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5 Necessary Expenses to Keep Your Home Safe

System - Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Written by: Marcela De Vivo 

For many, owning a home is the cornerstone of providing a sense of security to your life. However, no matter where or how you live, there are countless elements, natural and human alike, that may threaten your family and property. For first-time homeowners in particular, here are some essential devices and service that will keep your home safe.

1. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are readily available but less costly and easy to install. Both detectors are available in DC and AC styles. Although it is necessary to perform regular testing and battery replacement, the DC option should be weighed against the threat of power outages. However, some brands offer AC detectors with battery backup, as well as combination detectors.

2. Home security systems come in a wide variety of capabilities, packages and costs. Many can be installed fairly easily by the homeowner, depending on how elaborate the system is and, of course, your DIY abilities.

If you decide on a system that is monitored by a surveillance company, they may or may not insist on performing the installation themselves or by a sub-contractor. A number of newer providers give you the option of self-installation, which usually means saving you hard coin.

In any instance, you can choose how elaborate a system you purchase. Sensors can be installed at door locations only at any or all windows. Also, motion, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors can be incorporated into the same system. †Furthermore, the big names in security all offer ways of syncing your home monitor to mobile device, allowing you to monitor your home from remoter locations.

fire extinguisher3. Fire Extinguishers may be one of the most overlooked of all safety devices. Where to put them and how many to buy depends on several factors, including floor space and the kinds of things you do in your house. Bear in mind as well that there are various types available for different types of fires, and that extinguishers need to be periodically charged.

4. Dead Bolts may be the simplest and least expensive ways to prevent break-ins. If youíre handy with simple tools, you can install them yourself. They really donít require regular maintenance and last quite a while.

5. Motion Sensors are available for both indoor and outdoor use, and may trigger lights to go on or can set off an alarm. Be sure to do your research of the types available and their levels of sensitivity.

In addition to these safeguards, there are cost-free ways of feeling safer. Neighborhood Watch Programs exist in many areas and are very effective, provided participants are dedicated to their purpose. There are numerous sites that outline how to set these programs up, so get involved!

Also, donít forget to observe age old vacation safeguards,like setting light timers, lawn maintenance and mail and newspaper pickup (if you still subscribe to a newspaper) with a friend or neighbor to make sure burglars don’t know you’re away.

Finally, keep in mind that all or most of these measures are recognized by homeowner insurance companies, who usually offer discounts on premiums when present in your home. Even without the price break, however, these are all steps that you should take if you want to feel truly secure.

Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer in Southern California whose writing covers a wide range of topics, including home security, DIY, health and marketing. She runs her company, Gryffin Media, from home, so she is sure to follow all of these steps to keep her home and family safe.

Professional Property Managers

System - Thursday, September 26, 2013
All Property Management survey show professional property managers reduce rental vacancy rates nearly 40 percent
10/17/2012 by Ami

SEATTLE (July 30, 2012) –  Successful investment in rental properties often depends on keeping vacancy rates low, both by minimizing tenant turnover and by quickly re-renting properties when tenants do depart. According to a recent survey conducted by All Property Management, the largest network of property management companies on the internet, professional property managers can help investors substantially on both counts.

Based on responses from 298 property management companies located in 201 cities across the US, the average annual vacancy rate for a professionally managed property is 5.5 percent, compared to the 8.8 percent national average reported by the US Census Bureau. Respondents cited expert tenant screening, superior customer care during tenancy, swift action against delinquent tenants, and general local market knowledge as reasons for their success in preventing long vacancies.

“Having a full-service management company that knows the ins and outs of property management, including rental law, maintenance requirements, accounting best practices, and how to effectively market and show a property is critical to maintaining cash flow while preserving the integrity of a rental property investment,” says Reggie Brown, who, in addition to being CEO of All Property Management, owns investment properties himself. “Most first-time landlords have very little understanding of these fundamentals. It’s a steep learning curve.”

Additional survey findings include:

  • 67 percent of property management companies can typically fill a vacancy in four weeks or less.
  • 51 percent of professional managers can keep the cost of rehabbing a property between renters under $1,000.
  • The average uncontested eviction costs around $2,000, including legal fees, lost rent, and property repair costs---emphasizing the need for careful tenant screening.
With a glut of bargain-priced, distressed properties set to come on the market over the next few years and interest rates at historic lows, investors are clamoring to make rental property investment part of their portfolios, making these findings especially relevant to finding a sustainable solution to the current housing crisis.

