Tuesday, July 25, 2017

5 Things to Do Before Renting Out Your Townhome


Updated August 2016

When you moved into your townhome, you probably loved everything about it — the high ceilings, the spacious kitchen and most of all, the neighborhood. Once you added your personal touches, you may have thought, “I’m finally home.” But if you’re looking to have a family sometime soon, your small space in a bustling part of town might not feel like a good fit anymore.

Maybe you’re thinking about putting your townhome on the market while you look for a new home, or maybe you’ve decided to rent it out and hopefully generate some income from the property. Before you put out the “For Rent” sign, here are five things you may want to consider:

1. Learn How to Be a Landlord

When deciding whether to rent out your townhome, you may want to make sure that you have the time to be a landlord. Though you may generate some extra income by renting out your townhome, you’re also going to have some extra work. You may want to speak with other property owners to get a feel for the time commitment. Dealing with tenants and making sure your property is well maintained can be a daily occurrence, so be sure you’re ready for this level of responsibility.

For example, you may have gotten used to the high-pitched noise that comes from your garbage disposal. But your tenant may ask for it to be fixed, so you’ll need to be able to quickly address the repair in a timely manner. It might take a little while to adjust to being on call 24/7, but you may feel like the sacrifice is worth it in the end, says Zillow.

2. Budget for Two

Once you become a landlord, you might start eating out a little less or staying in a little more because you’re the proud homeowner of not one, but two homes! If you’re concerned that owning two properties might put you in the red, add together all the costs of your rental unit, including your mortgage, repairs and other monthly maintenance costs. Remember, you’ll also need to factor in the taxes and insurance premiums, too. You’ll want to make sure your tenant pays rent that’s at least equal to that total amount, says Landlordology.

It may also be a good idea to check the rental listings in your neighborhood to get a better idea on a fair price to charge for a similar townhome in your area.

Learn the Ins and Outs of Renters Insurance

3. Do Your Tenant Research

In some cities, listing your townhome on an online classified board may provide you with a wide array of potential tenants. It may also have its pitfalls, as you never know who’s going to respond to your listing. Instead, you may be able to use a wide variety of digital marketing tactics, like creating a website or using social media, to help find reliable renters. For some extra protection, you may want to work with a screening service, like the American Apartment Owners Association (AAOA), that may help you scrub out potential tenants with poor credit, a prior eviction or criminal records, says Trulia.

4. Know Your Rights

You may have heard horrifying stories about landlords losing thousands of dollars because of tenants who stopped paying rent, so you may want to speak with a property attorney to learn about the basic rights that tenants and landlords have in your state, says Realtor.com. These laws vary across the country, so you should check with the AAOA, your local housing authority or a property attorney in your area to help make sure you know your rights and sign the right agreement with your tenants.

5. Protect Yourself and Your Renters

No matter where you live, discussing renters insurance with your future tenants before they move in can be an important step to help prepare for the unexpected. You may also want to talk to your insurance agent to see if homeowners insurance provides coverage for your rental unit or if you may need to consider additional coverage like landlord insurance.

Though it may be the right choice for you, being a landlord isn’t for everyone. Before taking the leap to owning two properties, make sure to weigh your options and figure out what’s best for your lifestyle, your wallet and your future.

Digital Content Project Manager

Jen produces home, renters, condo and financial content for The Allstate Blog.






Tips for Maintaining Your Water Heater


Your water heater may be one of the appliances in your home you take for granted — until it stops working and you wind up in a chilly shower. Here are some maintenance tips to consider when it comes to your home water heater.

Why Do It?

A water heater needs to be properly drained as part of its regular maintenance. Draining helps ensure the long life of your water heater by flushing out minerals and other debris that may cause it to malfunction, says DIY Network. If you do not properly maintain your water heater, it may cease to function altogether or result in cold bursts of water when least expected.

How Often?

Professional recommendations vary. BobVila.com says to drain your water heater once a year, while Angie’s List suggests draining more frequently depending on how hard the water is in your area. Remember, always check your owner’s manual to see what the manufacturer suggests.

