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Is a Home Addition Worth the Cost?

Home additions can add value to your home and make it easier to sell, but they can also drain your budget. Here’s what you need to know before breaking ground.

It’s a good time to be a homeowner. Last year was a seller’s market, and 2018 is shaping up to surpass it. Homebuyers are struggling to find homes — because of lack of availability and increasing prices — and sellers are reaping the rewards, with multiple offers over asking their price.

For homebuyers, “it will be a tougher year,” David Berson, chief economist at Nationwide and a former chief economist for Fannie Mae, told CNN Money. “There is going to be less choice and higher prices, and on top of that, mortgage rates have moved up.” The CNN Money article cites a Trulia study that found even starter homes are “more expensive, smaller, older and more in need of repairs than they were six years ago.” Kalena Masching, a real estate agent with Redfin in San Francisco, California, agreed.  “It’s a full-time job to be a buyer,” she said.

In today’s market, a larger home with recent updates can go for top dollar. So, if you have the time and the budget to put toward a master suite or bathroom addition, or if you are hoping to sell within the year and believe this add-on will help you sell at a higher price point, an addition may be perfect for you. Here are three questions to consider.

1. How much will it cost?

There’s how much you’ll spend on the addition, and then how much it will actually cost. According to CostHelper.com adding a bathroom or bedroom runs from $25,000 to $50,000. A family room or other large room could cost up to $100,000.

Bill Millholland, executive vice president at Case Design/Remodeling Inc., in Washington, D.C., told US News he would expect the project to average between $200 to $600 per square foot. He added that size plays a role. “The more you build, the less it costs per square foot,” he said.

Most people refinance their home to pay for the new addition. Others borrow money from lenders who look at the future value of the property. This covers the initial cost, but your homeowners insurance will probably go up. Make sure you factor the additional insurance into your total cost. If you live in a condo, you may also pay HOA fees. Talk to your insurer, your building association and your bank before making any decisions.

2. Does it make sense for the property, and will it make a return on investment?

According to a report from Remodeling, a two-story addition has a 65% return, a master-suite addition has a 63% return, a bathroom addition has a 53% return, and a sunroom has a 49% return on investment.

Even if you’re not planning on selling your home, think about the type of addition you’re planning to build and whether or not it will add value in enjoyment and return on investment. One day, the house will be sold, either by you or your heirs, and an addition that flows with the home and provides convenience is a better investment than an addition built without thinking about future buyers.

If you need to refinance or take out a home equity line of credit in the future, having an addition that adds value could help. Adding amenities or rooms that put your home on par with others in your neighborhood is probably a good investment, John Bredemeyer, past president of the Appraisal Institute, told HGTV, while going with something unheard of in your neighborhood probably is not.

3. How long will construction take, and how does that impact when you’re planning on selling your home?

If you’re not planning on selling anytime soon, this isn’t relevant, but if you’re hoping to move within a year or so, timing may be tight. That’s not to say that you can’t go ahead with an addition if you’ve done your research and believe it will add value, but make sure to have clear deadlines with your construction firm and build in time for delays.

An experienced attorney can help negotiate contracts with builders, look over loan agreements, and guide you through a quick and easy closing process when it is time to sell. Contact us today.

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Separating Your Business and Personal Finances

Having separate accounts will protect you and your business.

Separating your business and personal finances makes managing your money much easier, and it prevents any personal risk for legal liability in the future. It can be hard, especially when starting out, if you’ve used personal savings to fund your company. In the long run, though, it will make your life much easier come tax time.

Why You Need Separate Accounts

If your finances are intertwined, it can be hard to keep track of what can be deducted and what can’t when it’s time to file your taxes. (Did you buy that coffee for the office or for yourself?) It will be difficult to remember every purchase, and deducting items unrelated to your business could get you audited. If you have a separate bank account and credit card for business transactions, this won’t be an issue, though.

If your business is a corporation, you don’t have a choice. It’s a legal entity and requires its own finances. If your business is a sole proprietorship, there’s no legal distinction between you and the business, meaning all liabilities and losses are linked to you. That makes it even more important to keep finances separate to prevent you from risk and in case of an IRS audit.

In the case of an audit, you’ll have to show all business expenses and income. This requires organized record keeping, and it’s trickier when you’re sorting through one account to pull out specific expenses. If you have a separate business account, you already know that all purchases from that account are business purchases, and all income is clearly tracked.

