How Do You Spot a Foreclosure Rescue Scam Artist?

With foreclosure rates high, homeowners all over the country are struggling to secure their finances and save their home. Unfortunately, this means that foreclosure rescue and mortgage modification scams are on the rise as well.

So how do these scammers move in? Many companies say they can get a change to a loan that will reduce the homeowner’s monthly mortgage payment. Others say they’re affiliated with the government, or the lender, and many even offer a money-back guarantee. These con artists often claim they can ‘save’ your home, often pretending that they have direct contact with your mortgage servicer. They ask for a fee, or require you to make mortgage payments directly to them, and then they disappear with your money.

And how do they find distressed homeowners? Some watch for public foreclosure notices in newspapers and online, or check public files at local government offices, and then send personalized letters or make phone calls directly to the homeowner. Some place ads online or on TV and let the homeowners come to them.

Here are a few different commonly used tactics that scammers use to lure in distressed homeowners.

The Rent-to-Buy

Companies or scammers who use the rent-to-buy scheme tell the owner to surrender the title to their house as part of a deal that allows them to stay there as a renter with the promise that they can repurchase the property later.

The Counselor

The company or scammer tells the homeowner that for a fee, they’ll negotiate a deal with your lender to reduce your mortgage payments or to save your home. Often, they claim to be attorneys or represent a law firm.

Bait-and-Switch

In this type of scam, con artists give homeowners documents to sign to get an additional loan, which they claim will make their loan current. Usually somewhere hidden in the document is information surrendering the title of the home to the scammers in exchange for a rescue loan.

The Auditor

Here, an “auditor” offers to have an attorney or real estate expert review your mortgage document to determine if your lender complied with the law. They ask for an upfront fee and then disappear. These scam artists often call themselves forensic loan auditors, mortgage loan auditors or foreclosure prevention auditors.

So how can you tell if you are dealing with a foreclosure rescue scam artist? Keep an eye out for the following warning signs:

Beware of anyone who:

– Asks you to pay an upfront fee in exchange for counseling or loan modification

– Pressures you to sign papers immediately

– Asks for payment by wire transfer or cashier’s check

– Claims they will buy your home from you so you can repurchase it over time

– Tells you not to contact your bank, lender or lawyer

– Asks you to make mortgage payments to them, instead of your lender

Do not sign over the deed to your property to any organization or individual unless you are working directly with your mortgage company, and never make a mortgage payment to anyone other than your mortgage company.

If you have any questions or concerns, please call 503-906-8990 to speak with one of the trusted mortgage consultants at Columbia Mortgage. To learn more, visit www.columbiamortgage.net.

License #MB38233


Kitchen Upgrades to Give Your House an Advantage over the Competition

Stainless steel appliancesWhether they are entertaining, creating new recipes or sharing culinary ideas with their spouses, today’s homeowners are spending more time in the kitchen than ever before. Not only can an updated, professional looking kitchen make food preparation easy and even enjoyable, spending some time and money in the kitchen before listing your home for sale is a great way to get buyers interested in your home.

The first step in making sure your kitchen is up to par is to upgrade to more durable products such as stainless steel kitchen sinks, refrigerators and ovens. Not only does stainless steel resist scratches, it is also easy to maintain.

Stainless steel, as it is a neutral color, is easy to match with just about any modern kitchen décor. These appliances usually come in a high-shine, mirror finish or a less bright, but still beautiful, brushed stainless steel finish. Stainless steel can withstand very hot and very cold temperatures, making the material ideal for appliances. Unlike plastic or ceramic, stainless steel does not break easily, even if dropped. Stainless steel may dent, but it will not shatter or chip the way other materials will.

Some home designers recommend wood cabinets as a way to contrast, complement and even add a warm, organic element to kitchens with stainless steel appliances. A nice backsplash can also do wonders.

For those looking for rich color along with durability, cast iron is a good alternative for sinks. If you have the room, you may want to think about adding additional sinks. Not only will multiple sinks simplify the cooking process, it also allows for better cleanup and organization.

Another great amenity for the kitchen is a pot filler, or an extendable faucet that can be installed next to your stovetop or prep sink for easy water access.

For the home chef who wants a professional place to cook, granite and quartz are the leading choices for countertops, especially for pastry chefs seeking an expansive workspace and a cool surface for rolling out dough.

If you’re looking to make food preparation even easier, movable cutting boards, rinsing baskets and various trays and receptacles will help get the job done quickly and properly.

Whether you’re updating your kitchen for your enjoyment or to help your house stand out among the competition, these ideas can do wonders in opening up the eyes of a potential buyer. To find a reputable contractor to assist you with a kitchen upgrade, please visit www.HomeServicesNW.com or call 1-877-231-3210 for assistance.


Prevent Home Fires This Holiday Season

With increased activity in the kitchen and heightened energy use to combat the cold, families are at greater risk of home fires during thespace heater winter holiday season. The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) is encouraging families and communities across the country to take simple precautions to ensure that this celebratory time of year does not result in a fire-related tragedy.

