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Rent vs Buy: How to Decide What’s Right For You

Rent vs Buy: How to Decide What’s Right For You

Owning a home is an admirable pursuit, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right move for everyone. In fact, a home is the most expensive thing most people will ever purchase. In 2018, housing prices increased to a median of $250,000, according to the National Association of Realtors 2018 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. Despite the increase in price, 75% of nonhomeowners said that homeownership is part of their American dream. Before deciding whether owning a home is the right move for you, it’s important to consider all the facts.

The pros and cons of owning a home

Purchasing a place to call your own might sound nice in theory, but depending on your financial situation, now might not be the right time to buy. Here are some things to consider before taking on that financial responsibility:

Pros of homeownership

Buying real estate builds your net worth. When it comes to investing, it’s hard to argue with the returns most people get on their homes. In fact, according to a Reuters poll, U.S. house prices are set to rise at twice the speed of both inflation and pay. Besides that, owning real estate is one of the easiest and most passive ways to build your net worth over time. “While it’s true that a monthly rent payment is often lower than a mortgage payment for the same apartment, this simplistic cash-flow analysis ignores the fact that buying allows you to borrow a huge amount of money at a low interest rate for decades,” said Dolly Hertz, a licensed associate real estate broker with Engel & Volkers New York Real Estate LLC.

Owning your home opens up additional potential revenue streams. When you own your place, there are additional ways to monetize it, from renting out the entire home to renting out one of the rooms. “This can be a steady second source of income for you that you can even put toward paying off your mortgage,” said Jeff Fisher, a real estate agent with Property Simple.

Depending on the type of loan you get, buying could mean more budget stability. If you don’t own your place, there’s a very high probability that your monthly rent will increase every year, unless you live in a rent-controlled area. “However, if you take out a fixed-rate mortgage to purchase a property, your interest will never change,” said Fisher. With a fixed number for your largest living expense, it can be easier to budget for other areas accordingly.

Cons of homeownership

There are almost always hidden costs. When you own your home, you are responsible for taking care of anything that goes wrong, which can really add up. “Many people think that they will just be able to transfer their rent payment into the form of a mortgage payment and be done with it,” said Jared  Paul, a certified financial planner and managing director of Capable Wealth. What they aren’t taking into account, however, are maintenance, general repairs, insurance, taxes and lots of other fees that crop up. According to GoBankingRates.com, the average U.S. homeowner spends $168 per month on repairs and general maintenance and $130 per month on snow removal and lawn care, along with several other general costs.

 It comes with high transaction costs. If your timeline for living in a particular area is three years or less, renting might be a better option since transaction costs are high, said Shirley Hackel, a licensed associate real estate broker with Compass. Besides saving up for a down payment (experts recommend 20% of the cost of the home in order to avoid paying private mortgage insurance), buying a home also involves closing costs.

The pros and cons of renting

It’s not uncommon to hear people liken renting to throwing money away, but that’s not always the case. For some people, renting might actually make more fiscal sense. If you’re on the fence about whether your next move should include buying a home, consider the pros and cons of renting before hitting the real estate sites.

Pros of renting

It provides a certain level of flexibility. If you plan to be itinerant over the next few years, or if you simply aren’t sure exactly where you want to live yet, renting could make more sense since “buying a home makes that kind of flexibility almost impossible,” said Marie Oates, a real estate lawyer with The Hive Law in Atlanta.

There is a decreased amount of responsibility. When you rent a house or apartment, the owner must coordinate and pay for repairs or address any other issues. This is particularly helpful when leaks spring right before you’re about to head out of town for vacation, or the dishwasher breaks after you’ve spent your bonus on new bedroom furniture.

Cons of renting

You won’t accrue any equity. The biggest con of renting, said Paul, is that you aren’t accruing any equity in the property while you’re living there. Along the same lines, as a renter you’re missing out on potential appreciation of the space you’re living in.

You’ll likely have little to no say in any changes. If you’re a renter, you shouldn’t expect to make structural alterations or big decisions, unless your landlord approves them. So when that dishwasher does break, don’t expect to have any say in the new one that gets delivered. And any cosmetic changes you make, such as painting the walls, might need to be changed back to the original before you move.

Rent or buy: Which is right for me?

Deciding whether it’s the right time to purchase a home will involve weighing the pros and cons. Paul said that when he’s speaking with a client about making the decision between renting versus buying, he always includes the following points:

1. Buying a home is never as simple as saying that you could simply substitute in the rent you pay each month and put it toward a mortgage—there are many more costs involved.

