Gunning Daily News

Q: What is a lease option?

March 15, 2011 7:13 am

A: It is an agreement between a renter and a landlord in which the renter signs a lease with an option to purchase the property. The option only binds the seller; the tenant has a choice to make a purchase or not.

Lease options are common among buyers who would like to own a home but do not have enough money for the down payment and closing costs. A lease option may also be attractive to tenants who are working to improve bad credit before approaching a lender for a home loan.

A lease option also may be a way for the seller to move property in a slow market. Seller advantages include earning above-market rent, retaining all the property income tax deductions during the lease-option period, and attracting tenants who will care for the property as though they owed it.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

Simple Tips to Help Slash Your Gas and Grocery Bill

March 15, 2011 7:13 am

RISMEDIA, March 15, 2011-Despite declining incomes and challenging economic times, the cost for food and gasoline continues to rise. As gasoline inches closer to $4 per gallon and the cost of many basic food items has also increased, consumers are looking for ways to save on these expenses.

"Gas and groceries are among our basic necessities," said Michelle Jones, senior vice president of counseling for CredAbility. "Both our commute and putting food on the table are getting more expensive and, for families already struggling to make ends meet, these added costs only make it more difficult."

As the cost of filling our tank and our pantry continues to go up, CredAbility offers the following tips to help consumers save at the pump and in the grocery store.

Saving on Gasoline

-Look for opportunities to carpool. Work with neighbors and co-workers to share the expense of getting kids to school and driving to work.

-Telecommute. If your job requires little more than a computer, try and work from home one or more days per week to cut down on commuting costs.

-Look for the lowest prices. Websites, such as keep track of gas prices throughout the country and post them. You can also download an app for your smartphone and get prices on-the-go.

-Look for discounted gas or rebate options. Some retailers offer discounts on gas for shopping in their stores or using a specific card.

-Pay cash for gas. If you don't know how much you are spending in gas, or you are struggling to pay off gas purchases made on a credit card each month, use cash to pay for gas.

-Lighten your load. If you have a trunk full of stuff, you are getting fewer miles per gallon. Empty your trunk and save.

-General tips. Keep the appropriate air pressure in your tires to get the best gas mileage. Reduce the cost to cool down a hot car by using a sun-shade in the front window and parking in a shady area. Plan your day so you can combine trips and drive fewer miles. Drive the speed limit-speeding reduces your miles per gallon.

Saving on Groceries

-Make a list, and stick to it. While grocery shopping can be expensive, it is often the unplanned purchases that put the bill over the top. Plan your menus for the week and make a list of things you need before you go to the store.

-Take advantage of coupon savings, special purchases and buy one-get one promotions. Coupon savings are usually worth the cost of the Sunday paper. In addition to manufacturer's coupons, sites like compare in-store specials at many grocery chains. A great sale or double or triple coupon values may make it worth the trip to a store you don't usually go to. For staple items with a long shelf-life, stock up during sales. Avoid buying things you wouldn't normally buy just because you have a coupon.

-Use technology to help you save. There are many apps to help you organize your lists, find coupons, track prices at stores in your area and more. Grocery Pal shows you what's on sale at your local retailers. Apples2Oranges allows you to compare prices on various sizes to see which offers the better deal. Grocery Gadget can help organize your shopping list and track prices for maximum savings. Most apps are available for multiple devices.

-Buy in bulk, sometimes. It may be cheaper to buy three dozen eggs, but only if you don't end up throwing out a dozen because they have expired. Compare prices on bulk purchases. Consider shopping for bulk items with a friend and share the cost.

-Eat before you shop. Shopping on an empty stomach will always cost you more. Have a snack before you go and you'll be less tempted to impulse buy.

-Don't limit your shopping to eye level. Many lower cost items, including store brands, are stocked on higher and lower shelves while higher priced items are at eye level.

-Don't assume items are cheaper because they are a larger size or displayed separately. Take a calculator along to determine the price per ounce or pound so you can get the best deal. And remember, larger is not always better. Buy only what you will use.

-Save on eating out. While it may add slightly to your grocery bill, packing your lunch can save you a hundred dollars or more per month when compared to eating out.

For more information, visit

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

Word of the Day

March 14, 2011 11:13 am

Planned Unit Development (PUD). Individually owned houses with community ownership of common areas, such as swimming pools and tennis courts.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

Q: If faced with foreclosure, what are my options?

March 14, 2011 11:13 am

A: Talk with your lender immediately. The lender may be able to arrange a repayment plan or the temporary reduction or suspension of your payment, particularly if your income has dropped substantially or expenses have shot up beyond your control.

You also may be able to refinance the debt or extend the term of your mortgage loan. In almost every case, you will likely be able to work out some kind of deal that will avert foreclosure.