All Property Management has the fastest growing, largest and most comprehensive network in the industry with more than 2,000 managers nationwide. Investors and property owners using All Property Management’s network are able to easily navigate and compare management companies located near their properties specifically suited to their needs.


Family or Friends as Tenants

System - Monday, September 23, 2013
Family and friends - you can love and/or admire them BUT should they become your tenants?
This is a form of "nepotism, the practice of hiring family and/or friends." It has both pros and cons and it is an area where a very large "proceed with caution" sign should be posted.

You may have these thoughts about the subject of friends and family for tenants. One advantage for renting to a family member or friend is that you think you know their background and qualifications. Another supposition is that they will always be responsible for the rent and property upkeep. Last of all, you believe you know where to find them if they default on payments or leave damage - surely they would always pay what they owe. Your friends and/or family may always do what is right but what if they do not?

If you are contemplating this step, stop and ask yourself a few important questions.
Are you violating any Fair Housing laws rules or regulations by favoring a friend or family?
Are you considering a friend family member as a tenant based on sound business practices?
Have you considered that this could strain or permanently affect your personal relationship?
Are you creating a difficult three-way relationship with them, yourself, and your property manager?
Have you asked us, your management company, where we stand on this issue?

It is critical when considering any family member or friend that your actions comply with federal and state law, particularly regarding Fair Housing. Your friends and family need to follow the same processes involving showings, application, processing, security deposits, rental payments, and more. If someone were to prove you ignored the same practices you required of other applicants, you could be liable for litigation which could be very costly in fines and attorney's fees.

Are you really willing to overlook investigating a friend or family member's financial ability to support your property? Let's face facts here; if they cannot afford the property, don't you want to know before you enter into a landlord/tenant relationship?

Take time to consider how this could affect your personal relationship, particularly if they do not pay rent or if they damage your property. When things are difficult, emotions could and can easily turn into explosive situations, causing more difficulties than you can imagine. Therefore, this friend or family member must be able maintain a business relationship without using their personal connection against you. This is often difficult, if not impossible.

Another consideration is that it can strain or permanently dissolve the professional relationship with your property manager. As your management company, we want the best for your investment and we may not see your friend or family member as the best solution for your property. We must operate within the federal and state laws or jeopardize our entire business and licensing; otherwise we cannot work for you. Therefore, we will require your friends and family members to follow the same processes for tenancy as everyone else. Remember, our procedures are to protect you.
If a friend or family member approaches you about renting your property, here are some tips on how to handle the situation.

Try to look at them objectively as tenants, not as a friend or family member.
We ask that you discuss this with us first, whenever possible, so we can assist you with satisfactory solutions and work together as a team.
Let your friend or family member know that if they wish to rent from you, they must go through your property management company.
Let them know that as a landlord you are required to follow all federal or state laws and regulations. You are not in a position to suffer losses if there is a Fair Housing complaint.
With that said, tell them that they will have to follow the same process as any other applicant by contacting us to fill out and submit an application to rent the property. Make it clear that if they do rent the unit, they must call the property management company to handle maintenance and other issues, and that your personal telephone numbers are for friend or family time.

Previously you may have experienced a tenancy with a friend or family member. It could have been a success or failure. You could face this issue in the future. Either way, this article may give you some insight on this matter and will help you if the situation arises to maintain a positive family or friend relationship.

Evading Scams

System - Monday, September 23, 2013
Scams are prevalent; it's a fact of life in today's world. You find them in your email, Internet, telephone calls, the mail, and even at the front door.

Email is notorious for scams. You have probably spotted them in your Inbox. Most of the more obvious and ridiculous fall into your junk or spam files if you are using anti-virus protection. If you are not, stop and immediately subscribe to a good one - they are not that expensive. Many emails are simply malicious, containing files designed to damage your computer.

However, many emails manage to avoid the spam file by containing key words designed to entice you to open them. These are known as "phishing" emails and their intent is to obtain your personal information. They are looking for account numbers, passwords, and more. Emails from the IRS are prominent scams. They prey on the fear many people have of the Internal Revenue Service. Here is another common example.

You have a Wells Fargo Banking account (example only) and you see an email coming through warning you that there is suspicious activity on your account and they want you to log in, giving you a convenient link and 800 telephone number. Spammers are pros at using business names that thousands, even millions of people, use. STOP - this is more than likely a scam.

DO NOT click that link. Log in legitimately to your bank account online or call a legitimate banking number to find out if they know anything about activity on your account. If there is a problem, there will be a notice posted on your account.