2. Buying a home should be just as much a qualitative decision as a quantitative one. In other words, “you should be thinking about the reason you are buying a home, not just the numbers,” said Paul.

With those suggestions in mind …

Buying might be better if…

you’re ready to settle down. “If you want stability in your and your family’s life, then [buying] is a great way to achieve that,” said Paul.

Renting might be better if…

You’re interested in moving in the near future, crave mobility and the chance to live in a new place, are open to changing jobs or careers, or you just aren’t sure about your future. “Locking yourself into a mortgage is a quick way to put a ball and chain on your ankle and eliminate a lot of those things,” said Paul.

At the end of the day, whether you buy a home in the near future will be based on what feels best to you and what works with your financial situation. Researching the pros and cons for both options just means you’ll be going into the process with a better overall understanding of how to reach the best decision.

Do People Really Move Because of Bad Neighbors?

Do People Really Move Because of Bad Neighbors?

Have you ever been so annoyed by a neighbor that you’ve thought about moving to get away from them?

While “neighbors from hell” do indeed cause some homeowners and renters to leave their current living arrangement, most people decide they can live with their neighbor’s quirks: A recent survey by marketing agency Fractl found that just 5% of people who moved in the last year did so because of bad relations with their neighbor.

The most common reasons for moving

According to the survey, which polled more than 1,000 U.S. adults, a new job or job transfer was the No. 1 reason for relocation, cited by nearly a quarter of respondents. 

Most of the other top reasons for moving were house and neighborhood-related or family-related:

  • Better home (23.9%)
  • Larger home (17.5%)
  • Family reasons (16.5%)
  • Closer to work (16.3%)
  • Better neighborhood (15.4%)
  • Cheaper home (12.4%)
  • Change in relationship status (11.4%)
  • Following a spouse (10.5%)
  • Safe, family-oriented environment (10.0%)

Some less common motivations respondents cited include moving closer to elderly parents or children, desire to live in a better school district and retirement.

How to manage stress during your move

Anyone who’s ever moved knows how stressful it can be to pack up and transport everything you own to a new location. The Fractl study found that moving negatively impacted the average respondent’s sleep for 15 nights after they arrived at their new place, and 50% cited stress as the main reason for poor sleep. 

The distance you move can also impact your sleep quality, according to the survey. Most respondents (65%) relocated within 50 miles of their previous residence, and those who moved within the same city were 52% less likely to experience worse sleep quality. This is likely because of the shift to unfamiliar surroundings when you relocate to a new city or state — 42.4% of respondents said this factor affected their sleep after a move.

No matter how far away you’re moving, Fractl recommended the following tips to combat post-move stress:

  • Unpack and set up your bedroom as soon as possible.
  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule.
  • Limit your caffeine intake late in the day.
  • Adjust the room temperature.
  • Take a warm shower or bath right before bed.

Want to check out property values in a neighborhood before you move? Plug any address into NeighborWho to find out owner details, current value and more.

Help! How Do I Confront A Neighbor Who Lets His Dog Poop On My Lawn?

Help! How Do I Confront A Neighbor Who Lets His Dog Poop On My Lawn?

Disclaimer: The below is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.

When you find dog poop on your property, and you don’t own a dog yourself, you may be wondering how it got there. Not only is dog poop gross and hard to clean off your shoes, it is also an environmental hazard according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Just one gram of dog poop may contain over 23 million bacteria, many of which can be dangerous to both animal and human health. Parvovirus, coronavirus, E. Coli, whipworms, Coccidia, hookworms, Guardia, tapeworms, salmonella, Campylobacteriosis are just a few of the many dangerous illnesses that can be spread through dog fecal matter. These dangerous diseases can spread all over your lawn and inside your house, or be carried down into the groundwater where they can live for more than a year. Insects and other animals are also attracted to the dung, and they carry their treasures with them wherever they go.

Dog Waste is Not a Fertilizer

All the hard work of keeping your lawn green and healthy can be erased when Fido comes over to play unannounced. Dog poop can destroy your lawn by causing brown spots and discoloration. A once luscious lawn can become unsightly when dog poop takes over and leaves patches in the grass. Dog poop and urine produce excess nitrogen which can kill your lawn.

What Should I do to Stop Dogs from Using my Lawn as a Potty Station?

First of all, it’s important to refrain from making assumptions. Just because you find dog doo-doo on your lawn doesn’t mean that your neighbor was leaving it there on purpose. Stop yourself from acting rashly or out of anger: consider what might have happened, and that this one-time transgression may have been an accident. Did a stray dog pass through your neighborhood, leaving little gifts behind? Did your sweet but preoccupied neighbor forget to bring a plastic bag and promise to come back any minute with the bag? Did your neighbor’s large dog escape his enclosure once again and head to his favorite spot – your lawn?