DIY Draining

Once you’ve located your water heater and read over your owner’s manual, the DIY Network suggests the following steps on how to drain it. Don’t forget, if you’re uncomfortable performing this type of maintenance on your water heater, make sure to call a plumber and schedule a professional draining.

1. Shut off the water supply to your water heater. Look at the top of the water heater. You’ll see a water pipe and a water shutoff valve going into the heater. Turn this valve to shut off the water to the tank.

2. Turn off the power to the water heater. If your heater is electric, shut the power off from the circuit breaker box. The correct fuse should be labeled as belonging to the water heater. It’s important to know that if you fail to shut off the power to your electric water heater, you risk burning out the element. If it’s a gas-powered water heater, shut off the gas by turning the valve on the gas supply line that runs to the tank.

3. Give the water some time to cool off. The water in your water heater is extremely hot. To help prevent injury, it’s a good idea to let your water heater sit overnight to allow the water within the tank some time to cool before you drain it.

4. Attach a hose to the drain valve. Once your water heater has cooled down,place one end of the hose into a floor drain or, if it will reach, directly outside. Attach the other end onto the drain valve at the bottom of the water heater.

5. Turn on the hot water tap. To help alleviate pressure, open on a hot water tap, like a sink faucet, nearest to your water heater.

6. Open the drain valve. Once you open this valve, the water will begin to flow out of the tank. Be patient; draining the water heater can take up to 30 minutes depending on how full and dirty the water heater is.

7. Turn the water back on to flush the tank with fresh, clean water. With the drain valve still open, turn the water back on to eliminate any remaining sediment on the bottom of the tank. Once the water runs clear, turn the water valve off.

8. Refill the tank. Remove the hose from the drain valve. Turn the water back on and start refilling the tank. Once the tank is full, turn the power to the water heater back on.

Something as simple as draining your water heater annually may help you and your family enjoy hot water in your home for years to come.

This article highlights examples of precautions you can consider to help maintain your personal property. Please recognize that a particular precaution may not be appropriate or effective in every circumstance and that taking preventive measures cannot guarantee any outcome. We encourage you to use your own good judgment about what’s appropriate and always consider safety.

Digital Content Project Manager

Jen produces home, renters, condo and financial content for The Allstate Blog.






5 Tips for Buying Foreclosed Properties or Short Sales


Buying a home that is a short sale or a foreclosure may save you money. But it may also turn into an expensive mistake if you don’t shop carefully and get help from real estate professionals with experience negotiating these transactions. Here are some general tips about buying foreclosed properties or short sales.

1. Know What You’re Buying

Short sale. In a short sale, the owner of the property is trying to sell it at a price that is less than he or she owes on the mortgage. Before the transaction can close, the seller’s mortgage lender must agree to accept that amount, says Trulia. The difficulty is in the details. Remember all mortgage lenders have to agree on this new amount, so this may delay or stop the transaction, says Forbes. That means the negotiations can be time consuming — taking several months in some cases — and frustrating for a buyer who has little control over the process.

Foreclosure. In a foreclosure, the previous owner of the property has either given the keys back to the bank and abandoned the home, or the bank has taken back the property and forced the former owner to leave. In either case, the bank owns the property, says Zillow. Banks are often eager to find a qualified buyer and unload these properties, so the buyers often pay less than they would have if they had purchased a similar property in the same neighborhood that wasn’t in foreclosure, says HGTV.

2. Weigh the Pluses and Minuses

One good thing about a short sale is the presence of the owner who has a strong interest in selling the property for as much as possible. One potential downside is that short sales usually take a long time to close, says Realtor.com. It isn’t unusual for buyers to wait several months between signing the agreement of sale and going to the closing table.

Buying a foreclosure is usually simpler, but properties that have been through the foreclosure process may be in need of attention. Many of them may have sat vacant for months — even years — and could be damaged by weather and neglect, says Trulia.

Some foreclosures can be purchased at auction. If that is how you decide to buy one, be aware that you may have to bid and even commit to the final purchase without having an opportunity to have the property inspected or the title thoroughly researched, says HGTV.

Moving? Take Insurance with You.

An agent can help you choose protections for your new home.

