Thursday, December 17, 2009

What Your Remodeling Contract Should Say

Review your remodeling contract carefully and adjust it to make sure it protects you in terms of payments, work schedules, and project specifications.

Even if you never intend to pick up a hammer for your remodeling project, there's one tool that's absolutely essential-a solid contract. But just having one often isn't enough. That's because the document a contractor gives you is designed to protect him. It's up to you to add in some basic protections for yourself. Here's what you need to know to make sure the remodeling contract you sign includes solid legal protection for you and your home.

Hiring a lawyer to review and make changes to a contract is a safe bet, especially since each state has its own construction-contract statutes. But not many homeowners are willing to shell out $500 for an attorney review, plus $1,000 to $1,500 additional fees to make wholesale revisions to a flawed contract. However, you can hand-write changes and additions in plain English and make sure both you and the contractor initial each change to the document, says Tampa, Fla., attorney George Meyer, who is chair-elect of the American Bar Association's Forum on the Construction Industry. Here's what you want to add (and subtract).

Project specs

Start by reviewing your contract, a process that should take several hours. The most important element of a contract is a thorough and complete description of the project, and the materials and the products that will be used. "It should say that the contractor will secure all necessary permits and approvals as well as what walls are being moved where, what type of countertops are going in, what type of sink, what type of faucet, and so forth," says Meyer. "You can't rely on everyone's memory because if there's a problem later, people may remember different things." The contract needn't contain these specs on its pages, it can simply refer to the contractor's attached itemized bid. Avoid allowances, which are pools of money set aside for work to be determined later, and which often lead to cost overruns.

Payment schedule

The contract should also state the total price for the job, and that it's a fixed price-not an estimate. It should provide a schedule of how the payments will be made by linking them to milestones in the work-such as when the foundation, rough plumbing, and electricity will be completed-so you're paying for work only after it's done. "You should always have enough money left to hire someone else to finish the work if need be," says Meyer. In general, the first payment should be no more than 10% of the total job and the final payment should be at least a few thousand dollars to ensure that it's a big enough incentive to get the contractor back for the final niggling details. If you're unsure whether the payment schedule is proportional to the milestones your contractor suggests, ask a friend who's familiar with construction process or consult a construction attorney.

Start and end dates

A contractor's boilerplate contract rarely includes dates for when he will begin work and when he will complete the job, so make sure those details are included. It's not that he'll be penalized if it runs late, only that if you ever have a major problem and need to sue him-or defend yourself from a suit he brings-showing that the contractor is, say, two months behind schedule will help you make your case. The dates needn't be too exacting. If he says it's a six to eight week job, eight or even nine weeks is fine for the contract, says Meyer.

Statement about change orders

Make sure the contract contains a line stating that any changes that will affect the cost of the job must be priced in writing and countersigned by both the contractor and homeowner before that work commences. That ensures that an offhand discussion about a possible change to the project won't result in a huge unforeseen additional cost. It also helps you, as the homeowner, keep track of exactly how much you've added to the bottom line, so you can avoid the very common urge to keep expanding the job.

Binding arbitration

Many contractors include a line that says that rather than going through the courts, disputes will be resolved by an arbitrator. Some legal experts feel that this is a quicker and lower-cost solution to problems, so a binding arbitration clause isn't necessarily a problem. What can be trouble is if the contract requires a specific arbitrator. "There are some big, national, well-respected arbitrators, like the American Arbitration Association," says Meyer. "And there are other questionable arbitrators that always side with the contractor. If a particular arbitrator is specified, I'd do some internet research about the agency to make sure it's legit."


Having the contractor's warranty in the contract seems like a good thing, right? Well including it is often actually a technique for limiting how much liability the contractor has. "It's usually loaded up with exclusions and time limits," says Meyer, "and you're actually better off with no mention of warranty at all because then the only limits on his warranty are what's in the state statutes." In other words, keeping the contractor's warranty language in the contract will likely mean you're agreeing to less than what state law provides. For example, state law may specify a longer warranty term than what the contractor's warranty offers. So, unless you're having a lawyer review the contract, strike the warranty clause.


There are numerous state-by-state requirements for construction contracts. He may have to include his contractor's license number, for example, and he may have to include a clause saying you have the right to rescind the contract within a certain time period after signing. And unless you and the contractor sign the document, it doesn't matter what it says-it's not a valid contract.

A former carpenter and newspaper reporter, Oliver Marks has been writing about home improvements for 16 years. He's currently restoring his second fixer-upper with a mix of big hired projects and small do-it-himself jobs.

When It Pays to Do It Yourself

Doing home-improvement jobs yourself can be a smart way to save money, but choose the right DIY projects or you'll end up paying dearly.

Why pay someone big bucks to do something you can just as easily do yourself? That's the thinking that has gotten more Americans than ever swinging their own hammers. In a recent Time magazine poll, nearly a quarter of people said they were taking on more home-improvement projects themselves-understandably so, when you consider that it usually means a 50% to 75% discount, since all you pay for is materials.

But sometimes doing it yourself costs more than it saves, like when you decide to replace the toilet, end up flooding the basement, and have to pay a pro to fix your mistakes. Or, worse, if you become one of the more than 100,000 people injured each year doing home-improvement jobs. Here are some guidelines for deciding when DIY can save you money and when it could cost you.

Stick to routine maintenance for savings and safety

Seasonal home maintenance is ideal work for the DIY weekend warrior, since you can plan tasks in advance and get to them when your schedule allows. Because these are repeat projects, your savings will add up to big bucks over the years. Just by mowing your own lawn, for example, you can save $55 to $65 a week for a half-acre lawn during the growing season. The bigger the lot, the bigger the savings: with two acres, you'll pocket around $150 per week.

When It Pays: Look for maintenance jobs that are relatively easy and need to be done regularly, so you can hone your skills over time. In addition to mowing, other good ones are snow removal, pruning shrubs, washing windows, sealing the deck, painting fences, fertilizing the lawn, and replacing air conditioner filters.

When It Doesn't: Unless you have skill and experience on your side, stay off of any ladder taller than six feet; according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 164,000 people end up in emergency rooms every year because of ladder injuries. The same goes for operating power saws or attempting any major electrical work-it's simply too risky if you don't have the experience.

Act as your own GC on small jobs

If you're more comfortable operating an iPhone than a circular saw, you may be able to act as your own general contractor on a home-improvement project and hire the carpenters, plumbers, and other tradesmen yourself. You'll save 10% to 20% of the job cost, which is the contractor's typical fee.

When it Pays: If it's a small job that requires only two or three different tradesmen, and you have good existing relationships with top-quality professionals in those fields, consider DIY contracting.

When It Doesn't: Unless you have an established network of contacts who will show up as promised, the time to spend on oversight, enough construction experience to spot potential problems, and the skill to negotiate disputes between the various subcontractors, trying to manage your own project can quickly send the schedule and budget off the rails.

Pitch in with sweat equity on big jobs

Contributing your own labor on a big job being handled by a professional crew can cut hundreds or even thousands of dollars off the contractor's bill. Tear the cabinets and appliances out of your old kitchen before the contractor gets started, say, and you might knock $800 off the cost of your remodel, says Dean Bennett, a design/build contractor in Castle Rock, Colorado.

When it Pays: Grunt work-jobs that are labor intensive but require relatively little skill-makes the best homeowner contribution. Offer to do minor interior demolition like removing cabinets and pulling up old flooring, daily jobsite cleanup, product assembly, and simple landscaping like planting foundation shrubs and grass seed around your new addition.

When It Doesn't: If you get in the crew's way, you may slow them down far more than you help. Make your contributions when the workers aren't around, such as in the morning before they arrive, or on nights and weekends after they've left.

Put on some of the finishing touches

Unlike the early phases of a construction job, which require skilled labor to frame walls, install plumbing pipes, and run wiring, many of the finishing touches on a project are comparatively simple and DIY-friendly. If you do the painting yourself for a new basement rec room, for instance, you can easily save $1,800, Bennett says.

When it Pays: If you have the skill-or a patient temperament and an experienced friend to teach you-finish work like setting tile, laying flooring, painting walls, and installing trim are all good DIY jobs.

When It Doesn't: The downside to attempting your own finish work is that the results are very visible. Hammer dents in woodwork, for example, or sander ruts in your hardwood floors may cause you aggravation every time you see them. So unless you have a sure eye and a steady hand, it may not pay to embark on these tasks.

A former carpenter and newspaper reporter, Oliver Marks has been writing about home improvements for 16 years. He's currently restoring his second fixer-upper with a mix of big hired projects and small do-it-himself jobs.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

CENTURY 21 JRS Realty Christmas Party

CENTURY 21 JRS Realty had a great Holiday Party last night at Bistro 1051 in Clark NJ. CENTURY 21 JRS Realty agents had a great time eating Sushi and other sea food dishes prepared by the wonderful chief at the Bistro. Congratulations to Joe Piizzi and Eddie Kefalas for the awards they earned as the number 1 and #2 agents in CENTURY 21 JRS Realty for 2009.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

7 Smart Strategies for Remodeling Your Kitchen

When planning a kitchen remodeling project, keep the same footprint, add storage, and design adequate lighting to preserve value and keep costs on track.

If you're contemplating a kitchen remodel, you're also weighing a considerable investment. But a significant portion of the upfront costs may be recovered by the value the project brings to your home. Kitchen remodels in the $50,000 range recouped 76% of the initial project cost at the home's resale, according to recent data from Remodeling magazine's Cost vs. Value Report. To make sure you maximize your return, consider these seven smart kitchen remodeling strategies.

