Wait! Don’t leave for vacation until you follow these tips to secure your home

Now is about the time folks earnestly start planning their annual vacation. In fact, “More than 90% of Americans plan to travel in 2023,” according to the editors at ipx1031.com

Are you among them? Whether you plan to travel domestically or go abroad, you will be leaving behind your most prized possessions, including your home.

We’ve searched for home safety and security experts’ suggestions for you on how to ensure that you come home to a home in the same condition as when you left it.

Security should be top-of-mind

If you own smart home features, securing your home while you’ll be away will be much easier for you than for those homeowners who don’t. If you don’t own these features, consider installing some to:

  • Turn on and off the lights to give anyone watching the home the appearance you are there.
  • Use a smart plug to turn on the TV or radio for those crooks brazen enough to get close to the home.
  • Security systems, smart or otherwise, can alert neighbors or law enforcement that someone has broken in. Many feature DIY installations so you won’t have to break your vacation piggy bank to get them up and running.

Although we hear about rising crime rates from the media, the truth is that “The current burglary rate, including cases of forced entry, is 75% less than it was in the 1980s, according to Crime Data Explorer,” (Forbes.com)

The chances are good that you’ll come home to an unviolated home, but why tempt fate?

Turn your cooling system off or leave it on?

“… turn the thermostat up while away, not off,” suggests the pros at Central Heating and Air Conditioning in Northeast Ohio. They go on to recommend that you should set it seven to 10 degrees higher than you typically do.


Heat and humidity can help promote mold in the unit while it’s off. An overly hot home is also brutal on electronics and even your appliances, such as the refrigerator.

If you have a smart thermostat, it most likely has an “away” or “vacation” function you can use to ensure it is set properly.

Turn off the main water line to the home

If you’ll be away longer than a week or two, consider turning your water off. The reason for this suggestion is simply to protect the home in the event of a water leak when there is nobody around to stop it.

After turning it off at the main, turn on all the faucets to let the excess water out of the pipes.

Prevent coming home to a smelly house

If you plan on being gone for more than two weeks, you may want to consider wrapping the toilet bowls with cling wrap.

This will “… keep water from evaporating,” according to Geri Koeppel with the East Valley Tribune.

He goes on to explain that “If the toilets dry up, sewer odors may seep in and bugs may crawl up the pipes. It can also dry out the seal between the toilet and floor, which will make your toilets leak around the base.”

Speaking of stinky sewer gases, avoid coming home to a smelly refrigerator by throwing away anything that will perish before your return. Then, take out the garbage the day you are leaving.

Take these simple steps so that you can vacation with peace of mind, knowing that your home will be fine upon your return.

The number one reason you should take more interest in your condo’s HOA

One of the most popular blog topics on our website is when we write about bargains, or how to save money in the local real estate market. So, today I searched the MLS and, sure enough, I found some somewhat low-priced condos for sale.

I looked first at how long they’ve been on the market and all of them have been sitting for quite some time. In fact, the lowest-priced condo has been on the market for almost a year.

Now why, I thought to myself, is that?

So, I sleuthed

I then looked at the photos of each condo for sale to see if there was anything there that might explain why these low-cost condos aren’t flying off the market. Aside from one with a very dated kitchen and another with a missing refrigerator I didn’t see any obvious flaws.

Then, I saw it – $270 a month in HOA fees. Now, that may not seem like a lot to some, but for someone on a tight budget who needs a starter home and a price tag that fits their budget, the HOA fees could be a deal breaker.

FHA certification is important

But, there’s another reason these condos may not be selling. When the price of single-family homes skyrocket, buyers on tight budgets often turn to condos as an alternative. Many use loans backed by FHA.

The problem here is that FHA has stringent qualifications when it comes to condos. The community must be FHA-certified for anyone to get FHA’s backing for a loan and many across the country aren’t.

In fact, “… there are more than 150,000 condominium projects in the country, but only 6.5% of them qualify for FHA financing,” according to Kim Porter, citing FHA statistics, at Credible.com.

Back to our condo with a $270-a-month fee. It just so happens that this particular community is not FHA-certified so between the high monthly HOA fees and the fact that it’s not approved for an FHA loan, the poor homeowner is having a rough time selling.