How to Maximize Small Business Success

It may seem daunting to set up a business, but it can actually be quite simple. First, establish a separate legal entity for your business. An experienced attorney can help determine if you should create an LLC, a corporation or another form of business. No matter which you choose, it creates a legal boundary between you and your business and allows you to file personal income tax and business income tax separately. You’ll also want to apply for an employer ID number (EIN) with the IRS. It only takes a few minutes to set up on the IRS website and ensures that your social security number will only be used for you personally, not for your business. Finance site Money Under 30 notes that this also helps protect your identity.

Next, create a separate bank account and line of credit. In some cases, it’s easiest to go with the same bank you use for your personal account so you can easily transfer money between the two. In other cases, a bank may offer incentives for business accounts, so it would make more sense to set up there. Ask around to business owners in similar industries to see if they have bank preferences and why. Whichever bank you choose, make sure you understand any fees or minimum balance requirements. Of course, you should open the business account under the business name, not your own name.

Before speaking with a banker, Quickbooks says it’s important to know exactly what services you need. If you want to accept credit card payments you may need merchant card services, or if you have employees, it may be nice to have a bank that handles payroll. Take note of the bank’s customer support services and if possible get a number from a specific banker rather than a 800 number.

Creating a separate legal entity, opening a designated business bank account, and keeping track of expenses along the way is the best way to save yourself stress and a potential audit come tax time. Though it may seem like a hassle to set up, once your business finances aren’t entangled with your personal accounts, the peace of mind will make it all worth it. The experienced attorneys at ALA can make the process even less stressful by guiding you through the legal process and helping you establish your company as the type of business that’s the best fit for your needs. Contact us today.

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How to Discuss Your Estate Plan with Your Children

Sharing your estate plan with your children now keeps them informed and helps to prevent hurt feelings in the future.

Deciding who you include on your estate plan is personal, but choosing to explain the thought processes behind your decisions to your children can prevent possible resentment and confusion in the future. While it’s never easy to talk about death or finances, doing so can help your family understand your motives and even ask questions.

Here we cover the who, what, when, where, and why of talking through your estate plan with your family — and how to get started, with the help of a real estate attorney.

Who needs to know

That’s up to you. The only person who absolutely has to know the details of your estate plan is the executor of your will. Those inheriting any part of the estate should also be kept in the loop. Aside from those immediately involved, it’s up to you to determine who else needs to know about your plans. Generally children, grandchildren, siblings, or anyone else named in your will should be part of the discussion. While it may be easiest to gather family together for one big conversation, you certainly don’t have to do it this way. You can speak with your children or those receiving the bulk of your estate first, then move on to others. Whether or not to include anyone married into the family is completely your decision, and depends on your relationship with them.

What they need to know

After determining who you are telling about your plans, sit each person down and clearly outline the details, and take time to answer all of their questions. U.S. Bank’s Private Wealth Management says that it isn’t necessary to share specific dollar amounts, but it’s important to explain how and why the wealth is being distributed. Aside from explaining distribution, you may want to explain why you made certain decisions. If you’re donating a large part of your wealth to charity, explain why that organization or cause is important to you. If you’ve set restrictions on when heirs can access money, explain your thought process. If furniture, jewelry, or other valuables are going to one child over another, explain why. This can prevent hurt feelings in the future, if you’re not there to explain your motivations. It also gives your children time to process any emotions they have about the estate.

When to have the conversation

While it may be tempting to put it off, this conversation should be had as soon as your estate plan is in order, and your children are of an appropriate age to discuss it. We never know what will happen in the future, and it’s better to have the conversation as soon as you can, as uncomfortable as it may be. If your children are too young to discuss financial details, start with the basics. Tell them a plan exists, they are taken care of, and any broad details you think they are old enough to hear. If they’re very young and you’ve designated a guardian in your will, try to explain the concept to them in simple terms.

Where to have it

This conversation is best had in person. Gather everyone in your will for a family discussion. It can happen in one conversation or a series of meetings, depending on how many questions your children have. If your family is spread out around the country or the world, you can explain everything in a letter, then have them call you with questions. Or, try a family Skype or FaceTime call.

Why it’s important

LegalZoom says an “estate plan does no one any good if no one knows where it is.” It’s important to inform your children that an estate plan exists, when it’s updated, and where it is.

