Safe Travels

Safe Travels

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You’ve packed the car, locked the doors, and you’re ready to go. Vacation – the sweetest word of the summer! But (there’s always a but, isn’t there?) what can you do to make sure your trip results in happy memories instead of time spent filing a police report, waiting for a new rental car, or explaining your injuries to medical staff? We’ve shared how to keep your home safe while you’re away, but what about steps you and your family can take while you’re on the adventures of your vacation? Experience is a great teacher, so read on and learn about things that you want to avoid to help ensure you have safe travels.

Don’t Flash Your Cash. On a trip to New Orleans a few years ago, we were standing in a group on the Moon Walk with crowds of people around us. We were discussing where to go for lunch when one friend announced in a loud voice, “I have lots of cash.” Oh boy. Might as well carry a neon sign that says Rob Me Now. Be discreet when you’re traveling. If you do bring excess cash, remember to use the safe provided in the hotel room. Leave the expensive watch at home. Don’t take your best jewelry. Dress so your attire doesn’t scream tourist. It’s more fun to pretend you’re a local, so try to blend in.

Badges? We Don’t Need No Badges. Traveling on a tour can be a great way to vacation, especially if you are uncomfortable traveling alone, or you’re going somewhere that a guide will improve your experience, or it will give you access to adventures you can’t take on your own. You’ll almost certainly need to wear a badge of some kind when you are with the group. The minute you leave the group for independent excursions, remove your badge. Why? It’s a giant red flag that says I’m a tourist; I don’t know my way around here, please take advantage of me.

I’m Sure It’s OK To Park Here. My nephew and his wife (who are experienced travelers), decided to park their rental car on the street in a small city in France. They came out of their Airbnb the next morning and – no car. Luckily for them, it wasn’t stolen. When they were parking the night before they neglected to check the street signs. A few hours and many Euros later, they retrieved the car from the police impound lot. Make sure you understand the rules before you leave your car on the street. Check with your Airbnb hosts, your hotel, or local friends. Don’t lose valuable vacation time over a simple mistake.

Street Scammers. When you’re in an unfamiliar place, stay alert. Street scams work because vacationers are distracted and out of their comfort zone. We were walking on Bourbon Street (New Orleans again!) when a woman wearing an ID badge and carrying a clipboard accosted us. She started talking – fast. Did we know we shouldn’t be walking in the street and now we had to pay and for $10 we’d be off the hook and oh by the way here’s a hat for you. 2 of us paid and then the other 2 said – wait a minute, what? That was her cue to take off. It turns out what she was doing was technically legal because she had a vendor license. We didn’t fall for it again, although there were plenty of others who tried their luck.

National Parks Are Safe, Right? Our National Parks are truly vacation wonderlands, but remember that you aren’t in the controlled environment of a theme park. Those bison in Yellowstone are not big friendly cows. There are no fences to keep you from falling off the trail at Grand Canyon. Bears can, and will, destroy your campsite and car if they smell food. Be smart. Go to the visitor center, watch the videos, read the brochures, and talk to the rangers. Every year, people die or are injured in avoidable accidents. In addition, use the same precautions you’d use at home. Keep your valuables locked up and out of sight. Lock your doors. Keep an eye on the kids. And don’t take a selfie on the edge of a cliff.

Ready? Pack your common sense along with the sunscreen, don’t try to pet the grizzlies, and have a great vacation!

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

Keeping It Cool This Summer

Most of the winter, you’ll hear people lament about how they miss the days of summer. Once those days of summer arrive, the moaning sometimes transitions to cries for relief from the heat. With many parts of the country facing triple digit temperatures, a lot of folks are wondering how they might just get a little taste of winter. Here are just a few ideas of how you can go about keeping it cool this summer.

H20. Water seems like a good answer to lots of life’s challenges. It’s important to stay hydrated, especially in the summer. Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. During times of excessive heat, it is recommended that a person drinks two to four glasses of water every hour. Remember, alcoholic and sugary drinks aren’t the same as water; these can actually result in you losing more body fluid. Of course, water in a pool can also be a great way to cool off. Just don’t forget to stay hydrated while taking a dip. It’s better not to wait until you’re thirsty.