Pay attention to what your HOA is planning and doing

You may not be thinking of selling right now, but eventually you most likely will.

Most homeowners that live in managed communities (those with a homeowner association) receive a monthly or quarterly newsletter or bulletin from the HOA. Many don’t bother to read it.

If you own a condo or are planning on buying one, it’s important to be active in your Homeowners Association. Even if all you do is read the newsletter or attend the meetings, it pays to know what is going on.

For instance, if the ratio of rentals to owner-occupied units happens to increase to more than half of all units, your community will lose its FHA approval. Other FHA approval violations include:

  • Commercial use of the property is limited to 35%.
  • The association has to keep at least 10% of the budget in cash reserve, according to Porter.
  • The association must not allow fewer than 85% of the homeowners to become delinquent on their HOA dues.

Since FHA demands that recertification takes place every three years, it’s important that you ensure they’re following the rules.

The biggest problem that occurs is the first one I mentioned – too many tenants. The wise homeowner will be vigilant in monitoring the enforcement of FHA’s cap.

Yes, that’s easier said than done. But it’s important to pay attention to the future resale value of your property and the longer a home remains on the market, the less you’ll make on it. If you can’t sell it at all, it’s worthless, right?

If you want to check if a particular condo community is FHA certified, check HUD’s website.

Ways to lower your house payment

Prices on almost everything consumers use are inflating, without a corresponding increase in wages. This makes for tight budgets for many Americans right now. Looking for creative ways to save on our biggest outlays every month has become almost a hobby.

Many of the folks we speak with claim that because their mortgage payment takes the biggest bite out of their budget, they’re seeking ways to pay less for the home every month.

Sounds like a big “ask,” but there actually are ways to lower that payment. Now these won’t work for everyone, but they’re worth learning about.

Your monthly mortgage payment in a nutshell

That check  you write each month to keep a roof over your head pays for the following:

  • The loan’s principal
  • Interest
  • Property taxes
  • Homeowners insurance
  • HOA fees (for some borrowers)

The principal you have no control over. The rest of the items on this, however, should be researched fully to see if you can bring down those costs.

Dump the high interest rate

Although mortgage interest rates have been on a bit of a roller coaster ride lately, they will even out (hopefully sooner than later). When they do, be ready to jump into the refinance market to snatch up a lower interest rate than you are now paying.

How much lower should you be looking for?

“Historically, the rule of thumb is that refinancing is a good idea if you can reduce your interest rate by at least 2%,” according to the Investopedia Team. “However, many lenders say 1% savings is enough of an incentive to refinance,” they add.

If you aren’t familiar with the various aspects of refinancing your mortgage, run the idea by your accountant or financial planner for warnings and tips.

Cut your tax bill

“The average American household spends $2,690 on property taxes for their homes each year,” according to John S. Kiernan, citing figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. This represents $214.17 added to your mortgage payment each month.

“There is some good news for homeowners, however” suggests Aimee Picchi at CBSNews.com.

“You can appeal your property assessment, and success means your tax bill could be lowered by hundreds to thousands of dollars,” she concludes.

Check the assessor’s bill for accuracy in the basic data regarding the home:

  • Age of the home
  • Square footage
  • Number of bedrooms and bathrooms

“An error in one of these fundamental property characteristics can significantly increase a property’s overall assessment, suggests property tax attorney Gilbert D. Davila at Property-Tax.com.

Then, check how much the assessor claims your home is worth. It should be comparable to how much you would realize if you sold your home on the open market. To find out this figure, check the sales prices of comparable homes in your area over the past six months.

We are happy to offer you a no-cost, no-obligation of your home’s current market value. Feel free to reach out to us.

For additional information on how to appeal your property tax bill, visit CBS.com and your county assessor’s website.

Are you paying too much for homeowners insurance?

The average American homeowner pays about $1,512 each year (a bit less than $126 per month) for homeowners insurance, according to ValuePenguin.com.

And, many may be paying too much, according to a Consumer Reports study. Among respondents to the survey, “About 9 percent switched insurers in the previous three years, and more than half reported finding a better price,” according to Jeff Blyskal at consumerreports.org.

