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!

April 2019 Housing Market Recap

Existing home sales fell slightly in the April 2019 Housing Market Recap, following a sharp drop in March. One region actually saw a gain in sales while two fell and one was unchanged. Prices increased yet again and the pace of sales picked up, both month-over-month and year-over-year. Inventory rose also, continuing a positive trend for buyers.

April existing home sales fell 0.4 percent from March, and are down 4.4 percent compared to April 2018, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) April Existing Home Sales Report, released May 21st.

Inventory increased from March to April, and was up year-over-year. At the current sales rate the supply of unsold inventory was 4.2 months, up from 4.0 months a year ago.

Home prices continued to increase year-over-year. The median price of existing homes sold in April was $267,300, an increase of 3.6 percent from April 2018 ($257,900). We’ve now reached 86 consecutive months of year-over-year increases.

Days on the market (DOM) dropped significantly from March, moving from 36 to 24. A year ago, homes typically stayed on the market for 26 days. The market is moving quickly, as we would expect with the spring buying season heating up.

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun does not see the slight drop in sales as a matter of concern. “First, we are seeing historically low mortgage rates combined with a pent-up demand to buy, so buyers will look to take advantage of these conditions,” he said. “Also, job creation is improving, causing wage growth to align with home price growth, which helps affordability and will help spur more home sales.”

Regions: Sales are mixed. Only the West saw an increase in sales, rising 1.8 percent. Comparing April to March, sales fell 4.5 percent in the Northeast, 0.4 percent in the South, and were unchanged in the Midwest. The Midwest led year-over-year price increases at 5.5 percent, followed by the South at 4.4 percent, the West at 1.3 percent, and the Northeast at 0.9 percent. Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH, took top honors this month on the hottest metro areas list (measured by days on the market/listing views per property). The rest of the April Top 10 were Lafayette-West Lafayette, IN, Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA, Columbus, OH, Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, CA, Midland, TX, Rochester, NY, Colorado Springs, CO, Odessa, TX, and Worcester, MA-CT.

The Market Moves Quickly. Homes stayed on the market an average of only 24 days in April. Are you planning to buy? If you see a property you like, you need to be ready to make a strong offer immediately. As part of your offer, you’ll need proof that you are financially capable of buying the home. Begin by talking to The Crosby Team at First Choice Loan Services Inc. about your loan options. Start your journey home with First Choice Loan Services!

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

Summer Projects for Kids

While it is hard to believe, summer is around the corner. Before you know it, spring will be over, school will be out, and your children will be home with free time on their (and your) hands. Are you ready? If you want to be prepared for the phrase, “Mom/Dad, I’m bored,” then here are a few summer projects for kids.

Create Book Worms.
Sure, summer is known to be the season of “no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks,” but maybe you can still sneak the books part in. Consider having a set time each day, 30 minutes or so, devoted to reading. Make an event out of going to the store to choose the first book to tackle. To keep the momentum easier to maintain, think about having your children start a series of books, that way the next one is always “on deck.” There are classic series like The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and The Chronicles of Narnia. Did you know L. Frank Baum wrote a series of Oz books, not just The Wizard of Oz? Ever heard of another wizard named Harry Potter? When growing up, I read The Three Investigators. It’s awesome to introduce your children to a series that lights their fire to reach for the next installment.

Love Bugs.
Speaking of creating worms, why not make a few bugs as well? With plastic bottle caps, paint, transparency paper, scissors, sharpies, hot glue gun and, of course, googly eyes, you can bring to life some colorful bugs that you’ll actually want in your home. Add some fuzzy pipe cleaners if you prefer the crawling variety. Be sure to name them. Throughout the summer, make them colorful and creative friends. No bottle caps around the house? Do all the same with rocks.

Bowl/Glow in the Dark.
Do the kids still have a little energy later in the day? A great night activity is glow in the dark bowling. Pull a few water bottles from the recycling bin (with their lids) and place glow sticks in them. Take the hamster out of his ball (or swing by a pet store to pick up a clear ball intended to help hamsters roam), and fill it with more glow sticks. Use the driveway for the alley or if that’s not available, lay out flat cardboard boxes in the backyard for the surface you need. For extra fun, maybe attribute different points to the various color of the pins. Now glowing enough? Add glow in the dark necklaces and bracelets inside the pin and ball. Are you playing in teams? Add glow in the dark face paint to share team spirit.

