Keep Unwanted Visitors Out of Your Home

When you read the title of this blog, did your mind go to certain relatives? Or bugs and beasties? You’re on your own with the relatives (pretend you’re not home), but here are some suggestions for crawling, scurrying, slithering, buzzing intruders and ways to keep unwanted visitors out of your home. If this also describes your unwanted relatives, you have my sympathy, but you’re still on your own.

No Welcome Mat. The first thing to do is eliminate anything that attracts pests, or makes it easy for them to enter your home. Trim trees and shrubs away from your home so there’s no highway for rodents. If you have a woodpile, keep it away from your home. Check for easy access points, such as holes in the roof, gaps in the siding or stucco, and open dryer vents. Ants and rodents love sugar and crumbs, so keep your kitchen clean and store food in sturdy containers. Make sure your trash is in a container with a tight-fitting lid, and keep it in the garage if you can. Trash left outside will invite attention from rodents, dogs, coyotes – yes, even in urban areas – and even curious crows.

Exclusionary Tactics. Now that you’ve identified potential trouble spots, it’s time to get to work. Seal cracks and gaps, and install door sweeps. Make sure your window and door screens are hole-free and fit properly. Stuffing cracks and crevices with steel wool or copper mesh works well to keep rodents at bay, but depending on the size of the gap or hole, you may need more extensive measures. These might include new roof shingles, a properly installed dryer or kitchen fan vent, or wood cut to the right dimensions and secured with sturdy nails and caulk. One more tip. If a squirrel should happen to fall down your chimney while you’re on vacation, you will think that sooty-footed vandals have trashed your home. (Little known fact: A hungry, thirsty squirrel will eat ground coffee and drink balsamic vinegar.) Close the flue, make sure the spark arrestor is in good shape, and don’t ask me how I know this.

Removal. It’s going to happen. Mice will get into your house, especially if someone leaves a door open when you go on vacation (but that’s another story). Ants will appear as if by magic. Giant horrifying malevolent centipedes will stalk you at night. (Really. I know they are out to get me.) Snakes will sneak in – I don’t know why. Squirrels will fall down the chimney. What to do? I confess I used to go for the nuclear option every time. Now I take a more measured approach. Living in a rural area of the Southwest, I’ve learned that kitchen tongs work for both centipede and (non-venomous) snake removal. (I also speak to them sternly about staying outside.) I don’t use glue traps for mice, but a snap trap is fast and effective. Ants sometimes leave as mysteriously as they arrive, but there are times when I use a pesticide. I keep something pet-friendly on hand and use as little as possible.

Pest Inspection. If you are buying a home, consider a pest inspection. This is particularly important if you live in termite country, and it’s a requirement for VA loans. A pest inspection may cover more than creepy crawlies, and extend to dry rot and black mold. Be sure to ask the inspector what’s included. As with any service, make sure the inspector has any required state/local licenses or certificates, look for online reviews, and check the Better Business Bureau. Your Realtor® will probably have recommendations, and if you’re getting a VA loan, there will be a list of approved inspectors. In addition, when you are thinking of selling, an inspection will alert you to anything you need to remedy before you list your home.

A final caution. Be vigilant. If you notice that pieces of your garden hose are missing, bits of shiny objects are lying in your yard, and strange piles of sticks, debris, and leaves have appeared, seek professional help. Trust me. Packrats are not your friends.

Jane Burns
Content Manager, Marketing/Communications

Does a New Year Mean a New Home?

Very soon, we’ll be entering a new year. It’s an exciting time that can lead you to reflect on your personal and professional goals and ambitions. While taking inventory of where you are and where you want to go, why not use the time to think about your current living situation. Does a new year mean a new home?

When deciding if it’s time to expand your living situation, here are a few aspects to consider.

More Heads, More Beds

Has the number of people living in your home increased?
Have you added a baby? Sharing a room with a sibling may work for a while, but after a certain age, bunk beds and splitting a closet may be more difficult.
Has an elderly parent moved in with you? Multigenerational living is very common now and offers a strong alternative to senior residential communities or nursing homes.
Did a child return from college (aka, “boomerang kids”)? You may have changed their room to a study after they left for school. In the 4 (or 5… or 6…) years that they’ve been away, you’ve grown accustomed to the new space. You may not want to convert it back to their bedroom. If one or more of these situations happened, you may find the number of bedrooms in your current house not to be sufficient.

