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News, Events, Tips and Resources from The Jamisons

Fixer Upper Homes - Are You Ready?

by The Jamison Team on 03/28/14

Fixer upper homes can be found in even the most expensive cites for much less than other homes. Even in areas where a small home will usually be over $200,000, an investor from Chicago recently told us he found one for $35,000. Before you get excited by the idea, though, here are the two most important questions you should ask yourself before buying a fixer upper:

1. Do you want to deal with it? You don't necessarily have to fix the house yourself, as you will see in the example below. Still, you will have to deal with hiring contractors, and you'll have the stress of unexpected problems that always occur with fixing houses. There are always unexpected problems.

2. How much is it worth to you to deal with it? Suppose you end up with total of $125,000 into a house that is worth $145,000. Does that $20,000 equity gain make it worth it? It is entirely up to you to decide how much you want for your trouble. How do you know what you'll gain in equity? Figure it like an investor would, as in the following example.

Putting A Price On Fixer Upper Homes

When you look at a fixer upper, decide what you would need to do to make it a nice place to live. It might need a new roof, new carpeting, paint and a dozen smaller things done. Make a list all the things you will do if you buy it.

With the help of a real estate agent or appraiser, estimate what the house would sell for if it was the way you want it. Now you have your finished value. Work backwards from here to arrive at the price you will offer.

Suppose the house will be worth $179,000 when it is done. It will need carpet, wall repairs, yard work, paint, a new door, new appliances, and a few other things. Calling around to get a few quotes, you determine this will all cost $12,000 unless you do some of the work yourself. Subtract this from the $169,000.

Subtract "holding costs." This includes interest on the loan, taxes, insurance, and utilities during the time you can't live house while it's being fixed. You can skip this if you get to move right in, but we'll assume $2,000 for our example. Subtract another $2,000 for anything unexpected.

Subtract the amount that "makes it all worth it." For our example, we'll assume it's worth the trouble for you if you get an instant equity gain of $13,000. Now, having subtracted the repair costs, holding costs, unexpected event money, and your "profit," we arrive at $150,000.

$150,000, then, is the most you should pay for the house. Offer less, maybe $144,000, so you have some negotiating room. If you can't get it $140,000 or less, you should probably walk away. This is the short lesson on how to buy fixer upper homes.

Good luck!
The Jamison Team

Home Buying Basics

by The Jamison Team on 02/28/14

The most important investment you will ever make is probably the purchase of a home. Finding the right home for you can be a long and arduous process, but there is no getting around that.

Know Your Wants And Needs

Before embarking on your journey of house hunting, you must know what you really want to find. Sit down with pen and paper and list all the features you care most about, such as:

- Location (in a particular city, school district or neighborhood)

- Size -- how many bedrooms and bathrooms

- Parking -- a 1-car garage or 2?

- Style -- 2-story house or ranch style home?

- Heating -- central heating and/or air conditioning?

Equally important, on a new sheet of paper list all the features you absolutely do not want in a house. For example:

- high-traffic area.

- high noise area (airport, train station or highway in close proximity)

- maintenance -- major repairs needed

As you look at houses, keep both lists in mind. Your lists may change over time as you do more looking. You'll want to add or remove features, or perhaps you'll become willing to make compromises. Realize that you most likely will not find the "perfect" home. Experienced homebuyers will tell you, perfect homes are not found, they are made perfect through hard work.

Get Your Credit Report In Order

Prior to looking at properties, you must get your finances in order. This is the time to review your credit report and clean it up, if need be, to maximize your credit score. Many people do not realize how important it is to check your credit report periodically to make sure it is accurate. You should pay off any past due amounts, or negotiate a settlement price to close the debt. Get such agreements in writing, before paying any settlement. Keep all receipts for any settled items from your credit report since it may take months to get the debt actually removed.

Research Your Home-Buying Options

Decide what kind of property you are interested in. Do you want a HUD property, a foreclosure, real estate, or property for sale by owner?

A number of web sites list homes according to city, state, or price range. Visit these sites to see pictures of homes, many with virtual tours, and review the listing features.