Timing. The peak hours of the most intense heat tend to be from 11 AM to 4 PM. If you can avoid being outside during these hours, you’ll spar yourself a few drops of sweat. Consider some indoor activities. If not in the office, think about going to catch one of this summer’s blockbusters. Visit a local museum. Take a run on a treadmill instead of your favorite outside path. When it comes to chores, choose to do a few during the evening. Dryers can create a lot of heat, so do laundry at the cooler parts of the day. Plan on baking? Wait until the sun goes down. There are a few adjustments you can make to your plans that will help you not get overheated.

Fashion. Light fabrics like silks, linens and cottons are good choices to make for what to wear during hot weather. Loose and breathable is the way to go. Also, light colors that reflect the light (versus dark colors which can absorb it) will help you keep cool. Hats can also provide protection from the sun.

Fun. Have fun with it. Freeze some fruit in ice cube makers for flavored ice. Carve out fresh fruits and vegetables with strong outer surroundings (like watermelon, melons, or cucumbers) for creative and refreshing shot glasses. If serving drinks at a summer event, freeze water in water balloons to act as ice for the canned beverages. When the water in the balloons starts to melt, have a good old fashioned water balloon fight. Don’t forget the standard favorite of freezing flavored drink mix in ice cube trays with sticks for homemade popsicles.

Pets. It’s important to remember your furry friends as well. After all, these are the ones who likely are wearing a fur coat during this season. Be sure they have plenty of shade and that their water bowl is full of cool water. There are several dog toys that will allow you to freeze water inside which they’ll love. Invest in cooling mats and bandanas which can be soaked in water and provide cool relief for a few hours. This should go without saying, but never, ever leave your four-legged (or two-legged) loved ones in the car in this heat.

Signs. Most importantly, it’s good to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Feeling dizzy? A little nauseated? Have a headache? Fainted lately? Is your pulse racing? We’re no webmd.com, but that could mean you or someone you love is suffering from heat stroke. Keep an eye on those most at risk which include infants and young children, those over the age of 65, people who overexert themselves during exercise, those physically ill or on medication and those who are overweight. You can visit the Center for Disease Control for the full list. If you think you or someone you know seems to have these symptoms because of the heat, be sure to call 9-1-1.

Summer is a great time of year. There’s more sunlight, outdoor activities and, if you’re lucky, a tan. Plus, it’s still weeks before it’s time to go back to school! Just be sure to celebrate the season safely and as cool as possible!

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

How To Ace Your Appraisal Day

You’ve completed all of your pre-appraisal chores and now it’s appraisal day. Whether you are selling or refinancing, you want the highest valuation. While it’s too late to replace the roof, and you can’t manipulate the housing market to create higher comps (comparable properties), you can make it as easy as possible for the appraiser, and show your house at its best. There are ways you can prepare to ace your appraisal.

How? Let’s get started.

Get Up And Get Dressed. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Right. I’ve heard stories from appraisers about walking into a bedroom and finding a sleeping teenager, or worse, a half-dressed adult. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. To avoid embarrassment, make sure everyone in the house is up and dressed, beds made, and rooms tidy. Put dirty dishes in the dishwasher (or hand wash them and put them away in the cupboard). Stash any last-minute clutter. You’re not competing in a home beauty contest, but you want it to look good.

Pets. You’ve cleaned the litter box, scooped the poop in the yard, and made sure there are no lingering pet odors. Now make sure the appraiser, Fluffy, and Spot are all comfortable by putting the critters (not the appraiser!) in a crate or other safe place. Depending on the pet, that could be offsite with a friend or family member. You love your pets, but a rambunctious dog or unhappy cat can be a distraction, and they could escape through an open door while the appraiser is working.

Let The Sunshine In. Open the curtains. Turn on the lights. A bright home creates a more positive impression than a gloomy one. While your home won’t be graded on a brightness scale, remember it’s all about making the appraiser’s job easier. You don’t want to look like you’ve got something scary hiding in a dark basement, do you?

Picture Perfect. The appraiser will take photos of your home, inside and out. Take every opportunity to create a good impression. Hang the towels neatly in the bathroom. Make the beds. Hang up or put away clothes. Put toiletries away in a bathroom cabinet or drawer. Stash outside clutter – toys, bikes, hoses – neatly in the garage. And my pet peeve – close the lid on the toilet.