Tell your children who you’ve named as executor to prevent any confusion or arguments. They should also know the name and contact information of your family attorney, so they will know who to call when it’s time to go through your estate.

If you have a living will, it’s even more important to speak with your children. They should know who your power of attorney is in case of an emergency. Similarly, you should discuss any end-of-life-care decisions so they’re not surprised in the hospital if you do or do not want to be resuscitated or donate your organs, for example.

Another reason to discuss your estate with your children is to pass on your philosophy about wealth. If you have specific wishes for how they spend the money, now is the time to share. Mention that it’s important to you that your grandchildren go to college, or that you hope the family invests it, or takes a vacation. Perhaps donating to charities is important to you and you hope your children will find causes they’re passionate about too. Share your general philosophy about money with your children during this conversation

A conversation around your estate is especially important if your wealth will not be distributed equally. Children will be hurt and confused if one receives more than the others, and could take it out on each other. If there’s a reason they’re receiving unequal wealth—maybe one cared for you while you were sick, or you gave a substantial amount of money to another to help during a rough time in their life—make sure you discuss your reasoning and explain it’s not about choosing favorites. Your children may be upset, or even angry with you, but it gives them the chance to ask questions and get over their anger sooner, rather than being hurt and resenting you if they find out later.

Attorneys with years of estate planning experience can help. They’ve seen hundreds of families go through this conversation, and can talk you through some best practices. Sometimes it even helps to have the attorney in the room during or after the discussion to answer legal questions. At ALA, we can help put together an estate plan you’re comfortable with, then guide you through the discussion with your family or be on hand for any questions before, during or after. Get in touch today.

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Estate Planning for Special Needs

Caring for a child or loved one with special needs means taking extra precautions when it comes to estate planning. Not only is this person likely dependent on you in some capacity from a physical and financial standpoint, but may require additional support even after you are no longer around to provide it. That is why parents and trustees of those with special needs must take extra precautions when it comes to estate planning. The first step is to think about the benefits of a special needs trust.

Understanding special needs trust

Setting Up a Special Needs Trust

Those with special needs are usually eligible to receive government benefits for financial security and medical support. However, if the individual is left with an inheritance of certain assets, especially cash, they could be disqualified from these benefits. Setting up a private special needs trust can help protect your loved one by providing them the gifts you leave behind, while also receiving the government support. In this case, you’re leaving the inheritance to the trust instead of your loved one so they may continue to be eligible for these benefits.

Appointing a Trustee

Once you have the trust in place, you must name a trustee who will be in charge of the property of the trust and have full discretion of how the money is spent on behalf of your dependent with special needs. Since your dependent will have no control over the trust, those who administer the government-provided Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid benefits will not look into the trust when checking your dependent for their eligibility. Make sure to fully vet your trustee as they will be responsible for paying taxes, keeping up with the laws of executing the trust so your beneficiary can continue to receive government support, keeping records up to date, and investing the assets of the trust.

Allocating the Funds

The assets of the trust cannot be directly given to the beneficiary as that could interfere with his or her government benefit eligibility. This is why it’s vital to have a fully vetted and trustworthy trustee. The trustee can use funds from the trust to purchase items on behalf of your beneficiary. Examples include paying for specialty medical bills, therapy, caregivers, extra household expenses, and vacations.

Terminating the Trust

The trust will be terminated on the death of the beneficiary, if the beneficiary no longer needs or is ineligible for government assistance, or when the assets within the trust are depleted. Specific instructions are written into every special needs trust as to how the assets should be handled after the beneficiary passes, and it is the trustee’s responsibility to carry out these instructions. This is to be done promptly after the death of the beneficiary, and we highly recommend it is done with an attorney to avoid any confusion about the trust’s language.

It’s important to set up a trust for your dependent with special needs. Even the smallest gift of money could deem your loved one as ineligible for government assistance, which could jeopardize their future and leave them desperate for help. Contact the attorneys at Anselmo Lindberg & Associates to get help setting up your special needs trust and looping it into your overall estate plan.

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Red Flags in Your Rental Agreement

Be wary of these provisions in your lease, and don’t sign without discussing with your landlord and a lawyer.

Before signing a lease agreement, it’s important to look out for certain warning signs of a potential bad landlord-tenant relationship. Red flags such as unreasonable lease terms, clauses on property access, vague language regarding provisions, and excessive extra costs can leave renters paying well over the rental price plus utilities.

