Homebuying on a tight budget? Consider a townhome

If rapidly rising prices are making you feel squeezed out of the single-family home market, consider downsizing your dream. After all, first homes are rarely forever homes.

It’s tempting to put off the purchase of a home until either home prices fall or your income rises. Tempting, yes. Smart? Not really. The wise thing to do is to begin building equity now so that you can later use it for that dream home. One of the best ways to do this is to buy a townhome.

Townhome living has its advantages and disadvantages. The latter includes the likely HOA fees that will be tacked on to your monthly house payment and living in very close proximity to your neighbors.

Tolerate that, however, and you’re on your way to making the home of your dreams a reality.

Today, we take a look at four reasons to consider purchasing a townhome. But first:

What’s the difference between a townhome and a condo?

The confusion between the two stems from the general misunderstanding of what they describe. Townhome is an architectural term, like duplex or triplex.

It describes a building where units share a common wall, nobody lives above or below the unit and they all have separate entrances from the street. This is opposed to a main entrance and front doors off of corridors, as is the case in many condo communities.

Condominium, on the other hand, describes a type of ownership. Each homeowner owns their unit, but not the actual building, and they share ownership of the common areas.

Units can consist of one or more floors and units may have neighbors above and below.

To make matters even more confusing, a townhome can be a condo, depending on how ownership is held in the community.

1. Lawnmower not required

When you purchase a townhome, your monthly HOA fees cover the cost of landscape maintenance. Some townhomes offer private patios and, in that case, the homeowner is responsible for any upkeep of landscaping there.

The fact is, even maintenance of the hardscaping in a townhome community is covered by the association. This includes pool maintenance, tennis court resurfacing, etc.

While your single-family home-owning friends are spending their weekends mowing, edging, raking, weeding and feeding, you’ll be kicking your feet up in that hammock you installed on your patio.

2. You’ll spend less money

The average townhome costs less than the average single-family home. For instance, the average single-family home price in the U.S. hovers around $243,225 according to BusinessInsider.com. Compare that to the average townhome price of $195,000 (GlobalPropertyGuide.com).

Sure, you may run across the occasional luxury townhome that is selling for significantly more than this, but most are very reasonably priced.

The lower price tag makes for a lower mortgage payment. And, because townhomes often contain less square footage than single-family homes, they cost significantly less to heat and cool—saving you even more money.

3. How about those amenities?

If a pool, gym, outdoor kitchen or other amenities seemed beyond your homebuying budget, think again. When you buy a townhome, you may just get at least one of those amenities right there on the property.

If there are others you simply must have, shop strategically. Some of what you can find includes:

  • Private garage
  • Health club/fitness center
  • Security guard or doorman
  • Swimming pool and spa

Keep in mind that a single-family home with any of these amenities will cost significantly more than the townhome with these amenities. Remember as well that typically the more amenities, the higher the price of the home.

4. Like being social?

When you live in a townhome, your next-door neighbor (in fact, all of your neighbors) are situated a lot closer than they would be if you lived in a single-family home neighborhood. This provides lots of opportunities to get to know them, socialize with them and forge relationships.

Many people find this appealing. If you’re among them, let’s go shopping for a townhome!

 

Staging your home for video tours

We recently shared with you what has been happening in the real estate industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most parts of the process of buying or selling have gone virtual, from showings to closings.

Since then, we’ve heard from lots of folks, wanting to know how to prepare their homes to sell in this new real estate environment. It’s a good question, because showings online are a bit different than showings in person.

Getting the interior ready for its close-up

The prep work that was required pre-pandemic still holds true: clean and declutter the home. If you have any doubts about whether an item should remain in the home or get boxed up, go with the latter.

The idea is to create a somewhat clean slate, so that potential buyers can see themselves living in the home. Here are some of the items to consider removing:

  • Collectibles
  • Family photos
  • Diplomas and certificates
  • Mementos
  • Stacks of magazines and newspapers
  • Oversized furniture (it makes rooms look smaller)

Clear the bathroom and kitchen counters of anything that isn’t decorative. Need inspiration? Find decluttering advice online at GoodHousekeeping.com, ProfessionalStaging.com and ApartmentTherapy.com.

