Category Archives: Tips and Advice

Great Suggestions for the Best Improvements to Your Home

Best Financial Investments for Your Home
By Craig Middleton
RISMEDIA, Wednesday, November 29, 2017— Editor’s Note: This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. See what else is cookin’ now at

Over the last couple of years, rehabbing TV shows have become increasingly popular. In these shows, people fix or introduce new features to their homes while adding substantial market value to the house in the process. If you own a home, you can make many of these types of fixes or additions to increase the value of your home, too. You can also enjoy these changes for as long as you live there. Some of the best financial investments you can make to your home include:

Major Problem Fixes
The first high-return investment you should make in your home is to correct all major problems. If your home has serious issues, such as a broken air conditioner or a pipe leak, fixing those issues should be priority No. 1. Repairing or replacing the roof and siding can be a great investment, and potential buyers will generally factor in both the time and cost of having to fix it. Problems like these are always easier to fix when they’re small than later after having put them off.

Exterior Improvements
Investing in the facade of a home can also bring great returns. Replacing garage doors is one of these investments. If your garage door looks new, your house will look new, as well. Painting the outside of your home is another good investment in the exterior. If you don’t want to take the time and money to fully repaint your home, pressure-washing can be a quick way to make the outside of your home look much more presentable.

Entryway Improvements
Another good investment is to invest in a new entryway door. Like the garage door, the front door is important in making a good first impression on a potential buyer. Replacing your front door with a steel door can also make your home safer; increasing the safety of your home can be another great selling point for a potential buyer. Replacing windows is another way to make the outside of your home look better, as well as improve the home’s energy efficiency.

Fixes and additions to the inside of your home can be a great financial investment. A fresh coat of paint to the interior can add value by making the home look cleaner and brighter.

Update Bathroom, Kitchen and Appliances
Improving your home’s bathroom, particularly visible elements such as vanities, lighting, toilets and tubs, can create a high return. For bathroom improvements, you may obtain a better return on investment by spending your money on items in the bathroom that a potential buyer would see, instead of completely gutting the bathroom.

Kitchen remodels can be another way to significantly improve the value of your home. For kitchen remodels, you’ll want to spend money on functional items such as cabinets, drawers, pantry doors and appliances. Appliances such as refrigerators don’t have to be completely new, but they should keep up with current trends. Kitchen remodels should also suit the home. A kitchen that looks like it belongs in a $300,000 home will feel out of place in a $150,000 home.

Adding high-efficiency appliances to a home can modernize it and also save you money on electricity. Some states and cities have tax programs that could reduce your taxes if you buy and use high-efficiency appliances that require less electricity.

Overall, you should research the investment potential of your home before making any purchase. If you are trying to increase the value of your home, you need to make sure your fix or addition will increase the value of the home not only for you, but also to potential buyers.

This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as professional advice. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of RISMedia.


Great Ways to Pay Your Mortgage Off Early

4 Ways to Pay Off Your Mortgage Early
By Dana Dratch
RISMEDIA, Monday, November 27, 2017— (TNS)—If you can afford it, it might be simple to pay off your mortgage earlier. But should you? That’s a complicated question.

Homeowners with low mortgage rates may be better off putting extra money in a Roth IRA or 401(k), both of which might offer a higher return than paying off the mortgage.

Then there’s the college aid factor. If you’re applying for need-based aid for your kids, that home equity could count against you with some colleges because some institutions view equity as money in the bank.

If, after those caveats, you want to pay off your mortgage early, here are four ways to make it happen.

1. Refinance with a shorter-term mortgage.
You can pay off the mortgage in another 15 years by refinancing into a 15-year mortgage.

Let’s say you got a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage for $200,000 at 4.5 percent. Then, five years later, you can refinance into a 15-year loan at 4 percent. Doing so pays off the mortgage 10 years earlier and saves more than $60,000 (if you exclude closing costs on the refi).

Those shorter-term mortgages often carry interest rates a quarter of a percentage point to three-quarters of a percentage point lower than their 30-year counterparts.

