Does ‘staging’ a home really make it sell faster?

Many people spend a lot of money “staging” a home with nice furnishings and accessories in the belief that it will help sell the house. But there’s never been a scientific study to test this hypothesis … until now.

Recently, Professor Michael Seiler and researchers at the College of William and Mary in Virginia walked 820 homebuyers through six “virtual” homes on high-quality rendering software. The homes were identical, except that some had neutral beige walls and others had unattractive purple walls, while some had “ugly” furniture, some had attractive furniture and some had no furniture.

The result? When asked how much they would pay for the home, each group gave the same average price – roughly $204,000. The staging made no difference to them. [Read more…]

Condos’ attempts to limit unit rentals can create issues

Many condominium associations want to limit the owners’ ability to rent their unit to tenants. But doing so is often more complicated than it sounds.

There are lots of reasons why condo associations might want to restrict rentals. For instance, tenants generally aren’t as careful as owners to take care of the property and respect other residents’ right to peace and quiet. Owner-landlords who don’t live in the property might be less willing to help financially with needed improvements. And a high percentage of renters might make it more difficult for owners to sell their units, in particular by making it harder for potential buyers to qualify for certain types of home loans. [Read more…]

Divorce payments might count when applying for a mortgage

Many people wonder about how alimony and child support payments are treated when they’re applying for a mortgage.

Generally, if you’re legally obligated to pay alimony or child support, you have to tell the lender, and the lender will treat these as debts that reduce your available income.

So it would seem logical that if you’re receiving alimony or child support, these should be considered credits that increase your available income. However, it doesn’t always work that way.

Many lenders will treat alimony and child support as income, but they all have their own rules, and it varies from lender to lender. [Read more…]

Flood insurance rates could see a huge increase

Most homeowner’s insurance policies don’t protect owners against flooding. For this reason, many people in flood-prone areas obtain insurance through the federal government’s flood insurance program.

But thanks to a new law, flood insurance rates are set to go up, and in some cases they will see a dramatic increase.

Here’s why: In the past, many people who obtained flood insurance received lower rates due to government subsidies. In effect, they were “grandfathered” at older rates that didn’t reflect the true risk of flood damage to the property.

Back in 1968, the government adopted new minimum construction standards designed to minimize flood damage. But many pre-1968 buildings that didn’t meet the new standards were allowed to be “grandfathered” and pay lower rates as though they met the new requirements. [Read more…]

U.S. issues new, easier forms to help mortgage shoppers

One reason many potential homebuyers find mortgages to be intimidating is that lenders send them lengthy, complex “disclosure” forms that are confusing and hard to understand. This can make it more difficult to figure out exactly what you’re getting into, and whether one mortgage product is really better than another.

Now, the federal government is issuing new, simplified forms to make shopping for a mortgage easier.

The new forms will make it much less complicated to understand your costs and obligations, and to engage in comparison shopping. [Read more…]

How to deal with a deceased loved one’s debt collectors

The last thing anyone wants after a death in the family is calls from debt collectors. So it’s important to know what a person’s creditors can (and cannot) legally do, and how to protect yourself and your family from improper or deceptive practices.

Generally, after people die, their estate is responsible for paying any debts they may have left. If the estate doesn’t have enough money to pay a debt, then the creditor is out of luck and the debt goes unpaid. The only exceptions are that a spouse may be responsible for a joint debt, and a family member or other person might be responsible if they co-signed or guaranteed a debt.

If you’re unsure, a lawyer can help you determine whether another family member is responsible for a mortgage, a credit card payment, medical bills, and so on. [Read more…]

What to do if Medicare refuses to pay for your treatment

Sometimes Medicare will decide that a particular treatment or service isn’t covered, and will deny your claim. The good news is that if you believe you should have been paid, you can appeal.

The federal government makes the general rules for Medicare, but the day-to-day administration is handled by private insurance companies that contract with the government. In addition, the government contracts with committees of physicians who decide the appropriateness of care received by most Medicare beneficiaries in hospitals.