  1. First, try playing detective to find out who or what might be behind this “dirty” deed. Using adequate precautions and distance, consider inspecting the specimen to see whether it came from a large or small animal. Ask nearby neighbors if they have been experiencing the same problem. Keep an eye out for any dogs passing by, and see if they stop on your lawn to do their business. Remember to never accuse someone of allowing their dog to poop on your lawn. Always get the facts straight first.
  2. Once you have conclusively determined which dog has been causing offense to your lawn, find a polite way to address the owner of the dog. Consider using “I” statements and avoid sentences that start with “you.” For example, you might say, “I noticed that your dog has been using my lawn to relieve himself. I am not sure if you are aware, but dog poop can have very dangerous germs. Is there any way you could either pick up the poop next time or find a different spot for him to do his business?”
  3. If the owner continues to allow his or her dog to continue to defecate on your property, you can always set up a camera, or take pictures as evidence. Remember, the law is on your side. Whatever you do, stay calm, do not harass, threaten, intimidate, or otherwise elevate the tension.

What Not to do When You Find Dog Waste in Your Yard

It’s okay to feel upset, irritated and annoyed when you find your lawn contaminated with dog waste. However, don’t turn your feelings into behavior that could invite retaliation. Here’s a list of what you should avoid doing when you are upset with your neighbor’s dog:

  • Don’t cause physical harm to your neighbor or his or her dog.
  • Do not light the dog poop on fire in front of your neighbor.
  • Don’t yell at your neighbor or cause a scene.
  • Don’t take the dog poop and toss it onto your neighbor’s property.
  • Don’t deliver the dog poop to your neighbor’s mailbox or front door.

What are my Rights as a Property Owner?

You have a right to a clean, disease-free home and lawn. If a dog continues to trespass on your property without your permission and cause damage to your lawn, it might be time to seek the help of an experienced attorney.

Want to know more about your neighborhood? Plug an address into NeighborWho’s property finder and see what you can find!

These Are The Top 8 Home Improvement Scams To Look Out For

These Are The Top 8 Home Improvement Scams To Look Out For

Disclaimer: The below is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.

Home improvement scams happen with enough regularity that it pays to be wary. Think about the sad irony of it all: you’re just trying to make life a little better for you and your family, but what happens instead is you lose a lot of money. Home improvement scams can really be heartbreaking and create significant financial burdens.

The good news is that, with a little planning, you can hopefully make your home improvement plans relatively scam-proof. Here are the top eight scams to avoid.

Your Home Improvement Business has Contract Phobia Issues

One rule of thumb is to never do business with a contractor without a paper trail. If your potential contractor balks on this, you may want to consider no longer proceeding.

By and large, real professionals in the construction field understand that contracts are essential for good business practices. Contracts protect both the customer and business alike. They’re also important documents that spell out what work the customer can expect and for what price.

You’re Asked to Pay in Cash

Generally, homeowners are advised to never make large payments in cash. If something would go wrong such as shoddy work or no work at all, you want proof that you made a payment.

Thankfully, most construction companies are trustworthy. It’s the few others you have to watch out for: some scammers will simply take your money and run. They’ll quickly spend your hard-earned cash and you’ll never hear from them again.

Avoid Making Natural Disasters Even More Disastrous

In the event of a natural disaster, it may be prudent to be extra careful when considering which construction companies you use to help you rebuild. This is when some scammers swoop in, posing as well-meaning contractors. However, because of the scarcity of sufficient skilled labor available to match the overabundance of workers suddenly needed to service disaster areas, it’s easier than ever for scammers to blend in unnoticed.

Typically, the best contractors will be fully booked for a long time. Scammers, on the other hand, will offer you quick work for quick pay. The problem is, you’ll likely pay for it when you receive substandard work, if you get any work at all.

You may want to be especially careful about signing over your insurance check until you know exactly who you’re dealing with and their reputation.

They Request an Excessive Down Payment

Making a down payment before work begins is common practice. However, if the down payment amount exceeds 1/3 of the total project cost, this could be a major red flag.

If you feel the upfront fee is too steep, try negotiating with your contractor. The majority of businesses are willing to negotiate the down payment with you.

Unwilling to Operate with Permits       

It’s essential that your contractor has the appropriate permits to do the job. You’ll rest easy knowing that your contractor is properly insured and follows local building laws.