Many of these simple precautions seem like common sense, but are often overlooked due to the hectic nature of the holiday season. In addition to taking preventative measures like testing smoke alarms, it is critical that families create and practice their fire escape plan to minimize tragedy if a fire does occur.

Follow these basic safety guidelines to help protect your family, guests and home from holiday home fires:

– Stay in the kitchen when food is cooking. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the United States.

– Keep children at least three feet away from cooking appliances. Never leave a child unsupervised while cooking or when an electric or gas stove is within reach.

– Keep towels, pot holders, curtains and other flammable items away from hot surfaces.

– With greater activity in and around your home comes increased energy use. Be careful not to overburden your electrical system.

– Keep space heaters out of high-traffic and exit areas, and at least three feet away from any combustible materials.

– Do not use space heaters in rooms where children are unsupervised.

– Turn space heaters off when you go to sleep or leave the room. Never leave a space heater unattended.

– Install smoke alarms inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of your home. Test smoke alarms once a month to ensure they are working properly.

– Make sure everyone in your family recognizes the sound of the smoke alarm and knows what it means.

– Plan for a fire emergency before it happens. Be sure to explain your family fire escape plan to overnight houseguests and babysitters.

For more information, please visit www.holidaysafety.org.


Should Selling Your Home Be on Your Wish List This Holiday Season?

For many, the holiday season is truly the most wonderful time of the year, but if you’re trying to get your home sold, the hustle and bustle of the season may prove to be a bit stressful. But for many, the timing is perfect.

Real estate professionals often debate about whether it’s a good idea to have your house on the market during the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. Some believe that those six weeks are busy enough for people without worrying about the notion of buying a home, while others argue that there will be less competition and a better chance for sellers to get their homes sold.

Proponents of leaving a house on the market argue that prospective buyers who do look at your house over the holiday season may be more serious, and if you wait until the NewYear to list your property, you will face more competition.

Plus, since January is often a month when employers and employees tend to move, many are looking for a new place to call home during late November and December, so it’s a great time to capture that market.

There are also buyers trying to claim the tax benefits that come from buying in a given year, and those who need to make a quick decision might be more apt to settling quickly.

One downside for the seller is that the hectic time of year makes it harder to get a home ready at the drop of a hat if an agent calls to schedule a last-minute showing. People are busy making food, wrapping presents and preparing for a house full of guests, so it could be a big inconvenience. However, your house may be decorated with beautiful lights and decorations, creating a festive feeling that will attract buyers, and it may pay off in the long run.

Some real estate professionals believe that keeping your house on the market throughout the holiday season will have you appealing to a much smaller inventory of buyers who have very specific needs that your home might not meet. Many others counter that less inventory throughout the holiday season means less competition. Since more people vacation during the holiday season, they actually have more time to look for a home that includes everything they want and need.

For homes that have been on the market for a while, removing them for the duration of the holiday season will allow the house to go back as a new listing in January, thereby drawing more traffic because it’s fresh. However, you need to take into account the fact that you risk losing the buyer who may have been looking in December.

Finally, many agents believe that buyers tend to be more emotional during the holidays and are in the habit of spending more money, so getting the price you want may be easier.

To help you determine if selling your home during the holidays is right for you, please contact a Prudential Northwest Properties real estate professional today.


Top 5 Tax Moves to Make by December 31

As December begins and the holiday season and spirit of giving move into full swing, why not make a few tax moves now that could give you added savings when you file your 2011 tax return? The year-end is an ideal time to lower your 2011 tax liability and increase the size of your refund when tax time arrives early in 2012.

There is still time for a final push to claim several tax benefits before 2011 winds to a close. Many taxpayers will be doing things like giving to charities and pre-paying January tuition, but the key is knowing how these and other common expenses may count as tax deductions if you qualify. There are five key considerations taxpayers should be thinking of before December 31 to reduce taxable income and increase deductions or credits to claim:taxes

1. Save more for retirement – By increasing retirement plan contributions, you can reduce your income for tax purposes. Taxpayers can contribute up to $16,500 to a 401(k), 403(b) or Federal Government Thrift Savings Plan; those over age 50 can contribute an additional $5,500.

2. Prepay January payments in December – Taking care of your January mortgage payment, 4th quarter state tax estimate, or winter semester tuition now lets you claim these payments on your 2011 tax return.

3. Get to the doctor! – If you are holding off on a major medical procedure until after the holidays, stop procrastinating and make an appointment now to increase your 2011 medical expense deductions.

4. Give to charity – Giving cash and non-cash donations to charity can give back on your taxes. And volunteering time counts too, which means the more than 80,000 volunteers who lent a helping hand to the Joplin, Mo. tornado victims may be able to deduct their out-of-pocket expenses on a tax return.

5. Save energy, save $500 on your taxes – If you are planning to buy an energy-saving, hot water heater or install energy efficient windows or insulation to your home, do it now. Up to $500 in credit may be available for making energy-related home improvements.

