What Renters Don’t Know

I remember what it was like to be a renter in my twenties. I watched the rent creep up each year and worried about how I would afford it. I also knew so many things about my space were beyond my control. I was stuck with the appliances and the mediocre finishes because the apartment I lived in was not mine. At the time, I also was completely unaware of what it would be like to buy a property and what I should be doing to plan for becoming a property owner.

If my parents had not encouraged me to buy a condo in my late twenties, I am not sure the thought would have occurred to me at the time. My parents are Jamaican immigrants who I admire so much for achieving the American dream despite various obstacles. Homeownership and responsible money management were always something they took very seriously. They knew I should not rent long-term well before I did, and they were happy and able to help me with the down payment on my first home. When I look back on those years I think about what I did not know as a renter and how many renters lack the information they need to make the best financial decisions before they are ready to buy. Now, as a Realtor, when I meet with renters for a counselling session they either want to buy soon or they are thinking of buying in the next few years. There are a few things that many are surprised to learn:

Renters can get my assistance to negotiate rents and renewal lease terms even if I was not engaged to secure the rental. I offer this service at no cost.

Landlords in Fairfield County consider many factors when it is time to renew a lease. They tend to want to keep current tenants in place as long as they pay on time and take care of the property. They also know that there is a risk of having 2-3 weeks of vacancy if a tenant moves out. This does not mean that landlords will not raise rents for tenants that are in place. However, it does mean that they are responsive to what the market for rentals is like when leases have to be renewed and they make decisions accordingly. When I advise renters on how to respond to proposed rental increases, I am able to provide the renter and landlord with facts about the current rental market and discern if an increase is justified. In a market where rents are improving, I can generally negotiate rents to stay the same or I can negotiate a rent that does not reflect the full market increase for comparable properties. Accordingly, if the market demand is declining and rents are going down, I can often negotiate a decrease in rent for tenants that are in place.

Middle and upper middle class renters often qualify for first-time home buyer programs.

These programs are not just for low-income residents. There are many good loan products for first-time buyers that offer reduced interest rates and savings on loan costs. May also offer low down payment options, which can allow you to buy sooner rather than later and lock in the low interest rates that we are currently experiencing. In our currently market, many condo owners have a lower monthly housing cost than renters in similar sized spaces. I help renters explore and compare the various first-time home buyer options offered by banks and also through the FHA (Federal Housing Authority) and HDF (Housing Development Fund) programs.

Buying a property in Fairfield County still affords you the opportunity to move quickly.

Of course, it is a bit easier to move if you rent versus buy. However, if you own, moving is not as difficult as many people think. We are so lucky to live in Fairfield County. We have a very strong rental market. It is fairly easy for a Realtor to rent out any property at market value and if you are really in a hurry you can rent it below market value and have basically no vacancy losses. I generally rent properties in 2-3 weeks and most or all of my owner’s expenses are covered by the tenant even when we experience the weaker rental markets. Selling a small property (especially condos) can also happen relatively quickly, and on average in about 3-4 months. I advise my clients to secure properties that have the features and locations that most buyers and renters want, so renting out and selling these properties quickly is not a huge challenge unless we are in an extreme economic downturn; and even then, you have the choice to rent or sell. Usually, one choice is better than the other and affords you the option to move with minimized risk.

I offer free counselling sessions to help people prepare for a variety of lifestyle options including, renting, buying, investing, selling, downsizing or moving into assisted living. It is never too early to start planning, so call for an appointment or let me know if you know anyone who needs assistance.

Your Home is a Small Business

This month, I reached out to Elizabeth Clark from Consider It DONE! Bookkeeping Services to have her share her take on proper bookkeeping for home owners and investors. Even if you don’t run your own business, bookkeeping is incredibly important. Every property renter and property owner should take the same care to track expenses and revenue to make the best lifestyle decisions over time.

You can apply business bookkeeping techniques to your household management so you know where you are spending your home maintenance, repair, design and home improvement budget. Tracking allocated resources and expenses is essential, not only for tax purposes but for comparing expenses over time and figuring out ways to manage them. It is also great for comparing the quality, relative cost and types of services of different vendors. I posed the following questions to Elizabeth to shed more light on the issue.

Often clients who are just starting out on their own don’t really know their cost to live. Should proper bookkeeping precede the development of a budget? 

