Holiday Theme Party Ideas

The holiday season is full. Full of joy. Full of love. And full of activities. For those who are brave, in addition to all that is already going on, some decide to host a holiday party. Between the decorating, shopping and cooking, it can be a lot. If you’re throwing a festive holiday get-together this season, here are a few holiday party theme ideas to help you.

Elf It Up. Yes, Halloween was not long ago, so you may feel costumed-out. But, if you didn’t get your fill of theme parties, why not throw an elf-themed party? If you have bold friends, have them come dressed as elves, stripped tights and all. If you want to let them show off their winter wardrobe, then you can just provide them elf-inspired head gear. Use an online elf name generator and make name tags for your attendees. As all good elves do, have your guests bring a toy. Donate those that are collected to a local toy drive. Have one area of your event decorated with a great background for pictures so that people can take plenty of #elfies.

Crafty Contests. Start the night in the kitchen. Have an area of cookie decorating where your attendees can create their own special batch of cookies. Provide various colors of icing and toppings so that they can decorate their cookies however they like. Offer different cookie cutter shapes to choose. While those are baking, move from Top Chef to Project Runway. Anyone can throw an ugly Christmas Sweater party, but how about *making* ugly sweaters? There are kits available, and you can also purchase additional supplies to provide more options. Have a contest and allow people to vote for a winner. Don’t let the creativity stop there.

Colors. Maybe you want less activities and more socializing. That’s perfect. To help make your holiday party stand out from the others, though, encourage your guests to arrive wearing certain colors. Consider a Candy Cane Striped Night. Ask your guests to wear all red and white. You’ll find plenty of paper plates and cups that will help carry the color scheme throughout. For an added touch, have all the presents under your tree wrapped in red and white. Of course, you can cut the red entirely and have your own White Christmas. Again, asking your guests to arrive in all white outfits. You’ll find plenty of white ornaments to decorate your tree (with white lights, of course). Feeling crazy, add some shiny translucent items throughout your space. (You can have a Blue Christmas too with the same ideas.)

Turn Up the Heat. You’ve heard about Christmas in July… what about July in Christmas? Throw a Mele Kalikimaka party and have your guest dress for the beach… Hawaiian shirts, shorts, flips flops and all. Serve piña coladas and other light summer hors d’oeuvres. Don’t forget the leis!

Whichever direction you decide to take your holiday party, we hope above everything else it is full of joy and merriment. Don’t allow hosting a party to cast a cloud of stress over you. The holidays are meant to be enjoyed with those you love, so be sure if you’re throwing a party that YOU have fun too!

Chad Peterson
Senior Vice President, Communications

October 2018 Housing Market Recap

Our October 2018 Housing Market Recap shows existing home sales rose nationally for the first time in 6 months. Sales increased in 3 of the 4 US regions, with only the Midwest dropping slightly. Prices continued their steady climb, as they have for well over 6 years. The pace of sales was slower than it was in September, but still faster than a year ago. As you might expect with an increase in sales, inventory was down from the previous month, but it’s important to note that it is still higher than the previous October.

October existing home sales rose 1.4 percent from September, but are 5.1 percent lower than October 2017, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) October Existing Home Sales Report, released November 21st.

Inventory decreased from September to October, but increased year-over-year. At the current sales pace, the supply of unsold inventory was 4.3 months, up from 3.9 months a year ago.

Home prices continued to increase year-over-year. The median price of existing homes sold in October was $255,400, an increase of 3.8 percent from October 2017 ($246,000). We’ve now reached 80 consecutive months of year-over-year increases.

Days on the market (DOM) were up from September, moving from 32 to 33. A year ago, homes typically stayed on the market for 34 days, so the sales pace is slightly faster year-over-year.

According to NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun, “As more inventory enters the market and we head into the winter season, home price growth has begun to slow more meaningfully,” said Yun. “This allows for much more manageable, less frenzied buying conditions.”

Regional trends showed little variation. Year-over-year, prices rose but sales fell. Month-over-month, only the Midwest showed a drop in sales. Comparing October to September, sales were strongest in the West (up 2.8 percent), followed by the South (1.9 percent) and the Northeast (1.5 percent), with the Midwest lagging behind with a drop of 0.8 percent. The South led the year-over-year price increases at 3.8 percent, followed by the Northeast at 3.0 percent, the Midwest at 2.4 percent, and the West at 1.9 percent. Midland, TX remained at the top of the hottest metro areas list (measured by days on the market/listing views per property). Interestingly, there was no change from September in the Top 10, as Midland was followed by Fort Wayne, IN, Odessa, TX, Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH, Columbus, OH, Colorado Springs, CO, San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA, Janesville-Beloit, WI, Boise City, ID, and Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN.