Then, of course, there are the telephone calls. They promise you great things or pull the same trick as an email scam. It's just another way to obtain information or at the very least, sell you something. 

NEVER give any personal information over the telephone - get off as quickly as possible and don't let them browbeat you.

A prevalent place for scams can be right at your front door. You and those in your household should discuss how to handle unexpected people showing up at the door. Here is a true story of a common front door scam.

Helen (fictitious name) answered her door one morning to find (what she thought) an employee from animal control. She believed him to be legitimate because he wore the correct uniform and had an ID badge. He informed her that a dangerous animal had escaped from their shelter and was spotted in her neighborhood. He asked to inspect her back yard and storage areas that would attract the animal. She consented and while Helen and the phony employee spent considerable time in the backyard, his accomplice entered her home and robbed her of what valuables he could easily transport.

Helen should have contacted animal control directly prior to letting him in the backyard. Helen's first clue should have been that he appeared at her door unannounced. Legitimate services, even police, rarely show up unannounced. With today's technology an ID badge is easily faked and they look real.

People prey on the good will of others. Regrettably, this is something we all must keep in mind. With the scope and enormity of the information highways today, we need to know how to sort out and spot scams. With the holiday season starting, there will be even more. Here are some basic tips on how to avoid scams.

PROCEED with caution when you encounter anyone or receive anything unknown
NEVER open anything suspicious in your email
DO NOT allow anyone to enter your residence without verification
REFUSE to cave into pressure and harassment; hang up or refuse to open your door
VERIFY who and what through a legitimate source when you receive anything suspicious
EDUCATE those around you of the dangers, particularly children and elderly people

Follow these precautions and have a safe and happy holiday season.

Best Home Shopping Season in Almost a Decade

System - Monday, September 23, 2013
June Concludes Best Spring Home Shopping Season in Almost a Decade

As the weather warmed up this spring, so did the national housing market, shaking off a relatively sluggish start to the year to register the highest annual rate of home value appreciation in any second quarter since 2004.

The U.S. Zillow Home Value Index rose to $161,100 as of the end of the second quarter, up 5.8 percent year-over-year and 2.4 percent from the first quarter, the largest annual gain since August 2006 and largest gain in any quarter since the fourth quarter of 2005. National home values rose just 0.25 percent during the first quarter.

Additionally, not only did the pace of home value appreciation quicken in the second quarter, but the recovery also fully took hold nationwide. Markets in some areas of the Northeast, Midwest and Southeastern U.S. that had previously been slow to turn the corner began to appreciate, which helped boost the overall national market. All of the top 30 largest metro areas covered by Zillow experienced annual appreciation as of the end of the second quarter, and all have hit their bottom. Metros with the largest annual gains in the second quarter included Sacramento (29.5 percent), Las Vegas (29.4 percent) and San Francisco (25.5 percent).

Home values are expected to rise another 5 percent over the next 12 months, according to the Zillow Home Value Forecast. Of the 30 largest metro areas, 29 are expected to show home value appreciation in the next year. Metros expected to see the highest appreciation rates through June 2014 include Sacramento (18.9 percent), Riverside, CA (16.6 percent) and Phoenix (11 percent).

Only the New York metro is expected to show home value depreciation over the next 12 months (-0.8 percent). One possible explanation for expected depreciation (however slight) in the New York metro area is because New York is a judicial foreclosure state, with all foreclosures requiring judicial review before completion, which can lengthen the foreclosure process. Because foreclosures take longer to work through the system, they continue to drag home value appreciation rates down, according to Zillow economists. This could also help explain why large metro areas in other judicial foreclosure states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois, are expected to show only modest appreciation over the next year.

As home values continue to rise along with mortgage interest rates, and different kinds of buyers and sellers enter and exit the market, the landscape is expected to change.

“The U.S. housing market as a whole is currently not experiencing a bubble, but in many places it sure must feel like one, with some markets experiencing annual home value appreciation approaching 30 percent. Homeowners are feeling a sense of whiplash after years of depreciation, but this kind of market behavior won’t last,” said Zillow Senior Economist Svenja Gudell. “Investors are starting to pull out of some markets and regular buyers are coming back, and more inventory is slowly but surely coming on line, both of which will contribute to slowdowns in appreciation. Additionally, in some overheated markets, rapid home value increases coupled with rising mortgage rates will lead to housing prices and financing costs outpacing local income growth, which will also contribute to a moderation of the market. Combined, all of these factors will help the market in the second half of 2013 and beyond normalize and become much more steady than it has been in these past six months.”