If the business you go with is unwilling to be transparent when it comes to permits, you may want to look elsewhere. It could be that your contractor is unlicensed. If that’s the case, you’ll likely risk paying a heavy price later on even if you save a few dollars in the short term.

Unwilling to Provide References

Quality companies are more than happy to provide references to prospective customers who ask for them. They have nothing to hide and stand behind the quality of the work they provide.

However, if you ask a contractor for references and they’re unwilling to provide them, proceed with extreme caution.

High-Pressure Contractors

The best contractors almost always have plenty of work to do. They’ll never use high-pressure sales tactics. They’re confident in their abilities. For that reason, they want you to be sure of what you’re signing up for.

If a contractor ever pressures you into a quick sale, this may be a major warning sign. Many feel that only scammers and companies with questionable work practices would do this.

The Project Price Keeps Increasing          

There are times for legitimate project prices increases. A good contract will make allowances for this, where warranted, so long as both parties agree to the extra work and payment with a new signature.

That said, price increases are sometimes a scam tactic. If you feel that price increases for your project are unwarranted, consider getting the opinion of a building inspector or established contractor in your area.

Additional Ways to Avoid Being a Victim of Fraud and Scams

Now that we’ve discussed specific ways that you could be scammed, here are a few additional practices that may help you avoid home improvement fraud.

Know your local laws: In some regions, contractors are only legally able to take a certain dollar percentage upfront before starting a project. Check your local and state laws to inform yourself on these laws.

Also, building codes vary by region. Although you should be able to rely solely on your contractor for this, it never hurts to do your own homework. A homeowner’s nightmare is paying full price for completed work that isn’t up to code. This could lead to potentially unsafe living conditions and make your house difficult to sell without potentially costly alterations.

By thoroughly knowing your local laws, you’ll likely be better able to spot a good contractor and, more importantly, a bad one!

Never make a deal with a contractor offering “leftover” or discounted building materials: Good contractors never do this. If you proceed, you could wind up getting ripped off.

Check out contractors through the BBB: The Better Business Bureau may have high praises for your contractor or quite the opposite. Checking into this is always time well spent. You can do your research at bbb.org.

There’s a lot you can do to try and protect yourself from home improvement scams. If you take a little time to prepare now, you may be happy you did later on.

Want to know more about your neighborhood? Plug an address into NeighborWho’s property finder and see what you can find!

Think Someone Is Hijacking Your WiFi? Here’s How You Can Tell and What To Do About It

Think Someone Is Hijacking Your WiFi? Here’s How You Can Tell and What To Do About It

Disclaimer: The below is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.

Not only is illicit use of your wireless network a nuisance that can hinder its performance, but when people hack into your WiFi, it also poses serious security risks.

Fortunately, as the network administrator, there a couple ways you can detect whether a neighbor or other stranger is tapping into your WiFi. You can then take the appropriate measures to prevent this behavior and strengthen your overall network security.

How to sniff out WiFi intruders

One way to tell if someone could be using your wireless Internet connection is if you are experiencing a slower-than-normal speed while browsing or downloading content.

If you suspect that an outsider has tapped into your connection, try unplugging or turning off all of your wireless-capable devices that are connected to the Internet—including your smartphone, computer, gaming console, and television—and then go check your wireless router.

Typically, if the light continues to flicker (notwithstanding powering off all of the above), someone else may be using your WiFi.

This low-tech method of detection relies on you shutting down all devices and does not provide much additional information, but it is quick and easy.

Another more conclusive method is using an app that can search for any unfamiliar devices connected to your WiFi at unusual times and notify you if strange traffic is detected. Apps that can perform such a function include Wi-Fi Inspector or Wireless Network Watcher.

You also can log into your router’s administration page and check the list of IP addresses, Media Access Control (MAC) addresses, and detectable names for devices connected to your WiFi. The name of the section with that list will differ based on your router, but it should be called something akin to “My Network,” “Attached Devices,” or “Device List.” You can check this list against the devices within your house or apartment that you know to be connected to the WiFi. Not only can you track network activity through the admin console, but you also can change security settings.

Ways to prevent unwanted use of your WiFi

Once you determine a neighbor or other person is habitually logging into your network, you should take steps to prevent this illicit behavior. Here are a few ways to put a stop to outsiders accessing your network:

1. Update router password

First, you should strengthen the security on your network. That may mean changing the default router name and password for people who have not already done so. In general, changing the password will likely boot off all the devices currently connected. Then you will be rid of unwanted freeloaders and can reconnect your personal devices using the new password. When choosing an updated password, it is typically advised to make it long and reasonably complex that you can still remember. You also can change the router name by accessing the Service Set Identifier, typically located under the wireless settings menu.

