Fast Ways to Add Curb Appeal

When it’s time to sell, you’ll want to make your home as attractive as possible. Sparkling clean? Check. All appliances and systems working? Check. Clutter tamed? Check. Staged (if your Realtor® advises it)? Check. That takes care of the inside, but what about the outside? Those critical first seconds when a prospective buyer sees the exterior of you home, whether online or in person, can make the difference between an interested buyer and a pass. To increase buyer interest, you need to bump up your curb appeal. Here are ideas for fast ways to add curb appeal that don’t take a lot of time or money.

First Impressions. Realtors know that if buyers don’t like the look of a home in a photo or on a driving tour, they won’t want to look inside. Even in this red-hot market, buyers will be reluctant to view a home that doesn’t meet their initial expectations. It may be a cliché, but you only have one chance to make a first impression. Make it a good one.

The Basics. Let’s start with the minimum. Think clean, think tidy, think well maintained. Your home should tell buyers at first glance that you have cared for it and it’s in good condition. Start by standing outside, across the street or on the sidewalk. Pretend you’re a buyer and you’ve never seen the home before. What do you see? Unless your home was just featured as an “after” on an HGTV remodeling show, you’ll have work to do. Mow the lawn, trim overgrown shrubs, sweep paths and the driveway. Better yet, wash the sidewalk, paths and driveway. When was the last time you cleaned the windows? Do them yourself, or pay for professional cleaners. If the house exterior is dirty, you can try a power washer, but be careful to avoid areas you could damage, like windows or doors. Don’t forget to declutter. Put the bikes and toys away, get rid of any broken pots you’ve been saving “just in case,” and coil the hose neatly or hide it in a hose pot or storage box.

Dig Deeper. Dead flowers and sickly bushes are not appealing. Be ruthless. Rip them out and plant something new and colorful. Yes, buyers will see that you have done some yard renewal, but that’s a positive. You’ve done the work so they won’t have to! No need to go overboard, but a few well-placed shrubs or a new tree will be attractive without breaking the bank. Be sure to weed and mulch your flowerbeds, too. If the lawn looks patchy, consult your garden center about ways to re-seed.

A Lick Of Paint. Paint is an inexpensive way to give your home a fresh face. Start with the front door and entryway trim. Then consider other accent areas, like windows and trim, or shutters. When you are thinking of colors, look at your home’s style, main body color, and current color trends. For inspiration, visit the ever-popular Houzz website. Remember, if you live in a planned development, check with your homeowners’ association (HOA) for any color restrictions.

Little Things Mean A Lot. A few thoughtful touches can make a tired exterior look appealing. When was the last time you replaced your mailbox? What about your house numbers? Your doormat? Think about making your entry more welcoming with a patio chair (add a bright cushion) and a container or hanging basket of flowers. Check your lighting, too. You don’t have to spend a fortune on exterior light fixtures and they can provide a quick update to your entry.

Now that your home is ready for its close up, don’t skimp on professional photos. Your internet listing is the showcase for that impressively renewed exterior, so be sure the photos are top notch. Happy selling!

James Iley
Executive Vice President | National Production

Wire Fraud Can Steal Your New Home

Fraud takes our money and undermines our trust. Real estate wire fraud targets the transfer of funds in the last stages of a transaction. In the worst-case scenario, wire fraud can steal your home. So if you read nothing else today, please read this: No matter what, your initial wiring instructions for your purchase will not change. If you are provided new instructions, STOP! Wiring instructions do not change during the closing process. Call your mortgage loan originator and/or Realtor® immediately if you receive new wiring instructions. If that got your attention, read on.

A Fool And His Money. You probably know the old saying “A fool and his money are soon parted.” While you may feel foolish if you fall for a scam, realize that fraudsters are incredibly sophisticated in their understanding of one thing: people. They rely on their knowledge of humans and human nature to part you from your valuable personal data and your hard-earned dollars. Hackers know that people aren’t as careful as they should be when they set passwords. Phone scammers know how to play on your fears. Real estate wire fraudsters rely on bogus emails and exact timing to take advantage of you in an unfamiliar and stressful situation.

Why Wire Fraud? Broadly defined, wire fraud is a scheme to obtain money on false pretenses using electronic means. So why do fraudsters target wire transfers? Here’s another saying, this one attributed to bank robber Willie Sutton (although he may never have said it). When asked why he robbed banks, Sutton was said to have replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” Consider this. Globally, electronic funds transfers are in the quadrillions of dollars annually. I can’t even imagine what one quadrillion looks like, but if you want to steal money, that’s a very tempting target.

What Just Happened? You’re getting close to your closing. You know you are going to wire funds to the title and escrow company’s trust account, where the money will be secure until it’s time to disburse it according to the closing instructions. An email arrives from the title and escrow company with updated wire transfer instructions. You arrange for the transfer and check another item off your long to do list. The next day, or the day after that, the title company contacts you with a reminder to wire your funds. What? A quick conversation reveals that the money never arrived. You review the wire instructions with them and realize that your money went to an unknown account and the instructions came from a fraudulent email address. By now, your funds are probably gone forever, transferred out of the false account immediately after they arrived. Let’s back up and see how it was set up.

How It Works. The Multiple Listing Service (MLS), Zillow, Redfin and other real estate services are one prime starting point. It’s not difficult to obtain the listing agent’s email address, or see when the home goes under contract. A hacker can break into the agent’s email account and find out who’s involved in a transaction. Fraudsters then try phishing to gain personal information about the buyer, seller or title and escrow company. Because real estate transactions involve multiple parties, each of whom has an email address, that are multiple targets to attack. Scammers send emails that appear to come from a legitimate source, but the email address will be one letter or number off the real one. They request information, or send fraudulent instructions, and suddenly the transaction is compromised. Read a real-life example here.