He goes on to claim that homeowners “can save hundreds to more than $1,000 per year in premiums by shopping around.”

Many insurance companies use your credit score when determining your premium, so work on raising your score to get better rates.

Blyskal explains that “an insurance premium for a 45-year-old homeowner with a fair credit score would be 36 percent higher than if she had an excellent score, on average nationally. If the homeowner had a poor score instead of an excellent one, her premium would be 114 percent higher.”

Get rid of PMI

Private mortgage insurance (PMI), or Mortgage Insurance Premium (MIP) if you have an FHA loan, are both a blessing and a curse. They’re a blessing because they help Americans who might not otherwise be given a mortgage to finally become homeowners.

The flipside, however, is that the premiums are tacked onto the house payment every month. With a conventional loan, PMI is removed when the homeowner obtains 20 percent equity in the home.

FHA’s MIP, however, remains for the life of the loan. But, if you’ve hit that magical 20 percent equity mark (and 80 percent loan-to-value), refinance into a conventional mortgage and you’ll do away with the MIP payment every month.

Many homeowners think that they’re stuck with the same house payment for the length of the loan. But not you; you now know about ways to lower that payment. You’re welcome!

Need an electrician? Avoid these 4 common mistakes when hiring

From $150 to $600. That’s the going rate for electricians “… for most small to medium electrical tasks,” according to the editors at ThisOldHouse.com.

They go on to suggest that the total amount of your bill will depend on three things:

  • The size of the home
  • The complexity of the project
  • The type of license the electrician holds

The latter breaks down into apprentice electrician, journeyman electrician and master electrician. Expect to pay up to $60 an hour for the apprentice, up to $90 an hour for a journeyman and up to $120 an hour for the master electrician.

Like most tradespeople, electricians aren’t all alike. Today we’ll take a look at ways to choose the right one for your job by unpacking common mistakes homeowners make when hiring an electrician.

1. Choosing the electrician that offers the lowest bid

According to Kristen Dalli at ConsumerAffairs.com, “… despite record-high prices in nearly every category, a new survey conducted by Slickdeals showed that the majority of Americans prefer quality over a bargain.” There’s hope for us yet, right?

There are still those, however, who will always go with the lowest-priced bid. Sadly, “… buying the cheaper option over a higher quality item backfired for more than 60% of the survey participants,” cautions Dalli.

Apparently, more often, we truly do get what we pay for.

Hire a professional. Why take chances with something as dangerous and critical as your home’s electrical system and its components?

2. Not ensuring the electrician is licensed and bonded

If you belong to your neighborhood group on NextDoor.com or Facebook.com, you no doubt know how many people ask for referrals to tradespeople.

Invariably, tradespeople show up in the thread offering their services. Very rarely does anyone ask if he or she is licensed, let alone bonded.

Earlier, we outlined the three types of licenses for electricians. “To become licensed, electricians must first apprentice with a qualified master electrician for at least two, but usually four years,” according to the pros at Asbury Electric in Gloucester, VA.

The licensing exam is rigorous.

What about bonding? “While insurance offers protection for the company, bonding offers protection to a business’s customer,” explains Alyssa Gregory at TheBalance.com. Both are important for the consumer.

Ask the electricians that you choose to interview for your project if they are both licensed and bonded.

Licensed and insured

3. Not requesting and contacting references

The best way to find an electrician is through referrals from friends and family. Gather up a couple of names and, during the interviews, ask them for the contact information for their last couple of customers.

Then, call these people. Ask them about the quality of the work, the electrician’s punctuality, and anything else you need to know.

You might also want to check any reviews (if any) on the Better Business Bureau’s website.

4. Not setting out the agreement in writing

If the electrician doesn’t offer a contract, ask that at least he or she put the details (scope of work, fees, project timeline, etc.) in writing and that both of you sign it.

Money is tight for so many right now that it’s important to ensure you are getting quality work for the money you’re spending.

4 Hard-to-kill houseplants

Closeup of white peace lily

Green thumb. Most plant enthusiasts and gardeners are aware of the term and either self-identify as one who either has a green thumb or lacks one.