Should you buy or sell over the holidays? December is almost here, and with it the holiday whirl of parties, shopping, family, friends, and travel. Some people think they should wait until spring to list their home or start looking for one, but if you have the stamina – or the need – this time of year offers advantages for both buyers and sellers. Sellers will find motivated, serious buyers and less competition from other sellers. Buyers will find – you guessed it – serious sellers and less competition from other buyers. It can be a win-win, but you need every advantage. My advice remains the same. Do your homework online. Work with an experienced Realtor® who knows your market, and if you need one we are happy to refer one of our trusted Realtor® partners. Remember, if you’re buying, get your financing lined up first by talking to RJ Crosby with First Choice Loan Services Inc.

Timothy M. Sheahan, Jr.
Executive Vice President | Secondary Marketing

A Grateful Family

During this season of Thanksgiving, we wanted to share a few reasons why members of our First Choice Family are thankful. Their words paint a picture of why we are a grateful family.

“Grateful to have my health, family, a home, and employment”
– Thomas Babigian | Senior Mortgage Loan Originator | NMLS#: 7989 | Westborough, MA

“I am thankful for my family, the support and love of my wife, the love of my children, and for my friends and co-workers who have always have been there for me.”
– Joe Baio | Senior Vice President, Collateral Services | NMLS#: 1116466

“What I am thankful for this year is Family, the ones we are born into and the ones that we choose like the family here at First Choice.”
– Heidi Berryhill | Mortgage Loan Originator | NMLS#: 1561339 | Long Beach, CA

“I’m thankful for my new addition to our family, Jack, our Irish Doodle.”
– Lori Black-Taylor | Sales Assistant | NMLS#: 773228 | Auburn, AL

“I am grateful for the ability to love unconditionally that I inherited from my mother and for the family and friends I love fiercely with that unconditional love.”
– Aimee Box | Senior FHA Insurer | East Brunswick, NJ

“I am grateful for my job, family and especially my husband.”
– Kendall Brown | Jr. Processor | San Diego, CA

“I am forever grateful for my family and our support for one another. I am truly blessed with the amazing work family at First Choice.”
– Terry Chung | Senior Vice President, Business Solutions

“I am most grateful for being alive to see my grandchildren and my youngest daughter go to college. My health and good friends.”
– Tracie Deskins | Shipper | East Brunswick, NJ

“I am thankful for time, both yesterday and today. I am thankful for the opportunity to love and serve all the people in my life.”
– Yolanda Esquer | Jr. Loan Processor | Scottsdale, AZ

“There are a lot of things I could list, such as: my job, bills paid, food on the table and so forth. But this year, I have to say, it has been a trying one, with the new house purchase. We have run into a few issues with the house, and when each one seemed like it was going to be too much, assistance appeared, and the end result taken care of with almost minimal cost. I am extremely grateful for that. With so many people out in the cold or losing homes due to jobs being lost, extra income being lost, or some other misfortune, I truly am grateful, I have a roof over my head. I am also grateful for the assistance that has come our way. We could not have made the repairs without their help or knowledge. So, this year, I am saying an extra prayer for our blessings we have received, and for all of FCLS employees have a wonderful Thanksgiving too.”
– Amy Forsman | Processor | Westborough, MA

“I am very thankful to all of the people that work here at First Choice Loan Services. They make me feel like I’m part of the family which means a lot to me and my family.”
– Jerry Frye | Branch Manager | NMLS#: 173762 | Dallas, TX

“I am grateful for good health, my wonderful husband and loving children as well as my extended family!”
– Jen Goldstein | Vice President, Accounting | East Brunswick, NJ

“I’m grateful for my health because truly, Health is Wealth (as cliché as that sounds). To me, being healthy means; being able to live out your best life.”
– Joy Grajo | Underwriter | East Brunswick, NJ

“I’m grateful for God, my family, good health and my job!”
– Emilee Harris | Underwriter | Addison, TX

“I am thankful for the health and time God has given me. 4 years cancer free.”
– Fernando Hernandez | Quality Assurance Analyst | East Brunswick, NJ

“I am most grateful for my family, and all of their continued good health.”
– James Iley | Executive Vice President, National Production

“I am thankful for propel with open hearts and minds.”
– Barry Jones | VP, Regional Manager | NMLS#: 212497 | Auburn, AL