1. Establish your priorities

Simple enough? Not so fast. The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) recommends spending at least six months planning before beginning the work. That way, you can thoroughly evaluate your priorities and won't be tempted to change your mind during construction. Contractors often have clauses in their contracts that specify additional costs for amendments to original plans. Planning points to consider include:

Avoid traffic jams. A walkway through the kitchen should be at least 36 inches wide, according to the NKBA. Work aisles for one cook should be a minimum of 42 inches wide and at least 48 inches wide for households with multiple cooks.
Consider children. Avoid sharp, square corners on countertops, and make sure microwave ovens are installed at the heights recommended by the NKBA-3 inches below the shoulder of the principle user but not more than 54 inches from the floor.
Access to the outside. If you want to easily reach entertaining areas, such as a deck or a patio, factor a new exterior door into your plans.
Because planning a kitchen is complex, consider hiring a professional designer. A pro can help make style decisions and foresee potential problems, so you can avoid costly mistakes. In addition, a pro makes sure contractors and installers are sequenced properly so that workflow is cost-effective. Expect fees around $50 to $150 per hour, or 5% to 15% of the total cost of the project.

2. Keep the same footprint

No matter the size and scope of your planned kitchen, you can save major expense by not rearranging walls, and by locating any new plumbing fixtures near existing plumbing pipes. Not only will you save on demolition and reconstruction, you'll greatly reduce the amount of dust and debris your project generates.

3. Match appliances to your skill level

A six-burner commercial-grade range and luxury-brand refrigerator might make eye-catching centerpieces, but be sure they fit your lifestyle, says Molly Erin McCabe, owner of A Kitchen That Works design firm in Bainbridge Island, Wash. "It's probably the part of a kitchen project where people tend to overspend the most."

The high price is only worth the investment if you're an exceptional cook. Otherwise, save thousands with trusted brands that receive high marks at consumer review websites, like and, and resources such as Consumer Reports.

4. Create a well-designed lighting scheme

Some guidelines:

· Install task lighting, such as recessed or track lights, over sinks and food prep areas; assign at least two fixtures per task to eliminate shadows. Under-cabinet lights illuminate clean-up and are great for reading cookbooks. Pendant lights over counters bring the light source close to work surfaces.

• Ambient lighting includes flush-mounted ceiling fixtures, wall sconces, and track lights. Consider dimmer switches with ambient lighting to control intensity and mood.

5. Focus on durability

"People are putting more emphasis on functionality and durability in the kitchen," says McCabe. That may mean resisting bargain prices and focusing on products that combine low-maintenance with long warranty periods. "Solid-surface countertops [Corian, Silestone] are a perfect example," adds McCabe. "They may cost a little more, but they're going to look as good in 10 years as they did the day they were installed."

If you're not planning to stay in your house that long, products with substantial warranties can become a selling point. "Individual upgrades don't necessarily give you a 100% return," says Frank Gregoire, a real estate appraiser in St. Petersburg, Fla. "But they can give you an edge when it comes time to market your home for sale" if other for-sale homes have similar features.

6. Add storage, not space

To add storage without bumping out walls:

· Specify upper cabinets that reach the ceiling. They may cost a bit more, but you'll gain valuable storage space. In addition, you won't have to worry about dusting the tops.

• Hang it up. Install small shelving units on unused wall areas, and add narrow spice racks and shelves on the insides of cabinet doors. Use a ceiling-mounted pot rack to keep bulkier pots and pans from cluttering cabinets. Add hooks to the backs of closet doors for aprons, brooms, and mops.

7. Communicate effectively-and often

Having a good rapport with your project manager or construction team is essential for staying on budget. "Poor communication is a leading cause of kitchen projects going sour," says McCabe. To keep the sweetness in your project:

Drop by the project during work hours as often as possible. Your presence assures subcontractors and other workers of your commitment to getting good results.
Establish a communication routine. Hang a message board on-site where you and the project manager can leave each other daily communiques. Give your email address and cell phone number to subs and team leaders.
Set house rules. Be clear about smoking, boom box noise levels, which bathroom is available, and where workers should park their vehicles.
Consumers spend more money on kitchen remodeling than any other home improvement project, according to the Home Improvement Research Institute, and with good reason. They're the hub of home life, and a source of pride. With a little strategizing, you can ensure your new kitchen gives you years of satisfaction.

John Riha has written six books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. He's been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. His standard 1968 suburban house has been an ongoing source of maintenance experience.

Should You Convert from Oil to Gas Heat?

If you're replacing your old oil-burning heating equipment, you may want to crunch the numbers on switching to cheaper, cleaner gas.

Last winter, heating a house with oil cost an average of $1,700, while natural gas averaged less than $900, according to the US Energy Information Administration. The year before, when oil prices peaked, oil heat cost an average of $2,000; natural gas was again around $900. Since 2002, oil heat has averaged 30% to 50% more than gas every year. So, if it's time to replace your old oil-burning system, you might be wondering if it makes sense to switch. Here's how to crunch the numbers.

What fuel types are available in your area?

About half of the country uses natural gas already, and only about 8% uses oil. Most of the rest use costlier heating-electricity accounts for 34%, propane 6%-typically because that's what is available locally. The vast majority of oil-burners are concentrated in the Northeast, where they account for 31% of residential heating systems. That's largely because of the region's proximity to the ports where oil barges deliver their loads and the fact that oil was a cheaper option back when these houses were built.

Unlike oil, which gets delivered by truck, natural gas gets piped right into your house by a utility company. So making the switch requires having a gas main under your street. Even in oil-dominated neighborhoods of the Northeast, most urban and suburban areas have gas lines. If yours doesn't, you may be able to convince the local utility to install a gas main if enough neighbors band together to make the request.

How much will the equipment cost?

Gas-fired equipment costs less than oil-fired gear. For a basic furnace (for a forced air heating system) or boiler (for hot-water heat), you'll pay around $1,500 to $3,000 for gas and $2,000 to as much as $8,000 for oil, says Ellis Guiles of TAG Mechanical in Syracuse, New York. If you select a high efficiency system, you'll pay $3,500 to $5,500 for gas, compared with $4,500 to $10,000 for oil. A high-efficiency unit of either kind may be eligible for a 30% tax credit, up to $1,500, as well as local incentives.

How much will the hookup cost?

There are two aspects to the connection process for gas: outside the house and inside. The utility company will run an underground pipe from the gas main to your house, where it will install a meter. This requires using a backhoe to dig a trench from the road to the house and typically costs $1,000 to $1,500, according to Jim Ranfone, managing director of the American Gas Association, a trade group. But it's possible that the utility will waive or reduce that charge as an inducement to add you to its customer rolls. Your contractor will handle the second part of the job, piping the gas from the meter to your heating plant, typically at a cost of $500 to $1,000.

What other expenses are involved?

Switching to gas may require you to line your chimney ($750 to $2,000), because the moisture in gas exhaust can damage the masonry. A liner isn't necessary with a high-efficiency gas system, which, combined with tax incentives, explains why nearly all of Guiles' conversion customers choose high-efficiency equipment. Although it's probably not required, you'll likely choose to remove your oil tank for another $750 or so if it's above ground to $3,000 if it's buried.

The bottom line

So is it worth spending potentially a few grand in conversion costs to switch to gas? Well, at last year's prices, your fuel-cost savings alone would pay you back in less than five years. But as the stock-market caveat goes, past performance is no guarantee of future results. Most natural gas is mined in North America, so some say its pricing less volatile than oil, which is a global commodity. But the truth is, there's no way to know for sure if gas will continue its substantial price advantage. The decision usually comes down to how complicated the conversion will be for your house-and how good the incentives are that the utilities and state agencies are offering, says Mark Wolfe, executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association, a trade group of state officials who help homeowners cut their energy costs.

Still, there are reasons other than money to make the switch. Gas has lower carbon emissions than oil, so it's better for the environment. Plus, once you have a gas line, you can get that commercial-style, six-burner stove you've always wanted.

A former carpenter and newspaper reporter, Oliver Marks has been writing about home improvements for 16 years. He's currently restoring his second fixer-upper with a mix of big hired projects and small do-it-himself jobs.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Best Ways to Green Up Your Kitchen Remodel

If you're ready to remodel your kitchen and want to go green, here's how to create the healthy, energy-efficient, eco-friendly kitchen of your dreams.

Going green with your kitchen remodeling project means making choices based on your lifestyle and your budget. The decisions aren't always simple. For example, a certain green product may outlast and use less energy but cost more than a similar product that performs equally well. Fortunately, an expanding marketplace for smart, stylish green products is helping to lower costs-making it easier to have a green kitchen and love it, too.

If products you'd like to add to your project aren't readily available, schedule visits to showrooms or green home improvement expos to examine materials first-hand before making decisions. To help you plan, here are key products, ideas, and tips to put the green in your kitchen.

Major components

are made from wood and wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council to be produced using sustainable forest management practices. They feature formaldehyde-free glues and finishes with low volatile organic compounds that give off little or no toxic fumes. Check product literature closely to ensure the cabinets you choose meet these criteria.

· Sustainable kitchen cabinets
When shopping for cabinets, ask if the cabinet boxes are built with wheat board or straw board. These products are made from agricultural waste, such as the chaff left over from farmers' wheat crops. As a rule, they feature formaldehyde-free binders. They're strong and rated to exceed the standards set by the American National Standards Institute for medium density particleboard-the material commonly used to make cabinet boxes.

