Get Out in the Garden. It’s Spring!

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Whether you’re caught in a streak of warm winter weather or you’re finding a day of warm weather here and there, Spring Fever hits as soon as the sun starts staying out a little longer. And although we know there is probably more snow in our future, who can resist getting outside and getting a start on the garden? Winter is the ideal time to clean up the lawn, trim some trees, prep your flower beds and take care of some other chores that get you outside.

Start cleaning up your lawn. Begin by raking to open up the lawn so new seeds can germinate. Then level the lawn by covering the lowest areas with new soil. Finally, reseed where necessary or even reseed the entire lawn. To ensure the seeds germinate, add a good fertilizer and cover the seeds with humus to keep the birds from finding them. Why do this in the winter? You get enough natural water, without having to sprinkle.

Be ready to get rid of crab grass. During the winter, crab grass waits and gets ready to sprout in the spring. Be ready to spray with pre-emergent about the last week of February, or just before the temperatures start to get warmer.

Prune those trees! Prune your trees and rose bushes now, before they start to bud, in order to improve the production of flowers and fruit. Cut back overgrown bushes, too. Clean trees from the inside out, removing crossing branches and cutting thin branches.

Prep your flower beds. Remove fallen leaves and pine needles to get these beds ready for spring’s favorite flowers. If you want even more flower beds, determine now where you will put them and start clearing those areas. And, if you’re a container gardener, check out your local stores now to see what pots may be on sale from last year.

What About Flowers that Have Spring Fever and Bloom Early? Here’s How You Can Protect Them.

If you haven’t already, protect your bulbs with mulch, even those that haven’t yet peeked through the soil. Mulch is ideal because it doesn’t have to be removed and replaced repeatedly throughout the early spring months. Adding a layer now will protect your early bloomers.

For large flower beds, if you have time and gumption, build a frame to create a tent then cover the plants with newspaper, bed sheets, lightweight blankets, burlap or floating row covers. If you don’t have time to create a frame, lay the cover directly onto the plant. This will help to slow the loss of heat rising from the foliage and the ground. Use rocks or soil to hold down the ends.

Never use plastic sheeting to cover plants. Plastic traps moisture inside and increases the possibility of frost damage.

If your daffodils and tulips pop up, they will want some protection from cold nights and mornings. Protect them before dusk with newspaper, bed sheets or light blankets. By the time it gets dark, much of the stored heat in the garden has been lost. Remove the covers in the morning once the frost has thawed and before the sun has a chance to overheat the plants under the cover.

Cover individual plants with jars, plastic milk jugs with the bottoms cut off, or upside-down flower pots. Or, fold triangles from newspapers and put soil or rocks in the edges to keep them from blowing away. Uncover them in the morning.

Put your Spring Fever to good use as winter comes to an end. And have a plan to protect your early bloomers for a warm and colorful spring.

Are You and Your Neighbors Ready for a Neighborhood Watch Program?

Garden surveillance

A lot of us pay a little extra attention to the house next door or across the street when our neighbors are gone, but taking it a step further and creating a neighborhood watch program may be the ticket to an even more crime-free home base.

Launched in 1972, the official Neighborhood Watch program was designed to count on citizens to organize themselves and work with law enforcement to keep a trained eye and ear on their communities, while demonstrating their presence at all times of day and night. According to the National Sheriff’s Association, Neighborhood Watch works because it reduces opportunities for crime to occur; it doesn’t rely on altering or changing the criminal’s behavior or motivation.

Over time the program has found its way into neighborhoods all over America, borrowing from the principles of the original program to create groups, often called citizen alert, community watch, block watch, or another variation.

Why start a neighborhood watch group?

  • The most obvious reason to organize a neighborhood watch program is to prevent crime. Groups that meet regularly and communicate efficiently are the most effective at reducing incidents.
  • Another reason to form a group is to create awareness and camaraderie. Alert neighbors can stop crime and keep residents, safe while making the neighborhood a more welcoming environment.
  • In addition, neighborhood watch groups can alert you to other issues, such as cars speeding through neighborhoods, challenges with children, and animal control issues. Together, you can solve more challenges that arise, while building friendships!

How do you get started forming a neighborhood watch group?

  • Recruit your neighbors to participate.
  • Contact law enforcement to receive the training and information you need.
  • Discuss concerns and create a plan – what is most important to you and your neighbors?
  • Establish your neighborhood’s method of communication.
  • Hold regular meetings and training exercises to keep engaged.
  • Don’t be a vigilante! Report suspicious activity to police immediately.

Even with all of today’s surveillance technology, you can’t beat people watching out for people. Check out Neighborhood Watch if you are ready to get started watching out for your neighbors.

Considering Purchasing in HOA?

Aerial view of a Cookie Cutter Neighborhood

The Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) offers some tips on things to consider if you’re purchasing in an HOA (home owners association). Some people love being part of an HOA neighborhood; others do not. Here are a few tips to consider before making your move.