Here are four red flags to look for in your next lease, so you can protect yourself from losing money, moving into a place in need of repair or living with a nosy landlord.

Landlord Access

There are times when your landlord will have to enter your apartment when you’re not around, whether to show the unit to a potential new tenant or to make repairs. In most states though, the landlord must give 24-hour notice. In Chicago, two-days notice is required.

There are exceptions though. Most leases state that landlords can enter in the case of an emergency. Make sure your lease does not have a clause saying that the landlord can enter at any time. As for emergencies, ask your landlord to define these in the lease. Flood, fire, and other extreme weather events are the most common emergency situations when a landlord can enter, according to RentPrep. Though technically an emergency could mean “any situation where an event is causing damage and will continue to cause damage if not dealt with immediately.”

Repairs

Most repairs are the landlord’s responsibility. If a tenant damages something outside of normal wear and tear, it may be up to them to cover the cost. General maintenance such as broken ovens, plumbing issues, gas and electricity issues, and broken windows and doors are up to the landlord to fix. According to LegalZoom, the landlord is responsible for providing a habitable place to live. This means the unit must be “fit to live in, be free from hazards or defects, and be compliant with all state and local building and health codes.” Check to make sure your lease doesn’t include a provision stating the tenant will be responsible for all repairs.

Security Deposit

Landlords are required to return your full security deposit, so long as you didn’t cause any damage more than normal wear and tear. According to Illinois law, landlords must return the security deposit within 30 to 45 days after the tenant moves out. The landlord must also include an itemized list of items deducted, which the tenant can dispute. Most leases will be vague about security deposit details and what type of damage is outside of normal wear and tear. Ask your landlord to be specific in the lease and lay out a process for assessing damage. Make a list of and take photos of any damage before you move in and share it with your landlord. Then, ask them to specify how they will compare damages when you move out.

Mandatory Insurance

No state mandates renters insurance, according to Effective Coverage, yet some landlords will try to put a clause forcing renters to obtain insurance in the lease. Renters insurance typically covers personal possessions, so it’s something individuals choose to buy on their own. Many landlords have liability insurance on the entire building, which covers the tenant to a point. However, ResidentShield points out that the landlord may not be responsible for injury that happens inside a unit, and individuals may want to look into insurance options for this reason. Recently, landlords have started to shift the burden of liability insurance on to the tenant. Apartments.com says this could be because of more pressure on landlords from their insurance companies. It is not illegal for a landlord to mandate that you buy insurance. However, keep an eye out for a section labeled “mandatory costs” or “tax items” so you know exactly what you’re getting into, and so you can bring it up to your landlord and try to negotiate the terms.

Signing a lease is a big step, as it locks you into a monetary and legal commitment usually for a year or more. Read through your lease carefully, and don’t take your rights as a tenant for granted. An experienced attorney can help you determine what’s normal and what’s not, understand legal jargon in your lease, and make suggestions for where you should go back to your landlord and negotiate. Our team of lawyers at ALA can help you sign your new lease with confidence. Contact us today.

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The House Is Right, Is the Neighborhood?

In today’s real estate market, location matters more than home amenities.

“Location, location, location” is one of the most popular refrains in real estate. According to the New York Times, it dates back to 1926 and still holds true today. It’s important for homebuyers to consider the importance of the where when choosing their dream home just as much as the which.

Here’s why it matters so much, and what to look for when buying a home.

Why Location Is Key

Being close to your children’s school, within walking distance of local businesses, and in a safe neighborhood are big factors when choosing where to live. It’s also important from a monetary standpoint.

“Too often I hear people talking about making decisions based on the home itself, instead of the location, and that is a mistake,” says Ryan Fitzgerald of Raleigh Realty. A house can always be changed, he says. It can be upgraded or even replaced. But location cannot.

“Housing supply in great locations is limited to the number of homes in that location. Location creates desirability, desirability creates demand, and demand raises real estate prices,” he says.

Real estate agents usually advise clients to buy the worst house on the best block over the best house on the worst block, according to Fox Business. While this might seem counterintuitive if you’re looking for somewhere nice to live right now, it makes sense in the long run. You could have a brand-new house, but if it’s in a dangerous area, or far away from any services, it will be harder to sell, and possibly less enjoyable for you to live in. On the other hand, you could buy a home that needs work in a nice neighborhood. While you fix it up, you can enjoy all the amenities that your area has to offer — and if you decide to sell down the road, the home may be worth much more than you paid.