Protect Yourself. Saving yourself from wire transfer fraud starts at the beginning of your transaction. You are going to receive and send so many emails and phone calls that they’ll become routine and you’ll assume that they are legitimate. Don’t. That’s exactly what the fraudster relies on. Check email addresses carefully. Look for anything in an email that seems off. Don’t trust that a call is really from your bank or the title and escrow company. If they call you, hang up and call them back using a number you know is legitimate.

Never accept wire instructions via standard or unencrypted email or telephone. Even if a fraudster has obtained information to disrupt your transaction, there is one very important thing you can do. Never take instructions for a wire transfer via unsecure email or phone. At First Choice Loan Services Inc., our Closers only provide documentation through a secure portal, where the borrower is required to login to retrieve the documents and information. We prefer working with title agents who do the same. For your protection and to safeguard your personal information, never accept changes to wiring instructions via email or telephone. ALWAYS CALL YOUR LENDER TO VERIFY.

Jerra Ryan
jryan@fcloans.com
Senior Vice President, Compliance

Building a Green Home

If you plan to build a green home, energy efficiency will be high on your list of requirements. However, there’s more to green building that the cost of heating, cooling and Energy Star appliances. (Although all three are important!) Building a green home takes into account the entire life of the structure, from planning to demolition, and places the health of the occupants as a prime concern.

Location, Location, Location. It’s not just how you build; it’s where you build. The site will have a major impact on the success of your green home. A west-facing home on an exposed hilltop will suffer from direct sun on hot afternoons and cold winds in winter and spring, raising energy use. If you have to drive 30 miles each way to buy a carton of milk (whether almond, dairy, or oat), your trip cost (money and pollution) will factor into your overall environmental impact. Finally, how will your home fit into the landscape? A home that works with its location will be more successful. A Cape Cod isn’t suited to the desert, and a flat-roofed adobe won’t stand up to a New England winter. There will always be trade-offs, but think carefully about your site before you buy.

Right size. How much house do you need? Not everyone can be comfortable in a tiny home, but a smaller house used efficiently will result in a smaller carbon footprint. Make rooms do double-duty. A modern version of the Murphy Bed will drop down from a stylish wall unit to turn your home office or craft room into temporary guest quarters. If you don’t want or need a formal living or dining room, create a great room that includes spaces for cozy conversations and family dinners. Think about how you really live and how much space you need.

Building Materials. Green homes use natural, non-toxic materials. They may be sourced locally (stone), be renewable (bamboo flooring), or be recycled (old wood). Materials may include non-toxic paints and finishes, wool carpet, and natural fiber insulation. While it would be ideal to use only green materials, you will need to balance cost, availability, and cost-effectiveness. Green building may not be more expensive in the long run, but you will need to look beyond your construction costs to get the full picture.

A Room With A View. One of the biggest energy wasters? Windows. Apparently, the U.S. is coming late to the party for high-performance windows. Our friends in Europe have been creating extremely efficient windows that not only keep their homes warmer/cooler, but also offer ventilation options for cleaner air and reduced moisture build-up. You can install the most energy efficient HVAC system possible, but if your windows aren’t effective, you’re wasting your money. In fact, you may be able to save on mechanical systems by spending more on your windows.

Find Your Builder Or Your Home. For any construction project, you need to make sure you are working with someone who is properly licensed and insured. Beyond that, you’ll need to find a contractor with knowledge of green building materials and techniques. While there is no one central licensing body, there are several independent associations you can check. If you aren’t going to do a custom build, look for Energy Star Certified homes and builders.

Ready to go green? You and your mother (Earth) will breathe easier.

Joe Baio
jbaio@fcloans.com
Senior Vice President, Collateral Services

May 2019 Housing Market Recap

After two months of sales declines, existing home sales rose, as reflected in the May 2019 Housing Market Recap. All regions saw sales gains, with the Northeast leading the charge. Prices increased yet again, while the pace of sales dropped slightly from the previous month. Although inventory rose, it remains near historic lows and continues to dominate the market narrative.

May existing home sales rose 2.5 percent from April, but are down 1.1 percent compared to May 2018, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) May Existing Home Sales Report, released June 21st.

Inventory increased from April to May, and was up year-over-year. At the current sales rate the supply of unsold inventory was 4.3 months, up from 4.2 months a year ago.

Home prices continued to increase year-over-year. The median price of existing homes sold in May was $277,700, an increase of 4.8 percent from May 2018 ($265,100). We’ve now reached 87 consecutive months of year-over-year increases.

Days on the market (DOM) increased slightly from April, moving from 24 to 26. A year ago, homes also typically stayed on the market for 26 days. The small increase in month-to-month DOM has little impact on the speed of the market. It’s still moving fast!

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun considers low inventory an ongoing problem and thinks that an increase in new construction is critical. “More new homes need to be built,” he said. “Otherwise, we risk worsening the housing shortage, and an increasingly number of middle-class families will be unable to achieve homeownership.”

Regions: Sales and prices rise. Comparing May to April, sales rose 4.7 percent in the Northeast, 3.4 percent in the Midwest, and 1.8 percent in both the South and West. The Northeast also led year-over-year price increases at 6.6 percent, followed by Midwest at 5.6 percent, the West at 4.1 percent, and the South at 3.6 percent. Rochester, NY, took top honors this month on the hottest metro areas list (days on the market/listing views per property). The rest of the May Top 10 were Fort Wayne, IN, Lafayette-West Lafayette, IN, Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH, Midland, TX, Columbus, OH, Manchester-Nashua, NH, Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA, Yuba City, CA, and Pueblo, CO.

