Tuesday, December 30, 2008

$50 Raffle for a Million $ house

I was watching Market Watch on CNBC and saw this story about a home owner's quest for selling his house in this tough market. Instead of selling the house, he is raffling it off for $50 a ticket. That is a pretty enterprising idea when the credit markets have dried up and buyers are being cautious of buying high end homes.

If you ever wanted to buy a million dollar home for $50, here is your chance to take a gamble on your luck. However, before you jump in and buy the raffle tickets, check to see if you can really afford it! Its sort of a lottery, so you will be responsible for paying income taxes on it as well as property taxes. With the IRS breathing on you for their cut, that $50 bargain doesn't really look like a $50 bargain any more. However, if you can afford all the additional costs, you might begin the new year with a very happy note.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wishing every one a Very Merry Christmas

Wish everyone a Very Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas in Georgia

Georgia generally doesn't have a white Christmas, but it makes up for it by having many places where you can go to see beautifully decorated Christmas lights. Enchanted Garden of Lights at the Rock City is worth the 4-5 hour drive, especially if you combine it with visiting the underground water fall, Ruby Falls as well. Lake Lanier Islands and Stone Mountain Park are also very nice attractions that are
much closer.

Here is a list of places where you can go to enjoy the tranquil nights leading to Christmas.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Low interest rates

I have been getting e-mails from builders and lenders advertising ridiculously low interest rates. I have received interest rates as low as 4.75% for a 30 year fixed, and some even giving added incentives of lowering the rate to 2.75% for the first year, 3.75% for the 2nd year, and a fixed rate of 4.75% thereafter. With the home prices and interest rates down to historic low levels, it looks like a great time to buy... but with all the gloom and doom in the economy, who knows which way the wind will blow? However, there are some comforting thoughts for the Atlanta market; Atlanta has maintained reasonably low housing prices as compared to those of the bubble states such as Arizona, California and Florida. According to the CNNMoney.com's list of companies for 2008, Georgia is home to 26 of the Fortune 1000 companies, of which 21 are in the greater Atlanta area. Georgia is also home to 12 of the Fortune 500 companies. However, these are uncertain times, and buyers must exercise caution to only get into a home they can afford, not necessarily one they dream about.

A lesson in Psychology

My wife alerted me to this interesting article that she was given to read, and to write an essay based on it for her psychology class. She was pretty impressed about it as it had made an impression on her, and wanted to test it out on me. As I got to the second printed page, I made a comment that she interpreted as I "got it."
"Most cultures exhibit a particular configuration or style. A single value or pattern of perceiving the world often leaves its stamp on several institutions in the society. Examples are "machismo" in Spanish-influenced cultures, "face" in Japanese culture, and "pollution by females" in some highland New Guinea cultures. Here Horace Miner demonstrates that "attitudes about the body" have a pervasive influence on many institutions in Nacireman society."
Read it with an open mind and see if you get it too. Without giving away too much, it an article about rituals in different cultures. It will surprise you if read with a judgmental tone.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas Party/ Families First Charity!

In the spirit of Christmas, The Atlanta New In Town Meetup Group is hosting a Christmas party by sponsoring a family through Families First, and giving gifts to the deserving family.  The party is to be held on the 12th of December, and is a way for the new in towners to come together for a good cause. For more information, please visit their web site.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A cheesy bailout

With all the stories of the banker bailouts and the auto bailouts comes this humorous story of the Italian government bailing out the cheese makers! It looks like bailing out these cheese manufacures is of national interest to Italy, akin to the bailing out of the bankers and auto manufactures here in the USA.

At least the Italian government is going to get a lot of cheese for this... while we only get the opportunity to grunt about it. When the tough gets going, at least the Italian government will be able to back the Lira with Cheese, while we at the USA gets to back the dollar with... you guessed it, with absolutely nothing, but the words This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private! I guess if they dont bailout the cheese makers, they'd probablly have to layoff a few cows, which could be very dmaging to the economy!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir

BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir is the largest stone and marble Vedic Hindu Temple in the USA. It is located at 460 Rockbridge Road NW, Lilburn, GA 30047 and is a beautiful structure with very intricately carved white marble from the ceiling to floor! If you havent visited yet, it is definitely worth your time and is a must see place in Atlanta.

Simple projects for selling your home

It is important to give your home a good curb appeal, especially if you are planning to sell your home. It is definitely a buyers market and the sellers have to work much harder to sell their home when there are so many options available to the buyer. In this market, the seller has to try make the home as desirable as possible; if you find your home very appealing, so will a prospective buyer. The first impression a buyer gets is from the outside, so work at giving a positive impression from the out side in. You dont want a buyer to take a look from the out side and decide this house is not for them. Certainly, there are external factors that you cannot control, but if you try to make your home the best looking home in your neighborhood, you will have a much better chance of selling it quickly. Even if you are not selling your home, it wont hurt to maintain it as a very desirable home. Here are some tips for improving your home's appeal without putting a big dent your pocket.
  • Trim the hedges. Overgrown hedges are very noticeable, and takes away the curb appeal. Spending time to keep the clean up the shrubs is a quick way to improve the look of your home.
  • Take care of your lawn by pulling out any unsightly weeds and putting down sod or planting grass seeds in spotty areas where the grass is dead. A well cared for lawn adds to the desirability of a home.
  • If your driveway has oil or paint spills, clean it up. You can find chemicals to clean concrete at Home Depot or Lowes.
  • Check your mail box to see if it needs to be painted. Spending 15 min painting the mailbox can give a fresh new look.
  • Clean your windows. Fix any out of place gutters.
  • Do simple landscaping jobs that you can do for yourself. Plant some trees, hang a bird feeder, put new pine straw around trees, etc that will add a little bit of extra touch that shows you have been taking good care of the property.
  • Get rid of unnecessary junk that has been collected over the years. Have a garage sale and sell it to some one who finds it more useful than you. If you are going to sell your home, you will have to get rid of these anyway. Why not get rid of them earlier, so you will have more room and your home can be more presentable to a prospective buyer?
  • Doing simple home improvement projects can give a fresh new look. Something as simple as changing your kitchen faucet can make a big difference at very little cost. Another idea that might add a new look without much expense is to change to the light fixtures, adding a new chandelier or a ceiling fan.
If you are not the handy man type, home depot offers many Do It Yourself classes to show you how to do simple projects or you can check out many resources on the web. I have summarized the list of good sites I follow. If you know of others, please write a comment or send me an e-mail and I will update this list.