3. Seek Expert Assistance

Whether you’re buying a short sale or a foreclosure, you can help protect yourself by working with knowledgeable title insurance and real estate professionals.

A real estate agent who has experience with either of these transactions can help you navigate the process.

A knowledgeable title insurance agent can help you avoid problems that may cost you down the road. Securing title insurance is especially important, says Zillow. Title insurance may help protect against problems with the title, including liens that weren’t uncovered in the initial search and errors in documentation.

4. Buy Lender’s and Owner’s Title Insurance Policies

There are two kinds of title insurance policies — lender’s and owner’s policies, says Zillow. Mortgage lenders usually require that you buy a lender’s title policy. Owner’s policies are optional, but they are typically recommended for properties that have been through foreclosure. These policies may protect you by paying for court costs and attorney’s fees if someone challenges your ownership or tries to collect on an unsatisfied lien arising from work done before you took ownership. If a claim is found to be valid, owner’s insurance may cover your actual loss — up to the face amount of the policy, says Zillow. If you’re looking for title insurance, it may be available from title insurance companies or attorneys, says Zillow.

5. Decide If You’re Ready to Own a Foreclosure or Short Sale

While some short sales and foreclosures are in great shape, others may be in need of extensive repair and remodeling, says Forbes. You may get a very good price on these properties, but make sure you consider all the factors before you decide to buy — including the renovation costs, says Trulia. Even the best deal on a home can’t protect you from buyer’s remorse.

With a little preparation and expert assistance, buying a home that is a foreclosure or short sale doesn’t have to be daunting.

Digital Content Project Manager

Jen produces home, renters, condo and financial content for The Allstate Blog.






Beware of Home Improvement Scams


Updated August 2016

From rooftops to basements, no area of your home can be totally immune to a possible contractor scam. To help protect your home and your wallet, here are five tips to keep in mind when you’re hiring help for your home project.

1. Be Cautious of Door-to-Door Contractors

Be leery of any contractor who approaches you unsolicited, says the Better Business Bureau. They may tell you they just completed a job in your neighborhood, have materials left over from another job or that they’re running a “one day only” deal — whatever the story, don’t buy it. A reputable contractor should have enough business from advertising and referrals to help keep them busy without knocking on doors, so make sure to reach out to contractors you find through respected sources.

2. Find a Reputable Contractor

You can find dependable contractors in online listings, referrals from friends and family or organizations like the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. You can also search on the Better Business Bureau website to learn more about the contractor and check for a history of complaints, says Consumer Reports.

Also, be sure to ask your contractor for proof of liability insurance, licensing, bonding and any references, says U.S. News and World Report. A trustworthy contractor will typically have these handy and be more than happy to share them with you.

3. Consider Multiple Bids

You may want to consider getting multiple bids on all of your contractor jobs to help ensure potential quotes are consistent and fair, says Angie’s List. And when it comes to price, the lowest may not be the best. If one bid is dramatically lower than the rest, you may want to get more information from that contractor to see if there are any extra charges that may get added later on and ultimately make that contractor more expensive.

4. Don’t Pay the Full Amount Up Front

It’s unconventional to pay for 100 percent of the work up front, says U.S. News and World Report. If your contractor suddenly insists on payment up front, it’s a red flag. Once paid, you may never see that contractor — or your money — again.

Make sure you receive a contract with details of the work to be performed and the costs involved, says Angie’s List. Typical payment terms are about 10 percent up front and the rest upon completion of the work, says the Better Business Bureau. Also, it’s best to avoid paying in cash — instead, use a credit card or check so you have a paper trail.

5. Educate Seniors on Scams

Scammers have learned to target the elderly. Make sure your older family members are familiar with the common red flags. Also, if you’re older and living alone, it’s a good idea to run any home improvement projects by people you trust, says the National Council on Aging.

With a little research, you may be able to avoid a potential home improvement scam and find a contractor you can trust.

Digital Content Project Manager

Jen produces home, renters, condo and financial content for The Allstate Blog.






