Category Archives: INVEST MONEY

All things to help you invest money – retirement, early retirement, financial independence, real estate investing, and more!

How to Overcome Your Fear of Investing and Build Your Dream Retirement

I’m going to hit you with the cold, hard truth: You’re probably not investing enough money to be able to afford the future of your dreams, and your fear of investing is to blame. Don’t believe me? Let’s see if any of these statistics describe you:

How many of these statistics describe you?

If not many, you’re probably in great shape with your investing.

If more than one describes your situation, you have some work to do if you’re going to retire comfortably.

The first step lies in overcoming your fear of investing.

Is fear of investing holding you back from building your dream retirement and threatening your future? These tips will help you overcome and invest wisely! We'll help you look at your current finances and budget, find out how much money you'll need for retirement, and make a solid plan to invest wisely and reach your dream retirement.

9 Stupid Reasons to Put Off Investing for Your Retirement

Life is full of many uncertainties and only a few certainties. One major certainty for nearly all of us is the fact that we will need to retire someday. Trading our time and skills for earned income can only go on for so long.

So why do you so many people live like investing is unnecessary or optional? You guessed it: a combination of the fear of investing and lack of understanding.

Consider the following reasons that may be holding you back from investing in your dreams:

1. You have too much debt

Student loans, car payments, credit cards, home equity lines, and first and second mortgages make it possible to borrow lots of money, but lots of payments come with lots of loans! As a result many people don’t have much money left to invest.

2. You don’t know where to start

Investing seems too nuanced and sophisticated to many people, so they just don’t bother to start learning the ropes.

3. You don’t understand how investments work

Similarly, many people have a desire to invest and know they should be investing, but they are paralyzed by a fear of investing and lack of basic understanding of investment options. Words like bonds, stocks, mutual funds, annual return on investment, IRAs, and index funds are SCARY!

4. You’re planning to live off Social Security 

Like Dave Ramsey sarcastically reminds us, the government is well-known for its ability to take care of money. Still, many people look to Social Security as their only source of retirement income.

5. You’re expecting an inheritance 

Inheritance money can be an incredible blessing, but relying on it instead of investing consistently is a huge risk. Long-term care costs for their elderly are always on the rise, and many nest eggs have been cracked and scrambled by these costs.

6. You’re afraid to lose money on investments 

I get it. Nobody wants to lose money. But losing money from time to time is part of the game of investing. The obvious goal is to win more than you lose, but like hockey great Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Investing isn’t a spectator sport; you have to play to earn money! If you allow the fear of investing to keep you out of the game, you’re guaranteed to lose.

7. You don’t have the knowledge to choose your own investments 

Many would be investors have excitedly signed up for an online trading account only to realize that they’re not sure what to do next. The options seem limitless and unpredictable. So they put their money away in savings accounts and CDs instead and collect a very predictable but low interest rate.

8. You’re not willing to trust someone else with your money 

Investment professionals are some of the least-trusted people in the financial world. Over the years, scandals and horror stories have legitimized these fears to some degree, though many true professionals are still out there. The sad truth is that many people aren’t willing to trust someone else with managing their investments.

9. You’re not willing to pay someone else to manage your investments

And even for those people who are willing to trust a professional with their money, management fees often scare them off in a hurry.

Is fear of investing holding you back from building your dream retirement and threatening your future? These tips will help you overcome and invest wisely! We'll help you look at your current finances and budget, find out how much money you'll need for retirement, and make a solid plan to invest wisely and reach your dream retirement.Overall, the fear of investing and the above barriers create three types of people:

  • Those who actively invest (Investor) by overcoming their fear and getting the help they need
  • Those who want to invest but fail to act (Aspiring Investor)
  • Those who ignore the importance of investing (Non-Investor)

By the end of this article, my goal is to empower you to move yourself up the top of the pyramid by providing resources and tools to boost your confidence and start investing as soon as possible.

The Best Resources to Overcome Your Fear of Investing 

The first step toward overcoming your fear of investing and getting on track toward your dream retirement is evaluating your current financial situation. You need to create a one page summary of your current debts, investments, and other assets. The best way to do this job only once is to  sign-up for Personal Capital. With Personal Capital, you can monitor all of your financial accounts in one place, analyze your portfolio, and track your net worth all from your mobile device.

You’ll also need to create a budget – think of it as a map that will take you to your retirement dreams by keeping you on track every month – if you don’t have one. Even if you’ve never lived on a budget before, this is the time to start.

Read: Budgeting for People Who Suck With Money

Next, you need to estimate your overall retirement needs. One of my favorite financial writers, Chris Hogan, has created a FREE tool to help you calculate the amount of money you’ll need to save to retire; he calls it your R:IQ. Take a few minutes and get your number – it’s free, and you won’t get bombarded with SPAM.

Now that you have a clear picture of your current situation and what you want to achieve, it’s time to make a plan to get there. Depending upon your knowledge, interest, and available time, you can take on full responsibility of your retirement portfolio, manage only some aspects on your own, or work with a dedicated adviser who can help you reach your goals.

If you want to spend many hours learning the nuances of buying and selling stocks, TradeKing is a good option for you. TradeKing provides a powerful platform for investors to discover, research, and purchase stocks, options, and ETFs.  They also offer access to knowledgeable brokers who will answer questions or even manage your portfolio at a cost to you. If you open a new account and start with a minimum balance of $500, you’ll receive $5,000 in free trades if you sign-up using this link for FinanceSuperhero readers.

Looking for more guidance and support? TD Ameritrade offers the next level in investment services with no investment minimums to open your account. Investors can choose the Build It Yourself option, receive a managed portfolio recommendation from TD Ameritrade Investment Management, LLC, or get connected with an independent Registered Investment Advisor. Check out your options with TD Ameritrade here.

And if you’re looking for a simpler approach that is more hands-off, the popular robo-adviser Betterment is the best choice for you. Why approach investing the Betterment way? The Betterment portfolio is designed to achieve optimal returns at every level of risk. Through diversification, automated rebalancing, better behavior, Tax Loss Harvesting (selling a security that has experienced a loss to offset other gains), and lower fees, the Betterment approach to investing can help generate 2.9% higher returns than a typical DIY investor. And they still offer investors access to a licensed adviser over the phone. You can open a Roth IRA, Traditional IRA, or complete a rollover 7 days per week.

Note: If you have an old 401k from a previous employer still hanging around, Betterment will help you with your rollover and make the process as painless as possible.

As mentioned earlier, Personal Capital is the best FREE resource available for tracking all of your financial accounts, monitoring spending, and tracking your net worth all in one place. But they’re also one of the premier wealth managers today due to their integrated approach built upon a combination of innovative tools and the personal touch of a licensed adviser.

If you already have a sizable portfolio ($100,000 or more), I cannot recommend enough that you take advantage of Personal Capital's free consultation offer to analyze your portfolio. Yes, it’s really free, and if you don’t like the advice you’re given, you can continue to use the Personal Capital Dashboard to monitor your financial picture at no cost. If you’re impressed enough and convinced that Personal Capital will better manage your investment dreams better than they’re currently being managed, it’s also a win, as they will almost undoubtedly reduce your fees and improve your returns.

Get Started Now

Of course, these tools aren’t the only options available to help you overcome your fear of investing. You could visit a local brick-and-mortar adviser, read dozens of investment books for free at the library, or ask one of your connections for his best advice. You could search for the latest robo-adviser to pop up overnight. Any of these options is better than doing nothing, even if they’re incredibly risky.

My point is this: Don’t allow yourself to go another week without taking the steps to crush your fears and start investing in your future. Your family’s future is way too important to allow anything – lack of time, fear of investing, or uncertainty – to stop you from building a secure nest egg. Get started now!

Is fear of investing holding you back from building your dream retirement and threatening your future? These tips will help you overcome and invest wisely! We'll help you overcome 9 reasons you may be delaying investing, look at your current finances and budget, find out how much money you'll need for retirement, and make a solid plan to invest wisely and reach your dream retirement.

Is fear of investing holding you back from building your dream retirement and threatening your future? These tips will help you overcome and invest wisely! We'll help you look at your current finances and budget, find out how much money you'll need for retirement, and make a solid plan to invest wisely and reach your dream retirement.

How to Build A Paver Patio – A Comprehensive Step By Step DIY Guide

When my wife and I bought our current home in May 2013, we were ecstatic. The house was beautiful, even if the landscaping needed some help. We lived with the sad state of the yard for one season and gradually made improvements each month. I resurrected the lawn, tamed the overgrown shrubbery, and even planted a few rose bushes. This was fun, but my mind was on one grand idea from the start: I wanted to build a paver patio. 100% DIY. With my bare hands.

I did my research and learned the project could be very budget friendly if I selected quality, affordable materials and went with a basic design. The techniques seemed simple enough as well, even for someone who isn’t very handy – like me.

A Step-By-Step Guide to Build a Paver Patio

After months of planning, scheming at Menards and Home Depot, and buying several pallets of materials, I got started on my patio project on the first day of summer vacation. If a teacher like me – with modest DIY skills – can build his own paver patio in a matter of days, you can, too. Follow my step by step guide below to build a paver patio and begin enjoying your own backyard oasis this spring.

Step 1: Purchase Tools, Calculate Materials Needed, and Apply For a Permit (if required)

Good news – you won’t need too many tools to build a paver patio. Make a list of the following tools, check out your inventory in the garage, and buy the rest.