Refinancing isn’t quick or free. It requires filling out the application, providing documentation and having an appraiser visit. There are closing costs.

And even with a lower interest rate, that quicker payoff means higher monthly payments. And this method is a lot less flexible. If you decide that you don’t have the extra money one month to put toward the mortgage, you’re locked in anyway.

Unless the new interest rate is lower than the old rate, there’s no point in refinancing. Without a lower rate, you’ll get all the same benefits (and none of the extra costs) by just increasing your payment a sufficient amount.

2. Pay a little more each month.
Divide your monthly principal and interest by 12 and add that amount to your monthly payment for a year. Result: You make the equivalent of 13 payments in 12 months. Let’s say you got a $200,000 mortgage at 4.5 percent. After five years of making the minimum payments, you add an extra 1/12 of a month’s principal and interest to each monthly payment. Doing so pays off the mortgage three years and three months earlier and saves more than $18,000 interest.

Before you make anything beyond the regular payment, call your mortgage servicer and find out exactly what you need to do so that your extra payments will be correctly applied to your loan.

Let them know you want to pay “more aggressively” and ask the best ways to do that. Some servicers may require a note with the extra money or directions on the notation line of the check.

In any event, if you’re putting extra money toward your loan, always check the next statement to make sure it’s been properly applied.

3. Make an extra mortgage payment every year.
Instead of paying a little more each month, make one extra monthly payment each year. One way to do this is to save 1/12 of a payment every month, and then make an extra payment after every 12 months. This gives you the flexibility to use the extra savings for something else if a more pressing expense arises.

Let’s say you do this starting the first month after getting a 30-year mortgage for $200,000 at 4.5 percent. That would save more than $27,000 interest, and you would pay off the mortgage four years and three months earlier.

4. Throw ‘found’ money at the mortgage.
Get a bonus? A tax refund? An unexpected windfall? However it ends up in your hands, you can funnel some or all of your newfound money toward your mortgage.

Let’s say you got a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage for $200,000 at 4.5 percent. Then, five years later, you can make an extra $10,000 lump-sum payment. Doing so pays off the mortgage two years and four months earlier, and saves more than $19,000 in interest.

The upside: You’re paying extra only when you’re flush. And those additional payments toward the principal will cut the total interest on your loan.

The downside: It’s irregular, so it’s hard to predict the mortgage payoff date. If you throw too much at the mortgage, you won’t have money for other needs.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC 

This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as professional advice. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of RISMedia.

Plan your move and make it better!

5 Tips to Make Moving Less Stressful
By Mikkie Mills
RISMEDIA, Monday, November 13, 2017— Editor’s Note: This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. See what else is cookin’ now at

Moving can be a daunting task for many people. There is a lot of packing involved and unpacking once you get to your new home; however, with proper planning, you may even find yourself enjoying the moving process…unless you get stuck. This guide serves to offer you simple ways to move into your new home.

Get Prepared
It is advisable to plan at least eight weeks before you’re going to relocate. A last-minute rush can bring a lot of confusion and stress. To plan this far ahead, though, you need a list of tasks to do. Select the items that you will be taking with you and leave items that you haven’t used in the last year. Be selective and make sure you’re not packing unnecessary items. You can donate the rest of your belongings to the needy or give out to friends.

Pack Items in Order
Do not pack your clothes, shoes, and bags in one big box. It can be quick to do so, but it will be a nightmare when it comes to unpacking. Organize the items in different clean boxes and label them with a marker. This way, you will have an easy time unpacking, and the movers will know which room to place the boxes. You should have an emergency box where you can keep all the essential items, such as clothing and kids supplies, that you’ll need for the first 24 hours after you move. Moving can be tiresome, especially if you are working and have a family. It’s okay to take a break and have a drink if you’re feeling too stressed out.