New Homeowners: What to Do When an Appliance Breaks


It’s a great feeling to be settled into your new home until the unavoidable happens — your first appliance or heating and cooling system breaks. No matter if it’s your refrigerator or furnace, the honeymoon period in your new abode may be over. But it’s OK, because sometimes unexpected things happen. Whether it’s a big problem with a major system or a small repair to an appliance, here are steps to help get things running again.

Stay Calm

When your appliance or system breaks down in your new home, don’t panic. Make sure to rule out any obvious reasons. Is it a blown fuse or a cord that came unplugged? Are you getting power to the appliance? Is there a main safety switch that is in the “off” position?

If you’ve recently had work done in another area of your home, certain electrical or plumbing components may have been turned off for safety reasons. You may be able to simply flip a switch and get things running again.

When It’s Time to Call a Professional

If your appliance still isn’t working. It might be time to call in a professional.

Before you find a professional on your own, it’s important to do your homework. First, check to see if your new home came with a home warranty. A home warranty is a service contract to help repair or replace certain systems or appliances in a home. You should be able to look at your original sales contract to see if the sale included a warranty and the name of the company. You can contact the warranty company and find out what sort of coverage came with your home.

When searching online for qualified professionals, read user reviews. There are many great online resources for customer reviews, which may help with your decision. Then, confirm anyone coming into your home for repair work is licensed and insured.

Lastly, trust your instincts. If you call to make an appointment and you don’t feel comfortable, consider moving on to someone else. And don’t forget word of mouth — find out who your neighbor used for a similar job and if they were pleased with the service.

Appliances can go on the fritz at any time. That’s why it’s so important to be prepared for the unexpected so you can get back to enjoying your new home.

American Home Shield, the nation’s leader in home warranties, provides affordable protection for major systems and appliances to more than 1.4 million homeowners across the country.






How to Finance a Motorcycle for a Price You Can Afford


The best way to finance a new motorcycle is to build your credit, shop around for the best loan terms available, and know all the terms of your deal before you go through with it. This article provides details on the steps you should take before financing the bike of your dreams.

Whoever said the best things in life are free never owned a motorcycle. No one’s giving away free motorcycles, so if you want to own the bike of your dreams, chances are you’re going to have to pay for it. While a few of us will be able to walk into a dealership and hand over a wad of cash, most potential motorcycle buyers will be looking for some form of financing. If you’re thinking about making a two-wheeled investment, follow these tips so you – and your wallet – don’t get taken for a ride.

Discover More About Motorcycle Insurance

Build your credit before you buy a bike

Most lenders consider motorcycles a luxury item, so they’ll be critical of your credit history before approving you for a loan. The easiest way to get a good deal on motorcycle financing is to have good credit. Check your credit score and correct any discrepancies before you apply for a loan. With lenders keeping a tighter grip on their purse strings, it’s harder than ever to obtain financing, especially if you’re considered a lending risk. But, the better your credit history, the better your chances of obtaining lower-interest financing – or being approved for a loan at all.

The easiest way to get a good deal on motorcycle financing is to have good credit.

Shop around for a loan before you shop around for a bike

Determining what you can realistically afford before you enter a showroom can save you time, money and embarrassment. Setting your sights on the perfect bike only to discover you can’t get financing can be a frustrating experience. So do your homework before you go, and be realistic about what you’ll be able to afford.

Save up for a larger down payment – or buy the bike with cash

The larger your down payment is for your motorcycle, the less you will need for monthly payments and interest charges. While it’s not always possible to subdue the desire for immediate motorcycle gratification while you save your cash, purchasing a bike outright will often net you a better deal and eliminates interest charges altogether.

Know everything about your motorcycle deal before you make it final

If you’re unsure about a financing deal’s terms, ask questions until you’re absolutely clear. Know about interest accruement and changing rates, late fees, penalties and payment options. Be sure to include the cost of motorcycle insurance in your calculations. Most states require drivers to buy insurance, so when you’re budgeting out your purchase, remember to include monthly insurance payments.

There are many sources for motorcycle financing, but here are a few popular options. Know what’s out there and check around for the best deals.

Dealer Financing

Most motorcycle dealerships offer financing directly to consumers or they have special relationships with lenders. Dealers want to sell you a bike, so it’s in their best interest to help you obtain financing.