· Green countertops

offer variety but all share similar characteristics: recycled or sustainable content, low-toxicity binders, and eco-friendly manufacturing processes. In addition, they're highly durable. Examples: Squak Mountain Stone is made from recycled paper, recycled glass, reclaimed fly ash, and cement. The finished countertop slabs resemble limestone and soapstone. Eco-top counters consist of renewable bamboo fiber, post-consumer recycled paper, and water-based resin glue. Vetrazzo makes countertops that are 85% recycled glass-almost all the glass comes from curbside recycling programs. Craft-Art includes a line of wood countertops made of reclaimed wood from older barns, warehouses, and commercial buildings.

· Eco-friendly flooring

includes linoleum and cork. Both are made with renewable resources that make them sustainable choices. They're good-looking and durable, but require periodic maintenance.
Linoleum is made from renewable, biodegradable materials including linseed oil and cork. It produces no harmful vapors and comes in many patterns and colors. Linoleum stands up well to traffic and offers some cushioning underfoot. It's resistant to moisture but susceptible to staining, so some manufacturers add a coating to protect against spills and scratches. Without this protection, linoleum must be cleaned and polished every two years. Cost: $2 to $4 per sq.ft.; installation adds $5 to $7 per sq.ft.

Cork is a sustainable flooring product made from tree bark; the bark grows back and can be harvested repeatedly. Harvesting practices are carefully regulated to ensure future supplies, reducing environmental impact. Cork is waterproof and slightly soft underfoot, which makes it both moisture-resistant and comfortable. It's made in 12x12-inch tiles and 1x3-foot planks, each with a distinctive grain pattern. The surface is slightly textured and slip-resistant.

Treat cork flooring with a sealant every 3 to 4 years to prevent scratches and stop moisture from penetrating seams between tiles. Natural wax and water-based polyurethane work well. Cost: $2-$6 per sq.ft.; installation, $5-$10 per sq.ft.


reduces energy consumption and saves utility costs. Energy Star appliances are tested and rated to be the most energy-efficient models in any product category. In addition, some states and regional utility companies offer rebates for buying Energy Star appliances.

· Choosing Energy Star products

· Dishwashers go green

when they feature an energy-saving or quick-wash cycle. These cycles operate for shorter periods of time, saving water and energy. Also, look for dishwashers that include an air-dry option, which dries dishes with circulation fans rather than energy-draining heating elements. Or, simply open up the dishwasher door when the wash cycle is complete and let dishes air dry.
Energy Star models are 25% more energy efficient than the federal standards for energy consumption. If you replace your pre-1994 dishwasher with an Energy Star model, you'll save as much as $40 a year on energy costs.

· Buy a new refrigerator

and you'll save on energy costs. That's because manufacturers are constantly improving technology and insulating techniques. In fact, today's new models are 75% more energy efficient than those manufactured just 20 years ago, saving about $100 per year on energy costs. An Energy Star-rated model will save an additional $20-$30 per year.
Choose models featuring the freezer on top and use 10% to 25% less energy than a same-sized model with a side-by-side configuration.

Green essentials

cleans water of contaminants before it reaches the kitchen tap; it has about 10 times the filtering capacity of a faucet-mounted purifier. A model with a top-quality activated carbon filter will remove heavy metals, bacteria, and pesticides. In addition, it removes odors and bad tastes. Expect to pay $150-$200 for an activated charcoal purifier with a replaceable cartridge.

· An under-the-counter water purifier

• Energy-efficient lighting includes fluorescent and compact fluorescent lamps that use 50% to 90% less energy than comparable incandescent lamps. In fact, according to, a single compact fluorescent bulb will save $30-$40 during its expected lifespan of 10,000 hours over conventional incandescent bulbs of similar luminosity. However, consider the correct quality of light, such as an efficient halogen and LED lighting sources, for task areas.

• Being an active recycler is one way to ensure your kitchen is green. Most cabinet manufacturers offer options for lower cabinets that include pull-out recycling bins that keep contents organized and out of sight. In some instances, these bins are designed to be positioned conveniently beneath holes in countertops so that you can sweep food scraps into them. You can also retrofit existing cabinets with recycling bins-rotating lazy Susan-type recycling centers feature multiple bins and are designed to fit in lower corner cabinets.

John Riha has written six books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. He's been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. His standard 1968 suburban house has been an ongoing source of maintenance experience.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

5 Essential Questions to ask before hiring a Contractor

You're ready to remodel but you want to make sure you get the best contractor for the job. Here's what to ask the candidates before you decide.

For all of the excitement of choosing plumbing fixtures, cabinets, and tiles for a remodeling project, the most important decision you make won't involve color swatches or glossy brochures. It's the contractor you pick that makes or breaks the job. That choice will determine the quality of the craftsmanship, the timeliness of the work, and the amount of emotional and financial stress the process puts on you. To make sure you're getting the best contractor for the job, here are five questions to ask the candidates.

1. Would you please itemize your bid?

Many contractors prefer to give you a single, bottom-line price for your project, but this puts you in the dark about what they're charging for each aspect of the job. For example, let's say the original plan calls for beadboard wainscot in your bathroom, but you decide not to install it after all. How much should you be credited for eliminating that work? With a single bottom-line price, you have no way to know.

On the other hand, if you get an itemized bid, it'll show the costs for all of the various elements of the job-demolition, framing, plumbing, electrical, tile, fixtures, and so forth. That makes it easier to compare different contractors' prices and see where the discrepancies are. If you need to cut the project costs, you can easily assess your options. Plus, an itemized bid becomes valuable documentation about the exact scope of the project, which may eliminate disputes later.

The contractor shouldn't give you a hard time about itemizing his bid. He has to figure out his total price line by line anyway, so you're not asking him to do more work, only to share the details. If he resists, it means he wants to withhold important information about his bid-a red flag for sure.

2. Is your bid an estimate or a fixed price?

Homeowners generally assume that the bid they're seeing is a fixed price, but some contractors treat their proposals as estimates, meaning bills could wind up being higher in the end. If he calls it an estimate, request a fixed price bid instead. If he says he can't offer a fixed price because there are too many unknowns about the job, then eliminate the unknowns.

"Have him open up a wall to check the structure he's unsure about or go back to your architect and solidify the design plans," says Tampa, Fla., attorney George Meyer, who is chair-elect of the American Bar Association's Forum on the Construction Industry. If you simply cannot resolve the unknowns he's concerned about, have the project specs describe what he expects to do-and if he needs to do additional work later, you can do a change order (a written mini-bid for new work).

3. How long have you been doing business in this town?

A contractor who's been plying his trade locally for 5 or 10 years has an established network of subcontractors and suppliers in the area and a local reputation to uphold. That makes him a safer bet than a contractor who's either new to the business or new to the area-or who's planning to commute to your job from 50 miles away.

You want to see a nearby address (not a PO box) on his business card-and should ask him to include one or two of his earliest clients on your list of references. This will help you verify that he hasn't just recently hung his shingle-and will give you perspective from a homeowner who has lived with the contractor's work for years. After all, the test of a quality job, whether it's a bluestone patio or a family room addition, is how well it stands the test of time.

4. Who are your main suppliers?

You've found a few potential contractors, you've talked to the happy former clients on each of their reference lists, now it's time for one additional bit of homework: talking to their primary suppliers. There's no better reference for a tile setter, for example, than his preferred tile shop; for a general contractor than his favorite lumberyard or home center pro desk; for a plumber than the kitchen and bath showroom where he's on a first name basis.

The proprietors of these shops know a contractor's professional reputation, whether he has left a trail of unhappy customers in his wake, if he's reliable about paying his bills-and whether he's someone you'll want to hire. The contractor should have absolutely no qualms about telling you where he gets his materials, as long as he's an upstanding customer.

5. I'd like to meet the job foreman-can you take me to a project he's running?

Many contractors don't actually swing hammers. They spend their days bidding new work and managing their various jobs and workers. In some cases, the contractor you hire may not visit the jobsite every day-or may not even show himself again after you've signed the contract. So the job foreman-the one who's working on your project every day-is actually the most important member of your team.

Meeting him in person and seeing a job that he's running should give you a feel for whether he's someone you want managing your project. Plus, it gives the general contractor an incentive to assign you one of his better crews since you're more likely to hire him if you see his A Team. If the contractor says he'll be running the job himself, ask whether he'll be there every day. Again, he'll want to give you a positive response-something you can hold him to later on.

It's not only the answers to these questions that will help you judge potential contractors-it's the way they answer them. Were they easy to talk to and forthcoming with details or did they hem and haw and make you ask more than once? Difficulty communicating now means difficulty communicating on the job later. But clear, timely and thoughtful responses-combined with terrific references, great completed work that you've seen, and a smart take on your project-may mean you've found the right pro for your job.

A former carpenter and newspaper reporter, Oliver Marks has been writing about home improvements for 16 years. He's currently restoring his second fixer-upper with a mix of big hired projects and small do-it-himself jobs.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Remodeling a Bathroom the Green Way

If you want to make sure your bathroom remodeling project is as green as possible, here's how to save energy, conserve resources, and protect your budget.

You care about the environment. You also happen to have a bathroom badly in need of remodeling. How do you get the job done with minimal impact on both our fragile planet and your precious budget? Thankfully, the growth of the green building movement has given rise to many eco-responsible products and resources that allow you to create the water-conserving, healthy, energy-wise bath you've always wanted-all without busting your bottom line. Here's what you need to know.

It's all about the water

Thinking about greening your bathroom means considering how you use water in terms of consumption and energy. According to the American Water Works Association, your humble toilets are the thirstiest water users in the house, accounting for 27% of consumption. This fact inspired conservation schemes like placing something hefty in the toilet tank to reduce flushing capacity, and those low-flow toilets that too often didn't flush what needed flushing.

