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The Only 6 Things You Need to Throw a Holiday Party at Home

by Amy McLeod Group


Pulling off a holiday party at home can seem stressful, but it's made infinitely easier if you remove a few things from the equation. Namely, the dining table and chairs. Oh—and nix the forks and knives.

No, we're not suggesting people sit on the floor and eat with their hands. Instead, skip the sit-down affair and host a cocktail party with a few key essentials, including the right glassware and serving pieces, so your soiree is headache-free.

 
 
 

Your first step in this party process is to clear some space in your coat closet or designate a spot for guests to put their things (a guest bedroom works here).

"There's nothing worse than having people drape their jackets over the backs of your sofa and chairs, because it takes away from the beautiful event you've set up," says Roxy Te, CEO and founder of Society Social.

Next up, pull out (or pick up) the following items to outfit your bar and kitchen. Then, plan to serve your party bites on a buffet—a good use for your dining table. This option is more affordable, and it gives you the chance to style a pretty vignette or centerpiece, notes Te.

Make serving guests at your fete easier with these choices—and you'll have more fun at your own party.

1. All-purpose wine glass

Nope, most of the time, you don't need red and white wine stemware—and a simple glass like this one ($3, Crate&Barrel) can even hold a mixed drink. "Unless you're serving champagne, try using one round wine glass as your all-purpose go-to at a cocktail party," says Andrea Correale of Elegant Affairs Caterers. And a stem-free option is less likely to break when you pop it in the dishwasher.

2. Paper napkins

Cloth napkins are lovely—at Christmas and Easter—but paper is your pal at a casual drinks party.

"I definitely recommend paper napkins for cocktails and small bites, and suggest five per person on average," says Correale. Pick goofy sayings in bright and cheery colors, and your little stacks will become part of your party decor ($7, Sur La Table).

3. Pitcher

Everyone wants a Negroni, but mixing them up individually is a pain. Don't get stuck playing bartender, warns Te.

"Stock up with what you need, and serve the classics or a signature cocktail," she says.

Making a pitcher of spiked punch ahead saves time and makes pouring a breeze, especially in this gorgeous vessel with dragonflies ($62, Macy's).

4. Platters

Rather than put out a bunch of small bowls for snacks, choose larger serving pieces for your buffet.

Just be sure to skip heavy stoneware and go for a melamine platter like this one ($25, Williams Sonoma), which comes in four fun colors. And using platters for parties is on trend, says Te.

"I've been pulling inspiration from grazing boards, because these bountiful spreads are visually striking, and they allow guests to mingle and encourage seconds and thirds."

5. Cakestand

Along with your platters, you'll want to create height on your buffet—and that's where cakestands come in ($25, Walmart). By interspersing stands with plates below them, you'll double your offerings and create visual interest too.

6. 3-tier server


A little tower like this tiered piece ($25, Amazon) is a nice way to serve a tiny sweet at the end of your party. Arrange it ahead of time, and then place it in the middle of your buffet when the savory foods have disappeared.

Happy Holidays! Contact The McLeod Group Network at 971.208.5093 or [email protected] for ALL your Real Estate needs! 

By: Realtor.com, Jennifer Kelly Geddes


Ten years ago, many homeowners were desperately hoping to hang on to their homes. Others were doing everything they could just to scare up potential buyers. Meanwhile, said buyers were struggling to get financing from newly skittish lenders. Ah, memories. What a difference a decade makes!

It has, in fact, been the most consequential stretch in American real estate history, one that has fundamentally altered the landscape. Cosmopolitan coastal cities are out; affordable midsize cities are in. Baby boomers and Gen Xers are no longer the dominant forces in buying, ceding that turf to millennials. Yet after all this time, it seems that home buyers still can't get much of a break, according to a new report from realtor.com®.

 
 
 

“In 2020, there will be opportunity for buyers, but in many ways the challenges they’ve faced for years are going to persist—challenges like difficulty finding the home that’s right for them, and competing with other buyers, especially in affordable price points," says Danielle Hale, chief economist at realtor.com, whose team pulled together a forecast of housing trends for 2020.

In other words: The more things change, the more they'll stay the same. A lack of homes for sale has been making things difficult for buyers since 2015, and next year, inventory could reach historic lows. And although single-family home construction is expected to increase 6%, it still won't be enough to keep up with demand.