Manufacturer Financing

It’s possible to obtain financing for new motorcycles directly from the manufacturer; however, this option is usually only available to customers with very good credit scores, and the manufacturer’s promotions may vary throughout the year.

Credit Card

If you have low interest rates and enough purchasing power, you can pay for your bike with plastic. But be careful, as many credit card companies can change their interest rates at any time.

Personal Loan

Check with your bank to see if you qualify for a personal loan. This option can be attractive if you’re purchasing a bike from a private seller or purchasing a used motorcycle from a dealer since you won’t be limited by manufacturers’ promotions. If you currently have a mortgage or line of credit from your bank, you may be eligible for lower interest rates.

Regardless of where you obtain financing for your motorcycle, make sure you’re able to afford the payments and still have enough left over for gear, maintenance, gas, food, rent and other necessities of life.

Follow me on Twitter @B_ONeill73 and Google+ (B. ONeill)






Tips to Help Get Your Car Ready to Go Back to School


Back-to-school time can be very busy for students and parents alike. One item not usually on the top of to-do lists is car care maintenance. Whether they’re attending high school or heading off to college, this can be an opportune time to conduct a maintenance review to help get your student’s car ready for the school season. Consider some of the items below from Pep Boys’ car care checklist to help get your student—and their car—ready for a great school year.

Under the Hood

To help prevent maintenance issues or potentially costly repairs, open the hood of your vehicle and checking the following:

  • Fluid levels of engine oil, coolant and transmission, and brake and power steering fluid—your owner’s manual will illustrate where everything is located and the proper levels to maintain.
  • If your car is leaking fluid, its color may help you determine what it is and locate the source.
  • Battery – Consider testing the battery with a voltmeter and replace it if it shows signs of reduced performance.

Check the Tires

Check the tires for uneven tread wear, nails or other potential hazards. Bridgestone Tire says one easy way to check tread depth is inserting a penny into a groove—if any part of Abe Lincoln’s head is obscured, you have enough tread. Check the pressure on each tire with a gauge when they’re cold (not driven). Follow the vehicle manufacturer’s suggested pressure, which is located on most vehicles on a sticker inside the driver’s door, center console, glove compartment lid or in the owner’s manual, says Firestone Complete Auto Care. Also, make sure the spare tire is inflated and a jack, lug wrench and jumper cables are in the trunk.

Check the Lights

This is a good time to get your teen involved in the preventive maintenance checklist review. Have him or her get in the car and turn on the headlights, turn signals and emergency flashing lights as you walk around the vehicle to make sure they are working. Check the brake lights by having him or her press the brake pedal, too. Vehicles can have many different types of bulbs and they have varying lifespans, according to Firestone. Inspect your vehicle regularly to ensure your lights are working properly.

Local Resources

Maintenance issues still can occur despite your preventive maintenance efforts, so it’s wise to identify resources near campus. Find a trusted mechanic or local dealership that services your type of vehicle, as well as a tire store. If your driver is college-bound, the university itself can be helpful, too, so touch base with its parking services or safety department. They may have suggestions for local car services and can offer helpful services themselves.

If you have any concerns after your own inspection, a qualified mechanic performing a safety check can help minimize maintenance issues and get your student on the road to a fantastic school year.

Follow me on Twitter @B_ONeill73 and Google+ (B. ONeill)






Top 5 Motorcycle Maintenance Tips [VIDEO]


Before you head out on your motorcycle, paying attention to a few simple maintenance tasks can help keep your bike operating smoothly and help ensure a safe ride. Motorcycle enthusiast Jamie Robinson of MotoGeo.com shares his top five maintenance tips before heading out on the open road.

Watch more videos by Jamie at MotoGeo.com and YouTube, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Discover More About Motorcycle Insurance

Ay up. I’m Jamie for MotoGeo and I’m going to give you my top five maintenance tips that you should do before going for a ride on your motorbike.