You can’t have a budget without proper bookkeeping. In today’s world, it is easy to keep track of your finances. You can literally scan receipts on your phone and they go directly into software that will keep all expenses categorized. At the end of the month you know how much you spent on household utilities, morning coffee runs, gas for your car, and other household expenses. Once you have that information you are dealing with facts.  It probably takes about three months to put together a real working budget.  Once you have a budget, you can start saving towards an addition on your home, a startup venture, retirement, and other long-term planning.

What are the biggest mistakes that your business clients make in the bookkeeping process?

The biggest mistake that my clients make is not having a bookkeeper! Many of my clients come to me with a shoe box filled with receipts and beg for me to get them caught up. Thankfully, at the end of the catch-up process I am able to provide reports that can be used for tax filings, budgets, and overall business planning. It forces my clients to work with facts and not assumptions; usually resulting in a new excitement and passion for their business.

Can you share some tools and tips that can help my clients stay financially organized, whether he or she is an investor, renter or home owner?

I recommend keeping business and personal expenses separate. If you were walking in to a grocery store to buy food for your family, do not use your business credit card. If you are enjoying a dinner with a client make sure you use your business account. Many business write-offs are lost because their bookkeeper does not have access to their personal bank statements.

Can you share what homeowners can learn from small businesses?

So many people run their homes and businesses in financial fear. Household management should be approached like a business. If you are building a home (or adding an addition), hiring staff, or have a philanthropic tendency, all of these expenses should be accounted for carefully. There are other tasks that my firm can accomplish such as bill paying, project management, and overall household organization. Consider it DONE! can provide efficiency to a household. This results in more time with your family and a better sense of well-being. Everyone can use that.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I am passionate about business.  The ApprenticeThe Profit and Shark Tank are some of my favorite shows!  I have owned 4 companies and I know the juggle of being a working mom.  As a business owner, I have been the office manager, administrative assistant, bookkeeper, sales team and marketing guru!  Wanting to focus my skills, Consider it DONE! Services LLC was born.

Our primary focus is bookkeeping, but sometimes we are hired for administrative or organizational tasks.  Our list of clients is varied – retail, restaurants, real estate development, art consultation, trades, interior design and even a pizza truck!  We enjoy watching our client’s companies thrive and we do our best to keep clean books for accurate financial reporting.  Also, discretion and respect for all things private are always considered. It may be a shoe box filled with receipts or just a fresh look at your books….we are here to help!

For more information about organizing your financial life, contact Elizabeth Clark at:
Consider it DONE!   
Bookkeeping & Administrative Services
203.515.1265

 

Can You Avoid Costly Design Mistakes?

I recently had a meeting with an experienced interior designer, Juanita Sicurella-Strassfield.  I wanted to know how to guide my clients when they start to project their home decorating expenses. During the buying process, it is important to have an idea of how much it will cost to maintain, clean, and decorate your home. The choices you make will impact both short and long term expenses, as well as your environment. I make sure my clients are informed and I try to help them avoid costly mistakes that can be difficult to live with. Here’s my Q & A with Juanita:

How long should homeowners expect major design items to last before having to be replaced?

Window treatments don’t usually “take” the same abuse as upholstery; the average life span of a window treatment can be more than 10 years.  Most stay up longer. In addition to purchasing good quality products, it is the care and use or ABUSE that home furnishings are subjected to that factor in to their longevity.  For example, if case goods, tables, wood chairs, chests, etc. are exposed to sun day after day with no blinds or sheer draperies to shield them, they will fade, crack, and dry out. This will affect everything from upholstery to rugs. I’ve seen rugs that have faded where the sun has been streaming in from windows. While that may sound crazy, I had a client who left a side table in front of a window.  The table had a small placemat. When she went to move the table to another place in the room and took the placement off the table she noticed that the table had faded and small cracks appeared.  The underside of the placemat was untouched by damage. The amount of sun damage you see is costly. You wouldn’t think of going outside without sunscreen, so why would anyone subject their furnishings to the same effects. Good quality furniture can last for decades, although pets that lounge on your furniture all day can also affect its longevity.  I adored my dog and accepted the fact that if she was laying on the sofa it would show signs of wear.  That’s life.

When choosing fabric for window treatment and furniture, how does the longevity of the fabric relate to the cost?

That’s an interesting question.  There are some great fabric options out there that are geared specifically to heavy usage.  Fabrics that last longer typically cost more but not always. For upholstered pieces, fabrics that are geared to “heavy” usage can cost more. The exception would be silks. They are typically expensive, but are subject to staining and low abrasion.  If you love them. then you accept the qualities they have because of their inherent beauty.  There are treatments that can be applied to fabrics after market for stain protection–it’s like an insurance policy.  Again, another expense.