Tools List

  1. Garden spade
  2. Garden shovel
  3. Hose
  4. Mist nozzle
  5. Wheelbarrow
  6. Landscaping gloves
  7. Hand tamper
  8. Landscaping stakes
  9. Landscaping string
  10. Tape measure
  11. Level
  12. Rake
  13. Push broom
  14. Sharpie markers
  15. Marking paint (Rustoleum Marking Spray Paint or similar)
  16. Plate compactor (optional – rent locally)
  17. Safety goggles
  18. Landscaping fabric
  19. Landscaping nails
  20. Celebratory beverages of your choice (Summer Shandy worked for me)
  21. Rubber mallett

Materials

  1. Paver stones (*Note: I chose tumbled Belgian pavers for aesthetic reasons.)
  2. 1 inch PVC pipe, cut to length of widest walkway (Quantity will vary – minimum 2 recommended)
  3. Paver base
  4. Paver leveling sand
  5. Paver locking sand
  6. Paver sealant (optional, but highly recommended to preserve your hard work)
  7. Paver edging and/or paver edging stones
  8. 2”x4” wood joist (cut to appropriate length)

Materials Calculation

Full transparency – the materials calculation can be the most difficult part of building your paver patio. I fully recommended visiting your local Home Depot, Menards, Lowes, or other home improvement store to seek out their assistance. Provide a drawing/blueprint of your intended design, and they will be able to help you calculate the number of cubic yards of paver base and leveling sand you require. Calculating the number of paver stones needed will depend heavily on your design. I recommend purchasing an additional 10% over your minimum calculated needs to protect yourself from extra trips when pavers inevitably break or have color inconsistencies.

Guidance on Permits and Dealing with HOAs

A paver patio can transform a boring backyard into an outdoor oasis. Follow this step-by-step guide to build a paver patio in your backyard on any budget.If you live in a non-HOA neighborhood and have an understanding and easy-going local government, congratulations! The rest of us officially hate you, but you’re one lucky guy/gal. Youre ready to build a paver patio, so move on to Step 2!

For the rest of you: my best advice is to be patient. Your HOA and local building department will ask you to jump through hoop after hoop after hoop before they’ll give you a permit. Contact them well in advance of the date you plan to start your project, and play nice with them at every step of the way. You will get your permit if you follow the rules.

Step 2: Choose and Prepare the Area

When I decided to build a paver patio, I had a few possibilities for its location. In the end, I decided to build it adjacent to an existing concrete patio. This choice helped me determine the dimensions of the area which I needed to prepare. With my dimensions decided, I marked the area using a tape measure, landscaping stakes, and line marking spray paint.

PRO TIP: If the area you plan to build upon is currently covered with grass, use your lawn mower to cut the area as short as possible after measuring.

You will need to remove additional grass and soil beyond the eventual boarder of your patio, so be sure to include an additional 12-16” on all sides of the dimensions as you mark them.

Step 3: Remove Grass, Sod, and Soil

A paver patio can transform a boring backyard into an outdoor oasis. Follow this step-by-step guide to build a paver patio in your backyard on any budget.
Hero removing sod and cursing Mother Nature

With your measurements complete and construction area prepped, you are ready to remove the grass and soil. Depending upon your soil type, you may be able to complete this step using hand powered landscaping tools and lots of elbow grease. Using a sharpened garden spade, I recommend removing square foot sections of sod by outlining sections and lifting them individually into your wheel barrow – in my case I also used a trustworthy Red Flyer wagon.

PRO TIP: If you have unusually dry soil or, as in my case, find yourself dealing with rocky and dry clay, run a sprinkler for 30 minutes the evening prior to excavating the grass and soil. It will make it easier to loosen the sod.

With all of the grass/sod removed, you are ready to remove an adequate amount of soil. Depending upon your local building requirements, you may have to remove up to 12” of soil to allow for adequate space for paver base in the next step. Especially if you live in a cold climate, you will want to be sure to provide a base which more than adequately supports your patio.

As your soil allows, aim to remove soil in a manner consistent with the desired grade of your planned patio. Contrary to popular belief, it is usually best to design your patio with a very slight pitch angled away from the foundation of your home to ensure that water runs away from the foundation of your home – a level patio is only desirable in rare circumstances.

Step 4: Add Paver Base

If you purchased bags of paver base, move them into the now excavated area using your wheelbarrow. Dump the base in consistent, even layers throughout the entire area and rake the base to spread it evenly. Periodically pause and use your hand tamper to ensure that the paver base is tight and compact. You will also went to lightly wet the area as you tamp it.

I saved a significant amount of money by using a hand tamper rather than renting a plate compactor, but my forearms and biceps paid dearly for this decision. If you are using a hand tamper, I recommend tamping each square foot of your base approximately 100 times to ensure that your base is firm and secure. Need I remind you about the man who built his house on shifting sands?

PRO TIP: When your base is secure, measure, cut, and place your landscaping fabric over the top of the base. Secure it using landscaping nails. This step is optional, but it will greatly cut down on weed intrusion in the future.

Step 5: Add and Level Paver Sand

Place your pre-cut 1 inch PVC pipes on top of your firmly tamped paver base. Carefully pour leveling sand in between the PVC pipes and on all sides in two to three feet increments. Then place your 2”x4” on the PVC pipes and screed, or drag, the board across the pipes gently to level the paver sand. While you can access the area, gently lift out the PVC pipes, fill and level those voids with leveling sand, and replace the pipes along the path. Continue this process until the entire patio area is covered with paver leveling sand.

Step 6: Place the Paver Stones Individually

Prior to placing your paver stones, pick a corner or side to start in and very lightly mist the paver leveling sand. Begin laying the paver stones according to pattern you designed while being careful not to drag the stones across the leveling sand. Set adjacent paver stones to be snug against neighboring stones. I recommend gently tapping them into place using a rubber mallet.

A paver patio can transform a boring backyard into an outdoor oasis. Follow this step-by-step guide to build a paver patio in your backyard on any budget.If you’re looking to build a paver patio featuring an easy design, a basket weave or herringbone pattern is classic and timeless. These designs are also time-savers, as they don’t require any cutting. I went with a modified basket weave pattern (see picture to the right) to add character. Continue following your design pattern until all stones are in place while ensuring that you lightly sections of leveling sand before continuing. It is also very helpful to have another person hand you stones of varying colors while you complete this step.

When all of your paver stones are in place, step back and be sure that you did not make any errors with your pattern. When you’re ready to move on, add edging stones or other edging materials to ensure that your paver patio retains its shape. Secure them using landscaping nails.

Step 7: Finish the Job!

A paver patio can transform a boring backyard into an outdoor oasis. Follow this step-by-step guide to build a paver patio in your backyard on any budget.When all of your paver stones are in place and edging is completed, you are ready to secure the paver stones in place. Pour a fine layer of paver locking sand on top of your patio and use a push broom to fill all of the gaps between adjacent paver stones. When all of the gaps are filled, gently sweep away excess paver locking sand. Then spray a very, very light mist of water over the patio. The water will activate the paver locking sand and help your patio retains its form.

Repeat the procedure above again when the paver locking sand joints appear to be dry. You may need to perform this step several times until all the gaps are filled. If you’ve rented a plate compactor, gently run the compactor across the patio service. Make a single pass in each direction to uniformly compact the paver stones.

It’s time to bask in glory! Grab a beverage of your choice, pull up a chair, and celebrate. You just built a paver patio!

Step 8: Seal Your Paver Patio

This step is optional but highly recommended if you’ve taken the time to build a paver patio. Using a commercially-available concrete or paver stone sealant will add many years to the life of your paver patio. All products will come with slightly different instructions, and it is best to follow them precisely. I applied my sealant using an all-purpose roller and have since re-applied once each year. Nearly four years later, my paver patio still looks new!

A paver patio can transform a boring backyard into an outdoor oasis. Follow this step-by-step guide to build a paver patio in your backyard on any budget.
The finished paver patio in the FinanceSuperhero outdoor oasis

After you have finished this step, you will want to ornament the patio with soil, small annuals, mulch, and perennials (see above). This extra touch will complete the process of transforming your drab backyard into a new outdoor oasis!

A paver patio can transform a boring backyard into an outdoor oasis. Follow this step-by-step guide to build a paver patio in your backyard on any budget.

Get Started!

Now that you know how easy it is to build a paver patio – even if you have limited DIY skills – it’s time to start planning your project. With the right amount of patience, planning, and preparation, you can transform your boring backyard into an outdoor oasis!


Could your backyard use a face lift? What’s holding you back from building your own paver patio?

The Easy Way to Become Rich

My uncle loves to tell the story of his friend from church. This man was unassuming – he worked a blue-collar job as a machinist in town and remained with that company throughout his entire working career until he retired in his sixties. His wife never worked – they felt it would be more valuable for her to remain home and raise their children. Last year, this old man passed away, and his wife followed just a few months later.  They had been married for more than 50 years and still lived in the tiny home which they had purchased shortly after getting married.   And nobody knew that they had discovered the easy way to become rich.

Is there really an easy way to become rich? The answer is shocking. See what two numbers you should be paying attention to if you want to become wealthy!The machinist and his wife were a model of frugality. They owned only one vehicle and preferred to drive well-maintained used cars. My uncle couldn’t recall a time in which the couple owned a vehicle newer than five years old. A true story-teller, my uncle saved the best for last in the tale of his friend, and what he told me was most-unexpected:

The elderly gentleman and his wife had amassed a nest egg worth over $1 million and willed half of their estate to the church.