Get Pre-Approved For A Loan

You're ready now to find a lender and get yourself pre-approved for the loan. Being pre-approved offers a number of advantages. It will clarify the price range you can afford. Also, once you find the home you want, you can place an immediate offer. If you have to wait for pre-approval, someone could buy the house right out from under you.

Several special programs are often available from lenders, such as the FHA, VA or PHFA, that can save you money in the closing. Ask the lender about any special programs before you decide on a loan.

Find A Good Real Estate Agent

It is wise for the first time homebuyer to work closely with a real estate agent, no matter what type of property you're looking for. A knowledgeable real estate agent will make your house-hunting much easier. A good real estate agent is usually a good negotiator, and will be able to help you with the complicated paperwork involved in placing an offer on a house or in closing a deal.

It's essential that you have a real estate agent working for you as the buyer. They will represent you and look out for your best interest. And keep in mind, although the agent will be representing you, the sell pays his or her commission. How sweet is that!

To select a real estate agent, you should check with your friends and neighbors for recommendations. Find an agent you feel comfortable with and who is knowledgeable about the area you hope to buy in.

These are just the basics of home buying. You will find many details you need to master as you move through the buying process, but having these basics under your belt will give you a head start.

The Jamison Team
Kevin & Darlene

Want to Have Some Family Fun This Weekend?

by The Jamison Team on 02/15/14

Blue Cross River Rink

What great family fun! Especially, if you haven't ice skated before.
Watching family and friends trying to skate on the ice is priceless!


November 29, 2013–March 2, 2014


Lace up your ice skates and celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Blue Cross RiverRink, an Olympic-sized ice rink at Penn’s Landing that is a waterfront winter tradition.

A family-friendly holiday activity, the RiverRink features breathtaking views overlooking the Delaware River and Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

Don’t worry if it’s a little brisk — the RiverRink features a heated pavilion with a snack bar and game room to keep you warm. There’s also plenty of special events to keep you coming back each week — a live DJ is featured every Friday and Saturday night from 9 p.m. to 12 midnight to keep you moving.

Market Street and Columbus Boulevard
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 925-RINK

Learn more at

Budgeting Without Shame

by The Jamison Team on 02/15/14

Are you constantly trying to stay just one step ahead of your bills? A budget can help you organize your finances. It is really surprising, but a budget can save time and a lot of worries.

Many people think of a budget as a financial jail or a diet. They eventually fail at their budgeting because of this. You have to think of a budget as simply a way to see where you spend your money and a plan that helps you get the things that you want.

First, you have to create your basic budgeting template. You have to look at the way you actually spend your money (not some computer's predetermined amounts) to be able to successfully budget. Start with your income, which is easy to identify.

Then move on to identifying your spending and expenses. Start with your bills. List each one and the amount that you pay. You might want to go ahead and add interest rates and payoff amounts to any of the debts, so that you can get a head start in identifying what you need to pay off first.

Then move on to the basics, such as groceries and car expenses. If you eat out every day for lunch, include this category in your spending. If you have a hobby that you regularly shop for, include this category. Identify the places your money goes during the month.

You can used a template budget worksheet, found online or in a bookstore. Make sure that you edit this worksheet to fit your finances and your needs.

Now you need to identify your budget amounts. Collect your receipts and bills for the past month. This is easy to do. Simply get a receipt for everything you purchase and dump it in a shoebox at the front door every evening when you come in. Go through these receipts and start filling in the spending category amounts. You may find that you need to even add more categories.

For the next two or three months, you should consider simply tracking your spending to get a realistic vision of how you spend. You may immediately find that you are able to cut spending in some areas. Often, people are surprised to know that they spend so much on something.

Once you have an idea of where your money is really going, you can start cutting back in certain areas. Everything is negotiable. Even seemingly fixed expenses, such as your electric bill or water bill, can be reduced.

Remember, your budget isn't something designed to limit your spending. It is created to let you manage your spending. You are able to get an accurate view of how you spend. There isn't anything to be guilty about or shamed about when you really see how your money is being spent. Now you can see how to fix it.

Do you have a budget? If not, can you see the benefits of creating one?

