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Avoid a HOA Nightmare

Here are three things potential condo buyers should do with those documents:

1. Read the past year’s meeting minutes

Above all, read the minutes of the HOA monthly or quarterly board meetings. You can learn a lot about the HOA’s inner workings, such as the politics and how enforceable its rules are. You’ll get a sense of how the HOA works, who’s on the board and how flexible or difficult they are to deal with.

The most obvious red flag is any discussion in the minutes of an upcoming assessment or any major project (painting, roof repair, boiler replacement). These conversations generally happen months or years before the work (and assessment) is enacted. Other potential red flags would be documented conflict between homeowners and board members.

2. Review the house rules and regulations

Nearly every HOA has its house rules and regulations. In a suburban subdivision, typical rules would include restrictions on how your home looks from the street (no pink houses on Elm Street). In a condo building, restrictions often cover noise, such as no loud music or noise between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m., or that 85 percent of your hardwood floors must be covered by area rugs in living, dining and bedroom areas.

While there are generally accepted common rules, from time to time more excessive ones stand out that may not sit well with a potential buyer. Some examples include no RVs in the driveway or the required removal of Christmas lights by Jan. 15. A buyer’s response to such rules is subjective. But it’s better to know the type of HOA you’re buying into before you sign the final paperwork.

 3. Review the financials

Be on the lookout for HOAs that can barely cover their monthly expenses. Since the housing crisis began, many HOAs have been forced to foreclose on homeowners who are behind on their HOA dues. If you have a third of homeowners not paying, that affects everyone, as the money needs to be made up somewhere.

Another red flag is the lack of a reserve fund. If the HOA only has $5,000 in reserves, and there’s mention in the meeting minutes of a major sidewalk replacement, you should assume that funding for the project will come from a one-time “special assessment” levied on the homeowners. Don’t want to be stuck with a $10,000 mandatory assessment six months after you move in? You may want to reconsider this property.

 Advice to sellers

If you live in an HOA community that has some issues, be sure to disclose them upfront. It’s not much different from disclosing the leaky window or recent crime in the home. You don’t want to create a giant red flag for potential buyers, of course. But if they find out about something major after the fact, it could come back to haunt you. Work with your real estate agent and strategize about some of the best ways to make the HOA documents or disclosure information available to buyers during escrow.

Schools Names Family-Friendly

Two Houston County Schools Named Family-Friendly

The Georgia Department of Education wants to encourage parent involvement in schools across the state.  They went on a search for the most family-friendly schools, and turned up two, out of only three selected, in Houston County.  Morningside Elementary in Perry and Miller Elementary in Warner Robins stood out among the state’s best.

Christal Reid comes to this Morningside Elementary classroom five days a week. With the amount of time she spends there, you might assume she’s the teacher, but no. She is a parent volunteer.

Reid said, “I think it’s one of the best schools there is, and my child loves to come.”  She feels 100-percent welcome, too.

That is the goal of family-friendly strategies principal Pat Witt incorporates.

Witt said, “There’s a lot of things were doing here at Morningside that are innovative ways of making sure families stay involved with their children.  We have come up with some creative ways of going to them, going to their house, going to their place of business.”

Miller Elementary is celebrating their successes, too.

Principal Gwen Pearson-Kilgore said, “We have an open door policy. Parents are free to come, to call.”

She said they invite parents into the classrooms once a month, sometime for the entire day.  The parent resource library offers adults an education in technology and their child’s curriculum.  For parents that don’t have computers at home, they’re welcome to use the computers set-up there.

The state also graded them on customer service, looking at their phone manners, waiting areas, signage and student work displayed throughout the building.  The state chose the winners using some surprise tactics. Employees or selection committee members posing as parents called or visited the schools, incognito.