Information Please. Offer the appraiser a copy of the information you gathered previously to document upgrades and replacements. (You did remember to create that folder, didn’t you?) If you have information about recent sales in the neighborhood, you can include those, too. The appraiser will be creating an independent list of comps, but your research may help.

Get On With It. Let the appraiser work without interruption, but be available for questions. Greet the appraiser, offer an appropriate drink (water, coffee, tea, a soft drink), and get out of the way. Don’t hover or offer advice. If you have small children in the house, keep them out of the way, too. Customs vary in different parts of the country, but if you’re selling, you may find that the buyers’ Realtor® or your own will be there also.

Ready? Here’s to a great appraisal!

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

May 2018: Housing Market Recap

May Housing Market Recap: Sales Slide Again

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May existing home sales dropped again, following a decline that began in April. Is this the start of a trend? The coming months will tell. Prices increased again, as they have for over 6 years. The pace of sales was the same as April, with days on the market well below 30. The median existing home price increased nationally, hitting an all-time high. The market story hasn’t changed: The persistent lack of inventory dominates the narrative.

May existing home sales dropped by 0.4 percent compared to April, and were 3.0 percent lower than May 2017, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) May Existing Home Sales Report, released June 20th. This is the third month of year-over-year decreases.

Inventory rose from April to May (as you might expect in a prime selling month), but only by 2.8 percent, and year-over-year it was 6.1 percent lower. Inventory has now fallen year-over-year for 36 months in a row. The supply of unsold inventory was 4.1 months, down from 4.2 months a year ago.

Home prices continued to increase year-over-year. The median price of existing homes sold in May was a record-high $264,800, up 4.9 percent from May 2017 ($252,500). We’re now at 75 consecutive months of year-over-year increases.

Days on the market (DOM) were unchanged from April, staying at 26. A year ago, homes typically stayed on the market for 27 days, so the sales pace has increased slightly year-over-year.
According to NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun, a solid economy and job market should be generating a much stronger sales pace than what has been seen so far this year. “Closings were down in a majority of the country last month and declined on an annual basis in each major region,” he said. “Incredibly low supply continues to be the primary impediment to more sales, but there’s no question the combination of higher prices and mortgage rates are pinching the budgets of prospective buyers, and ultimately keeping some from reaching the market.”

Sales declined regionally, with one exception: The Northeast. Sales in that region grew by 4.6 percent, but that’s still 11.7 percent lower year-over-year. The Northeast was also the only region to see a decline in prices, with a 1.8 percent drop from May 2017. The West led price increases with a 7.2 percent increase. In an interesting shift, California metros no longer dominate the hottest metro areas list (measured by days on the market/listing views per property). The Top 10 are Midland, TX, Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH, San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA, Columbus, OH, Vallejo-Fairfield, CA, Boise City, ID, Stockton-Lodi, CA, Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY, Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI, and Fort Wayne, IN.

If you’re selling, congratulations. You will probably receive multiple offers and be able to sell quickly. If you’re buying, it’s time to get organized. You have to be ready to make a strong offer as soon as you find the home you want. Make sure your offer includes financing by meeting with a First Choice Loan Services Inc. loan originator now. Once you have a pre-underwriting approval or preapproval, you’ll be able to include a First Choice Priority Buyer Letter with your offer to show that you are a serious buyer. That’s the First Choice advantage.

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

Divorce and Mortgages

Often one of these major concerns in a divorce is choosing what to do with your mortgage. Landing on what is best for you depends on several factors and your unique situation. Common options include:
•With “bird nesting,” the children stay in the home consistently while the parents split the time living there. Because both parents split their time residing in the home, the mortgage on the property would not necessarily need to change if both parties are contributing to the payment.