Bridge Loans – From One Home to the Next

by The Jamison Team on 02/01/14

You’ve lived in your home for some time and circumstances such as an expanding family mean you need a new one. This brings up the subject of bridge loans.

From Here to There

You have two basic options when you are considering selling one home to move to another. The first option is to sell your home, make sure it closes and then find a new one. This is by far the safest option.

The second option is to buy and sell at the same time. Typically, you try to close on your sale around the time you close on the purchase. Theoretically, this allows you to move seamlessly from one home to the next. This is an option rife with potential problems. What happens if there are problems with the sale of your home such as escrow issues or the buyer failing to get a loan? Suddenly, you are looking at being the owner of two homes. Disaster has struck since you’re undoubtedly using proceeds from the sale of your old home to fund the new purchase. With no sale, you have no funds and sleepless nights follow.

Bridge loans are often touted as a solution for this problem. In theory, a lender will provide you with a loan to cover the gap in time between the sale and purchase of the two homes. While bridge loans do accomplish this, they should be considered a last resort for a few reasons.

First, bridge loans are obscenely expensive. You’re in a tight spot and the lender knows it. Points and interest rates are going to be shocking. The lender knows there is a higher chance you will default on the loan, so you can expect to pay for the risk up front.

The second problem with bridge loans concerns your old home. Inevitably, you will anticipate a fairly quick sale of your home, but what if it doesn’t happen? Suddenly, you are making payments on two homes. Few people can afford to make such payments and you can quickly run out of cash.

Financing a move from one home to a new one can be a tricky process. Make sure you put a lot of thought into it or you could be in for a very bad surprise.

Clean Home, Easy Sale

by The Jamison Team on 01/24/14

One of the biggest problems people run into when selling their home is the process of preparing it for sale. Many homes are simply places where we keep the accumulated treasures of the years. Are you a clutter-bug, a pack-rat? It's OK, we all are to some degree. When preparing a home for sale, we need to be mindful of our "stuff." The best way to begin this process is to take a quick walk through your home. Make a list of everything that you have not used in the past 3 months, 6 months? Now, and here is the hard part. Get rid of it. Seem a bit extreme? It might, but things that you have not used in half a year are not likely to get used in the future. Remember we are trying to get rid of some stuff so that people can see the house, not what's in it.

There is a common line of thought that home buyers want to see the "personality" of the homes current owners. This is not true. Buyers want to be able to see their belongings in the home. They want to put their personality into it to see if they could see themselves living there. A backlog of your stuff will get in the way of them doing this. Go through every room in turn and remove the clutter! This includes the closets, shelves and cupboards. Also remove excess furniture if the room seems too crowded. Here is another important thing to remember, don't put all this stuff in the garage! Buyers will go through the garage like any other room in your home. Hire a storage locker if it is really necessary. Aside from that, use this as an opportunity to rid yourself of those things that you never use.

The minimalist approach is a good thing to utilize when showing your home. The lack of personal effects will make it easier for buyers to place themselves in your home. This will also make the moving process easier on you. With less things to pack when moving day comes, you can dedicate more time to creating your perfect space in your new home.


Checklist for Preparing Your Home to Be Listed

by The Jamison Team on 01/24/14

Once you decide to sell your property, you need to realize it evolves from your residence into a product. Before listing it, here are some tips on sprucing up your product.

Property Checklist for Preparing Your Home to Be Listed

Most sellers make the mistake of assuming the way they live in a home is a good atmosphere in which to conduct a sale. It is not. Homebuyers are not looking for a property in which you, the seller, seem comfortable. They are looking for a property in which THEY will feel comfortable and can envision themselves settling down in. This may sound like a minor distinction, but it is actually very large. If you can wrap your mind around this fact, you will have a much better selling experience.

First and foremost, you must understand that people have different tastes. The particular chandelier or aspect of your home, which is unique, may seem appealing to you, but not to buyers. Emotionally, you must be prepared for buyers to make rude comments regarding aspects you might cherish. Remember, it is a product to be sold and nothing else. If they don’t have taste, that is their problem. On the other hand, they could be the buyers of the property you are trying to sell, which is your problem. Remember that when you are about to make a snide remark.

Before listing your property, it makes sense to address a few issues to avoid any problems.