Work Related

Since you purchased your home, your job situation may be different. Maybe you work for a completely different company or your employer moved to a new location. In either case, the commute you had to work on the day you closed on your home may be considerably longer than it is now. Sometimes the investment of time and money involved in going to and from work justifies looking for a living situation closer to your professional home.

Get Social

Perhaps you purchased your home before really knowing your town. Not every neighborhood is the perfect fit. Do you feel comfortable with your neighbors? On top of that, is the location of your neighborhood conducive to the social life you desire? Some folks enjoy the peace and quiet that comes with the outskirts of the city but purchased a home in a crowded area. Conversely, some buy a home in the suburbs when they really prefer to enjoy what’s happening downtown. Did you buy a home far from where you like to spend your leisure time? It might be time to relocate closer to how you recharge your soul.

Let Me Entertain You

Speaking of being social, some people love hosting parties. Fourth of July backyard cookouts, Halloween soirees, winter holiday festivities… whatever the season, they find a reason to invite friends and family over to celebrate. However, not every home is designed to entertain. A small or even no backyard can make the cookouts difficult. A lack of convenient parking can make Halloween get-togethers challenging. Not having enough room for great Christmas décor and guests can make holiday parties pointless. If you need space to spread your inner Martha Stewart, it might be time to look for a new home.

The Bottom Line

You may not be motivated to move to a new home for personal, social or professional reasons. It may just come down to the numbers. A variety of factors could directly affect your neighborhood and property. In some cases, the changes could increase your property value. Other influencing events could possibly decrease your property value. The tricky part is that you frequently and most likely do not have control over these aspects. Keeping tabs on them, however, helps you stay aware of the level of equity that exists in your home and assists you in knowing when it might be a good time to stay or when it might be a beneficial time to move.

In every way, we want the new year to be a prosperous one. As you look at your homeownership needs for 2019 and beyond, remember that the trusted Crosby Team at First Choice Loan Services is eager and excited to help!

James Iley
Executive Vice President, National Production

Avoid These Six Rookie Mistakes

Buying your first home is a major milestone and a life-changing event. It’s also unfamiliar territory, with new terminology, contractual obligations, and important decisions that have to be mastered, met and made in a short period of time. Get ahead of the game so that you can avoid these six rookie mistakes.

Not Even Starting. You want to buy a house but you’ve heard that there’s no way you can qualify for a loan. Your credit score isn’t high enough. You don’t have enough saved for a down payment. You’re self-employed. Unless you heard this from a mortgage loan originator who analyzed your income, assets and credit, don’t believe it. Just because a friend or family member said that you need a certain credit score or a certain percentage of a home’s sale price as a cash down payment doesn’t make it so. Get the facts by meeting with a mortgage loan originator. (Of course, I’d recommend you choose RJ Crosby from First Choice Loan Services Inc.)

Looking For Houses Before Discussing Financing. The exciting part of buying a home is finding the house (or condo or townhouse). The home loan? Not so much. But here’s the deal. Unless you know how much you can afford, you are setting yourself up for disappointment when you fall in love with a home you can’t buy. In addition, a good Realtor® will insist that you have your financing organized before you look so you can focus on the right properties. Start by meeting with The Crosby Team.

Working Without A Realtor®. The internet is a wonderful thing. You can look at thousands of properties. You can take detailed virtual tours. You can research cities and neighborhoods down to the micro level. Why bother to have a Realtor® represent you? First, a knowledgeable real estate professional will help you narrow your search to properties that you like and can afford. Second, the purchasing process is complicated, so you need someone who understands contractual language and deadlines. Third, you will need other professionals, like a home inspector. Realtors® have contacts and can make recommendations. Finally, real estate transactions are human interactions. Negotiations may become heated. There may be after-sale issues. You need someone experienced, levelheaded, and tenacious to fight in your corner.

Ignoring Your Loan Originator’s Advice. When your loan originator tells you how much you can borrow, and what loan program(s) will work for you, you’ll also hear what you need to do to maintain your ability to take out the loan. Listen carefully and follow the instructions to the letter. If you change jobs or even the way you are compensated at your job (salary to commission, for example), or you open a new credit account, or you deposit a large sum of money into your bank account, you may wreck your deal. Always check with your loan originator first.