Now it’s time to get to the cleaning. We spoke with our favorite cleaning professional who suggests taking it a room at a time. Then, clean from top to bottom as you work your way around the room. From ceilings (and ceiling fixtures) to baseboards, clean every surface.

As you clean, check that the room’s lighting is sufficient. You want the rooms to appear as bright as possible. Consider brighter bulbs or adding additional lighting.

Finally, take some of your own videos of each room and then scrutinize them. How’s the furniture placement? Ensure that the rooms don’t look cluttered with furniture. Experiment with different arrangements to find the one that makes each room look its best.

Get furniture placement tips online from Let’s Revamp, Savvy for Life and Jsquared-Richmond-Home-Staging.

Don’t forget about curb appeal

An effective video tour will start at the curb and follow the route a homebuyer and his or her agent would take to enter and tour the home.

This means that how your home appears from the curb, the experience offered as the potential buyer navigates to the front door, is critical.

Clean up and spruce up the landscaping between the curb and the front door. Get rid of debris and kid and pet toys. Then turn your attention to what’s planted in the landscape. Yank dead or dying plants and then prune and fertilize what’s left.

Consider purchasing flowering plants or those with colorful foliage, such as caladium. The color will pop when it’s on video. Finally, spread fresh mulch in the planting beds.

How’s the porch looking? The front door is an often-overlooked aspect of a home’s curb appeal (or lack thereof) so consider giving it a fresh coat of paint. Don’t shy away from using a bold color, if it coordinates with the home’s color. Consider a vibrant red or even black.

In fact, a study conducted by online listing portal Zillow.com, found that “houses with black or charcoal gray front doors sold for as much as $6,271 more than expected,” according to Julia Glum at Money.com.

If there is room on the porch, consider adding pots of colorful flowers or stately potted evergreens.

When you’re finished, take an experimental video tour of the home. Start at the curb, go up to the front door, open it, enter the home and then tour it, with the camera operating.

When it’s complete, watch the video, with an eye toward anything that may look out of place, any areas that appear cluttered or any other changes you can make to wow a potential buyer.

We’d love to view your video with you and offer tips for making your home the belle of the video-tour world.

Working from home? 5 tips to make your home office more efficient

Call it what you will — working from home, remote work or telecommuting – it wasn’t that long ago that it was considered a novelty. In the past month or two, however, working from home has gone mainstream, and not by choice.

Gallup has been tracking the remote-work situation since March and as of April 3, they found that 62 percent of “… employed Americans currently say they have worked from home during the crisis.” That number represents a doubling of the number taken in mid-March.

Surprisingly, 60 percent of those surveyed hope to continue working from home after the current restrictions are lifted.

If you are among them, you’ll need to take a look at your current home office and do some tweaking to ensure you remain as productive as you were when you had to show up at your employer’s office.

Find the perfect space

Lucky is the remote worker who has the space to take over a room and convert it to an office. For those not so fortunate, you’ll need to get creative when scouting the home for office space.

Here are the priorities you should consider:

  • The space should have good lighting and preferably contain a window or skylight to provide natural lighting as well.
  • A location away from the areas of the home where the kids tend to congregate.
  • An area that offers the least amount of distractions (no TV in the space, no view of the housework that needs to be done, etc.).
  • A spot that is large enough to accommodate a desk and chair, at the very least.

Furnish it

The basics, as mentioned above, are a desk and a chair. Of the two, the chair is the most important.

If you’re thinking of an ergonomic chair (you’ll love it!) check out these tips at Spine-Health.com and get 10 tips to choosing the best office chair at TheSpruce.com.

Furnishing your office doesn’t have to eat up your entire stimulus check. Check out OfferUp.com, Facebook Marketplace, NextDoor.com and Craigslist.org.

Light it up

Now that your bum, spine and shoulders are all set, it’s time to ensure your eyes are as well. This means determining if you need additional lighting and which types are the best. Check out these tips at Remodelista.com, ApartmentTherapy.com and SouthernLiving.com.

Then, learn how to choose the best light bulbs for your new lighting at Lifehacker.com.

Commit to using it

It’s important to make a schedule that you know you can stick to. If you won’t be using a stand-up desk, schedule breaks at least once every hour.

