borrower sells the home, moves out for 12 months or longer, or dies. Then, the loan becomes due in full.

Common motivations to get a reverse mortgage include wanting to stretch retirement income or needing money for medical treatment or in-home care.

"People's retirement portfolios aren't as large, generally speaking, as they were in the previous generation and/or people have higher expectations for their retirement income than they did previously," says Rick Wills, branch manager at Open Mortgage in Silver Spring, Maryland.

A reverse mortgage loan "can be a means to supplement their retirement portfolio," he says.

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February 6, 2017

Securing a small business loan

By Marcie Geffner - Dun & Bradstreet

Some business owners can choose when to seek financing. Others must seek and secure loans and credit lines even when the timing isn’t ideal so they can sustain their businesses’ fast upward trajectory. A deliberate decision to avoid borrowing and keep a company smaller can sometimes kill momentum and result in lost opportunities. Or sometimes a business is faced with an unexpected challenge that puts a strain on the company’s cash flow.

A bank line of credit or short-term loan can be a good way to manage cash flow, purchase inventory or take advantage of seasonal demand. A short-term loan typically would be repaid within nine to 12 months while a credit line or business credit card can be tapped, repaid and tapped again.

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January 6, 2017

3 Types of annuities

By Marcie Geffner -

What, exactly, is an annuity?

The most basic definition is that an annuity is a contract between the annuity's owner and a life insurance company. Pursuant to the contract, the owner gives the company a sum of money and the company gives the owner the opportunity to receive a guaranteed stream of payments.

The sum of money might be as little as $2,000 or as much as $1 million or more. The payment depends on the type of annuity, interest rate, time frame, owner's age and add-ons, or "riders," the owner purchases, says Michael Kostelnik, a financial planner at Family Life Financial Planning in Mentor, Ohio.

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January 2, 2017

How South China Sea conflict could hurt U.S. small businesses

By Marcie Geffner - Dun & Bradstreet

Island, rock or low-tide elevation?

The question might seem trivial, but it could have major implications for U.S. small businesses that engage in international trade. That's because disputes between China and other countries in South Asia over territorial rights in the South China Sea could disrupt important shipping lanes or make shipping riskier and more costly in that region of the world.

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Small business owners adjust to Brexit

By Marcie Geffner - Dun & Bradstreet

Brexit. The word alone might inspire any reaction, from mild interest to moderate concern to total terror, on the part of small business owners.

Wherever you fall on that spectrum, you can't afford to ignore the risks and opportunities Brexit presents.

In case you've been living in the proverbial cave for the last few months, "Brexit," a contraction of "Britain" and "exit," refers to a June 23, 2016, referendum in which voters in the United Kingdom (U.K.) instructed their government to leave the European Union (EU).

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