You may know a similar couple. I know a few, too, and their secret is simpler than you may think.

THE SHOCKINGLY EASY WAY TO BECOME RICH SLOWLY

In The Millionaire Next Door, the late Thomas Stanley identified the common traits of PAWs, or Prodigious Accumulators of Wealth. My uncle’s friend was a PAW. He spent far less than he earned for several decades, avoided spending money on status symbols, and did not tie up his money in depreciating assets.

Some financial experts say that personal finance is 80 percent behavioral and 20 percent head knowledge. I believe that the simple approach of the machinist illustrates this principle very well. In fact, if we could interview the gentleman today, he would probably attribute his success to common sense, basic arithmetic, and compound interest.

I believe he would also talk about two very important numbers.

THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT NUMBERS TO WINNING WITH MONEY

As my uncle’s friend knew, the biggest elements contributing to financial success are not fees, return on investment, tax savings, or even time in the market. The most important factors are numbers: net income and net expenses.

The easy way to become rich is to increase the difference between these two numbers. Most financial experts call this “the gap.” How you do that is up to you. You can choose to increase your income by seeking a new job, asking for a raise, or starting a profitable side hustle. Or you can cut out wasteful expenses that do little to increase your happiness.

I will always remember the day that I read how simple it is to become wealthy. I calculated that I could retire after working only 22 years if I simply saved 40 percent of my net income. Even better, if I could save 75 percent of my net income I could retire in approximately 7 years. That short and sweet article from Mr. Money Mustache redefined my vision of what a reasonable retirement timetable looked like for me and my wife. Suddenly, working until 65 only seemed acceptable to me if it was by choice.

GROWING MY GAP

Our plan to grow our gap is constantly evolving. My wife and I do not yet have children, so our current plan is focused on growing our income as much as possible. We both are full-time public school music teachers. After school, my wife teaches piano, flute, and voice lessons in her private music studio. She built her business from the ground up. I am a realtor 24/7 and 365. Sometimes that means I work early hours before school, during my lunch break, in the few spare seconds that most teachers run to the restroom, and all other hours that my clients need me. Somewhere in between, I make time to write 2-3 articles per week on this site. My wife and I do all of this because we sincerely love helping other people grow and find solutions to their problems.

Maybe increasing your income is the best way for you to grow your gap. Maybe you’re wasting money buying things that you don’t really want to impress people you don’t even like. If you’re married, maybe you and your spouse aren’t on the same page financially speaking. In that case, a zero-based budget may be exactly what you need to turn the corner and begin saving more money.

GROW YOUR GAP

Is there really an easy way to become rich? The answer is shocking. See what two numbers you should be paying attention to if you want to become wealthy!By now, I hope you believe that the shockingly easy way to become rich isn’t so shocking after all. It is largely built upon common sense. The problem is that everything in today’s world flies in the face of common sense. We are constantly told to spend more, live for today, and seize the moment. This is one of the biggest lies marketers have ever gotten away with telling – they have softened our sensibilities and led us to believe that we’ll always find a way to make it all work as long as we can pay our minimum payments.

The only way to become wealthy and live the life you desperately desire is to drown out the noise, roll up your sleeves, and get to work. Imagine what life would be like if you had no debt? What if you had a paid-for home? What if you had six months of living expenses in the bank? What if you never needed to trade your time for money ever again?

Those are the questions that keep me motivated on the tough days.

What motivates you?

RECOMMENDED TOOLS TO MONITOR AND GROW YOUR GAP

Personal Capital is the best tool to keep track of all of your liabilities (debts) and assets in one central location. With a few clicks, you can monitor your net worth picture and also dive into specific performance of your investments. I check my account a few times each week using the Personal Capital app. You can sign up for FREE using this link!

Today’s technological advances have made investing easier than ever before. Betterment is better than your average robo-adviser. Whether you are a beginning investor or a seasoned do-it-yourself-investor, Betterment can help you achieve optimal returns based on your risk preferences. Through a combination of lower fees, smarter behavior, diversification, and automated rebalancing, Betterment can help your out earn the typical DIY investor by 2.9%. You can roll over an existing 401k or IRA or open a new IRA in minutes.

My favorite tool to grow the gap, Digit, isn’t an investing tool and it alone won’t make you rich. But its algorithms will transfer money from your checking account to a Digit savings account and ensure that you don’t have easy opportunities to waste money. You can pause savings and transfer money back to your checking account at any time. Sign up for free here.

And if you’re looking to increase your income, consider driving for Uber. My friend is a school band teacher and earns a good salary. He takes advantage of his spare evenings and weekends and drives for Uber. He meets interesting people and often earns over $500 per week. If you enjoy driving and want to tap into the unlimited earning potential of Uber, Uber.


Readers, is there really an easy way to become rich? Have you identified your current gap, or difference between net income and expenses? What is your plan to grow your gap?

9 Things Your Realtor Won’t Tell You – But I Will!

According to the National Association of Realtors, there are approximately 2 million active real estate professionals in the United States. Real estate is a multi-billion dollar business, and buying a home is an important transaction. The pressure understandably gives pause to both buyers and sellers. In fact, a reported 68% of Americans surveyed do not trust their realtor, according to a 2013 survey by Choice Home Warranty.  Why? The average buyer or seller has been led to believe that there are things your realtor won’t tell you.

While this is somewhat true – for example, there are certain things that your realtor cannot legally tell you – your typical realtor is an honest, hard-working individual who is trained and committed to look out for their client’s best interests. In fact, in any real estate transaction, a realtor is responsible to provide superior service by following the Code of Ethics. The Code, as it is often called, requires the following:

  • Realtors must promote their clients’ interests while treating all parties fairly
  • Realtors must not discriminate based upon race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, or sexual orientation
  • Realtors must remain truthful in all advertising and marketing, including when listing a home for sale

There are things your realtor won't tell you - even if you have a great one! These home buying and selling tips will help you have a smooth transaction.

SPILLING THE TRUTH – The Top 9 Things Your Realtor Won’t Tell You

The Code has done wonders to tame the previous Wild-Wild-West nature of real estate, but as previous statistics showed, people still have their doubts. Can you really trust your realtor? Or is he or she just looking to collect a commission check and head for the hills?

As a part-time realtor who loves serving buyers, sellers, and renters, I will outline 9 things your realtor won’t tell you – but I will!

1. You Should Interview Your Realtor

Before you choose a realtor, whether as a buyer or seller, It is important to know the following about a realtor:

  • How many buyers and sellers with which they typically work at a given time
  • Whether they work as a part of a team
  • How well they personally know and understand the areas you have targeted (if you’re a buyer)

To be transparent, no realtor wants to be interviewed by their potential clients! It can be intimidating and even feel a bit unnatural, but it is vital to ask the right questions. The purchase or sale of a home is one of the largest financial transactions you will ever make, and it is important to have a knowledgeable, committed, and available adviser in your corner.

2. Zillow Is Actually Useful

Inevitably, if you gather a group of realtors together, it’s only a matter of time before they start complaining about clients who rely on Zillow as if it were The Gospel. Truthfully, though most realtors tend to pour out hate on Zillow, it can be helpful.

For example, when I begin working with a buyer who has spent time searching on Zillow, I know that they have likely developed an idea of what they are looking for in a new home. By looking at hundreds of homes and thousands of pictures, it becomes easier to create a wish list, even if it may not be 100% realistic at this stage.

Zillow is also a good tool for casual buyers who are just interested in window shopping. However, Zillow data should not be trusted in most cases. It is often outdated (in some cases by nearly two weeks), inaccurate, and sometimes hilarious, as any realtor who has viewed an absurd “Zestimate” can tell you.

So keep using Zillow for window shopping, but when you get serious about buying, don’t bother. The data your agent pulls from the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) is the only data you can trust.

3. Pre-approval Is Everything

If you’re a buyer and one of the first questions your agent asks is “Do you have pre-approval?” you have found yourself a winner! By asking this question, your agent is protecting his time and best interests, but he is also doing the same for you.

Written and signed notice of pre-approval from your lender is must if you want to be taken seriously, especially in a hot market. Without pre-approval in place, you could waste your time viewing homes which you cannot afford, find a home only to have another buyer’s offer accepted because they were pre-approved and you were not, or worse – you could discover that your credit history or debt to income ratio makes you ineligible for a mortgage!

Before you seek pre-approval, it is important to review your credit history. I recommend that you pull a free credit report to be sure no surprises or errors ruin your chances for a timely pre-approval. I recommend MyFreeScoreNow.com for this purpose, and they are – you guessed it – FREE!

Your 2017 Credit Score May Have Changed. See Your FREE Credit Score – $0 from MyFreeScoreNow.com. Sign up Now!

When you are ready to seek pre-approval, it is advisable to gather multiple quotes from a variety of lenders. Don’t worry – this will not damage your credit! I recommend Lending Tree as an option for my buyers because they provide personalized rates with a variety of options to meet a buyer’s lending needs. They have facilitated over 55 million loan requests, and they work quickly to get buyers pre-approved.

I have also had buyers who had good luck with SoFi. If you have good credit (700+ credit score), you may be able to save money with them. Contrary to what many realtors will tell you, SoFi works with buyers who have down payments as small as 10%.

