Remembering the Meaning of Memorial Day

Memorial image

Memorial Day is more than a day marking the unofficial start of summer. Memorial Day is, first and foremost, a time to pay tribute to the men and women who have proudly and bravely served our country.

Whether grilling on the BBQ, swimming in the just-opened pools, or simply relaxing and enjoying the weather and a day off, please remember our fallen heroes who have insured that future generations of Americans will continue to enjoy the privilege of freedom.

At 3 p.m. today, please pause with Americans across the country and the world for one minute during the National Moment of Remembrance. As a small token of gratitude to the men and women who have served in our Armed Forces and paid the ultimate price, we are asked “to voluntarily and informally observe in our own ways a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever [we] are doing for a moment of silence or listening to the playing of ‘Taps.’”

The soldiers we honor this Memorial Day are all those who have served this nation from its founding 239 years ago, as well the over 1.4 million who defend us now.

Please allow me to thank you Service Members and wish you a wonderful weekend. May we never forget the courageous men and women who have served and sacrificed so much in past wars so we could enjoy the freedoms and liberties we hold dear, just as we honor those who stand duty today to keep us safe.

Please feel free to leave a tribute to a Service Member, personally known or not, in the comments below. 

The Cost of Waiting to Buy

Waiting pic

Whether you are a first time buyer or looking to move up to your next home, you should consider the housing experts’ projections in two major areas – home prices and mortgage rates.

The housing market is still in the early stages of recovery, and a rise in interest rates can make a big difference in your monthly mortgage payment. Even a very modest increase from 3.9% to 4.5% on a $200,000 home will increase monthly payments more than $70.  

Most real estate analysts concur that by the end of the year there will be a 4% appreciation in home values and an increase of a full point in interest rates. While interest rates will still be low, now is a great time to take that leap and invest in your future.

If you have been thinking about buying a home, now is the time; supply is high, interest rates are low, and housing prices are lower than they are expected to be in the upcoming months. As more homes are purchased, supply decreases, so there is the potential for home prices to continue to increase.

While it is often wise to wait and find the best possible deal (especially with large purchases), it is not necessarily prudent in the current real estate market. I encourage potential home buyers to be decisive and to act quickly when you find the property you have been looking for.

Below is a chart that puts a price tag on the cost of waiting just eight months.

CostofWaiting3

Please feel free to add your thoughts and comments below. If you have any questions, please contact me directly and I will be happy to discuss your particular housing concerns and needs. 

To Rent or To Buy – That is the Question

buy blog

One of the biggest financial decisions most people will face is buying a home versus renting. Renting comes with the security of having that (hopefully reliable) backup maintenance crew or landlord. Buying offers the potential to invest in your own future and grow your investment over time, as well as (sometimes not insignificant) upfront and recurring costs.

For some, buying is the wise investment. For others, renting is the best choice for the time being. To determine which is best for you, you first need to determine whether you can afford to buy. Other factors, such as down payment, closing costs, recurring fees (both renting and buying), the time you will stay in your new home, and the home’s potential for appreciation also factor into your decision.

With mortgage rates nearing a 40 year low, buying is a tempting option for some. Many sites offer free rent vs. buy calculators to help decide which option best fits you and your specific financial situation.

Realtor.org offers a wonderful side-by-side cost comparison based on a nine year period. (See below.) The bottom line? If you can afford more than $900/month and the up-front costs – buy.

Costs after 9 years
                                 Buy                                   Rent
Initial costs               $60,000                             $888
Recurring costs        $163,793                          $107,509
Opportunity costs    $44,642                            $15,478
Net proceeds           $145,448                           $888
Total                          $122,987                           $122,987

Ginnie Mae offers another scenario to illustrate the cost/benefit analysis:

The renter starts out paying $800 per month with annual increases of 5% The homeowner purchases a home for $110,000 and pays a monthly mortgage of $1,000
          After 6 years, the homeowner’s payment is lower than the renter’s               monthly payment.
          With the tax savings of home ownership, the homeowner’s payment             is less than the rental payment after 3 years.

When it comes down to it, this is a huge and very personal situation. I encourage you to speak to a realtor, as well as a financial adviser or mortgage lender to determine which option is best for you.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog – The Cost of Waiting to Sell. 

Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions. With over 20 years in the business, I can certainly offer my advice. Your thoughts and personal experiences on this important decision are welcome in the comments below.