1. Clean up closets – sellers look.

2. Clean up garages – sellers consider it a sign of how you took care of the home.

3. Clean the refrigerator – make it spotless. We are talking surgical room spotless.

4. Same goes for the oven.

5. If you have an attic, clean and organize it. Buyers will look everywhere.

6. Make sure all light bulbs work.

7. Fertilize the yard a few weeks before listing the home.

8. Repair leaky faucets.

9. Consider replacing worn or old fixtures.

10. Clean the windows.

Again, the goal is not to show a home you enjoy living in. The goal is to show a home they buyer could be comfortable living in. You are shooting, as much as possible, for that new home look.


Don't be Money Ignorant

by The Jamison Team on 12/24/13

There are some simple things that you have to know how to do. But it seems like no one ever sits down and teaches you. Balancing your checkbook, making wise financial decisions and handling debt are vital to your financial health.

I guess it's something that we make our mistakes and learn from. But today, the mistakes are costlier than ever. With credit cards targeting college students and debt problems affecting millions of consumers, every person should take the time to make sure that they and their children know how to manage their finances. Our son had an American Express, Capital One Visa and a Sears Credit card in college.


Have you ever stressed about money? I won't say that proper management will eliminate money stress, but it will certainly cut it back by around 90%. If you've ever spent hours stressing over where you will get the money to pay for bills or gas or whatever, you will truly appreciate the freedom proper financial management brings.

And the thing is, it is so simple. The first things you should know are how to balance your checkbook, what interest rates are and how you pay off loans and save for retirement. Do research before you buy a car or take out a loan.

After you've done a little homework, you can start understanding your own finances. Start with your bills. You need to not only know how to read them and pay them, but also what they mean to you financially. Make a list of your current financial responsibilities -- what you owe, who you owe and your interest and payment amounts. Add to this list all of your expected financial liabilites, such as increases in insurance premiums or a new home purchase. Add in your daily expenses, such as food and gas money.

You've now completed the first step in your own personal family budget. This will be your blueprint of how you will spend and save. Add up all of your monthly income. Subtract your expenses you have listed from your income. The results should be a positive number. If it isn't, you are spending more than you make. You need to find places to cut back so that you don't fall further and further behind.

Many children and teenagers believe that credit cards are a magic way to get what they want. They will buy everything. Adults should know better. Credit cards need to be paid off. This is your top priority -- you have to get out of debt. Don't charge anything that you can't pay back at the end of the month. If you can't resist the card, put it in your safety deposit box. You won't use it on impulse if it is hard to get to.

Happy Holidays!

Darlene Jamison

12 Tips On How Not To Get A Loan

by The Jamison Team on 12/14/13

Here are a few tips on how _not_ to get a loan, and underneath each one, the smart thing to do instead.

1. Ignore borrowing costs.

Examples of these are insurance schemes and prepayment penalties. Make sure you understand and are willing to pay them all. Understand your agreement before you sign, including terms and conditions.

A loan may become too expensive, with variable interest rates and fees. The total cost of your loan will depend on the annualised percentage rate (APR). The annualised percentage rate takes into account the interest amount, and all other charges.

2. Pick the first lender you think of.

Deals vary enormously, from loansharks to credit unions. Consider fully mutual building societies and credit unions, then find companies that are dedicated to loans. The first were set up to help members, and the latter's earnings come exclusively from lending money. They can offer better deals.

3. Communicate by telephone only, and don't record the name of who you spoke to.

Make sure you get the full name of the person with whom you speak, if you call your loan company. Big offices are impersonal; your loan officer could leave at any time. Write letters to keep a record of important points.

4. Take on a loan thinking "Well, I can always go bankrupt".

This is stupid. You will find it very hard to get credit of any kind in the future, when you need it badly.

5. Avoid researching the lender.

Type the name of the lender into a search engine. See if there are any negative postings about them.

6. Who cares what it'll cost you!

Think about your budget; how much can you afford each month? Then leave a portion of your monthly income aside as coverage for emergencies and unexpected bills.