Pool Art.
Here’s another use for the kiddie pool. Tape a large piece of paper at the bottom. Have paper plates with different color paints poured on them. One at a time, have your kids dip filled water balloons into the various colors. Place each different paint-dripping balloon on the paper and have you’re the children pick up the pool. Put on some music and have them do a little dance, tilting and spinning with the pool. By the end of the song, the painting is done. You can remove the paper and let it dry. The name of the piece of art can be the name of the song that help inspire its creation.

Squirt Gun Painting.
Want to take aim at a different project? Set up easels in your backyard and equip your kids with squirt guns filled with liquid watercolors. With large pieces of watercolor paper set on the easels (or in lieu of an easel, tacked to a tree), have your artists squirt various colors to their hearts’ content. Set different distances from the easel for different colors to add different degrees of depth. As an alternative to guns, use plastic spray bottles.

Start Your Memoir.
My memory is horrible. I wish I remembered each summer specifically. Help your kids keep track of their summer adventures by providing them the material to journal and scrapbook. Craft stores offer great options to do both, either in separate pieces or in the same book. For the journal portion, prepare questions in advance for them to respond to such as:

Who’s your best friend?
What is your favorite food?
What is your favorite book you read this summer?
What is your favorite toy?
What is your favorite movie from this summer?
What would you like your job to be when you get older?
What was your best memory from the grade you just finished?
What are you most looking forward to when you return to school?
Instead of posting all the pictures from the summer immediately to Instagram or Facebook, send them to a store that prints photographs (Walgreens, Duane Reade, Walmart, CVS…) and place them in the scrapbook. It’ll be a wonderful memento from the summer and something they can look cherish for years to come. It’s like social media, but the old fashion way and with a longer shelf life.

Planning some of these activities will have you ready for the cries of boredom. In fact, with some of these projects, summer will be over before you know it and it’ll be back to school time. Be sure to enjoy every moment!

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

Six Warning Signs When Buying a Home

When you buy a home, a home inspection is a must. Don’t skip it, even if you’re buying new construction. Not to be confused with a home appraisal (required by your lender), a home inspection will give you information about the home’s condition from roof to foundation, appliances to plumbing, and much, much more. Be sure to choose a trained, certified home inspector (your Realtor® should be able to help you find one), and pay close attention to the report. It may contain deal-breakers, items that require negotiation, or conditions you’ll want to address sooner rather than later. However, even before an inspection there are red flags to watch for that may make you think twice about making an offer. Here are six warning signs when buying a home.

An Air Of Neglect. What’s your first impression of the home? Maybe you can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can get a sense of how a home has been maintained by checking a few things. If there are exterior wooden or metal railings, are they solid or wobbly? Is the exterior paint peeling or the stucco cracked? Do you see any discolored patches on the walls (inside or out)? Check the appliances for signs of neglect and a hasty cleaning. Look at the yard, too. It doesn’t have to be a showplace, but if it looks like it just received a slap-dash makeover, check the state of the wood in the fence and the concrete on the patio.

Uneven Ceilings. Look up. Do you see a ceiling that has been painted more recently than other ceilings in the house? Does it look like it’s been patched or repaired? It may be evidence of a leak, so be sure to ask if the home has suffered any water damage, what caused it, and how it was repaired.

Doors (And Windows) That Don’t Close. Every home will change over time. Wood expands and contracts, and older homes are likely to have a few windows that stick and a door that won’t close easily. Keep an eye out for issues beyond usual aging. Take a hard look if a door frame appears to slant, or there’s an uneven gap between the door and frame. It may be evidence of poor construction, settling, or foundation problems.

Low Water Pressure. Saving water is a good thing, but trickling faucets could indicate plumbing problems or a poorly performing well. Turn the taps on and flush a toilet or two. If there’s not enough pressure for a decent shower, you need to know why.

More Water Issues. Water in the wrong places can cause major headaches and costly repairs. Look for rotten wood in windows or sills, stains near gutters or downspouts, and damp patches in the basement. Check on the slope of the land next to the home. You want to see that water will run away from the foundation. Finally, if you are in an area where sump pumps are the norm, and it’s a dry day but the pump is running constantly, investigate further.