4. This isn’t HGTV – it’s Real Life!

Touring a home like people do on HGTV doesn’t cut it. Most of those people are actors! Even if they’re not pros, they are being coached to say certain things and ask certain questions.

I like HGTV as much as anyone, but you must remember that it is all about entertainment value. When you are a serious buyer, you aren’t looking at houses to be entertained – this is important, so act like it!

Open closets and cupboards, check out the unfinished basement and look for cracks, and go walk around the yard. You’re not a professional home inspector, but you can save yourself a lot of stress, heartache, and money if you perform a DIY mini-home inspection prior to the true inspection.

5. You Can Request Multiple Showings of a Home

Yes, it is true: you can ask to see a home a second, third, or fourth, time. And, yes, it is equally true: your agent won’t like this. But you should do it if you’re at all on the fence. The additional 15-30 minutes of time are worthwhile for everyone, so don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and tell your realtor what you want.

Among the things your realtor won’t tell you, this item is fairly inconsequential, but it is good to know that you’re not out of line in this request.

6. There Are No Stupid Questions

In real estate and in life, there are no stupid questions – other than the ones you don’t ask.

In short: ASK QUESTIONS! Your realtor is an expert on the home buying and selling processes. If you don’t ask questions, you won’t receive the best possible service.

No, realtors don’t always have all of the answers. If you are asking good questions, most of the time we will have to get back to you.

7. You Will Learn As You Go

The process of buying a home is a learning experience. While you should determine needs vs. wants before your first home tour, we know that you will probably still be feeling out this process during the first several tours. It is a good practice to keep a check list of features that you desire and review it while touring homes.

8. It’s OK to Buy the First House You See – Sometimes

A good buyer agent shouldn’t push you into a quick offer, but if the home meets your expectations, is priced right, and is in a hot market with lots of competition, you should move fast.

Our team hates to see clients walk into the house of their dreams and decide to “wait it out” for more options because it often leads to disappointment. It happens far too often all because buyers haven’t reached a point of emotional readiness needed to buy.

9. Your Attorney is More Important Than Your Realtor

In most states, your attorney is more important than your realtor. While your realtor is there to advise your search process, complete offers using fillable form contracts provided by their local professional associations, and negotiate on your behalf, your attorney holds far more power. He or she is your last line of defense in protecting your legal options, modifying transaction documents, and in some cases, facilitating the closing process.

Your realtor is always happy to recommend a quality attorney who will facilitate a smooth closing, but virtually any experienced real estate attorney would be a wise choice.

YOUR NEXT MOVE

If you’re planning to buy or sell a home, you need a committed, available, and connected realtor on your side. With nearly 2 million real estate professionals currently working in the United States, you’re sure to have your choice among many quality realtors. With pre-approval in hand and in the guidance of a good realtor, the home search can be a pleasant process.

Throughout the process of hiring a realtor and buying or selling, put your trust in your realtor. Though there are things your realtor won’t tell you, he or she has your best interests in mind and wants to make the process as smooth as possible.


Readers, do you have a realtor you can trust? Have you had any poor experiences with a realtor?

Make the Most of Your Tax Refund in 2017

Tax refund. Next to the words “pay day” and “debt free,” these are my two favorite finance-related words. Whether my annual tax refund is a modest sum or a mid-size windfall, I am always happy to see my refund directly-deposited into my checking account. Once you know it is on its way, knowing how to make the most of your tax refund can be a daunting task.

Still haven’t submitted your 2016 tax returns? If you have a simple return, such as a 1040-EZ, I recommend completing your simple return with E-File.com today. You can complete your Federal return for FREE and receive free support along the way. And FinanceSuperhero readers can receive a discount on state returns by using this link – $6 Off State Filings With Coupon Code “6OFFSTATE”.

If you’re planning to complete a 1040A or require additional schedules, the team at Liberty Tax has local offices in your area to help you every step of the way. Other tax preparation services come and go, but LibertyTax has been helping people file their taxes the easy way since 1997.

Receiving a tax refund is a great opportunity to improve your financial outlook. Follow these 9 pro tips to make the most of your tax refund in 2017!

The FinanceSuperhero Guide to Taxes – Make the Most of Your Tax Refund

Assuming you have a tax refund coming your way, you could be on the verge of changing your financial picture.  With great opportunity comes great responsibility! The following advice will help you to make the most of your tax refund and make significant progress on your financial journey. I recommend following the steps in numerical order.

1. Give a Portion of Your Tax Refund to a Charitable Organization

Longtime readers will not be surprised that I am suggesting giving as the first step to make the most of your tax refund. As previously mentioned, Mrs. Superhero and I have placed Giving at the top of our monthly budget. Giving aligns with our values, and helping others provides us with much more satisfaction and enjoyment than buying more stuff or eating delicious food.

I strongly believe that giving 10% is the best way that we can make a charitable contribution prior to reaching financial independence (at which time we will significantly increase our giving). We have always done this, dating back to the time when we faced a mountain of debt, and we continue to do so today, even though we are only a few months away from carrying no debt other than our mortgage.

Why? As I mentioned, we believe helping others is both a calling and the most satisfying use of our money. Giving is also a strong reminder that money is not something to be hoarded out of greed. We want to value money and practice good stewardship, but we also want to remain far removed from the love of money.

Many people reject giving in favor of keeping their money strictly to themselves. Ironically, it is usually these same people who senselessly give their money to big banks and other financiers in the form of outlandish interest payments on cars, boats, and other stuff.

Personally, I would rather give in a meaningful way. Even if you give 1% of your tax refund, you will help others and begin to change the way you view money.

2. Increase Your Savings and/or Emergency Fund

When looking to make the most of your tax return, simply saving money can be a wise choice.
When looking to make the most of your tax return, simply saving money can be a wise choice.

After supporting societal progress by giving, use your tax refund proceeds to improve your liquid savings. Unless you are an extremely high income earner or have a stable passive income stream, you absolutely must have an Emergency Fund. If you do not have one, consider this a full-blown, alarm-sounding crisis that must be addressed immediately! Statistically-speaking, there is close to a 100% chance that you will experience some form of an emergency within the next decade, so be ready!

While I recommend maintaining an Emergency Fund of at least 3-6 months of minimum living expenses, you may also wish to establish an additional Opportunity Fund. I do not specifically recommend amounts or figures for this fund, and you may wish to skip it entirely in favor of moving onto Step 3. However, an Opportunity Fund could allow you to make a fun, somewhat impulsive decision without any accompanying feelings of guilt or regret.

3. Get out of Debt – Once and For All!

After you have given and increased your security via your Emergency Fund, you are fully-prepared to take on the primary barrier standing in the way of Financial Independence: Debt.

The sooner you eliminate your non-mortgage debts, the sooner you free a significant portion of your monthly income and simultaneously gain the freedom to invest in tax-advantaged retirement accounts. Both the Snowball and Avalanche methods are valid means to achieve debt freedom. For the purposes of this post, I am less-concerned with the method you implement to eliminate your debt; just get it done. You may get the push you need if you make the most of your tax refund in this way!

4. Invest in Tax-Advantaged Investments

The real fun begins when you no longer have non-mortgage debt. If you are free from the shackles of debt, the next optimal use for your tax refund is to maximize your retirement contributions. For the purposes of this limited space, ensure you are maximizing employer-offered plans, specifically if they offer a match, and then move onto your Roth IRA.

Want to make the most of your tax refund? Opening an IRA or taxable brokerage account with Betterment is a smart way to maximize the impact of your refund.
Betterment returns vs. US Market and Typical Investor Returns (Credit: Betterment)

If you’re looking for an easy to use platform for investing, Fundrise offers real estate investment options with low financial barriers for entry.. Their Tax-Coordinated Portfolio works to maximize your earnings and minimize tax burdens across all types of accounts, including taxable accounts, Roth IRAs, and traditional IRAs. It is simple to sign-up or rollover an account, select a portfolio of ETFs, and be on your way toward earning better returns right away.

Compared to other platforms, the Betterment portfolio is designed to achieve optimal returns at every level of risk. Through diversification, automated rebalancing, better behavior, and lower fees, the Betterment approach to investing can help you generate 2.9% higher returns than a typical DIY investor.

Make the most of your tax refund and start investing with Betterment by signing up today!

5. Contribute to Your Children’s College Funds

If you do not have children, skip ahead to Step 6. If you have children, you need to learn the nuances of the Coverdell ESA (Education Savings Account, also nicknamed the Education IRA) and 429 plan. The ESA has income and contribution limits (currently $2,000 per year), but I recommend you start with the ESA in most circumstances, if eligible.

The important thing to understand is that minimal contributions to these vehicles will place you in a position to send your children to college without the burden of student loans if you begin early.

Related PostEscape From Student Loans: How Two Educators Paid Off $17,831.65 in 54 Days

6. Destroy Your Mortgage Debt

Pause with me for a moment and imagine a life without a mortgage payment. If you can’t image it, check out the FREE E-book, How to Hack Your Mortgage and Save Thousands, written by my friend Andrew at FamilyMoneyPlan. This is the plan he and his wife used to wipe out their $320,000 mortgage in 6 years.

What could you do with an extra $1,000 per month? $2,500? $5,000? I just felt an overwhelming sense of excitement  and peace typing these words. The next time I visit my doctor and have my blood-pressure checked, I am going to visualize the wonders of a mortgage-free life to improve my numbers.