•One spouse may want to keep the home. This can be done either through mortgage assumption or mortgage refinance. ◦While not always available, a mortgage assumption may be an option. The spouse who wants to keep the home and assume the mortgage would need to determine if the lender allows an assumption, what the rate on the loan is compared to the current market rates and the cost of the assumption. Assumptions tend to the best option, when available, when the rate is low and there is not much equity in the property.
◦A mortgage refinance is preferred if your mortgage interest rate is higher than the current market rate. The spouse who wants to retain the home would need to qualify to refinance the home using their income alone. If you are the spouse leaving the home, its wise to ensure this step is done so that your name is removed from the existing mortgage. Remaining connected to this could affect you negatively if your ex-spouse misses a payment and can also prevent roadblocks in you qualifying for another mortgage for a place of your own (or even meeting some renting requirements).

•Signing a Quitclaim Deed might be another option, but one that should be considered carefully. Signing this deed does not remove your name from the mortgage; you would still be responsible for a missed mortgage payment, and one could likely hurt your credit score. The deed would also forfeit any rights to selling the home or gaining a profit from the home sale. It does, however, offer a faster way to transfer interest of the property and gives the other spouse full rights to the home. Check with your lender to see if you can Quitclaim title into the spouse who will retain ownership of the home.

•Special memories and rooted attachments can make selling the family home emotionally draining. However, in many ways, it’s a simpler way to go. If there’s equity built up in the home, using a non-biased, trusted Realtor® can help the home sale go smoothly and quickly. The home sale profits can be split between the separating spouses, and both can move forward untethered to the property.

•If selling the home is not the wisest financial decision for both parties, there are additional options. ◦Renting the home is an option worth considering. This would allow the delay of the sale until more equity is built in the home; it does, however, open up the possibility of shared responsibilities of the rental property with your ex-spouse.
◦Finally, living together in the home would be another money-saving option. The viability of this depends greatly on your relationship with the person you are divorcing.

No matter the path you take with your current home, divorce opens up several needs for a professional mortgage originator. Most of the above scenarios involve one or both parties finding a new place to live. Qualifying for a mortgage newly single may be different from when you applied with a spouse; mortgage lenders compare your total current monthly debt obligations (including mortgages, credit cards, child support, etc.) to your earnings and have guidelines that your debt should not be more than a certain percentage of your gross monthly income. Your trusted First Choice Loan Services Loan Originator can cover all of this in greater detail and help cover your home financing options.

Whether working on mortgage assumption, a refinance or qualifying for a place to a new beginning, we are First Choice Loan Services stand ready to help you along the exciting journey to restart your life!

NOTE: This is not intended as legal advice. For the most recent and suitable options for your divorce situation, please consult with your trusted licensed divorce attorney

Nicki Davis
nicki.davis@fcloans.com
Senior Vice President, Credit

April 2018 Housing Market Recap: A Sales Slowdown

April existing home sales dropped after 2 months of increases. Prices increased yet again, following a trend that has lasted more than 6 years. The pace of sales jumped, with days on the market dropping sharply. Regionally, sales either declined or were flat, however prices increased in all regions. The driving force in this market continues to be lack of inventory.

April existing home sales dropped by 2.5 percent compared to March, and were 1.4 percent lower than April 2017, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) April Existing Home Sales Report, released May 24th.

Inventory rose from March to April by 9.8 percent (as is typical in the spring selling season), but it was 6.3 percent lower year-over-year, and has fallen for 35 months in a row. The supply of unsold inventory was 4.0 months, down from 4.2 months a year ago.

Home prices continued to increase year-over-year. The median price of existing homes sold in April was $257,900, up 5.3 percent from April 2017 ($245,000). We’re now at 74 consecutive months of year-over-year increases.

Days on the market (DOM) dropped to 26, compared to March’s 30. A year ago, homes typically stayed on the market for 29 days, so the sales pace has increased both month-to-month and year-over-year.
According to NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun, “The root cause of the underperforming sales activity in much of the country so far this year continues to be the utter lack of available listings on the market to meet the strong demand for buying a home. What is available for sale is going under contract at a rapid pace,” said Yun. “Since NAR began tracking this data in May 2011, the median days a listing was on the market was at an all-time low in April, and the share of homes sold in less than a month was at an all-time high.”

Regional sales generally declined or stayed flat. The only increase was a slight uptick year-over-year in the South. Prices rose across the board, with the West leading at 6.2 percent year-over-year. The hottest metro areas (measured by days on the market/listing views per property) continued to be dominated by California, with 5 metros in the top ten, but there were 2 non-California metros at the top, led by Midland, TX at #1 and Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA at #2. Columbus, OH, Colorado Springs, CO, and Ann Arbor, MI filled the #4, #6, and #9 spots on the list.