Considering purchasing in an HOA?
Make sure you have the necessary documentation: HOAs have bylaws, covenants, rules and regulations, so obtain copies of these documents to know the HOA’s responsibilities as well as your rights as a new member. You will also want to get copies of the Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act (CCIOA) and the Colorado Nonprofit Act which are the state laws governing HOAs.

Be aware of your HOA’s enforcement powers: HOAs are able to enforce their covenants, rules, regulations and bylaws through various methods such as fining, placing a lien on an owner’s property, sending an owner’s account to collections or filing a civil lawsuit in court. Knowing under what circumstances and what the processes are to take these enforcement actions are important.

Get involved: The best way to become part of the community and make a difference in your HOA is to get involved. All HOA meetings are open to homeowners except for executive sessions. Make sure to attend HOA meetings, stay up to date on what’s happening in your community, share your ideas and voice your concerns.

Resources are available: The HOA Information and Resource Center at DORA has invaluable information and resources to answer your questions, educate you on HOAs and assist you with difficult and sensitive situations. K

The Division encourages everyone to visit the Division’s website at www.dora.colorado.gov/dre to ensure that their real estate broker is properly licensed.

Q&A about VA Loans

Military Father and Son

VA loans are $0 down payment mortgage options available to veterans, service members and select military spouses. VA loans are issued by private lenders and guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Since its inception in 1944, more than 22 million VA loans have helped veterans, active duty military personnel and their families purchase homes or refinance mortgages.

How does a VA loan compare to a traditional/conventional home mortgage? Read on.

What is the down payment?

  • VA loans: 0% down.
  • Conventional loans: Up to 20% down.

Do I have to pay mortgage insurance?

  • VA loans: VA loans do have a form of mortgage insurance, the VA Funding Fee. It is usually 3.3% and financed into the loan up front. If the borrower separated from the military with a qualifying disability, the funding fee is waived to 0%.
  • Conventional loans: If buyers do put down less than a 20% down payment, they must pay for private mortgage insurance.

Are the interest rates for VA loans competitive?

  • VA loans: The VA backing gives lenders a greater degree of safety, which means the interest rates can be more competitive than non-VA loans.
  • Conventional loans: Without government backing, banks take on more risk with conventional loans, which can result in less-competitive interest rates.

How easy is it to qualify for a VA loan?

  • VA loans: Because the loan is backed by the government, banks assume less risk and have less stringent qualification standards for VA loans, making them easier to obtain.
  • Conventional loans: Conventional loans require stricter qualification procedures that can put homeownership out of reach for some homebuyers.

Can I do a cash out refinance? 

  • VA loans: Borrowers can do a cash out refinance up to 100% of their home’s value.
  • Conventional loans: Borrowers with conventional loans must leave some equity in their home when doing a cash out refinance.

What else should I know about VA loans? 

  • VA eligibility is re-usable. A lot of people think they are only eligible for a VA loan one  time, but they are able to get VA loans more than one time.
  • You can have more than one VA loan at a time. It’s a myth that you can only have one at a time.
  • VA loans are assumable.

 You or someone you know may be the perfect fit for a VA loan. Contact a loan officer today to learn more about VA loans and other types of home loans that may be a good fit for you.

Do you want more information about VA loans or grants? Find it here or call us today.  

 

Mend Your Credit by Rehabilitating a Defaulted Student Loan

Student loan

If you’ve defaulted on your student loans, you’re not alone. According to CNBC, more than 1 million people default on their student loans each year, and approximately 22% of student loan borrowers default at some time. But joining the crowd won’t help your credit or open opportunities for you in the future.

Here are some ways you can work to repair a federal student loan that you have defaulted on. For more details visit the Federal Student Aid Office’s website. If you have defaulted on a private student loan, you will need to contact your loan holder for information.

Repay the Loan in Full
The most obvious way to get your loan out of default is to pay it in full, but for most borrowers, that is not an option.

Loan Rehabilitation
To start the loan rehabilitation process, you must contact your loan holder. If you’re not sure who your loan holder is, log in to “My Federal Student Aid” to get your loan holder’s contact information.

To rehabilitate a William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program and Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loan, you must

  • agree in writing to make nine voluntary, reasonable, and affordable monthly payments (as determined by your loan holder) within 20 days of the due date,
  • and make all nine payments during a period of 10 consecutive months.

Your loan holder will determine a reasonable monthly payment amount that is equal to 15 percent of your annual discretionary income, divided by 12. You must provide documentation of your income to your loan holder in order to determine the amount you will pay.

If you can’t afford the initial monthly payment amount, you can ask your loan holder to calculate an alternative monthly payment based on the amount of your monthly income that remains after reasonable amounts for your monthly expenses have been subtracted. Depending on your individual circumstances, this alternative payment amount may be lower than the payment amount you were initially offered.

To rehabilitate your loan, you must choose one of the two payment amounts. Once you have made the required nine payments, your loans will no longer be in default.

To rehabilitate a defaulted Federal Perkins Loan, you must make a full monthly payment each month, within 20 days of the due date, for nine consecutive months. Your required monthly payment amount is determined by your loan holder. Find out where to go for information about your Perkins Loan.