DIY. Unless the seller is a regular on This Old House or a licensed contractor, beware DIY repairs. Some people will tackle just about any project, even ones that require a licensed professional. Wiring that looks questionable, plumbing fixes that aren’t quite right, and amateurish caulking can all lead to expensive repairs. Note anything that looks like it wasn’t a professional job.

Special Note For Sellers. While we usually think of a home inspection as something the buyer wants, consider an inspection before you put your home on the market. It may uncover issues you’ll want to address before you list, or it may tell you that you’re the best homeowner ever!

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

March 2019 Housing Market Recap

The March 2019 Housing Market Recap reflects that existing home sales fell in March after a strong uptick the month before. All regions saw a drop in sales, with the Midwest taking the biggest hit, but prices continued their climb nationwide. The pace of sales was faster than it was in February, but slower than a year ago. Inventory continued its increase both month-over-month and year-over-year, trending positive for buyers.

March existing home sales fell 4.9 percent from February, and are down 5.4 percent compared to March 2018, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) March Existing Home Sales Report, released April 22nd.

Inventory increased from February to March, and was up year-over-year. At the current sales pace, the supply of unsold inventory was 3.9 months, up from 3.6 months a year ago.

Home prices continued to increase year-over-year. The median price of existing homes sold in March was $259,400, an increase of 3.8 percent from March 2018 ($249,800). We’ve now reached 85 consecutive months of year-over-year increases. Put another way, that’s 7 years of price growth.

Days on the market (DOM) were down from February, moving from 44 to 36. A year ago, homes typically stayed on the market for 30 days, so while the sales pace increased month-over-month, it was slower year-over-year.

According to NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun, “It is not surprising to see a retreat after a powerful surge in sales in the prior month. Still, current sales activity is underperforming in relation to the strength in the jobs markets. The impact of lower mortgage rates has not yet been fully realized.”

Regions: Sales down across the country. The Midwest saw the greatest decrease in sales, dropping 7.9 percent. Comparing March to February, sales fell 6 percent in the West, 3.4 percent in the South, and 2.9 percent in the Northeast. The Midwest led year-over-year price increases at 4.6 percent, followed by the West at 3.1 percent, the Northeast at 2.5 percent, and the South at 2.4 percent. Columbus, OH snagged the top spot this month on the hottest metro areas list (measured by days on the market/listing views per property). The rest of the March Top 10 were Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH, Midland, TX, Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, CA, Stockton-Lodi, CA, Colorado Springs, CO, Odessa, TX, Lafayette-West Lafayette, IN, San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA, and Modesto, CA.

Inventory increase is good for buyers, but…. The uptick in inventory is a plus for buyers, but homes are not staying on the market for long. If you want to buy, be prepared. You’ll be at a disadvantage if your offer doesn’t include financing. Discuss your home loan options with a First Choice Loan Services Inc. mortgage loan originator. Start your exciting journey home today!

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

Making the Best of Your Garden

What do you see when you think of your ideal garden? I picture a green, leafy English Cottage garden. There are perennial beds filled with flowers, well-tended vegetables in perfect, weed-free rows, roses and clematis climbing and rambling, and a shady pergola where I’m having afternoon tea. Then I look out at the Southwest reality around my home and remember that I don’t live in a thatched cottage in Sussex and I’d better set my expectations accordingly. That doesn’t mean my landscape is gravel, rocks and a couple of stunted conifers (although if that’s your minimalist style, go for it). It’s a matter of planting what grows where you live. Plants do their best in conditions that mimic their native habitats, and those habitats vary widely. It’s a matter of making the best of your garden wherever you are.

The Perfect Garden. If you’re a gardener, even if your entire garden consists of a container on a balcony, you know there’s no such thing as perfection. Nature has a way of keeping us humble. Two years ago today, I had fruit trees putting on an amazing show. Last year, I had nothing. This year, they are just starting to bloom. Enjoy the imperfect, go with the flow, and embrace the variety.