In the rental market, national rents fell in the second quarter compared with the first quarter by 0.5 percent, to a Zillow Rent Index of $1,282, the first quarterly decline after nine consecutive quarters either increasing or remaining flat. Year-over-year, national rents rose 1.6 percent as of the end of the second quarter. This is a significant annual decline in the rental appreciation rate, which at its peak stood at 6.2 percent nationally in September 2012. This development combined with rising home values is another contributor to investors exiting some markets, as they had often bought for-sale inventory to convert into for-rent properties.

Foreclosure rates also fell in the second quarter compared with the first quarter. A total of 4.96 out of every 10,000 homes nationwide were foreclosed upon in the second quarter, down 0.7 homes per 10,000 from the first quarter and down 1.6 homes per 10,000 year-over-year.

Cory Hopkins, July 22, 2013

How to Save as a Renter

System - Sunday, September 22, 2013
If you're renting, you probably know that the market is pretty tight right now. Fewer properties are available, and some particularly tough markets have seen a spate of abuses by unscrupulous landlords and brokers. But you can still save on rent and other monthly housing expenses by negotiating with your landlord and implementing some common-sense cost-saving tactics.

In this installment of "Real Estate on the Cheap," we'll focus on saving as a renter, then look at whether the end of the space-shuttle program will affect the housing market in sunny Cocoa Beach, Fla.

Have a good reason for a discount
There are kindhearted landlords out there, but renting is a business, so don't expect a break on rent just because you ask.

"I would advise tenants not to give sob stories and tell us how we can help them," says Ryan Pyle, a Toledo, Ohio, landlord. "They need to offer some sort of value in return for the discount."

Here are four reasons a landlord might consider giving you a discount:

1. The unit is priced higher than comparable ones in the area.
In July's renting-advice column, Karen Aho wrote that a tenant should become familiar with the landlord's competition using sites such as Craigslist, HotPads and Cazoodle. Looking at comparable places will give you an idea whether your unit is priced correctly.

Here's another site you can use: Rentometer.com. Input the apartment rent, address and size, and Rentometer will tell you where it falls in the range of apartment prices in the immediate area. ApartmentRatings.com also has a "What the Neighbors Pay" tool, which will show you the average reported rents for one- and two-bedroom apartments by metropolitan statistical area since 2000.

2. I'm an excellent tenant and will always pay rent on time.
If you have near-perfect credit and a spotless rental history, don't be afraid to brag about it. Landlords have more options than ever when selecting tenants, and a tenant with good credit will stand out from the crowd.

Many landlords depend on rent to pay the monthly mortgage or their own bills, so on-time rent payment is important. If your landlord is set up for it, you can take things a step further and have the rent automatically deducted from your bank account each month. Jim Olenbush, an Austin, Texas, landlord, says he gives a 5% rate reduction for tenants who use automatic monthly transfers to pay their rent.

You can also ask your landlord whether signing a longer lease could get you a discount. It might be worth something for your landlord to know he'll have an occupied unit that much longer.

3. I can pay several months' rent upfront.
Pyle says cash is king when it comes to scoring a deal on a rental. He recently gave a 7% discount to a tenant who paid four months' rent in advance.

"In one instance, a tenant received a large income-tax refund, and he offered to pay a full year's rent in advance," he says.

That tenant saved 11% on the entire year's rent. 

"That's a pretty attractive return for him," Pyle says. "I did it because I wanted to buy another property and needed a down payment. So it was a win-win situation."

Olenbush says he offers a free month if a tenant pays for a year in advance.

"We have had several cases of tenants paying for a year's worth of rent upfront for various reasons," Olenbush says. "One was in foreclosure and did not qualify for the lease, so he paid 12 months upfront. Other times, they have paid in advance with no reason given or as a negotiating tactic to secure a lower rental rate."

This can be a great way to save money in the long run. Plus, you won't have to worry about remembering to pay your rent each month. But Pyle does have a few words of warning: "Before handing over several months' rent, tenants should be sure that the landlord is current with his mortgage and not about to be in foreclosure. They might ask to see his most recent mortgage statement."

4. I'll work for my discount.
Remember what Pyle said about offering value in exchange for a discount? One possible value to the landlord is offering to help take care of the property.

Cathy Herard lives in coastal Maine and gets a discount each month for mowing the lawn in the summer and removing snow in the winter.

"When there are small jobs needing to be done, like painting or yard work, we've done some of the work for a discount on our rent," she says. "It's worked out great for both us and our landlord."