In late November, State School Superintendent John Barge will visit both schools to present them an award

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How To Repair Credit After Foreclosure

Create a lifestyle in which all of your family’s necessities rent, utilities, food, cars, insurance, and clothes – total no more than 70 percent of your household’s combined take-home pay. The next 10 percent of your pay should go straight to savings so that you can build a cushion to protect your family from any future problems. The remaining 20 percent should go toward paying off your remaining debt, and if you do not have any other debt, put it into savings for large future purchases, such as your next car, home or vacation. Or plow some of it into retirement savings. With all this money in savings, you may be able to avoid, or at least minimize, borrowing in the future and keep all of the interest and finance charges that you would have paid to the bank.

Once you have your monthly spending under control and a good start on your savings, it will be time to think about your credit score so that you can qualify for the best terms on any future borrowing. Some ways to improve your credit score: keep balances low on credit cards and other “revolving” debt; pay off other debt; keep older accounts open and avoid opening new accounts more than you have to; request a copy of your credit report and correct any errors; and set up payment reminders or automatic-bill-pays so that you do not miss payments accidentally.

About 80 percent of your credit score is based on how much you owe and your payment history, both the on-time part of it and the overall length. If you make your payments on time, pay off as much debt as possible, and don’t close old accounts, your credit score should rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Going through a foreclosure or a short sale is a very difficult process, but many people have moved past it, cleaned up their credit and even taken out another mortgage.

Re-key Your Locks Yourself for Safety and Savings

By Brittany aka Pretty Handy Girl | Spaces – Tue, Jun 19, 2012

If you just moved into a new home, congratulations! Have you thought about who might still have keys to your home? The old owners could have forgotten about the dog sitter or the housekeeper’s key. Or an owner before the previous owner may still have a key. For these reasons and more, it is wise to be safe and change your locks. If you hire a locksmith to come to your home and change all the locks, the cost can be anywhere from $200 and up! That’s a hefty sum to pay, especially since you spent every penny saved on your new house.

Changing the locks on your home doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Did you know that you can take your locks to a local locksmith shop and have them changed for a significant savings? Or, if you have multiple locks with different keys, you can have all the locks re-keyed to match. This can only be accomplished if all your locks are the same brand. If they don’t match, a remedy is as simple as purchasing a new lock to match the other brand.

If you have to purchase new handles, why not take the time to update your door hardware to a fashionable oil-rubbed bronze. You can order all the door knobs, dead bolts and handle sets online and ask them to key everything the same. Keyed entry knobs cost as little as $20 and up.

Once you have your new keys, do yourself a favor and create a hide-a-key location for one of your keys. Use the ubiquitous rock or a more unusual fake sprinkler head.

One more suggestion for keeping your home safe, if you give a neighbor your key, write your pet’s name on the key instead of your last name. That way if the key is picked up by someone who shouldn’t have it, they won’t be able to look up which house it belongs to.

Enjoy the safety and security of your new home. Once you are unpacked, think about adding some landscaping lights to deter thieves!


5 Tips for Moving With Young Kids in Tow

1. Pack your child’s room last. Unpack it first. Children of all ages crave stability and comfort. Make your child’s bedroom a safe place for them in your old home and recreate that same sense of ownership for them in their new bedroom. Older children may not want their new bedroom to be identical to the old (in fact, new furniture or decor could help dull the loss of school friends and activities), but younger children will benefit from a room nearly identical to the one they left behind. Make the moving disruption as minimal as possible by packing your child’s room last and unpacking it first upon arrival.

2. Know (everything) before you go. Have the information handy for the local hospital, a new pediatrician, a dentist, your closest pharmacy, the grocery store, and the nearest chain restaurant that the kids love before you depart and arrive at your new home. If your infant gets an ear infection en route, your toddler chips a tooth and gets a bloody lip on that new front step, or your last bottle of infant pain reliever runs out on your first night in the new house you’ll want to know where to go for help. Moving is a completely different experience with children; move prepared.

3. Enlist help with the kids for moving days. Your moving days are going to be incredibly hectic. Don’t subject an infant or a toddler to the chaos. While older kids might want to be around, and may get closure seeing their house empty and their things all packed up, that isn’t the case for younger children. If you can’t find childcare, consider splitting you and your spouse splitting up for the day and entertaining the kids away from the house.

