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Saturday, August 7, 2021

Buying a house and Mortgage Tips

I had an ex co-worker who moved from Texas to Pennsylvania and is asking for tips on how to buy a house. 

I have been asked a few of those questions in the past so I thought I should start putting it here so next time someone asks me, I'll just point them here, lol

Disclaimer: I  am in no way an expert but I have learned a lot from my husband who is tax savvy and by observing friends and listening to friends house buying horror stories. Also most of this is in Pennsylvania which has fairly lower real estate taxes than say, New Jersey.

Here goes.

Oh, before I continue, if you're here for the mortgage tip, just scroll down to the bottom. It's after the meditation image.

Tips when buying a house/condo/townhome

1. Stay away from properties with HOA (home owners association fee), it piles up.

Usually, they are for swimming pool, for lawn mowing & snow shoveling or for anything that requires manpower to maintain whatever area that you and your neighbors share. If you think you can mow your own lawn and/or shovel your own front yard & you really don’t need a swimming pool, then HOA property is a no-no. 


bonus points if you know why i use the flamingos in my HOA post :D


Average HOA is $200 according to google but when I asked my friends, it is always $300-350 a month. Multiply that by 12 is $3,600 - $4,200. Some states or county are even higher. That is a lot of money. Wouldn't you rather spend that on your vehicle loan or yearly travel expenses to some place nice? Or, to the more frugal, for your S&P 500 index?

Besides, mowing the lawn is good exercise.

P.S. also developments with HOA are very strict. They even tell you what kind of curtains you can put on your window. 

2. Do not forget REAL ESTATE taxes.

Some people buy properties thinking they hit a jackpot because the house is cheap and their mortgage is low. Then comes the time to pay real estate taxes and that’s the only time they realize their mistake. 

Remember, real estate taxes are forever (for as long as you own the property, ofcourse), even after you pay off your mortgage.

Here's the rule, real estate taxes depends on which State and which County and how big your house is.  Let me repeat that, real estate taxes depends which state, county and size of your house. 

For example, real estate tax in Pennsylvania (PA) is lower than New Jersey (NJ). real estate tax in Montgomery, PA county is lower than Bucks, PA county even if they are just right next to each other.

Tip: (a) the closer you are to malls and other corporate offices, the smaller the real estate tax is, (b) the bigger your house, the bigger the real estate tax (c) if you see more corn fields or meadows than office buildings, the higher your real estate tax will be.

Why do you have to pay attention to this? 

You probably bought a house because you're tired of paying $1,300/month on your rent, right? How do you feel then that you are still paying 1,000 in real estate per month (although usually, you pay your real estate annually, but I am just breaking it down for better visualization). Worst, you also have HOA of $300/monthly on top of that, for a clubhouse swimming pool that you never use because it always look like someone's pet has taken a bath in it.


Those 2 are the most important ones, for me. The next list below are something to consider too. I call this the medium-level "watch outs". In no particular order:

1. Ask if the property uses gas or electric. Gas is cheaper. So opt for gas.
2. Corner lot might be tempting but you will be dealing with a lot of traffic since you will have at least
        2 streets wrapping around your house. I don't know with you, but I hate the sound of passing cars.
3. Cul de sac is the best location. Safer for the kids (not a lot of traffic). You might say, "but if we have
        a big yard, why would I let my kids play outside in the street". Well, that's a good point but in my
        case, my kids like to ride their bikes and scooters outside on a paved floor, so... 
4. If you do get lucky to get a property in a cul de sac, don't get the house at the dead end of the cul de
       sac. Why? Because you will have headlights shining at your  house the whole time. Well ok, not the whole time but when it starts to get dark until all your neighbors in your cul de sac are home.
5. Check the school district. Make sure the public school has good reputation. But if you're planning to
       enroll your kids to a private school, then you don't need to check this, but you might want to find a
       house closer to that private school. 