How to Choose a Location

While personal preference definitely plays a role — maybe you’ve always wanted to live on a farm rather than in a city, for example — there are some standard factors that play into how your home’s location can add value to your property.

Take some time to evaluate what you want in a neighborhood. Schools, safety, commute time, city versus suburbs, and local business and food options are good things to keep in mind.

Consider buying a home in a good school district, even if you don’t have children. If you think you may want to sell in the future, it’s a good thing to keep in mind, as it’s often a top priority for families. Commute time depends on your job and whether you’d like to be able to walk to work, prefer to live in a place with public transit, or need to be within easy access to a highway. Keep in mind, though, a home located just off a major highway may be noisy, so it’s important to consider your priorities.

A good real estate agent can help you find a home in a location that ticks all your boxes.

Up-and-Coming Neighborhoods

If you’re hoping to save money, you may consider moving to a neighborhood that is considered up-and-coming. These neighborhoods don’t have as many amenities as other areas, but because of a few successful shops and restaurants or an influx of young people, they can grow significantly in a short amount of time. When money starts flowing into these areas, public transportation and other services can improve, and more businesses will be enticed to move to the area. If you can be on the cusp of one of these trends, you can often buy cheaply and sell for a much higher price. Talk to your real estate agent about up-and-coming neighborhoods in your city and how they think those areas will grow in coming years.

When buying a home, especially if you’re hoping to sell it later and get the most out of your investment, it’s best to have an attorney on your side. Our real estate lawyers can help you navigate the buying process and find a home that’s the perfect location for your family and your future. Contact us today.

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Tax Implications for Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding contributions are often thought of as “free money,” but that’s not the case, and failure to comply with tax laws could cause issues with the IRS.

Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have provided an unprecedented avenue for people to get funding for their creative projects, to recover from an unexpected setback or even to launch their own independent business. But the donations aren’t just free money. Depending on what you’re raising money for, there could be important tax implications to consider before you cash out those funds.

Charitable Donations and Gifts

Many crowdfunding campaigns source funding for medical expenses or charitable causes. In those cases, the money does not need to be reported to the IRS. Those funds are considered charitable donations or gifts.

Even small businesses can classify money received through crowdfunding as a gift. Those who donate to the campaign don’t receive any sort of stock, and they don’t expect repayment like with a small business loan. They are making a contribution on their own volition, without expectation of repayment. In these cases, the IRS has a gift tax rule. The donor ends up paying the gift tax, not the crowdfunding beneficiary.

A gift is, according to the IRS, “any transfer to an individual, either directly or indirectly, where full consideration (measured in money or money’s worth) is not received in return.” Reuters sums this up as “money received without an offsetting liability (such as a repayment obligation), that is neither a capital contribution to an entity in exchange for a capital interest in the entity nor a gift, is includible in income. The facts and circumstances of a particular situation must be considered to determine whether the money received in that situation is income.”

Loans and capital contributed in exchange for equity are not considered gifts.

Taxable Crowdfunding Income

Often in crowdfunding campaigns, donors do receive something as an incentive for contributing, whether it’s company merchandise, a gift card or something larger. As soon as the contributor receives an item of any value, the contribution is taxable. If a crowdfunding campaign is set up so that a contributor receives a gift card or merchandise in exchange for donated money, it’s viewed as a business transaction.

Crowdfunding campaigns are no longer just for individuals looking to fund their next creative project. Businesses are starting to use them, too. The Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act), set up by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 2012, put regulations in place so that investors could start equity crowdfunding. The act allows business owners to raise money online in exchange for ownership of the company, like traditional investing but via a simple platform.

Don’t Get Caught Cheating the Crowdfunding System by the IRS

If this sounds confusing, don’t worry. Experienced attorneys can help you navigate whether your crowdfunding contributions are taxable and how to report that income to the IRS, based on where you live. Perhaps the product or service you’re giving in exchange for funding isn’t taxable in your state. Or maybe you aren’t required to collect sales tax for online purchases by out-of-state residents, but are required to collect for in-state residents. Federal, state and sales tax all have different laws, which can make a simple crowdfunding idea suddenly complicated.