If you have mortgage insurance, the insurer may also be interested in helping you. The company can temporarily pay the mortgage until you get back on your feet and are able to repay their "loan."

If your money problems are long term, the lender may suggest that you sell the property, which will allow you to avoid foreclosure and protect your credit record.

As a last resort, you could consider a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure. This is where you voluntarily "give back" your property to the lender. While this will not save your house, it is not as damaging to your credit rating as a foreclosure.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

3 Steps to Get Your Car Ready for Spring

March 14, 2011 11:13 am

RISMEDIA, March 14, 2011-It's always there when you need it, and it got you through one of the worst winters in recent memory. So why not give your vehicle a little something back? The Car Care Council recommends setting aside a little time this spring to care for your car by following three simple steps.

1. Keep your vehicle clean. Regular car washes and waxes protect the paint and body of your car from corrosive debris. In parts of the country where salt is used on the roads, regularly washing is especially important.

2. Keep your car on schedule. Every vehicle has a manufacturer recommended maintenance schedule. Whether you choose to do your own maintenance or patronize a local repair shop, following a routine service schedule is essential to keeping your car in safe and dependable working order.

3. Keep an eye on the little things. Your windshield wipers aren't cleaning as well as they should? Your gas tank is missing its cap? There's a warning light on your dashboard? When you see that your car needs attention, don't delay. Repairing small things now can help avoid more costly problems down the road and add years of useful vehicle life.

"Many vehicles end up neglected during the winter months and could use a little extra care to get them ready for the spring and summer driving season," said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. "For most Americans, their vehicle is their second biggest investment and they rely on it every single day to get to work, school and everywhere in between. Taking a little time for car care now can save headaches and money in the long run."

For more information, visit

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

5 New Driveway Design Options for Existing Concrete Driveways

March 14, 2011 11:13 am

RISMEDIA, March 14, 2011-Driveways around the country are being made-over from drab gray surfaces to custom designed works of art using decorative concrete applications. now offers consumers a list of the top five decorative concrete options for existing concrete driveways. Consumers can research and learn about the many benefits each application has to offer.

Decorative concrete has long been a viable option for homeowners looking to update an existing concrete surface. Recent trends show that homeowners are becoming more and more interested in enhancing the curb appeal of their home by installing a decorative concrete driveway.

Here are The Concrete Network's top five decorative concrete options for driveways:

1. Stampable overlays and Microtoppings

2. Concrete engraving

3. Sawcut patterns

4. Random cut patterns

5. Staining

These decorative concrete applications offer consumers a great alternative to replacing an existing driveway, and can be fully customized to meet each individual's needs. Aside from their aesthetic appeal, these applications offer consumers a low-maintenance, highly durable surface that can stand up to harsh weather climates and high traffic, an optimal option for a driveway surface.

For more information, visit

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

Take Advantage of Spring Cleaning Week with These Simple Steps

March 14, 2011 11:13 am

By John Voket, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, March 14, 2011-With March comes the arrival of National Cleaning Week (or Spring Cleaning Week). As always, this year's campaign, from March 27-April 4, is designed to encourage property owners to clean out and get ready to enjoy spring breezes and warmer weather.

But what if you don't know how to be an efficient cleaner-or you're just one of those people who finds themselves surrounded by clutter no matter how hard you work at maintaining a nice orderly home?

Enter Leo Babauta, a native of Guam who now blogs out of San Francisco at He's developed an easy and logical system to learn how to once and for all develop clean-house habits.

The key, Babauta says, is to use small steps in getting where you want to go. By starting slow with small habits for at least two weeks each before going on to the next, anyone can learn to have a cleaner and clutter-free lifesyle:

-hang your clothes up or put them in the hamper immediately

-put all papers (including school papers, post-it notes, bills, etc.) in one in basket, and process them at the end of each day

-keep your sink clean and shiny (wash dishes immediately and clean the sink after)

-pick up before you go to bed and before you leave the house

-empty your trash daily

-clean your shower, toilet and bathroom sink after each use (only takes a couple minutes)

-have a place for everything, and put everything in its place immediately

-make your bed each morning

-keep flat surfaces (counters, tables, desks) clear of clutter

-put away your stuff as soon as you get home

Babauta says if you tackle one habit at a time (in whatever order you like), it won't be that hard. He says you should give yourself several months to get there-don't expect overnight change. The following are his best practices toward tackling each habit:

-Write down your goal.

-Post it somewhere visible.

-Keep a log and make sure you write in it each day, noting whether you were successful or not for that day.

-Post your daily results on your blog or another online forum, or e-mail your results to your family and friends.

-Reward yourself for each day of success.

-If you fail one day, take a minute to see what went wrong, and how to correct it. Now forgive yourself for failing, and tell yourself that you will do better starting now.