A more successful approach is the dual-flush toilet. It has two flush buttons, one for light work, one for heavy. Long a mainstay in Europe, dual-flush toilets are available in the U.S. for $250-$400, a price in line with top-quality conventional toilets. A dual flush toilet can save 17,000 gallons of water a year-about $50 off your water bill. If you wish to keep your old toilet (a very green decision), you can retrofit it with a dual flush mechanism costing only $70.

The shower is another squanderer of water. Showers use 16% to 20% of a home's water, most of it heated. The flow rate of a typical shower head is 2.5 gallons per minute. Switching it out with a low-flow head of 1.5 to 2 gallons per minute still offers adequate cleansing power with a substantial savings in water usage. (If you cherish a really forceful blast of hot water, consider a full-flow shower head with a lever that lets you shut it off while you lather.)

In addition to conserving water, you'll want to take a close look at the way your water is heated. Second only to the kitchen, the bathroom is your home's most intensive energy user, with most of that energy going towards those nice hot showers and baths. Curbing wasted energy can be as simple as adding an insulating blanket to your tank-type heater (reducing energy use by 4% to 9%) and insulating all accessible hot water pipes. In addition, most water heaters are set to 140 degrees; you can turn down the water heater temperature setting to a still-toasty 120 degrees and save up to $60 per year on energy costs.

If your old water heater is nearing the end of its 15-year life cycle and you're considering investing in a new water heater, you can achieve some handsome energy savings. One smart option is a condensing storage water heater. Using technology similar to that of high-efficiency furnaces, the condensing heater puts nearly every possible BTU into the water instead of sending it up the flue. Currently, a 50-gallon gas unit costs $1,700 (versus $380 for a standard tank-type heater), a price that is expected to drop as demand takes hold. Installation costs are around $400, slightly higher than that of standard units. Those higher costs are offset by a $300 tax credit and an EPA estimated annual fuel savings of more than $100.

A tankless water heater heats water only as it is needed, avoiding the heat loss that occurs with a conventional tank. A unit costs about $2,000 installed, and your annual energy savings will be $70 a year. Be aware that these units take some getting used to; expect a shot of cold water before the hot kicks in.

Move that air

A bathroom remodel is an excellent time to consider installing a new exhaust ventilator fan to remove odors, moisture, and mold spores. Many bathroom fans only vent to the space between ceiling joists, creating an environment for mold and dampness that can damage walls and ceilings. Make sure your new fan vents completely to the outside of your house.

Unfortunately, even properly installed fans that push the moist outdoors can carry away a lot of heated air as well. A clever solution to this problem is a heat-exchange ventilator that uses outgoing air to warm the cold incoming air. Such units cost about $250 uninstalled, twice the price of a standard fan. Whatever fan you have, avoid an on-off switch; it's too easy to forget to turn it off. Replace it with a timer switch or, better yet, buy a new fan unit with a motion- or humidity-sensing switch.

Selecting green materials

A green bathroom remodel need not stint on style. Classic ceramic tile comes in limitless colors and patterns, and is a green choice due to its low maintenance, durability, and low toxicological impact. Some tiles have high recycled content; recycled glass tiles are a lovely way to do the right ecological thing. Not buying something new can be good green idea too. Consider refinishing your old tub or sink. Use the pros for the best results. Expect to pay $500 for a tub, $300 for a sink. You'll save as much on installation costs.

LED illumination now produces pleasing light quality in fixtures that sip only 2 to 15 watts, emit little heat, and have a life span of 15-20 years. They cost about three times as much as conventional fixtures but use so little electricity that the payback can be as short as a year.

Paint and vinyl coverings often come loaded with VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that threaten indoor air quality. Look for building materials with Green Seal certification. Green Seal is a non-profit, independent organization that certifies products claiming to be environmentally friendly. Low-VOC options in paints and adhesives can be found at your local home center.

Waste not

Much of our landfill (estimates range from 22% to 40%) comes from construction debris. Any steps that reduce landfill potentially reduce the chance of ground water pollution, the odor and unsightliness of a local landfill, and in some cases the high cost of shipping waste elsewhere. Much of the debris that comes from a remodeling tear-out is not salvageable, but old toilets, sinks, light fixtures, medicine cabinets, and vanities can be donated to an organization like Habitat for Humanity's ReStore. In fact, it may be just what someone is seeking for their own green remodeling.

Dave Toht has written or edited more than 60 books on home repair and remodeling, including titles for The Home Depot, Lowe's, Better Homes & Gardens, Sunset, and Reader's Digest. A former contractor with decades of hands-on experience, Dave was editor of Remodeling Ideas magazine and continues to contribute to numerous how-to publications. He is currently putting the finishing touches on a green addition to his Olympia, Wash., home.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Congrats to Jessie Hoff-Agent fo the MONTH

Congratulations to Jessie Hoff for earning the CENTURY 21 JRS Realty Agent of the Month for October 2009. Jessie has worked hard all your and finally put the right pieces together in the same month. In October Jessie had multiple listings and a sale as well. This is the second time Jessie has earned the Agent of the Month Trophy. CENTURY 21 JRS Realty is very proud to have and agent of Jessies caliber working in the company. Jessie has been a top agent for many years and will continue to help buyers and sellers reach their goals. Congratulations again to Jessie Hoff.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Bergen Catholic rolls over St. Joseph (Mont.)

Bergen Catholic
(5 - 2 - 0) November 7th, 2009
2 p.m.

St. Joseph (Mont.)
Montvale, NJ
St. Joseph (Mont.)
(6 - 2 - 0)
28 7

Bergen Catholic 28, St. Joseph (Mont.) 7 (High school Football scores and results)
The Star Ledger, November 07, 2009 7:36 p.m.

There were many outstanding performers on defense for Bergen Catholic yesterday, but none better than senior linebackers Brendan McGovern and Sam Shirak.

McGovern scored the first touchdown and Shirak was all over the field, especially in the opponent's backfield, when Bergen Catholic, No. 6 in The Star-Ledger top 20, scored early and then coasted to a 28-7 victory over its rival, ninth-ranked St. Joseph, in Montvale.

Both powers will now prepare for the state playoffs that open this coming weekend. Bergen Catholic has qualified in Non-Public, Group 4 and St. Joseph will play in the Non-Public, Group 3 field.

St. Joseph quarterback Devin O'Connor was harassed and hurried all afternoon and sacked seven times. Shirak collected two and a half sacks and eight tackles, McGovern collected eight tackles and a sack, linebacker Doug Rigg and end Chris Bush collected one and a half sacks and lineman Hunter Kiselick recorded a sack and an interception.

``They have a great team. And every time we play St. Joe's we have to prepare for a battle,'' McGovern said. ``We had to shut down their skilled players (runner Kamal) Hogan and O'Connor. We did a lot of blitzing and didn't let O'Connor get comfortable in the backfield.''

O'Connor was sacked for minus 51 yards and passed for 130 yards and Hogan rushed for 103 of his team's 113 yards. He also had a touchdown.

On St. Joseph's first drive, it moved to the Bergen Catholic 31 but fumbled and McGovern scooped it up in stride and dashed 65 yards for the touchdown with 6:33 left in the first period. Mike Halligan kicked the extra point.

On Bergen Catholic's first drive, it moved 80 yards in just six plays. Spencer Kulcsar caught a 25-yard pass from Mike Halligan before Rigg raced for a 44-yard score.

The defenses dominated in the second period. The team from Oradell grabbed a 21-0 advantage on its initial push in the second half as it marched 63 yards in eight maneuvers. Three passes by Halligan totaling 25 yards helped advance the ball to the 36. From there, Kulcsar motored around the left side for a score.

But St. Joseph responded with a touchdown after Hogan returned the kickoff to the 34 and a 15-yard horse collar penalty brought the ball to the 49. Hogan churned out all the yardage on four carries including the final 15 to the end zone. Jason Checke followed with the kick.

The Montvale team made things interesting in the fourth quarter as it went 45 yards to the 13. But Shirak sacked O'Connor for a 9-yard loss and Rigg and Chris Bush combined to bring down the quarterback for a 5-yard loss on fourth down.

St. Joseph got the ball back but not for long as Kiselick intercepted a pass at the middle of the field and brought it back 22 yards for a score.

``We have a lot of quickness on defense and didn't let them get to the outside,'' Shirak said. ``We worked hard to prepare for this game and this put us back in the big three (with Don Bosco Prep and St. Peter's Prep). I can't wait for the state playoffs to start.''

1st 2nd 3rd 4th Final
St. Joseph (Mont.) (6-2) 0 0 7 0 7
Bergen Catholic (7-2) 14 0 7 7 28First Quarter

Bergen Catholic: Brendan McGovern 65 fumble return (Mike Halligan kick)

Bergen Catholic: Doug Rigg 44 run (Mike Halligan kick)

Third Quarter

Bergen Catholic: Spencer Kulcsar 36 run (Mike Halligan kick)

St. Joseph (Mont.): Kamal Hogan 15 run (Jason Checke kick)

Fourth Quarter

Bergen Catholic: Hunter Kiselick 22 interception return (Mike Halligan kick)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Top 7 Strategies for Real Estate Sales Success

Top 7 Strategies for Real Estate Sales Success

With over 2 million real estate agents according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), becoming a successful real estate agent takes more than just a license and a knowledge of current laws and regulations. The first year drop out range estimated to be from 40% to 80% demonstrates that many real estate agents are not as successful as they could be and research suggests that 90% give up after 3 years. The following 7 tips may help you avoid becoming one of these statistics.

First and Foremost YOU are a business!