The current recommendation from medical professionals is that we should stand and move around for 15 minutes for every 30 that we spend sitting.

These breaks not only help your body but your mind as well – especially if you use them to take a walk or chat with a friend on the phone.

“To keep your brain in the right mode, avoid doing nonwork tasks during your work time,” recommend Kim Mock and Gabriel Manga at ThinkWithGoogle.com. This means no washing the dishes, throwing in a load of laundry or wiping down kitchen counters.

They also offer up these tips:

  • Make a daily to-do list to help you stay focused on what needs to be done. Don’t try to keep it in your head, but make an actual list.
  • Hold yourself accountable to keeping the schedule you created.
  • If your work is collaborative, consider setting up a video conferencing system.

One of the best tips we’ve seen is to ensure you have snacks in your office. This keeps you from refrigerator raids during your non-break time.

Finally, don’t neglect to personalize your office with all the things you wouldn’t dream of bringing to the “other” office.

Stay healthy!

Avoid planting these trees

Aside from autumn, early spring—before bud-break—is the ideal time to plant trees. And, if you’re thinking of selling your home, trees, placed strategically around the home, can help increase the home’s value.

Not all trees are alike, however, and some should be avoided. Let’s take a look at some of these trees that you should think twice about planting.

Trees with weak wood

Because of its fast growth rate, the Bradford pear tree was the darling of the new home construction industry in the 70s and 80s, making it the most prolific tree in neighborhoods across the country.

The tree can grow quite tall and, with age, the wood weakens. “Anything, and anyone, under a Bradford pear is at increased risk as the tree ages and its steep V crotch structure is strained,” according to Donna Isbell Walker at USAToday.com.

Other popular but weak trees include:

  • Balsam Poplar (Populus balsamifera)
  • Box elder (Acer negundo)
  • Cottonwood (Populus deltoides)
  • Empress tree (Paulownia tomentosa)
  • Freeman Maple (Acer x freemanii)
  • Lombardy poplar (Populus nigra ‘Italica’)
  • Paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera)
  • Red maple (Acer rubrum)
  • Red mulberry (Morus rubra)
  • Silver maple (Acer saccharinum)

Weedy trees

That weak-wooded Bradford pear has additional strikes against it. Not only is it brittle and terribly messy but it’s weedy as well. If you’ve ever grown one, you know this only too well as you’re continually hacking away at the sprouts around the soil beneath the tree.

The Bradford pear, however, is a novice at the weedy game compared to the Golden Rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata).  Homeowners grow them for the incredible flower show they put on each summer, but then have to tend with the seeds that sprout wherever they touch soil.

Other popular tree varieties that seem determined to take over the entire landscape include:

  • Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)
  • Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin)
  • Norway maple (Acer platanoides)
  • Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides)
  • Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila)
  • White mulberry (Morus alba)

Trees with invasive roots

Ever trip over a lifted sidewalk? Most likely, it lifted because of the roots of a nearby tree. Shallow roots damage driveways and foundations and, in the case of the silver maple especially, invade pipes and sewers.

  • Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellate)
  • Black locust (Robinia psuedoacacia)
  • Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin)
  • Poplars (Populus)
  • Russian olive (Elaeaganus angustifolia)
  • Silver maple (Acer saccharinum)
  • White mulberry (Morus alba)

So, which trees are best for the home landscape?

Choosing a tree for the home landscape involves more than finding one you feel is pleasing to the eye. It must be hardy to your growing zone and you must have the proper location (the one that provides the appropriate growing conditions) in the yard in which to plant it.

Then, you’ll need to decide if you want an evergreen tree (one that maintains its foliage all year) or deciduous (one that loses its leaves in winter). Do you want a tree that remains small or medium or do you want a huge tree?

Research your choices online and then visit a local nursery and speak with the experts there. Nobody knows local growing conditions better than these pros, so you can feel confident in the advice they give.

The 3 most popular vegetables to grow in a pandemic garden

“Sow the Seeds of Victory” was a phrase familiar to all Americans in early spring of 1917. We hadn’t yet entered “The Great War” that was ravaging our allies’ food supplies.

All across Europe, “. . . agricultural workers were recruited into military service and farms were transformed into battlefields. As a result, the burden of feeding millions of starving people fell to the United States.”