Home Improvements – If It’s Broke, Fix It

Home Improvement 2

Whether you plan to sell your house in the next few years or are just looking to increase your home’s market value as an investment, there is a good chance that you have, or will, consider some renovations. But not all renovation investments yield the same results.

Perhaps the most important work you can do on your home, as either a seller or an owner, is maintenance. This is not the stuff reality shows are made of, but fixing or replacing a roof is decidedly a better investment than that sexy kitchen remodel. According to Remodeling Magazine, you are less likely to recoup your investment on a major kitchen or bathroom remodel than you are to get back what you spend on basic home maintenance. Example – siding replacement returned 92.8% of its cost, according to a recent study, and roof and window replacements returned 80% or more at resale.

Buyers don’t want to think about the basic systems of a house. They assume that the roof won’t leak and the plumbing works. Both of which are clearly just as important to the homeowner who is not looking to sell.

Kitchens and bathrooms. This is the stuff of real estate shows. Major renovations are not necessarily a better investment. According to the magazine mentioned above, a major kitchen remodel yields less ROI than a minor ($15,000 range) kitchen remodel (69% and 83% respectively).

Some good options for a lower cost kitchen makeover include all-wood cabinets, commercial, higher-end appliances, stone countertops, and wood or stone flooring. For bathrooms, walk-in showers yield a high return and add square footage to the room. One major consideration is the bathroom to bedroom ratio. If you have a three bedroom house with only one full bath, you would do well to either add a bathroom or turn that half bathroom into a full. If space is limited, showers are a perfectly fine (see above) option to complete the room.

A National Association of Realtors study by Florida State University professors G. Stacy Sirmans and David Macpherson found that adding a bathroom increased the sale price of a home by 8.7 percent, more than twice the rate for adding a bedroom.

Speaking of adding rooms, additions can be a great investment, particularly in an active housing market. Every 1,000 square feet added to a home boosts the sale price by more than 30 percent, according to the 2005 study for the National Association of Realtors. The addition of attic bedrooms, family rooms and sunrooms are solid investments.

For those of you who like lists, the top ten home remodeling projects according to the “2014 Cost vs. Value Study” in the order of largest to smallest ROI are:

  1. Entry Door Replacement
  2. Deck Addition (Wood)
  3. Garage Door Replacement
  4. Minor Kitchen Remodel
  5. Window Replacement (Wood)
  6. Siding Replacement (Vinyl)
  7. Attic Bedroom
  8. Window Replacement (Vinyl)
  9. Basement Remodel
  10. Kitchen Remodel

If you’re not planning to move in the near future, spend your money remodeling in a way that you’ll most enjoy. You cannot put a price tag on happiness.

Remember to check back next week for tips to improve a home’s curb appeal. If the house isn’t inviting from the street, chances are that amazing remodeling job done on the inside will never be seen.

 

 

 

If You Cannot See Where You are Going, Ask Someone Who has Been There Before

 

Curie

If you haven’t seen ‘STEM’ in the headlines lately, stay tuned, because you will. STEM, short for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, is an area of study and jobs where women (and minorities) are grossly underrepresented. Proof of the importance of this fact is that eight of Forbe’s magazine’s Ten Most Powerful Women in business work in STEM fields.

The single most common factor these women share? A mentor. In honor of Women’s History Month, I encourage you to positively impact young lives and help guide the next generation of ground-breaking women.

If you aren’t a six-figure earning glass-ceiling buster or aren’t a woman and think that excludes you from this conversation, you’re not off the hook that easily.  There is more than ample opportunity to be a mentor in other ways –  intellectual, mental, spiritual, emotional, athletic…. The point is to share some of your accumulated skills and knowledge. You know, those things you wish you had figured out a decade earlier?

A mere 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. BUT, a recent study by EY’s Women Athletes Business Network and espnW found that 94% of women executives have a background in sport and more than half of women in C-level positions played at the collegiate level. Soccer moms and dads, I’m talking to you.

Mentoring is a chance for both participants to learn. If you want a mentor, and I urge everyone to continuously seek opportunities to grow, don’t be shy. Ask that person who has something you want, whether it is a job in engineering or great spiritual peace, if they would be willing to speak with you. Most will be flattered. Start that conversation today.