There is a bright side, though: Mortgage rates are expected to remain reasonable, at an average 3.85%.

Let's take a closer look at the biggest factors that will shape the real estate market in 2020.

Affordability, affordability, affordability

OK, it's not as catchy as "location, location, location," but achievable price points will be key in the coming year, especially as millennial buyers solidify their position as America's main home buyers (more on that later).

Now that we've apparently hit the ceiling of crazy price growth, it seems that buyers are just over overpaying.

"Many people would prefer to live in the San Franciscos and [other] big cities, but for the right price they will make the decision to go to another city," says Hale.

Perhaps a city like, say, McAllen, TX, where sales are expected to rise 4.4% and home prices to appreciate 4% in 2020. Compare that with a 9.5% drop in sales for Las Vegas, and 1.1% decrease in home prices.

Texas, Arizona, and Nevada are expected to welcome an influx of home shoppers priced out of California. Meanwhile, would-be buyers from pricey Northeastern markets will likely head to the Midwest or Southeast. There, they can find affordable housing as well as solid, diversified economies.

Millennials mature into home buying

"The largest cohort of millennials will turn 30 in 2020—historically, that's when people tend to think of buying their first home," says Hale. The oldest millennials will be turning 39. By the middle of the year, she says, this generation will account for more than 50% of mortgages taken out in the country. Yes, that's more than all other generations, combined.

Surprised? Well, the popular notion that millennials aren't interested in settling down just isn't proving true as members of this generation, born in 1981 through 1997, partner off and start families.

"Family changes tend to drive home-buying decisions," Hale notes. "Millennials are going to be active in the housing market not just because they're just at the age when they're thinking about becoming first-time home buyers, but they're also in the age range when they're having kids."

But while they may be motivated, they'll face a lot of competition for the scarce homes on the market—from roughly 71 million of their peers nationwide.

Where are the homes?

While millennials are raring to buy, Gen Xers and boomers are pretty comfortable where they are, thank you very much. Boomers are living longer, healthier lives, and staying in their houses longer. Gen Xers often aren't quite done with raising kids or ready to retire, so except for the lucky ones trading up, they also aren't inclined to move.

Since older owners aren't quite chomping at the bit to give up their houses en masse—and with levels of new construction still low in most parts of the U.S.—there just won't be enough housing to meet the demand. And while in previous years this scarcity has driven up home prices, home price appreciation is finally flagging, with predicted growth of just 0.8%.

After the housing crash in 2008, which wiped out quite a few builders, those who remained have largely focused on higher-end developments with bigger profit margins. Although they're finally showing signs of a shift toward building more entry-level homes, faced with overwhelming demand, it will take a few years for a significant number to come to market.

How to buy a home in 2020

Those looking to buy an entry-level home will face a tough search, so they should be prepared for it to take a while—and to act quickly when needed.

"Finding a property that is right for you and snatching it up before someone else does is going to be the primary challenge," Hale says.

Those with a bit more to spend will have more to choose from, less competition, and possibly more motivated sellers.

How to sell a home in 2020

Sellers of entry-level homes should be sitting pretty, as those will continue to be the most in-demand properties next year. If anything, those sellers should be prepared to move out quickly!

Others should brace themselves for a longer wait, especially as the price point moves up. The number of existing-home sales is expected to dip 1.8% next year. Higher-end sellers should do their homework: "They might need to think about the competition and pricing their home competitively," Hale says.

Thinking about buying a home or selling your current home in the new year? Let's get together and discuss your options. Reach us at 971.208.5093 or [email protected]

By: Realtor.com, Cicely Wedgeworth

There is Always Something To Be Thankful For!

by Amy McLeod Group


Do you cringe at the idea of stampeding to the mall to snag Black Friday deals? Then you might embrace shopping its far saner cousin: Small Business Saturday.

This event was started by American Express in 2010—during the dregs of the Great Recession—as a way to lure shoppers back to main street and encourage folks to buy from local businesses. The idea quickly caught on. As of 2018, over 7,500 stores and organizations in all 50 states participate with deals on anything you might need to stock those boxes under your Christmas tree, and more.

 
 
 

And there's something in it for you, too: Not only are you getting deals on merchandise, you're also exposed to plenty of unique stuff that might be tougher to find on, say, a ginormous retailing website named after a river in South America. And wouldn't it be nice to give your niece a one-of-a-kind hat-and-glove set from that cute knitting shop around the corner rather than that cookie-cutter set everyone will be getting from Gap?