While window treatments do not have people sitting on them, they are hanging in the windows all day, every day, subjected to the sun. This affects longevity.  We use different types of lining depending on the room location and type of fabric.  For silks, we use lining and interlining.  Interlining is a heavy flannel that is sewn in between the lining and face fabric; silk in this case.  The interlining protects the fabric and adds depth.  A cheap, flimsy fabric is not going to last long.

Should homeowners take into account how long they think they will be in a home when designing?

Absolutely! If a home owner plans on living 20 to 30 years in a home, then planning into the future and taking the time to execute the plan can be a very good thing.  Oftentimes “instant” décor results in “ooh, I wish I thought that out” or “I’m sorry I did that”.  It is in the design process where home owners learn a bit about themselves and in turn have the opportunity to express themselves.

For the short-term homeowner – averaging about 5 years – all plans and purchases for the current space need to be carefully considered.  We would not want to purchase pieces “just for the current space”, we want flexibility.  For example, take a sectional sofa with a chaise; this may not work in another home/apartment.  I’d pass on that and suggest a flexible sectional with an ottoman instead. This can be used in a couple of different settings.

What should home owners think about when it comes to children and their design and fabric options?

Great question!  I’m working with a young couple now and we’ve discussed window treatment options for their family room and kitchen.  There are very young children in the home.  The mom questioned the how easy it was to clean the type of treatment that she really liked…..well that particular treatment would not withstand little fingers with peanut butter or crayons.  So I suggested a product that was safe (no cords) and easy to keep clean.  It could be wiped down with a soft damp cloth!  It’s practical and looks lovely….and the cats won’t have strings to pull on either.  Safety  is also a big consideration.

What should home owners think about when it comes to pets and their design and fabric options?

With respect to upholstered pieces, there are now fabrics that will withstand better than others. All this information is available from the manufacturer.  But remember animals have oils in their hair or fur and typically that is a problem.  If your pooch or kitty finds a favorite spot and settles on it every day, those oils will work their way in to a fabric.  It may not be pretty, but there are blankets that are meant to be put on a sofa so Fifi or Fido can lounge without fear of ruining a sofa.  Just whisk away the blanket when company pops in.

What are the differences in the cost to clean commonly used fabrics?

When it comes to cleaning fabrics, call a reputable professional!  When purchasing new upholstery, ask about a fabric protection plan.  Upholstery can be treated at the factory and comes with a warranty or guarantee. That company will service the piece when an accident happens.  This is a very common ”insurance policy” and can save you from future misery.  As for draperies; most often they can be cleaned, again, by a professional in your home.  The price for cleaning jobs is relative to the number and types of pieces, and fabric type may be a factor as well.

Americans are living longer and baby-boomers represent a huge part of the population. Has this impacted interior design trends?

Every generation affects trends. However, since people are living longer we are creating spaces that “grow” along with its inhabitants.  I’ve worked with clients who, after the children have grown, want a fresh, clean, streamlined new look. With respect to the home or apartment,  they want it to adapt to their abilities as they age.  That is an entire discussion in itself.  Lighting for changing eyesight, grip bars in the bathrooms, ergonomic handles, stair treads, the list is morphing every day.

If you have more questions for Juanita, give her a call at 914-462-1505. Website: http://www.archetypeinteriors.com.

 

Moving to Connecticut? Are You Looking for More Resources? These Links Will Help.

Check out these links for frequently used resources in Connecticut. They are especially helpful if you just moved to the Connecticut area or are planning to move.

Utilities

Electricity https://www.eversource.com

Yankee Gas https://m.yankeegas.com

CT Natural Gas https://www.cngcorp.com

Southern CT Gas https://www.soconngas.com

Cable/Phone/Internet http://www.cablevision.com

Movers

Alexander Moving Company 203-253-9613

Two Men and Truck 203-831-9300

DeRosier Moving and Storage 203-378-0461

JB Moving 203-602-7979

Anything Removal 203- 898-4784 (Small Moves)

Manhattan Movers – www.manhattanmovers.com (NY to CT)

United Van Lines www.UnitedVanlines.com  (Cross Country)

Flat Rate Movers www.flatrate.com (Out of State)