“I am grateful. As I am blessed with a wonderful supportive family both at home and at work that are an absolute joy to be around. I am grateful so be surrounded by so much Love.”
– Jaime Joyner | Branch Manager | NMLS#: 373182 | Concord, CA

“As a mother of seven awesome people, its pretty obvious what I am thankful for. I would like to say, I feel extremely blessed for all the wonderful people that come into my life daily and believe in me and fill my life up with Respect, Love and Joy. Thankful to be excited with the opportunities I have in front of me everyday.”
– Kim Kerns | Mortgage Loan Originator | NMLS#: 1748728 | Auburn, AL

“While I’m always thankful for my job here at First Choice Loan Services and being a part of the great work family that we have while being able to provide for my family, without question Kellie, Jake and Jordan and their continuous good health and happiness is what fulfills me the most!”
– Darren Kidder | Senior Mortgage Loan Originator | NMLS#: 52922 | Costa Mesa, CA

“I’m forever grateful for my family, my girlfriend Kristy, our First Choice Loan Services family, and the men and women who sacrifice their lives each and everyday to protect our freedom.”
– Norman T. Koenigsberg | Senior Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer

“I am thankful for an amazing work family.”
– Sarah Lauman | Processor | Southampton, PA

“I am always thankful for my family, work family, friends & good health. However this year our family is especially thankful for this little gem……… my granddaughter ( aka the light of my life).”
– Ann Marie Lepore | Senior Vice President, Closing & Funding

“I thank God for all my families: church family, work family and my home family. I am thankful that we all have each other to lean on and share all our happy times and not so happy times and know that they will be with me always.”
– Frank Leyva | Branch Manager | NMLS#: 201664 | Riverside, CA

“I am thankful for the Lord who sent His only son to cover my sins so that I may have eternal life with the great Almighty.”
– Ted Matosich | Senior Mortgage Loan Originator | NMLS#: 39903 | Consumer Direct

“I am grateful for the wonderful, supportive people I have in my life. Friends and Family are my true blessing.”
– Raya Mercey | Processor | Westborough, MA

“When it comes to grateful thoughts mine are simple… the roof over my head, the food in my cupboards and my job. I am sincerely grateful for our company.”
– Lisa Nonemaker | Senior Processor | Consumer Direct

“Honestly, I am thankful for this job!”
– Tami Nugent | Appraisal Coordinator | East Brunswick NJ

“I am grateful for my family. I have a new great nephew, and my brother-in-law is doing good with his cancer treatments. We are all here for one another.”
– Susan Papa | Shipping Department | East Brunswick, NJ

“I am most grateful to God for letting me see another Thanksgiving season with my family and having my son home from the Military for good, having a job, food on my table, good health.”
– Diane Phillips | Senior FHA Insurer | East Brunswick, NJ

“I am thankful for my family, friends, my cats, and good health.”
– Ian Rimerman | Senior Loan Originator | NMLS#: 5215 | Southampton, PA

“I am grateful for my family, friends who are family and a new home for the upcoming holidays.”
– Susan Roemer | Shipper | East Brunswick, NJ

“I am thankful for my struggles because without them I wouldn’t be able to appreciate my triumphs.”
– Siobhan Singh | Senior Vice President, Project Management & Corporate Development

“I am most thankful for my family; they have been there through everything and I am blessed to have them.”
– Shannon Skalski | Assistant Vice President, Post Closing

“SO much to be thankful for…my heart is full. Family and friends, including my work family.”
– Lila Sutherland | Regional Coordinator | San Diego, CA

“I am grateful for my First Choice Loan Services family!”
– Kelly Tong-Berry | Mortgage Loan Originator | NMLS#: 1137825 | Danville, CA

“I’m thankful for a loving family, great friends, and the incredible opportunity I have at First Choice!”
– Jeff Wilson | Senior Mortgage Loan Originator | NMLS#: 824368 | Consumer Direct

Truths About the Reality of Home Improvements

There’s nothing wrong with reality television. From The Real Housewives of Atlanta/Beverly Hills/Dallas/New York (take your pick) to The Bachelor, reality television provides us with an endless supply of guilty pleasures that help us escape the reality of our daily lives. This can cause a problem when we start to define our reality by the “reality” we see on TV. When it comes to realty shows focusing on home improvements, it’s helpful if we are clear about what’s real and what isn’t. That’s why we’re sharing a few truths about the reality of home improvements.