Low Inventory Is The Never-Ending Story. If you’re selling, you’re in good shape (as long as you have a place to move!). If you’re buying, it may feel like you’re running a marathon. Or maybe a series of sprints. Get a fast start by finding out how much home you can afford, and then learning what loan options are available to you. Talk to The Crosby Team at First Choice Loan Services Inc.. Every journey starts with a single step, including your journey to a new home.

Timothy M. Sheahan, Jr.
tsheahan@fcloans.com
Executive Vice President | Secondary Marketing

Best of Your Backyard

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June 21 marks the first day of summer. There’s no better season to make the best of your backyard. Here are a few ways to make this area of your home your new favorite place to entertain (with only a little labor required)!

Design Your Own Putt-Putt Course:
This is a great summer project for the whole family. The course can be as involved or as easy as your time allows. Brainstorm with your family what the theme of each of the 18 holes could be. Twisted pool noodles creating a spaghetti-themed hold, stuffed animals creating a jungle themed-hole, and the traditional windmill are all great places to start. Take a trip to a craft store like Michael’s or a party store like Party City and shop for items to build your course. Not all items need to be purchased. Leftover materials from other projects are all over the house; items like wood, wrapping paper rolls, baking tins can all be put to good use. Decide what to set as the par for each hole. Invite other families to join in and create their own portion of the course.

Twister With A Twist:
Grab some cans of spray paint and create your own Twister board. Recreate the Twister game by spraying rows of the colored dots on your grass. To help your dots be more precise, cut a circle into a cardboard box for a user-friendly template. Use the spinner from the actual game or create your own (like spin the bottle). It’ll add a nice twist to the game and a soft place to fall.

Words With Friends, Backyard Edition:
Create large letter tiles out of poster board. Include the points given in Scrabble or Words with Friends. Be as creative with the look of the lettering as you want. Your entire backyard can be your board. If it’s a windy day, be sure to have ways to weight or stake your tiles into the ground.

Create Your Own S’More:
We all know the standard s’more: marshmallow, chocolate and graham cracker. Offer options to create and name a customized s’more. Set out marshmallows of different sizes and different colors. Give choices of white, dark and milk chocolate. Consider graham crackers other than the first that comes to mind; flavors options include vanilla, honey, cinnamon, and chocolate. Think outside the box for extra, finishing touches like sprinkles, pretzels, or bacon (yes, we said bacon). Have sticks ready for the cooking and comfortable sitting around the fire pit for the creative cooking to begin.

Oldies but Goodies:
We’ve shared these ideas once before but they’re worth sharing again:

Create A Drive-In.
If there’s not a traditional drive-in nearby, create one in your own backyard. Spend some time in the afternoon making your own cars out of cardboard boxes and have them frame your comfortable launch chair. Projection systems are more affordable than ever before. Hang up a white sheet on the side of the house or between trees, invest in an inflatable screen or purchase a portal screen. Vote on a family favorite or select a movie new to your family and hit play. Remember the popcorn!

Camp Out.
No need to venture deep into the forest for a camping adventure. Bring out your sleeping bags, pop up a tent, and get ready for a night under the stars. Build a fire or use a grill for dinner and (more importantly) s’mores. Be sure to have playing cards, games and ghost stories ready. Best part: indoor plumbing easily available! If glamping is more your style, set out some rugs, a sofa or chair, and an air mattress to make the backyard even more comfortable.

One last reminder: because these activities will encourage the party to continue after dark, remember to hang market or string or Christmas lights in your trees. It’ll had a nice, festive, welcoming touch.

Enjoy all that your backyard offers!

Chad Peterson
chad.peterson@fcloans.com
Senior Vice President, Communications

7 Things Not to do Before Buying a Home

All the signs may be pointing to yes. Everything in your life may be in line and in favor of you purchasing a home. Even though you may see a lot of green lights to move forward, there are a few stop signs that are good to recognize and listen to. The home buying process can be filled with a lot of fun “yeses,” but there are a few “noes” as well. Here are 7 things not to do before buying a home.

Don’t Change Jobs.
You may get an exciting, new job offer. It may provide you the opportunity to exit a job you aren’t thrilled about and enter a field that better matches your passion. If your new employer really wants you, though, they’ll be willing to wait until after you close on your home. Switching to a new job can demonstrate financial instability to a lender, and that can cause them concern. Your lender will like to see a consistent and steady employment history. Even if the professional move is your decision, that may not be reflected in the information they review. Hold off on a job change until after you have the house keys in hand.

Don’t Change Banks.
The same emphasis on financial stability applies to changing banks. Changing your banking account from one institution to another while going through the pre-approval process can have an impact on your ability to qualify for the home loan. Your current bank may have angered you. You may want to move to a local bank in your new town. There may be an outstanding offer at a different financial institution. Whatever may motivate to move your account, wait to change your bank until the closing process is complete.

Don’t Make a Major Purchase.
Moving to a new home and/or a new town can make you aware of purchases you need to make. Some are relatively small and insignificant. Others, however, may be larger. Washer/dryer, refrigerator, furniture, or a car… there are some big-ticket items you may find that you need for the new chapter in your life. While you are applying for your home loan and until the transaction closes, it’s best to wait to make these purchases. Part of the lender’s job when processing your application is to determine how responsible you are with your available credit. Incurring additional debt during the time you’re being evaluated for your mortgage could increase your debt-to-income ratio and work against your ability to qualify.

Don’t Fall Behind on Payments.
The fun part of being an adult: you get to set your own bedtime. The not-so-fun part of being an adult: bills. Whether credit card statements, student loans, car payments, or utilities, your monthly budget includes bills. To help ensure your credit score is not negatively impacted, pay your bills on time. The benefit of living in a technology-driven world is that you can often set automatic withdrawals for your regular payments. If that is not an option, set a reminder on your smart phone or regularly-used calendar that will alert you that a payment is due. Falling behind on payments could affect your credit score enough to make a difference on if you qualify for your mortgage or not.