Car/Home/Business/Tourism

DMV http://www.ct.gov/Dmv/site/default.asp

CT Hazardous Waste Disposal http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?a=2718&q=325448

Emissions Testing Sites and Hours http://ctemissions.com

Start-ups and Entrepreneurs http://ctnext.com/ and http://www.ctihub.com

CT Innovation Summary http://www.ct.gov/ecd/lib/ecd/press_releases/2012/connecticuts_innovation_ecosystem.pdf

CT Tax Credits (Department of Economic and Community Development) http://www.ct.gov/ecd/site/default.asp

CT Department of Revenue Services http://www.ct.gov/drs

CT State Parks http://www.ctvisit.com

CHFA (Connecticut Housing Finance Authority) www.chfa.org

CT Tourism www.ctvisit.com

Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County www.culturalalliancefc.org

Government

State Government www.ct.gov

Selected City/Town Governments in Lower Fairfield County www.greenwichct.org | www.stamfordct.gov www.darienct.gov | www.norwalkct.org | www.fairfieldct.org | www.wiltonct.org

Department of Consumer Protection www.ct.gov/dcp

State Legislature (CT General Assembly) http://www.cga.ct.gov

Governor Website http://portal.ct.gov/governor

Any questions about moving to CT? Call Patricia Rattray at 203-570-2096

Address Your Children’s Concerns about Moving before You Change Your Address

Moving is exciting but for children it can be unsettling and scary. Regardless if your move is local or out of the area, knowing ahead of time the concerns your children are dealing with will help you help your child transition more smoothly into your new home.

 What are your children feeling anxious about?

  • Preschool children are preoccupied with being left behind at the old house, moving away from their parents and leaving their toys and special items behind.
  • The 6 – 12 year old group is more worried about their daily life will be disrupted
  • Teenagers worry about fitting in and not being able to maintain their social life.
  • Generally kids of all ages feel stress about a new neighborhood, making new friends, a new school, loss of familiarity, and the unknown.

I recently helped a friend and her four year- old son move from a small two bedroom apartment to a bigger house with more space and a big back yard for the child to play in. Mom had never considered that the apartment had been the only home her child had ever known and even though they were moving to a bigger and better place he wanted nothing to do with it. He wanted his old house and arrived at the new house kicking and screaming.

 Here are some helpful tools to help your child feel better about a move:

  • Let you child know about the new house and if possible visit the new home. If that is not possible take some pictures or video recordings so your child becomes familiar with their new space.
  • If your child will be attending a new school, visit the school with your child.
  • Get your child involved, have he or she pack a few of their toys and special items and mark the boxes with color markers or stickers so the child can easily identify that boxes of theirs.
  • Have your child help decorate and set up their new room.
  • Talk to your child about some of his or her favorite things about their current home and try to incorporate some of those elements in the new home.
  • Allow your child to ask questions and voice and fears they may be feeling about the move.
  • Help your children to stay in touch with any friends they may be leaving behind.
  • If possible join some play groups in your new area to help your child make new friends.
  • When move day rolls around, set up your child’s room as soon as possible, this will help them feel more settled and comfortable in the new space.
  • Sticking to routines helps your child feel secure, if you always had game night on Thursdays stick to that.
  • Sign your child up for sports, clubs or school activities.
  • Get your child outdoors to meet new friends in the neighborhood and invite those new friends over
  • Get out as a family and explore the new area, making discoveries about your new area together helps you all make the transition together as well as become familiar with your new surroundings.

Source: http://www.homefair.com/articles/family/helping-kids-move.asp

Moving Checklist

At least one month prior to move:

  • Begin cleaning out anything which will not be making the move. Think about donating your unwanteds, and get a receipt for tax purposes.
  • Create a complete inventory of all items which will be going with you.
  • Find a reputable mover (ask your broker for a vendor they might recommend).
  • Confirm with the appropriate parties at your new location your moving schedule. Verify any moving documentation that may need to be sent over before your arrival.
  • Notify your security company, gardner, pool service, bottled water vendor, or any other regularly scheduled service company of your vacating date. Be sure to re-establish the services you will need in your new location.
  • Notify your local post office, magazine publications, and other providers who send you mail of your change of address and date of move.
  • Arrange to collect any deposits you may have put down on a rental or utilities.
  • Check your current insurance coverage. If your policy is transferable, you will want to coordinate with your provider so there is no lap in coverage. If it is not you will want to secure a new policy for your new home.
  • Ask your present physician(s) for referrals in your new location. Be sure to obtain copies of, or transfer your medical records and any prescriptions you may need.
  • If you have children, be sure to get copies of, or have transferred, any school records you may need.
  • If you have a pet, check with your veterinarian regarding any travel preparation necessary, and obtain copies of any health records.