Here's more about Small Business Saturday, why it's good for consumers and their communities, as well as how to participate in your area. (And no, you don't need to use an AmEx card to join in on these deals.)

When is Small Business Saturday?

Small Business Saturday takes place right between two of the biggest shopping days of the year: Black Friday and Cyber Monday. That's no coincidence since its purpose is to serve as a counterpoint to both.

"The Friday and Monday events are a big deal for big-box retailers and online giants, while this day is about supporting small merchants, with an emphasis on brick-and-mortar stores," explains Kristin McGrath, editor and shopping expert at BlackFriday.com.

And the benefits of shopping this event abound: Shopping at a small business feels good, helps neighbors, and keeps the money you shell out right in your own community. In fact, studies show that for every dollar spent at a local shop, 67 cents gets funneled back into the local economy, keeping those mom and pop businesses running.

A vibrant shopping area not only makes living in your area better, it also enhances your home's appeal whenever you decide to sell your place.

What are the best Small Business Saturday deals?

Sure, if you're in need of a megasize flat-screen TV, heading to a Black Friday doorbuster at a chain store makes sense. But if you need something small for a stocking, Yankee swap, or early Hanukkah gift, going local will get you something far more special.

"Small businesses are great for white elephant gifts because you'll find plenty of unusual items that anyone would like, from coffee beans to soaps and candles," says McGrath. You can help out local shops by encouraging members of your book club, block association, or office pool to adopt a "small business theme" and buy from local shops downtown.

Lots of items on display on Small Business Saturday are not just sold locally, they're also likely to be crafted nearby, including wooden items, local clothing, and home decor accessories like pillows and artwork.

"Many jewelry designers can't get into big-box stores, so you'll find these unique wares in small local shops," notes McGrath.

American Express makes it easy to pop in your ZIP code and find participating stores in your area. Head to the Shop Small homepage, and click on "Find Small Businesses Near You." Another way to plan your shopping is to keep an eye out for signs in store windows that advertise Small Business Saturday participation.

Small merchants often advertise these special Saturday sales on social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. And you might sign up for your favorite retailers' mailing list if they have one, says McGrath. And since many local farmers markets are on Saturdays, this group is a top pick for local shopping.

"The farmers market is made up completely of local merchants, makers, and crafters, so stopping by is an easy way to participate in Small Business Saturday," says McGrath.

Granted, the savings at small businesses won't be nearly as impressive as those at the big-box stores on this same weekend, but many shoppers would be happy to pay a little extra if it keeps their local community humming.

Contact The McLeod Group Network at 971.208.5093 or [email protected] for ALL your Real Estate needs! 

By: Realtor.com, Jennifer Kelly Geddes

The Best Time to Buy a Christmas Tree If You're Looking for a Bargain

by Amy McLeod Group


For many of us, the annual visit to the Christmas tree lot happens immediately after the Thanksgiving festivities—sometimes even before the leftovers are gobbled up. Buying your tree as early as possible means you'll have your pick of the inventory. But if you're trying to score a deal this year (and maybe you don't mind a tree with a few bare spots), it might be worth it to hold off on buying for a few weeks.

Mobile payment company Square teamed up with the National Christmas Tree Association to determine the best time of year to buy a Christmas tree if you're trying to save money. They analyzed the past four years of sales data from thousands of Christmas tree farmers and sellers across the country and found when prices rose—and when they fell.

Most expensive day to buy a Christmas tree

Hands down the most expensive day to buy a tree is Cyber Monday. Sales data shows that Christmas tree prices start off high on Black Friday, when the average cost of a tree is $79. By Cyber Monday, the price increases to $84.

When to buy to save a buck

Of course, Christmas trees lose their value as the holiday itself approaches. A tree for sale on Dec. 26 is practically worthless. So it stands that the cheapest day to buy a Christmas tree is on Christmas Eve.

If you're happy to go without a tree until then, you can snag one the night of Santa's visit for as little as $50, says Sara Vera, a data analyst at Square. However, if you're looking for a decent-quality tree at a reasonable price, try pinpointing the week before Christmas.

"For those that want to hold out for the best deals, we see a seasonal savings of almost 30% for those who purchase the week before Christmas," says Vera.

