6 Tips For Good Stepparenting

Blended families are very common, and while being a stepparent can be a rewarding experience, it can also be an enormous challenge.

While some of the pieces involved in creating a functional family unit is beyond your control, there are lots of things you can do to make the integration process smoother and easier for everyone.

  1. Take it slowly. All kids need time to adjust to change and they may not even be conscious of their reactions. Give children time to get used to you and the new family dynamic. And, if the children have another involved parent from the previous relationship, don’t overstep and force your views and role as the new parent in a way that threatens the other parents’ role.
  2. Create house rules with your partner. When you work together rules will come from you and your spouse’s united front.
  3. Be consistent. Children are less likely to see you as a threat if they know they can trust you. Being consistent in your behavior (toward them and otherwise) is a great way to build trust.
  4. Meet kids where they are. How old children are when you become their stepparent can dramatically impact how easy or challenging the family integration will be. It’s critical to first understand what each child needs based on their individual development, and then go from there. Teens are entirely different than toddlers.
  5. Find common ground. Get to know the child and, if possible, pick something you both like to do (like cooking, sports, or art) as one way to gently insert yourself into their life as a friend.
  6. Boundaries! Set boundaries early and hold to them. Kids will test their limits, but stay consistent. For example, if your home office is off-limits, let kids know and stick to it.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of tips, and it’s a very good idea to seek the help of a therapist who specializes in blended families. Whether you go solo to therapy or as a couple, you’ll likely gain valuable insights, and your partner won’t be the only receptacle for your frustrations.

Lead-Based Paint

Photo by David Waschbüsch from Pexels

We know lead can be dangerous and could be present if you have an older home. But how do you determine if there is lead present, and what should you watch for? In short: homes built before 1978, when the federal government banned its use, and antique painted furniture might have lead paint. Here’s how to spot lead paint and what to do:

Why you should be concerned:

Lead is a toxin and can cause brain and organ damage. Assume paint on antiques or old homes contains lead until tested.

  • Lead paint often cracks in an “alligator skin” pattern.
  • Chipped or flaking painted surfaces could be dangerous. You can buy lead test swabs at hardware stores which will tell you in a few minutes if lead is present. 

What to do:

  • Do not allow kids or pregnant women to come into contact with the item or painted surfaces if the lead test is positive.
  • Ensure that painted areas are kept in good condition and be extra careful to clean up any paint chips.
  • Wash hands thoroughly when touching or working with vintage items.
  • Talk to a company that specializes in lead paint removal/remediation.

What Buyers and Sellers Need To Know About the Appraisal Gap

What Buyers and Sellers Need To Know About the Appraisal Gap | Keeping Current Matters

It’s economy 101 – when supply is low and demand is high, prices naturally rise. That’s what’s happening in today’s housing market. Home prices are appreciating at near-historic rates, and that’s creating some challenges when it comes to home appraisals.

In recent months, it’s become increasingly common for an appraisal to come in below the contract price on the house. Shawn Telford, Chief Appraiser for CoreLogic, explains it like this:

Recently, we observed buyers paying prices above listing price and higher than the market data available to appraisers can support. This difference is known as ‘the appraisal gap . . . .’”

Why does an appraisal gap happen?

Basically, with the heightened buyer demand, purchasers are often willing to pay over asking to secure the home of their dreams. If you’ve ever toured a house you’ve fallen in love with, you understand. Once you start to picture yourself and your furniture in the rooms, you want to do everything you can to land the property, including putting in a high offer to try to beat out other would-be buyers.

When the appraiser comes in, they look at things a bit more objectively. Their job is to assess the inherent value of the home, so they’re going to study the facts. Dustin Harris, Appraiser Coach, drives this point home:

It’s important for everyone to understand that the appraiser’s job in the end is to remain that unbiased third party, to truly tell the client what that home is worth in the current market, regardless of what decisions have been made on the price side of things.”

In simple terms, while homebuyers may be willing to pay more, appraisers are there to assess the market value of the home. Their goal is to make sure the lender isn’t loaning more money than the home is worth. It’s objective, rather than emotional.

In a highly competitive market like today’s, having a discrepancy between the two numbers isn’t unusual. Here’s a look at the increasing rate of appraisal gaps, according to data from  CoreLogic (see graph below):What Buyers and Sellers Need To Know About the Appraisal Gap | Keeping Current Matters

What does this mean for you?

Ultimately, knowledge is power. The best thing you can do is understand an appraisal gap may impact your transaction if you’re buying or selling. If you do encounter an appraisal below your contract price, know that in today’s sellers’ market, the most common approach is for the seller to ask the buyer to make up the difference in price. Buyers, be prepared to bring extra money to the table if you really want the home.

Above all else, lean on your real estate agent. Whether you’re a buyer or seller, your trusted advisor is your ally if you come up against an appraisal gap. We’ll help you understand your options and handle any additional negotiations that need to happen.

Bottom Line

In today’s real estate market, it’s important to stay informed on the latest trends. Work with a real estate professional to help you navigate an appraisal gap to get the best possible outcome.

