Happy Birthday

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I woke on my birthday with only two things on my “to do” list:

Prepare the documents for the lender I have chosen for the mortgage on my new house, and drive to the mountains for the weekend.

Silly me.

The first challenge was the microwave issue.  It wouldn’t work. The control panel was dark – so I went out to the breaker box (in a room off my garage), read the labels, and looked to see if any of the switches were out of line.  None appeared to be, but I selected the one that I thought controlled the microwave, switched it back and forth, and went back inside.  Still no life in the microwave.

Unfortunately, the “handyman” whose amazing talents were praised in an earlier post has since retired. But I texted him, and the person who recommended him to me, asking for a referral to someone who could help. They supplied the name of a local store that employed electricians, with the name of a person to chat with.

My daughter had since joined me in the kitchen, declaring “You can’t leave me here without a microwave this weekend!” So…next to the cousins, my two guardian angels who live about 45 minutes away that are helping with moral support and decluttering. Unfortunately, I knew one was out of town.  When I connected with the other, she was standing in front of a hotel in another city, waiting to go in to a conference – BUT – reminded me that her (retired) husband was an electrical engineer and had wired their house – YAY!!

Now – the true hero of my story appears.  When I call the cousin’s husband (Knight in Shining Armor) is temporarily stumped, and we hang up.  BUT – five minutes later calls back. It turns out that the problem was a “ground fault breaker” (go to this link – there are pictures http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/electric/gfi.html). I pushed the designated button, and my microwave magically reactivated.  Life was good. [Now, for future reference, keep in mind this is a temporary fix. If the breaker clicks off again, it’s time to call the electrician].

The truly amazing occurrence surrounding this activity was that my “Knight for the Day” called back not long after and volunteered to come and re-label my breaker box and put it on an excel spreadsheet.  Then he volunteered to paint the inside of my house prior to my putting it on the market. 

So, I went back to the primary activity for the day. Documents for the mortgage lender. The documents that I needed to provide were the following:

_____    30 DAYS OF PAYSTUBS (if applicable)

_____    SOCIAL SECURITY AWARDS LETTER

_____    PAST 2 YEARS W2’s

_____    CHECKING, SAVINGS, RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS-LAST 2 MONTHS (all pages even if blank)

_____    2 YEARS PERSONAL AND BUSINESS (if applicable) TAX RETURNS (all schedules signed)

_____    COMPLETED SIGNED SALES CONTRACT

_____    CHECK FOR APPRAISAL AND CREDIT REPORT ($425.00+18.00=$443.00 made payable to the bank)

_____    CURRENT HOMEOWNERS POLICY (for the residence you live in currently)

The gathering and copying of the above documents took me until mid-afternoon (I had hoped to be on the road by noon). Surprisingly enough the most time consuming were the two months statements for the various checking/saving/retirement accounts – going online to find them, print them, etc. And of course, I couldn’t find one of my 1099’s for last year (I still have not filed my 2013 tax return yet) and had to request a new one, which, miraculously, came within a short period of time. And they needed to be delivered to the bank and copied there.

So I made the decision to just go finish packing quickly, take the documents with me, and see if I could deliver them to a branch close to my mountain get-away. So – thirty minutes later I am out of the driveway, started on my five hour drive.

Except – that I texted my daughter “good bye” at a stoplight on the way out of town and she is distraught because we probably passed each other on the road as she returned from work. “No, we can’t meet, I have to get on the road” – rush-hour traffic around a large town is now a possibility, and I really could not delay. So…FINALLY on the road. I make it traffic free, and then the National Weather Service warnings started about heavy thunder storms and possibility of tornadoes.

At about two hours away from my goal, the rain starts…but, luckily, it is only rain, and not nearly as bad as it was in other areas. I was very glad to be driving the new Subaru with all-wheel-drive.  The traction was noticeably better than in prior cars I had driven.

And then I reached my favorite exit.  There is one on the interstate where you crest a hill and the mountains are there before you like all those lovely postcards.  It was clear driving the rest of the way.  And my dear brother-in-law had a toddy waiting as I drove in. 

Finally, the banker returned my email explaining that the documents would not be in until  the next day (and then only at an out of town location) and said she would just meet me in my local branch on Monday morning. 

Life is good.  

Questions to ask a Real Estate Agent

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On the advice of a former Real Estate Agent friend, I decided to interview three potential agents. The list of questions below was critical to the success of the project. The second agent I interviewed anticipated most of them, and had all the answers in hand when she arrived.