Go Zonal. There are two definitions of zones in gardening. One is the plant hardiness zone where you live; the other is the concept of planting in zones around your house. Trying to grow plants that are too far outside your hardiness zone is probably doomed to failure. You may have micro-climates around your property that are warmer or cooler, so you can experiment, but don’t be too disappointed if something fails to grow. When you just must have plants that aren’t best suited to your climate (I’m talking to you, Himalayan Blue Poppy), plant in zones. Put the plants that need the most attention closest to your home, or in one specific area. For example, if you live somewhere wet and cool, but you must have cactus, look for varieties that can stand cooler weather, put them in the sunniest place, and make sure the soil is fast draining and poor.

Find The Right Plants. One key to success is to buy the plants that will do well in your area. Although the big box stores may have great prices, what they are selling is not necessarily right for your region. A locally owned nursery is more likely to have plants grown in your part of the country, and you’ll often find knowledgeable people working there. A terrific resource is a local Master Gardeners group. The members are passionate volunteers who have completed special training and are committed to sharing their knowledge. However, if you can’t live without tulips in Florida, you’ll need to pre-cool the bulbs in your fridge (or buy them pre-chilled) and enjoy their brief show before replacing them with something tropical.

Herb Is The Word. Want to try something easy? Herbs are a great example of no-fuss plants. The harsher the environment, the more concentrated the flavor. Herbs are perfect for gardeners with little time because they thrive on neglect, within reason. They don’t need fertilizer. They are fine with minimal water. They do well when they’re crowded. Some of them (such as sage, chives, and rosemary), have attractive flowers, too. I have a sage that I’ve neglected for at least 10 years, and every year it leafs out and produces showy purple flowers. I give it a little extra water in the summer and prune out the dead branches when I think about it. It gives me intensely flavored leaves for roast chicken and salad dressings. It’s a good trade.

But I Want A Cottage Garden. You can have one. Use the elements of a cottage garden, add plants that work in your climate, and remember you’re not Gertrude Jekyll!

Jane Burns
jane.burns@fcloans.com
Content Manager, Marketing/Communications

Do Your Socks Spark Joy?

Unless you’ve had no contact with the outside world for the last 5 years, you’ve probably heard of Marie Kondo and her KonMari Method™ of organization. She has shaken up the world of home organization (asking questions like “Do your socks spark joy?”), creating an empire (well-organized, I’m sure) that includes books, a Netflix series, certified consultants, and advice on topics ranging from your email inbox to your ideal lifestyle. Marie Kondo is more than a person or a company, she’s an international phenomenon based on the simple but powerful idea that if you live in a tidy space with only those items that spark joy, you will transform your life for the better.

What’s The Difference? It doesn’t matter how you organize and de-clutter as long as you get rid of stuff you don’t need, right? Maybe not. Traditional organization strategies take a room-by-room or space-by-space (think hall table or kitchen counter) approach. Kondo’s method focuses on categories, starting with clothes, and moving through books, papers, and komono (miscellaneous items), before finally dealing with items of sentimental value. The theory is that you deal with each category throughout your home, and avoid the frustration of de-cluttering one area, only to have it fill up again. The second key part of her method is being mindful as you decide what to keep and what to let go. She uses the concept of sparking joy to describe the way you should feel about items you decide to keep. More on this later.

Getting Started. There are six basic rules to follow when you decide to tidy your home the KonMari way. 1. Commit yourself to tidying. 2. Imagine your ideal lifestyle. 3. Finish discarding first. 4. Tidy by category, not by location. 5. Follow the right order. 6. Ask yourself if it sparks joy. Once you’ve truly made the commitment, and have a vision of your tidy life, you can start on the mechanics of de-cluttering and organization.

Does It Spark Joy? This may be the one concept that has raised the most questions. As you decide what to keep and what to let go, you are supposed to touch or hold each item to see if it sparks joy. If it doesn’t, you thank it for its service and decide what happens to it (donate, trash, sell) when it leaves your home. I’ll confess now. I have not followed through on tidying my own home, but I do understand that some of my belongings speak to me, whiles others simply exist. I’m not sure I could ever get to the stage where everything in my home sparks joy. I like the toaster. It does what it’s supposed to do. I’m not going to get rid of it because it doesn’t make me happy. However, it does add value to my life by making toast, so maybe that’s enough joy.