In other words, you are either good with plants, or not-so-good. If you feel you’re the latter, have faith. There are many houseplants that are both lovely and almost impossible to kill.

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum clevelandii)

Not only is the peace lily hard to kill, it doesn’t demand the perfect spot with the perfect amount of sunlight. In fact, it is well-known to bloom even in relatively dark corners of a room.

What we like best about the plant, though, is that if you forget to water it, it will let you know by drooping. Give it a drink and it’ll perk right up again.

When you’re conscientious about watering, give it a huge amount of water – flood it – and then let the soil dry out. Other than that, and a dose of fertilizer once a year, the plant requires little care to thrive.

The one drawback to the plant, however, is that it’s toxic to pets, according to the ASPCA,  so if you have a cat or dog that loves to munch on greenery, either keep the peace lily out of its reach or choose another plant.

Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)

If you need something to fill a hanging planter, do consider pothos, a gorgeous and hardy vine. A fast grower, it will send out long runners that you can cut, stick in a glass of water, and root new plants.

Pothos tolerates low light (even artificial light) and dry soil (as long as it’s not dry for weeks). Ideally, you’ll water when the soil is dry to within an inch of the surface and cut back on the frequency when the plant isn’t actively growing (such as in winter).

A basic houseplant fertilizer, or a 20-20-20 fertilizer applied once a month during the growing season will have it performing at its best but it won’t die if you don’t fertilize it. It just won’t grow as well.

Pothos is toxic to dogs and cats, causing “Oral irritation, intense burning and irritation of mouth, tongue and lips, excessive drooling, vomiting, difficulty swallowing,” according to the ASPCA.

Snake Plant (Sansevieria spp.)

Also known as the mother-in-law’s tongue, the snake plant (Sansevieria spp.) tolerates both shady and bright environments, and requires very little water.

In fact, the best way to kill the snake plant is by overwatering it. Eventually (if happy) it can reach to 4 feet in height.

Pot up your snake plant in a loose, well-draining mix or even a cactus mix combined with potting mix. For extra oxygen at the plant’s roots, which are prone to rotting if kept too moist, use a terra cotta planter. Remember to drain water in the saucer beneath the pot after watering.

Snake plant indoors in a pot

ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)

If you’re seeking a “set-it-and-forget-it” plant, the ZZ plant can’t be beat. It will thrive in low-light and dry soil conditions.

To help it retain moisture, the plant grows from rhizomes (which many mistake for bulbs) which not only store water but allow the grower to easily propagate the plant.

Keep in mind that all parts of the ZZ plant are toxic. “ If chewed or swallowed symptoms can cause immediate pain or a burning sensation and swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue and throat. Contact dermatitis may also occur in sensitive individuals,” according to the experts at Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service in Queensland, Australia.

Easy spring home maintenance chores

Spring cleaning decorative image

Remember when you bought that house and all the “stuff” that comes along with owning it? I promised to be with you every step of the way, both before and after the sale, and here I am, nagging you to keep up your investment. You’ll thank me later.

Believe it or not, someday you will sell this home and my hope for you is that it’s in pristine condition so you get top dollar for it.

To that aim, take a look at some of these easy spring home maintenance chores that will help you keep your home in peak condition. Chip away at them over the course of the season and I promise, you’ll be glad you did.

Is it hot in here?

It will be soon, so change the filter in the HVAC system before firing up the air conditioner for the season. In fact, the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors recommends that you have the system inspected once a year.

If you smoke, have pets or if you suffer from allergies, plan on changing the HVAC filters monthly.

Dirty HVAC filter

If it slides, lubricate it

Windows, sliding glass doors and anything on hinges can use a squirt of lubricant at least once a year. Get out the WD-40 or whatever else you have on hand and get going.

Be sure to clean the tracks and window frames before applying the lubricant. Wipe them down with a cloth to remove the loose gunk and then use the vacuum to get the rest.

A solution of vinegar and water (hot water is best) is good to clean up mildew or heavy grime buildup. Use a clean damp cloth to rinse of the solution and then a towel to dry everything.