4. Try to keep your cool. Moving can be a stressful time. However, if you’re moving with infants, toddlers, or both, effectively managing your stress is absolutely essential. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that kids feel their parents’ stress, and infants aren’t excluded. A calm mom and dad may equal a calmer, less colicky baby. There’s already going to be plenty of reason for your baby to be feeling the effects of the move, so try to focus on staying calm and avoiding extra stress when you’re relocating.

5. If it’s important to your child, it should be important to you. Never make the mistake of letting the movers pack your toddler’s favorite toy or special blanket. Keep these items with you at all times. This will help ease any separation anxiety your child may experience from the changes, and minimize your stress when you arrive if you can’t put your fingers on it right away. If it’s important to your infant or toddler, it should be just as important to you — don’t let it out of your sight when you’re moving.


Trim Your Remodeling Cost: 4 Ways to Save

Case Remodeling recently featured several ideas at its blog on how to make those remodeling projects more budget friendly. Here are a few ways to trim remodeling costs:

1. Don’t change plumbing or electrical configurations. Keep your plumbing fixtures and electrical work where they’re at. Instead of moving the plumbing or electrical all over the room, Case recommends for remodelers to “think about supplementing and extending your existing wiring instead of ripping it out and starting over,” which can be much more costly.

2. Find savings in materials. “The cost of cabinets, counters, fixtures, paneling, etc. can constitute up to 70 percent of your remodeling budget,” Case Remodeling notes in its blog. “While labor costs may be hard to reduce, the choice of materials is within your control.” For example, solid surfaces can look similar to marble, and granite tiles may be an option over stone to curb costs.


3. Build up, not out. You’d be better off adding stories or building upward than expanding those rooms outward on the lower floor, according to Case Remodeling. Adding another story to a home, like over the garage, can be cheaper than laying a foundation to extend a home out.

4. Consider energy efficient upgrades. By selecting energy efficient windows and appliances, you may have to pay a little more upfront but in the long-run, you’ll be saving. Energy efficient upgrades may be an item worth splurging on initially in order to cheapen your utility bills and the cost of operating your home.


The Manliest Cities….

Top 10 ‘Manliest’ Cities


You may not have considered how your city ranks in the masculinity department. But COMBOS, along with “Best Places to Live” researcher Bert Sperling, released the fourth annual ranking of America’s manliest cities.

The 50 largest metro areas were ranked on the quantity of “masculine” offers, such as number of major league sports teams; the availability of so-called “manly lifestyle” activities like fishing, woodworking, and home improvement work; and number of “manly businesses,” like home improvement stores and steak houses. 

The following cities topped this year’s “Manliest Cities” list: 

  1. Oklahoma City, Okla.
  2. Columbia, S.C.
  3. Memphis
  4. Nashville
  5. Birmingham, Ala.
  6. Houston
  7. St. Louis, Mo.
  8. Toledo, Ohio
  9. Cleveland
  10. Charlotte, N.C.

Sources: “The ‘Manliest’ Cities Where Real Men Live,” AOL Real Estate (June 15, 2012) andCOMBOS



“To wish you were someone else is to waste the person you are.”


“Your time is limited, don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living the result of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinion drowned your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

How Couples Sabotage Their Finances

By Chris Taylor

updated 6/13/2012 12:38:18 PM ET

NEW YORK — With a wedding coming up, you’d think Jay Buerck would be obsessing about the usual details: Writing vows, choosing appetizers, or figuring out seating charts to accommodate challenging relatives.

But what worries the 29-year-old St. Louis marketing professional isn’t any of those things: It’s money.

Not that he and his bride-to-be Liz Downey won’t have enough; they earn comfortable salaries. What really freaks him out is the inherent challenge of joining two people’s finances.

“Money is the reason why many people get divorced,” says Buerck. “I have a buddy who got married and didn’t tell his wife about the extent of his debt, and they had a rough go of it when he came clean. That’s something I want to try and avoid.”