Two weeks prior to move:

  • Contact your current telephone, electric, gas, and water companies to confirm the specific date on which to discontinue service. It is a good idea to leave the utilities on for an extra day or two, just in case of emergency.
  • Contact the utility companies in your new location to arrange when service should begin.
  • If you haven’t already you may want to arrange for banking in your new location, and transfer funds over for your arrival.

Day before the move:

  • If your movers are providing packing service, they usually arrive the day before the van is loaded. Be sure someone is on site to supervise the packing.
  • Notify a friend or family member of your travel plans in case of emergency.
  • Reconfirm with the appropriate parties at your new location your moving schedule.
  • Be sure to leave the keys to your current residence with the appropriate party.

Moving Day & After:

  • When the movers arrive, check their inventory to be sure your lists coincide. You may want to search the entire house one last time before they leave.
  • Make sure the movers have the proper directions to your new location, and contact information for when they arrive.
  • Arrive ahead of the movers and check that all appliances and heating units are working properly. If there is a problem be sure to notify the appropriate party right away.
  • Once the movers arrive, be sure to check the condition of each carton and household item. Be sure to make a record of any missing or damaged pieces on the inventory form.
  • Check with the local post office to see if they might be holding any mail.
  • Obtain any necessary licenses. (Driver’s, pet, etc.)
  • Ask your real estate professional or landlord for recommendations for service providers in your area.
  • Register to vote.

Smart Moving and Packing Tips – Take the Stress Out of Moving

One of the biggest mistakes when moving is waiting until the last minute. The best tips are to plan smart and allow approximately 6 weeks to get into gear.

Packing Tips

1. Don’t Overpack Boxes – A good rule is; The Heavier The Item, The Smaller The Box.

2. Start Packing Several Weeks In Advance – By starting to pack early, you won’t become overwhelmed as

Moving Day approaches.

3. Important legal documents (stock certificates, wills, etc.), valuables (jewelry, stamp collections , e t c.), and family medical

records should be personally transported by you.

4. Hazardous Materials – According to State Law, we cannot transport flammables such as gasoline, paint and

thinner, bottled gases, ammunition and explosives, corrosives, cleaning fluids, or detergents.

5. Small Items – To prevent small items such as knick-knacks from becoming lost or thrown out with the packing

paper, wrap them in colored tissue paper before placing them in a box.

6. Let Children Pack Their Own Toys And Games – This helps them feel that they are an important part of

Moving Day. They will also be a bit less apprehensive if they know where their favorite things are.

7. Don’t Mix Items – Don’t mix items from different rooms in the same box.

8. Label Boxes on Top and Sides – Label the top and sides of boxes as they’re packed. At a glance, the Movers

will see where to place boxes.

9. Pack An Essentials Box – Items such as toilet paper, soap and towels, toothpaste and brushes, paper towels,

paper plates, cups, utensils, snacks, coffee pot, (filters and coffee), clock radio, remote controls and a basic tool

kit should be packed in a box and loaded last on the truck, so they’ll be available, promptly at your new home.

10. Unpack Breakables Over A Padded Surface – If you do drop an item, it will land on some packing material,

minimizing the chance of breakage.

11. Dishes should always be packed on edge. Do not stack flat. Each dish should be packed in clean (non-ink)

paper or bubble wrap. Wrap cups and glasses in paper and cushion with dish towels, potholders, or paper

when packing cartons. Dishes and glasses should be packed snugly, but not too tightly. Cushion voids where

shifting can occur. Heavier items should be at the bottom of the box. Line the bottom of the box with crumpled

newspaper, if dishpack and cell packs are not used.

12. Lampshades should not be packed with newspaper, as the ink can permanently stain them. Lamps can be

wrapped in towels, bubble wrap, or paper, and should not be in the same containers as the lampshades.

13. When disassembling furniture, large tables, or dresser mirrors, place hardware in a plastic bag and tape to the

underside of furniture or place in a drawer. Do not tape drawers shut, since it can easily remove the finish

when it’s peeled off.

14. Boxes should always be taped on the bottom and top, rather than interlocking the ends together. If they have flat tops, they can be stacked in a truck more easily.