For the average family, mortgage interest represents the second-largest expense that they will pay in their entire lifetime. In some cases, total mortgage interest paid on a 30 year mortgage can be approximately 75-80% of total principal, even at today’s advantageous interest rates! Make the most of your tax refund to accomplish progress on an annual basis and you could shave several years off your mortgage, especially if you are already paying extra on principal on a monthly basis.

7. Invest in Non-Retirement Funds and/or Real Estate

If you have made it to Step 7, please allow me to offer my congratulations. With no debt whatsoever, healthy savings, and kids’ college covered, you are poised to generate significant wealth. At this stage, you may have achieved Financial Independence, depending upon your lifestyle.

I recommend using tax refund money to invest in simple index funds at this stage. A modest tax refund sum is enough to get you started with many index funds. Adopt a long-term approach, relax, and watch your money grow.

Similarly, this is the time to invest in real estate, if interested. Becoming a landlord isn’t for everyone, and paying a property manager could eat into your net profit from owning a rental property. However, a rental property can yield some of the highest annual investment returns if managed well and purchased at prices below market value.

Want to make the most of your tax refund? Investing in real estate with Fundrise is an exciting option for investors in 2017.Fortunately, today’s investors can invest in real estate without the hassle of becoming a landlord or hiring a property manager. Fundrise offers real estate investment options with low entry costs.. As of February 2017, they offer three eREITs for new investors: the West Cost eREIT, the Heartland eREIT, and the East Cost eREIT. It is amazing that technology has brought common investors like you and me the opportunity to invest in multi-million dollar buildings half way around the country!

Even if you’re on the fence about real estate investing or just not quite ready to dip your toe in the water, I recommend signing-up with Fundrise today – it is 100% FREE, with no obligation, and in doing so, you’ll position yourself to learn more and possibly avoid wait lists.

8. Improve the Value of Your Primary Home

At this stage, true fun begins. When you are financially well-poised for the future, a tax refund represents an opportunity to both invest and add joy to your life simultaneously. This is the time to make improvements around your home which increase your happiness and feature a high return on investment.

Good Investments: new front door, landscaping, deck or patio, kitchen or bath remodel, walkway lighting

Bad Investments: swimming pools, utility sheds

9. Build Sinking Funds for Bucket List Items

Last, but not least, comes additional saving for specific purchases. If you make it down to Step 9 when determining how to implement your tax refund, you are an authentic Superhero. I recommend establishing separate sinking funds for a variety of priorities, such as vacations, new car purchases, secondary homes, or major home additions.

The purpose of a sinking fund is to plan for future purchases which are far off in the future. At this stage, you do not want to be fooled into getting back into debt or be caught off guard by large, necessary expenses. With a sinking fund, you won’t be financially caught off guard when your house needs a new roof, your furnace fails, or your vehicle sputters and dies.

Are You Ready to Make the Most of Your Tax Refund?

A tax refund is a great opportunity to get ahead in your finances. I am confident that you will not fail to cover all of your bases by following these steps. Depending upon where you are in your journey toward Restoring Order to Your World of Finances, you may wish to skip steps or modify the order. For example, renters may wish to place saving for a home down payment in the Steps.

If you haven’t yet filed your 2016 tax returns, be sure to check out E-File.com or LibertyTax today. Either way, careful consideration of your circumstances will put you on the path to make the most of your tax refund this year!


Readers, did you receive a tax refund this year? Are you currently awaiting a refund? How do you plan to make the most of your tax refund?

How to Make the Most of Your Tax Refund

Tax refund: Next to the words “pay day” and “debt free,” these are my two favorite finance-related words. Whether my annual tax refund is a modest sum or a mid-size windfall, I am always happy to see my refund directly-deposited into my checking account. Admittedly, knowing how to make the most of your tax refund can be a daunting task.

Still haven’t submitted your 2016 tax returns? If you have a simple return, such as a 1040-EZ, I recommend completing your simple return with E-File.com today. You can complete your Federal return for FREE and receive free support along the way. And FinanceSuperhero readers can receive a discount on state returns by using this link – $6 Off State Filings With Coupon Code “6OFFSTATE”.

If you’re planning to complete a 1040A or require additional schedules, the team at Liberty Tax has local offices in your area to help you every step of the way. Other tax preparation services come and go, but LibertyTax has been helping people file their taxes the easy way since 1997.

Receiving a tax refund is a great opportunity to improve your financial outlook. Follow these 9 pro tips to make the most of your tax refund!

The FinanceSuperhero Guide to Making the Most of Your Tax Refund

Assuming you have a tax refund coming your way, you could be on the verge of changing your financial picture.  With great opportunity comes great responsibility! The following advice will help you to make the most of your tax refund and make significant progress on your financial journey. I recommend following the steps in numerical order.

1. Give a Portion of Your Tax Refund to a Charitable Organization

Longtime readers will not be surprised that I am suggesting giving as the first step to make the most of your tax refund. As previously mentioned, Mrs. Superhero and I have placed Giving at the top of our monthly budget. Giving aligns with our values, and helping others provides us with much more satisfaction and enjoyment than buying more stuff or eating delicious food.

I strongly believe that giving 10% is the best way that we can make a charitable contribution prior to reaching financial independence (at which time we will significantly increase our giving). We have always done this, dating back to the time when we faced a mountain of debt, and we continue to do so today, even though we are only a few months away from carrying no debt other than our mortgage.

Why? As I mentioned, we believe helping others is both a calling and the most satisfying use of our money. Giving is also a strong reminder that money is not something to be hoarded out of greed. We want to value money and practice good stewardship, but we also want to remain far removed from the love of money.

Many people reject giving in favor of keeping their money strictly to themselves. Ironically, it is usually these same people who senselessly give their money to big banks and other financiers in the form of outlandish interest payments on cars, boats, and other stuff.

Personally, I would rather give in a meaningful way. Even if you give 1% of your tax refund, you will help others and begin to change the way you view money.

2. Increase Your Savings and/or Emergency Fund

When looking to make the most of your tax return, simply saving money can be a wise choice.
When looking to make the most of your tax return, simply saving money can be a wise choice.

After supporting societal progress by giving, use your tax refund proceeds to improve your liquid savings. Unless you are an extremely high income earner or have a stable passive income stream, you absolutely must have an Emergency Fund. If you do not have one, consider this a full-blown, alarm-sounding crisis that must be addressed immediately! Statistically-speaking, there is close to a 100% chance that you will experience some form of an emergency within the next decade, so be ready!

While I recommend maintaining an Emergency Fund of at least 3-6 months of minimum living expenses, you may also wish to establish an additional Opportunity Fund. I do not specifically recommend amounts or figures for this fund, and you may wish to skip it entirely in favor of moving onto Step 3. However, an Opportunity Fund could allow you to make a fun, somewhat impulsive decision without any accompanying feelings of guilt or regret.

3. Get out of Debt – Once and For All!

After you have given and increased your security via your Emergency Fund, you are fully-prepared to take on the primary barrier standing in the way of Financial Independence: Debt.

The sooner you eliminate your non-mortgage debts, the sooner you free a significant portion of your monthly income and simultaneously gain the freedom to invest in tax-advantaged retirement accounts. Both the Snowball and Avalanche methods are valid means to achieve debt freedom. For the purposes of this post, I am less-concerned with the method you implement to eliminate your debt; just get it done. You may get the push you need if you make the most of your tax refund in this way!

 

4. Invest in Tax-Advantaged Investments

The real fun begins when you no longer have non-mortgage debt. If you are free from the shackles of debt, the next optimal use for your tax refund is to maximize your retirement contributions. For the purposes of this limited space, ensure you are maximizing employer-offered plans, specifically if they offer a match, and then move onto your Roth IRA.

Want to make the most of your tax refund? Opening an IRA or taxable brokerage account with Betterment is a smart way to maximize the impact of your refund.
Betterment returns vs. US Market and Typical Investor Returns (Credit: Betterment)

If you’re looking for an easy to use platform for investing, Betterment could be the solution for you. Their Tax-Coordinated Portfolio works to maximize your earnings and minimize tax burdens across all types of accounts, including taxable accounts, Roth IRAs, and traditional IRAs. It is simple to sign-up or rollover an account, select a portfolio of ETFs, and be on your way toward earning better returns right away.

Compared to other platforms, the Betterment portfolio is designed to achieve optimal returns at every level of risk. Through diversification, automated rebalancing, better behavior, and lower fees, the Betterment approach to investing can help you generate 2.9% higher returns than a typical DIY investor.

Make the most of your tax refund and start investing with Betterment by signing up today!

5. Contribute to Your Children’s College Funds

If you do not have children, skip ahead to Step 6. If you have children, you need to learn the nuances of the Coverdell ESA (Education Savings Account, also nicknamed the Education IRA) and 429 plan. The ESA has income and contribution limits (currently $2,000 per year), but I recommend you start with the ESA in most circumstances, if eligible.

The important thing to understand is that minimal contributions to these vehicles will place you in a position to send your children to college without the burden of student loans if you begin early.

Related PostEscape From Student Loans: How Two Educators Paid Off $17,831.65 in 54 Days

6. Destroy Your Mortgage Debt

Pause with me for a moment and imagine a life without a mortgage payment. If you can’t imagine it, check out the FREE E-book, How to Hack Your Mortgage and Save Thousands, written by my friend Andrew at FamilyMoneyPlan. This is the plan he and his wife used to wipe out their $320,000 mortgage in 6 years.