Location matters

Location can also dictate a Christmas tree's price. The trees you find in a lot are grown from seed, taking about 10 years to reach full size. After the firs are harvested, they are wrapped in netting and shipped to vendors across the country. So the closer you live to a tree farm, the cheaper it is to ship the trees to you, which could contribute to a tree's lower price.

Similarly, smaller trees cost less because they usually spent less time growing to maturity, says Tim O'Connor, executive director of the NCTA, which is based in Littleton, CO.

Price varies by region

Square data also shows that trees purchased in the South are the most expensive, coming in at an average of about $99 while trees in the Midwest are just $73 on average.

Prices also range depending on the variety of trees and where in your area you choose to buy a tree. In general, Fraser firs are the most expensive while noble firs are the most affordable.

Michael May, owner of Lazy Acres Farm, in Chunky, MS, says the trees grown on his farm are priced according to height. For example, a 6- to 8-foot tree ranges in cost from $46 to $60.

"The taller the tree, the more of an investment for the farmer and therefore the higher the price tag," he says.

Taking care of your tree

The average tree will stay fresh and green in your home for up to three weeks, depending on when it was cut and purchased, according to O'Connor.

So you want to select a tree that looks green and fresh with soft, pliable needles. Once you've selected your tree, ask to have a small round of the trunk trimmed off with a chain saw. This will help the tree absorb water and stay fresh.

At home, keep your tree away from south-facing windows, fireplaces, or heating ducts which might dry it out. Keep the basin in your tree stand full of water to keep the needles from turning brittle; never let the water level dip below the base of the tree.

Contact The McLeod Group Network at 971.208.5093 or [email protected] for ALL your Real Estate needs! 

By: Realtor.com, Kristine Gill 

Should Retirees Rent or Own? 3 Questions to Help You Decide

by Amy McLeod Group


For many of us, the decision to rent or buy is dictated by our income. If the monthly costs of homeownership take up no more than 30% of your income and you can afford a down payment, then buying a home is likely to make more financial sense.

But for retirees, who are typically on a fixed income, deciding between renting and buying isn't such a simple calculation.

Retirees may choose to relocate for a variety of reasons, including downsizing, being closer to family, or to enjoy a warmer climate.

But no matter what your motivation for moving, you may be wondering if renting or buying a home is the smart choice. If you find yourself in a similar dilemma, ask yourself the following questions.

1. Is your income stable?

When you’re on a fixed income, it greatly helps to have fixed housing costs. That's why taking out a mortgage might make sense for retirees.

“Having to worry about rising rent costs when you’re on a fixed budget can be stressful; owning your home means you have one flat payment every month that is also building equity for the future," says Lori Beardslee, senior branch manager and construction specialist at Silverton Mortgage in Canton, GA.

However, in some markets, renting may be a good financial decision. According to Daniel R. Hill, CFP, AIF and president of D.R. Hill Wealth Strategies in Richmond, VA, the overall cost of renting is typically cheaper than buying—when you leave equity out of the equation.

“It’s also much cheaper to move from one rental property to another than it is to sell a house,” he says. That’s because you don’t have to worry about closing costs, homeowners insurance, a large down payment, and so on.

2. Can you afford routine upkeep?

One major concern for retirees to consider is the upkeep and maintenance that inevitably comes with owning a home. Cutting the grass, painting, and other home maintenance tasks are a hassle for anyone, but they can be downright dangerous for retirees.

Of course, these projects can be outsourced, but that costs money. And major home repairs—like a new roof, plumbing, or HVAC—can run to several thousands of dollars.

One advantage of renting is that the landlord will handle a majority of the home maintenance—some will even change the ceiling lightbulbs for you.

However, there’s another option to consider.

“Owning a condo or living in an HOA-maintained property can make homeownership much easier and maintenance-free for seniors,” says Beardslee. That's why many seniors see condo living as a happy medium.

3. Will you qualify for a mortgage?

If you decide to downsize your home or move to another location, getting approved for a new mortgage may not be as easy as you think.

“If you have not financed a property after 2008, you may not know that the rules have changed since the Dodd-Frank regulations,” says Kevin Leibowitz, founder and mortgage broker at Grayton Mortgage in Brooklyn, NY.

Before 2008, he says you only needed a large down payment and a good credit history to obtain financing.

“Today, one of the most important factors is income, so the money you might be receiving from Social Security or your pension might not be sufficient to qualify you for the mortgage on the property you want to acquire,” Leibowitz explains.