Home and Garden TV
This Old House TV Show
DIY Network
Ron Hazelton's HouseCalls
Manage My Home
Better Homes and Garden
Danny Lipford

Saturday, December 6, 2008

World of Robotics

With all the ongoing discussions of auto bailouts, it is interesting to see how the automotive robots are fast replacing the human workers. Once a work flow is designed, it is pretty much repetitive work that can be automated. This work flow has been automated through the use of robotics for not only its cost savings, but also in order to achieve a higher degree of precision, reliability and time to complete. Toyota manufacturing plant in Kentucky claims to produce a vehicle in 20 hours! Here is another interesting video of the Nissan Factory in UK, which claims to produce a car in 8.12 hours by the combined labor of 2680 workers. This not only applies to the automotive industry, but to any process that can be automated, as evidenced by this video of food processing plants.

And here is a very interesting robot named Asimo, made by Honda that can walk, run, and even dance!

Here is Boston Dynamics Big Dog with amazing agility.

And there is hope for the thrill seeking aspects of robots.

The morale of the story is that the need for continuous training and education in this day and age cannot be over emphasized. Whatever you current profession is, its better to learn a new skill that will prepare you for the jobs of tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dont be a sucker!

I received a letter from a company named National Deed Service, Inc. informing me of the importance of obtaining a Certified copy of the deed, and that they can get me that certified copy for a fee of $59.50 and $20 extra for a 2nd copy. While having a certified copy of the deed is useful, you shouldnt have to pay $59.50 get it. If you are willing to go to the court house in your county, you can get it yourself practically for the cost of making a photo copy.

The letter also mentions in upper case letters that "MANY GOVERNMENT RECORDS ARE AVAILABLE FREE OR AT NOMINAL COST FROM GOVERNMENT AGENCIES." So, please take their own advice and do yourself a favor by getting it yourself.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

One life to live

My heart goes out to those affected by the terror attacks in Mumbai, India. Terrorism of any sort is a sheer display of pure cowardice by extremists trying to further their claims, without regard to the rights of innocent people. Control at gun point is certainly not the quality of a leader, but that of a coward, who is fully aware of it; so they must hide behind a religion or some other agenda that would help give them a little bit of legitimacy in the eyes of like minded extremists. I believe they fully realize the damage caused to their religion, stirring suspicion and hatred of one neighbor against the other. Yet, they continue to sling mud at their own, just so that the moderate becomes agitated as the world looks to them with suspicion and hatred, thus creating a negative feedback loop that turns the moderate into extremists. As Deepak Chopra mentioned in the CNN interview, this is not an India's problem, America's problem or Europe's problem; it is our problem, plain and simple.

The best message we can send to terrorists is that we, the people of all faiths, stand united against the fear mongers; that we condemn their actions regardless of our differences. Not doing so only an encourages the terrorists in their attempt to further divide us. Despite our differences, we all have to work on making peace with one another. Religion divides us because for one reason or another, we tend to believe that our way is the only right way; instead, we must learn to respect the beliefs of others. We fail to realize that all our bickering and ideologies of after life is nothing but speculation, until we face the moment of truth; which is the moment of death. So, at least while we are alive on this earth, we should try to be a little nicer to each other. Who knows what and where the lottery ticket we hold in our hand gets us to in the life after, if there is any.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thanksgiving treat

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced that they will be halting foreclosures from November 26, 2008 until January 9, 2009. The six week suspension of foreclosures will allow those facing foreclosure to retain their homes while Fannie and Freddie work on unveiling a streamlined loan modification program to be unveiled on the 15th of December. For more details, please read the announcements from their respective web sites mentioned above.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Thanksgiving is just around the corner and it is a time for families and friends to come together to share in the fun and festive times. Atlanta has many new in towners and if you happen to be one of them, and wandering what to do for the Thanksgiving in a new city with no friends or relatives, you are just in luck. A group of nice and friendly people are getting together to host a Thanksgiving Weekend International Dinner to meet new friends and make each other feel a little more connected. The Atlanta New In Town Meetup Group hosts meetings with different themes several times a month and is an excellent way to make new friends and adapt to the new city.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Runoff Elections

Gwinnett County General Runoff Election will be held on the 2nd of December, 2008, between the hours of 7:00 am and 7:00 pm. For those that would like to take advantage of early voting, you may do so from the 17th of November to the 26th of November. According to the Gwinnett county web site, Georgia voters no longer need a reason for voting prior to election day.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sweet Home not so sweet

Just read this amazing story about a woman in Sweet Home, Oregon, who lost $400K to a "Nigerian scam". Going against everyone's advice, she had been adamantly pursuing a get rich quick scheme to get her share of $26.6 million in exchange for helping a long-lost relative. The con artists had her believing FBI Director "Robert Muller" and President Bush were in on the deal as well!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Help to ease foreclosure pain

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac unveiled a plan to help struggling home owners reduce their payments in an attempt to reduce rising foreclosures. Separately, Citigroup plans to expand its Citi Homeownership Assistance Program to help troubled home owners keep their homes. Read my previous article about Foreclosure Prevention for more information about what other help is available.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Congratulations President-Elect Barak Obama and Vice President-Elect Joe Biden!

Let me join in with millions of Americans in congratulating you on becoming the 44th president of the USA. People of diverse backgounds, despite obvious differences in race, color, creed, age groups, and beliefs, came together to vote for you with one voice, for the hope of a better tomorrow. Your victory is an inspiration to all, and living proof that the American Dream is well and alive. There is HOPE for tomorrow!
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

You have given hope to the hopless, and has delivered on the promise of the day that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr spoke of in his famous "I have a dream" speach. Thank you for showing me, and billions of people around the world, that when you stand for what is just and right, it transcends above all petty human differences. Congatulations on your presidency and achieveing the highest accomplishments, coming from the humblest beginings.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Last Chance

Here is the story of a Real American, who unlike Joe the Plumber, faught the war in Iraq when asked, without question, and kept a blog of his life story. This is the Real American that we should be talking about, not a Joe Blow the Plumber! Continuing on the Bush's footsteps, here is the story of students being escorted from a McCain campaign event to the tune of Minority Report, a 2002 movie about arresting people before a crime is commited.

Tomorrow, Nov 4th, 2008, aka the Election Day, we have a very important choice to make; do we continue along the path of failure by handing the torch to the same Republican party that has brought us so much grief or do we try to correct the ship by voting for change... change that we so desperately need now, as we witness the down fall of this great country.  This is the day to let our voice be heard. Let us vote for the right reasons, not for the promise of virtual dollar bills that are being promised to be stuffed into our pockets. Let us vote for the promise of a better future and for a better America.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cast your vote

The poll booths are now open and we should all try our best to cast our vote. Not doing so is a waste of your rights, and an irresponsibility not only to your own future, but to that of future generations as well. It has become exceedingly clear that it is our only weapon against self centered, mediocre leadership. All I have seen with the McCain campaign is primarily negative ads highlighting Obama's weaknesses, while Obama's campaign was primarily one of highlighting his strength. I can clearly see the qualities of a leader and those of one feeling insecure.  Given current state of affairs, I don't know how any one can, with a good conscience, be rooting for the Republican party. Have we already forgotten the the famous quote by JFK "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country?" Sadly, Republican era seems have transformed the message  into "Ask not what your rich bankers and oil companies can do for you, but what you can do for your rich bankers and oil companies!"

Looking back at the yester years, we have been attacked by terrorists, and in futile retaliation, hunted them back like Porky hunting Bugs Bunny, loosing many young American lives and many of our freedoms in the process.  Our government has accused other countries of having WMDs when they didn't, and  have accused everyone, including Americans for "either being with us or against us." We witnessed the appointment of political buddies that had no relevant experience to high government positions, with devastating effects as evidenced by the Hurricane Katrina. We are having one the worst recessions, seen incredible gas prices which had dipped down just in time for the elections, the stock market has been down to the worst levels in decades, huge layoffs of hard working Americans while CEOs have made out with golden parachutes while bankrupting their companies, bank failures at levels unseen since the S&L crisis (again during Republican presidency), and people loosing a lot of their savings in 401K, not to mention loosing a family's most priced possession, homes, to foreclosures and the biggest increase in personal bankruptcies... all during Republican presidency of not 4, but for 8 consecutive years. Now the Republican campaign has taken on an opinionated, non taxpaying Joe "the Plumber" to be the center piece of their political campaign. If this is how its going to be before the elections, I don't want to imagine what it would be like after the election if McCain wins. Joe "the Plumber" would probably be the head of National Security, "Andy the Janitor" would be appointed to be the Supreme Court Judge, and Pam from Merry Maids will probably take over Bernanke's position, ad infinitum. Not that there is anything wrong with that!  Scary times indeed.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Home sales improve in September

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) report that existing home sales improved slightly in September by 5.5% and the total inventory has fallen by 1.6%. According to NAR President Richard F. Gaylord, low home prices and low interest rates have been attracting buyers and this is the first time since November 2005 that home sales have been above year-ago levels. However, NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun, cautions that the credit markets are still unsettled and there could be market disruptions. The increased number of foreclosures and short sales have been contributing to lowering the median home price as these are being sold at discounted prices. Read more details at the Realtor web site

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Marina’s 'fall festival' for a good cause Saturday Oct 25th 12-6PM

Come and enjoy music, food, hay rides, a boat show and lots of fun activities for the kids, while helping a good cause. The fundraiser will help Lesli Smith, a real estate agent with Keller Willaims Realty, fight her battle against cancer.  The event will be held at the Aqualand Marina, 6800 Lights Ferry Road, Flowery Branch, GA 30542. Read more about the event at the Gainesville Times

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sugar Hill Festival

City of Sugar will be celebrating the 8th Annual Sugar Hill Fall Festival on the 25th Saturday of October 2008. Plan for an exciting fun filled day with food, rides and a Car and Motorcycle show. You can also be a part of a good cause by choosing to participate in the food drive. Please visit the City of Sugar Hill web site for more details.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sims Lake Park

Sims Lake Park is now open and is a welcome addition to Suwanee's commitment to providing a quality life style through its Open Space Initiative. It is a very tranquil park with a 7 acre lake and 1.2 mile hiking trail, a playground for kids and a picnic pavilion. This adds yet another reason to why Suwanee was chosen to be the 10th in the list of Top 100 Best Places to Live by the Money Magazine in 2007.

Swanee Day

Suanee Day was held today at the Suwanee’s Town Center Park. It turned out to be a beautiful day with sunny blue skies, lots of entertainment with music, and a variety of food.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Open House 10/18-10/19 in Ellijay

I will be hosting an open house this Sunday the 19th in Ellijay for Cindy (Listing Agent), who will be available on both Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm. Coincidentally, it also turns out to be the Georgia Apple Festival, held at the Ellijay Lions Club Fairground. So take some time off to enjoy the short scenic drive to the North Georgia Mountains and check out these beautiful homes at the same time.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Happy Meal or Home?

MSNBC is running a story about a Chicago resident, Joanne Smith, who won an e-bay auction for an abandoned home in Saginaw, MI for $1.75! Yes, thats cheaper than a Happy Meal! Seller probably forgot to put a minimum bid!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Is America worth more dead than alive?

I ran across this blog about Credit Default Swaps, and another titled A Credit Default Swap Primer, which led me to raise the above question. Imagine the game the short sellers could/would/have played naked shorting stocks that they have taken CDSs for. If, as the articles mention, there are $58 Trillion of CDSs to insure the $6 Trillion of US corporate debt, there seem to be a lot of stakeholders that would like to collect that $58 Trillion as companies file for bankruptcy. So, are we being purposely set up for failure by some truly sadistic people, in order to collect on it? I would like to know the answer, and truly hope that it is a resounding no.

Several weeks ago I wanted to by a Macintosh and checked Craigslist to see if there are any good deals. I found an amazing deal for a Mac Book Pro for $1200; it sells for $2000 at the Apple Store. I sent a quick e-mail asking if I can come and take a look. A day later, I got a reply back; "I still have the laptop. But the thing is that I'm in the U.K. for my school (I have the laptop with me)...." and a way for us to complete the deal fast. This was just what I expected... a student in UK, trying to sell his laptop in Atlanta for dirt cheap. I have heard of this scam too many times, so I elected not to pursue this any further. But it looks like Wachovia and Citigroup have fallen into this same exact trap buying Credit Default Swaps from a tiny company in an inaccessible jurisdiction. With people like this running our financial system, I don't know whether to laugh or to cry! Truly amazing!

Here are some very interesting and disturbing eye openers that talk about the crisis we are facing.digg this article.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Deal Reached on $700 Billion Bailout Plan

Just read on Seeking Alpha that the arrangements have been made to take the cow to the slaughter house.

$700 Billion Bailout

I have been reading about the $700 Billion bailout issue and been pondering about it for a while. The more I think about it, the less it makes sense to me. The government wants to buy foreclosed homes from banks and hold on to them till the market improves. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that this not a plan to help the foreclosure crisis. Its a plan to help the corporations write down a lot of bad decisions at tax payer expense. Why should any one have to think that this is going to work? Theoretically, It will give the banks much needed cash to get them to start lending again... essentially getting the tax payer to dole out $700 Billion to the banks, just to have them lend it back to us at a higher interest rate. Why does this sound like trying to beg from a beggar's bowl, promising to give back less than what was taken out, or trying to kill a bee with its own sting?

What's the guarantee that the bailed out banks wouldn't take the money and go invest it outside the USA, and then claiming they need more money? Didn't we already see the Fed injecting money into the market several times, only to have it rise back from the dead? If the government is serious about fixing foreclosures, wouldnt preventing foreclosure by addressing the real issues be better than waiting for people to go into foreclosure and buying them with taxpayer money? All this plan does is to move the problem from one place to another, without addressing the real underlying issues. This is like trying to avoid fixing a leaky roof by placing a pots to collect the water.

A a lot of smart people have determined the ROOT CAUSE of the current mess in credit markets to be the deteriorating real estate market. Though this seem to be the immediate culprit, I don't know if we can pin the blame on it as the only root cause.  With a large number of jobs getting outsourced, and practically all manufacturing being done outside the USA, is it any wander that we are in such a bad mess? We have successfully outsourced most well paying jobs, with the exception of the service sector that needs to have certain jobs locally. The whole country has been turned into consumers, and the few that produce and service, have their heads buried so deep in policies, they have effectively turned workers into nothing but robots.

When people have no jobs to pay for their mortgages, naturally, the next step is going to involve foreclosure. Why don't we then recognize outsourcing, instead of housing, as the root cause of the current mess? I guess its because no tax payer would want to bail out the greedy companies that outsourced their jobs. Housing is a much easier scapegoat that the taxpayers may give into. So, instead of pointing out the real root cause, a politically correct root cause is found that we can all relate to.

I wander if this $700 Billion is the end of it all. Does the government know how long they have to hold these houses for the markets to stabilize and start moving up again? What about the cost of managing the infrastructure for all these government owned homes? What about maintaining these houses? Have they considered lawn care, vandalism, frozen pipes from cold winters, home insurance, marketing costs, etc? The cost of home insurance for a vacant home tends to double or even triple, as insurance companies consider it to be a higher risk than occupied homes. So, by the time all these costs are taken into account, does the government still plan on making a profit? Are the taxpayers going to end up holding the bag for that too?

You can do a lot with $700 Billion, and I'm sure we can come up with 700 Billion ways to spend that money more constructively! For one thing, we can put that money towards projects that reduce our energy dependence, and create jobs. Why not use part of that money to create an efficient Mass Transportation system that works well, be affordable and convenient so that people can reduce driving, and thus the dependence on oil? Wouldn't a project of this size create a lot of badly needed jobs for the American economy? Ford and GM are also begging for $25 Billion of tax payer money for a bailout. Instead of blindly bailing them out, why not get them to make busses and trains for the Mass Transportation system? That in turn would allow them to keep employing their workforce for a project that would help us for a long time. The people that worked on housing can be employed to make bus and rail stations. If people have jobs that earn them money, they wouldn't have to go into foreclosure. Wouldn't this be a better way to reduce foreclosures at the root cause, rather than waiting for people to foreclose, and then buying those properties with taxpayer money? Isn't this better than blaming the people who worked hard to earn the American Dream? I am not denying there were speculators, or that bad loans were made, or that some lenders were preying on unsuspecting borrowers... what I am saying is that we are addressing the problem by putting band aids in the wrong places, instead addressing the REAL ROOT CAUSE.

Assuming we have a population of 300 million people, that should make each of us liable for about $2340 per person. Remember that $600 tax gift that President Bush gave us to go shopping? Well, it looks like the government has picked my pocket for nearly 4 times that amount! Just to be on the safe side, I think we need to get the government to give us in writing, which Billion they are referring to; the one that is a Thousand Millions, or the one that is a Million Millions!!! After all, we have been taken on several scenic rides before. When a $7000 Tax credit for the purchase of a new home" turns out to be a 15 year loan, and when we have to payback 4 times the tax break we got, all I see are lies, lies and more lies. Oh, I just forgot. Did we find those WMDs in Iraq or catch that Bin Laden guy yet? Are we still playing Porky and Bugs Bunny with the bad guys?

Its good to see that a lot of people are taking action to prevent the government from sticking it to us. Please support them by digging their stories, so that Washington will take note. It may be futile, but doing nothing is worse. Keep the American spirit alive, and Long Live the American Dream! digg it

I don't have a background in finance. My formal training is in engineering, so a lot of my thoughts are based on the simple principles of managing money. I got into real estate as a backup plan, because the only thing I knew was about computers, and the way things are going doesn't give me any comforting thoughts. I have learned a few things having gone thru the .com crash in 2000, and I needed to learn something different. I figured what I learn from real estate would not be a waste at all, as I would learn people skills, marketing skills and learn about an industry that directly and indirectly touches every part of our daily lives. All of these skills would be applicable to technology in one way or another. This is my way of dealing with uncertainty, allowing me to broaden my horizons and acquire new skills.

Monday, September 1, 2008

How to improve your credit score

Your credit score is an important measure of how well you manage your fiances. This is important to a lender because they expect you to make good on your promise to payback the money you borrow, with interest in a timely manner. It should be very important to you as well, because the higher your credit score, lower the risk to a lender, which translates into better loan terms for you. The first step would be to establish a line of credit, such as getting a credit card or shopping around for a car loan instead of paying cash. Once you do this, make all your payments on time. Being late with your payments lowers your credit score, and not paying at all would be detrimental to your credit score. Don't forget that improving your credit score takes time and effort, so don't be discouraged when you don't see immediate results. With determination, combined with discipline and sticking to your budget, you will be able to improve your credit score.

Here are some tips to help you maintain a good credit score.

1) Be sure to sign up for a free credit report at Annual Credit Report that allows you to get a free credit report once per year. Ability to monitor your credit score would help you discipline yourself by checking your progress periodically. Since there are 3 major credit reporting agencies, you will be able to get a free credit report every 4 months by requesting one from each of these companies once per year.
Don't confuse Annual Credit Report with the Free Credit Report, which is free for a trial period and then becomes a paid service after the trial period is over.
2) If you have been financially responsible living within your means and never borrowed money, you are still considered a higher credit risk. This is because you don't have a credit history and lenders don't know how good you are with paying back borrowed money on time. If you feel uncomfortable about borrowing money and still would like to pay cash, you could get a loan and pay it off with your first payment. Just make sure that there are no prepayment penalties when you apply for a loan. This way, you will establish good credit, and still maintain your life style and peace of mind of being debt free and financially responsible.

3) Don't apply for too many credit cards. To lenders, this is a signal that you are not responsible with money. Close accounts that charge you too much interest so you want to be tempted to tap the credit line.

4) Pay your bills on time. Being late on your bills is a perceived signal that you are unable to keep pace with your finances. You may have forgotten to write a check, but the damage is already done, and your credit score is affected. If you are the type that forgets to make payments, I would suggest automating your payments as much as possible. For instance, if you have a car loan, its easy to set up an automatic payment with your bank. Just make sure that you allow enough time for the automated payment to be delivered without being late as most banks require a certain amount of time to make the payment.

5) If you have had late payments due to legitimate reasons, make sure you contact the credit reporting agencies and add a note to explain why the payment was delayed.

6) If you have too many payments and it is becoming difficult to make payments, try to consolidate your debt, so you can have a single affordable payment instead of several unmanageable payments. Try your best not to get into a similar situation again by getting into the habit of using those credit lines again, at least until you have paid off your debt.

7) If you become unable to make the payments on time due to unexpected expenses, be sure to contact the creditors and let them know that this is temporary and try to work out an alternative payment plan to allow you to catch up without affecting your credit.

8) If you bought something that promises you no interest for a certain period of time, make a plan to pay it off at least a month before the first payment is due. Most of these offers would charge you all the interest for the past terms if you go beyond the due date of the 1st payment.

9) As you build and maintain your credit score, you will be tempted with offers of lower interest rates for periods of 6 months to a year or more. Make good use of these opportunities by moving your higher interest debt to lower interest offers, keeping in mind that you have this for a limited period of time as mentioned in item 8. Always be mindful of when your interest will change, and have a plan in place to be able to pay it off before that event. Don't count on getting another offer to a lower interest rate because your hopes may not materialize. Focus on what is within your control, not on what you expect.

10) Read up my other article titled Living Frugally and become a frugal spender. The government wants you to spend your hard earned money, going into extraordinary lengths to make you spend your money, and so do businesses. Basically, everybody wants your money! Its up to you to control your temptations, and keep a tight fist.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Open House (8/17/08) at 2-4 PM

I will be hosting an open house this Sunday the 17th from 2 PM to 4 PM at the Wild Timber subdivision in Sugar Hill. The address is 376 Westwater Ridge, Sugar Hill, GA 30518

Beautiful home in sought after Wild Timber. Huge, private, wooded flat yard. Very large kitchen. Open floor plan. Finished basement with bar & media room. Large master suite. Room for a 7th bedroom. Lots of trim, on a culdesac and fabulous amenities! A must see!

MLS# 3731683, $464,900
6 Bedrooms, 5 Baths, Built in 1999, 1/3 to 1/2 Acre
Riverside Elem, Lanier Middle, North Gwinnett High
Please contact me for more details and stop by to view the property.

* approximate times

Sunday, August 10, 2008

$7500 Tax Credit for purchase of a new home

As part of the economic stimulus bill that was signed by the president early this month, a $7500 "tax credit" is available to first time home buyers who purchase a new home between April 9, 2008 and July 1, 2009. This is not a rebate or a tax deduction, but rather an interest free loan that must be paid back over a period of 15 years. Interesting choice of words, I must say. However, an interest free loan payable over 15 years is better than none at all. Its about $4000 of interest saved if you were to get a 15 year loan for $7500 at 6.5%.
If you decide to purchase a new home, be educated about why you should still consider working with an agent to look out for you best interest instead of going to a builder directly. Just as the "tax credit" is not really a "tax credit," the wording does matter, and having some one look out for your best interest does matter. Be sure to read the article I have written titled "Would I get a better deal from a builder without an agent since they don't have to pay the agent?"
Another fallout from this bill is that the Down Payment Assistance (DPA) programs will end on the 1st of October, 2008. DPAs were a way of providing 100% financing by the seller contributing towards the required down payment. The FHA down payment requirement has also been increased to 3.5% from the previous 3%.

If you want to maximize the effects of this, i.e. buy a new home with a Zero down payment AND get a $7500 tax credit (aka, interest free loan payable over 15 years), the time is running out since the DPA is being eliminated as of the 1st of October 2008.

A new website has also been set up by the National Association of Home Builders. Read more about the tax implications of the $7500 tax credit at Forbes.com.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Fair Housing

Fair Housing Acts prohibit discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin, religion, disability, or familial status in real estate transactions involving residential property. It is sad that it has to be written up as a law, rather than us realizing for ourselves that it is wrong to discriminate in the first place. Some of the noted forms of violations as it applies to real estate transactions are described below.

Red Lining is the practice of lenders conspiring to refuse loans to applicants in certain neighborhoods in order to keep the minorities out.

Steering is the practice of showing or targeting only specific neighborhoods based on discriminatory criteria. So, if you ask your agent to show you properties that meet only a specific criteria based on one of the protected classes described above, your agent has to politely deny your request. Likewise, a seller insisting that the buyer be restricted to a certain class is a violation of the law. This does not mean that it is illegal to reject some one with a bad credit score as it is not discrimination based on the protected classes described above.

Block Busting or Panic Peddling is the practice of a broker hoping to profit by persuading home owners to sell claiming minority groups are moving into the neighborhood.

An important fact to keep in mind is that Fair Housing Acts does not apply to commercial properties or for owner occupied properties with less than 4 rental units. A wealth of information is available at the Housing and Urban Development web site.

If you feel you have been discriminated against, you can file a complaint with the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) within 1 year of the violation.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Foreclosure Prevention

Foreclosure is a process through which a lender can recover the loan by taking ownership of the property used to secure the loan if the borrower defaults in making payments.

A property goes into pre-foreclosure when the lender files a public notice of default after a borrower defaults on the loan payment. During pre-foreclosure, the borrower has the right of redemption within a grace period specified by state law. The borrower may sell his property during the pre-foreclosure period to pay off the loan. The lender may also agree to sell the house at a price lower than the current loan amount and release the borrower of the obligation to pay the remainder through a process called a Short Sale. At the end of the pre-foreclosure stage, if the owner has not been able to reinstate the loan or sell the house, it is sold at a public auction. The auction usually takes place at the county court house, and the property will be sold to the highest bidder.

Take steps to take control your finances as I discussed in Independence Day and try to cut down unnecessary expenses as much as you can to become a frugal spender.
Beware of scams. You should NOT have to pay for counseling when HUD approved free services are available. Look for the links below.
If you are behind in payments and have received a letter from the lender
  • Contact the lender immediately to try and work out a payment plan to catch up with the payments you have been unable to make. It is very important that you DO NOT ignore these notices. The problem will not go away if you ignore the notices, and it will only make matters worse. If you communicate with the lender, at least you have a chance of negotiating better terms with your loan, or try to work out a payment plan while you look for a job or put your house up for sale. Lenders, faced with many foreclosures, are willing to work out loan payment arrangements, but you have to take the first step by contacting your lender.
  • If you can come up with the costs required to cure foreclosure, you have the right of redemption within a specified time period.
  • If you cannot sell at a break even price, you may still be better off selling the house at a loss than continue to loose more money. You maybe able to negotiate a Short Sale, a process by which the lender agrees to sell your property at a loss, and release you of the additional loan obligations.
If you are still making payments and is facing a rate reset.
  • Contact your lender and try to work out a payment plan or see if you can you refinance under better terms. Lenders are not in the business of buying and selling property and they don't want you to loose your house, because its costly for them as well. It takes time, money and effort for the lender to foreclose, renovate and put a house back on the market. So, you do have some bargaining power.
  • Shop around for loans at better terms with other lenders.
  • If you are unable to secure a new loan at better terms, consider selling your property.
In any case, do your best to educate yourself about the options that are available to you. I have done the research and listed my sources below.

Homeownership Preservation Foundation offers free counseling and claims to have provided advice and education to more than 300,000 homeowners since 2002. Click here for other HUD Approved Housing Counseling Agencies

Department of Housing and Urban Development is a good source of information about foreclosure prevention.
From Federal Reserve
From FreddieMac
From IRS
If you want the legalities, find the foreclosure law for your state
Foreclosure Information for Veterans

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Independence Day

On the 4th of July 2008, we celebrate the 232nd occasion of The Declaration of Independence from the British which occurred on July 4, 1776. This certainly is a great cause for celebration, as we all are grateful for the fruitful lives we enjoy today due to the sacrifices made by those before us. This is also a time for us to think of our own independence; independence from debt, which leads to true liberation. Each of us should try to declare independence from debt by taking action to minimize and eliminate unhealthy debt. The day we achieve that, is a day of true independence that we can celebrate for ourselves. Here are 12 suggestions that you can try.

  1. Take inventory of your income vs. expenses. First step is to figure out what your income is and what your expenses are. If you don’t know what, how and where you are spending your money, you might as well walk blindfold in a mine field.
  2. Make a budget. Now that you know your income and expenses, you have to make sure you are spending less than you make.
  3. Recognize that there is healthy debt and unhealthy debt. What I call healthy debt is debt that can work for you, such as your home mortgage, since the interest paid on your mortgage is tax deductible. Unhealthy debt is debt from Credit Cards or Auto loans where the interest paid is money gone from your wallet for ever. Automobiles and consumer goods are depreciating assets as the value will continue to depreciate over time.
  4. Automate your bills. If you are making your purchases on credit cards, make sure you pay it off before the due date every month. If you sign up for online banking, you can automate the payments, so you will never be late. Also make sure you join rewards programs that will give you something back. If you are going to have to spend the money anyway, why refuse to get something back?
  5. Debt consolidation. If you have credit card debt, take steps to consolidate your debt and make a plan to pay it off ASAP. Credit card debt is usually the worst kind of debt as they allow you to make minimum payments while sucking you dry.
  6. Figure out all the other unnecessary expenses and take steps to minimize them. We all know that we have little choice when it comes to energy costs, but you can save by packing your lunch instead of eating out, etc.
  7. Organize yourself. If you want to track every little expense as it happens, try Xpenser to help you track them. If not, at least try to write down your major expenses.
  8. Make sure you put aside some savings every month. If it is not possible to save, at least try not to spend more than you make.
  9. Become a lender. If you have additional money, you could become a lender yourself thru Prosper. Remember that lending is a risky business, so do your research and make sure you are investing "only what you can afford to loose".
  10. Contribute to your 401K. If your employer has a matching 401K program, make sure you contribute at least the minimum required to get the maximum matching from the employer.
  11. Learn to become a frugal spender and try to make the dollar go as far as possible. You work hard to earn your money, why should you let it leave your pocket too easily?
  12. Seek the assistance of a financial planner if you must. Suze Orman always gives good advice.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Should I buy or rent?

If you are in it for the long term, this is a great time to buy with the low interest rates and dropping home prices. However, the decision to buy or rent should be based on many factors such as your financial stability, stability of your job and what stage of life you are in. In a nutshell, buying may be a good option for you if you have a steady income and a stable life and would like to plan for your future. On the other hand if you are uncertain about your financials, or if you are not sure where your next job takes you, you might be better off renting.

When you rent, you are paying some one else's mortgage, and additional profit as well. Every month, you are parting with money that could be your future savings; you have chosen to rob yourself and to make the property owner richer. Why do you want to keep throwing away your hard earned money when you can contribute that towards owning your own home?

When you make the decision to buy your home, you are making a decision that will profoundly change your life. You are taking charge of creating your own destiny, one of creating a financially secure future for you and your family. Of course, you have to be cautious, plan carefully, and make responsible decisions that meet your budget. Failing to do so, and buying into bigger dreams that you cannot afford is a sure way to loose as can be evidenced by the current state of affairs in the real estate market. For a little increase over your monthly rental payment, you get a better quality of life as an owner.
If you choose to buy property, I strongly recommend a fixed rate mortgage, because you can plan on your monthly mortgage payment being the same.
Lets consider the advantages of renting
  1. After the lease terms are satisfied, you can leave with a few months notice.
  2. If you have to break the lease, its not as disastrous as not being able to pay your mortgage
  3. If something breaks down, just call the landlord to fix it

Disadvantage of renting
  1. No savings. Every month, you pay in advance for the privilege of living at your apartment
  2. Every time the lease expires, the landlord wants you to sign a new lease, with a rent increase
  3. Noisy neighbors. Need I say more?