Ask for Assistance
It can be challenging to ask for help; however, many people know the experience of moving and how hard it can be. Talk to family and friends and agree on a day to come over and help you pack. It could be an opportunity to spend time with them, especially if you are moving far away. Afterwards, you can all go out for a meal. If no one is available, you can call packers to help you with moving heavy boxes.

Check the Moving Details
The last thing you want to do is end up relocating before the moving date. When you buy a property, get in touch with your real estate agent to make sure of the exact time you’re supposed to move. Also, when renting a property, don’t just assume the date given in the lease is when you are supposed to get into your new home. Make a call to the landlord or agent and double-check the day. It can save you a lot of time and hassle.

Call a Moving Company
Packing takes a large amount of time and energy. You should be careful to avoid breakages that will result in extra costs. If there are expensive items, ask for assistance; there is a lot of information about moving insurance for valuable items. After being sure that you have packed all the necessary things, it is time to call a moving company. Moving companies in Austin, Los Angeles, Miami, or any other major city offer high-quality services to their clients. Make sure that the company is licensed and insured for the safe delivery of your items to your new location. In case of any breakages, you are sure to have the piece replaced.

When you follow the above tips, moving will be an enjoyable task. Eat well to boost your energy levels. Carry enough snacks on a moving day, especially if you are going far. Also, make sure you have enough water to stay hydrated. When you get to your new home, do not unpack everything at once. You should first rest and start unpacking carefully to avoid damage.

RISMedia welcomes your questions and comments. Send your e-mail to:

Counseling Sellers – Repost

What Is a Seller Counseling Session? 10 Reasons Why You Need One
RISMEDIA, Thursday, October 12, 2017— The following information is provided by the Center for REALTOR® Development (CRD)

A seller counseling session occurs at the beginning of your relationship with a current or prospective seller client and is a strategic activity that helps ensure a high-quality experience for everyone involved.

The consequences of unprepared sellers cannot be overstated. In a recent article from REALTOR® Magazine, agent Ryan Zwicky outlines some lessons learned the hard way, one of which was about setting appropriate expectations from the start. Zwicky says, “I learned that trying to please the seller only harms them in the end. It is better to be completely honest and open from the start.”

A seller counseling session is a powerful expectation-setting tool. It can be a sit-down meeting in person, a virtual web-based teleconference, or even a long phone call—all supplemented with a print resource, to help guide the conversation. The mode of communication that you use for it is not quite as important as your ability to carve out uninterrupted one-on-one time for yourself and the seller to get to know one another a little more deeply, and to go over how everything will work.

There is no one set way to do a seller counseling session, but there are some best practices and resources—home-grown or for-purchase—that can help you plan the conversation beforehand so that you don’t forget any aspect that needs to be discussed. For example, the Real Estate Business Institute (REBI), an affiliate of NAR, offers sets of customizable PowerPoint® presentation templates to help with structuring the conversation. The slides can be reorganized and adapted as needed to your situation. For those that want to take their seller representation skills to an even higher level, REBI also offers its Seller Representative Specialist (SRS) Designation course online at NAR’s Center for REALTOR® Development. It also offers the course for classroom delivery, and a schedule of upcoming courses.

Regardless of the exact structure and the exact resources used, a seller counseling session is an invaluable strategic tool that will help you succeed as a seller’s representative. Below are 10 reasons why.

1. Demonstrate Your Value – The session helps you showcase your service package by giving you the opportunity to highlight and explain your business background, your education qualifications, the extent of your experience, and the value you bring to the process. Your expertise and service orientation will help your client feel at ease and taken care of.

2. Set Expectations – The session will help you set expectations so that in the long run there will be fewer surprises (and therefore fewer delays and less confusion). The client will come to understand their role, your role, and the roles of everyone else along the way. Things will run more smoothly. Smooth transactions lead to more referrals.

3. Get on the Same Page – As confusion and potential misunderstandings are addressed and cleared away up front, the session will help put you and your client on the same team so that you are working together with each other, and not at odds or toward opposing goals.