Now you can spray the lubricant. If you have vinyl windows, be careful. Avoid getting the lubricant directly on the window because it may leave a mark.

You can not only get the interior of the house squeak-free and moving without struggle, but probably the shed and garage as well, in less than 20 minutes.

Gutters get really gross over the winter

Caked on gunk in the gutters can be hard to remove so water it down and use a trowel to scoop it out. Then, use the hose to run water through the gutters to ensure there aren’t any leaks and that the downspouts aren’t clogged.

If you have a tree that loves to drop the leaves into the gutter every fall, consider covering said gutters with wire mesh. It just might save you from having to do the cleaning routine again next spring.

Dirty roof gutters on a home

How’s the deck looking?

If you spend a lot of time on the deck during summer, don’t neglect this tip. Take a minute or two to inspect the boards and if any are cracked or curling remove them and replace with new ones.

Then, go underneath the deck to check that the supports are in good shape and there aren’t any missing nails or screws. If you see signs of pest damage you’ll need to call a pest control professional to ensure the deck is still sound.

When was the last time you

Drained your water heater? I know, it’s a tedious and thankless job. But if you’ve ever had a water heater fail and leak all over the garage you’ll understand that these beasts need maintenance as well.

Sediment settles in the bottom of the tank. While one- or two-years’ worth may not be an issue, if you let it go for too long it will build up and can result in a loss of heat to the water and maybe even clog the drain line (therein lies the real danger).

You’ll find a handy video walk-through for the process online at Today’s Homeowner.

It’s almost spring – let’s add some color to your landscape

Whether you have seeds starting indoors or you plan on buying starts from the nursery, your flowerbed awaits – so let’s get those plants into the ground.

Choose the right spot for the right plants


Beginner gardeners typically make the mistake of not scoping out the perfect spot in the yard in which to plant a flower garden. The “perfect” spot is the one that gets the amount of sunlight that your plants will require.

Keep notes of the location of the sun as it moves across the yard. Then, choose a spot where your flowers will get the entire amount required for their growth. You can learn about plant requirements on gardening websites online.

Then, make a list of those that you want to grow.

Next, do some research about each plant as to its eventual size (height and width) and take note of this information. You will need it to determine how far about to plant each plant.

Prepare the soil

Give those young, tender plants all the help you can to get them off to a healthy start. Begin by removing any debris that winter swept into the planting area.

  • Next, pull weeds and dispose of them. Yes, you can also compost them. Follow the instructions you’ll find online at EpicGardening.com.
  • Sift through the top few inches of soil and remove any rocks or other items that you find.
  • Amend the soil with compost or well-rotted manure. Use about 2 inches and mix it into the top 6 inches of the soil.
  • Finally, water the soil slowly and deeply.

Harden off your plants

Another beginning gardener mistake is not allowing your new plants to acclimate to their new environment.

This process is known as “hardening off.” Begin the process two weeks before you want to plant them into the flower bed.

Find a shady spot outdoors, that’s protected from the wind. Leave the plants outdoors in the chosen spot for an hour on the first day. Gradually increase the length of time they spend outdoors over the next week to two weeks.

During this period, if temperatures dip below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, bring the plants indoors.

You’ll also want to cut back on watering, but don’t allow the soil to completely dry. If you notice any wilting, water immediately.

Visit almanac.com for a video walk-through of the hardening-off process.

Let’s get planting

Dig the planting holes to the same depth as the pot in which the plants are growing, but two times the width.

It’s important not to damage the main stem when you remove the plant from its pot. Place your hand under the foliage, but over the top of the pot, and then turn the pot over. The plant should slide right out but if it doesn’t, press gently around the sides of the pot and then tap on the bottom.

Place the roots of the plant into the hole and backfill it with the soil you removed when digging. Finally, water slowly. This helps remove air pockets in the soil and settle it.

Don’t forget the mulch

Mulch is the workhorse of every garden. It helps regulate the soil’s temperature, helps the soil retain water, and discourages weed growth.

Organic mulches, such as shredded leaves, grass clippings, shredded bark, or wood chips are ideal. These materials break down over time, adding nutrients to the soil.