Number one: check the tires. You really need good tires. It’s the first point of contact between you and the road. First is the tread. Now, you should have a tire bar located in the tread — it’s a slightly raised piece in the groove. Should your tread be getting close to that raised piece, you need to look at changing your tires. Can you not find the raised piece, it’s definitely time to change it. Quick, easy trick is get a penny, stick it in the groove. Now, should the tread go over Lincoln’s hair, you’re good. Should you be able to see all of Lincoln’s hair, change your tires. My top tire tip is don’t mismatch — keep the same brand and model. Radials, for example, do not work with non-radials. Different tread patterns do not work together. Keep them the same.

Number two: check the brakes. Now, it’s really easy to check the brake pad wear on a motorcycle. Just look down the disc and you can see your brake pads and then you can see how much meat you have on the pad. Once you’ve located the brake pad look for the wear grooves — no grooves time to change your brake pads. And my talk top tip is: always use brake cleaner, as it removes brake fluid, grease and all oil.

Number three: check the fluids. Check the viewing window — that will tell you exactly where the fluid level is at. Should the fluids be low, top them off, but keep within the recommended guidelines. And my top tip is get your bike level before you check the fluids. Should your bike be on an angle, it’ss going to give you an incorrect reading.

Number four: check the chain. Happy chain is a happy motorbike. So keep each in well-adjusted and lubricated.

Number five: check the nuts and bolts. Check all of the nuts and bolts on your motorbike and get to know your machine. Make sure everything is tight and nothing’s come loose. And should you be new to maintenance, my top tip is: righty tighty, lefty loosey. And don’t forget…check your service manual. And should you be unsure about the integrity or quality of any of your motorcycle parts, take your bike to a professional and get it repaired properly.

Thanks for watching and if you want to see any more motorcycle related content, check out my channel MotoGeo.com. Ride safe.






College Graduates: 6 Reasons to Pay Off Your Student Debt Now


Did you just graduate from college? Do you have a student loan? Paying off a student loan as quickly as possible is an important step to help you find financial freedom for yourself. Imagine if you had no payment, how much money would you save each month? How many new choices would be open to you?

In my opinion, financial freedom means being able to choose to do what you want to do, when you want to do it. There’s no reason to wait to enjoy some financial freedom now, and having your student loan paid off is just the first step. Here are my six reasons that now is the right time for you to focus on paying off your student loan.

1. Enjoy More Years of Financial Freedom

If you take 10 or 20 years to pay off your loan, you will likely have less time to enjoy living without that debt.

2. Expenses May Never Be Lower

As you get older, you may have a mortgage, multiple car payments or child-related expenses to account for while still trying to pay off your student loan.

3. Limit the Impact on Your Lifestyle

More than likely, you have figured out how to have fun and live large while on a student’s budget. Just keep it up for a while longer until your loan is paid off. It’s usually easier to stay within the same budget as it is to try and cut back on spending in the future.

Plan Ahead For A Brighter Financial Future.

Help protect loved ones with life insurance and savings plans. Plan your future here.

4. Time is on Your Side

It might seem obvious, but one of the fastest ways to make more money is to work more. At this stage in your life, you may have the flexibility to do some freelance work on the side or take on a second or third job. Take advantage of not having the family or community responsibilities you might have later on in your life to earn some extra money to put towards your loans.

5. No Need to Put Life on Hold

The Wall Street Journal says that student loans may drive graduates to think about delaying marriage and children. If you’re debt-free, you may have more money before marriage and potentially less stress going into marriage.

6. Start Building a Solid Financial Foundation

Most of us may encounter financial challenges at some point in our lives. These challenges will likely be less stressful and easier to handle if your finances are built on a stronger foundation of fewer payments, less debt and more savings.

So, how do you do it? The formula to paying off your student debt is straightforward:

  • Generate more income.
  • Keep your expenses in check.
  • Use the money saved to pay the student debt until it’s paid off.

Remember, it isn’t easy to get out of debt, but you may not have the flexibility in the future to pay off your student debt like you do now. So, take advantage of it — it might be worth it!

Joshua Sheats is a Certified Financial Planner™ and the host of a daily personal finance podcast, "Radical Personal Finance." He teaches his listeners how to live a rich life now while building a plan for financial freedom in 10 years or less.