For liability reasons, you shouldn't do any major repairs on the unit yourself. Olenbush says one renter who owned a remodeling company offered him free work in exchange for rent concessions, but "too many things could go wrong in that situation."

Look beyond negotiation
Once you've exhausted your negotiation skills, think about other ways you can save each month. Here are a few common-sense possibilities:

Downsize. Can you live with less? Find out if a smaller unit is available in your building, or look around for a place that would meet your needs but costs less.
Add a friend. If you have an extra room in your place, why not take on a roommate? It may not be your first choice, but having someone else pitch in on rent could reduce your burden significantly. Check with your landlord to see what you must do to add someone to the lease.
Conserve. If you pay your own utilities, be conscious of what you're using. Put on a sweater instead of turning up the heat. Turn out lights you don't need and unplug appliances when they're not in use.
Cut other costs. Maybe your rent is set in stone and you've reduced all the housing expenses you can. But what about groceries, transportation, dining out or entertainment? A few small reductions can really add up.
Finding a good deal in Cocoa Beach
If you're dreading the icy sidewalks and frozen noses of winter, you'll enjoy dreaming of the beaches and sunshine in Florida. And if you're thinking of buying, prices are reasonable in Cocoa Beach, where daytime temps hover in the 70s and 80s all winter.

Cocoa Beach is a popular tourist attraction, particularly for Europeans. It's about an hour west to Orlando, Fla., and just a few miles to Port Canaveral for cruise departures. The town's gorgeous oceanfront and location on the Banana River make for some amazing waterfront properties, broker associate Dave Congdon says.

Cocoa Beach is also known for its proximity to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. It's part of a stretch known as Florida's Space Coast.

Although some NASA employees and contractors live in Cocoa Beach, Congdon says he doesn't expect the end of the space-shuttle program to have a drastic effect on its housing market. "We're kind of in this transition stage," he says. "There are big plans and new private companies talking about coming in and hiring people for commercial ventures up at the space center."

He says Brevard County has a lot of high-tech jobs, not all of which hinge on the space program. But some parts of the county have been more reliant on space than others. "My personal opinion is you've seen some big effects in places like Titusville (Fla.)" up north, Congdon says. Space exploration has driven the economy in Titusville for four decades.

But the effect in Cocoa Beach has been primarily on the expectations of buyers. "The bad press (about the shuttle program) creates an atmosphere for the buyers that the market must be depressed," Congdon says. "That affects what kind of offers they make. They all want to try to lowball."

Unfortunately, a huge chunk of the available properties are bank sales, and lowball offers  may not work. In fact, a recent bank sale got seven offers in less than a week, and the property sold for $40,000 more than its asking price.

"Banks are doing that on purpose. They lowball the prices and try to create a bidding war, a mini-auction environment," Congdon says. "And if the property is in a good location, they get it. "

Beyond those forced-auction bank properties, most homes on the market are appropriately priced, he says. Frustrated sellers who had overpriced their homes have taken them off the market. The homes that are left are priced to compete with the financially distressed homes, which have made up about half of sales this year. And properly priced homes mean investors are swarming.

"Of 130 homes that sold in the last 120 days, 78 were cash buyers," Congdon says. "That doesn't surprise me."

Many of those cash purchases were condos and town houses. Among single-family homes that sold, the median price for a three-bedroom home was $269,900, Congdon says. But prices vary significantly; homes on the beach cost about $100,000 more than those inland. Cocoa Beach is on a barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and the Banana River Lagoon.

The area's geography leads to a wide array of homes and prices. "You could have an oceanfront home that at one point sold for $3 million, and less than a mile away is a 1950s house that used to be part of the Air Force base housing," Congdon says. "Then a quarter-mile on the other side are beautiful homes with deepwater canals and huge sailboats and water everywhere you look. It's an interesting place."

Many people retire in Cocoa Beach, and some have second homes there.

"A lot of them rented properties originally and are now in the market because they realize this is about as good as it's going to get from a price standpoint," Congdon says. "As long as people are reasonable on asking prices, they seem to be selling fairly quickly."

By Leah L. Culler of MSN Real Estate

Borrowing Money from Friends and Family

System - Thursday, September 19, 2013

Borrowing from friends and family

Everyone warns against lending money amongst family and friends, but sometimes it's the only recourse. Here's what to expect, and how to make a loan go smoothly.

It can be unnerving when an unexpected event turns into a major expense, especially when you don't have the means to pay for it.