Don’t Co-Sign on Someone Else’s Loan
They may be your brother, your mother, one of your children, or your favorite great aunt, but while you are going through the home loan process, do not co-sign on someone else’s loan. It will seem like a good deed, but while hoping to qualify for a mortgage, it’s likely to be detrimental. Even though you do not appear as the primary person on the loan, when you co-sign, you are still financially obligated for the loan, and it will appear on your credit report. Feel free to help out someone in this way after you’ve closed on your loan.

Don’t Make Large Withdrawals and/or Deposits.
Suggesting that you not make large withdrawals while purchasing one of the largest financial investments of your life may seem like a no-brainer, but no large deposits too? To which we say, “No large deposits too.” Mortgage lenders like to see that the money on which they are determining your eligibility to qualify is “seasoned,” meaning that it has been in your accounts for at least two months. It demonstrates financial stability and your ability to cover your mortgage payments. Recent large deposits can raise red flags and raise questions of fraud.

Don’t Open a New Credit Card.
The offers never stop coming, and you may be tempted, but even if you are offered a credit card with 0 percent interest or 0 payments for a certain amount of time, turn them down. While something like a $600 stove for 0 percent interest or 0 payments for 6 months could derail the purchase of the home. Additionally, you want to avoid inquiries into your credit. When a mortgage lender sees credit inquiries, it can assume you’re working to take on more debt, even if that is not the case. It’s best not to do anything like this that could put a “ding” in your current credit situation.

We want your mortgage journey to be smooth and seamless as possible. Avoiding the above potential pitfalls can help you soon say the words you’ve dreamed of saying, “I am a homeowner!”

Matthew Martin
mmartin@fcloans.com
Senior Vice President | National Production

6 Habits That Kill Your Metabolism

The world seems to keep moving faster and building up steam, but as we age, our body’s metabolism slows down. (A great thing to say once we’re entering bathing suit season, huh?) Although it’s true that our metabolism rate declines, it doesn’t mean that we’re helpless. There are daily habits that kill your metabolism. If you recognize a few of them, you may be able to fight time a little bit and improve your metabolism levels.

Bad Habit: No Breakfast
It’s easy to do. During the morning rush, you’re preparing for work, planning the day’s meals, and getting the kids ready for their activities. Breakfast may seem like a luxury, but regarding speeding up your metabolism, it’s key. While you sleep, your metabolism slows; with your first meal of the day, you’re firing up the system again and setting the tone to burn calories throughout the day.

Bad Habit: Bad Breakfast
While having breakfast is important, having the right breakfast is even more important. For your first meal of the day, seek out foods that are high in fiber and protein and avoid refined carbs and sugar (sorry, donut lovers). You’ll also want to steer clear of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), often found in snack foods and crackers. HFCS is readily absorbed, meaning the body doesn’t have to work as hard to process it and thereby slowing down your metabolism. Good choices include whole-wheat toast with peanut butter, yogurt and berries, or eggs. All can be quickly prepared and get your day (and metabolism) off to a strong and healthy start.

Bad Habit: Stay Still
For those with a standard desk job, getting settled in a chair all day seems to be part of the deal. However, staying still for the majority of the day works against you in several ways. Inactivity sets your body in a zone to conserve energy and slow down your metabolism. Sitting for extended periods has a negative impact on our ability to regulate our blood pressure and blood sugar and break down fat. In this state, we may not be inclined to exercise because we’re tired, but we’re often tired because we aren’t exercising or moving. We can get caught in a cycle. Even if you devote 10 minutes per hour to walk around the office a bit, you’ll notice a recharge in your energy level. If you have a hard time starting this habit, set a reminder on your phone or watch. You’ll notice and appreciate the difference it makes.

Bad Habit: Wrong Exercise
Exercising itself is great. Of course, the ways you exercise should be in line with your health goals. To help pick up your metabolism, variety is vital. As with anything, we can be creatures of habit and can get stuck in an exercise routine that might have served us well at one point but now places us on a plateau. Vary up your exercises, rotating between cardio, strength, weight and resistance training. Take advantage of classes such as boxing, cycling, or another form of high intensity tactical training. While some shy away from lifting weights out of fear that it will build mass or add weight, it actually is helpful in burning more calories. A pound of muscle can burn 4 to 6 more calories than a pound of fat, according to the American Council on Exercise. Shake up your exercise plan.

Bad Habit: Little Sleep
When we were younger, we may have resented the required afternoon naps. Now, we may miss them. A lack of sleep is not often intentional. Many times, it is circumstantial. Whatever the reason, a lack of sleep can play tricks on the hormones our body produces. Too little leptin, a hormone that signals we’re full, is produced thus causing imbalance in determining when we’re full. Likewise, too much ghrelin, a hormone signaling hunger, is produced thus causing us to feel hungry more frequently. Production of cortisol is also produced, increasing cravings for sugary, starchy and fatty foods. Ideally, we log seven to nine hours of sleep a night to provide our bodies more rest and hormonal stability.

Bad Habit: Stressing Out
We can’t necessarily control all the circumstances we encounter or that impact our lives, but we can work to manage our stress levels. In times of stress, we’re likely to skip our opportunities to exercise because we may not feel we have the time. It’s really in periods of stress, though, exercise is more beneficial. Stress also plays a factor in our amount and quality of sleep. It can also increase our levels of cortisol, tempting us to reach for comfort foods. Being able to monitor how the stress affects us will help prevent it from negatively impacting our metabolism too much.