And, as we are wont to do, we rose to the occasion, planting food crops in backyards, vacant lots school grounds and parks.

“As a result of these combined efforts, 3 million new garden plots were planted in 1917 and more than 5.2 million were cultivated in 1918, which generated an estimated 1.45 million quarts of canned fruits and vegetables,” according to Laura Schumm at History.com.

Today, we find ourselves at war again only this time our enemy is a virus. The rush to stock up left supermarket shelves bare for a time and now, months into the battle, there are still many items that are in short supply.

Again, we rose to the occasion, with Americans across the country planting their own version of yesterday’s Victory Garden (originally called War Gardens). The smart ones bought their seeds way ahead of the planting season (seeds are one of the items in very short supply right now).

If you’re a member of the country’s budding new vegetable gardener crowd, read on. We’ve put together some tips for growing the three most popular crops.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are by far the most popular crop for home gardeners. Nurseries run out of starter plants quickly.

Tomatoes are easy to grow (they can even be grown in containers), provide a large yield and can be used in lots of different ways.

The time it takes to grow a tomato depends on the cultivar, but typically ranges from 60 to more than 80 days.

Tomato plants are susceptible to several disorders, diseases and pests. The one that stymies new growers the most is blossom-end rot. Caused by a lack of calcium in the plant, new growers automatically assume that supplementing the soil with calcium will cure the disorder.

More often than not, the cause is inconsistent watering. Once the gardener begins watering the tomato plant consistently, the disorder typically clears up.

Need more tips on becoming a world-class tomato grower? Visit Sunset.com.

Cucumbers

The two things that cucumbers require above all else is heat and consistent moisture in the soil. Get that right and you’ll be successful.

One of our favorite things about growing cucumbers is that if you buy the bush type you can grow them in small gardens or even in containers.

Grow cucumbers in rich soil, in full sun. When you’re preparing the soil, add about two inches of well-rotted manure or compost and mix it into the top 6 inches of soil.

For more tips on growing cucumbers, from planting to harvest, watch this video at YouTube.com.

Bell Peppers

If you’re a new gardener, you can’t go wrong growing bell peppers – a definite confidence booster!

You’ll want to plant bell peppers in full sun – the longer they get sunshine every day, the larger your peppers will be.

Follow the soil advice for cucumbers, above, and ensure the soil drains well. The soil temperature should be at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit before planting your peppers into the garden.

A good rule of thumb is to provide the bell pepper plants with an inch or two of water a week. During periods of intense heat, or if you’re a desert gardener, you may need to water daily.

Like tomatoes, bell peppers are also susceptible to blossom-end rot so create a watering schedule and stick to it.

Get more tips on growing peppers and advice on how to spot problems at Almanac.com.

Summer is on the way: Is your home ready?

Isn’t the internet amazing? The answer to just about any question you may have can be found with just a few key strokes. When we turned to the experts for advice on summer home maintenance, we were inundated with information – some of it downright silly.

We agree with the contractor who reminded us that the heavy home maintenance comes in fall and that pre-summer tasks should deal only with those systems and areas in and around the home that get the most use during the warmer months.

So, let’s dive in and do a quick tour around your house.

Start with the air conditioning system

If it’s been awhile since you’ve changed your HVAC system filters, do that first. You’ll find an easy-to-follow walk-through at YouTube.com.

While you’re at the hardware store buying the filter, why not stock up and buy several? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests changing the HVAC filter once a month during periods of heavy use. Check out this information on how to choose the right filter for your needs at Gardenologist.org.

Finally, consider having the system tuned up by a professional. Fancy yourself more of a hands-on type? The EPA offers a list of tasks to help you do it yourself.

Ceiling fans and fuzz

All that fuzz that gathers on the blades of a ceiling fan is a lot more than ugly. It can actually slow down the blades’ rotation speed, “… cause the blades to wobble, and put some strain on the fan’s motor,” according to Alan J. Heavens at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Since fans are located in the ceiling, keep safety in mind during the cleaning process. You’ll find lots of tips and advice in videos at YouTube.com

If you hope to throw open those windows

Do a tour of the home, checking the windows for cracked glass and to ensure that the screens don’t contain rips.