Beth and her husband were still in college when the engine blew in their 5-year-old car. Their dilemma: Pay $5,000 to repair the otherwise OK car with a remanufactured engine, or spend even more money to buy another car. Either way, they had no cash and no credit. And they had a paltry emergency fund.

Sometimes the easiest solution seems to be calling on family or friends for a loan. But proceed with caution. We interview borrowers from two families who requested anonymity. Their stories reveal when borrowing money works, when it doesn't and what you can do to make sure your loan goes smoothly.

Beware of power shifts in the relationship

Friend to friend, parent to child, child to parent, brother to sister -- borrowing money from someone makes you beholden to that person.

"When you borrow money, it changes the power dynamic," says personal finance expert Manisha Thakor, CFA. "That's the overarching umbrella."

That's one reason Beth and her husband did not borrow more than once from her in-laws. "There were other family members who were habitual borrowers," she says. "My mother-in-law felt like she had the right to inspect their checkbooks."

She also made lifestyle judgments, Beth says. "My husband's brother was a frequent borrower. (My mother-in-law) felt she had the right to say, 'You need to quit smoking' or 'I'm not going to give you money unless you quit drinking soda.' You can use money to manipulate people, and I don't think that's right."

Be business-like in your dealings

Beth and her husband approached the car loan as a business deal. Before going to her father-in-law, the pair listed the pros and cons of buying a new car or fixing the car they had. They decided repairing their current car made the most financial sense.

They outlined their proposition to Beth's father-in-law and checked to make sure he agreed with their assessment. Then they asked him to lend them the money, which they'd pay back in monthly installments.

"We went to the Bank of Dad and said, 'We'd rather borrow the $5,000 from you,'" Beth recalls. "It was a no-interest loan. That was huge for him."

This could have been the story of how to borrow money and make it work. But Beth and her husband found that even doing everything right doesn't guarantee success.

Have a back-up plan

"We took the car to the mechanic to get the work done," Beth says. "After the work was done, my father-in-law said, 'I've been thinking about this. I don't want to loan you the entire $5,000. I'll loan you $3,500 and you have to come up with the rest on your own.' He said it was his money, his decision, and he could give us no (extra) money."

Faced with the mechanic's bill, Beth and her husband were really in a jam. So they cleaned out their savings account, which they had hoped to reserve for any other unplanned expenses.

The relationship may suffer

Beth and her husband continued to be civil and make appearances at family holiday gatherings, but they curtailed their other visits and family activities.

"If he'd said that from the beginning, we would have been fine," Beth says. "But we were very angry that he changed his mind after the fact. It was the principle. We had approached him as a business arrangement. That's why we were so angry."

It took about two years to get back on good terms.

Beth took a weekend job selling women's shoes for a year. "That's enough to make you angry," she quips. The couple paid the money back in 18 months.

In most cases, that's the best way to keep the relationship on good terms, Thakor says.

"Make timely payments -- every single time," she says. "I've observed that when people are getting paid back on time, the power dynamic tends to stay in balance as each party is doing what the other expected."

Get it in writing

Some families treat a loan as a business transaction. Ann has borrowed money three times from her parents -- and it went well each time. Fresh out of college with no credit history, she borrowed $2,000 to buy her first car.

She paid $100 a month and had the loan paid in full within two years. Later, Ann borrowed $10,000 to help with the down payment for her first home. She took three years to repay that loan.

Each time, Ann had a written agreement. "My father majored in accounting, and he thinks that way," Ann says. "Dad explained that if someone died, the lender would have proof against the estate to get the money back. It's helpful to have everything in writing, even if you know everybody has the best intentions in the world."

Build a credit history

Ann had established herself as a good credit risk at the Bank of Dad. Good thing, because her third loan, a short-term bailout, was needed to keep her second home purchase on track. Less than 48 hours before she was due to close on the home, a mortgage officer realized that Ann's pending purchase counted as a second home.

She was buying the home to prepare for an eventual move to be close to family, but planned to remain in her current home at least a year first. The bank required 30 percent down instead of only 20 percent.

"I had the assets," Ann says. "I just did not have anything I could write a certified check on. The sale would not have been able to take place. It would have been a mess."

With her track record, her parents didn't hesitate to lend her $17,000. One sentence sealed the deal. "I am borrowing this money, and will pay it back." And she did, within two weeks.

When her parents found themselves in the same situation -- equity-rich but cash-poor -- Ann didn't think twice about lending them $35,000. It was a chance to reciprocate and come to her parents' aid for a change.