Many of the decisions made by insurance companies and doctors’ committees are highly subjective. For instance, they might involve a judgment call as to whether a given treatment is medically necessary, or whether a service is “custodial care” as opposed to medical care. [Read more…]

Here’s help for people who have to manage someone else’s money

Have you been officially asked to manage someone else’s money? For example, have you been named as an agent under a power of attorney, or a trustee of a trust?

As our society ages, more and more people are being asked to take on these roles, but they can be daunting.

In order to help, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has published four free guides, under the general title Managing Someone Else’s Money. The guides are designed for (1) agents under a power of attorney, (2) court-appointed guardians and conservators, (3) trustees of a living trust, and (4) people appointed to manage someone else’s government benefit checks. [Read more…]

New rules make it harder to get a reverse mortgage

The federal government has tightened the rules on reverse mortgages, making it harder for some seniors to get these types of loans and reducing the amount of a home’s value that can be tapped.

Reverse mortgages allow elders who are house-rich but cash-poor to use their housing equity. Homeowners who are at least 62 years old may use the equity in their home to obtain a loan that doesn’t have to be repaid until the homeowner moves, sells, or dies. The homeowner receives a sum of money from the lender, usually a bank, based largely on the value of the house, the age of the borrower, and current interest rates.

Homeowners can get the money in one of three ways (or in any combination): in a lump sum, as a line of credit that can be drawn on at the borrower’s option, or in a series of regular payments, called a “reverse annuity mortgage.” Seniors sometimes use these loans to pay for home care while they remain in the home. [Read more…]

Is your living trust up-to-date?

A revocable or “living” trust can be a great way to avoid probate, manage your assets if you become impaired, and protect your family’s privacy. If you have one, it’s a good idea to review it every few years to make sure that it still meets your goals and is up-to-date with the law.

The most important questions involve which assets are in the trust and what will become of them if something should happen to you. But there are a lot of other factors to think about that can also be very important for your estate plan. Here are some common issues and problems with living trusts that you might want to consider:

1. Do you have the right successor trustees? Typically, you’ll be the trustee of your own living trust, and if you’re married, your spouse might be a co-trustee. But it’s good to name successor trustees in case you or your spouse pass away or become incapacitated. Have you done so? If so, are the people you named still the best people to manage your affairs? Do you want one of them to begin acting as a trustee now? If you and your spouse are co-trustees, do you want a successor to step in when the first of you becomes incapacitated, or not until neither of you can serve? [Read more…]

Tax filing reminder

July 31 is the deadline for filing 2013 retirement or employee benefit returns (5500 series) for plans on a calendar year.

Review your business credit policies

There are many ways to make your business more profitable, and sound credit policies are high on the list. Keep the following items in mind as you review your company’s policies.

  • Don’t be so eager to sign on new customers that you neglect to check out their credit history. Take the time to check references, and obtain a credit report to see how they’ve handled other financial transactions.
  • Establish collection policies and follow up promptly on delinquent accounts. The more overdue accounts become, the more likely they are to become uncollectable. That cuts into your profits.

[Read more…]

Trademark, Patent, or Copyright? What is the difference?

Why should your small business care about getting protection for your intellectual property? Many very successful medium to large businesses started out small. Their patents, trademarks, and copyrights are keeping others from infringing on their markets. The search and registration for these legal protections might also let you know whether or not you are infringing on others’ rights before you invest time and money in a name, product, or process.

  • Patent. A patent for your invention is issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. A patent gives you the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, or importing your invention for a period of twenty years. If you are looking to obtain a patent, you are well advised to engage the services of an attorney.

[Read more…]

Wedding plans should include some tax planning

Ask the typical summer bride and groom what’s included in the wedding plans, and they probably won’t mention a thorough tax review. Yet, the tax and financial aspects of getting married are not to be taken lightly. Consider the following issues:

■     Tax penalties. Marriage causes many tax regulations to take effect retroactively; that is, if you are married as of December 31, some rules apply as if you were married for the entire year. For instance, the total annual wages of both spouses are combined on a joint return regardless of when the wedding took place. Because two wage-earners filing jointly will often pay more tax than if they filed as singles, this can cause a tax problem that needs to be addressed. You may need to increase your withholding or estimated tax payments, or you could face penalty and interest charges on underpaid taxes. [Read more…]