However, Beardslee believes that it might actually be easier for older Americans to get a mortgage.

“A recent survey by the National Association of Realtors® shows that older Americans are the most worried about qualifying for a mortgage, yet have a better shot at being approved over younger generations.”

She says that credit scores and debt levels tend to improve with age, and baby boomers and the Silent Generation tend to have a more desirable debt-to-income ratio. They're also more likely to have a larger down payment from the equity in a previous home.

“This plays a huge role in the mortgage process and gives older individuals a leg up on their loan applications," she says.

If you do plan on buying and relocating during retirement, it might be in your best interest to rent in your new neighborhood first.

“You want to learn the area, and determine if it is truly where you want to be long term,” says Jonathan Bednar II, CFP at Paradigm Wealth Partners in Knoxville, TN. “Renting will allow you to pick up and move if your living situation is not the right fit.”

Thinking about downsizing to a new home? Contact The McLeod Group Network at 971.208.5093 or [email protected] for ALL your Real Estate needs! 

By: Realtor.com, Terri Williams 

How to Remodel Your Kitchen in Three Days (Really!)

by Amy McLeod Group


How long does a kitchen remodel take? On average, four to eight weeks—long enough to become sick to death of takeout food options in your area. But it doesn’t have to be that way. These days, a kitchen remodel can be done in the far shorter time span of a mere three days. That’s right! ThreeDays.

OK, maybe you can’t do a full gut renovation in that span of time, but you can certainly give your kitchen a whole new look over a long weekend. Here’s how, with renovation tips and cool products that are easy (and cheap) to install.

Give your cabinets a face-lift

Many homeowners love their kitchen layout, but they simply desire an updated look. Enter the cabinet makeover. Most existing cabinet boxes are in excellent condition; it’s just the exterior color that’s outdated.

By leaving these cabinet boxes intact and building off of them, homeowners get a whole new look in three to five days.

You can simply paint the existing kitchen cabinets. Or you can swap out just the doors.

Another option is the Home Depot Cabinet Makeover program. Here’s how it works: “The makeover keeps the base cabinets in a kitchen, but includes new custom doors, drawers, and drawer fronts, hinges, and glides,” says Eva Rich, Home Depot’s interior program merchant. “Existing cabinet boxes are refaced via a lamination refacing process.”

Give your kitchen cabinets a face-lift.
Give your kitchen cabinets a face-lift. Photo from HomeDepot.com
Meh kitchen cabinets before a quick makeover...
Meh kitchen cabinets before a quick makeover… photo from HomeDepot.com

The best part about all three options? You’ll have full use of your kitchen before and during installation.

... and after! (OK, the appliances and lighting were upgraded, too—but those are also easy to do.)
HomeDepot.com

The cost: The average cost to repaint cabinet doors runs about $1,000. To buy new ones, prepare to spend around $70 to $100 per door. Ikea’s Bodbyn door costs $80 and has a beveled panel for a traditional look.

A cabinet makeover varies by layout and desired features, but the cost is typically only a few thousand dollars. (Remember, it generally costs $30,000 for new cabinets.)

Time it’ll take: Painting cabinets can take three days, a lot of which is drying time allowing for other kitchen work to get done. Swapping out doors takes a half-day. Plan on a few hours to meet with experts in your home in the beginning of a cabinet makeover. Then once the new doors arrive, installation takes about three to five days.

Upgrade your countertops

Don’t have the time or cash to replace your laminate countertops? Paint them instead! Or you can add adhesive onto your current countertops that looks just like real slab granite, only without the high price.

“It’s so simple, yet adds a realistic granite look that elevates your counters for a fraction of the cost,” says Sophie Kaemmerle at real estate site NeighborWho.com.

The cost: To paint countertops, you need to spend about $100 for sand paper, primer, paint rollers, a gallon of acrylic interior paint, and polyurethane seal. Granite adhesive typically costs $40 to $120, which is way more affordable than real slab granite. It’s also a breeze to install—almost the same as applying contact paper, but at a much higher level of quality.

Time it’ll take: About 2 hours for the work. Several days for the paint to cure.

Install new hardware


Photo by Elizabeth Lawson Design.