google image of cul de sac with kids biking


6. Think "resaleability". I know, I know, you're madly in love with that property and you don't see
       yourself selling it, like never in a million years! but hear me out. We don't know what the future
       may bring. You might win a lottery and decide to live somewhere in Italy or go back to your home
       country. Or the location you chose is suddenly infested with drug addicts, etc. Fine, I'm being
       paranoid but it won't hurt to plan ahead. So, here are some things that buyer looks for:
    a. Atleast 3 bedrooms
    b. Atleast 2 1/2 baths for a 3-4 bedroom house (you don't want 3 people lining up to take a shower 
            in 1 bathroom)
    c. Basement (finish or not..it's like a bonus room for buyers)
    d. Central air (for convenience plus if you want to do this later, you would need to tear down the
            house..so better if this is already in place) 
    e. 2-car garage (one for mommy and one for daddy, or if you only have 1 vehicle, 1 for the guest)
    f. Garage is attached (you don't want to be running in the rain with a bag of grocery from your
            garage to your house, I assume?
    g. Cul de sac (less traffic and you won't have cars speeding up and down in front of your house).
    h. Swimming pool might be tempting (think of all the pool parties!) but no, don't do it. Believe it or
            not, buyers don't like pools because it lowers the resale value of the property, it's a maintenance
            nightmare (we have a friend who has a pool and it's just headache after
            headache), expensive to maintain, and increases your home owner's insurance....still not
            convinced?    here : things that don't add value to your home.
    i. Pond/Lake  This one’s tricky. pond or lake might not be a good idea too because kids can drown and parents can sue you for that. Although if you really want a pond/lake just ask what your  responsibilities will be for that pond/lake. Also, ask your home insurance agent what your
     owner's home insurance will be if you have a pond/lake in your vicinity (aside from drowning
            accidents, there's also a question environment responsibility associated to it).
    j. Trees. Be mindful of the trees surrounding the house. What's wrong with trees? I love them too but
            see if any of the tree looks like it will fall anytime soon and worst, if the tree will fall directly on
            your roof. Also ask yourself, will you be willing to cut off trees, at your own expense, if the next
            buyer wanted you to lose them (cutting trees are 500-above depending on the size of the tree)?
   h. Backyard. There are so many holidays in the US that are barbeque worthy. Need I say more?
   i. Location-location-location! is it near a grocery store or school? Is it near a sewer plant (those
           sometimes stinks and make your basement get flooded)? Is it near a Firehouse (you don't want
           those siren waking you up in the middle of the night).



google image : swimming pool



The rest of the list below are just aesthetics and low priority.

1. If you're into feng shui, it says near a cemetery is bad luck.
2. Stay away from flat roof as they leak a lot.
3. 4 or more steps before reaching the front door. Sounds innocent right, but imagine yourself hauling
         groceries. Ok, you're fine with that, but how about if some big furniture needs to be delivered to
         your house? Not your problem? Ok. How about if there's a freezing snow while you were away,
         and ice is on your front steps? 
4. Know the movement of the sun around your property. Are you raising your eyebrow? No, this has nothing to do with paranormal or astral thingies. I'll give you 2 examples why this might be important.    

a.  If you're thinking of installing solar panels on your roof, you might want to know where the sun rises. Some people does not like seeing solar panels visible in front of the house, they prefer it installed at the back side of the house. But if there’s not enough sun at that part of the property then you have no choice. Anyway, if you're one of those people who likes a good curb appeal but also want a solar panel, then yeah, know your “sun”. 


 b. My husband wants to have the morning sun shinning through the kitchen, so he chose the house where the sun rises where he wants it to be. So if you like to drink your morning coffee while watching the sun rises or do meditation during sunset, then you might want to know your “sun”


c. some plants needs morning sun and dappled afternoon sun (like the big leaf hydrangea)… if you’re into gardening, you definitely want to know if your plants will have enough sunlight….


google image: sunrise meditation

There you go. I hope those tips helps.
Now, what's next? 
Read on.



How to pay off your mortgage quicker

Disclaimer: We did not invent this tip and it's been around for a long time it even has an official name, but sometimes, things that are too obvious are the ones hardest to spot until someone pointed it out. 