Time Frames. The home transformations we see on television range from half an hour to a full hour. Within that time, you see them buy the home, work through demo day, purchase all the needed materials, remodel the home, decorate the new space and then do the reveal. You barely have time to finish your snack of pita chips and hummus before it’s all complete. The truth is, depending on the scale, home improvements can take weeks, months to even years. Between contractors, crew, weather and permits (see the next point), several factors contribute to the timeline. Knowing this helps you set proper expectations.

Permit, Shermit. Many projects demonstrated on home improvement reality shows require permits. Adding rooms and major landscaping (among many other jobs) are governed by local governments. The truth is this important (and legal) step often is glossed over. Aside from the fact that this is required, it is also can add time to the project. Keeping this reality in mind can correct and adjust expectations.

Go Big. If the entire house itself isn’t being flipped, then often the show will show a complete renovation of a few rooms like the kitchen, master bathroom and living room. The truth is many times all that work isn’t required. You’ll know the needs of your home best, but recognize what needs true renovation work. There’s no need to invest in completely redoing the bones of your kitchen if simply updating the cabinets will garner the same return. You may find the rooms you think need major work can have minor tweaks. No need to work on several rooms if you don’t recoup your costs. Whatever you decide, you’ll want to feel as though the time and financial investment will pay off in the end.

DYI = NBD. The home improvement show may show you step by step how they did a certain project. It may look easy. You may think that Do It Yourself is No Big Deal. The truth is some jobs require a professional. Those you see accomplishing great things on the reality home improvement shows frequently have behind-the-scenes coaches to give them guidance and a helpful hand. You can save yourself time, frustration and more money in repairs if you start with those who are trained and knowledgeable about what is needed.

Bottom Line. During the course of the show, the program might share an overall budget or display how much some material costs, but that information should be taken with a grain of salt. The truth is the expenses you see may not be market prices. For television shows, many vendors and suppliers will cut deals with the production company for a little publicity on the program. Discounted price on the material? Sure! Free labor? No problem! Before trying to recreate what you see on television, take time to craft a budget that includes everything at actual costs. Getting quotes from vendors can help. When you come up with your initial bottom line, per the advice from experts, include an additional 20% to cover unexpected costs.

What You See Is What You Get. The big reveal moment is what we all love. The tears of the happy and deserving homeowners remind us there’s good in the world. The truth is the furniture, paintings and décor you see filling the home often is removed after the cameras stop rolling. The final staging looks beautiful, but by the time the show airs, the homeowners may be watching it while they sit on their old sofa.

We still love these home improvement reality shows. They create gorgeous homes and can spark some creative ideas. But even though the show might fall in the “reality” category, that doesn’t mean it’s all entirely true. Know the differences, and you can venture into the world of renovation with a clear mind.

You can contact The Crosby Team at First Choice Loan Services Inc. to help you learn more about the renovation programs we have that can make renovation ideas a true reality!

Dave Lewis
Senior Vice President, Renovation

Four Keys to Holiday Travel

Grandmother’s pumpkin pie. Aunt Lou’s home-baked rolls. PeePaw’s snoring. There are just certain things that make the holidays complete. Without them, the celebrations aren’t the same. That’s why so many families travel during this time of year. Hoping that you and your family have the most enjoyable season possible, we’ve provided the four keys to holiday travel.


•If you’re flying and still haven’t purchased your airline ticket, try to fly non-stop. It might cost you few bucks more, but it can save you hours (and if you miss the connection, perhaps a full day). If you can’t avoid the connection then try to allow ample time to get to your next flight. With tricky winter weather and large traveling crowds, you will be grateful to walk through the airport instead of having to run.
•Save important phone numbers in your phone. Include phone numbers for your hotel, car rental location and all family members you’re visiting in your phone for easy access.
•Know your route. If you’re driving, know your planned roads and highways ahead time. Check for any construction that might cause a detour. If you’re flying, check out the airports, especially if you do have a connection. While you may not read how to use the life vest, you can look at the material in most seat back pockets and see where your gate is located and trams you may need to use to get here in your connecting airport.


•Like the song says, “What a Difference a Day Makes.” Use whatever flexibility you may have and see what a difference in costs arriving/departing a day early/later makes. You could see the small change make a big difference in the costs. Most travel sites such as Orbitz and Expedia make checking for surrounding dates easy so you can easily see what the cost difference is.
•Remember, traveling is like Big Brother. “Expect the unexpected.” Traffic jams, long lines, oversleeping, rest stops… the reasons are bountiful. Schedule for delays to prevent frustrations when they arrive.