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The Difference in Net Worth Between Homeowners and Renters Is Widening

The Difference in Net Worth Between Homeowners and Renters Is Widening | Keeping Current Matters

Becoming financially secure is an important goal for many people today, but some don’t realize just how much homeownership can help them achieve that dream. A recent report, The Journey Toward Financial Freedom, surveys Americans about their perspective on financial wellness and their goals. It shows there may be a significant misconception about the role owning a home plays in building wealth:

“Home ownership is one of the indicators Americans say is least connected to financial health.”

Two major personal wealth goals – homeownership and net worth – work hand-in-hand. Below are just a few reasons why, if you’re looking for financial security, homeownership should be a top priority.

Homeownership Is an Important Cornerstone of Building Wealth

Every three years, the Federal Reserve releases the Survey of Consumer Finances which highlights the difference in wealth between homeowners and renters. The graph below shows the findings across the previous surveys including the latest data (2019), and the results are staggering:The Difference in Net Worth Between Homeowners and Renters Is Widening | Keeping Current MattersAs the graph illustrates, the gap between homeowners and renters continues to widen. That’s because homeownership contributes massively to an individual’s overall net worth. Odeta Kushi, Deputy Chief Economist at First American, highlights this idea:

“. . . between 2016 and 2019, housing wealth was the single biggest contributor to the increase in net worth across all income groups . . . .”

When we look even closer at the most recent data from 2019, the average homeowner’s net worth is more than 40 times greater than that of the average renter (see graph below):The Difference in Net Worth Between Homeowners and Renters Is Widening | Keeping Current MattersThe gap exists in large part because homeowners build equity as their home appreciates in value and they pay off a portion of their mortgage each month. When you own your home, your monthly mortgage payment is, in essence, forced savings that come back to you when you sell your home or refinance. As a renter, you’ll never see a return on the money you pay out in rent every month.

If you’re ready to start building your net worth, the current real estate market offers several opportunities you should consider. For example, with today’s low mortgage rates, your purchasing power may be higher now than it has been in some time. That means there may be no better time than now to start working towards your homeownership goals – especially since rates are anticipated to rise in the coming months.

Bottom Line

Owning a home provides one of the strongest foundations for building individual wealth and lasting financial security. If you’re ready to start your path towards homeownership, talk with a trusted real estate advisor today.

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Your Checklist To Get Ready To Sell [INFOGRAPHIC]

Your Checklist To Get Ready To Sell [INFOGRAPHIC] | Keeping Current Matters

Some Highlights

  • When it comes to selling your house, you want it to look its best inside and out.
  • It’s important to focus on tasks that can make it inviting, show it’s cared for, and boost your curb appeal for prospective buyers.
  • Work with your trusted real estate advisor to determine what you need to do to make sure it shows well and catches a buyer’s eye.

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House Odors That May Indicate Problems

We all know what it likely means if we smell smoke at home, and most people know that the scent of rotten eggs can mean a dangerous gas leak.

But there are several other unpleasant odors that can be clues that something is amiss in your house.

  • Wet Dog: If you’ve got a dog, you already deal with the occasional stinky pup. When you smell “wet dog” odor, and you don’t have a dog (or your pooch has just had a bath), it could be that rodents or other animals have moved in. Start checking attics, basement, and walls.
  • Ammonia: A scent of ammonia (sometimes also described as a “cat pee” smell) is a sign you may have a mold or mildew issue, though it can also mean there’s a dead rodent in the walls. Follow the smell and try to pinpoint it before you start cutting holes in the wall to remove the problem. Mold requires expert intervention.
  • Fishy: When you smell fish, and you haven’t been cooking fish, it could mean that there’s some overheated electrical wiring in an appliance, light, or switch. Contact an electrician to fix this before it turns into an even bigger fire hazard.

If Housing Affordability Is About the Money, Don’t Forget This.

If Housing Affordability Is About the Money, Don’t Forget This. | Keeping Current Matters

There are many non-financial benefits of buying your own home. However, today’s headlines seem to be focusing primarily on the financial aspects of homeownership – specifically affordability. Many articles are making the claim that it’s not affordable to buy a home in today’s market, but that isn’t the case.

Today’s buyers are spending approximately 20% of their income on their monthly mortgage payments. According to The Essential Guide to Creating a Homebuying Budget from Freddie Mac, the 20% of income that purchasers are currently paying is well within the 28% guideline suggested:

“Most lenders agree that you should spend no more than 28% of your gross monthly income on a mortgage payment (including principal, interest, taxes and insurance).”

So why is there so much talk about challenges regarding affordability?

It’s Not That Homes Are Unaffordable – It’s That They’re Less Affordable.

Since home prices are rising, it’s true that homes are less affordable than they have been since the housing crash fifteen years ago. Headlines making these claims aren’t incorrect; they just don’t tell the whole story. To paint the full picture, you have to look at how today stacks up with historical data. A closer analysis of affordability going further back in time reveals that homes today are more affordable than any time from 1975 to 2005.