What could you do with an extra $1,000 per month? $2,500? $5,000? I just felt an overwhelming sense of excitement  and peace typing these words. The next time I visit my doctor and have my blood-pressure checked, I am going to visualize the wonders of a mortgage-free life to improve my numbers.

For the average family, mortgage interest represents the second-largest expense that they will pay in their entire lifetime. In some cases, total mortgage interest paid on a 30 year mortgage can be approximately 75-80% of total principal, even at today’s advantageous interest rates! Make the most of your tax refund to accomplish progress on an annual basis and you could shave several years off your mortgage, especially if you are already paying extra on principal on a monthly basis.

7. Invest in Non-Retirement Funds and/or Real Estate

If you have made it to Step 7, please allow me to offer my congratulations. With no debt whatsoever, healthy savings, and kids’ college covered, you are poised to generate significant wealth. At this stage, you may have achieved Financial Independence, depending upon your lifestyle.

I recommend using tax refund money to invest in simple index funds at this stage. A modest tax refund sum is enough to get you started with many index funds. Adopt a long-term approach, relax, and watch your money grow.

Similarly, this is the time to invest in real estate, if interested. Becoming a landlord isn’t for everyone, and paying a property manager could eat into your net profit from owning a rental property. However, a rental property can yield some of the highest annual investment returns if managed well and purchased at prices below market value.

Want to make the most of your tax refund? Investing in real estate with Fundrise is an exciting option for investors in 2017.Fortunately, today’s investors can invest in real estate without the hassle of becoming a landlord or hiring a property manager. Fundrise offers real estate investment options with low entry costs.. As of February 2017, they offer three eREITs for new investors: the West Cost eREIT, the Heartland eREIT, and the East Cost eREIT. It is amazing that technology has brought common investors like you and me the opportunity to invest in multi-million dollar buildings half way around the country!

Even if you’re on the fence about real estate investing or just not quite ready to dip your toe in the water, I recommend signing-up with Fundrise today – it is 100% FREE, with no obligation, and in doing so, you’ll position yourself to learn more and possibly avoid wait lists.

8. Improve the Value of Your Primary Home

At this stage, true fun begins. When you are financially well-poised for the future, a tax refund represents an opportunity to both invest and add joy to your life simultaneously. This is the time to make improvements around your home which increase your happiness and feature a high return on investment.

Good Investments: new front door, landscaping, deck or patio, kitchen or bath remodel, walkway lighting

Bad Investments: swimming pools, utility sheds

9. Build Sinking Funds for Bucket List Items

Last, but not least, comes additional saving for specific purchases. If you make it down to Step 9 when determining how to implement your tax refund, you are an authentic Superhero. I recommend establishing separate sinking funds for a variety of priorities, such as vacations, new car purchases, secondary homes, or major home additions.

The purpose of a sinking fund is to plan for future purchases which are far off in the future. At this stage, you do not want to be fooled into getting back into debt or be caught off guard by large, necessary expenses. With a sinking fund, you won’t be financially caught off guard when your house needs a new roof, your furnace fails, or your vehicle sputters and dies.

Are You Ready to Make the Most of Your Tax Refund?

A tax refund is a great opportunity to get ahead in your finances. I am confident that you will not fail to cover all of your bases by following these steps. Depending upon where you are in your journey toward Restoring Order to Your World of Finances, you may wish to skip steps or modify the order. For example, renters may wish to place saving for a home down payment in the Steps.

If you haven’t yet filed your 2016 tax returns, be sure to check out E-File.com or LibertyTax today. Either way, careful consideration of your circumstances will put you on the path to make the most of your tax refund this year!

 

Note: This post was last updated on February 14, 2017.


Readers, did you receive a tax refund this year? Are you currently awaiting a refund? How do you plan to make the most of your tax refund?

13 Simple DIY Home Inspection Tips

In today’s internet-driven world, home buyers have become more savvy than previous generations. Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, and a dozen or so other websites have made the process of window shopping for homes much easier. Pictures, virtual tours, and a wealth of data are available with the click of a mouse. And the average buyer can net plenty of experience living vicariously through other buyers’ experiences as showcased on the DIY Network and HGTV. Shows like Holmes Inspection have even inspired buyers to conduct their own DIY home inspection.

Yet the average realtor, myself included, can share countless stories of buyers who look at all of the wrong things when touring a home the first (or second . . . or even third!) time. I have had clients tell me that they were not interested in a home due to objections over carpet, basic landscaping, and even paint color. Other clients have happily fallen in love with homes once they mark off the “non-negotiables” on their list: granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances, and an open concept. I understand exactly what it must be like to host House Hunters or Property Virgins.

No home buyer should skip a professional home inspection. But you can save time and money by following these 13 DIY home inspection tips ahead of time.As a realtor, I am bound by a code of ethics which was designed long ago to protect consumers. I do my best to educate them regarding what to look for when touring a home, and I am quick to point out both obvious and subtle defects, as well as signs of possible latent defects. Most realtors who wish to protect their clients will do the same, especially if they want to keep a job long-term. However, not all realtors are so honest, as selling you a home as quickly as possible may determine whether or not they are able to pay their mortgage premium next month.

For the buyer who is represented by this kind of realtor, the process often goes something like this:

-Tour home, fall in love with aesthetic properties, develop emotional attachment to the home.
-Discuss pricing and comparable sales, make an offer, conclude negotiations and sign the contract.
-Schedule a home inspection with a professional home inspector.
-Begin picking out furniture, paint colors, carpet, etc., for the new home.
-Attend (sometimes) the home inspection with inspector, discover a lengthy list of problems which must be addressed.
-Enter state of sadness/depression/panic, question why the realtor did not notice or disclose all of the problems diagnosed by the home inspector.
-Either A) negotiate with the seller regarding necessary repairs or price concessions or B) cancel the transaction.

Sometimes the process goes much more smoothly. Sometimes it goes much, much worse, especially if the home buyers foolishly opt to skip a professional home inspection.

Avoid Home Buying Heartbreak and Hassle: Perform a DIY Home Inspection

In any real estate transaction, the most critical parties are typically the home inspector and the attorneys. As a buyer, they are your last lines of legal defense; they serve to protect you from danger and hours of stress and hassle.

To be clear, I would never, ever recommend that a client skip out on an independent, third-party, professional home inspection, even when buying a brand-new home through a builder. With that said, I believe a prospective buyer can save himself a great deal of time and money by looking out for the following problems and defects in advance of the home inspection by performing a DIY home inspection during a home tour.

The following DIY home inspection tips are not an exhaustive list. They may not apply to every home and location, and should be considered on a case by case basis. Again, do not skip a professional, independent home inspection in an effort to save money!

1. Take in the big picture

When Mrs. Superhero and I were searching for our first home, I was still a real estate amateur. We fell in love with a home which we had toured on a weeknight in February, so it was naturally dark during our tour. When we arrived for the inspection a week later, we met the inspector at the edge of the driveway. After introducing himself, the inspector said, “So, you know you’ll need a brand new roof ASAP, right?” Ouch.

Examining the full exterior of the home during daylight hours is an easy DIY home inspection tip. Look for damage to the roof (missing shingles, bowed eaves, rotting soffits, missing gutters), siding (missing or damaged shingles, encroaching landscaping), and the entire yard. Do not neglect to examine the same components in the garage, whether it is attached or detached. Also, examine the driveway for large cracks, potholes, etc. Note concerns on a checklist and document them with pictures on your phone or camera so you can address them during a possible future home inspection.

2. Test the garage door

It can be a bit uncomfortable to operate a garage door which does not belong to you, but this is an easy check that everyone should perform unless explicitly instructed not to do so by your realtor or the homeowner. Yes, your inspector will check it, too, but it is wise to check for problems yourself.

3. Open and close all interior and exterior doors

During your tour, you are naturally going to enter and exit all rooms in the home. While you’re doing so, opening and closing all doors is a simple step that some home inspectors may overlook from time to time. If you catch a malfunctioning door which requires re-hanging, you may save yourself money at the closing table.

4. Inspect the furnace, air conditioner, and water heater

When examining these items, look for evidence of maintenance dates on the exterior of the appliances. Inspect for any signs of leaking or irregular noises. If the furnace or air conditioner are not running during your tour, it is usually acceptable to temporarily adjust the thermostat to evaluate their level of functioning. Note: Do not attempt to turn on an air conditioner unit during the winter.

5. Examine all ceilings and walls for water damage

Admittedly, looking for water damage may be one of the toughest DIY home inspection tasks on this list. However, savvy homeowners are becoming increasingly skilled at hiding signs of water damage rather than rectifying the underlying problems. Any signs of discoloration, sagging, or unexplained lines near joints where dry wall may have been taped should be noted and addressed with the home inspector.

6. Check out the basement

More and more homeowners are searching for basements, in my experience. Yet many of them don’t check out the basement when touring a home if they learn that it is unfinished. You should examine the foundation for any major structural concerns, such as cracks, as well as examine the basement ceiling for obvious issues. If a basement is finished, you should ask your realtor to inquire as to whether the work was performed with permits. This may seem like no big deal to many people, but depending upon your city or village ordinances, a buyer could be on the hook for any un-permitted mechanical, electrical, structural, or plumbing work completed without a permit.