4. Reduce Risk – Because of this meeting, there will be fewer chances for confusion, missteps, breaches and conflict. Whenever processes are made clearer at the outset, the risk of veering off into antagonistic or dangerous waters is greatly minimized.

5. Explain What You Can and Can’t Do – An important aspect of further reducing risk is addressing what you as the client advocate can and cannot do. By addressing this early, there will be fewer or no client expectations or demands that you do something which is unethical, illegal, uncomfortable or just plain fishy. You can go over how agency works in your state and all of the seller disclosures required. You can also discuss what the REALTOR® Code of Ethics requires of you, your fiduciary duty to your client, and what that looks like in day-to-day practice.

6. Outline the Process – Your client will be a more calm, confident, and cooperative partner once they have a big-picture scheme in their mind about what the entire process will entail. Do this for them in the seller consultation session; give them the big picture, 50,000-foot view. This may be second nature to you, but to them, the entire process may be foreign and disorienting. They may not need as many check-ins along the way, and it will be less likely that they will become upset with you if you have explained the overall process beforehand.

7. Position the Property – Having an in-depth conversation about the property, its current position in the market, what can be done to improve this position, like staging (and what can’t be overcome) will help you down the road when you and your client have to deal with price reductions, price negotiations, concessions, contingencies, multiple offers, deals that fall through and so on.

8. Explain Fees – Understanding the line items of the different services clients are paying for will head off a number of questions, objections and frustrations down the road, especially if things get challenging. Having a talk about fees as connected to the value of what you do to help the property succeed in the marketplace is key.

9. Gather Preferences – The seller counseling session is a great time to gather information to help you understand how your client prefers to communicate and be treated. Do they want a daily or weekly check-in, by phone or text? How would they prefer open houses be handled? What makes them stressed and what puts them at ease? You’ll want to gather this information to help you serve them in the way that works best for them.

10. Provide Resources – The session will provide you the opportunity to share resources that the seller can take home with them, review in detail on their own time, and ask questions about later. The value of takeaways and reading material as time-saving educational tools cannot be underestimated. The seller counseling session helps you present and offer these materials so that the seller knows they exist and understands how to review them.

To learn much more about seller counseling sessions and seller representation overall, please consider checking out the education, benefits, and resources offered by REBI and its SRS Designation. In October, the featured 25% OFF course at the Center for REALTOR® Development is the Seller Representative Specialist (SRS) Designation course, which is the basic requirement toward obtaining this credential. 

Why should anyone have “Buyer Representation” in a real estate transaction?

It wasn’t long ago when state and local associations, and consumer advocates, began examining “buyer agency” in real estate transactions; this lead to adopted legislation which now mandates the disclosure of agency representation to consumers by licensed real estate professionals. The term “agency” is used in real estate to help determine what legal responsibilities your real estate professional owes to you and other parties in a transaction. Buyer Representation, AKA “the buyer’s agent”, allows for purchasers to have their interests represented throughout the course of a home search, and the eventual purchase of a property. We are no longer subject to a system in which agency representation only supports the Seller. Increased demand from consumers, and years of experience from Realtors, has enabled purchasers to enjoy a professional advocate who only works for them and their interests. Why wouldn’t you choose to have this type of assistance when purchasing your next home?

Just a few of the benefits you’ll receive include expert guidance, objective information and opinions, expanded search power, negotiation knowledge, transactional expertise, career experience, and your anchor during emotional moments. Not to mention that your understanding and satisfaction with a real estate transaction increases when you have your own representation. In most instances it costs you as the buyer very little to have representation, and will very likely save you money and anxiety along the way.

Talk to a buyer’s agent about assisting you with your next real estate transaction, and find out in detail the benefits of receiving the personal representation that years of experience has made available to you. The conversation is free; the knowledge you’ll gain from it is priceless!

Architecture and Real Estate – a blend that works for our Clients

Ideas we develop for our clients needs










Ann and I consider our professional experience in design, construction, and architecture to be a seamless benefit to the clients we help to buy and sell real estate – Real Property.