20 Questions to Ask a Real Estate Agent

The person you choose will be involved in preparing your home for sale, establishing a listing price, marketing your property, and ultimately negotiating the transaction on your behalf to a successful conclusion.  Since all real estate agents are not the same in terms of talent and ability, it is to your advantage to ask questions before hiring one. Here are 20 important questions any agent worth his or her salt should be prepared to answer:

  1. How long have you been a real estate agent and are you also a Realtor?
  2. Is your license in good standing?Qm?  If so, what were the circumstances?
  3. Do you own your own home?  Where?
  4. Do you work full-time or part-time as a real estate agent?
  5. In what price range do you generally sell most of your homes?
  6. In which neighborhoods do you have most of your listings?
  7. How many sales (within a 2-mile radius) did you complete last year?  How many in the last two years?
  8. What is your average list-price to sell-price ratio?
  9. On average, how long (number of days) does it take for your listings to sell?
  10. Can you provide me with the names and phone numbers of past clients who have agreed to be a reference to you?
  11. Will I be working with you directly or handed off to someone else? In other words, will you handle all aspects of my transaction or will you delegate some tasks to a sales associate or administrative assistant?
  12. How long is your listing agreement period?
  13. What happens if I’m not satisfied with the job you’re doing to get my house sold?
  14. How often will you communicate with me and how?
  15. What price do you advise listing my house for?
  16. How will you market the house? (Ask to see sample materials)
  17. Why should I hire you over the competition?
  18. What haven’t I asked you that I need to know?

Accepted!

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My daughter has been accepted to the college of her choice! She also has been confirmed for housing in a “nonfreshman” dorm, so she will be living on campus for the first time in several years.

When we visited the campus a few weeks ago, she shared, “I’m really excited about living on a college campus again!” so she was thrilled with the confirmation of the room assignment.

She has not been able to contact her advisor since her acceptance. Hopefully, that will happen soon.  In a few days I will drop by campus and talk with the Registrar about the maximum hours allowed to State residents for in-state tuition, and maybe even see a room in the dorm where she has been assigned.

Moving forward!

The Townhome

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Quite some time ago, after my sister moved from the hot Texas Gulf to the cooler mountains, I had started considering the possibility of purchasing a small property near by. The traffic, noise, and inability to see stars at night due to the city lights were wearing on me after thirty years surrounded by pavement.

My sister’s temporary residence while looking for a home was a small group of townhomes, quietly located on a cul-de-sac. The exterior maintenance was excellent, and they were within walking distance of a small downtown area that had all the basics – used book store, coffee shop, art gallery.  She has since found a great home out of town, and has lived there several years.  So – I asked her to keep an eye on the smaller townhomes thinking I might purchase one for a get-away place.

When my husband died, it did not take a long time for me to decide that there was nothing keeping me in the city.  My son lived over an hour away, my daughter was in college. Both my sisters now own homes in the small mountain town. The in-city traffic definitely wasn’t getting any better, and I had been seeking employment for about a year, and nothing had jelled.

I asked my sister to make an appointment with a local realtor to look at townhomes and condos. I went up to the mountain town, looked at two-bedroom units in my favorite development, and they just didn’t connect.  Dark, small…and now I really needed a three bedroom unit to also accommodate my college-aged daughter after the death of my husband.

Then, on the way home from church one Sunday, my sisters decided to drive by my favorite development.  Low and behold, one of the three-bedroom units had a For Sale sign in the yard.  They asked the realtor for a showing, and reported back that the unit was perfect.  An end unit, great view of the mountains, in pristine condition, one car garage, and a large storage area.

Soooo….last weekend I drove up for a walk-through, By the end of the day, I had made an offer, and the next day it was accepted.  We will close in four weeks. My daughter will be very unhappy, and I did not discuss it with her before I signed the papers. But the synchronicities are too strong to ignore. This is where I need to be – a new beginning.

The financing vendor calls started almost immediately.  What fun.  I am soliciting three bids – one from the holder of the mortgage on my current house – a regional bank through which we secured a 3.5% loan several years ago.  The second will be from  a local Credit Union where my current primary checking and money-market accounts are housed.  The third will be from a national bank that has a local presence. It will be interesting to see the outcome from the three quotes. My first meeting is with the regional bank tomorrow morning.

The Trip To Social Security

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This morning I spent about an hour and a half with an extremely helpful and knowledgeable representative at the local office of the Social Security Administration. As with any Federal agency, he was extremely careful with exactly what information he was (and was not) providing. With Social Security I also want all to note that the following relates only to my personal circumstances.  I definitely encourage everyone to make an appointment with their local Social Security Administration Office. Note that the wait for an in-person appointment in my city was about 2.5 months, but well worth the wait. At the office this morning, there was a line outside the door about 30 people long at 9:00 AM.  When the doors opened, the officer first asked if there were any people with appointments.  Those of us who had them were admitted immediately, and I was meeting with a representative within two minutes. He worked with me until he had answered all my questions, and then began the application for Social Security Benefits.  The entire appointment lasted about 1.5 hours. Also note that I tried to apply on line for benefits in April (it is now July), but was not able to complete the filing. They are backdating my first check to the April date.

Here is a summary of what I learned, and the options that I elected. 