Real estate agents work for a broker, but are independent, commissioned sales people. This means that you are a small business and must run your practice as a business. Again, remember you are a small business owner.

Embrace a Planning Attitude

If you don’t have a plan, then you are on some else’s plan – usually the successful real estate agent. Most people place more value in planning a trip to the grocery store or a vacation than planning their lives either professionally or personally.

Research Your Market Plan

Since you as the real estate agent are responsible for your own expenses, do your research specific to your marketing plan within your strategic plan. Time spent in constructing your marketing plan is definitely well spent. NOTE: Remember a business plan usually is data driven, while a strategic plan identifies who does what by when.

Establish Sales Goals

Using your strategic plan, establish sales goals. If you are new to this industry, it may take 6 months before the first sale. HINT: Use the W.H.Y. S.M.A.R.T. criteria for goal setting.

Create a Financial Budget

Budgeting is critical given the up and down of this volatile market place. Your financial budget should plan for your marketing costs, any additional costs such as education and your forecasted income.

Make Managing Yourself a Priority

Building a business is not easy. You must learn how to manage yourself especially in the area of time management, ongoing real estate sales training (continuing education units), real estate coaching and personal life balance. Real estate is said to be a 24/7 business much like any small business. However, it is important not to lose sight of your personal life including family, friends, physical health, etc.

Find a Mentor or Real Estate Coach

Going it alone is not easy. Take the time to find a mentor who can help you steer through some of the known obstacles and help you during the “peaks and valleys.” If you have the resources, you may wish to hire a real estate coach, small business coach or an executive coach who specializes in small business help.

Read this today to have Sales Success Tomorrow

Creating Daily Success in Real Estate

The journey to a successful life should be enjoyed. True success comes from accomplishing the activities daily that will lead you to your ultimate goals in life. Failing or neglecting to accomplish the daily disciplines will lead you down the path of lost opportunities and lost income. If the penalty for not accomplishing your daily activities or disciplines was implemented or assessed today, we would look at neglecting them differently. The truth is that the penalty for neglect is more visible in the future than it is today. The person who eats fried foods does not pay the penalty at 35, he pays at 55. The person who fails to save 10% of his income for retirement is not penalized at 40, but at 60. The prospecting we fail to do today does not hurt our income today, but 90 to 120 days from now.

If we were zapped today from neglecting the daily disciplines rather than in the future, our daily disciplines would change. We need to associate pain today with not doing our daily disciplines in the real estate business. We have to make the neglect more painful than the activity pain. The truth is we have a tendency to move away from pain and towards pleasure.

There are three disciplines that must be done daily in real estate for success. They are working on growth, administration, and working ON your business. Let’s look at each individual area comprehensively.


Growth is the part of the business that brings in the revenue for your business. The more time you spend of your day in growth, the more income that you will make. Most agents focus little time on growth activities daily. They work on growth activities at the last minute, when they are running short on funds. The problem is that is too late. To have a steady business income you need a steady approach to growth.

Growth is the prospecting that you do daily. It is the listing appointments that you have for the day. It is the lead follow-up that you are doing on the people who want to buy or sell. It is the meeting with your lender to work on your competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Growth is the critical part to any business. Without growth a business will fail. I know a lot of agents who are highly skilled in growth and poorly skilled in administration and working on their business who earn large amounts of money. I know of very few successful agents who are not highly skilled at growth. You can have huge deficiencies in administration and working on your business but still win the game. You can not be deficient in growth and win. My focus is to help our clients achieve a high level of skill in all three areas. Growth is the engine that powers the train; you must first pay attention to growth.

Growth demands a minimum of three hours daily in the activities of growth: prospecting, appointments, lead follow-up, and meeting with affiliates. Prospecting should comprise 65% of the growth time daily. If the prospecting does not happen, the other growth areas will wither. Remember the higher the hours spent on growth, the higher the income and profit.


These are the activities that complete the income stream:

Processing the listing so agents can find it in the MLS
Processing the sold property through escrow
Communicating with your clients on a regular basis
Directing your staff and monitoring their progress

These activities done well will enable you to turn clients into fans who will look for new business for you. You will need one to two hours daily for administration. If you create a good system and have a highly trained and skilled staff, your time spent in this area will be reduced. In the perfect system administration gets done well, but the agent spends little of his personal time on it.

On your business:

This is the time that most people neglect. This working on your business really separates long-term success and growth from just running faster on the treadmill of life. Long-term financial success lies in this section of your day. The ability to earn more profit is also located here.

We are all really employees of our own little real estate business. We are the ones who bring in the business and make the system go. The more time we plan, read, strategize, practice, role play, and implement our ideas, the more ownership we gain. Becoming the owner of your real estate business only happens through diligent work on your business. Instead of being the employee who works to draw a salary and pay the bills, why not become the one who orchestrates the company? Be the one who has something to sell when he wants to try something else and/or retire.

Working on your business is truly taking a step back from the daily rat race and to look at your growth and administration areas for ways to improve them. Look at your productivity and profitability then evaluate your progress. You cannot make meaningful change without evaluation as an owner, rather than as an employee on a tread mill.

Working on your business is critical to helping you move to the next level of production, or to decrease time worked without reducing income, or finding where to cut expenses by 10%. Working on your business will help you create economies of scale in administration and new ways to produce growth and income in your business. You need one hour per day of working on time. For every minute you plan you will save ten minutes in implementation.

What do you think your business would look like in 90 days or even six months if you were to implement the below daily routine?

Growth: 3 hours

Administration: 1 to 2 hours

Business: 1 hour

Time block these activities into your daily routine. You will be amazed at the results you will achieve, even in one week. Do not allow the distractions to overtake you and your new daily focus. Do not neglect to do the things that will lead you to success. Do them daily without fail.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Types of Lenders

Today's choices include banks, mortgage brokers, home builders, and Internet lenders. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and rates vary from lender to lender.

Types of Mortgage Lenders
Type Advantages Disadvantages
Banks Regulated by state and federal agencies
Current banking relationship can get you a reduced mortgage rate
Numerous branches provide you with face-to-face access
Limited to products only the bank has to offer
May not have the best rates
May lack negotiation leverage when it comes to publicized rates

Mortgage Brokers Access to a variety of mortgages and lenders
Can save you money by shopping for the best rates
Can quickly find another lender if your loan initial application is turned down
Some function as the lender's agent and have the lenders best interest at heart
Free to set their own pricing and may mark-up wholesale rates to whatever they want
Service may vary from broker to broker

Home Builders Good way for the first-time home buyer to qualify
The buyer does not take title to the property until the home is completed
May favor certain lenders who offer higher rates
Can pressure you into getting their loan instead of using a different lender

Internet Lenders Allows you to shop for competitive rates online
A greater learning curve for the borrower to understand the lending process

Typically, most lenders do not keep money on hand but instantly sell conforming loans to third parties like the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) or the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac). The most common source of home lending is a retail financial institution or credit union. They offer specific loan products and handle their own direct financing by taking consumer deposits and lending them to home buyers.

Mortgage brokers, on the other hand, act as the middleman and don't fund the loans themselves, but handle the mortgage financing for the borrower. Most earn their fees directly as a percentage from the lender and some from the borrower, or a combination of both. Since mortgage brokers have access to a wide variety of lenders they are usually on top of the latest rates, fees and lending practices.

Home builder financing is common in new developments where there is a single builder. The builder carries the construction costs until the homes are built. The builder works with a lender to set-up financing for the buyer and finances the construction costs. The buyer doesn't make mortgage payments until the property is finished.

The popularity of finding a mortgage on the Internet mortgage has grown in recent years. Many lenders offer competitive rates and the convenience of tracking your application through the approval process. Some can save you a significant amount in closing costs, since everything is automated and the time to get approved can be shortened.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Buying your First Home

Finding the right first home starts with a price range and a short list of desirable neighborhoods. But there are many other factors you'll need to consider before investing in what may be your biggest asset.

Before You Start:

Grab your current household budget so you can consider your financial situation and your ability to make mortgage payments.
Ask family and friends if they can recommend experts, like a lawyer and an inspector, who can help with the home buying process.
Think about your lifestyle and how it might affect your choice of home and neighborhood.
Do a little research on current home prices in the neighborhoods you plan to target.

Buying Your First Home
Home ownership is the cornerstone of the American Dream. But before you start looking, there are a number of things you need to consider. First, you should determine what your needs are and whether owning your own home will meet those needs. Do you picture yourself mowing the lawn on Saturday, or leaving your urban condo for the beach? The best advice is to look at buying a home as a lifestyle investment, and only secondly as a financial investment.

Even if housing prices don't continue to increase at the torrid pace seen in recent years in many areas, buying a home can be a good financial investment. Making mortgage payments forces you to save, and after 15 to 30 years you will own a substantial asset that can be converted into cash to help fund retirement or a child's education. There are also tax benefits.

Like many other investments, however, real estate prices can fluctuate considerably. If you aren't ready to settle down in one spot for a few years, you probably should defer buying a home until you are. If you are ready to take the plunge, you'll need to determine how much you can spend and where you want to live.

How Much Mortgage Can You Afford?
Many mortgages today are being resold in the secondary markets. The Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) is a government-sponsored organization that purchases mortgages from lenders and sells them to investors. Mortgages that conform to Fannie Mae's standards may carry lower interest rates or smaller down payments. To qualify, the mortgage borrower needs to meet two ratio requirements that are industry standards.

The housing expense ratio compares basic monthly housing costs to the buyer's gross (before taxes and other deductions) monthly income. Basic costs include monthly mortgage, insurance, and property taxes. Income includes any steady cash flow, including salary, self-employment income, pensions, child support, or alimony payments. For a conventional loan, your monthly housing cost should not exceed 28 percent of your monthly gross income.