“Unscrew old hardware and take one knob or pull to your local hardware store,” says Megan Neugebauer of letspaintfurniture.com. Have a store attendant help you measure the length between the holes. This will ensure your new hardware will match up perfectly with your existing cabinet holes.

“You can add blasts of color by choosing knobs in the color du jour, like navy and dark green, or go whimsical and quirky with animal figures,” says Sayre Ziskin of SVZ Interior Design.

The cost: Small drawer pulls may cost as little as $5, although the price can rise depending on the size and finish. An 8-inch Edgecliff Pull in natural brass from Schoolhouse, for instance, costs $44.

Time it’ll take: Plan for six hours total. Shopping will take several hours, as will installation.

Add a peel-and-stick backsplash

Create a cool DIY backsplash.
HomeDepot.com

Adding a peel-and-stick backsplash is as simple to install as it sounds.

“It’s a great way to easily and quickly update your decor,” says Home Depot’s Matt Kunkle. Just make sure the tiles you select are heat- and moisture-resistant.

The cost: A 4-pack of Metro Campagnola Mosaic Wall Tile Backsplash that covers 2.20 square feet costs $26.95.

Time it’ll take: 2 to 3 hours.

Upgrade your lighting

Photo by Synergy Building Design.

“Changing a light fixture in your home can take less than 20 minutes and yet makes some of the biggest differences to a space,” says Mark Luongo, owner and project Manager at Luongo Electric.

Many older homes have small fixtures, leaving rooms feeling dark and gloomy.

By replacing them with a new, higher-output LED fixture, the color of your walls can appear different and the wood grain in your furniture can pop. Also replace old or broken plugs and switches.

“There is nothing uglier—and more dangerous—than broken counter plugs and stained cover plates,” says Luongo. For a couple of dollars a unit, replacing your plugs and switches makes your home safer and gives it a new look.

The cost: Price varies, but to give you an idea, an Amanda 3-Light Kitchen Island Pendant costs $153.99.

Time it’ll take: Plan for 20 to 30 minutes a fixture and about 10 minutes per outlet. Always hire a licensed electrician if you are not comfortable dealing with electricity.

Replace your faucet


Photo by Kitchen Kraft

“Hardware styles and even the metals used can date your kitchen today,” says J.B. Sassano, president of Mr. Handyman, a Neighborly company.

Bring your sink up to date with a new chrome, stainless-steel, brushed-aluminum, or even a dark nickel sink faucet. This small change will do wonders for your kitchen’s appearance.

The cost: A chrome Project Source pull-down kitchen faucet goes for $79.


Time it’ll take: 2 hours. Here’s more on how to replace a kitchen faucet.

Finally, floors
Luxury vinyl plank can go over existing floors.

HomeDepot.com

Consider putting luxury vinyl plank, or LVP, flooring over a worn-out tile or hardwood kitchen floor.

The new LVP flooring looks just like wood but is 100% waterproof and scratch-resistant. It is also easier to install, so it’s less expensive than previous options.

Cost: The above Woodacres Oak flooring is available at Home Depot at $59.98 for a case that covers 20.06 square feet.

Time it’ll take: You can lay an LVP floor in a 10-by-20-square-foot room in 2 or 3 hours.

Contact The McLeod Group Network at 971.208.5093 or [email protected] for ALL your Real Estate needs! 

By: Realtor.com, Margaret Heidenry 

6 Crucial Questions to Ask a Title Insurance Provider

by Amy McLeod Group


Shopping for title insurance may not be the most thrilling step in buying a house, but it is one of the most important.

Before you can own a home, or "take title" to a property, most lenders will require a title search of public property records to make sure there aren't any issues in transferring the property into your name.

 
 
 

For example, title issues can crop up due to liens on the property (say, from a contractor who did work on the house but wasn't paid), unfulfilled financial obligations such as unpaid taxes, or claims of ownership from a long-lost heir. In such cases, a home seller may not have the legal right to transfer ownership of the property.

To protect against any financial loss, two types of title insurance exist: lender's title insurance and owner's title insurance. The lender's title insurance policy pays for the expense of researching a claim and any court costs incurred as a result of any disputes they uncover.

Owner’s title insurance, meanwhile, protects you as the homeowner during any future disputes over ownership of the property.

Lenders require borrowers to purchase lender's title insurance. Owner's title insurance, however, is optional—but, given the protections it provides, buying it is a smart move. (Generally, home buyers use the same title insurance company to purchase both policies.)