•You know what’s not fun? Packing. You know what’s less fun than that? Re-packing at the airport when you try to get your bag under the weight limit to avoid a charge. Believe me, I know. Before you declare yourself done with the task of packing, weigh your back and compare it with the weight limit posted on the airline website. If you’re over, try redistributing some your items from one bag to another so that you aren’t charged a ‘heavy bag’ fee. Keep in mind, if you’re going to be receiving gifts at your destination, leave space for them in your trip there.
•Speaking of gifts, if you plan on giving gifts (after all, it’s better than receiving, they say), consider shipping your presents. This can help you lower the weight of the bag and avoid the fee. Plus, it leaves more room for your personal items. If you will be packing your gifts you’re bringing for others, wait to wrap them until you arrive at your destination. Otherwise, paper is torn, bows are crushed… it’s a whole thing. Easily packable gift bags are the way to go.


•Getting from Point A to Point B during the holidays can be rough. The planning, the timing, the packing, the crowds, the weather… it’s a lot. Through it all, if you can remember why you’re making the trip, every potential obstacle will be worth it. The key is to be able to relax so that you can be your best self for those with whom you’re celebrating the holidays.

And, in those moments that are the most challenging, think about tasting that pumpkin pie!

Chad Peterson
Senior Vice President, Communications

Five Ways to Save Money This Holiday Season

Your neighbors may still have their jack o’ lanterns still on their front porch, but Halloween has come and gone. That means one thing: the holidays are officially here. Before you start lugging the decorations from the basement or attic, now is the perfect time to consider five ways to save money this holiday season.

1.Be Like Santa. I don’t mean gain a lot of weight, grow a beard and wear a lot of red. Be like Santa in the way he makes a list. Consider the people in your life. This includes family, friends, co-workers, your children’s teachers, hosts of holiday parties… Don’t forget those who provide you regular services throughout the year like building doormen, house cleaners, yard care givers. (Geez, that list gets long, doesn’t it?) From those people, who do you need to buy gifts for? Who would it be best to give a gift card? Who would appreciate kind thoughts expressed in a greeting card? Who would be happy with homemade cookies or a baked holiday treat? What we consider a gift may not be the exact same of what another considers a gift. Decide what you believe needs to be done based specifically on that individual.
2.Buy By the Numbers. Come on… we’re a mortgage company. You knew we’d get to budgeting at some point, and here it is: Set a budget. It’ll be hard to gauge how much you’ve spent and saved if you don’t write down a budget. You can approach is various ways. You can start with a total amount you want to spend and then divvy it up among those who appear on your list. Or, you can go through each person on your list, place an amount you’d like to spend on them and add it all up; from there, you can see if the total works for you or if you need to decrease the amount for a person or two. In your budget, be sure to include other little items like wrapping paper, tape and bows… plus shipping (for those loved ones far away).
3.Resist Temptation. On that list of those you are buying gifts for, here’s a hard one: leave yourself off of it. Once you get in that shopping zone, I know it can be hard. You see that sweater, so you go ahead and try it on. And, of course, you look amazing in it. What are you going to do — *not* buy it? Exactly. You’re not. Your budget will go much further if you avoid these impulse buys. If you want that sweater, why not take a picture of it and send the information to a loved one. They could probably use the idea of what to buy you, and you’ll help them get you something that you love. While you’re at it, consider even your regular small impulse purchases. Cutting out those fancy daily coffees add up and can save you a considerable amount. Once the holidays are over and the gifts are all purchased and paid for, you can return to the habit.
4.Dig Deep. Before you spend a lot of time driving around (and money on gas), hop online and look into your potential gift purchases. What stores are running good sales on those items? If ordering online, is free shipping an option? To help you find better deals faster, consider using tools such as the ShopSavvy app which allows you to scan the bar code of an item to find nearby competitive prices. Also, pay attention to your emails. They may feel just like spam, but many stores will send emails that offer discounts on merchandise to their frequent customers. Lastly, be sure to mark your calendar. Don’t ignore the deals that are often offered every year on days like Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. Timing is a big part of the savings.
5.Be Creative. As we are reminded year after year, there’s more than one way to serve cranberries. In the same way, there’s more than one way to give gifts and celebrate the season. If your family hasn’t gotten too large for each person to buy the other a gift, consider Secret Santas and draw names from a hat. If you want to be sure the children have a gift-filled holiday, the names in the hat could all be over a specific age. Another option in lieu of gifts would be to donate to the person’s favorite charity. This can help fix costs, save time on shopping, and costs of wrapping or shipping. Another way to save would be to think about new holiday traditions that are free. Other than some gas and mileage, driving around to look at holiday lights is free. Many churches and local schools offer free holiday concerts. Spend an evening creating your own holiday cards to mail to family and friends. Plenty of options allow you to spend great quality holiday time together without requiring much money.