The total obligations to income ratio is the percentage of all income required to service your total monthly payments. Monthly payments on student loans, installment loans, and credit card balances older than 10 months are added to basic housing costs and then divided by gross income. Your total monthly debt payments, including basic housing costs, should not exceed 36 percent.

Many home buyers choose to arrange financing before shopping for a home and most lenders will "pre-qualify" you for a certain amount. Prequalification helps you focus on homes you can afford. It also makes you a more attractive buyer and can help you negotiate a lower purchase price. Nothing is more disheartening for buyers or sellers than a deal that falls through due to a lack of financing.

In addition to qualifying for a mortgage, you will probably need a down payment. The 28 percent to 36 percent debt ratios assume a 10 percent down payment. In practice, down payment requirements vary from more than 20 percent to as low as 0 percent for some Veterans Administration (VA) loans. Down payments greater than 20 percent generally buy a better rate. Lowering the down payment increases leverage (the opportunity to make a profit using borrowed money) but also increases monthly payments.

How Much Home Can You Afford?
Bob and Janet's combined income is $50,000 a year, or $4,166 a month. Their housing expense ratio of 28 percent yields a monthly maximum of $1,166 for mortgage, insurance, and taxes ($4,166 x 0.28 = $1,166).

Their total debt ceiling of 36 percent is $1,583 (4,166 x 0.36 = $1,500). Their monthly debt payments include a $200 car payment, credit card payments of $100, and student loan payments of $200. Subtracting this total of $500 from the $1,500 permitted leaves $1,000 in monthly housing payments.

Costs of Buying a Home
Many home buyers are surprised (shocked might be a better word) to find that a down payment is not the only cash requirement. A home inspection can cost $200 or more. Closing costs may include loan origination fees, up-front "points" (prepaid interest), application fees, appraisal fee, survey, title search and title insurance, first month's homeowners insurance, recording fees and attorney's fees. In many locales, transfer taxes are assessed. Finally, adjustments for heating oil or property taxes already paid by the sellers will be included in your final costs. All this will probably add up to be between 3 percent and 8 percent of your purchase price.

Ongoing Costs
In addition to mortgage payments, there are other costs associated with home ownership. Utilities, heat, property taxes, repairs, insurance, services such as trash or snow removal, landscaping, assessments, and replacement of appliances are the major costs incurred. Make sure you understand how much you are willing and able to spend on such items.

Condominiums may not have the same costs as a house, but they do have association fees. Older homes are often less expensive to buy, but repairs may be greater than those in a newer home. When looking for a home, be sure to check the actual expenses of the previous owners, or expenses for a comparable home in the neighborhood.

Choosing a Neighborhood
Before you start looking at homes, look at neighborhoods. Schools and other services play a large part in making a neighborhood attractive. Even if you don't have children, your future buyer may. Crime rates, taxes, transportation, and town services are other things to look at. Finally, learn the local zoning laws. A new pizza shop next door might alter your property's future value. On the other hand, you may want to run a business out of your home.

Look for a neighborhood where prices are increasing. As the prices of the better homes increase, values of the lesser homes may rise as well. If you find a less expensive home in a good neighborhood, make sure you factor in the cost of repairs or upgrades that such a house may need.

Finding a Broker
If you are a first-time home buyer, you will probably want to work with a broker. Brokers know the market and can be a valuable source of information concerning the home buying process. Ask lots of questions, but remember that most brokers are working for the seller, and in the end, their primary obligation is to the seller and not to you. An alternative is a so-called buyer's broker. This individual does work for you, and therefore is paid by you. Seller's brokers are paid by the seller.

Make sure that the broker has access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). This service lists all the properties for sale by most major brokers across the country. Brokerage commissions average 5 percent to 7 percent and are split between the listing broker and the broker that eventually sells the home. Don't be surprised if your broker is eager to sell you their own listing since they would then earn the entire commission.

Home Buying Costs
Down Payment 0% - 20% of purchase price
Home Inspection $200 - $500
Points $1,000 and up for 1% - 3%
Adjustments 3% - 8% of purchase price

Once you've determined a price range and location, you're ready to look at individual homes. Remember that much of a home's value is derived from the values of those surrounding it. Since the average residency in a house is seven years, consider the qualities that will be attractive to future buyers as well as those attractive to you.

Although it can be difficult, try to remember that you will probably want to sell this home someday. The more research you do today, the better your decision will look in the years to come.


Buying a home can mean building significant value through the years.
Think carefully about how much you can afford to spend and consider borrowing guidelines like those used by Fannie Mae.
Pre-qualifying with your lender is a good way to determine how much house you can afford.
You will need cash for a down payment and closing costs. Generally speaking, the higher the down payment, the lower the interest rate and monthly mortgage payment.
In addition to your mortgage payments, you will also need to consider the other costs of home ownership.
Schools, taxes, services, crime rates, transportation, and zoning are important considerations when selecting a neighborhood.
Brokers usually represent the seller, but they can be valuable sources of information for buyers as well. A broker that belongs to the Multiple Listing Service will be able to offer a wider variety of homes to choose from.
Remember to consider resale value when buying your home.

How Does Escrow Work?

If you've ever made an informal bet with a friend, you may have asked a third person to hold the money until the wager was resolved. When you take out a mortgage to buy a home, you're doing something similar by opening an escrow account.

How it works
When you put money in escrow it is held by a neutral third party (called an escrow agent) who works for both the lender and the borrower. The agent's role is to carry out the instructions agreed upon by both parties. The money is released when all the terms of the agreement are met. Escrow can be involved in anything from multimillion-dollar building projects to purchases made on online auction sites.

When it's used
When your mortgage closes, your lender will usually require you to open an escrow account to cover property taxes and homeowner's insurance. You'll make an initial deposit, followed by payments to the account every month. (Usually these are added to your regular mortgage payment.) The escrow agent will then release these funds as your taxes and insurance premiums come due.

Its purpose
The idea is to protect the lender by ensuring that you pay your taxes and insurance on time. If you default on your property tax, for example, your municipality can put a lien on the house, which would make it difficult to sell. Or if your house burns down and you've neglected to pay the insurance, the lender would be left with no collateral.

How you benefit
Escrow can benefit borrowers by helping them spread insurance and tax expenses evenly over 12 payments. For example, assume your yearly property taxes are two payments of $1,000 each, and your insurance is $400 annually. If you paid these directly, it would mean three large payments a year; your escrow costs, however, would be a manageable $200 a month.

Escrow payments
Your escrow account will have a built-in cushion -- if you miss a payment, the lender must still be able to pay your accounts on time. However, federal law prohibits lenders from requiring more than two months. expenses in escrow. And because your tax and insurance costs will change slightly from year to year, the lender will review and adjust your escrow payments annually.

When escrow may be waived
In most states, the money you place in an escrow account earns no interest for you. For that reason, many borrowers prefer to pay their taxes and insurance directly. Lenders may agree to this if your down payment is more than 20 percent, although some will raise your interest rate slightly to compensate. Once you agree to putting funds into an escrow account, however, it is difficult to cancel it, so make sure you fully understand the arrangement before your mortgage closes.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

10 Things I Wish My First Broker Had Told Me

It's never to late to learn. Experienced salespeople share their valuable, and hard-won, knowledge with you. Ever wish you had a time machine test and could start your real estate career over-with all the experience and skills it's taken you years to develop? Well, you can't turn back the clock, but you move forward- with the benefits of your own knowledge, plus these great lessons learned.

Here are some of the challenges experienced real estate practitioners faced and overcame, plus some advice from practitioners, brokers, and trainers on how to leap those hurdles.

1. You can't ever know enough.
Cheryl Schlehuber, GRI, ABR, e-PRO® associate broker/owner of the Mackinac Properties Team, St. Ignace, Mich., wished she'd obtained her GRI (Graduate REALTOR ® Institute) earlier in her career. "Having the designation increased my knowledge and made me a better practitioner," she says. "Knowing you're in control and having the answers-or knowing where to get them- ;boost confidence, believability, and trust." She intends to be a lifelong learner and believes new skills can translate into more sales.

They can also translate into more dollars. Salespeople holding the GRI earn at least 35 percent more than those without it, says the Professional Realty Institute, Pasadena. Calif. NAR figures show that the 33 percent of its members who've earned a professional designation earned a median salary of $73,100, compared to $38,700 without.

"Only a tiny part of what people learn in licensing school has any bearing on what salespeople actually do. The bottom line is that brokers need to teach concrete skills-how to find clients, how to work FSBOs and expireds, how to close. Many new licensees have no idea what to even say once they get a client," comments Lynn Madison, Lynn Madison Seminars, Palatine, Ill.

2. You only have 15 seconds to sell yourself.
"It's fine to say that a salesperson should gather leads through open houses and floor time, but I wasn't adequately trained to know how to be persuasive and get critical information in a 15-second encounter," says Jeff Auen of Heritage Real Estate-Century 21, Lafayette, Calif."Without proper training, these are lost opportunities."

Personality profiling-learning to read people-is one way to build rapport quickly. "Practitioners can adapt their communications style to mirror prospects'demeanor, so there's feeling of a deeper connection. Attending continuing education classes that expand your knowledge of personality types can be beneficial," comments Joeann Fossland, a master certified coach who specializes in real estate through her company, Joeann Fossland Advantage Solutions Group, LLC, Cortaro, Ariz. Developing good listening skills and focusing on the prospects interests instead of yours will also help you make a good instant impression.