Whichever type of mulch you decide to use, you’ll need at least a 2-inch layer (more is better), spread around each plant. Avoid rot by ensuring that the mulch is at least 6 inches from the base of each plant, spread to the dripline

There you go – your new spring flower bed. As long as you keep an eye on the moisture in the soil (don’t under or over-water), you’ll have a blanket of color to last all season long.

What to do when the power goes out


Rolling blackouts, cars hitting transformers, hurricanes; there are numerous causes for power outages. What they have in common is that you’ll have company in your misery because, aside from the non-payment of the power bill, they typically don’t affect just one home.

How long you’ll be without power depends on the original problem, where you live, and a few other factors. When you’ve been without power for an hour or more, the answer to the “how long?” question may seem like an eternity.

A power outage, if it lasts long enough, can impact you in several ways, including finances and safety.


A power outage can hit you in the bank account

The financial impact of a medium-to-long-term power outage shouldn’t be underestimated and should be planned for. What will you do if you’re facing:

  • The lack of air-conditioning, heat, safe running water, and a working toilet?
  • An inoperable refrigerator/freezer full of perishable food?
  • An inoperable home security system?
  • Transportation and shelter expenses if you need to leave your home?

Power outages can be quite dangerous

When indoor temperatures drop during a winter power outage, they typically do so rapidly. “This can increase the risk of freezing pipes which can cause them to crack and burst,” cautions Ben Suiskind, CEO of All Dry USA.

Outages can also cause food to spoil and water contamination.

Finally, a power outage can be catastrophic to those who are dependent on medical equipment that runs on electricity.

Some thoughts about planning

Having a plan in place can help ease the danger and discomfort of a power outage. An emergency savings account will help with any related financial expenses. Disaster preparedness experts offer up a number of tips, depending on how long the disaster is expected to last.

For instance, “The refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed,” according to the pros at FDA.gov.

Additional preparations for a short-term loss of power might include:

  • Purchase a home generator.
  • Freeze large plastic bottles of water and keep them in the freezer to help keep the temperature down when the power goes out.
  • Compile an emergency kit that includes flashlights or LED lights, batteries, a first-aid kit, water and non-perishable food, and a battery or crank-powered radio. Don’t forget pet items. Experts recommend that you keep these items in backpacks in case you need to ‘bug out.’
  • Make a family/friends emergency plan that details where you will all meet up during an emergency and each person’s contact information. Designate a person and a backup person who is charged with picking up young children from school.

Be safe

  • Don’t use a gas stove, oven, camping stove, charcoal grill or anything similar to heat your home. These items, used indoors, can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Generators are handy, but use them outdoors and keep them away from the home’s windows.
  • Disconnect appliances and electronics (computers, TVs, etc.) to avoid damage from electrical surges. When the power returns, plug these items back in, one at a time.
  • When the power returns, “Throw away any food that has been exposed to temperatures 40 degrees or higher for two hours or more, or that has an unusual odor, color or texture,” caution the experts at Ready.gov.

Find more tips and ideas online at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website.

What are the disadvantages of a home loan modification?

Home loan modifications are perhaps one of the most controversial topics of the last couple of years. It’s become more of a hot topic since the pandemic and, now, the economic downturn. Folks are having a hard time merely paying their bills and often, that money comes from their mortgage payments.

So, could a home loan modification be just what you need to save your home and help you to sleep at night – or is there any real upside at all?

Although they can be a boon to many homeowners, home loan modifications do have disadvantages, so let’s take a look at some of those.

Time is not on your side

One of the biggest frustrations borrowers have faced when it comes to home loan modifications is the endless delays and months that it can take to get any solid answers from their mortgage lenders and servicers.

Banks and lenders have often notoriously taken months on end to process loan modification applications, leaving homeowners in limbo, continuing to suffer sleepless nights.

As reported in the Palm Beach Post, laws were changed a few years back to force lenders to respond to homeowners within 10 days of a modification request and to deliver an answer within 30 days.

The loophole that remains, however, is that instead of approving or denying your request, they can rule your application incomplete, enabling them to stretch out the process just as long as before.

Will applying for a home loan modification stop foreclosure?