We know we said “five” tips, but since it’s the season of giving, here’s one more…

Get Started. The sooner you start your holiday shopping, the better. Making some of the holiday gift purchases now will help you spread out the time it takes to pay them off versus having all the gift charges hit you at once. Also, waiting until the last minute can add pressure and contribute to bad choices (both in terms of finances and taste). Without the pressure that comes from procrastinating, you’ll have the time to find the better deals and find the perfect gifts for your loved ones. Plus, once you knock out the shopping “to do” list, your more free and open to fully enjoy the holidays.

While we hope this helps you have a little more jingle in your pocket, more importantly, we hope you enjoy this time of year for all that it means. May all the lists, budgets and shopping not distract you from the joy the season brings.

Is Your House Haunted?

A recent survey found that over 60 percent of Americans believe they have seen a ghost. Four in ten believe their pet has seen one, too. In addition, one in three people believe that have lived in or stayed in a house that is haunted. The top response to seeing a ghost? Scream and run away. (Sounds sensible to me.) Is your house haunted?

Would you buy a house you believe to be haunted? Last year, released the results of another haunted house survey, in which a third of those surveyed said they’d live in a haunted house. Of course, people wanted something in exchange, with 40 percent saying they’d need a price reduction, 35 percent wanting a better neighborhood, 32 percent needing more square footage, and 29 percent requiring more bedrooms.

There’s more than one way your home can be haunted. Forget about ghosts, poltergeists and things that go bump in the night. Here are a few horrors that could make your dream home into a nightmare (on Elm or any other street).

Neighbors. Maybe you enjoy thrash metal remixes. Perhaps a symphony of incessantly barking dogs is your idea of heaven on earth. Is there a rundown property that has streams of visitors at odd hours? If you are looking for a new home, check out the neighborhood. Don’t just visit during the day. Drive through the area at night, with your car windows open. Go on different days at different times. You may find that the rundown house is simply an elderly person who could use some neighborly help. The impromptu concerts are teenagers in a garage who shut it down promptly at 9 pm. The dogs? That could be a deal-breaker.

Zoning. You’ve found a home with an amazing view. Or you’ve found a home in a quiet wooded area. Before you commit, you’d better find out what can happen to “your” view or “your” woods. Talk to your Realtor® to find out if there’s anything on the horizon, like a new shopping development or a high-rise building. Don’t stop there. Go to the city or county planning department and understand the zoning for the area. Are you buying in a mixed-use neighborhood? That could mean shops, bars and restaurants, which you could love or hate, depending on your point of view. Are you in an historic preservation district? That could seriously restrict any remodeling, from fence height to exterior paint colors. Is the quaint 2-lane road scheduled to become a 4-lane highway? Be sure you know what’s on the drawing board before you buy.

Pests. Shhh! What’s that noise? It could be the whisper of a passing ghost, or the patter of tiny mouse feet. Those little piles of sawdust might be the remains of a woodworking project but they could be the leavings of an industrious termite colony. The bathroom ceiling could be a Goth art project or black mold. If you’re buying a home, you need a thorough home inspection. If it turns up any questionable results, go a step further and bring in a specialty inspector. If you’ve been living in your home for a while and you start to notice odd noises or something that doesn’t look right, don’t wait too long to find out what’s going on. Those dripping walls could be a leaky roof, or something sweeter.

This week, no matter what you believe, a variety of strange creatures may haunt your house, especially on the 31st. Don’t be afraid. There’s a surefire way to rid yourself of the terror. Give them individually wrapped Snickers® and they’ll leave you in peace. Until next year.

Nicki Davis
Senior Vice President | Credit

September 2018 Housing Market Recap

September existing home sales fell after August sales were flat. Prices increased again, as they have for over 6 and a half years. The pace of sales was slower than it was in August, but still faster than a year ago. Sales slowed across all four major regions, and overall housing inventory is up from the previous September. Do these small changes in the September 2018 Housing Market Recap signal that the market finally changing direction?

September existing home sales fell 3.4 percent from August, and were 4.1 percent lower than September 2017, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) September Existing Home Sales Report, released October 19th.

Inventory fell from August to September, but increased year-over-year. At the current sales pace, the supply of unsold inventory was 4.4 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 September was $258,100, an increase of 4.2 percent from September 2017 ($247,600). We’ve now reached 79 consecutive months of year-over-year increases.