I’ve said it before: Don’t wait until you find a home to look for financing. This low inventory market means you’ll almost certainly be competing against multiple offers, and things will move quickly. The strongest offer will win, and that offer will have a solid financial component. Meet with a First Choice Loan Services Inc. Loan Originator now for a pre-underwriting approval or preapproval. You’ll know how much loan you may qualify for and you can review loan programs to find the one that best suits your financial needs and goals. Make sure your offer includes a First Choice Priority Buyer Letter!

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

GETTING THE BEST FROM YOUR APPRAISAL

Whether you are selling your home or refinancing, the appraisal is critical. Lenders require them so they have an independent valuation of the property to support the loan amount. Of course, you’ll want to get the highest value possible. While you can’t control the all-important comps (comparable homes) that the appraiser must consider, there are several things you can do in advance to ensure that your home is in good condition and shows to its best advantage.

First, a few points about the appraisal. It’s not the home inspection. That’s the work of the home inspector, who checks the home’s exterior and interior, including electrical and plumbing systems, for condition, safety and code issues. Its purpose is to give homebuyers a better understanding of the condition of the property they are buying. The appraisal is an independent determination of the value of the property, and while it includes information about the condition of the home, you won’t find the appraiser up on the roof or poking a penknife into a basement pier. The appraiser may identify health and safety issues, but the primary concerns are the square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, overall condition of the property and the comps – similar homes nearby that sold recently.

What can you do to improve your chances of a good appraisal? Here are some tips.

Condition. Take care of your home. Fix things as they come up so your home shows that it is well maintained. Don’t ignore a crack in the ceiling, chipped paint, or less-than-attractive bathtub caulk. (You know what I mean.) If you fixed a roof leak five years ago, but the water damage still shows on a ceiling, repair it. Don’t raise unnecessary doubts.

Appealing. Make a good first impression. Trim the bushes, mow the lawn, sweep the patio. Make sure the gutters don’t overflow when it rains. Fix cracks in the front walk and driveway. If the flowerbeds are looking tired, add some color with annuals. The same goes for container gardens. Tidy up outside, too. While these items won’t be listed on the appraisal, they demonstrate that you care about your home.

Clean. No need to go overboard, but make sure the house is clean, inside and out. If you have pets, take care of any odors (wet dog, stinky litter box). Your house may be under contract for sale, or the appraisal may be for your own refinance, but remember the appraiser will take photos and you want your home to look its best.

Working. Fix the balky tap in the guest bathroom. Make sure all the doors and windows open and close smoothly. Replace the cranky electrical switch that only works if you flip it to the perfect position. If one of the burners on the stove won’t light, get it repaired. You may be willing to work around your home’s shortcomings, but everything should be functional for the appraisal.

Organized. If you’re moving, you’re probably already clearing out and packing some things away. If you’re staying in your home and refinancing, you may be planning to remodel. Either way, this is a good time to clear the clutter and lighten up. Make it easy for the appraiser to see your home.

History. Create a folder of upgrades or improvements. When did you replace the water heater? How old is the roof? Did you remodel the kitchen? Keep receipts and records, including any required permits, to share on appraisal day.

Remember, the appraiser is independent. You can’t choose who appraises your house. Neither can the Realtor® or lender. However, at First Choice Loan Services Inc. we have our own in-house appraisal desk to ensure fast, quality appraisals. Your First Choice mortgage loan originator will be happy to tell you more about the advantages of choosing First Choice for your home loan.

Joe Baio
Senior Vice President | Collateral Services

First Choice Loan Services Listed Among Top 100 Mortgage Companies in America- For Fifth Time

EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ (May 11, 2018) – New Jersey-based residential mortgage lender First Choice Loan Services Inc., a Berkshire Bank Company announced that it is featured on this year’s list of the “Top 100 Mortgage Companies in America” in the Summer 2018 issue of Mortgage Executive Magazine.