Many people don’t initially grasp the subtle advantages they receive when working with us, or how our design and architectural expertise within the Richmond real estate business separates us from our competition.

We’ve been involved with residential construction and design since 1986, a licensed Architect since 1995, a licensed Realtor since 2002, and we are both Associate Brokers; these complementary and overlapping disciplines have created for us a unique and specialized knowledge in our field. We share these assets with the people we work. Together with our client-centered approach to business, we deliver the “Service You Deserve & Expect” in your real estate transaction.

We like to ask the question, “What makes a house a home?” The answer is likely to be different for everyone. We help you to explore this subject, as well as the multitude of other considerations we face in real estate sales and service. This is true on both sides of the transaction, weather buying a home or selling a house. It’s important to understand “objections”; we have the ability for one to overcome them by turning them into “opportunities”.

It’s one thing to talk to a knowledgeable sales person about “possibilities” that may exist at a property; it’s quite another experience to discuss practical and achievable solutions, which meet your particular needs, with a qualified and licensed design professional.

A home is more than just a structure, no matter what the style. The essence of architecture is what makes a house so personal. There is a certain feeling that good design embodies – it’s the fundamental ingredient in what makes a house a home – the perceptible difference that you may wish to consider during your next real estate transaction!

Architecture & Real Estate – What Makes a House a Home?

I’m not going to get to the heart of this thought in such a brief article, but many people don’t initially grasp the subtle advantages they receive when asking themselves this question. The answer is likely to be different for everyone. Consulting a good design professional can help you to explore this subject, because it’s an important concept on both sides of the transaction. Design consultants have the ability for one to overcome perceived “objections” by turning them into “opportunities”.

In today’s real estate market, even with lower than normal inventory, it is still critically important to have properties which show at their best. There is no question that homes sell faster, for a higher price, when they look their finest. In addition to design professionals, Realtors are able to compile lists of helpful services and associates that can assist in staging a property, consult on finishes, color selections, materials, and correct any areas that are in need of attention.

A home is more than just a structure, no matter what the style. The essence of architecture is what makes a house so personal. There is a certain feeling that good design embodies. It’s the fundamental ingredient in what makes a house a home – the perceptible difference that you may wish to consider during your next real estate transaction!

architects as real estate agents

I recently came across a 2009 online article by Nigel F. Maynard asking, “Why should architects become real estate agents?” Maynard points out the opportunity for architects to gain access to properties they might not hear about otherwise, and furthermore, supposes that this exposure may lead to additional work as an architect. My experience as a licensed architect as well as a licensed Realtor and associate broker says otherwise; at least within the confines of a small scale business model.

I will confirm that being a licensed architect, with experience in construction going back 30 years, has been a material benefit to my real estate clients for the last fifteen years. There is without a doubt real value to the conversations about the opportunities available to buyers and sellers that I bring to the table wearing these two distinct but overlapping hats; especially when there are challenges surrounding a property. But when it comes to being an architect or a Realtor, a choice has to be made regarding the primary focus of the business – at least if you intend to be successful at one or the other.

I can tell you that both jobs are a full time proposition. There is little in-between that will allow you to succeed at performing the duties of each profession successfully, at least as a small business person. The time it takes to get involved in a building project, or to work with buyers and sellers, are both all encompassing. They each demand your complete attention. Perhaps if one has a business which supports a staff, where tasks and responsibilities may be delegated, it might be a more viable option to do both jobs at once. I don’t think it is realistic to do this within the confines of a small or single proprietor business model.

Early in my real estate career – as an independent single contractor, as most Realtors are – before I began to develop a team model, sometimes when my sales business slowed I would attempt to pick up a bit of design work to compensate for the down-time in RE sales. It seemed, just as I got into the depths of that project the phone would start ringing, and my attention needed to be redirected back to real estate. Since, at this stage in my career, real estate was my primary focus, the design work would become a nuisance rather than a benefit. I found it exceedingly difficult to give adequate attention to each discipline in order to satisfy the demands of both practices.