If you don’t report your income, it could be reported for you. Many crowdfunding sites keep track of larger transactions. If someone receives more than $20,000, the crowdfunding site has to issue an IRS form 1099-K, a form used for third-party transactions. If you receive one of these forms, you have to report it on your tax returns. If you don’t receive one of these forms, it doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for income less than $20,000. Talk to an attorney about when, and in which situations, you need to start reporting this income.

Financial precedents and tax issues could hurt the effectiveness of crowdfunding campaigns, so before you get started, talk with a lawyer to make sure it’s the best route for raising money. The attorneys at Anselmo Lindberg & Associates can help you figure out which crowdfunding tax laws apply to your campaign, and how to stay in the good graces of the IRS. Contact us today.

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Estate Planning for Millennials: Your Post-Grad Checklist

Young people often underestimate their assets and don’t realize how useful an estate plan can be — even for those who’ve recently graduated.

Between transitioning from college to the workforce and paying down student debt, estate planning is pretty low on the list of millennial priorities. According to Caring.com, 78 percent of Americans under the age of 36 do not have a will or trust in place. Estate planning is often thought of as something parents do to provide for their children when they’re gone, but there are many reasons estate planning is also important for people who haven’t started a family. Here’s why it’s important for young people and what it entails.

Why Millennials Need an Estate Plan

Estate planning is important at a young age age, in case of an unexpected illness or accident. Having a power of attorney in place to make decisions regarding finances, and having a living will to specify medical preferences if you’re unable to do so are two reasons why millennials should have an estate plan in place. More millennials than ever live with long-term partners, but aren’t married, according to a U.S. Census Bureau study. In some of these situations, it makes sense for the partner to be designated as a power of attorney, rather than having decisions automatically relegated to a family member.

A big part of estate planning is naming a beneficiary. Many young people haven’t had time to accumulate much wealth, but things like life insurance and 401(k) programs can still be designated to someone, such as parents or siblings. Young people’s lives are constantly changing as they forge new relationships, so it’s important to keep beneficiary designations up to date. For example, if you put a friend as your beneficiary, but you recently got engaged, you may want to update it to include your partner’s name.

How Millennials Can Benefit From Estate Planning

While it’s true that millennials haven’t had time to build up huge savings, they often have more assets than they think. Work-sponsored retirement accounts and life insurance policies, cars, jewelry, electronics, inherited items and digital assets are all part of a person’s estate.

If there’s no will in place, family members will often choose what to do with items such as a nice camera or an inherited necklace. If you know you would prefer a family member or friend to inherit these items, a will is the best way to make sure your wishes are met.

Digital assets, which includes everything from social media to online banking, are an important thing to consider, too. Make a list of all your accounts, along with usernames and passwords, and give a trusted family member access to this information. Be sure to also name a digital executor on your will, someone who can make decisions on your assets based on the instructions you’ve included in your will.

Pets are another big area where estate planning makes sense for millennials. You love your dog, and want to make sure it finds a home with someone who will love it just as much as you do. Don’t leave it up to courts or family to decide who gets to care for your beloved pet.

Between finances, medical decisions, prized possessions and pets, there are plenty of reasons for millennials to think about estate planning now, even if they don’t think they need it. It’s always better to be prepared. If you start learning how to manage your estate now, you’ll be more adept at the process when you’re older. The attorneys at Anselmo Lindberg & Associates can tell you more about why estate planning matters for millennials, and get you on track to a more organized, secure future. Contact us today.

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Real Estate Apps for Homebuyers

Homebuying is moving to mobile, but in some areas, apps can’t replace the expertise and human element of a licensed broker.

Buying a home? There’s an app for that, as real estate shopping is moving online. While homebuying apps can be great for sorting through amenities and location, there are certain skills only a licensed real estate attorney and broker can help with. Here, we’ll break down what’s useful about real estate apps, and what parts of the homebuying process can’t be replaced with technology.

How Apps Can Help

Much like real estate listing websites, apps can help you research the market, make lists of amenities you want in your dream home, and save the properties you love all in one place for future reference.

The Trulia Real Estate app, for example, helps you sort by location, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, lot size, open house times and home age. It also includes a mortgage calculator. Similarly, the Zillow app sorts by price, size, neighborhood features, school district and more. It also includes Zestimate®, the tools’ algorithm for finding a home’s value, as well as loan quotes and notifications when prices drop or homes are sold.