We can’t turn back time, but we can do things now to help our metabolism stay active and give us fuel to keep going!

Chad Peterson
chad.peterson@fcloans.com
Senior Vice President, Communications

First Choice Loan Services Ranked for Top Overall Volume for Sixth Consecutive Year

EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ (June 6, 2019) – New Jersey-based residential mortgage lender First Choice Loan Services Inc., a Berkshire Bank Company announces that it has been ranked for Top Overall Volume by Scotsman Guide. This list is published in the June 2019 residential issue.

Scotsman Guide, the leading resource for mortgage originators, released its seventh annual Top Mortgage Lenders rankings. The list, which ranks the nation’s top mortgage-lending companies, appears in Scotsman Guide‘s June 2019 residential edition, and rankings are available online at www.ScotsmanGuide.com/TopLenders2018. All Scotsman Guide rankings are searchable at ScotsmanGuide.com/Rankings/Search.

First Choice Loan Services was ranked among entries from hundreds of mortgage companies across the country. To be eligible for consideration in Scotsman Guide’s Top Mortgage Lenders rankings, all loan volume had to be from mortgages on one-tofour-unit residential properties within the United States. No commercial or international loans were included. After receiving submissions, Scotsman Guide required written verification of top entrants’ volume from a certified public accountant, the chief financial officer at the company or a similar source.

Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Norman T. Koenigsberg is extremely proud for the company to make the list for the sixth year in a row.

“Every member of the First Choice Loan Services team is deeply dedicated to provide a smooth and seamless home loan process for all of our borrowing families. Our goal is to ensure they receive service beyond belief through every step of their mortgage journey,” said Koenigsberg. “Accolades such as this reinforce that our client-centered focus is exactly where it should be. Without the relationships with our valued home buyers, homeowners and business partners, none of this would be possible. We are grateful to them for helping us rank for the sixth time on Scotsman Guide’s list of mortgage companies for our Top Overall Volume.”

In addition to this most recent accolade, for the past six years, First Choice Loan Services has been featured as one of the “50 Best Mortgage Companies to Work for in America” and one of the “Top 100 Mortgage Companies in America” both by Mortgage Executive Magazine. The company also has been named a “Top Mortgage Employer” by National Mortgage Professional Magazine for the past four years. On top of this, First Choice Loan Services is featured as one of the “Best Mortgage Companies to Work For” in the January 2019 issue of National Mortgage News.

About First Choice Loan Services Inc.

First Choice Loan Services Inc., a Berkshire Bank Company is headquartered in East Brunswick, New Jersey. Founded in 2009, the company is licensed to originate and close residential mortgage loans nationwide, excluding Arkansas and New York. With 34 locations across 12 states and close to 500 employees, First Choice Loan Services Inc. offers FHA and VA programs, Jumbo loans, fixed and adjustable rate loans, and refinancing and renovation programs. First Choice Loan Services Inc. is an Equal Housing Lender, NMLS #210764. Licensed by the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance. AZ BK# 0918586. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Residential Mortgage Lending Act. Products and services not offered in state of New York. To learn more about First Choice, visit https://fcloans.com/ or follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

About Berkshire Bank

Berkshire Hills Bancorp (NYSE: BHLB) is the parent of Berkshire Bank, America’s Most Exciting Bank®. The Company, recognized for its entrepreneurial approach and distinctive culture, has $11.6 billion in assets and 113 full service branch offices in Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey and Pennsylvania providing personal and business banking, insurance, and wealth management services. Berkshire Bank was named one of Massachusetts Most Charitable Companies in 2017 by the Boston Business Journal. To learn more, visit www.berkshirebank.com, call 800-773-5601 or follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Strategies for Home Bidding Success

The housing market is hot. How hot? Consider this: Homes stayed on the market for an average of only 24 days in April and inventory continues to be low. As a result, buyers may find themselves in a multiple-offer situation, aka a bidding war. If you’re going to win this battle, you need a plan. Your weapons are financing, representation, flexibility, escalation, tenacity, and love. These are the strategies for home bidding success.

Think Financing First. There’s no question that a verified cash offer is likely to be the sellers’ favorite. The transaction won’t be contingent on financing, and that’s attractive. However, cash offers are less common than offers requiring financing. Strengthen your offer by getting your financial ducks in a row. Do it before you start looking for a home. Meet with The Crosby Team at First Choice Loan Services Inc. to find out how much you can borrow and what loan programs are available. Make sure your offer includes a First Choice Priority Buyer Letter, confirming that you are financially qualified to buy.

Work With A Realtor®. It’s tempting to look at homes on the internet, attend a few open houses, and make an offer on something you like. In a seller’s market, having your own Realtor® may be critical to your success. A knowledgeable real estate professional can guide you through the challenges of finding and buying a home. Realtors® often know about listings before they come on the market. They understand how to write offers. They know about values based on similar homes that have sold recently. Find a real estate professional you trust or let The Crosby Team refer you to a trusted realtor partner, and listen to their advice.

Be Flexible. Imagine you’re the sellers. You have several offers to review. One includes multiple contingencies. They want you to fix the fence, leave the washer and dryer, buy a home warranty, and close in 21 days. Another offer includes only the basic contingencies, like a home inspection and financing, and they are open to a later closing date or a short leaseback if you need time to move. Even though the more complicated offer is higher, you decide to pass it up in favor of the offer that makes fewer demands. Remember that it’s not all about money, and think carefully about contingencies and closing dates.

Raise The Bid. Ask your Realtor® if an escalation clause would make your offer stronger. If you include this provision, you agree to pay a certain amount above the highest offer, with a cap on the amount you’re willing to pay. The sellers could choose to accept your offer, or they might decide to engage in negotiations with a different buyer in hopes of obtaining a higher price. If you want to use an escalation clause, you may want to consult a real estate attorney for the proper wording.