7. Take your time paying it off.

No matter how cheap a loan may be, pay it off as quickly as you can to avoid interest accumulating. Try to get a loan that allows early payments; the quicker you pay back, the less interest you pay. If you extend the duration of the loan, you will have to pay much more in interest.

8. Make lots of enquiries in a short space of time.

Any more than four credit checks in one month for a personal loan looks suspect, and may affect your credit rating. When shopping for a quote, ask them if they're going to check your credit-rating, to be on the safe side. They don't need to, to give you a rough estimate.

9. Have lots of credit available to you, then ask for more.

To ensure you get the best terms, keep your credit-line as small as possible. Loan officers tend to count the total line of credit available as a liability.

10. Default or make late payments on small debts.

Not paying off that hire-purchase agreement years ago will come back to haunt you. Pay off small debts before they're due. Cancel credit cards you are not using. IMPORTANT: Keep your oldest card, for the credit history attached to it. Otherwise, consider their interest rates and fees, when deciding which ones to hold on to.

11. Sign papers without reading them.

You're anxious. You want the money _now_. Cue major upset later when you realise what's in the small print.

12. Keep quiet about repayment problems.

If you have problems with repayment, write to your lender as soon as possible. The earlier you tell them, the more sympathetic they'll be. You can then make arrangements for under-repayments until you get back on your feet.

7 Fast Fixes for Your Credit Scores

by The Jamison Team on 11/22/13

If you're dragging around bad credit scores, you'll pay more for car loans, credit cards and mortgages. Here's how to turn them around in a hurry. Plus: 4 credit mistakes to avoid.

So you've had a few problems getting the bills paid lately, and you're wondering what you can do to repair the damage.

You've got plenty of company. There are more than 30 million people in the United States with credit blemishes severe enough (and credit scores under 620) to make obtaining loans and credit cards with reasonable terms difficult.

Or maybe your credit is OK, but you'd like to make it better. After all, the better your credit, the lower the interest rates you can secure car loans and credit cards. And these days, having high credit scores is the one sure path to homeownership.

Know the score
In order to improve your credit scores, it's important to know where you stand currently. The three-digit numbers, which range from 300 to 850, are the key to your borrowing costs. See "How to get a credit report for free" to learn how to get a copy.

Now you're ready to take the seven steps to speedy credit repair:

1) Pay down your credit cards. Paying off your installment loans (mortgage, auto, student, etc.) can help your scores, but typically not as dramatically as paying down -- or paying off -- revolving accounts such as credit cards.

Lenders like to see a big gap between the amount of credit you're using and your available credit limits. Getting your balances below 30% of the credit limit on each card can really help.

While most debt gurus recommend paying off the highest-rate card first, a better strategy here is to pay down the cards that are closest to their limits.

2) Use your cards lightly. Racking up big balances can hurt your scores, regardless of whether you pay your bills in full each month.

What's typically reported to the credit bureaus, and thus calculated into your scores, are the balances reported on your last statements. (That doesn't mean paying off your balances each month isn't financially smart -- it is -- just that the credit scores don't care.)

You typically can increase your scores by limiting your charges to 30% or less of a card's limit. If you're having trouble keeping track, consider using a check register to track your spending, logging into your account frequently at the issuer's Web site, or using personal finance software like Microsoft Money or Quicken, which can download your transactions and balances automatically.

3) Check your limits. Your scores might be artificially depressed if your lender is showing a lower limit than you've actually got. Most credit-card issuers will quickly update this information if you ask.

If your issuer makes it a policy not to report consumers' limits, however -- as is the usual case with American Express cards -- the bureaus typically use your highest balance as a proxy for your credit limit.

You may see the problem here: If you consistently charge the same amount each month -- say $2,000 to $2,500 -- it may look to the credit-scoring formula like you're regularly maxing out that card.

You could go on a wild spending spree to raise the limit, but a more sober solution would simply be to pay your balance down or off before your statement period closes. Check your last statement to see which day of the month that typically is, then go to the issuer's Web site about a week in advance of closing and pay off what you owe. It won't raise your reported limit, but it will widen the gap between that limit and your closing balance, which should boost your scores.