-Find a way to keep yourself focused on this goal for at least two to three weeks.

-Celebrate when you're done.

National Cleaning Week is the perfect opportunity to start using these tips and start a new, improved and lifelong habit of keeping your life and surroundings cleaner and less cluttered.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

New Law Will Help Reduce Mortgage Relief Scams

March 14, 2011 11:13 am

RISMEDIA, March 14, 2011-Homeowners will soon be protected by a new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rule that bans providers of mortgage foreclosure rescue and loan modification services from collecting fees until homeowners have a written offer from their lender or servicer that they decide is acceptable.

"At a time when many Americans are struggling to pay their mortgages, peddlers of so-called mortgage relief services have taken hundreds of millions of dollars from hundreds of thousands of homeowners without ever delivering results," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said. "By banning providers of these services from collecting fees until the customer is satisfied with the results, this rule will protect consumers from being victimized by these scams."

While the rule makes these practices illegal, homeowners need to be aware that it may not stop these practices entirely. "What it does do is make the advance payments illegal, but that may not be enough to stop some con artists from breaking the new law," observed Bruce Hahn, President of the American Homeowners Foundation. "A homeowner can now seek immediate redress because such advance payments are now illegal, but that may not be much help if a con artist has already left town with your money," he added.

The FTC issued the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services (MARS) Rule to protect distressed homeowners from mortgage relief scams that have sprung up during the mortgage crisis. Bogus operations falsely claim that, for a fee, they will negotiate with the consumer's mortgage lender or servicer to obtain a loan modification, a short sale, or other relief from foreclosure. Many of these operations pretend to be affiliated with the government and government housing assistance programs. The FTC has brought more than 30 cases against operations like these, and state and federal law enforcement partners have brought hundreds more.

The most significant consumer protection under the FTC's new rule is the advance fee ban. Under this provision, mortgage relief companies may not collect any fees until they have provided consumers with a written offer from their lender or servicer that the consumer decides is acceptable and a written document from the lender or servicer describing the key changes to the mortgage that would result if the consumer accepts the offer. The companies must also remind consumers of their right to reject the offer without any charge.

The Rule requires mortgage relief companies to disclose key information to consumers to protect them from being misled and to help them make better informed purchasing decisions. In their advertising and in communications directed at individual consumers (such as telemarketing calls), the companies must disclose that:

-they are not associated with the government, and their services have not been approved by the government or the consumer's lender;

-the lender may not agree to change the consumer's loan; and

-if companies tell consumers to stop paying their mortgage, they must also tell them that they could lose their home and damage their credit rating.

Companies must also explain in their communications to consumers that they can stop doing business with the company at any time, can accept or reject any offer the company obtains from the lender or servicer, and, if they reject the offer, they don't have to pay the company's fee. The companies must also disclose the amount of the fee.

The MARS Rule prohibits mortgage relief companies from making any false or misleading claims about their services, including claims about:

-the likelihood of consumers getting the results they seek;

-the company's affiliation with government or private entities;

-the consumer's payment and other mortgage obligations;

-the company's refund and cancellation policies;

-whether the company has performed the services it promised;

-whether the company will provide legal representation to consumers;

-the availability or cost of any alternative to for-profit mortgage assistance relief services;

-the amount of money a consumer will save by using their services; or

-the cost of the services.

In addition, the rule bars mortgage relief companies from telling consumers to stop communicating with their lenders or servicers. Companies must also have reliable evidence to back up any claims they make about the benefits, performance, or effectiveness of the services they provide.

The American Homeowners Foundation urges homeowners who need mortgage assistance to contact a local nonprofit mortgage counseling agency in their area. The services provided by these nonprofits are usually free.

Courtesy of the American Homeowners Foundation and the American Homeowners Grassroots Alliance,

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

7 Fun Ways to Fund a Splurge

March 12, 2011 9:13 am

By Barbara Pronin, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, March 12, 2011-Okay, times are tough, and few of us are splurging on grand vacations or fancy dinners out. But indulgences come in all shapes and sizes, and everyone needs a little splurge now and then.

From the money experts at Family Circle magazine, here are six wonderful ways to stash a little cash and treat yourself to that little something extra:

1. Think small. Almost everything from fast-food burgers to yummy Godiva chocolates is available in trial sizes-even cruise vacations (think weekend mini-cruise). If you can't afford the full-sized luxury, you may be able to indulge in the trial size.

2. Earn rewards. Check with banks, stores, airlines and hotel chains and join all the free loyalty and rewards clubs you can. You can earn points, miles, free stays and even cash back when you spend money you need to spend anyway. Just be sure you don't spend too much just to get the reward.

