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Archive for October 2013


Is it safe to invest in real estate again?

Published 10/30/13

Is it safe to invest in real estate again? By Peter Andrew

My dad worked in real estate his whole life. By the time I was 10 years old, I'd learned more through breakfast- and dinner-table conversations about the jargon and mechanics of buying, selling and renting homes than most adults ever know. Later, I spent the first five years of my working life in the business.

And yet I still get sleepless nights whenever I'm buying property. Sometimes I worry I'm paying too much. Other times I wonder why the home's so cheap. What's wrong with it? The neighboring homes look fine, but suppose one's a crack den. Is the house structurally sound, or will I discover some defect when I move in that's impossibly expensive to fix? Does the seller have good title, and are there plans to build an airport nearby or run a highway past it?

I can while away hours (usually the later ones) pondering such things when I'm buying a home to live in myself. Some people buy multiple homes they plan to flip or offer as rentals, and I admire their nerves of steel. Now, a new generation of entrepreneurs is seeing real estate as an investment opportunity, and starting to get into the market. Are they being wise or foolish?

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Tired of extravagant birthday parties? Fight back with frugality

Published 10/16/13

Tired of extravagant birthday parties? Fight back with frugality By Holly Johnson

If you have school-aged kids, or younger, you've probably been invited to your share of birthday parties. And, the expectations seem to creep up every year. I've seen everything from fancy custom birthday cakes to specialized birthday attire for the birthday boy or girl. Some families even rent clowns or entertainers, ponies or miniature choo-choo trains. I've even been to a child's birthday party that was professionally catered. And, from the looks of the food we were served, it wasn't cheap!

Fortunately, over-the-top birthday parties like the ones I've described are not required. You don't have to spend a fortune, and you don't have to keep up with all of the popular birthday party trends. And, with some thoughtful planning, you can have a party that looks expensive, but isn't. Want to know how to save on your favorite girl or boy's birthday extravaganza? Follow these simple tips:

1. Make the cake

Even if you're not a whiz in the kitchen, you should be able to make a regular ol' Duncan Hines box cake. Take it a step further by decorating with colored icing, edible letters or sprinkles. Or, if you're feeling fancy, check out Pinterest for free or low-cost cake decorating ideas.

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Why financial literacy isn't really that elusive

Published 10/9/13

Why financial literacy isn't really that elusive By Justin Boyle

When I was younger, I tried to think about money as little as possible. I just put my paychecks straight into my checking account, lived modestly and managed to stay above water for the most part. My personal finance strategy was to look the other way while my money came and went, hoping through arcane guesswork that I wouldn't overdraft my account with the next rent check.

I slipped up more than once, naturally. It wasn't until after college that I decided to sit down and transform my unsteady cash flow into concrete figures, and even then it took me almost a week to get over my fear of fiscal reality. Once I did it, though, things started to make more sense, and the practice of earning, saving and spending money began to create less stress in my life than it had when I was treating it like some force of nature that could never be understood.

Statistics show that a disturbingly large percentage of Americans suffer from that same financial fear that kept me from examining my situation for so many years. In fact, a 2012 survey commissioned by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling indicated that more than half of U.S. adults have no budget, and a full third of them neglect to pay their bills on time.

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The home you rent is in foreclosure. What happens now?

Published 10/4/13

The home you rent is in foreclosure. What happens now? By Georgie Miller

A couple of years ago, a letter came to the condo that my husband and I rent. I read it and said, "Honey, I think our house is being foreclosed on."

He hopped online and went to the website where foreclosure notices for our county are posted, which confirmed the bad news. The home we were living in was, indeed, going into foreclosure.

We were shocked -- though we knew our landlord was underwater on the home -- but maybe we shouldn't have been. Since the economy crashed in 2008, millions of properties have been foreclosed on. While the economy seems to be recovering at the moment, there's still a long way to go. And even in the best economy, a property owner can get into financial troubles and lose their rental property.

If you are facing this situation, you may be wondering: What are your rights? Fortunately, in 2009 President Obama signed into law the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act (PTFA) that specifically addresses this issue. This act was initially set to expire at the end of 2012, but it's been extended to the end of 2014. Here are some things you should know if the home you rent goes into foreclosure.

1. Your rights

PTFA gives a renter the right to finish out their lease if the home is foreclosed upon. There are some exceptions, such as if the new owner intends to reside in the property or if your lease is month-to-month.

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How powers of attorney can protect your parents' finances

Published 10/1/13

How powers of attorney can protect your parents' finances By Peter Andrew

The last time my mother came home from hospital, age 82 years, we had one of those high-tech beds delivered. You know the ones: They have air mattresses that automatically inflate and deflate a bit to prevent bedsores, and electric motors that allow you to tilt the patient's head and feet. One day, I'd raised mom's head to give her a drink, and, as I reached for the bed's remote control button to return it to the horizontal, I said, "I'm just going to put your head back down again." Throughout my life, she and I had enjoyed sparring over our English usage, and her eyes flashed with delight as she crowed, "That's tautological! You don't need the 'back' and the 'again'."

She died five days later. I tell the story to illustrate that many, many seniors retain their mental acuity throughout their lives. However, the Alzheimer's Association says that 5 million people in this country age 65 or older currently have Alzheimer's, and that a new American is diagnosed with the condition every 68 seconds.

And that's just one condition. My dad didn't have Alzheimer's, but for most of his last few years he was incapable of making informed decisions. And even my mother, sharp as she was, slowly lost interest in her financial affairs as her physical illness took hold.

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