Winter and spring can be brutal on the home’s exterior components. Windy days can hurl all manner of projectiles at the home and it doesn’t take much to tear a hole in a window screen.

You’ll want to throw open the windows on that first gloriously warm summer day, so fix windows and screens to ensure they let the fresh air in and keep the pests out.

Ensure safe summer entertaining

According to the U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission, nearly 225,000 injuries occur each year as the result of either a structural failure or collapse of a deck.

It’s not enough to check the deck’s surface; you will need to investigate the condition of the underneath as well. Find tips on what to look for and how to fix, here.

Prevent water waste

Landscape irrigation systems get quite the workout over the summer months so ensure yours is up to the task.

Check in-ground systems by following these tips provided by Region of Peel. Drip irrigation system leaks are a bit easier to detect and you can learn how on YouTube.com (excellent video).

Next, check all the faucets to ensure that there are no leaks there and then check your hoses for holes and other problems that may cause them to malfunction.

Summer pool care

Swimming pool maintenance is often left to professionals, but it doesn’t have to be. Check and perform the following tasks (we’ve linked to some handy information and tips for each one).

The wise homeowner will call out a professional at least once a year for a thorough check of the swimming pool. Summer is the ideal time to do this.

Gardens need maintenance too

Get rid of plants that didn’t make it through winter and spring. Then, deadhead spring annuals. Deadheading is the process of snipping off dead flowers, prompting the plant to bloom again.

Seek out garden pests and get rid of them. Then, turn your attention to weeds and get rid of those as well.

Give your lawn a late-spring fertilization and aerate and dethatch if necessary.

Finally, clean up all debris and install a fresh layer of mulch. This helps discourage weed growth, insulates the soil from hot summer sun and helps it retain moisture.

Kick off grilling season

Deep clean your outdoor grill so that it’s ready for grilling season. Whether it’s a gas or charcoal grill, you’ll find tips on giving it a thorough cleaning from Home Depot. They offer advice for cleaning a gas grill, here and charcoal grill owners are covered here.

Happy summer!

Yes, Americans are still buying and selling homes

One of the questions we’re asked almost on a daily basis is “How’s the real estate market?” Most people we speak with assume that, because of the pandemic, it’s come to a screeching halt and that prices have plummeted.

Neither of these assumptions are true. In fact, people are still buying and selling homes. We’re not seeing the volume of activity that we usually see in the spring market, but the market is not stagnant.

Prices have remained much the same as they were before the onset of the pandemic, much to the dismay of homebuyers. Home sellers are digging in and few are willing to take rock-bottom offers.

It’s the low interest rates, however, that keep homebuyers in the market.

How does real estate work in a country under attack by a virus? It’s different, that’s for sure. But the workarounds to maintain social distancing have actually turned out to be quite efficient.

Viewing homes for sale

A recent Realtor.com survey finds that nearly 60 percent of home sellers say they would be fine with holding an open house.

Then, there are others who put restrictions on showings. For that reason, many homes are now shown virtually by the agent or with 3-D tours.

And, they’re being embraced by homebuyers. One of the big real estate portals says that they are seeing an almost 500 percent increase in requests for agent-led video tours, while another portal is seeing a nearly 200 percent increase in requests for 3-D home tours.

But, will they actually buy a home they’ve only toured virtually? According to the aforementioned Realtor.com survey, 25 percent of homebuyers aren’t opposed to buying a home they have never toured in person.

The number of home showings across the country took a dip on April 12, but has been steadily rising since then (an increase of nearly 24 percent as of April 26).

The entire home buying and selling process has gone virtual, from home showings to inspections, appraisals and closings.

Please reach out if you have any questions about the process and how we can help you navigate it during the pandemic.

 

Behind on your bills? Here’s what you need to do

It’s terrifying to suddenly find out that you’ll not be receiving another paycheck. It’s easy to go into panic mode, especially if you have others depending on you to keep the lights on and stomachs full.

Across the country, utility companies are responding to the government shutdown by promising not to turn off their services when bills are overdue. Unemployment insurance checks can then go toward more important items, such as food.

Once the initial shock wears off, there are things you can do to mitigate your situation and, hopefully, save your credit score.