Letting Your Heart Rule Your Head. When you fall in love with a home, you may ignore warning signals that would normally make you pause. You may gloss over things that, if you saw them at a friend’s house, would make you wonder why they put up with them. Think of your home as a long-term relationship and consider carefully before you commit.

Not Budgeting For Expenses. When you’re a renter and the pipes burst, the furnace dies, or the roof leaks, you call the manager or property owner. When you own a home, that’s you! Remember also that if you take out a fixed rate loan, insurance and property taxes will probably (almost certainly) increase over the years, so while your principal and interest payment will be stable, you’ll need more money for those items. Make sure you understand the ongoing costs of homeownership, and be prepared to set money aside for both expected – and unexpected – expenses.

Ready? What’s your first step? Call The Crosby Team with First Choice Loan Services Inc. today!

Paul Heckman
Executive Vice President, Operations

Don’t Make it Harder to Sell Your Home

There’s an old expression: One man’s meat is another man’s poison. To put it another way, your dream home may be someone else’s nightmare. Worse, your choices could make it difficult to sell your home. It’s hard to think of selling a home you haven’t even purchased, but here are some things to consider before you buy. If you own a home and are thinking of remodeling, some will apply to you too; all are designed so you don’t make it harder to sell your home.

School House Rocks? If you have children, you may like the idea of living close to their school. You could walk them to school, and when they are old enough, they might be able to walk by themselves. Schools also bring bells, traffic, noise, and kids. Lots and lots of kids. When you have school age children, you’ll probably take it for granted that there will be buses and playground noise, but that may be a turn-off for some buyers.

Too Busy. You want to wake up in a city that never sleeps. You enjoy walking to the grocery, the coffee shop and the hip new diner. If you need a car, you’ll rent one. However, there’s a difference between living in a cool urban area and a gridlocked crush. Check out the neighborhoods you like at different times of day so you can see the traffic patterns and gauge the noise.

Over-Improved. You love your house and you don’t want to move, so you decide to renovate. Look at your neighborhood before you embark on that epic spa bathroom and the professional kitchen. Make sure you don’t do so much to your home that it no longer fits in. Remember, you don’t want the most expensive house on the block when it’s time to sell.

Cool At The Pool. When you live in Phoenix or Fort Lauderdale, a pool is a no-brainer. In some neighborhoods, you’ll be at a disadvantage if you don’t have one. In a cooler climate, it can be a drawback, and the number of days you can use it will be limited by the weather. Pools are expensive, too. They require cleaning, maintenance and security measures. If you must have a pool, enjoy it, but remember that you are unlikely to break even on your investment when it’s time to sell.

Idiosyncratic décor. Yes, Ultra Violet was the 2018 color of the year. Yes, it’s a very striking color. But a little goes a long way. Similarly, one interior wall of varnished pine may be charmingly rustic. An entire house (true example and it wasn’t a log cabin) will send most buyers running, or at the very least result in a lower offer as they look forward to hours of sanding and gallons of paint to cover that shine. Are you a collector? Your delightful display of vintage salt and pepper shakers may require walls of shelves that will obscure the room. Enjoy your collection, but be ready to pack it away and remove the shelves before you put your home on the market.

One bathroom. One bathroom was the norm for many years. It was a great improvement on a cold tap in the kitchen and an outdoor privy! Now, people look for 2 or more baths. If you find a home you love with only one bath, consider renovating immediately with a purchase + renovation loan. When it’s time for you to sell, you’ll be ahead of the game. As a bonus, if other homes in your neighborhood haven’t added a second bath, your home should be more desirable. Just remember not to overdo it.

Dated. I haven’t seen a big demand for 1970s kitchens yet, and even people who love Victorian architecture tend to want kitchens and baths with the latest in fixtures and appliances (although they might look vintage). If you’re thinking of selling, look online at houses in your area and go to some open houses if you can. See how your home measures up, and consult your Realtor® about changes to improve your chance of a quick sale at a fair price.

Dave Lewis
Senior Vice President, Renovation

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.