Unlike homeowner insurance, title insurance is taken care of as a one-time payment that's made when (or shortly before) you close on your house.

Now that we’ve got the basics of title insurance squared away, let’s look at some of the more surprising questions you probably never thought to ask a title insurance provider but totally should. After all, as the home buyer, it's your choice which title company you decide to use.

1. What are your title insurance rates?

Although this might seem like an obvious question, some home buyers forget to ask it. And that can be a big mistake. Why? Because even though the average cost of title insurance is around $1,000 per policy—which covers all upfront work and ongoing legal and loss coverage—the price can vary widely, depending on where you live and the price of your home.

In many states, including Texas and Florida, title insurance premiums are set by the state, meaning that you’ll pay exactly the same amount no matter what title insurance company you choose.

However, some states, like California and New Mexico, do not regulate title insurance fees at all, and rates can vary widely from one title agency to another, says Rafael Castellanos, a managing partner at Expert Title Insurance Agency in New York City. If rates aren’t preset by the state, they’re negotiable.

It's advisable that all home buyers find out what a title insurance company's rates are before they choose an insurance provider.

2. What has been your most challenging title search, and how did you handle it?

Some title searches are easier to clear than others. While there’s no telling how difficult yours will be, you want a title company that can handle complicated problems.

“There are issues that we run into on residential properties that can be complex, and we have to go to great lengths to resolve them,” says Tim Evans, owner of Evans Title Agency in Troy, OH.

Ask how a title company solved their most challenging title search, and you'll gain some valuable insight—and some assurance that the company will be able to troubleshoot issues during your title search if any should arise.

3. How much experience does your title insurance attorney have?

A title company's attorney is the person who is going to determine whether you can legally take title of the property and receive title insurance. Using a title company with a seasoned attorney, therefore, is crucial.

However, “in the early 2000s, it was very common to see people forming their own title insurance agencies after just a few months,” Evans says. “Though that’s less common today, you can still run into title attorneys who have very little experience.”

4. What's your company's ratio of title claims to customers?

Because title searches can be complicated, claims are an inherent part of the business. However, some title companies are more "liberal” than others, Castellanos says, with respect to whom they will—and whom they won’t—issue title insurance.

“Some title companies pay lots of claims, which can put a lot of stress on their clients,” says Castellanos. “You want a title company that is incredibly careful and conservative.”

So, how many title claims are too many? Title insurance claim rates are approximately 5%, according to industry estimates.

As a result, here's a good guideline: If a title company has had a lot of title claims relative to the volume of their business—say, 1 out of every 10 customers—you'll want to continue your search.

5. How long does it take for you to complete a title search, on average?

Depending on the terms of your home sales contract, you may be under a tight deadline to reach settlement, warns Kimberly Sands, a real estate broker in Carolina Beach, NC.

Of course, you won't know that until you actually make an offer on a house. But, since it's a possibility, you'll want to find a title company that can conduct a title search in a timely manner, Sands says.

Typically, the whole process takes about two weeks. If a title company says that it will take significantly longer to complete a title search, using that company could force you to delay closing, which could potentially cause your whole home purchase to collapse.

6. Do you belong to any professional associations?

While being a member of a professional association certainly doesn’t guarantee that a title company is good, title agencies that belong to industry groups are often held to a higher standard, says Evans.

Organizations like the American Land Title Association (ALTA) also offer their members unique education programs, business tools, and industry certifications that will serve clients well. Moreover, membership in an industry group adds a layer of credibility for an insurance provider.

The bottom line

Title insurance can be confusing for home buyers, but it’s an essential protection of homeownership. So, in addition to asking the questions above, take time to read online reviews and talk to your real estate agent before picking your title insurance provider.

Contact The McLeod Group Network at 971.208.5093 or [email protected] for ALL your Real Estate needs! 

By: Realtor.com, Daniel Bortz

Honoring Our Heroes!

by Amy McLeod Group

7 Home Maintenance Projects You Might Overlook—but Really Need to Do

by Amy McLeod Group


The big improvements always get all the glory—the classic kitchen remodel, the bathroom addition, the transformation of a once creepy basement into a media room. But what about all those little projects around the house?

Sure, they may not be as gratifying as ripping out 1980s cabinets, but tackling necessary home maintenance chores now will save you big headaches down the road. So before you undertake another huge home improvement, check out these projects that you might have neglected—but really should take on.