Start by speaking with your lender

If you can’t make your house payment and haven’t yet contacted your lender, put this one at the top of the list of things to do.

Many lenders have online options to fill out the required paperwork for requesting forbearance, making it a lot easier than sitting on hold for lengthy periods of time if you call.

Some lenders are offering forbearance only, and the details vary, depending on lender. Forbearance allows the borrower to miss payments, often penalty-free, and make them up at a later date.

While this option offers immediate relief from one of our biggest payments each month, many borrowers don’t understand that forbearance isn’t forgiveness. The missed payments will need to be paid and many lenders will be demanding a lump sum.

Maura McDermott at Newsday.com tells the story of one couple in Long Island, NY whose lender is allowing them to skip their house payments for three months, without penalty, “… but then all the missed payments would be due in a lump sum in four months.”

Few Americans are able to come up with thousands of dollars in a lump sum after several months of unemployment.

With the passage of The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (aka CARES Act), if your loan is backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the Veterans Administration, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you may be offered additional options.

First, the CARES Act “… provides several levels of relief to home-loan borrowers, including the right to request two periods of mortgage-payment forbearance or suspensions totaling up to 360 days,” according to Russ Wiles with the Arizona Republic.

The National Association of REALTORS released an analysis of the act and says that while “… regular interest can still accrue,” additional fees, such as penalties and interest, won’t “… be assessed for the forbearance.”

Visit the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website for additional information on the various options available to help you with your mortgage.

Your other monthly bills

We mentioned earlier that many utility companies have agreed to keep their services running, despite non-payment.

Typically, this doesn’t mean they won’t be tacking on late fees and it doesn’t mean you won’t be faced with a huge bill at the end of the crisis.

It’s challenging right now to avoid the former, but the latter can be handled by whittling away at your bills. Pay what you can, even if it’s just a small amount.

Once we’re back to business-as-usual, folks will be facing huge bills and those disconnect notices will go out. You’ll be glad you paid at least part of what you owe.

Your credit

With everything else going on right now, it seems almost petty to think about what all this is doing to our credit scores. It will be interesting to compare the average American’s score pre- and post-pandemic.

In the meantime, order your credit reports from the big three reporting agencies. Normally, every American is entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from AnnualCreditReport.com.

That has changed, however. Starting April 20, 2020, the “Big 3” (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax ) will be providing a free credit report every week for the next year.

While there isn’t much we can do to prevent negative entries right now, we can protect our scores by combing through each report to ensure accuracy.

The folks at Equifax recommend that you also add a consumer statement to your credit reports. “You can add a brief 100-word statement to your credit reports to explain your situation.”

Four in 10 American adults lack the funds to cover a $400 expense, according to a 2018 Federal Reserve report. Undoubtedly, it’s even worse than that now.

Don’t hide from your financial problems. Be proactive, keep track of where what little income you have right now is going. Communicate with lenders and others and keep an eye on your credit score.

The COVID-19 scammers are out in full force: How to avoid becoming a victim

While the government shutdown has brought out the best in millions of Americans, there will always be those who seek to take advantage of any situation.

Unfortunately, because government agencies charged with rooting out the scammers are closed, they’re finding it much easier to get away with their illegal hoaxes.

Thanks to the folks at Equifax, the credit reporting agency, many of the more common scams have been exposed. Be on the lookout and don’t get taken in.

“I’m calling from the [government agency name]”

Be wary of an email or phone call purported to be from a government agency. The person or email will tell you that the agency needs your banking information and, if they don’t receive it, your Medicaid or Social Security will be terminated.

Don’t fall for it and never follow a link in an email from someone you don’t know. “It could download a virus onto your computer or device. Make sure the antimalware and anti-virus software on your computer is up to date,” warns officials with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

According to the experts at Equifax, “… government agencies will not contact you unless you request it, and they will never request personal information over phone or email.”

The same goes for any communication regarding your government stimulus check. “The government will not ask you to pay anything up front to get this money. The government will not call to ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer,” according to the FTC website.

Learn more about the stimulus payment scams, later in this post.

Have you applied for a government grant or loan?

You may receive a letter, email or phone call telling you that you’re pre-approved for the loan or grant but they need your banking information so that they can deposit the funds.