Please speak with your tax professional for clarification on any of these suggestions.

Source: www.jacksonhewittonline.com


Maintain Your Fireplace and Keep It Safe

Homeowners are now getting ready to put their fireplaces to good use. Heed the following safety tips to help aid in the prevention of chimney fires and carbon monoxide intrusion, and to help keep heating appliances and fireplaces functioning properly.

1. Get an annual chimney check. Have chimneys inspected annually, and cleaned as necessary, by a qualified professional chimney service technician. This reduces the risk of fires and carbon monoxide poisonings due to creosote buildup or obstructions in the chimneys.

2. Keep it clear. Keep tree branches and leaves at least 15 feet away from the top of the chimney.Maintain your fireplace

3. Install a chimney cap to keep debris and animals out of the chimney.

4. Choose the right fuel. For burning firewood in wood stoves or fireplaces, choose well seasoned wood that has been split for a minimum of six months to one year and stored in a covered and elevated location. Never burn Christmas trees or treated wood in your fireplace or wood stove.

5. Build it right. Place firewood or firelogs at the rear of the fireplace on a supporting grate. To start the fire, use kindling or a commercial firelighter. Never use flammable liquids.

6. Keep the hearth area clear. Combustible material too close to the fireplace, or to a wood stove, could easily catch fire. Keep furniture at least 36” away from the hearth.

7. Use a fireplace screen. Use metal mesh or a screen in front of the fireplace to catch flying sparks that could ignite or burn holes in the carpet or flooring.

8. Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Place detectors throughout the house and check batteries in the spring and fall. When you change your clocks for Daylight Savings Time, remember to check your batteries.

9. Never leave a fire unattended. Before heading to bed, be sure that the fire is fully extinguished. Supervise children and pets closely around wood stoves and fireplaces.

For more information, visit www.csia.org.


Indoor Air Quality and Health – How One Impacts the Other

indoor air qualityMaintaining a healthy home means promoting a healthy lifestyle, but some Americans aren’t aware of the important role indoor air plays in creating a healthy home. In fact, nearly half of Americans (49%) believe indoor air quality has little to no impact on overall health, according to an online indoor air quality consumer survey conducted by Harris Interactive.

The truth is that improved indoor air quality can lead to a healthier lifestyle for you and your family. The good news is that there are simple steps you can take to improve the air quality in your home and your overall quality of life. If you are remodeling or building your home, there are several changes that can minimize contaminants and improve the air you breathe inside your home.

According to the study, Americans are more likely to improve air quality by making temporary changes—cleaning carpets, using cleaning products that promise to reduce pollutants and cleaning and/or disinfecting ducts. However, there are things that can have a longer lasting affect such as:

-Keeping your house mold-free. Mold spores produce allergens that can trigger asthma attacks and cause sneezing, runny nose and red eyes.
-Using safer building materials such as stainless steel, tile, adobe and insulation without added formaldehydes.
-Keeping your home free of radon. The colorless, odorless gas can cause lung cancer.
-Ensure your home is properly insulated to prevent leaks.

For more information, visit http://www.epa.gov/iaq/


Rent or Buy? Do the Math…

Owning a home has never been more affordable than in today’s market, according to NAR’s Housing Affordability Index.

The affordability index compares median income, median home price and mortgage rates. An index value of 100 means a family with the median income has exactly enough income to qualify for a mortgage on a median-priced home, assuming a 20 percent downpayment. The index rating has fluctuated within the 180 to 200 range since the beginning of this year. An HAI of 180 means that a family earning the median income has 180 percent of the income needed to qualify for a mortgage on a median priced home.

For deeper perspective, consider a family with an annual income of $60,000 renting at $1,000 per month. By comparison, a 30-year mortgage payment on a $170,000 home at a rate of 4.5 percent, assuming a 20 percent downpayment, would be $700 per month.


Prudential ranked highest among Home Sellers in J.D. Power and Associates Report!

Prudential Real Estate Ranked Highest in Overall Satisfaction for Home Sellers Among National Full Service Real Estate Firms by J.D. Power and Associates!

This is the second time in three years we’ve earned this distinction, and Prudential is the only brokerage network in the nation to improve in home-seller satisfaction in 2010.

 

This distinction comes on the heels of additional great news from our Relocation Division.  Trippel Survey & Research LLC, a customer satisfaction research company specializing in relocation data, ranked Prudential Real Estate and Relocation Services first among several of the largest firms providing relocation services in its 16thannual Nationwide Relocation Survey.  And earlier this year, PRERS ranked first in overall satisfaction in Trippel Survey & Research’s sixth annual Relocation Managers’ Survey on International Policy and Services Providers’ Performance.

We’re proud of our affiliation with the Prudential brand and of the great service we deliver. Ranking highest in the nation in seller satisfaction shows our clients appreciate and acknowledge our skill, expertise and service. Coupled with our tremendously high QSC ratings, this proves Prudential Northwest Properties continues to exceed expectations and provide the greatest value and service in the industry.


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