Don’t Give Up. You found a home you love, you made a strong offer, and you lost to another buyer. Guess what? Deals fall through all the time. If you really want the home, ask your Realtor® to stay on top of the sale and let the sellers’ representative know that you want to be in a secondary position in case the transaction doesn’t go through. Your back-up offer could become the winner.

Send A Love Letter. If you’ve never heard of this it may sound odd, but it can work. Include a love letter with your offer. Tell the sellers why you love their home and what it will mean to you and your family to live there. Be genuine, speak from your heart and share your reasons for wanting their home.

Whatever you do, don’t lose hope. You may lose a bidding war (or two, or three), but your new home is waiting for you.

James Iley
jiley@fcloans.com
Executive Vice President | National Production

Reading Recommendations for Summer 2019

Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer. With families’ schedules changing and vacation season starting, you may find that you have opportunities to read that book that has been sitting on the shelf for a few months now. “There’s no book on the shelf waiting for you,” you say? Members of the First Choice Family invite you to consider these reading recommendations for Summer 2019.

Recommended by Ernesto Borunda | Senior Loan Originator, NMLS# 999984 | Scottsdale, AZ
Whatever Arises, Love That by Matt Kahn
There are four simple words that point the way toward liberation and fulfillment: whatever arises, love that. This is the life-changing teaching that Matt Kahn has been sharing with millions of YouTube viewers around the world. Whatever Arises, Love That offers a collection of powerful teachings by this highly regarded teacher, providing you with a series of deeply healing insights and practices to ignite the spark of your highest potential.
The Final Summit by Andy Andrews
This is humanity’s last chance. Centuries of greed, pride, and hate have sent mankind hurtling toward disaster, and far from its original purpose. There is only one solution that can reset the compass and right the ship―and that answer is only two words.
With time running out, it is up to David Ponder and a cast of history’s best and brightest minds to uncover this solution before it is too late. The catch? They are allowed only five tries to solve the ominous challenge.
Readers first encountered David Ponder in the New York Times bestseller The Traveler’s Gift. Now, in The Final Summit, Andrews combines a riveting narrative with astounding history in order to show us the one thing we must do when we don’t know what to do.

Recommended by Greg Sullivan | Mortgage Loan Originator, NMLS# 13001 | Burlington, MA
The Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille
Welcome to the fabled Gold Coast, that stretch on the North Shore of Long Island that once held the greatest concentration of wealth and power in America. Here two men are destined for an explosive collision: John Sutter, Wall Street lawyer, holding fast to a fading aristocratic legacy; and Frank Bellarosa, the Mafia don who seizes his piece of the staid and unprepared Gold Coast like a latter-day barbarian chief and draws Sutter and his regally beautiful wife, Susan, into his violent world. Told from Sutter’s sardonic and often hilarious point of view, and laced with sexual passion and suspense, The Gold Coast is Nelson DeMille’s captivating story of friendship and seduction, love and betrayal.
The Gate House by Nelson DeMille
John left America and set out in his sailboat on a three-year journey around the world, eventually settling in London. Now, ten years later, he has come home to the Gold Coast, that stretch of land on the North Shore of Long Island that once held the greatest concentration of wealth and power in America, to attend the imminent funeral of an old family servant. Taking up temporary residence in the gatehouse of Stanhope Hall, John finds hi mself living only a quarter of a mile from Susan, his aristocratic ex-wife, who has also returned to Long Island. But Susan isn’t the only person from John’s past who has reemerged: Though Frank Bellarosa, infamous Mafia don and Susan’s ex-lover, is long dead, his son, Anthony, is alive and well, and intent on two missions: Drawing John back into the violent world of the Bellarosa family, and exacting revenge on his father’s murderer–Susan Sutter. At the same time, John and Susan’s mutual attraction resurfaces and old passions begin to reignite, and John finds himself pulled deeper into a familiar web of seduction and betrayal. In The Gate House, acclaimed author Nelson DeMille brings us back to that fabled spot on the North Shore — a place where past, present, and future collides with often unexpected results.

Recommended by Jane Burns | Content Manager, Marketing/Communications | East Brunswick, NJ
All my recommendations are mystery series, all are very well written, and you will enjoy them more if you start with the first book.
Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti series is set in Venice. Originally from New Jersey, Leon lived in Venice for many years and clearly understands the city and its unique character. You will feel like you are there, solving the mysteries alongside Brunetti and his team.
For a different take on police work, travel to the Shetland Isles with Ann Cleeves and her protagonist DI Jimmy Perez. There are 8 books in the series, which she completed last year. The books are moody, and Shetland is as much a character as the people. (If you’d rather watch than read, there is a Shetland TV series available to stream on BritBox. It is based on the books but doesn’t follow them exactly.)
There is a new (paperback) entry in the outstanding John Rebus series from Iain Rankin, set in Glasgow. Rebus is a seriously flawed character. He carries years of baggage, but he is an intelligent, compelling figure who works his way through the dark mysteries he solves.
Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books are great reads for summer or any other time. Harry is another deeply flawed character, a brilliant but unconventional detective who is not popular with the LAPD hierarchy (understatement). Amazon has made a series based on, but not identical to, the books.
Recommended by Joseph Rowen | Mortgage Loan Originator, NMLS# 1794878 | Southampton, PA
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. This widely acclaimed bestseller, in which Malcolm Gladwell explores and brilliantly illuminates the tipping point phenomenon, is already changing the way people throughout the world think about selling products and disseminating ideas.