The letters may appear to be on official letterhead and the emails may look equally authentic.

Again, never click on a link in these emails.

Instead, use the search bar in your web browser to navigate to the agency’s site to check your status, or call the number on the agency’s website.

Looking for a job?

Use caution when replying to job offers that arrive via email, especially if it’s for a job to which you didn’t apply.

Again, don’t follow any links within the email. Use your favorite search engine to research the company. Look for an “employment opportunities” or jobs section of the website and learn if the job is listed there.

Never give your email address or phone number to anyone you don’t know who calls or texts you.

Ignore potential employers who ask for a fee for training materials, an application fee or fees for anything else. “Employers and employment firms shouldn’t ask you to pay for the promise of a job,” according to the experts at the FTC.

Stimulus payment scams

Where there’s money, there are scammers trying to get their hands on it. The latest involves the stimulus checks that Americans are receiving in their bank accounts or in the mail.

Ignore phone calls and emails stating that you must pay a fee to get your payment or anyone who claims that you need to supply your social security number, bank account information or debit card account numbers to receive your stimulus payment.

The folks at the FTC urge you to follow these tips to avoid a COVID-19 stimulus payment scam:

  • The IRS won’t contact you about your payment. Anyone who emails, texts or calls you claiming to be with the IRS is lying.
  • There is no fee to claim your stimulus payment.
  • A common scam right now is a communication purported to be from the IRS saying that you were overpaid and need to send back some of the money.

If you suspect a scam, report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint

Remember:

  • Don’t click on any links or download any attachments in emails from anyone you don’t know personally.
  • Never give out personal information to strangers, regardless of who they say they are.

How to live in a home for sale without losing your mind

There’s a frustrating dilemma that occurs when your home is for sale. It happens when the need to keep the home clean, tidy and staged collides with daily living.

Trying to keep the home in showing-condition when you’re living in it, complete with kids and/or pets, is a delicate balancing act.

Then, there are all those little annoyances that you should be prepared to tolerate. It’s always easier and less stressful to enter a new process armed with knowledge. So, let’s dive into what you can expect while your home is on the market and how to make it easier on you and your family.

Keeping the home clean

According to a study from a few years ago, clean homes with no clutter sell for $1500 to $2000 more than comparable homes that are messy. Ah, that caught your attention, right?

Homebuyers feel that clean homes show pride of ownership, which means their perception is that it’s also been well-maintained.

If you have children and/or pets, keeping the home clean isn’t an easy job. Create a plan before the home goes on the market where each family member has a set of tasks to complete before leaving the home in the morning.

Even the tiniest in the family can pick up toys and return them to their rightful place.

Yes, it may mean getting up a bit earlier in the morning, but for an extra thousand dollars (or two) it’s worth it.

Decide now what to do with your pets

Home sellers with pets have come up with some clever ideas on how to deal with their pets during home showings.

From dropping them at doggy daycare or a groomer to hiring a dog walker to get them out of the home during showings, crating them, come up with a solution that you can put into action on those days when agents will be showing the home.

Then, make sure their food and water bowls, leashes and toys don’t create clutter – stash them away.

Tip: If your dog uses the backyard as a potty, ensure that all the droppings are picked up before showings. The last thing you want is a potential buyer with “poop” all over her shoes.

Protect your privacy

While it may appear that they’re snooping, many homebuyers will open cupboards, drawers and closets to determine how much storage these areas provide.

Then, there are the small handful that are actually snooping, hoping to come upon anything they can pocket. Although it doesn’t happen often, it’s best to be safe and lock away or remove from the home the following:

  • Sensitive paper work (such as anything having to do with your mortgage and home, credit reports, anything could be used to steal your identity and anything else you wouldn’t want a stranger to see).
  • Checkbooks
  • Credit cards
  • Prescription medications
  • Firearms
  • Anything else that is easily pocketed that is of value

From the requests for last-minute showings to potential buyers wanting to view the home when you typically eat dinner, living in a home for sale can be challenging.

Relax into the process and keep reminding yourself that it’s temporary. Soon, you’ll find a buyer and can look forward to moving on to the next phase in your life.

And – a bonus – you won’t have to worry about what to do with the dirty dishes or laundry as you rush out to work in the morning.