“Yes, but you must submit your application to the lender at least 45 days before the scheduled foreclosure sale of your home,” according to the attorneys with Amourgis & Associates.

Unfortunately, this time limit isn’t common knowledge among consumers, so many have found themselves being evicted while still waiting for their lenders to deliver a decision.

Note that for you to be able to explore your other options of filing for bankruptcy or selling as a short sale, you will still need to apply for a home loan modification, even if you don’t want one. Just don’t stop pursuing these other options in the hope of getting a modification before you get kicked out.

Loan modifications don’t always offer better terms

The government wants you to only deal directly with your lender or one of their preferred counselors for your home loan modification. However, loan modification companies will tell you that they are inundated with calls from borrowers who are being offered inferior modifications, which actually put them in a worse position.

While modifications are designed to lower a homeowner’s payments, what many don’t realize is that, depending on the type of loan product you chose, all of those months of back interest can be added back onto the loan.

Plus, those who have enjoyed lower monthly payments because they have been paying their taxes and insurance separately may end up with a higher payment than they expect when they are required to be paid monthly to their lenders.

These items may be balanced out by lenders extending loans for up to 40 years, which can feel great now but can mean paying thousands of dollars more over the life of the loan.

Mortgage loan modification is a one-shot deal

You only have one shot at applying for a home loan modification. Get it wrong and you may not like the choices left on the table. Get one approval that isn’t exactly what you hoped for, and you could be stuck with a worse deal in a home, still owing more on it than it is worth, for another five to 10 years.

This is why it is crucial to seek expert help and to educate yourself about the process as much as possible before applying.

The home loan modification process may not be all smooth sailing, but they are well worth pursuing. If you can dramatically lower your interest rate, stay in your dream home, and perhaps most importantly, continue to provide stability and peace of mind for your family, that is truly priceless.

For more information on mortgage loan modifications, visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website.

We aren’t mortgage professionals and urge you to work with your accountant or other financial professionals when considering modifying your mortgage.

Are you prepared for the next natural disaster?

“The U.S. has sustained 341 weather and climate disasters since 1980,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This averages to 7.9 weather and climate disasters per year.

Then there are the wildfires we experienced, all 66,255 of them.

Are you ready for the next natural disaster?

Disaster preparedness can save your home, your life, and even thousands of dollars on homeowners insurance.

Is a disaster headed your way?

Florida and Louisiana may be the most common victims of the Atlantic hurricane season, but as we have seen in the last few years, everyone from Texas to the Jersey shore needs to be prepared.

Anyone who has been through a hurricane or other natural disaster will tell you that waiting to prepare when a disaster is on the horizon isn’t wise.

Get supplies now and make plans for what you’ll do when the next disaster hits.

Evacuate or hunker down?

If an evacuation order is mandated, then you should absolutely pack up and go. In fact, even if there is a chance a hurricane will hit your area, you ought to get out of town early if you can.

Otherwise, you face becoming trapped and vulnerable in the ensuing traffic jams. Plus, as we have seen during the worst weather disasters of the last decade, it isn’t always the wind and rain that is the worst threat to your safety – often it is the mayhem that follows. Whether you are staying or going, you need to have your emergency kit ready and be well-stocked on essentials.

What you need if you decide to hunker down:

  • Plenty of water (at least 1 gallon of water per person, per day)
  • First aid kits
  • Medications
  • Flashlights
  • Radio
  • Batteries
  • Copies of important documents including ID and your homeowner insurance policy
  • Weather-appropriate clothing, such as heavy jackets, boots and rain gear.
  • Food for three to seven days (don’t forget pet, baby food and infant formula)

Evacuating? Before heading out, do the following:

  • Turn off all pilot lights and shut off the gas line into the home.
  • Turn off the water supply and the master electrical breaker.
  • Secure anything outdoors that might fly away
  • Board up the windows or close hurricane shutters.
  • Use sandbags where necessary

Get approaching hurricane, tornado, or other storm alerts and forecasts by visiting the National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center online at nhc.noaa.gov. For wildfire preparedness, visit nfpa.gov, the National Fire Protection Association’s website.