Recommended by Jill Strate | Production Specialist | Amarillo, TX
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect; and to 15-year-old Bee, she is her best friend and, simply, Mom. Then Bernadette vanishes. It all began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle–and people in general–has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic. To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, and secret correspondence–creating a compulsively readable and surprisingly touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.
Recommended by Kimberley Crosby | AVP, Marketing | East Brunswick, NJ
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
East of Eden is a novel that is explicitly biblical in its scope, centering on the patriarchal figure of Adam Trask, and his uneasy relationship with his twin sons and their scandalous mother. This epic family saga, chronicling the turbulent ambitions and desires of the Trasks and their neighbors in California’s fertile Salinas Valley, is characterized by one fundamental theme: the need for a personal choice between good and evil. Much of the historical background and some of the colorful events in the narrative are based on John Steinbeck’s own memories and the recollections of his forebears in the region. But the vital protagonists – the dominating Adam, the favored Aron, the tormented Cal – and the fascinating cast of supporting characters, including maidens and whores, Chinese servants and scions of pioneer stock, are the fruit of Steinbeck’s own imaginative genius and his love for the land of his birth.
Recommended by Kimberley Kerns | Mortgage Loan Originator, NMLS3 1748728 | Port Orange, FL
A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
With his bestselling spiritual guide The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle inspired millions of readers to discover the freedom and joy of a life lived “in the now.” In A New Earth, Tolle expands on these powerful ideas to show how transcending our ego-based state of consciousness is not only essential to personal happiness, but also the key to ending conflict and suffering throughout the world. Tolle describes how our attachment to the ego creates the dysfunction that leads to anger, jealousy, and unhappiness, and shows readers how to awaken to a new state of consciousness and follow the path to a truly fulfilling existence. Illuminating, enlightening, and uplifting, A New Earth is a profoundly spiritual manifesto for a better way of life—and for building a better world.
Recommended by Lori Oberman | Sales Assistant | Reno, NV
The Century series by Ken Follett
Ken Follett has taken the past 100 years and provided different points of views from key players from across the globe. He manages to tie their lives together in a way that makes me care about them. His writing is clear and concise, and it’s easy to follow the characters throughout WWI and WWII. It is more or less a really fun history lesson with intersecting people and places of interest.

Recommended by Michaela Urban | Mortgage Loan Originator, NMLS# 844605 | Dallas, TX
World Changer: A Mother’s Story by Karen Vaughn
It is a great reminder of the sacrifices our military makes every day for us and their incredible skill, drive and motivation, particularly the US Navy SEALs. It also demonstrates the important role a parent can play in raising a hero, a leader, and someone who serves others.

Recommended by Phuong Lee | VP, Regional Underwriting | East Brunswick, NJ
Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt
The book gives great ideas on how to be more productive. Multitasking is what we do but focus on what you need to do. Quality sleep is so important so we can be productive. Pushing hard when we are tired is not the answer. Coming back refresh will get us going faster, be more attentive, and as a result less errors.

Recommended by Raymond Cala | Mortgage Loan Originator, NMLS# 1713669 | Morganville, NJ
The Like Switch by Jack Schafer, Ph.D.
The Like Switch is packed with all the tools you need for turning strangers into friends, whether you are on a sales call, a first date, or a job interview. As a Special Agent for the FBI’s National Security Division’s Behavioral Analysis Program, Dr. Jack Schafer developed dynamic and breakthrough strategies for profiling terrorists and detecting deception. Now, Dr. Schafer has evolved his proven-on-the-battlefield tactics for the day-to-day, but no less critical battle of getting people to like you.

Recommended by Ray Lozano | Mortgage Loan Originator, NMLS# 1754502 | Dallas, TX
Educated by Tara Westover
Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Recommended by Sherrie Fico | Mortgage Loan Originator, NMLS# 264326 | Concord, CA
Power vs. Force by David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D.
Imagine—what if you had access to a simple yes-or-no answer to any question you wished to ask? A demonstrably true answer. Any question . . . think about it. We think we live by forces we control, but in fact we are governed by power from unrevealed sources, power over which we have no control. The universe holds its breath as we choose, instant by instant, which pathway to follow; for the universe, the very essence of life itself, is highly conscious. Every act, thought, and choice adds to a permanent mosaic; our decisions ripple through the universe of consciousness to affect the lives of all.