2. Strengthen security

Choose the strongest wireless network encryption that is currently available, or WPA2, which is compatible with most devices manufactured after 2006. Stay away from WEP and WPA if possible, as they both tend to be less secure. You may have to choose the option WPA + WPA Personal to make sure all your own devices can connect to the network.

3. Try a network monitoring tool

If you are more serious about detecting not only if someone is stealing your WiFi, but also who or where they are generally located, you can try a mobile tracking software tool such as MoocherHunter, a part of the OSWA-Assistant wireless auditing toolkit. Law enforcement agencies in Asia and elsewhere use the software to geo-locate wireless hackers from the traffic they send across the network. You can triangulate the physical location of the unwanted user, down to 2 meters accuracy, thanks to the directional antenna on your wireless card.

What is at risk from illicit network use?

When other users tap into your connection, unbeknownst to you, it not only decreases performance, but also poses a significant security risk. Your Internet connection will likely slow down and you may find your devices getting inexplicably disconnected from your router. According to Lifehacker.com, neighbors and other hackers can access shared folders on your network, depending on the security measures you use, allowing them to steal important data. They can even hack into the smart devices in your home and engage in illegal file downloading or illegal music/video sharing.

If you suspect someone is stealing your WiFi, it is time to give them the boot. By updating passwords and choosing a secure wireless network encryption, you can make your network safer and less permeable, protecting it from unwanted access and activity.

Want to know more about your neighborhood? Plug an address into NeighborWho’s property finder and see what you can find!

Are You Ready For Winter? Here’s How To Winterproof Your Home In A Few Steps

Are You Ready For Winter? Here’s How To Winterproof Your Home In A Few Steps

Disclaimer: The below is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.

If you’re a homeowner, winterproofing your home is just a seasonal chore. But if you’re a new homeowner, you may not know where to start. Before the first snowfall, here are a few steps you may want to take to avoid making emergency repairs in the cold.

1 – Insulate pipes

Insulation may not just keep your hot water, well, hot, but it may also prevent pipes from bursting. This can cause significant and costly damage to your home, and may lead to other hard-to-fix issues, such as water damage and a mold infestation. When water in your home’s pipes freeze, that can lead to cracks. Eventually, those cracks get larger, and the water’s pressure can cause the pipes to burst. Prevent this from happening by insulating the pipes in the coldest parts of your house (places such as attics and crawl spaces), keeping cabinets open to let heat circulate closer to the pipes, and occasionally letting water drip from faucets to keep water flowing.

2 – Clean your gutters

Cleaning out your home’s gutters is an important step in protecting your home from the winter weather: dead leaves and debris stuck in the gutters can prevent water flow. But it’s not the only precaution to see to outside. To better protect your house’s foundation, take steps to make sure that any water can easily be diverted away from your home, via a downspout. Don’t forget to maintain trees and other large shrubbery: all it takes is one heavy snowfall or a gust of icy wind to knock down branches, which can take down power lines (or worse) with them.

3 –  Check your roof

Your roof is an important defense against the winter weather, and certain bad circumstances can cause it to fail and let water or ice seep into your home. Accumulating snow, for example, can cause an older roof to collapse. Consider getting a roof rake with a long handle so you can remove snow without risking your safety and wellbeing.

4 – Stock up on the right tools

Shovels and salt are generally no-brainers for homeowners, but don’t forget emergency kits and flashlights. Bad winter weather can easily knock out power in some neighborhoods, so you may want to be prepared — especially if you’re expecting to host guests for longer than a day. Get bottled water, OTC medications, and pre-packaged food that doesn’t need to be heated or refrigerated. Batteries, a battery-powered radio, and a charged phone are also great items to add to your arsenal.

5  – Think beyond the obvious

You may be thinking about protecting your home from the winter weather, but you may want to think about how to protect it from the criminals who take advantage of this time of year to scam unsuspecting homeowners. Invest in home automation with a front-facing security camera, or a doorbell with a camera, so you can see who’s at your door. This time of year, thieves may steal packages from your porch, and if you want to catch them in the act, some of these tools may be helpful.

If you’re a homeowner with an elderly or disabled neighbor, offer your services: help them shovel snow from their driveway, pick up groceries, or offer them a care package. Some criminals may pose as do-gooders, only to scam more vulnerable individuals or steal their belongings when invited into their home.   

Don’t forget to check up on and help neighbors who may not have the tools and resources to protect themselves. A helping hand or a phone call can go a long way!

Want to know more about your neighborhood? Plug an address into NeighborWho’s property finder and see what you can find!