I have now found new ways to incorporate both real estate and architecture into our current business model, but this business is real estate driven. My point is this – in contrast to Maynard’s suggestion that being a licensed Realtor will support and benefit your real estate business, or vice versa, I think that if you plan on being a successful architect, then let that business speak for itself. I did a business plan for both approaches and decided to pursue real estate in lieu of architecture. Yes, my being an architect does support and benefit being a Realtor; however, it is the attention and detail that I put in to being a Realtor that ensures my success in this business.

It will be the same thing if you plan to hang your shingle as a licensed architect. Your eventual success in that field will build on itself – if you pardon the pun. You can then find a Realtor who you can get close to, who wants to support your business, and be the eyes and ears of your real estate pursuits. I do not believe that one should count on building an architectural career by becoming a licensed Realtor.

Bathroom Design Ideas


7 Brilliant Bathroom Design Ideas
By Craig Middleton
RISMEDIA, Thursday, October 06, 2016— The bathroom, along with the kitchen, is the most frequently used room in many homes and the basic necessities – bathtub, toilet, sink, medicine cabinet and shower – determine how most of the space will be used. Bathrooms also require room for stashing towels, paper products, grooming appliances, soaps and shampoos, so maximizing storage is crucial in a well-appointed and well-planned bathroom. Much activity goes on in this small space and the design and decoration should emphasize function, comfort and style equally.

Utilize Extra Space
Use the space between wall studs to make shallow storage for small items such as bars of soap and nail polish bottles. Cut away the dry wall between two studs and install narrow shelves that are just the depth of the stud, usually about four inches. Possible finishes for the opening include paint, tile board, mirror tiles or wallpaper designed for bathrooms. Leave the space open or hang a door; indoor shutters work well in this application.

Bathroom Color
Buying and installing bathroom fixtures represents major commitments of money, time and labor. Keep permanent features such as the tub, sink and tile neutral in tone. Classic white is always popular, easy to find, and provides a versatile background for any decorating scheme. Inject color and style into the room with paint or wallpaper, linens and accessories that are easy and inexpensive to redo when a change is desired.

Drying Accessories
If you have swimmers or beach-goers in the family, a place to hang wet bathing suits and towels is a must. Look for hooks or retractable clotheslines that can be installed in a shower or tub enclosure to keep water and sand off floors and furniture.

Lighting Fixtures
Adequate light is needed in a bathroom where grooming tasks such as shaving, hair styling or applying makeup take place. Many bathrooms do not have windows, which means artificial lighting is even more crucial. One fixture over the vanity is not sufficient. Install decorative sconces on both sides of each mirror and add recessed or surface-mounted lighting fixtures in the ceiling, being sure to follow building code regulations.

Shower Designs
Shower designs should meet the needs of all family members. A built-in bench in a shower is a good choice for small children, the elderly or anyone with limited mobility. A detachable shower head brings the water to the bather. It has the further advantage of making the shower stall much easier to clean, as the water can be directed into corners to rinse away grime, soap residue and cleaning products.

Heated Towel Racks
For a real touch of luxury, especially in colder climates, install heated towel racks. They are available in many sizes and styles and not only supply toasty towels but will also help to warm the air in the bathroom. Towel warmers can be plugged into a nearby outlet or hardwired into the bathroom’s existing electrical system.

Pocket Door
For a very small bathroom with limited wall space for swinging doors, consider a pocket door that slides neatly between walls. They are available in styles and finishes that will complement any décor and are easy to install. It is even possible to mount a full-length mirror panel on the pocket door, solving two problems at once.

Because the bathroom is a relatively small and mostly utilitarian space, it can be overlooked when remodeling, redecorating or in a new build. However, this is not the place to pinch pennies. A comfortable, functional and attractive bath makes a home more livable and increases resale value if the home is placed on the market. Plan carefully and shop wisely to create an appealing, usable space for your family and guests without going over budget.

This post was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. Check the blog daily for top real estate tips and trends.