4) Dust off an old card. The older your credit history, the better. But if you stop using your oldest cards, the issuers may stop updating those accounts at the credit bureaus. The accounts will still appear, but they won't be given as much weight in the credit-scoring formula as your active accounts, said Craig Watts, an executive at Fair Isaac, one of the leading credit scorers. That's why Ferguson often recommends to her clients that they use their oldest cards every few months to charge a small amount, paying it off in full when the statement arrives.

5) Get some goodwill. If you've been a good customer, a lender might agree to simply erase that one late payment from your credit history. You usually have to make the request in writing, and your chances for a "goodwill adjustment" improve the better your record with the company (and the better your credit in general). But it can't hurt to ask.

A longer-term solution for more-troubled accounts is to ask that they be "re-aged." If the account is still open, the lender might erase previous delinquencies if you make a series of 12 or so on-time payments.

6) Dispute old negatives. Say that fight with your phone company over an unfair bill a few years ago resulted in a collections account. You can continue protesting that the charge was unjust, or you can try disputing the account with the credit bureaus as "not mine." The older and smaller a collection account, the more likely the collection agency won't bother to verify it when the credit bureau investigates your dispute.

Some consumers also have had luck disputing old items with a lender that has merged with another company, which can leave lender records a real mess.

7) Blitz significant errors. Your credit scores are calculated based on the information in your credit reports, so certain errors there can really cost you. But not everything that's reported in your files matters to your scores.

Here's the stuff that's usually worth the effort of correcting with the bureaus:

•Late payments, charge-offs, collections or other negative items that aren't yours.

•Credit limits reported as lower than they actually are.

•Accounts listed as "settled," "paid derogatory," "paid charge-off" or anything other than "current" or "paid as agreed" if you paid on time and in full.

•Accounts that are still listed as unpaid that were included in a bankruptcy.

•Negative items older than seven years (10 in the case of bankruptcy) that should have automatically fallen off your reports.

You actually have to be a bit careful with this last one, because sometimes scores actually go down when bad items fall off your reports. It's a quirk in the FICO credit-scoring software, and the potential effect of eliminating old negative items is difficult to predict in advance.

Some of the stuff that you typically shouldn't worry about includes:

•Various misspellings of your name.

•Outdated or incorrect address information.

•An old employer listed as current.

•Most inquiries.

If the misspelled name or incorrect address is because of identity theft or because your file has been mixed with someone else's, that should be obvious when you look at your accounts. You'll see delinquencies or accounts that aren't yours and should report that immediately. However, if it's just a goof by the credit bureau or one of the companies reporting to it, it's usually not much to sweat about.

Two more items you don't need to correct:

•Accounts you closed listed as being open.

•Accounts you closed that don't say "closed by consumer."

Closing an account can't help your scores, and may hurt them. If your goal is boosting your scores, leave these alone. Once an account has been closed, though, it doesn't matter to the scoring formulas who did it -- you or the lender. If you messed up the account, it will be obvious from the late payments and other derogatory information included in the file.

4 other credit mistakes
Other actions to beware when you're trying to improve your scores:

Asking a creditor to lower your credit limits. This will reduce that all-important gap between your balances and your available credit, which could hurt your scores. If a lender asks you to close an account or get a limit lowered as a condition for getting a loan, you might have to do it -- but don't do so without being asked.

Making a late payment. The irony here is that a late or missed payment will hurt good scores more than bad ones, dropping 700-plus scores by 100 points or more. If you've already got a string of negative items on your credit reports, one more won't have a big impact, but it's still something you want to avoid if you're trying to improve your scores.

Consolidating your accounts. Applying for a new account can ding your scores. So, too, can transferring balances from a high-limit card to a lower-limit one or concentrating all or most of your credit-card balances onto a single card. In general, it's better to have smaller balances on a few cards than a big balance on one.

Applying for new credit if you already have plenty. On the other hand, applying for and getting an installment loan can help your scores if you don't have any installment accounts or you're trying to recover from a credit disaster like bankruptcy.

By the way, all these suggestions work best if you have poor or mediocre scores to begin with. Once you've hit the 700 mark, any tweaking you do will tend to have less of a positive impact.

Good Luck and most importantly, stay focused and disciplined!