Once you have decided on a property and got approved for a bank loan (if you have paid it in full then you can skip this part), don’t forget to request for a copy of the Amortization Schedule sheet from your bank. This is a computation of how much interest and principal you pay every month (or paycheck) to finish your mortgage. See sample below.



sample of amortization schedule

This is the most important tool you need to help you pay off your mortgage sooner. 

The trick is simple. Every time you pay your monthly mortgage, you need to pay the current month's interest plus principal plus the next month's principal (see above photo for illustration, pay attention to the colored boxes). It's called "Double Principal Payments". It’s nothing new really. So basically you are doing 2 Principal and 1 Interest every payment schedule.

Like I mentioned above, doing this will help you pay off your house a little quicker but you need to do this early on while the Principal is still low. Otherwise, if it's later in the amortization schedule, the Principal amount will be too high that your budget might not allow you to do this trick anymore. 

The next thing you need to know for this trick to really work for you is that you should be able to do this for as long as your budget allows you. If you can do this for 5 years, you will be able to chop off up to 5 years off your mortgage (ex: from 30 years to 25). You will be able to rip through your amortization fast.

Case in point. My husband paid off his 30-year mortgage in 17 years by doing the "Double Principal Payments" for 13 years. He stopped after 13 years because the Principal is already too high that he can't afford it anymore (this is why it's important to do this trick from the very first payment). In spite of that though, he was still able to chop off almost half of his mortgage. I thought that was pretty good. 


Important:
You have to get a copy from the bank, and mark it diligently every time you pay your mortgage and keep all receipts. At some point the bank might get confused and this is when your documentation will come in handy.  

Don't even try to compute this on your own, you have to use the copy from your bank to make sure you are both in sync with the numbers and such. They might charge you $10 for a copy of the amortization schedule, but it's a $10 well spent.


Good to know: Home mortgage interests is deductible on a Schedule A, meaning you can write this off on your tax refund. This mortgage exception is only for home mortgage interests and not the principal. Other samples of Schedule A items are charitable contributions, state income tax, local income tax, real estate taxes. Note that there is a $10,000 limit. Meaning you can only write off until $10,000. So if the total of all your Schedule A items amounted to $12,000 you can only claim the exception for the 10,000.


Good luck.



Tuesday, July 20, 2021

A few moments of pleasure, a lifetime of regrets

 A few moments of pleasure, a lifetime of regrets.


Have you ever heard or have seen that line? I don't remember where I have seen it but it stuck to me.  It was my mantra while I was going thru college.


I remember, when I was in college, the bus I was riding on my way to school would pass by this small village filled with squatters with houses of tattered roof, toddlers running about with snotty noses and holes in their almost see-through sandos. Haggard looking mothers screaming at the top of their lungs and cursing left and right for their offsprings to go inside the house, to help. The scattered fresh laundry waving in the air filling the whole street as if posing like fiesta banners. It was a depressing sight and everytime I pass by that small village it makes me scared and paranoid. I don't want to end up in a place like that.


Because you see, I did not come from a well-to-do family. Sure, I graduated from a Catholic school instead of a Public school but that's because my father got lucky to land a job that pays good money for a blue collar job. He was working for a rich pharmaceutical laboratory. Unfortunately, he was laid off by the time I finished highschool because of some company merging that happened. He was offered hefty "buy-off" force retirement money though and we could have had lived very comfortably through out my college years. Unfortunately, my father had been a victim of the Ponzi scheme and he lost half of his money (he was planning to use that money to renovate our house). Thankfully, we survived that predicament, money-wise.


It wasn't just the money that helped me go through college though, it was that mantra. I was so scared that I would fall inlove and lose control, throw caution to the wind and get pregnant and end up in that "village". I was paranoid. It's a good thing though. It kept me in check everytime I meet a guy that I like. I had an "almost boyfriend" a few times but I never really had a real one until I was in my 3rd year college. Yeah, late bloomer. I don't see him too much though (I was a "sideline" I later found out), so I guess that helped too.