The publication selected companies based on their 2017 total annual dollar volume. This is the fifth year for First Choice Loan Services to appear on Mortgage Executive Magazine’s list.

This honor arrives in succession with additional accolades for First Choice Loan Services. Earlier this year, First Choice Loan Services was named for the fifth year in a row as one of the “50 Best Mortgage Companies to Work For” in the Winter 2018 issue of Mortgage Executive Magazine and was featured as a “Top Mortgage Employer” for the third year in a row in the January 2018 issue of National Mortgage Professional Magazine. Additionally, fifteen loan originators from First Choice Loan Services ranked among the “Top 1% of Mortgage Originators in the Nation” in the Winter 2018 issue of Mortgage Executive Magazine and three loan originators were featured for their top volume production in the April issue of the Scotsman Guide.

Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Norman T. Koenigsberg is very excited for the company to be recognized in this way once again.

“We are tremendously proud to once again be named one of the ‘Top 100 Mortgage Companies in America’ by Mortgage Executive Magazine. The credit for this and all our other accolades is two-fold. First, we could not achieve such greatness without the amazing and dedicated individuals who make up the First Choice Family. I’m honored to work with them every day and inspired by their commitment,” said Koenigsberg. “Second, such milestones are only accomplished through the trust that is placed in us by those we serve. Our home buyers, homeowners and business partners have many options for their home financing needs, and we greatly value the fact that they choose First Choice for their home buying journey. Their support helps us achieve excellence.”

To see the full list of the Top 100 Mortgage Companies in America featuring First Choice Loan Services Inc., visit http://www.mortgageexecutivemagazine.com/

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 33 locations across 12 states and over 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/.

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 http://www.berkshirebank.com/, call 800-773-5601 or follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

March 2018: Housing Market Recap

Executive Vice President, Secondary Marketing

March 2018 Housing Market Recap: Sales Grow for Second Month

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March existing home sales continued to rise after February’s increase. Prices increased yet again, following a trend that has lasted for 6 years. The pace of sales picked up, with days on the market dropping sharply. There were regional differences in sales, but prices increased across the country. Lack of inventory continues to be the dominant market feature.

March existing home sales rose by 1.1 percent compared to February, but were 1.2 percent lower than March 2017, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) March Existing Home Sales Report, released April 23rd.

Inventory rose from February to March by 5.7 percent (as you might expect with the coming of spring when more people list their homes), but it was 7.2 percent lower year-over-year, and has fallen for 34 months in a row. The supply of unsold inventory was 3.6 months, down from 3.8 months a year ago.

Home prices continued to increase year-over-year. The median price of existing homes sold in March was $250,400, up 5.8 percent from March 2017 ($236,600). We’re now at 73 consecutive months of year-over-year increases.

Days on the market (DOM) dropped to 30, compared to February’s 37. A year ago, homes typically stayed on the market for 34 days, so once again the sales pace has increased both month-to-month and year-over-year.

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun says closings in March eked forward despite challenging market conditions in most of the country. “Robust gains last month in the Northeast and Midwest – a reversal from the weather-impacted declines seen in February – helped overall sales activity rise to its strongest pace since last November at 5.72 million,” said Yun. “The unwelcoming news is that while the healthy economy is generating sustained interest in buying a home this spring, sales are lagging year ago levels because supply is woefully low and home prices keep climbing above what some would-be buyers can afford.”

Weather was not a big factor in regional sales. Despite some severe storms, the Northeast and Midwest saw the greatest gains in sales, while the South and West both fell. Prices rose across the board, with the West leading the increases at 7.9 percent year-over-year. The hottest metro areas (measured by days on the market/listing views per property) continued to be in California, but there were more non-CA metros in the top ten this month, with Colorado Springs, CO, Midland, TX, Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA and Columbus, OH taking places #3, #4, #7 and #8 on the list.

Think finance first! In this market, if you wait until you find a home and then look for financing, you’ll probably lose the home. Meet with a First Choice Loan Services Inc. loan originator now for a pre-underwriting approval or preapproval. You’ll find out how much loan you may qualify for and you can decide what loan program best suits your financial needs and goals. Strengthen your offer with a First Choice Priority Buyer Letter.