Recommended by Tim Overdorf | Senior Mortgage Loan Originator, NMLS# 144478 | Southampton, PA
The Power of TED by David Emerald
This book is a fable on self-leadership, because how you lead your own life has everything to do with how you lead in other areas. It is a tool for both individuals and organizations who want to create more effective communication and relationships. Learning how to transform everyday drama and opt for more growth-oriented solutions, is the priceless gift it teaches. As you walk with David, the main character, he shares how he is feeling victimized by life. Through serendipity he meets some wise guides, Ted and Sophia, who show David how he can move from feeling like a Victim to being a Creator of his own life. The Power of TED* offers a powerful alternative to the Karpman Drama Triangle with its roles of Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer. The Empowerment Dynamic (TED) provides the antidote roles of Creator, Challenger and Coach and a more positive approach to life’s challenges. The teaching story provides a guide for learning and growing through the challenges we all face in our lives. Its message resonates with everyone who, at some time in their lives, feel victimized by their situation. Having helped thousands of people and scores of organizations over the past decade, This book is being published in this 10th Anniversary Edition to convey a very timely message of hope that all of life, whether at home or work, can be transformed to create satisfying and fulfilling relationships.
Recommended by Wayne Ostrander | Senior Mortgage Loan Originator, NMLS# 1459194 | Costa Mesa, CA
Good to Great by James C. Collins
The book “describes how companies transition from being good companies to great companies, and how most companies fail to make the transition… “Greatness” is defined as financial performance several multiples better than the market average over a sustained period. Collins finds the main reason certain companies become great is they narrowly focus the company’s resources on their field of key competence.”
Recommended by Wella Boyer | AVP, Final Documents | East Brunswick, NJ
Blue Smoke by Nora Roberts
Reena Hale’s destiny was shaped in the destructive—yet fascinatingly beautiful—fire that leveled her family’s pizzeria when she was young. Now an arson investigator, she finds her strength and wits constantly tested, although sometimes the job seems like a snap compared to her love life. But she can’t always blame the men. After all, a soot-caked woman barking orders and smelling of smoke isn’t the biggest turn-on in the world. Then she meets Bo Goodnight, who seems different. He’s been trying to find Reena for years, and now that she’s close enough to touch, he has no intention of letting go. Nor does the man who has begun to haunt Reena’s life—with taunting phone calls and a string of horrifying crimes. And as Reena tries desperately to trace the origins—of the calls, the fires, the hatred aimed in her direction—she will step into the worst inferno she has ever faced.
The Guest Cottage Nancy Thayer
Sensible thirty-six-year-old Sophie Anderson has always known what to do. She knows her role in life: supportive wife of a successful architect and calm, capable mother of two. But on a warm summer night, as the house grows quiet around her and her children fall asleep, she wonders what’s missing from her life. When her husband echoes that lonely question, announcing that he’s leaving her for another woman, Sophie realizes she has no idea what’s next. Impulsively renting a guest cottage on Nantucket from her friend Susie Swenson, Sophie rounds up her kids, Jonah and Lacey, and leaves Boston for a quiet family vacation, minus one. Also minus one is Trevor Black, a software entrepreneur who has recently lost his wife. Trevor is the last person to imagine himself, age thirty and on his own, raising a little boy like Leo—smart and sweet, but grappling constantly with his mother’s death, growing more and more closed off. Hoping a quiet summer on the Nantucket coast will help him reconnect with Leo, Trevor rents a guest house on the beautiful island from his friend Ivan Swenson. Best-laid plans run awry when Sophie and Trevor realize they’ve mistakenly rented the same house. Still, determined to make this a summer their kids will always remember, the two agree to share the Swensons’ Nantucket house. But as the summer unfolds and the families grow close, Sophie and Trevor must ask themselves if the guest cottage is all they want to share.

The Kiss on Castle Road by Lauren Christopher
Natalie has always been the fun Grant sister: the one with the constantly packed suitcase and the zest for life. But this carefree existence is wearing on her. When her oldest sister, Olivia, invites her to Lavender Island for three months, Natalie jumps at the chance to look after her niece, prove she’s not irresponsible, and take a much-needed vacation from men. Her “mancation” takes an unexpected turn when she spots a group of sick sea lions and calls on microbiologist Elliott Sherman for help. Elliott is everything Natalie is not—quiet, studious, and geeky. Yet there’s a simmering sexiness under those glasses that she’s quick to notice. And Elliott finds himself taken with her gorgeous free spirit. Despite their chemistry, outside forces threaten to keep them apart—including a secret Natalie has never shared. Can the allure of Lavender Island and its quirky residents open her heart and lead her to lasting love?

The Beantown Girls by Jane Healy
1944: Fiona Denning has her entire future planned out. She’ll work in city hall, marry her fiancé when he returns from the war, and settle down in the Boston suburbs. But when her fiancé is reported missing after being shot down in Germany, Fiona’s long-held plans are shattered. Determined to learn her fiancé’s fate, Fiona leaves Boston to volunteer overseas as a Red Cross Clubmobile girl, recruiting her two best friends to come along. There’s the outspoken Viviana, who is more than happy to quit her secretarial job for a taste of adventure. Then there’s Dottie, a shy music teacher whose melodious talents are sure to bring heart and hope to the boys on the front lines. Chosen for their inner strength and outer charm, the trio isn’t prepared for the daunting challenges of war. But through it all come new friendships and romances, unforeseen dangers, and unexpected dreams. As the three friends begin to understand the real reasons they all came to the front, their courage and camaraderie will see them through some of the best and worst times of their lives.

Frozen Stiff by Patrick Logan
With no evidence, no leads, and no clues, the local PD has no choice but to call in the FBI. Enter FBI recruit Chase Adams. While she may be new to the Bureau, Chase is no rookie when it comes to murder. First a Narcotics Officer in Seattle, then a NYPD Detective, Chase has insight into the workings of some of the most demented minds of our society. But this case will push even Chase to the limits–it’s like nothing she has investigated before. The local PD thinks they have things wrapped up nicely, but Chase isn’t at all convinced. When a third and fourth body surfaces across the country, Chase realizes that she is on the hunt for a killer whose murder spree knows no boundaries.

The Saturday Even Girls Club by Jane Healy
For four young immigrant women living in Boston’s North End in the early 1900s, escaping tradition doesn’t come easy. But at least they have one another and the Saturday Evening Girls Club, a social pottery-making group offering respite from their hectic home lives—and hope for a better future. Ambitious Caprice dreams of opening her own hat shop, which clashes with the expectations of her Sicilian-born parents. Brilliant Ada secretly takes college classes despite the disapproval of her Russian Jewish father. Stunning Maria could marry anyone yet guards her heart to avoid the fate of her Italian Catholic mother, broken down by an alcoholic husband. And shy Thea is torn between asserting herself and embracing an antiquated Jewish tradition. The friends face family clashes and romantic entanglements, career struggles and cultural prejudice. But through their unfailing bond, forged through their weekly gathering, they’ll draw strength—and the courage to transform their immigrant stories into the American lives of their dreams.

Happy reading!