I Can’t Even. You want to do it. You can see what your home would look like without half of the contents. You can envision the serenity of your new life. But you can’t face the actual work. There’s an answer for that. A certified KonMari consultant will bring the process to you. On the other hand, maybe you’re simply skeptical. You may want to dig deeper by reading the books and/or watching the series to see if you are inspired to try the approach. If it still doesn’t appeal but you want to cut the clutter and get organized, here are more options.

But Wait, There’s More. Once you’ve successfully followed the program, Kondo has suggestions for organizing what you’ve kept, including ways of folding your clothing, organizing bags, packing your suitcase, dealing with your junk drawer, and just about anything else you can think of. (I definitely need the tutorial on tidying my desk.) Are you ready to KonMari your home? Let me know how it goes with your socks.

Jane Burns
jane.burns@fcloans.com
Content Manager, Marketing/Communications

Hardscaping

 

What can you do to add value to your home, make it more attractive to buyers, and increase your enjoyment while you live there?  Hardscaping!  The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) and the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) teamed up to research and create the 2018 Remodeling Impact Report:  Outdoor Features.  In it, they explore the outdoor residential features that are most likely to add value to a home and those that are most attractive to buyers.  Put them together, and you can set your priorities for your spring (summer, fall) outdoor projects.

 

What’s Hardscaping?  Landscaping generally relates to the living things (plants, shrubs, trees, grass) and the terrain (berms, flowerbeds, changes in elevation) in your yard.  Hardscaping is a part of the landscape but refers to created features like fences, decks, lighting, and fire pits.  A hardscape could be a gravel path or an outdoor kitchen.  It might be as simple as a small wooden deck or as elaborate as a brick pizza oven near an Italian fountain with a lighted pergola and seating for 10.  Your limits are your imagination, the available space, the style of your property, and, as always, your budget.

 

Deck It!  Or patio it.  Decks and patios are two of the top hardscape projects, both for buyer appeal and value added to the property.  Who doesn’t want a dedicated outdoor space for grilling, sitting, eating, entertaining and just plain hanging out?  Add a shade structure to make those hot days more pleasant, and maybe a fire pit for cooler evenings.  S’mores optional.

 

Light Up The Night.  Dramatic or subtle, lighting will add a new dimension to your nightlife outdoors.  You can use it to safely guide guests on a path, or make trees and shrubs into works of art.  Consider solar powered lighting to save energy, and motion-sensor lights for both security and power savings.  Be considerate of your neighbors, and don’t forget to shield your lights to protect our dark skies.  Stars are the original (and best) night-lights.

 

Watering Made Easy.  An irrigation system makes it simple for you to water your lawn, vegetable beds, and containers.  You can opt for an extensive underground system or a DIY drip layout.  Timers will keep your watering on a regular schedule, but be sure to override them if you have plenty of rain.  If you live in an area where it freezes in winter, you will probably need to drain/disconnect the system to avoid broken pipes and leaky faucets.  If you’re considering an underground installation, it’s crucial to work with a reputable contractor who understands your climate and your landscape.

 

To Pool Or Not To Pool.  Adding a pool may be more trouble than it’s worth, and you are unlikely to recoup the cost when you sell.  However, there are some parts of the country, and some neighborhoods, where pools are an expected feature and your home’s resale value might be lower if you don’t have one.  Do your research so you understand all of the costs beyond the pool construction (such as maintenance, insurance, fencing, water) and talk to a trusted Realtor® to see how a pool fits with your area.  If you just have to have one, enjoy every cool dip and fun splash.  That will be reward enough.

 

Do Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?  Poet Robert Frost thought not, but the neighbor in the famous poem “Mending Wall” was in favor of fences.  Your answer probably depends on what’s on either side of the fence.  You may need to keep kids and dogs safely separated.  You may want privacy for your hot tub, or prefer to shield your view of your neighbor’s backyard “art.”  Make sure you follow any neighborhood or municipal rules, and consider your neighbors’ views, too.  They might be happy to share some of the cost to achieve a good-looking fence on their side, too.  That could make very good neighbors, and a happy home for you.

 

Jane Burns

jane.burns@fcloans.com

Content Manager,

Marketing/Communications