7. Examine the grade around all exterior walls

In the past five years, flooding has occurred in all 50 states, according to FloodSmart.gov. This cannot always be prevented, yet many home floods are caused by improper grading around a home’s exterior. Examine exterior walls to ensure that the soil is graded in an appropriate manner (slopes downward away from the home). Also ensure that downspouts are adequately extended away from the home’s foundation.

8. Test all light switches

This is an easy DIY home inspection item to cross off your list, and you’ll be glad to know if any light switches are wired improperly.

9. Inspect windows for signs of moisture

If you see fogging or condensation on windows, this is a sign that the windows may require replacement or repair. These items can be very costly, so you will want to be sure that your home inspector addresses them in his report.

10. Test all sinks and toilets

Invariably, home buyers feel uncomfortable evaluating the function of sinks and toilets. When you’re preparing to make arguably the largest purchase of your lifetime, pushing past some discomfort is a must! Begin by running all sinks individually for 3-4 minutes; this will reveal any draining problems. Also, check under vanities to ensure that drains are properly vented. Lastly, flush toilets in all washrooms while the sink is still running and listen for any odd sounds in the plumbing.

11. Evaluate Your Surroundings

I have heard countless horror stories from buyers who fell in love with a home only to face some harsh realities on moving day. One buyer discovered unappealing power lines running through their side yard. Another buyer shared that they hadn’t noticed a large water tower in their backyard because it had been digitally removed from all marketing photos online. And another buyer did not notice that a train ran right behind their backyard and shook the entire house several times a day. Be on the lookout for these unsightly hazards and more!

12. Visit Local Schools

While the value of a professional home inspector cannot be emphasized enough, buyers must inspect local schools themselves. Do not simply rely on reputation, recommendations from well-meaning friends, or scores from third party websites. Review state report cards, attend a school board meeting, and arrange for a brief tour of the school. In most areas, your property taxes largely go toward funding local public schools, so you want to be sure your investment is worthwhile.

13. Talk to Potential Neighbors

During your examination of the home’s exterior and yard, aim to strike up a conversation with your potential neighbors if they are also outdoors. Ask about their impressions of the neighborhood, schools, and neighborhood and community amenities. If you’re feeling brave, ask, “Would you buy your home again today if you were given the chance to do so?” Any major red flags revealed during this conversation may lead you to reconsider the home purchase (or seek a closing credit to build a bigger fence!).

Don’t Take the Home Buying Process Lightly!

For most people, a home is the largest purchase they will ever make. Do not enter into such an important decision without careful consideration of the condition of your potential new home! Review your notes from you DIY home inspection and compare them to the report provided by your professional home inspector. With careful consideration, you will avoid hassle and heartbreak and find the home of your dreams.


What additional home inspection tips do you suggest?

 

 

 

Retire With Dignity – Reject the Normal Financial Outlook

Everything is relative when it comes to money and determining what is “normal.” At least that is what we have been conditioned to believe over time. The normal financial outlook is very different for blue collar workers and executives, plumbers and CEOs, and teachers and doctors. Unfortunately, a statistical average generated among such a wide variety of professions and incomes does little good in helping us learn what normal looks like today.

Income, of course, is only half the battle. On the flip side, expenses complicate the search for normal even further. Even two doctors with identical incomes and living in $450,000 homes in San Francisco, California and Arlington, Texas, respectively, may have wildly differing expense to income ratios due to property taxes and cost of living discrepancies.

So where does this leave the search? Is a “normal financial outlook” definable?

Is a "normal financial outlook" definable? Everything is relative when it comes to money, yet the desire to be normal could be sabotaging your efforts.

A Normal Financial Outlook is a Fallacy

The other day, I spoke with a friend about the manner in which “normal” people manage their finances. After citing problem after problem, we came to a realization: We won’t want to be normal. Normal is broke, greedy, overconfident, and unfulfilled. 

Following our conversation, I pondered the idea a bit more and came to a conclusion which I believe is tight enough to hold water: the average person’s desire to be normal is to be blame for his pessimistic financial outlook. Furthermore, normal is simply a self-defeating social construct which ultimately holds us back.

Consider the following connections:

*The desire to be normal drives us to take on a 72 month auto loan so we can drive the same car as our colleague; never mind the fact that the vehicle will be worth a fraction of its sticker value when the loan is paid off.

*The desire to be normal motivates us to take on the maximum pre-approved mortgage when looking for a home. It also causes us to spend at an unreasonable clip to furnish the home at high interest rates and rationalize it because “everyone else is doing it.” Many normal people will end up paying nearly twice the value of their home due to 30 years of interest accumulation (or more if they refinance to another 30 year mortgage after several years of paying on an initial 30 year mortgage).

*Because most normal people do not have any idea how much money they will need to live on in retirement, we adopt a normal mindset and rationalize that “it will all work out.”

*The desire to be normal leads us to go out with colleagues each day rather than brown bagging it for lunch. This kind of “normal” comes at a cost of over $100,000 over a working career.

These are only a few examples, but they drive home the truth that normal is bad.

Normal is the Worst

Statistically speaking, normal people are house poor, broke, in debt, and destined to slave away for 40-50 years only to retire in old age and poor health. And this is what most of us strive to become?

I have a different vision for my future. I don’t want it to be anything close to “normal.” As a result, I’m doing the sensible things now to ensure that my family’s future isn’t depressingly bleak.

First and foremost, I am consistently striving to challenge my everyday perception of “normal.” I know that if I surround myself with people and experiences which are “normal,” I will fight the desire to live abnormally. On the other hand, if I surround myself with people who share my view of what is “normal,” I am cultivating a healthier perception of the idea itself. This is vital.

Mrs. Superhero and I have intentionally taken steps to become good friends with others who share this mindset. For example, one couple we frequently spend time with also maintains an entertainment/dining budget. We have no qualms with being transparent about that among our families, which often leads to double dates at our home in lieu of expensive meals out. We look at as iron sharpening iron.

Secondly, Mrs. Superhero and I have worked at minimizing the frequency with which we experience luxury in our lives. We know that once we become accustomed to luxuries it can be very hard to give them up. Once luxuries become the norm, it can become very difficult to grow wealth and develop a favorable financial outlook; raising the bar in this manner is “normal,” but it minimizes satisfaction and happiness while permanently raising one’s bottom line required spending. We aim to make luxurious experiences the exception, not the norm.

Third, we are diligent in taking excellent care of the nice possessions which we have prioritized over the years. We have found that we appreciate these items for their true value, utility, and contribution to our overall happiness simply because we exhibit pride in maintaining what we have worked and sacrificed to gain. For example, I marvel at the fine condition of my 2008 Honda Accord while driving to work each day. Instead of dwelling on the fact that it is nearly nine years old now,  I choose to take pride in its fine condition.

I often think that if we were resigned to a normal financial outlook, we would be far less mindful about these sort of things. In rejecting this kind of thinking, we choose to believe that there is a better way to live. It is a path lined with hard work, sacrifice, and self-control, but we firmly believe it is the best path toward happiness both in the present and in the future.


How do you define “normal” when it comes to money? Do you have a normal financial outlook? In what ways do you reject being “normal” on your path toward happiness both in the present and in retirement?

The Herd Mentality and Retirement – How to Free Yourself and Others

In my last piece, I wrote about my apparent decision that perhaps early retirement just isn’t for me. I outlined several pros and cons of early retirement, all of which I had previously read about or otherwise heard expressed.

Confession time: I was subtly and intentionally trying to stir the pot.

The result? It worked. My faux-criticism of early retirement worked just well enough to spark some lively discussion.

For reference sake, here are the pros and cons I listed.

Pros:

*Opportunity to spend increased time with family and friends
*Freedom to travel
*Reduced stress and improved health
*More time to pursue other interests or even a new career

Cons:

*Possible negative impact upon health (possible loss of health benefits, decreased physical activity)
*Possible boredom and/or depression
*Increased stress (more time to worry; constant fear that your nest egg may be insufficient)
*Limitations due to fixed income

For the record, I don’t necessarily buy into the above cons. They are possible, but as Physician On Fire stated, “if you’re more stressed and less active when retired, resulting in poorer physical and mental health, you’re doing it wrong.”

So why was I intentionally-deceptive?

The herd mentality plays a large role in the formation of the average retirement plan. We may wish to deny it, yet our actions are telling. Learn how to break free and help others do the same.

Testing the Herd

While I don’t mind readers agreeing with me based upon the merits of my arguments, I do have a problem with those who mindlessly agree with others. To the credit of those who left responses in the comments, you all got pretty critical with my shallow analysis. Some of you were kind, even though I could sense that you really wanted to sock it to me. Some of you downright took me to the cleaners, which I fully deserved!

I’ve noticed more and more that this kind of honest dialogue is rare. Heck, if the two top candidates to become the next leader of the free world cannot even participate in a simple debate without displaying an egregious lack of manners and an overall inability to communicate, how can we expect people to be candid yet respectful in a blog or other forum? And how can we expect people to disagree with one another in person and still continue the conversation?

These are tough questions to navigate, so many just don’t bother to try. We pat each other on the back despite the presence of disagreement, stand pat as others share misinformed or half-baked ideas, and keep our mouths shut.

We might not possess a herd mentality ourselves, but we often do very little to discourage its advancement among our friends and loved ones. Think about it. How many of us have said nothing when a friend or family member spoke of his latest voluntary investment in “can’t miss” company stock, the “stable return” of her annuity, or the “deal” he received on a whole life insurance policy?