First was the election to take or not take Social Security at this time.  For me that depended on what my monthly Social Security income would be, and future changes to that monthly payment. I could elect to take benefits based on my income this year or survivor benefits based on my husband’s earnings. You can claim benefits as early as age 62. The amount of the survivor benefit is set at the date of death of the spouse – it will not go up except for cost of living increases.  Even though my current personal benefit is lower than my survivor benefit, it can increase if my future earnings increase and as i approach full retirement age. At its current amount, just by my increase in age, my monthly benefit will exceed that of my spouse in July, 2017.  At that point I can cross over – make the election to change from the survivor benefit to the spousal benefit – but I can only cross over one time. I have made the election to claim the benefits as spouse until my personal benefit exceeds the spousal benefit (somewhere about 2017).

The last item that is extremely relevant is the cap on income. If you are younger than full retirement age (66 IN 2014, and increasing annually), $1 will be deducted from your benefit for each $2 you earn above $15,480 (a 50% penalty). In the year that I turn 66, the deduction will be on $1 for $3. This “payback” decreases as I reach Full Retirement Age. There will be more about that later if it becomes relevant in my circumstances, but I doubt it will be an issue for me this year. I consider this an “investment” year for me as I retool my skills. There are some good articles online on this topic.

I encourage everyone to make an appointment to visit their local Social Security Office and have a personal discussion with the trained professionals there. The only documentation that I was required to present was my proof of age (a driver’s license or passport works), an official Death Certificate and a Marriage Certificate.  Mine had gone astray, so I had to order a legal copy from our state Vital Records department, which took about three weeks. (Plan ahead!!)

Good luck on your adventure with Social Security and post your results!

 

The House – Part 1

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A house is so many things when a family has “grown up” there.  When we moved to our current home, my son was 6, and I was pregnant with my daughter. My son is now 31, my daughter soon to be 24. It is a rambling four bedroom, 2800 sq. ft.  house – and now I am the only full-time resident. The real estate market is higher now than any time in the last eight years. The house next door (smaller) just sold for a surprisingly high amount.

So – I have today requested a formal independent appraisal from a firm not related to any real estate agency. I have not received the estimate yet, but assume the appraisal itself will cost about $500. In the next couple of days I will interview three real estate agents and choose the one that is most willing to meet with my requirements – (no major cost to prep for sale).

To make life more interesting, a condo that I have been watching in another city (in the mountains, close to my sisters) has just gone on the market. My sister looked at it yesterday and confirmed that it is in move-in condition. I am planning to go look at it this weekend (it is about 5 hours away), and make an offer of earnest money if necessary to hold it until I can get there.

But, my daughter has not yet been accepted at the transfer school of her choice, and it is a month before she would start there (I do expect her to be accepted, but am a little disconcerted that she has not been confirmed yet).  It would take me much longer than that to “de-clutter” 30 years of accumulated minutiae (i.e. junk – you know, 15 Christmas boxes, 1000 books, files from accounting clients over a 20-year career). Help is on the way on that front.  Monday a cousin who has been a military family (moving every 3 to 5 years) is coming to help with the tossing process.

I love this house – the modern, large kitchen, a great screen-in back porch where it sounds like you are in an aviary on early summer mornings, a great, large living room that my baby-grand piano doesn’t dominate, a two-story playscape in the woods built by the four brothers-in-law (including my husband) .  My daughter definitely does not want the house to be sold–she’s lived here all her life. But I do not love the traffic of a large city, being five hours from my family, and an old house that needs a good clean-out and painting.

It is time to make the change, now probably sooner rather than later, though hard on us all.

A New Car

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I drove my husband’s little red Mazda 6 (I called it the Guy Car) for three months, including a couple of “road trips,” before coming to the conclusion that I really did need a car that I could get out of without moving the seat back (my short legs could only operate the clutch if the seat was pulled up as far as possible – and then I couldn’t get out of the car until I moved it back).

We had toyed with the idea of a new(er) car as soon we paid off his little sportster (in March). My 10-year-old van would stay in the family as the Football Game Transport Vehicle which would carry all the tailgate materials: the tent, the table, the chairs, food, coolers, guys….

Now it was time to revisit the car decision.  My two sisters own houses in the mountains, and I am currently in the flatlands (about five hours away), so there is a good chance that I will be on the road in some inclement weather (including snow). Because of some good family experiences with the line, I decided to look at Subaru’s. While visiting the highlands this weekend, we decided to just go look at the local Subaru dealer to define options. Of course, they had just gotten a load of cars in the night before – with only four Foresters (the size with extra luggage space). I had already looked online at used Foresters, and realized that the cars held their value very well (there was little discount on a used car). And, of course, the model that I wanted with the accessories I wanted in the COLOR I wanted (RED) just happened to be one of the four Foresters that had arrived the night before. The dealer had sold ten cars the day before. With the extended warranty, most of my maintenance would be included at the Subaru Dealer ten minutes from my house.  I decided to buy a new car.

I have never been the primary driver of a new car before.  What an interesting experience! Especially with the bells and whistles that came with the Subaru (including blue tooth which I COULD NOT get to record names in the directory after the first one…but I  will continue to read the 500-page instruction manual that came with the car and work it out).

And my dealer tag fell off in the rain half the way home [I loved the traction of the all-wheel drive], and my son (a high school teacher) and I had a great lunch-time craft project to make a new temporary tag to get me home.

Life is never dull.