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

7 Ways Your Home Office Can Work for You

7 Ways Your Home Office Can Work For You


We live in a different age. For many, the days of putting on the business suit and fighting morning rush hour traffic while listening to over-caffeinated radio disc jockeys are done. With advances in technology and communication methods, the home office is a common feature in many houses. While this provides a great number of advantages to today’s lifestyle, it is not without challenges. Here are seven ways that you can make working from home work better for you!

  1. Dress the Part. Yes, part of the beauty of working from home is that suit and tie is not required; plus, you save money on those dry cleaning bills. In fact, business casual can mean your favorite pair of sweats. But, there is something to be said for dressing for success. Dress comfortably but not so comfortably that it encourages laziness. Get up and get yourself ready as if you were going to be seen. It’ll help create a routine for your day that may be missing for some working from home. We love those plaid flannel pajamas too, but trust us, you’ll tend to be more focused and on task when you’re showered and dressed for your day.
     
  2. Consider the Space. You know what best helps you be productive and what can serve as a distraction. First, think about where your office is placed in the home. Is this a high traffic area or one that will allow you privacy? Next, anticipate your needs… Is there a good chair with proper support? If not, invest in one. Do you require better lighting? Buy a lamp. Want a view? Move the desk by a window. Also, consider the supplies; have pens and paper nearby, keep applicable files and paperwork within reach, and have access to power chords that’ll keep you going. The decisions about how to make the space work best for you are best made by you.
     
  3. Stay Focused. Be sure your home office is protected. Try not to allow too many of the other activities that happen at home to invade your space. Let that load of laundry that needs folding stay in the other room until you have time for it. Those boxes that need to go into the attic can wait in the garage for a bit longer. Household chores will always be there, and if you attend to them now just to get them checked off the list, you’ll possibly never get important work-related duties done. To help, at the end of each day, write a list of tasks in order of what needs to be accomplished the next day. It will help you hit the ground running and let you crank out things quicker so you can eventually fold that load of whites.
     
  4. Take a Break. When working in a traditional office setting, the breaks are often built in. Whether a co-worker stops by to talk about the game last night or you venture into the break room for a quick snack and chat, interaction with colleagues helps you pace your day. However, when working from home, your coworker may be your cat, who is not the best conversationalist (at least, mine isn’t). Don’t be afraid to give a five to ten minute break every now and then. There’s a reason these are required by law. Play a quick game on your phone, do quick and simple exercises or read a few pages of your new book… You’ll see an improvement in your productivity when you work in some time to refresh and refocus. Set a timer so you don’t get too lost in the activity.
     
  5. Explain it Well. While a break every now and then is great, be sure others aren’t confused. Some people hear that work from home, but they seem to miss the word “work.” The situation does allow for some flexibility, but you still have duties and tasks to perform. For friends and family who think you can have 2 hour lunches or go catch a matinee, kindly explain to them that while there is some occasional ‘wiggle room,’ you still have an important job to perform and need to honor the trust placed in you to work from home.
     
  6. Use Technology. Relationships are key in life, and this includes your colleagues. While convenient, working from home can also feel isolating. We live in a world heavy on emails and texting, so don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and actually call someone. Facetime or use Skype to see a friendly face to have a meeting. So much can be lost or misinterpreted in the written word. A phone conversation or a video chat can quickly clear up matters, have a project move in the right direction and improve relationships!
     
  7. Draw Lines. Working from home can be great, but it can also be all consuming. Due to the flexibility, you don’t have to keep standard “office hours,” which also means you can work longer and into the night. You don’t leave things at the office because things are in the other room. For yourself and for sake of your relationships, set boundaries and expectations. Be clear of your work hours with your loved ones and your coworkers and stick to them. If it helps to keep lines more clear, consider working remotely from a coffee shop or other public space so that there’s distinction between work and personal time.

 

At First Choice Loan Services Inc., we have a large number of our team members who work remotely. This is a unique and special feature of our culture and one way that we embody our core value of being Nimble. This flexibility that we offer our employees is also something we like to offer our clients. We do everything we can to make the home loan process simple and easy for you, even providing online resources for you so that you can take many of the steps of the mortgage journey without leaving your sofa.

Whether working on your home financing or your day-to-day job, we want to help you be productive from the home you love.