Days on the market (DOM) were up from August, moving from 29 to 32. A year ago, homes typically stayed on the market for 34 days, so the sales pace is slightly higher year-over-year.

According to NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun, “There is a clear shift in the market with another month of rising inventory on a year over year basis, though seasonal factors are leading to a third straight month of declining inventory,” said Yun. “Homes will take a bit longer to sell compared to the super-heated fast pace seen earlier this year.”

Regional trends show little variation. Sales were flat or down, and prices were up across all regions. The Midwest saw no drop in sales from August, followed by the Northeast (2.9 percent), West (3.6 percent) and South (5.4 percent). Prices rose year-over-year in every region, with the Northeast and West tied at 4.1 percent. Prices in the South rose 3 percent, and in the Midwest by 1.9 percent. Midland, TX remained at the top of the hottest metro areas list (measured by days on the market/listing views per property). The rest of the Top 10 are Fort Wayne, IN, Odessa, TX, Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH, Columbus, OH, Colorado Springs, CO, San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA, Janesville-Beloit, WI, Boise City, ID, and Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN.

What does this mean if you’re buying or selling? Buyers may have more choices, depending on the local market. Sellers may find it takes a little longer to sell, but the market is still in their favor. While this report shows national and regional trends, things may be different in your area. Real estate is local and personal. Work with an experienced and trusted Crosby Team Realtor® partner who knows your market, and get your financing lined up first by talking to The Crosby Team at First Choice Loan Services Inc.

September 2018 NAR Infographic Snapshot

Timothy M. Sheahan, Jr.
Executive Vice President | Secondary Marketing

Buying a foreclosure? Do your homework!

It’s a tempting proposition: A deeply discounted home in a neighborhood you like. Buying a foreclosure can be a great opportunity, but proceed with caution. There are many pitfalls that can turn your dream deal into an everlasting headache. If you are buying a foreclosure? Do your homework! Here are some things to think about before you take the plunge.

What Is A Foreclosure? There are three classes of sale that people commonly refer to as a foreclosure: a pre-foreclosure/short sale, a foreclosure, and a bank-owned property/real estate owned (REO). Each one presents an opportunity for buyers, although in the pre-foreclosure stage the current owners still have the option to make loan payments and stop further proceedings. If they decide to sell, and the lender agrees, the home will sell for less than the amount due on the current mortgage. The lender takes a loss, or is “shorted” on the sale. In a foreclosure situation, the property will be sold at auction. You’ll need to be prepared to pay cash – financing may not be an option – and you may not be able to have a professional home inspection. If the property doesn’t sell, it becomes bank-owned. You’ll be able to finance the home and have an inspection, but you will have to meet very strict contractual deadlines to close the purchase.

Know The Market. How will you know if you’re getting a good deal if you don’t know what other homes are selling for in the area? Do your online research. You can use sites like Zillow, Trulia and to compare listing prices and see price estimates. (Not all states disclose property sale prices so you may not be able to see what buyers actually paid.) On some sites, you can enter the search term “foreclosures” and find properties in this category.

It’s Going To Cost How Much? A foreclosure may look like a great bargain, but remember you will have expenses that can range from major structural repairs to cosmetic improvements. If you buy a foreclosure for $150,000, spend several months and another $100,000 renovating it, and the average price for a home in the neighborhood is $200,000, it may not be such a deal. Know what you can afford, set a budget and stick to it.

Expert Help. With what you’ve read so far, you’ll probably agree that you need all the expert help you can get to make this purchase work. Your team should include a lender, a Realtor®, and a home inspector. Depending on the circumstances, you may want to add a pest inspector or a well-water testing company, and other professionals as needed.

Lender. First things first. Start with a lender. No matter if you are making a conventional home purchase or following the foreclosure path, you need to know how much you can afford and what loan options are available. Even if you think you are going to pay cash at an auction, talk to a mortgage loan originator. Circumstances can change rapidly and you’ll want to be ready. Furthermore, you can show your Realtor® that you are a serious buyer – see the next point!

Realtor®. This is not the time to go it alone. You need to work with a real estate professional who understands foreclosures. Foreclosure specialists will not only know what’s on the market now, they’ll probably know what’s coming. How do you find a Realtor® who understands foreclosures? Go back to your internet search and see whose names pop up in association with foreclosure listings. As a plus, they’ll have recommendations for contractors and other tradespeople you’ll need to fix up the home.