The couple has already taken steps to prepare their finances. That’s a smart strategy, according to financial experts, especially now that U.S. couples are waiting longer to marry, and many people have thousands of dollars in student loans and credit card debt by the time they take their vows.

Money causes more arguments than other typical flashpoints, according to a recent survey by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and Harris Interactive.

A full 27 percent of respondents said their spats started over money, more than problems with kids (16 percent) or chores (13 percent).

Couples who lock horns over finances at least once a week are 30 percent more likely to get divorced, according to a 2009 study by researchers at Utah State University,

“I probably spend 15 percent of my time with couples actually talking about money, and the other 85 percent talking about personal issues,” says Chris Kimball, a certified financial planner in Lakewood, Washington, who also has a Masters of Divinity degree.

“It all ties into money. It’s a very powerful thing that can do great things in people’s lives, or can really mess them up.”

Shockingly, nearly one-half of all people have lied to their significant other about money, according to an April poll by Self Magazine and

And a survey conducted this spring by revealed that 6 million Americans have hidden financial accounts from their spouses or live-in partners.

The deception isn’t usually malicious. Often it’s prompted by guilt and embarrassment about spending. Compounding the problem is that financial behavior is very deeply set, and can’t be altered easily.

So where do couples go wrong, when it comes to money — and how can they make it right?

Have the money talk 
Only 43 percent of couples talked about money before marriage, according to a May 2010 survey conducted for American Express.

But lack of disclosure about your financial issues — maybe you’re struggling with $100,000 in student debt, or maybe you filed for bankruptcy at some point — isn’t really any different from lying. Be up front about your financial situation, have the “money talk” long before the big day, and tackle any challenges as a couple.

“My significant other didn’t tell me about the money problems we were having, and then one day we had no credit left and had lost pretty much everything,” says Holli Rovenger, an author and speaker in Greenville, S.C. “If we’d worked together, maybe our finances wouldn’t have spiraled out of control.”

Minor money differences can be overcome as long as you have the basics covered: You have your daily needs met, you’re bringing in more than you’re paying out, and you’re able to build a nest egg for the future. But once overspending and debt enter the picture, all bets are off.

“I was always a black-belt shopper, and hated to miss a sale,” says Jenny Triplett, an entrepreneur in Powder Springs, Ga., who’s been married to husband Rufus Triplett for 22 years. “I’d have bags full of new clothes in the closet, and only bring them out one piece at a time. But eventually we came to a compromise, and I got my spending under control.”

That’s exactly the right template for resolving money disputes, planners advise. Even with differing money styles, if both partners take strides toward the middle and agree on broad outlines of a budget, it could prevent countless disputes.

Hiding from help 
Money is such an emotional issue that it could be difficult for couples to untangle all the knots on their own. A trained third party can help you figure out the core issues, and mutually agree on a financial plan.

“I’ve had clients yelling at each other in the parking lot, who came into the conference room and then wouldn’t say a word to each other for the first hour,” says Kimball. “But eventually we were able to work through it. Talking to someone can help air these financial issues in a safe environment.”

Check out the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education, which has a database of trained financial counselors.

Being on the same page 
It’s helpful to have basic guidelines in place that will keep you on the same page. For instance, purchases under a certain dollar amount can be left to each spouse’s discretion, while larger ones should to be cleared with your partner.

Some couples might be comfortable pooling all of their money, and others may not; neither is the “right” choice, but that should be decided explicitly.

“Understanding your partner’s values on money is so very important,” says Andi Wrenn, a financial counselor in Boston with a master’s in marriage and family therapy. “Talk about how they learned money management, and what they plan to do in the future with the money they have and earn. Not often do people marry that are from exactly the same background.”

That certainly applies to Jay Buerck and his bride-to-be. She’s traditionally been more of a budgeter, and he’s more laissez faire when it comes to counting pennies. But since they set up a joint account and moved in together, finances have “actually become less stressful,” he says. “It’s all about being open and honest.” 

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