If you work in a STEM field, find local opportunities to mentor here: http://www.millionwomenmentors.org/

If you don’t, here are a few options:

http://www.blueridgebigs.org/volunteer

http://www.bgclubcva.org/volunteer

http://www.gotrnova.org/get-involved/volunteer

 Do you have a mentor story you would like to share?

A person who made an impact in your life? Please share your experiences and feel free to add additional resources for mentors and mentees.

 

 

 

Atlantic Coast Pipeline – In our Backyards

Pipeline1 Pipeline2

Nearly everyone who lives in or owns property in the path of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has an opinion. Generally a strong one.

The proposed $5 billion, 550-mile natural gas pipeline that Dominion hopes to have in place by 2016 will clearly have an impact on the area if passed–whether that impact is a positive one or not, is the source of contention.

The four major energy companies spearheading the project– Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, and AGL Resources – have invested a lot of time and, well, energy trying to convince area residents that the pipeline will benefit the region. That the project will provide a reliable source of natural gas, curtail spikes in consumers’ energy costs, and provide jobs.

Opponents in Virginia voice concern about the possible consequences of the 42” pipeline – environmental impact on water supplies, the native habitat of animal species, destruction of iconic scenery, and property values. Also at issue is whether the Karst topography of the land can safely support the structure.

Recent natural gas explosions brought the issue to the attention of the national media. “Natural gas transmission is relatively safe but that is like saying that flying is safe until your plane goes down,” said U.S. Senate’s Commerce Committee chair Senator Jay Rockefeller, D-WV, following the 2012 explosion in his state.

The latest proposed pipeline route would affect 40-50 miles national forests including 13 miles of the George Washington National Forest, as well as the Appalachian Trail, and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Letters dated February 23rd, the same day opponents protested and 10 were arrested in the state’s capital, informed 186 additional Nelson County property owners that surveying of their land will begin Monday March 2nd. Residents across the Valley are refusing to allow surveyors on their land and continue to organize to stop the pipeline. If you have received a letter and do not wish to allow surveyors on your property, there are lines set up to verbally deny permission.

Neither side is backing down. Dominion is releasing information daily to try to allay the concerns of citizens and tout the effort as a boon to the economic development, state and local revenue, and domestic energy supplies.

Whatever your thoughts and concerns, I urge you to stay abreast of developments and how they will impact you and your property. Become an advocate for yourself and the place you call home.

The Most Common Way People Give up Their Power is by Thinking They Don’t Have Any

Task Force

Some problems seem so large, so daunting, that we feel we can’t make a difference. That there is no way we can possibly effect any change.

Thankfully, there are some among us who take that first step to address a problem that seems so insurmountable. In Rockfish Valley, Pastor Marion Kanour is such a person. She formed the Nelson County Domestic Violence Task Force, which met for the first time in January 2014. She and 15 other like-minded individuals with purpose and courage met to create working groups to determine their first steps needed to help combat the devastation of domestic violence here in the Valley.

“Domestic violence is often unspoken and underreported,” said Kanour. “That’s why we want to increase awareness and create community support.”

The group meets on third Saturdays to support one another and plan for their goal of a shelter in Nelson County. The group plans to create a brochure, a newsletter, and a website to be resources for those who need help. The group has already created a peer counseling system, a hotline for those in immediate need, free self-defense classes through task force member Josh Copson, and a weekly support group for those leaving abusive relationships.

This month is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Commonwealth Attorney Anthony Martin will present a program at Nelson County High School this month to help raise awareness of the cycle of abuse.

The task force plans to continue all of these activities, with the ultimate goal of creating a shelter in Nelson County.

Domestic violence affects a shocking number of people – likely including someone you know. The non-denominational task force is in the process of obtaining non-profit status and is actively seeking alliances from area churches, businesses, and community groups.

As author and activist Audre Lorde told us so many years ago, “Your silence will not protect you.” I encourage you to speak up for yourself or someone who will not or cannot speak up for themselves. Use your voice, your skills, and your compassion to help this organization make a positive impact on the community. An impact that says domestic violence will not be tolerated and that help is available.

‘We need funds and we need support,’ said Kanour.

The task force is sellingBravelets as part of their fund-raising efforts. Purchase your bracelet to support this great cause and increase visibility of this often unacknowledged problem.

All proceeds will go to fund a shelter for victims of domestic violence in Nelson County, Virginia.