Where am I going with this? Recently, a family member is going through some health issues, serious health issues, and it's because of "throwing caution to the wind". A few moments of pleasure, with some bad friends (not all his friends are bad though), and lack of self-control, and voila! he's now in a very bad condition. A condition that can never be reversed. He might not be able to walk anymore in a year or two.


"A few moment's of pleasure a lifetime of regrets"


I am amazed how each one of us are wired differently. Some would say I am paranoid, but I will contest that and say, I'm being cautious, I'm being responsible. I try to make good choices ("try" as the operative word, because let's face it, we all have our weaknesses). Thankfully, I have the foresight to know what the consequences will be if I don't behave. It's not rocket science, really, it's common sense. Sometimes, it's listening advises from older family members. Sometimes, it's observing and learning from other people's mistakes. Unfortunately, some people just don't have that reward-consequence concept wired in their brain. They live in the moment. The only care about the now, the enjoyment of the now and just shrug off any nagging feeling of untoward catastrophe because of that bad decision they are currently acting on.

I call it being stubborn or doing something stupid to spite a family member. Sure, they got what they want. They got their family members annoyed at them and then what? Who is suffering the long term effect? It's not the family members, for sure, it's THEM.

I remember my father's friend. He is an alcoholic. I remember my mom reprimanding my dad for hanging out with this friend because everytime they are together my father will always come home drunk. One day, I was just in elementary that time, that friend of my father had a stroke. You probably know what that means, half your body is dead. That friend of my father has been cursing alcohol since that stroke. He regret how he took his health for granted and because of that he never went back to normal. Every afternoon I would see him walking down the street, with her right arm folded permanently to his chest, with the right hand flopping and lifeless while he takes a step and dragging his right leg while walking. He was trying to exercise by walking, unfortunately it's too late. He cannot walk like normal again.  It was such a pitiful sight. 

"A few moments of pleasure, a lifetime of regrets".


How many times have we seen or watch movies or even know someone who are teenage mothers? Didn't finish high school, at 22 has 6 kids. Living in that "village", with an alcoholic husband. Gone are the days where she thinks her husband was the cutest thing. She's despising now how she let him touch her. "But it was wonderful", she would say. She was never touched like that before. Unfortunately, that touch lead to having twins. She had to drop out of school because she's embarrassed and it just went downhill after that.


"A few moments of pleasure, a lifetime of regrets".


Now that I have kids on my own, I am hoping to instill to them the importance of making good choices. I don't know if having a foresight for consequences and rewards are genetic or instilled but I sure want them to learn the basic thing about cause and effect and the meaning of...


"A few moments of pleasure, a lifetime of regrets".


....and I really hope I would atleast succeed on that regards...

Monday, May 10, 2021

Punished by the Undeserving

I toiled.
I invested my time and energy.
Only in the end to be squandered by someone undeserving.

Are all responsible ones destined, cursed, to take care of the irresponsible ones?
Why? Where is justice in that? 

Will responsible ones always be marked as selfish if they want to take care of themselves first, using the fruits of their labor, mind you, before taking care of others?

Will this, taking care of the irresponsible ones, be a continuous cycle until the responsible humans' supplies run dry? But who then will take of the responsible race if their supplies did run dry?

Where do we draw the line in the sand and say "enough is enough".

It is not our fault that they became what they are. We tried to teach them "how to fish" but they declined, and now we, the responsible ones, need to feed them fish every time they are in need?

Why are we, responsible beings, being punished for being sensible and having the foresight to know the consequences of bad choices?

Ofcourse we will help. That's the thing, we can't help it, we just help. Even if we're already being taken advantage of. 

Ah, the injustice of it all.



Saturday, February 27, 2021

How do you find "the one"?

 

I’ve never bought into that “You Just Know” notion. Love is a tricky thing. Sometimes it feels like an undeniable force that hits between the eyes and doesn’t let up. Other times, it’s malleable, questionable. It’s truth hidden in and amongst external obstacles and internal circumstances that’ve formed who you are, what you expect in the world, and how you can accept love. Oh, to say the least, it’s complicated. And if a mind’s abuzz with pressure and deadlines and “What if this and that,” I imagine love’s truth would be a near-impossible thing to feel. I wonder if, when all’s quiet in your mind, you’ll find your answer." - From Anne with an E


So how do you know if that person is "the one"?
Do birds really just suddenly appear? Stars just fall out from the sky?
Is it when butterflies start fluttering in your stomach? Or when you feel the flush on your cheeks?