Inspect, Inspect, Inspect. You can’t expect someone who is losing their home to focus on home maintenance. In addition, the property you’re looking at may have been vacant for months, or even years. Don’t take any chances. You’re buying the home on an as-is basis, which means the seller isn’t responsible for broken pipes, a leaky roof, or black mold. Spend the money on a home inspection so you know what’s wrong, and can decide if it’s worth fixing. (The inspector can’t tell you what repairs will cost, but armed with the inspection you can talk to contractors and get a better idea of the expenses you’re facing.) Need to find a certified inspector? Start here.

Title. Be aware that buying “as-is” can extend to the property title. Title may not be clear (property indisputably owned by the seller) when you buy, and issues, such as unpaid property taxes or HOA dues, could take months to resolve. Consult with a real estate attorney or title company before you buy to find out what you can do to protect your interest.

It may take more than one try to secure a foreclosure. Stay positive and keep looking if you don’t get the first one – or two – or three that interest you. Don’t be afraid to walk away, either. Whether you are buying it to live in, rent, or flip, it has to be the right choice for you.

Joe Baio
Senior Vice President | Collateral Services

The Truth About Investment Properties

You purchased your dream home. All the pictures are hanging in precise alignment, the rooms are painted the perfect colors and now you can sit back and relax. But, wait… what’s that? You’ve been bitten! Bitten by the property bug. Like people who get one tattoo and then just want “one more,” the idea of purchasing another house is enticing. Not one to be your new home… you love what you have… but maybe one to rent or lease or use for platforms like or (or as we call them “non-owner occupied”). Before you start the home buying process all over again, be sure you know the truth about investment properties.

Truth: Patience Proceeds Profits.
You need to prepare yourself for what lies ahead. You likely have gone through the mortgage process before, so you can predict to go through a similar experience – with some variations. Before doing too much planning on what you may do with the potential income from the investment property, it’s best to be pre-approved. Every home loan transaction is different. Purchasing an investment property could have different requirements you didn’t encounter before. You can ask RJ Crosby, your lender for life, what those differences may be.

Truth: Research Required.
Before making a commitment of owning an investment property, be sure you know you’re ready for (or even able to take) the adventure. As when you purchased your home, you’ll want to consider the neighborhood and the home’s proximity to various community features. If you plan to use your investment home for short-term rentals, you may want to view homes near your city’s tourist attractions. If you’re targeting more long-term renters who have children, then you might want to consider nearby schools and parks. Also, investigate both the long- and short-term rental market in your city, specifically in the neighborhoods of homes you’re visiting. Is it saturated? Would you be able to charge the rental pricing you hoped for? Is a full home the way to go or is a condo or duplex more manageable and marketable where you are? Above everything else, you’ll want to ensure whatever community, building or development where the property is located allows for the home to be used in this manner. Conduct your own due diligence to ensure renting your property is allowed, checking with the condominium/community development guidelines and city ordinances.

Truth: Extra Expenses.
Even when you do close on the investment property, there is likely work to do. Rarely do you buy a home in perfect condition that is ready to rent or lease immediately. Some work may be merely cosmetic while other projects might require larger scale renovations. While investment properties can provide additional income, they typically are not a “get rich quick” type of situation. You’ll also have an additional mortgage payment. This can be off-set when renters occupy the property, but before that time and in between renters, those payments are still there. Then, the hot water heaters breaks or the roof leaks or the air conditioner breaks down. Just like in your primary residence, unexpected updates and maintenance is needed. When those instances occur, the responsibility is yours. Also, while security deposits may help cover repairs needed after your renters vacate the property, handling the logistics of having them made is on your “to do” list.

Truth: Marketing Mindset.
Renters come and go. The length of their stay varies on the agreement with your renters and how you use the property (short-term versus long-term). With this in mind, what tools do you have to use to market your investment property? Just like selling a home, curb appeal and professional photographs go a long way in helping others see themselves comfortable in your investment property – whether for a year-long lease or a weekend. Platforms that help promote short-term rental properties often have systems in place to market your investment home as well as vet out potential renters. For long-term rental properties, property management companies can help market your investment home and also help deal with supervise some of those necessary maintenance repairs mentioned earlier. Either way, your mind often needs to be set on making sure the home is occupied if you hope to profit from the investment, and that requires making sure people know about it.

It is true that investment properties can potentially prove to be a lucrative purchase. Going into this venture with blinders off and realistic expectations could help the experience be smoother than you imagined. The Crosby Team at First Choice Loan Services can answer whatever questions you may have about the process.

Bill Keezer
Senior Vice President | National Loan Solutions