By: Karen Haywood Queen



11 Tips to Rebuild Your Credit!

System - Wednesday, September 18, 2013

11 Tips to Rebuild Your Credit

Looking for tips to build your credit? Here’s a slew of them to help you get your credit back on track.

Set a date night with your credit.

Think of it as your monthly check-up, or weigh in. Or add it to your to-do list when you pay your bills. Just be sure to take a few minutes each month to review your credit scores, monitor your progress, and set your goals for the coming month. Your credit reports and scores are generated when they are requested, so as soon as negative information is no longer reported — or positive information is reported — your scores can change.

Don’t overlook the obvious.

When you are trying to fix your credit, you may find yourself focusing on the “big” stuff like judgments, charge-offs or other negative information. But the personal information on your credit reports is also important. A misspelling of your name, or an address you’ve never lived at, could indicate your credit information is getting mixed up with someone else’s. So take errors here as seriously as any other mistakes you may find on your credit reports.

Mark your calendar.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act addresses how long negative information can remain on your credit reports. There are limits on how long negative information can be reported:

  • Late payments: 7 years from the date the payment was late
  • Collection accounts: 7.5 years from the date of delinquency on the original debt (leading up to collection)
  • Charge-offs: 7 years from the date charged off
  • Tax liens: 7 years after they are paid or satisfied
  • Judgments: 7 years from the date entered by the court if paid, possibly longer if unpaid
  • Repossession: 7 years from the date the repo occurred
  • Bankruptcy: 10 years from the date filed (Chapter 13 cases will be removed 7 years from the date of filing)

You typically don’t have to request that the credit reporting agencies stop reporting negative information that is too old; they do that automatically. But it’s still a good idea to check your credit reports around 30 – 60 days after this type of information is scheduled to come off your reports to make sure it’s gone.

Watch out for credit report double jeopardy.

Collection accounts that go unpaid may be sold from one collection agency to another. When that happens, both the number of collection accounts and the amount of debt you owe can be inflated. One of our readers founds that four unpaid credit card debts turned into fourteen collection accounts on her credit reports! It may take time to unravel which are legitimate, but when you do, dispute all but the most recent accounts as duplicates

Don’t be afraid to bargain with debt collectors.

As far as your credit scores are concerned, it doesn’t make much of a difference whether you pay a collection account in full or settle the balance for less than the full amount. Just make sure that you get any deals in writing. Paying a collection account won’t immediately change your scores, but it will mean you can stop worrying about that debt and focus on other financial goals.

Kiss your tax lien goodbye.

If there’s one great tip to build your credit, this one is it: If you pay or settle a tax debt that resulted in a tax lien on your credit reports, you may be able to get that lien removed completely from your reports. The same may apply if you enter into an installment agreement with the IRS. Find out if you qualify and if you do, your credit scores may improve significantly when the tax lien is removed.

Accentuate the positive.

After running into credit problems, you may be afraid to jump in the water and use credit again. While you certainly want to be cautious and avoid getting in over your head again, getting credit is going to be essential to building your scores again. Recent, positive credit information can help your credit scores, and can make a big difference as you fix your credit.

Get a secured card.

These cards should be easy to get, even with damaged credit because you put up a security deposit for the card. (Manage the account properly and you will get your money back when you close the account.) If you choose a card that is reported to all three major credit reporting agencies, you’ll establish a new positive credit reference.

Don’t max out a credit card.

I recently talked with someone who is trying to restore his credit after a short sale and tax liens sent his scores plummeting. He opened a secured card with a $500 limit and was using it as often as possible, in hopes that would help his credit. What he didn’t realize is that his credit report listed a $400 balance on a card with a $500 limit. That made it look like he was maxxing out a card, which wasn’t helping his scores. Ideally, you want to use no more than 10 – 25% or so of the available credit on an individual card to score well for this factor.

Dispute mistakes the right way.

When you review your credit reports, you may find information that is wrong. If the mistake is a serious one, it’s a good idea to send a letter rather than filing an online dispute. You’ll need to challenge the error with each of the major credit reporting agencies that is reporting the error, since they don’t share information with each other. And if you ask a lender to correct information that it is supplying to the credit reporting agencies.

Be extra careful this time around.

One late payment can mean a big drop in your credit scores, and that’s not what you need if you are trying to fix your credit. Set bills up on autopay or set up automatic payment reminders by email and/or text message so you don’t forget a bill.