When I was a young girl and didn't know any better, I have ideas of what "the one" is. I'm sure every person has their own preferences for a mate and while I don't necessarily agree with the "tall dark and handsome" criteria, I do like the idea of the "handsome" part. Problem is, I was a bit self-conscious about my physical appearance that "handsome" is somewhat way out of my league. Cute would suffice. Tall? Doesn't matter to me. I'm fine as long as he's not shorter than I am. Dark? Well, it's not that I have a colonial mentality and I'm not a racist, but I always get attracted to people with fairer complexion....well, and  also those who are slanted-eyed...


I will not enumerate the items in my loooong list of specifications but what I do want to mention is how that long list started shrinking as I get older.  You might say that's because I'm less choosy. Less choosy because I don't want to end up  "naiwan ng tren" (left by train aka spinster).  Maybe you're right and I'm just in denial but I really feel that is not the case.

Interestingly enough, at least for me, my preferences have evolved as I get older and after I have interacted with different kinds of people. While my list did get shorter, some of my preferences also got a little more intimidating (ie: from cute, he also needs to have a college degree). Ironically, my list also got a little less demanding (ie: from "he has to be rich" to "comfortable or middle class").  Mind you, I'm not settling, I just learned to be more realistic. Also, later on, as you meet more people from all walks of life, you also realize that physical appearance doesn't really matter at all. It's a nice-to-have but not the "be-all, end-all".  Again, I'm not 'settling', it's just how circumstances and experiences opened my eyes. Excuse the dramatics.

Case in point, have you ever met a couple where you would never think of them to be a good match just because the other one is too pretty (or too handsome) than the partner?  I have met a few of those couples. Let me tell you something tho, it’s only after you start talking to that person, who you think does not deserve the other (attractiveness-wise), will you realize what endearing characters this person have. As bright as day, you will know exactly what his/her partner saw in him/her. 

Personality. 

Most specifically, personality that matches or compliments yours. 


As my Emotional Quotient matures, atleast I’m hoping this is what’s happening, I realized how important it is for me to enjoy a person’s presence without feeling obliged to talk all the time. Someone I’ll be comfortable to sit with while I let my thoughts soar with the wind without the  need to rush it to come back to earth, meanwhile just enjoying that person’s presence or the touch of his hands on mine. I realized that someone who knows how to listen, and I mean really listen, and knows how to empathize is more important than someone with a washboard abs. I realized that someone who shares your passion, your love for travel or food or adventure or a book is better than someone with a perfectly chiseled face. I realized that someone who makes you laugh or shares your sense of humor and enjoys long walks with you is better than someone who showers you with gifts but is not really....there.
I know what you’re thinking. That those are hard to find. I agree. While it’s true that some had found their “the one” early in their life’s journeys (i met a few, and they are what we so fondly call childhood/highschool sweethearts), others will  take a while. Others will have to meet a few wrong people along the way first. 


I’m one of those “others” but I think there is still something to be thankful for about that. I sincerely believe that those who walked away from you may have left your heart crushed and may have made you feel that it’s better to wallow in self-pity and to stay under a cloak of despair and to never want to face the world again.  I will not sugar coat it, it will sometimes make you hate humanity and you will feel that your heart is broken into tiny little pieces like the sand scattered along the shore and that it would be hard to put it back together again. 


I know that feeling too well. I have been there more times than I wanted to. Inspite of it all, I’m still thankful because those who walked away from me also taught me a very valuable lesson about myself and about how important it is to find someone where both of you are looking at the same direction. How important it is to find someone that you know is in the same page as you. It is enough to convince you to slowly climb out of your somber and try again.