The following apps provide similar information, but they do things a little differently: Homesnap lets you take a photo of a house and instantly see information about it, including sales history and school district ratings. With Redfin, you can select a search area and see all available listings in that area, along with photos and more detailed information about each property. It’s popular Hot Homes feature shows you homes that have an 80 percent chance of accepting an offer within two weeks.

Why You Still Need a Broker

While these apps are great for an initial search to get an idea of neighborhood and price range, most of them eventually direct you to a licensed broker to walk you through the official process. Why? Because there are certain skills brokers have that an app cannot replace. Brokers can provide detailed information about the history of the home that you’re looking at — such as if there have been any busted pipes recently and when the roof was last replaced. They can also provide valuable insight about the neighborhood and what it feels like to live there — such how quiet it is, if past clients have enjoyed living there and more.

Brokers have more first-hand market data too, so they can give you advice on certain homes and areas that is more nuanced than statistics provided by an app. They are also experts at assessing the value of a property after a walk-through to know if you’re getting the best possible price. The app gives you a price, but you’ll never know if it’s fair. It’s very difficult to look at a home on an app and know whether or not there are hidden issues. A broker will help you ask the right questions and make that call.

Finally, a broker has the human element of connection. They know the best mortgage lenders, contractors and inspectors. They also know how to negotiate on your behalf, which can be reason enough to hire them. Those belonging to the National Association of Realtors are held to a code of ethics, so they’re generally trustworthy.

Buying a home is a huge investment. Brokers and real estate attorneys have the experience, and are there to help you at every step of your buying journey. Use an app to help you get an idea of what you’re looking for, pick a few favorite properties, and educate yourself on neighborhoods and home amenities, then reach out to a broker and an attorney to help with the actual homebuying process. Our real estate attorneys at Anselmo Lindberg & Associates are here to help. Contact us today.

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The 411 on The Eco-Friendly Real Estate Market

Everything you need to know about buying, creating, and selling a sustainable home

In a recent Trulia survey, 79% of Americans said they considered themselves environmentally conscious. When it came to acting on their desire to be more environmentally friendly though, it was another story. Whether you are thinking about buying your first home or making environmentally friendly improvements, here is exactly what you need to know about eco-friendly choices and your home value.

What Makes an Eco-Friendly Home

An eco-friendly home is a home that is designed to be sustainable, usually making efficient use of energy and water, and using environmentally friendly building materials. Homes made from biodegradable or recycled glass, wood, plastic, or metals can be billed as eco-friendly. Wind power systems, solar panels, plant-based products like carpeting made from corn or soy-based paint, low-flow water fixtures, and energy-efficient lighting are all common eco-friendly features.

How Eco-Friendly Homes Fit Into the Real Estate Marketplace

People make home upgrades like installing energy saving appliances or triple pane windows to be more eco-friendly, but also to save on their utility bills. Upgrades to more efficient appliances generally save money in the long run, but their impact on the real estate market is less clear.

“People do upgrade [for energy efficiency], but the problem is, a lot of that information on what they’re doing doesn’t get to the marketplace, doesn’t find its way into the real estate transaction,” Maria Vargas, who directs the Better Buildings Challenge program at the Department of Energy, told the Washington Post.

According to a study of the real estate market in Washington, D.C., eco-friendly homes sold for 23% more than conventional homes from 2008 to 2013. The study found that buyers were willing to pay more for sustainable homes because they would save money in the long run, and because of the environmental benefits. During the time of the study, demand for eco-friendly homes was on the rise. Similarly, a 2013 study in California found that green-certified residences sold for 9% more than houses that were not certified.

How to Make Your Home More Eco-Friendly

Some eco-friendly features need to be built into a home during construction, while others can be added later. Effective wall and floor insulation, solar panels, and high-performance windows are easiest to add during construction. Pulled recycled paper, for example, is a popular, sustainable roof insulation option and also prevents any risk of asbestos.

Things like efficient heating and cooling systems, energy-saving lighting, and efficient appliances can be added to almost any home. Look for Energy Star qualified lighting and appliances, meaning they’re certified as efficient by the Environmental Protection Agency. Homeowners with large yards may want to consider a biological wastewater treatment option, which can collect and recycle rainwater for use in the garden.

If you’re buying a new home, it’s smart to make sure it’s energy efficient from the beginning. Whether you’ll make back your investment if you sell your home is yet to be determined, but overall eco-friendly homes are almost always better for your wallet and the planet.

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