3.Some deals will fall apart.
"You can't always figure out who is ‘for real.' Someone may say they're writing an offer and will call in an hour, and then disappear," says Ruth Friedman, Troop Real Estate, Inc., Westlake, Calif. "Flaky buyers just come with the job. If they get you down or you quit, you're the one who loses."

"Even experienced salespeople sometimes miss red flags that indicate unmotivated buyers," says Harley Rouda, Jr. of Real Living, Columbus, Ohio. "For example, an unwillingness to get preapproved or to put their current home on the market before finding a new one are signals that buyers aren't committed to you or the home-buying process. "When practitioners are hungry, they're sometimes willing to work on more of a hope than a certainty. That's when they get disappointed," he adds. If buyers can't seem to make a commitment, it may be time to cut your losses and refer them to another associate-hopefully for a referral fee.

4. Don't confuse experience with skill.
"When you're new and unsure of your knowledge, it's natural to hang around more experienced practitioners, but be careful who you emulate," observes David Oliverson,e-PRO® , associate broker, West USA Realty, Phoenix, Ariz. In his early days, he discovered that successful practitioners were out hustling business, not sitting around the office. He picked a handful of top performers in his market and used them as his models. Oliverson interviewed the clients of top salespeople to find out what clients liked, then incorporated it into his business. For example, he found that clients valued salespeople who stay in constant touch. Now, he makes it a point to call them regularly. He also found that clients gave top salespeople high marks for the wealth of knowledge and statistics about the market they provided. Today, Oliverson never goes to a listing without a book full of market stats.

5. You're selling yourself as much as the home.
"I never really realized that clients had to buy you before you get the chance to sell their home," said Tony Hawkins ABR , broker and instructor, Realty World/Investment Marketing, Raleigh, N.C. As a former radio announcer, Hawkins considered himself a good talker, but " what I missed was a method to transition existing skills into techniques to help real estate clients," he says.

"A broker shouldn't paint too rosy picture of the job," says Bob Scholz, regional director of corporate training, Hunt Real Estate ERA, Williamsville, N.Y. He advises brokerage companies to spend time during training teaching skills such as personal money management and budgeting as well as listing skills. And whatever your skill level, it's critical to chose a brokerage company with regular training on both the basics and on new
industry trends.

6. Hook up with a mentor
"There is so much to learn that it's quite often overwhelming to face each day, " says Mary Pat Yarusites, RE/MAX Classic, Falmouth, Mass. "Having someone who knows the ropes can shed a light on areas that are seem unclear." Seek mentors who have demonstrated credibility in the business and are geographically accessible so you can have regular face time.

"With a mentor, you can see concepts in motion, emulate their techniques, and tailor them to fit your personality and business," says Gayle Bailey, RE/MAX Preferred Properties, Vienna, Va. "People hear good ideas in a class but can't always apply them." Even 30 years later, he considers his mentor, Harold Helm of RE/MAX Commercial, Louisville, Ky., "the key that turned the lock in my career." Mentoring isn't just for newcomers either. Two experienced people can team up, mentor each other- often referred to as parallel mentoring--and take both their businesses to the next level. "With parallel mentoring, it's not a matter of learning new skills, but finding how something old can be done better," says Bailey.

7.A transaction is made up of a million details, and you can't forget any of them.
"When you start out and you have only one transaction, you may be able to do it all. But when you have multiple transactions, it's even more difficult to keep track of every date and deadline," says Gwynn Teal Carpenter, broker, co-owner, and vice president of Home and Hearth Realty, Inc., Austin, Tex.

To help herself stay on top of transactions, Teal Carpenter developed a series of simple forms and checklists, such as "Getting From Contract to Possession" and "Contract Timeline," to give buyers, sellers, and herself an outline for every step of a transaction. "The approach not only saves me time, but also gives clients guidelines to follow," says Carpenter. The checklists also reduce phone calls between her office and clients and make her look professional and organized. And she never misses a deadline.

8. Don't overspend on technology you won't use.
"At first I thought that the ones with the best gizmos would get the farthest, the fastest," says Lori Bee, a broker with Helen Adams Realty, Charlotte, N.C. After getting her e-PRO® certification, she thinks the best technologies are the ones you understand and will use.

Stephen Canale CRB, CRS, GRI, an instructor for GRI programs for a number of state associations as well as a speaker and a technology columnist for REALTOR® Magazine, cautions that indiscriminate spending can drain precious financial resources and that time invested in learning new hardware or software can never be recovered. He suggests making an inventory of what technologies you have and use regularly. Seek their common traits (such as an indication that you're dependent on mobile devices like PDAs and cell phones) to help you decide which technologies are making the biggest contributions to your productivity.

Canale also suggests looking for holes or inefficiencies in your current technology lineup. Perhaps there's a tool that can automate what you do and boost productivity. An autoresponder, for example, might help you reply to clients quickly. Look for programs that combine two functions-managing mailing lists and creating brochures, for instance. But be leery about buying the latest technologies. They're expensive and manufacturers usually need time to work out the bugs. A year after a technology's debut often means a product is less expensive and more refined. Also, buy only what you can implement immediately.

9. Don't work without a business plan.
Marilyn Urso, CRB, e-PRO®, owner/broker of Long Island Village Realty, Inc., Syosset, N.Y. , "My husband and I got very involved in working in our business-taking listings, show homes, and other day-to-day task--and lost sight of our goals," she comments. "I can say I want to do $10,000,000 in sales this year, but if I don't have a plan to get the listings and I don't have a handle on what I spend, I'll never reach the goal."

"So many people just try to fly by the seat of their pants," observes Fossland. "A business plan helps you align your strengths and values with your business." It's also critical to create long- and short-term goals. You can make a plan quantifiable by nailing down the number of transactions, sales, and weekly working hours necessary to reach the goals. It can even include a schedule for vacations and time off.

"Check the goals monthly to see what's working and what's not and shift course if something isn't effective. From the time you set a goal, market conditions-and your plan of action--could change," says coach Joeann Fossland. She also recommends looking at weekly activities to see what has been most effective in getting you closer to your goals and what steps you can take that will provide the highest payoff.

10.Sometimes you have to say "no."
"I had a need to give clients the best service and the highest degree of expertise, says Patty Johnston, ABR, GRI , broker RE/MAX Elite, Brentwood, Tenn. "I put so much pressure on myself that I nearly burned myself out of real estate."

Patti Brotherton, who manages the Prudential California Realty offices in Santa Barbara and Montecito and is the company's district manager for Santa Barbara County, suggests managing your time efficiently and sticking to your schedule as much as possible. For instance, rather than answering each call when it comes in, she suggests answering calls in clusters--returning morning calls at 11 a.m. and afternoon calls at 3 p.m., for example.

"I think practitioners let clients dictate to them," she says. " If you control your time and efforts, everyone wins and the service you provide is exceptional." There were years when she planned her schedule so she could take summers off to be with her children. If you're booked up or want to take time off, consider referring incoming business to others in the office. And remember, the approach can yield a hefty chunk in referral fees.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

#1 Homes Selling Mistake

There's a great saying in the real estate business. To succeed in life, you want to be:
The First Child
The Second Spouse
The Third Realtor
And like with most sayings, there is some truth in that statement, as agents who pick up listings after sellers have made major mistakes will attest.

But We Want More Money

When the average seller sits down to interview real estate agents, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement over choosing a sales price. More money means more financial opportunities for the homeowner. Perhaps it means the seller can afford to buy a more expensive home, help pay for her child's college education or take that greatly overdue vacation. Unfortunately, uninformed sellers often choose the listing agent who suggests the highest list price, which is the worst mistake a seller can make.

Establishing Value

The truth is it doesn't really matter how much money you think your home is worth. Nor does it matter what your agent thinks or ten other agents just like her. The person whose opinion matters is the buyer who makes an offer. Pricing homes is part art and part science. It involves comparing similar properties, making adjustments for the differences among them, tracking market movements and taking stock of present inventory, all in an attempt to come up with a range of value, an educated opinion. This method is the same way an appraiser evaluates a home. And no two appraisals are ever exactly the same; however, they are generally close to each other. In other words, there is no hard and fast price tag to slap on your home. It's only an educated guess and the market will dictate the price.

Is it Too Low?

Homes sell at a price a buyer is willing to pay and a seller is willing to accept. If a home is priced too low, priced under the competition, the seller should receive multiple offers to drive up the price to market value. So there is little danger in pricing a home too low. The danger lies in pricing it too high and selecting your agent solely on opinion of value.

How It Starts To Go Wrong

The seller of the Spanish home pictured on this page didn't even interview her real estate agents. She plucked the first one off the Internet because, "He looked like such a nice guy." He priced her home at $1.3 million. This agent never heard the local agents chuckling behind his back because he worked in a different city. After 90 days, the listing expired.

Continues To Go Wrong

The next agent, also from another town, listed the home at $1.1 million. Months passed. Eventually the price dropped to just under $900,000. Still no takers. A few lookie-loos, but no serious buyers.

More Than a Year Later

By the time the last agent was hired to list this home, the seller had grown weary and exhausted. It was now 12 months later. Together, the seller and her agent priced the home at $695,000. It immediately sold for all cash. The sad part is the comparable sales in the neighborhood fully justified a price of $835,000, but the home had been on the market for too long at the wrong price, and now the market had softened.

Agents Specialize in Expired Listings

There is an agent in my office whose basic real estate practice is comprised of calling sellers of expired listings and relisting them at market value. He sits in a small room with a phone, desk and chair, dialing number after number. Last year he sold more than 34 homes valued at more than $13,600,000, and he has 18 active listings right now. He makes a pretty good living repackaging overpriced homes.