"What is done cannot be undone, but at least one can keep it from happening again" - Anne Frank

I’d like to think that if someone I love walked away from me, it is not because I’m at  fault. Well not “always”, at least. While it’s true that it takes 2 to tango there are still some situations where no one can ever point a finger at you. There are just people out there who were born to make you cry. Sometimes, it's not even that. Sometimes "you" are the one who needs to do the "walking away". It's a dreadful feeling but I try not to dwell on it for too long. Cry if you must. Seek solitude if you must. Then move on. At least that's how I deal with it.

I know, easier said than done. Each of us has our own level of tolerance about certain things, people, situations... but please do try. We learn from our mistakes. You might have heard that a thousand times, but don’t you think it’s true? 


Don’t you find yourself becoming more cautious after a certain mistake? I’d like to think that the more you learn from your mistakes, the better choices you make and the closer you get to the person born for you.


Ahm...

....maybe I should rephrase that. 


"Born for you”.

While it does sounds romantic, it also insinuates that we don’t have a say on the matter and that someone or some One (ie: God) had already decided for us because He thinks we are incapable of making decisions. I don't buy that. Do you? I'm sure you don’t too. So instead of "born for you" let's just say "the one you are looking for and is also looking for you". Right. I think that sounds better. I think. Less romantic sounding though but more, hmm, what’s the word, tangible. He/she is there, somewhere.


"Every long lost dream led me to where you are
Others who broke my heart, they were like Northern stars
Pointing me on my way into your loving arms
"



 

photo by yours truly

Post Script:

I want to tell you about my "the one".

We are, what you might call, an unlikely couple. We met under some extra ordinary circumstances and timing and if you are to try and dissect the timing and the hows of how we met, you would think that the universe conspired for us to be together.

He is handsome with an iridescence of a piercing blue eyes. Although this really wasn't part of my list, but it sure is a nice bonus but that’s not what attracted me to him. 


What I do like most about him is his big heart, how he takes care of the people who means to him, and how he takes care of  me. I never had anyone took care of me or have pour all his attention to me the way he did. 


I'm used to doing the “taking care” bit. The showering someone with affection. Let’s just say he showered me with the same language of love that my love tank used to be full of. It’s just hard not to fall in love with a wonderful person like him and I thank my stars for him.


We have our "moments" of course, as all couples do. No, I am not being defensive, but hear me out. 


Couples are two different people, with different experiences, culture, upbringing, etcetera and fighting is an opportunity to learn about each others differences, feelings and thoughts and an opportunity to compromise and work as team. 


I must say, it is hard to think of it that way when your blood is boiling, you have reached your tolerance level and currently swimming with anger,  but fighting, err, communication is important. It just, you know, have varying levels of "communication intensity", if you know what I mean *lol*. 

How about you. What's your story?

Friday, January 1, 2021

Proposal Anniversary

My husband proposed to me in 2011.

In New Year's eve.

In Paris.

Some might say it's romantic. After all, being proposed in the City of Light is a big deal, right?

I really have not dreamed of being proposed at in Paris because I never thought I will be able to see Paris. My dream proposal was very attainable. During sunrise or sunset by the beach and just "us". Whoever the "us" is at that moment.


my twitter is in EST 



Wait. I am not complaining. I'm just stating the fact that I am practical.

Anyway, when my husband (boyfriend at that time) proposed to me on New Year's eve, in front of the Eiffel Tower, of course I thought that was impressive. In all sense of the word.


2nd visit to Paris after the church wedding

Why?

1. I was cranky during the whole of our European tour (yes, I have my courses at that time, ergo the crankiness) but in spite of that, he still wants to spend the rest of his life with me.
2. It's Paris! Need I say more? 

So yes. I think this day is worth celebrating.

10th year wedding proposal anniversary.
The day when I found someone who fought to be with me.
The day I found out that there is someone for everybody.
The day I found out that good things does comes to those who patiently waits.

Thank you, B.
Thank you for letting me know that I'm worthy.
Thank you.

you can view more about the proposal story at our wedding blogsite: http://2sqrtof3.blogspot.com/p/our-story.html

below is my side of the vow: