Don't get stuck with a tough-to-sell condo

Photo: The Pug Father

Condos are great if you don't want the maintenance hassles of a single family home. They can also be a more affordable option.

But condo life isn't part of most people's long-term home ownership plans. The National Association of Homebuilders says that more than half of condo owners move within six years of purchase.

If you're shopping for a condo, you'd be wise to think about its resale potential before you buy. Do you know which floors, bedroom counts and layouts are the most desirable? Which amenities buyers care about most? Which locations within the condo building your should avoid? My new article, Don't get stuck with a tough-to-sell condo, has answers to these questions and more tips for making the best condo-buying decision.

How to replace your front door

Photo: Ken Doerr

Did you know that replacing your front door is one of the most effective ways to increase your home's value? Your front door is part of your home's curb appeal, and it will influence what people expect to see when they enter your house. In other words, making a good first impression is valuable.

Front doors come in three materials: fiberglass, wood, and metal. You'll also need to decide what color to paint it, whether to add a storm door or a metal security door, and whether to repair or replace your front door yourself or hire a pro.

For help making these decisions and more, see what the real estate and home improvement experts I interviewed have to say about making smart choices for your front door in my article, How to replace your front door.

How to buy a condo with confidence

Photo: Mesa Royale

Buying a condo is trickier than buying a house, because you’ll be sharing living space and financial responsibilities with other condo owners.

Buyers should look at a condo purchase as an investment in not just a property, but also a business: the homeowners association, says Gail Pizetoski, who owns Condo & HOA Smart, which provides due-diligence reports on homeowners associations for prospective buyers.

Make sure the association is not just financially sound, but also structurally sound, by reviewing HOA meeting minutes and talking to building residents, she says.

“Many owners aren’t aware of the full range of their responsibilities before they buy their condo,” Pizetoski says.

After all, the HOA manages the structure, community maintenance and landscaping.
Buyers should ask for the association’s audited financial statements, current statements and budgets to see if there is enough money to fund the operating budget and if enough is being put aside for repairs and long-term improvements, says Katie Wethman, a Realtor with Keller Williams in Washington, D.C.
Learn more in my article that covers 5 smart moves to help you choose the right condo.


A Free Tool for Deciphering Your Investments' Asset Allocation

Photo: Doc Trader

Suppose you and your spouse each have a retirement account, but yours is at Fidelity and your spouse’s is at Vanguard. How do you know if your combined portfolios are invested properly to meet your goals?

A free online service called LikeAssets makes it easy to see your combined investments and asset allocation. It can also show you the combined asset allocation of multiple college savings accounts and other investment accounts so you can make sure you've chosen the correct investments for goals with different time horizons.

I’ve written before that most people don’t earn very good investment returns because of fear and risk aversion. Research shows that we underperform the market over the long run, and that we manage to lose money even when the stock market shows gains.

If you’re like most people, you’re one of these underperforming investors. LikeAssets provides a bit of insight that might help you improve. Read my complete review in my article, Service keeps tabs on your many investment accounts.

What Management Accountants Do

If you like keeping track of a company's income and expenses but also want to hold a position with significant responsibility and authority, management accounting could be the job for you.

In my latest article at, I provide an overview of the profession of management accounting, from a management accountant's job responsibilities, skill set and formal educational requirements to the professional designations that can help you get ahead, as well as the career ladder for a management accounting job.

Photo: (rinse)

HARP 2.0 can make it easier to pay your underwater mortgage

Photo: crimfants

HARP 2.0 has helped hundreds of thousands of underwater homeowners refinance their homes since its inception one year ago.

The original Home Affordable Refinance Program, a government initiative to stave off foreclosures, began in 2009. It was so restrictive that few homeowners benefited.

HARP 2.0 expanded eligibility by removing the 125% loan-to-value (LTV) cap that prevented many homeowners from refinancing under the first HARP’s rules.

Last year, homeowners refinanced 228,144 mortgages that exceeded the home’s value by more than 125%. In 2011, homeowners refinanced 0 homes with that LTV, states the a report from the Federal Housing Finance Agency. It also shows that in December 2012, 25% of loans refinanced through HARP had an LTV greater than 125%.

Jim Duffy, a senior loan officer with Cole Taylor Mortgage outside Atlanta, says that before HARP 2.0, many homeowners felt trapped and were constantly seeking options.

“Do they aggressively pay down their underwater mortgage, do they short sell the home and move?” he says, pointing out that short sales damage credit, thereby limiting relocation options.

Those who have refinanced now have peace of mind and can get on with their lives, Duffy says.

But HARP 2.0 isn’t right for everyone who qualifies.

“If a homeowner’s plan were to sell their home in a short time period, it may not be financially smart to refinance, as there are costs associated with a refinance,” says Sue Pullen, vice president and senior mortgage advisor at Fairway Independent Mortgage in Tucson, Ariz.

Also, “If the home is not working for you and your family, then saving some off the payment will not fix the location or the commute or the school system or whatever it is that makes you really want to move,” Duffy says. In that case, a short sale might be more sensible.

Get the full story in my article, HARP 2.0: Mortgage program reboot has boosted refis.

9 Tips To Earn Your Credit Card Bonus

Many credit card companies offer sign-up bonuses to convince you to apply for their card.

Sometimes these bonuses are incredibly easy to earn: make one purchase, get $100.

More often, you have to jump through a few hoops to earn the bonus: spend $1,000 in your first three months as a cardholder, get $250.

The upside is that the bonuses that require extra effort to earn are often significantly larger.

The downside is that it's easy to make a mistake and not earn your bonus.

I've recently written an article based on my own experiences winning and losing with credit card sign-up bonuses. I've taken advantage of dozens of great offers over the last seven years, since I first became aware of these promotional offers.

To make sure you don't miss out on earning a credit card bonus you're working toward, follow the tips I've provided in my article, 9 Tips to Earn Your Credit Card Bonus.