I know I am often far too nice, and you are, too, in all likelihood.

Understanding the Herd Mentality

The act of discouraging the herd mentality on retirement begins with understanding. If we can grasp the reasons for the perpetuation of this mentality, we may be better equipped to combat against it.

At its heart, the herd mentality may be traced to man’s desire for conformity. Put another way, being different is very often undesirable. Even a majority of the weirdo middle school kids with dreadlocks and trench coats don’t like being different, if they’re being honest. So we often find ourselves following along with others in group-think as a means of gaining a sense of belonging and becoming part of a group.

Similarly, the heard mentality is rooted in the fear of being wrong. Even if we feel we are more likely to be correct in taking a specific course of action, nagging fear may drive us to choose the opposite course out of fear that we could end up isolated by our own wrong doing. After all, it is better to be wrong and with others than to be correct and alone, no?

Intellectually, many of us may wish to shed these notions, yet our behaviors and actions say otherwise.

Discouraging the Herd Mentality

So how exactly can we help others overcome the tendency to conform, fear mistakes, and perpetuate a herd mentality? No two people are alike, but the following guidelines will prove to be helpful in most situations and with most people.

1. Listen more than you speak

When helping another person by seeking to change their opinion or behavior, it is most important to fully understand their position. This understanding can only be achieved through careful listening.

Billionaire Richard Branson articulated the importance of listening very well in sharing a lesson learned from his father:

When I grew up our house was always a hive of activity, with Mum dreaming up new entrepreneurial schemes left, right and centre, and me and my sisters running wild. You were as likely to find me helping Mum with a new project as outside climbing a tree. Amidst all the fun and chaos, Dad was always a supportive, calming influence on us all. He wasn’t quiet, but he was not often as talkative as the rest of us. It made for a wonderful balance, and we always knew we could rely on him no matter what.

Within this discreet support lay one of his best and most simple pieces of advice for me: listen more than you talk. Nobody learned anything by hearing themselves speak. Wherever I go, I try to spend as much time as possible listening to the people I meet. I am fortunate to travel widely and come across fascinating characters from all walks of life. While I am always happy to share my own experiences with them, it would be foolish if I didn’t listen back.

2. Ask questions with care and humility

Aside from listening, it is equally important to engage with others by asking thoughtful questions and remaining humble. These steps go hand-in-hand, and they are the keys to earning others’ trust.

Remember, most people do not care what you know until they know that you care.

3. Acknowledge your own mistakes and imperfections

In order to continue building a foundation of trust and credibility, seek to admit your own mistakes and imperfections. It is very difficult to shatter the herd mentality if you skip this step.

Yesterday, I was listening to the Dave Ramsey show podcast when Dave took a call from a confused caller. The wife and mother of four shared that she and her husband were considering following the advice of friends and family by moving in with her parents and selling their house to save money. Dave took this caller to task in a manner that made me wince a bit. He was critical of the caller’s lack of planning, overblown spending, and knee-jerk reactions. Dave also pointed out the this woman was attempting to implement a plan which treated only the symptoms of the problem rather than the problem itself.

Naturally, this caller became a bit distressed and defensive. In a moment of swift timing, Dave pointed out that he himself had made “far dumber” mistakes with money than even the mistake that this woman and her husband were about to make. As he outlined several of them in crystal clear detail, he displayed empathy and earned credibility with the caller. Little by little, the caller warmed up to Dave and become more and more interested in what he had to say. By admitting his own mistakes, Dave broke down the herd mentality barrier which had driven this caller.

Final Word

I apologize for any genuine concern I may have caused over my views on early retirement. Despite my deception, my true vision for early retirement is simple:

I desire to reach financial independence and gain the option to work, if I so choose, for purposes other than monetary rewards.

Despite experiencing some guilt over my slight deception in my previous piece, I am glad that the outcome was as I had expected. Collectively, the tight-nit community listened to my ideas, posed relevant questions and counter-examples, shared personal anecdotes, and tapped into long-established trust and credibility in an attempt to show me the error of my ways.

I am proud to be running with the right herd.


Have you had experience breaking others free from the herd mentality surrounding retirement? 

 

 

 

Early Retirement Musings – Is It Worth It?

I have been thinking about early retirement a lot lately. Upon first glance, you might read that sentence as an indication that I am looking for an escape from my current day-to-day grind. On the contrary, I feel that Mrs. Superhero and I are in a good place at the moment. We enjoy our full-time careers in the classroom, and we feel invigorated by our side businesses in real estate and the music studio, respectively.

My thoughts on early retirement are admittedly impacted by a variety of influences. First and foremost, everyone in our family trees has opted for traditional retirements. On the other hand, nearly everything I read on a regular basis, from books and magazines to blog articles, touts the benefits of early retirement and financial independence.

What are my current thoughts about early retirement? I’m seriously pondering whether I am even interested at this point.

Retirement Basics

Any discussion of the pros and cons of early retirement should begin with a look at the purposes behind retirement at a basic level. Quite obviously, the cultural phenomenon of retirement exists because humans are not physically and mentally equipped to work forever. As a result, we work and save for four to five decades, on average, in order to survive when we are no longer able to support our basic needs through earned income.

To recap, the most basic life plan is as follows:

WORK 40-50 YEARS + SAVE MONEY = BASIC SURVIVAL AT AGE 65-70 

The above plan is a reality for an alarming cluster of the population. Yes, you can and probably should aim higher with your retirement goals. For example, you could save and invest more than is required to meet your basic retirement needs, allowing yourself to live a little in retirement. However, tomorrow is promised to nobody. Or you could save more and retire a bit earlier, say in your late 50s or early 60s.

So, we might describe the intermediate plan as follows:

WORK 30-40 YEARS + SAVE MORE MONEY = COMFORTABLE RETIREMENT AT 55-60

For a small number of renegades with their hearts and minds set on early retirement, even this sensible plan is insufficient. Thanks to mathematical breakdowns by Mr. Money Mustache and countless other bloggers, waves of people are targeting a much earlier retirement. How? They are aiming to increase their savings rate, as a percentage of net income, to figures which exceed 40 percent and approach 85 or even 90 percent!

Early retirement
The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement (Credit: Mr. Money Mustache)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In order to reduce this table to a formula, we might proceed as follows:

WORK 3-20 YEARS + SAVE LIKE THE DICKENS = RETIRE EARLIER THAN EVERYONE ELSE

The most beautiful thing about the chart above is that it is not income sensitive in any way, shape or form. It applies to you whether you earn $40,000 per year or $4 million per year. Of course, it should be much easier to save when you have an inflated income. Yet, that pesky thing called “lifestyle” tends to get in the way.

In essence, we might say that early retirement is a largely a choice.

Early Retirement Pros and Cons

Now that it is apparent that early retirement is mathematically accessible for virtually everyone, let us examine the merits of such a plan.

Among many pros of early retirement, the following stand out:

*Opportunity to spend increased time with family and friends
*Freedom to travel
*Reduced stress and improved health
*More time to pursue other interests or even a new career

Obviously, early retirement is not without its cons, which include:

*Possible negative impact upon health (possible loss of health benefits, decreased physical activity)
*Possible boredom and/or depression
*Increased stress (more time to worry; constant fear that your nest egg may be insufficient)
*Limitations due to fixed income

As with virtually all matters of personal finance, the pros and cons are largely situation-dependent. For example, my Grandpa retired only a few years early and came out ahead in nearly every manner possible: he increased his earnings and kept busy by working side jobs, gained the freedom to spend time with his children and grandchildren, and took several vacations each year with my Grandma.

On the other hand, I know a person (who shall remain nameless) who would quite likely suffer an early death if he were to retire early. He would spend his days and nights wasting away in a recliner watching television, despite being of able mind and body. Quite likely, early retirement would be an early death sentence for this person.

Our Current Plan

Back in June, I established 30 goals as I approached my 30th birthday. Goal 5 stated, “Set a target date for early retirement and formulate a plan to get there.” I have been dragging my feet on this one ever since; as I said, I’m just not sure what I want to do at this point.

Strictly based upon Money Mustache’s chart above, Mrs. Superhero and I could likely retire somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-17 years, or 2031, given our current assets and savings rate. Since I am a proponent of stealth wealth, that’s about as specific as I’d like to get at this point in time. However, we could make some changes in current spending and investing plans and possibly retire in approximately 10 years. This would not be achievable without significant sacrifice and postponement of other significant goals.

All of which has led me to an important conclusion: I simply desire to achieve other goals more than I desire early retirement at this point in time. Among other goals that I feel will bring me and Mrs. Superhero greater joy than early retirement, starting a family ranks at the top of the list. Additional goals include:

*Fund college for our future children
*Travel with moderate frequency
*Give and support missionary work beyond our current ability to do so
*Finish our basement (which is currently unfinished)
*Possibly own a second home

If our pursuit of these goals brings us increased happiness and slightly slows our pursuit of early retirement by 5-10 years, I feel I am OK with that. I would rather retire slightly later than mathematically possible and achieve more in life rather than retire with unfinished business.

In closing, let us consider one of the oldest retirement clichés, which says, it is better to retire to something than to retire from something.


What are your current retirement plans? Do you aspire to retire early? If so, how do you hope to achieve early retirement?