Now lets look at the benefits of owning a own home.
  1. Tax benefit. Interest paid on your home is tax deductible.
  2. Homestead exemption to provide additional protection for the home owner.
  3. Unlike renting, you are saving for the future with every payment.
  4. Appreciation over a long period of time. Housing generally appreciates over a long period of time as population increases and the need for housing increases as well.
  5. Improvements pay off. You can make your home more appealing by doing little things like landscaping, or upgrading your home incrementally. These improvements will add value to your home that the next buyer will find more appealing
  6. At some point in the future if you decide to sell your house, you should have built up equity that will be yours.
  7. Though I don’t recommend it, you can borrow against your equity in times of need.
  8. No more rent increases (If you get a fixed mortgage)
  9. You are the king of your castle. You dont have to live by the rules of a landlord anymore.
  10. Pride of ownership. Its the American dream.

Disadvantages of owning a home
  1. You have to be financially responsible. Not being able to pay the mortgage can be disastrous
  2. Not able to relocate as easily since you have to sell or rent your home first
  3. If something breaks down, YOU have to pay to fix it

Buying is the only option that will help you save for the future with every payment. However, buying is certainly not the best option for everybody; that decision should be based on many factors including your ability to buy and continue your payments, how long you plan to live in the area, and how stable your job and life is, and what you expect from home ownership.

You can use The New York Times calculator to figure out the numbers.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

What to do about high gas prices

The price of gas has been going up too much too fast. The pain at the pump is starting to affect people to the point of having to worry about gas thieves as illustrated by this story.  Here is a car that that 157 miles to the gallon, and is affordable.  Hope this will come to the USA soon.

Lowest Gas Prices in Buford, Cumming, Duluth, Johns Creek, Norcross, Suwanee

Atlanta Gas Prices provided by GasBuddy.com

Unfortunately, the prices will keep going up till we, as consumers learn to cut back and send a clear signal to the oil companies that we are willing to let go of the conveniences in exchange for lesser gas prices. So, lets explore a few ideas that can make a difference in the long run if we learn to make a few sacrifices. Doing nothing about it is a clear signal to squeeze us for more money. We have to recognize that small changes add up... a river doesn’t start as a river, but as tiny streams that adds up to make the whole.

Break free from the convenience tax. When you see the gas station on the opposite side of the road advertising gas for less, but you turn to the one with higher price because its on the same side of the road as you are driving due to the inconvenience of having to make an additional turn, you have sent the oil companies the message to take your pants a little lower next time. Break out of this habit, and not will you be saving a little bit of money that adds up over the years, but also are sending the message that you are not willing to pay for the convenience. Just to do the math, if the savings is 10c a gallon and you have a 11 gallon tank that you fill 4 times a month.

10c * 11 gallons * 4 times a month * 12 months = $52.80 per year. Seems like a small gain for the extra effort, but that’s at least an extra tank full per year. If we assume 50 million people would try this out, that’s $2,640,000,000 ($2.5 billion) of profit prevented from going into the pockets of oil companies in exchange for minor conveniences!

Use discount gas sellers such as Costco, Sams Club and Kroger groceries with gas stations. Yes, sometimes you have wait in line a few minutes, but this is one of those convenience penalty points I mentioned earlier. If you are out of gas and one of these stores are not close by, put in just enough gas to get to one of them. Only time I would fill a tank elsewhere is when I am in an extreme hurry and I can't get there without a full tank. If more people are willing to try this, it will send a clear signal to the oil companies. You know this works, because the gas stations close to one of these are always cheaper than ones further away.

Plan your trips better. See if you can combine several trips into one by re-shuffling priorities or limitations. Lets look at a simple common sense example to illustrate the point. Suppose you have to buy groceries and also go the gym, you might be thinking of doing it in 2 trips because you don’t want the groceries to spoil while you work out at the gym. By reversing the order, first going to the gym and then buying the groceries will help you combine the 2 separate trips into one.

If you have to travel to multiple places, try to find the best route by using online resources like google maps or yahoo maps. They both support adding multiple address and you can re-arrainge the route by dragging and dropping the markers to find the best route for you.

GPS to the rescue If you are on the road a lot and have to go to unfamiliar places, or the kind that gets lost a lot, consider buying GPS system. The money saved would pay for itself over the years.

Ditch the gas guzzler if possible If you have an gas guzzler that you bought when the gas was cheap, consider trading it in for a more fuel efficient one or a hybrid. Other option is to go all electric, but you are somewhat limited by range and cost of the vehicles.

Heres some info about electric cars

Zap World
Phoenix Motorcars
Dynasty Electric Car Corp
Commuter Cars
Plugin America
Green Basics
Tesla Mortors for those with deep pockets
EV Wrold

Just to get some idea of how much money we spend on gas, lets assume that you drive 15,000 miles a year and the gas is at $4 a gallon. Here is the math for running the vehicles for 5 years.

Gas Guzzler, assuming 15 mpg
(15,000/15 mpg) * $4 a gallon = $4000 a year => $20000 spent on fuel for 5 years of operation.

Gas Sipper, assuming 30 mpg
(15,000 miles/30 mpg) * $4 a gallon = $2000 => $10000 over 5 years

Toyota Prius, assuming 45 mpg
(15,000 miles/45 mpg) * $4 a gallon = $1333 => $6665 over 5 years

Difference between the gas guzzler and the Prius over 5 years is $13335. If you assume we have 1 million gas guzzlers on the road, that’s $13 billion of profits to the oil companies! If we can reduce these profits by a few $billion, do you think that would send a clear signal to the oil guys?

If we realize the fact that the small changes we make has a huge impact collectively, we should be able to overcome price gouging by the big oil companies.