Protect Yourself

The question is how much money have those expired listings cost the sellers? The financial loss often exceeds the extra mortgage payments paid and goes beyond the uncompensated hassle factor of trying to keep a home spotless during showings. It affects the value that a buyer ultimately chooses to pay because it's not a fresh listing anymore. It's now stale, dated, a market-worn home that was overpriced for too long. Don't let it happen to you. Don't be that seller of an expired listing.

Are For Sale Signs Importanty?

Hardly a day goes by that I don't receive a call from an interested buyer on one of my For Sale Signs. In some markets, buyers drive by a home, spot a For Sale Sign and slam on the brakes. The question isn't whether you should have a For Sale Sign in the yard, unless you want to keep secret the fact that your home is for sale -- and some sellers do. It's whether the For Sale Sign will generate buyer calls.

Types of For Sale Signs
Some homeowner associations do not allow For Sale Signs in the yard, or the HOA may have restrictions about size and placement. If you live in a planned community, you may want to read your HOA regulations before putting a sign in your yard.

Standard types of For Sale signs vary depending on inherent weather conditions where you live, type of brokerage that has listed your home and, in some cases, simply personal preference.

For Sale By Owner Signs
Sellers who try to sell without representation generally don't want to spend a lot of money on signage. In fact, a less expensive sign may play to a For Sale By Owner's advantage because a buyer might believe the seller is desperate to sell and the buyer can get a great deal.
You can buy a For Sale By Owner sign at a hardware store, some Boards of REALTORS or online. Most of these For Sale Signs are made from metal or plastic and secure to the ground through the usage of stakes or wires.

Real Estate Agent For Sale Signs
The two most common types are small signs with stakes, which are pounded into the ground, or larger sign panels, which generally hang from a sign post. Materials for the signage can range from wood to plastic to metal. Sandwich boards are inexpensive but portable enough that some kid might run off with them.

For Sale Sign Content
A REALTOR'S For Sale Sign will catch the eye of a buyer, and promote the real estate brokerage and the agent. It may contain the following:

Name of the brokerage
Office phone number with area code
Web site
Company logo
Brokerage address
Some agents utilize space on top of the sign post and below the sign panel. They may secure a smaller sign on top. Examples for the top of the post are:

Virtual tour web site
The actual asking price
Price reduction
Buyer benefit such as a home warranty
Here are examples of a sign rider, which may hang by hooks below the sign panel:

Agent's cell phone number
Co-Agent's name / number
Home feature such as number of bedrooms / pool / horse property

Placement of For Sale Signs
The For Sale Sign should be easily visible from the street. If I don't like where the installers place my For Sale Signs, I call them and submit a move order. Sometimes signs can be blocked by cars parked on the street, trees or telephone poles.

It seems less intrusive to place the For Sale Sign near the sidewalk or street than close to the home.
If the home is located on a corner, consider installing a sign on each street.
For out-of-the-way homes such as those on secluded streets or in an area where traffic is limited, you might ask home owners who live on a busy street if you can place a directional sign in their yard.

Number of For Sale Signs
Sometimes problems crop up when the listing expires with one agent and the seller signs a listing agreement with a new agent. It's possible that the first agent may be reluctant or slow to remove that agent's For Sale Sign. A delay could mean more sign calls for that agent.

I'm not suggesting that you yank the sign out of the yard yourself, but if calling the brokerage leads to a dead end, you might have to do it. The absolutely last thing that you want to happen is for a buyer to call your former listing agent.

Sometimes, when agents lose listings, they develop a bitter attitude. If a buyer calls your former agent by mistake, it's possible that agent may do everything in his or her power to talk the buyer out of viewing your home.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Loan Process

The Loan Application
If you're like most people, you'll probably need to secure a mortgage loan for your new house. Application for a home loan can take as little as one week and up to a month, depending on the type of mortgage.

Your lender or mortgage broker will be able to give you a better idea of the actual time it will take from application to approval. However, in general, conventional loans are processed more quickly than FHA or VA home loans.

Read more about types of mortgage loans.

The following is a step-by-step outline of what to expect during the loan application process:

1. Application
Bring all required documentation. (Also, see the Application Checklist.)
Good Faith Estimate of Closing Costs
Truth-in-Lending statement

2. Processing
Verification of employment
Verification of deposits
Credit report

3. Underwriting
Clear conditions

4. Purchase Homeowner's Insurance

5. Escrow
Determine funds needed for closing
Schedule appointment for closing
Prepare deed and mortgage note
Closing and Title Transfer

Application Checklist

To speed up the application process, bring the applicable following items to your loan application appointment.

Signed copy of Purchase Agreement plus all Addendums.
Tax and Legal description on subject property.
Residence addresses for the past two (2) years.
Past two years' W-2 statements or 1099’s.
Computer generated paycheck stubs for last 30 days.
Names, addresses and phone numbers of Employers for past two (2) years.
Past two (2) month’s statements for all Checking, Savings, IRAs, 401Ks, Money Markets, Profit Sharing and evidence of Stocks and Bonds. Document all recent large deposits.
In income received for commissions, bonuses, partnership(s), corporation(s), or if self-employed, requires two (2) year’s Personal Federal Tax Returns with all Schedules along with a current P&L Statement and Business Balance Sheets and past two (2) years’ Partnership and/or Corporate Returns, if applicable.
Cancelled checks from rent or mortgage for the last 12 months, and name and address of any landlord(s) within the last 12 months.
Names, addresses, account numbers, monthly payments and balances on all open loans and revolving credit accounts.
Copy of Bankruptcy Petition listing all creditors and copy of Bankruptcy Discharge Papers (if applicable). Please provide letter of explanation as to why the Bankruptcy occurred.
Copy of Driver’s License and Social Security Card (VA Loans Only).
Certificate of Eligibility and DD214 Discharge Paper (VA Loans Only).
Application fee (check or money order).
Copy of divorce decree and/or separation agreement.
A "Friend of the Court" letter stating the amount of any alimony/child support payments and notification that the account is current.
1040 tax forms (if you’re self-employed) for the past two years, 1120 Corporate Tax Returns (or Form 1065 for Partnerships) for the previous two years, year-to-date profit-and-loss statement and balance sheet signed by your accountant.
1040 tax forms for the past two years (including schedules) if you own income properties or if your income is based on commission or bonuses.
Fortunately, as you work one-on-one with your chosen home mortgage consultant, he/she should be able to offer valuable lending expertise and advice and answer all your questions while ensuring that your loan application process progresses as smoothly and quickly as possible.

Century 21 JRS Realty is affiliated with Century 21 Mortgage, LLC.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Loan Process

Loan Process

The Loan Application
If you're like most people, you'll probably need to secure a mortgage loan for your new house. Application for a home loan can take as little as one week and up to a month, depending on the type of mortgage.

Your lender or mortgage broker will be able to give you a better idea of the actual time it will take from application to approval. However, in general, conventional loans are processed more quickly than FHA or VA home loans.

Read more about types of mortgage loans.

The following is a step-by-step outline of what to expect during the loan application process:

1. Application
Bring all required documentation. (Also, see the Application Checklist.)
Good Faith Estimate of Closing Costs
Truth-in-Lending statement

2. Processing
Verification of employment
Verification of deposits
Credit report

3. Underwriting
Clear conditions

4. Purchase Homeowner's Insurance

5. Escrow
Determine funds needed for closing
Schedule appointment for closing
Prepare deed and mortgage note
Closing and Title Transfer

Application Checklist

To speed up the application process, bring the applicable following items to your loan application appointment.

Signed copy of Purchase Agreement plus all Addendums.
Tax and Legal description on subject property.
Residence addresses for the past two (2) years.
Past two years' W-2 statements or 1099’s.
Computer generated paycheck stubs for last 30 days.
Names, addresses and phone numbers of Employers for past two (2) years.
Past two (2) month’s statements for all Checking, Savings, IRAs, 401Ks, Money Markets, Profit Sharing and evidence of Stocks and Bonds. Document all recent large deposits.
In income received for commissions, bonuses, partnership(s), corporation(s), or if self-employed, requires two (2) year’s Personal Federal Tax Returns with all Schedules along with a current P&L Statement and Business Balance Sheets and past two (2) years’ Partnership and/or Corporate Returns, if applicable.
Cancelled checks from rent or mortgage for the last 12 months, and name and address of any landlord(s) within the last 12 months.
Names, addresses, account numbers, monthly payments and balances on all open loans and revolving credit accounts.
Copy of Bankruptcy Petition listing all creditors and copy of Bankruptcy Discharge Papers (if applicable). Please provide letter of explanation as to why the Bankruptcy occurred.
Copy of Driver’s License and Social Security Card (VA Loans Only).
Certificate of Eligibility and DD214 Discharge Paper (VA Loans Only).
Application fee (check or money order).
Copy of divorce decree and/or separation agreement.
A "Friend of the Court" letter stating the amount of any alimony/child support payments and notification that the account is current.
1040 tax forms (if you’re self-employed) for the past two years, 1120 Corporate Tax Returns (or Form 1065 for Partnerships) for the previous two years, year-to-date profit-and-loss statement and balance sheet signed by your accountant.
1040 tax forms for the past two years (including schedules) if you own income properties or if your income is based on commission or bonuses.
Fortunately, as you work one-on-one with your chosen home mortgage consultant, he/she should be able to offer valuable lending expertise and advice and answer all your questions while ensuring that your loan application process progresses as smoothly and quickly as possible.

Century 21 JRS Realty is affiliated with Century 21 Mortgage, LLC.