1. Clean your exhaust fans

"Two maintenance areas that home buyers often overlook have to do with fans—bathroom exhaust fans and attic or ventilation fans," says Kathleen Kuhn, the CEO and president of HouseMaster.com, a home inspection franchise.

Bathroom exhaust fans play an important role in reducing odor as well as moisture, which helps prevent mold and mildew. And attic or ventilation fans are designed to expel hot air from the top of a home and draw cooler air in. This helps save energy and reduces the potential for costly heat-related damage to the roof or roof framing.

 

Both fans should be cleaned and wiped down every three months to ensure they are functioning properly.

2. Fix broken window seals

"One of the most harmful delayed maintenance issues I see in the field is broken window seals," says real estate agent Jodi Moody of Smoky Mountain Realty in Lenoir City, TN. A homeowner might notice a piece of caulk peeling up around a window's edge and think it’s no big deal. Most often, it simply goes unnoticed.

"Unfortunately, once a window seal is broken, problems are created that homeowners can’t see until major damage occurs," says Moody.

Those problems include moisture, condensation, mildew, mold, and wood rot, which build up in the window framing and eventually move into the wall. Entire window frames and even sections of flooring can eventually rot, due to the moisture seeping in through missing or damaged window caulk.

"Homeowners should inspect their windows twice a year, and repair any cracked or torn caulk, rubber seals, or damaged wood as soon as possible," says Moody.

3. Repair small foundation cracks

Foundation cracks can naturally develop over time. And though tiny cracks may not be a problem at first, it's a good idea to patch them before they increase in size. Large cracks could result in your having to replace the foundation completely, which could cost you big bucks.

"You can repair a small crack with a concrete sealer that you can find at any home improvement store," says Sacha Ferrandi, founder and principal of Texas Hard Money and Source Capital Funding.

4. Lube your garage door springs

Preserve the longevity of your garage door with some simple maintenance, so you won’t have to replace it sooner than needed.

"Lubricating the springs will help a garage door last a lot longer," says Ferrandi.

Be sure to apply a lubricant annually to the rollers, hinges, and tracks. Since garage doors have a heavy workload, use a heavy-duty lubricant such as silicon spray or motor oil.

5. Drain and clean the water heater

Water heaters naturally build up mineral deposits over time. This forms a thick, crusty coating that will begin to chip off and clog faucets, drains, and the water heater valve. Such deposits can also cause your water heater to run constantly, which can crack the inner lining and run up your utility bills.

"You may even end up needing to replace your water heater, which can cost you a good amount of money," says Shawn Breyer of Atlanta's Breyer Home Buyers.

The good news is that the fix is simple. Every six to 12 months, place a small bucket underneath the drain valve on your water heater and drain the sediment out of the tank. Here's more on how to flush a water heater.

6. Check out your crawl space

One commonly overlooked area of the home is the crawl space below your house.

"That cramped underbelly of your house actually has a purpose, and just like any other part of a home, it needs maintenance and can save a home from costly damage," says Nick Rorabaugh, brand advocate for Rev Sells, a realty group based in Athens, GA. "I have seen several instances where a homeowner received the unpleasant news after a house inspection that their crawl space had moisture damage."

Avoid that possibility by laying a vapor barrier or installing a humidifier to protect against mold, water damage, and termites. Bonus: This can improve the air quality of a house as well.

7. Caulk your kitchen sink

The sink is subject to daily wear and tear. And the chemicals in cleansers added to the frequent exposure to water, can damage the caulking.

"Avoid leakage under the sink, with the simple fix of recaulking," says Vivian Young, senior content manager at GoodNightsRest.com.

Removing all traces of the old caulking is key and a trusty utility knife will do the trick. Clean up any loose grout, rinse off the area, let it dry completely, and you’re ready to caulk. Here's more on how to caulk sinks, windows, and more.

Contact The McLeod Group Network at 971.208.5093 or [email protected] for ALL your Real Estate needs! 

By: Realtor.com, Margaret Heidenry 

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The McLeod Group Network
Keller Williams Capital City
1900 Hines St SE #220
Salem OR 97302
971-208-5093
Fax: 971-599-5229

**Disclaimer: Amy McLeod, and her team, do not initiate, process, or service mortgages.  And provide this information only as a service.  You should confirm information here with your Licensed Mortgage Lender.