Benefits of Loan Rehabilitation
When your loan is rehabilitated, the default status will be removed from your loan, and collection of payments through wage garnishment or Treasury offset will stop. You’ll regain eligibility for benefits that were available on the loan before you defaulted, such as deferment, forbearance, a choice of repayment plans, and loan forgiveness, and you’ll be eligible to receive federal student aid.

Also, the record of default on the rehabilitated loan will be removed from your credit history. However, your credit history will still show late payments that were reported by your loan holder before the loan went into default.

If you rehabilitate a defaulted loan and then default on that loan again, you can’t rehabilitate it a second time. Rehabilitation is a one-time opportunity.

Loan Consolidation
Consolidating your loan into one Direct Consolidation Loan allows you to pay off one or more federal student loans with a new consolidation loan.

To consolidate a defaulted federal student loan into a new Direct Consolidation Loan, you must either

• agree to repay the new Direct Consolidation Loan under an income-driven repayment plan, or
• make three consecutive, voluntary, on-time, full monthly payments on the defaulted loan before you consolidate it.

If you choose to make three payments on the defaulted loan before you consolidate it, the required payment amount will be determined by your loan holder but cannot be more than what is reasonable and affordable based on your total financial circumstances.

There are special considerations if you want to reconsolidate an existing Direct Consolidation Loan or Federal (FFEL) Consolidation Loan that is in default.

Getting Help with Your Defaulted Loan
If you need help with your defaulted loan, you will need to contact the holder of your defaulted loan. Find out who holds your loan by logging in to “My Federal Student Aid.

Buying a Home this Spring? Make Sure You Get the Details Right.

Front Door Flowers

Spring marks the beginning of the selling season and is often considered the busiest and best time to purchase a home. As more people look to purchase a home in the coming months, it’s important to understand the buying process. Here are some tips from DORA (Department of Regulatory Agencies) and the Division of Real Estate.

Talk to your lender early in the process. Meet with your lender before contacting a real estate agent to simplify the home buying process. Getting prequalified for a mortgage gives you a solid price range for homes to consider.

Determine your working relationship with your broker. Many homebuyers don’t know that Colorado has two options when it comes to your relationship with your broker – a Single Agency broker (an agent for the buyer OR seller) or a Transaction Broker (for the buyer or seller OR both). A single agency broker will advocate for and work solely on a single client’s behalf. A transaction broker facilitates the sale by fully informing the parties, presenting all offers and assisting the parties with any contracts, including the closing of the transaction without being an agent or advocate for any of the parties.

Understand the real estate contract. An offer for the purchase of real estate must be in writing to be valid. The Colorado Real Estate Commission requires every real estate broker licensee use a contract form approved by the Real Estate Commission, unless the contract is drawn by either the seller or buyer or the attorney for the buyer or seller.

Recognize contingencies in the contract. The contract approved by the Real Estate Commission allows for the buyer and their licensed broker to make the contract contingent on certain items. Contingencies can be items such as the property appraising for the purchase price, approval of financing, a satisfactory home inspection, or the sale of their current residence. It is critical for a buyer to include those contingency items in the contract to eliminate misunderstandings about what circumstances will allow for a successful execution of the transaction.

Meet all deadlines and put down your earnest money. Once your offer has been accepted by the seller, you will put down a good faith deposit, often called earnest money. Both the buyer and seller will need to meet specific deadlines before you close on your home. As a buyer, if you miss a deadline, you might not be able to cancel or withdraw your offer unless you are willing to forfeit your earnest money. Your offer allows you to make decisions regarding when to close on your new property, when you can take possession of that property, and what remedies are available if the contract dates are not met.

This is a lot of information. If you’re ready to get started on the homebuying process, contact us to start with step one and get you pre-qualified today.

Keeping Kids Entertained at Open Houses

Family Opening Door And Walking In Empty Lounge Of New Home

If you’ve ever had children tag along with open house visitors, you know it can sometimes be difficult to keep them entertained while touring a house. Here are a few ways to conquer kid-size boredom, keep the parents’ attention, and extend time to engage with the family.

Give kids something to do. Scope out a low-traffic station for snacks, coloring or play dough. Hold a contest for the best drawing of the home and offer a prize that winners can pick up at your office. This gets kids involved in the spirit of house hunting and creates additional contacts with prospects.

Give kids something to take home. Inexpensive coloring books and a pack of crayons, a pick-a-prize toy box, or a small goody bag handed off at the end of the visit can add a little extra patience to kids’ reserves. Your level of understanding in the situation will also translate well with parents.

Create a digital playground with a few iPads or a dedicated “kids only” laptop loaded with simple and fun-to-play games, like “My PlayHome” or “Make a House.” Gearing media toward real estate reinforces interest in the parents’ activity and helps them explain the process to little ones.

Ask kids’ opinions. While older kids may not be as finicky, they can distract parents and push to speed things up. Be ready with clipboards and opinion checklists that ask to list their top three likes and dislikes about the home. Send a branded house hunting checklist home with parents.

Kids can be an opportunity to develop a relationship with real-estate-minded parents. Don’t miss out!

Source: Inman