Written by: Gerri Detweiler

November 12, 2012 

Pets vs. Service Animals in Rentals

System - Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Landlord Study Hall: Pets vs. Service Animals in Rentals

John and Laura enjoyed their first Landlord Study Hall. There was discussion on pets vs. service animals. Basically a service animal is not considered a pet in the rental world. Landlords must very careful when referring to these animals, there are strict laws protecting the rights of service animals which range from Seeing Eye dogs to comfort animals, all service animals are allowed in rentals and cannot be discriminated against or called PETS.

The question was asked, "Can a pet deposit be applied to service animals?" The answer: NO.
Can pet rental be applied to service animals? The answer: NO.

How does a landlord know if the tenant has a pet or service animal? Answer: Service animals have legal documents, like a doctor or agency that has qualified the need for the person to have the service animal. A tenant can be asked to show these documents, along with proof of the animal's current license and the shot records (for proof the immunizations are current.

If a service animal becomes vicious to other tenants, if the tenant does not clean up after the service animal in the yard as defined in the rental contract, the tenant can be given notice and ultimately can be evicted if the problem is not corrected.

Property insurance companies can no longer discriminate against any breed if it's a service animal. They can if a dog is not a service animal, our property insurance will not cover 5 breeds of dogs, but service animals are exempt from that.

Created by: John and Laura Holbrook

Monday, June 13, 2011

Driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants

System - Monday, September 16, 2013

RALEIGH — The role that states should play in immigration reform has been a hot button issue across the country and here in North Carolina. Yet regardless of whether Congress comes to a consensus on a bill that would put an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, about 325,000 of those in North Carolina, on a path to citizenship, the truth is that the U.S. cannot deport 11 million people back to their countries of origin. It is not sensible, fiscally or morally.  

Sadly, one byproduct of the current gridlock is that many undocumented immigrants in North Carolina are forced to drive without a license just to carry on their daily lives because our state denies driver’s licenses to immigrants who do not have a Social Security number. However, a growing number of states across the country, including Maryland, Utah, and New Mexico, grant licenses to all qualified drivers regardless of immigration status and many others have considered similar proposals. North Carolina would be wise to follow the example of these other states. Doing so would make our roads safer for all drivers.

Undocumented immigrants in North Carolina drive out of necessity. Public transportation is inadequate for many people, particularly in rural communities, to get to their jobs or the grocery store, take their children to school or attend places of worship. They have to drive and will continue to do so, with or without a license. Granting a driver’s license regardless of immigration status would guarantee that those who are now driving without a license know the rules of the road.
Furthermore, a driver’s license would allow undocumented immigrants the opportunity to be adequately insured.  Illinois Governor Pat Quinn pointed out that his state’s passage of a measure granting driving privileges to the undocumented community would lower premiums for everyone by reducing an estimated $64 million in annual damage claims related to accidents involving undocumented immigrants.

North Carolina Secretary of Transportation Anthony Tata and members of our state’s law enforcement community have also promoted this message. In announcing why the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles would issue driver’s licenses to immigrants granted relief from deportation by the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program earlier this year, Secretary Tata said that thanks to the new policy, “We will know who they are.  They will have a license. They will have insurance, and it will make our roads safer."  

Guilford County Sheriff B.J. Barnes, accompanied by other sheriffs throughout the state, added, “We wanted something where they could show us that they are eligible to drive … and can do it safely. This is something law enforcement has needed. This is all about safety for us. This is about knowing who we are dealing with.” It is just common sense that these principles extend to people who, despite not having documentation, are already active members in our communities and have made North Carolina their home.

But the license cannot be the carrot before the proverbial stick. The driver’s license must not be a tool to adopt measures that may subject an already vulnerable community to the possibility of additional harassment and discrimination. Legislation proposed in the General Assembly earlier this year would have extended limited driving privileges to all immigrants, regardless of status, but it would have also ushered in an Arizona-style anti-immigrant law that would have legalized racial profiling and allowed police to stop and detain people based on their appearance. That is not the right approach for North Carolina.

Allowing undocumented immigrants to receive a driver’s license does nothing but make sure that everyone on the road knows how to drive. Notably, the states that adopted driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants still comply with federal requirements that limit the use of such licenses for voting purposes, benefits and air travel. They certainly haven’t “legalized” the undocumented immigrants living and working in their states.

While we await Congressional action on the fate of the millions of undocumented immigrants in this country, this proactive measure would allow undocumented immigrants to continue to contribute to our communities by traveling safely to work, to school, and to take care of their families. Ten states have already adopted this sensible approach. It is time for North Carolina to follow suit.

The Herald Sun
September 16, 2013
By Raul Pinto, Guest columnist 

Raul Pinto is a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina

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