3. Get your rebate. Even if it's only $1 back on those light bulbs you bought, make sure you apply for every rebate you are offered. A few postage stamps is all it takes to get them, and you can deposit all those little rebates in a "splurge account."

4. Cash out your coupons. If you use coupons when you shop for groceries, add up the value of the coupons you used and deposit that amount-or a percentage of it-in your splurge account.

5. Tax yourself. Every time you make an ATM withdrawal, assess yourself a 10 % "tax." Be a tough collector, and deposit those "taxes" in your splurge account as well.

6. Round up. When you write a check for $14.22, record it "rounded up" to $15 in your checkbook register. Each month, when you reconcile, add up all that rounded up accumulation and watch your splurge account grow as you deposit it.

7. Save your initials. Every $1 bill is marked with a letter from A through L just to the left of George Washington. Don't spend any bills you come across that contain any of your initials. Dump them into your splurge account instead.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.

10 Tips to Improve Your Chances of Getting a Mortgage on Favorable Terms

March 12, 2011 9:13 am

RISMEDIA, March 12, 2011-Speculative fears by renters who think they can't afford the costs related to owning a home may cause many first-time home buyers to miss out on the opportunity of a generation to become homeowners this year. According to Fannie Mae's National Housing Survey, financial fears are the top reasons given by renters for not buying a home, followed closely by purchase and upkeep affordability.

Sue Stewart, senior vice president for Move, Inc., offers the following tips to help first-time buyers improve their chances of getting a mortgage on favorable terms.

1. Pay down debt. Before you apply for a mortgage, reduce your total debt (monthly payments on credit cards, auto loan, student loans, consumer loans) to help reduce your overall debt-to-income ratios and improve your credit score. Generally, your ratio should be 36% of your gross monthly income. Also, the total of your housing expenses alone, whether you are renting or buying, should not exceed 28% of your monthly gross income.

2. Clean up your credit. About half of all renters think they don't have good enough credit for a mortgage, but most don't really know. Obtain your free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) and carefully review them, noting all negative items. Contact creditors to correct inaccurate or outdated items. It will take time, but you need to raise your credit score to a minimum of 680 and ideally to 720 and above to qualify and to avoid being penalized with a higher interest rate. .

3. Make no new large purchases and don't apply for new credit before or during the period that you are applying for a mortgage all the way up to closing. Lenders check credit reports at the time of an application and again right before closing. Last minute questions about your credit can cause a delay, a higher interest rate, or a denial from a lender. Wait to buy the new furniture until the house is yours.

4. Increase your down payment. This will reduce the loan-to-value ratio and increases the likelihood of getting a loan and better terms from your lender. Increasing your down payment immediately increases your equity, reduces the amount you borrow and reduces your monthly mortgage payment. If you are in need of down payment assistance, more than 4,000 local and state governments offer workforce house assistance for low- to medium-income buyers. Some require homeownership education, which can be very helpful.

5. Gather documents beforehand. Don't wait until the last minute and find yourself having to scramble for paperwork that supports your employment status, assets and credit. Have all the necessary documentation ready for review when you apply. Collect your income tax returns, pay stubs, bank and financial statements and student loan paperwork. Stay on top of your documentation as time passes while your application is pending, and get updated documents, such as pay stubs, to your lender.

6. Anticipate closing costs. Closing costs, which can run 5-7% of your total transaction add up quickly and must be paid in cash-in addition to your down payment. Be prepared to have adequate cash on-hand.

7. Determine the type of loan you need. Fixed rate? Adjustable? FHA or VA? Fifteen or 30-year term? Jumbo? Second trust? These decisions aren't just financial; they also reflect your lifestyle, your risk tolerance and the programs for which you might qualify. Do your homework and make a decision before you go house hunting. Don't let someone talk you into a different game plan to stretch your finances to afford a particular property.

8. Ignore "bait rates." Some mortgage advertising can be misleading with low rate promises. Beware. These "bait rates" are only for those with extraordinary credit with no contingencies. Your rate will be based on many factors: your credit, your debt-to-income and loan-to-value ratios, the size and type of your loan, where you live and the day you lock your rate, etc. You won't know what your rate will be until your application is accepted. By then, it may be too late for you to find a competitive rate from another lender. Instead, pick a lender you trust, who will work with you and help you find the best all-around deal.

9. Negotiate a lower home sales price. Getting a better deal on your home not only works for you, it works for your lender because it lowers your loan-to-value ratio. Prices are still falling in many markets and sellers are eager to make a deal. If you're not sure what a property is worth, you can ask your REALTOR for a comparative market analysis.

10. Have a cash reserve. A good rule of thumb is to have at least three months salary saved as a cushion before you buy. This will help with your ratios and enable you to afford and cover closing costs.

For more information, visit and

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.