Despite that, the chatter about affordability is pushing some buyers to the sidelines. They don’t feel comfortable knowing someone else got a better deal a year ago.

However, Are Homes Really Less Affordable if We Consider Equity?

In a recent post, Odeta Kushi, Deputy Chief Economist at First American, offers a different take on the financial components of housing affordability. Kushi proposes we should at least consider the impact equity build-up has on the affordability equation, stating:

“For those trying to buy a home, rapid house price appreciation can be intimidating and makes the purchase more expensive. However, once the home is purchased, appreciation helps build equity in the home, and becomes a benefit rather than a cost. When accounting for the appreciation benefit in our rent versus own analysis, it was cheaper to own in every one of the top 50 markets.”

Let’s look at an example. In the above-mentioned post, Kushi examines the rent versus buy situation in Dallas, Texas. Kushi chose Dallas because home prices there sit near the median of the top 50 markets in the nation.

Kushi first calculates the monthly mortgage payment on a median-priced home with a 5% down payment and a mortgage rate of 3% (see chart below):If Housing Affordability Is About the Money, Don’t Forget This. | Keeping Current MattersKushi then takes the monthly cost and subtracts the appreciation the home had over the previous twelve months. The average house price in Dallas increased 17.5% in the second quarter of 2021 compared to last year (this is in line with the national pace). That equates to an equity benefit of approximately $3,550 each month if the pace remains the same (see chart below):If Housing Affordability Is About the Money, Don’t Forget This. | Keeping Current MattersWe can see the equity gained each month was greater than the monthly mortgage payment, resulting in a negative cost to own. The buyer could build their net worth by $1,830 each month – after paying their mortgage.

Kushi then compares the monthly cost of owning to the cost of renting (see chart below):If Housing Affordability Is About the Money, Don’t Forget This. | Keeping Current MattersWhen adding equity build-up into the equation, the cost of renting is $3,140 more expensive than owning. Again, the First American analysis shows that it’s less expensive to own in each of the top 50 markets in the country when including the equity component.

Bottom Line

If you’re on the fence about whether to buy or rent right now, contact your local real estate professional to determine if the equity increase in your local market should impact your decision.

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Why 2021 Is Still the Year To Sell Your House

Why 2021 Is Still the Year To Sell Your House | Keeping Current Matters

If you’re trying to decide whether or not to sell your house, this is the time to think seriously about making a move. Fannie Mae’s recent Home Purchase Sentiment Index (HPSI) reveals the number of respondents who say it’s a good time to sell is higher now than it was over the past few summers (see graph below). Today, the majority of consumers, 75 percent, say it’s a good time to sell a house.Why 2021 Is Still the Year To Sell Your House | Keeping Current Matters

Why is sellers sentiment up year-over-year?

The higher good time to sell sentiment has to do with today’s market conditions, specifically low housing supply and high buyer demand. In the simplest terms, we don’t have enough houses available for sale to meet buyer demand.

According to the latest data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), we’re still firmly in a sellers’ market because housing supply is well below a balanced norm (shown in the graph below). Why 2021 Is Still the Year To Sell Your House | Keeping Current MattersClearly, the scales are tipped in a seller’s favor today. But while housing supply is undeniably low, the right side of the graph shows how the inventory situation is improving little by little each month as more sellers list their homes for sale.

As a seller, that means each month, buyers have more options to pick from. By extension, that means your house may get less buyer attention with time. Danielle Hale, Chief Economist for realtor.com, explains it like this:

More homeowners continue to list homes for sale compared to a year ago… Notably, while new listings continue to lag behind a more ‘normal’ 2019 pace, the gap is shrinking. Even though homes continue to sell quickly thanks to high demand and limited supply, new listings are subtly shifting the balance of market conditions in favor of buyers.” 

So, what’s that mean for you?

If you’ve been waiting for the perfect time to sell, there may not be a better chance than right now. Inventory is gradually increasing each month, so selling sooner rather than later will help you maximize your home’s potential.

Bottom Line

If you’re planning to sell your house, 2021 is still the year to do it. The unique mix of low supply and high demand won’t last forever. Contact a local real estate professional today to find out what you need to do now to take advantage of this sellers’ market.

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Kid-Friendly Floor Ideas

Kids can be hard on floors. The flooring you choose needs to be safe as well as durable when there are little ones crawling around.

Parents should only consider vinyl, for instance, if it’s certified to have low volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions—and some health experts still don’t advise families with small kids to use vinyl. Here are a few kid-friendly floor ideas:

  1. Carpeting is soft and absorbs sound, but it also hangs onto dust and other allergens. Make sure to clean regularly if you choose carpet.
  2. Carpet squares make stains or other damage easy to fix—you replace a single square. Keep it clean like a regular carpet!
  3. Oak flooring with an antique finish can help hide any new scrapes. Just fill with wood filler and a dab of stain.
  4. Bamboo flooring is durable and beautiful; plus, it’s a sustainable crop. It’s stain-resistant and a good choice for a home with children.
  5. Cork is softer than hardwood and easier to clean than carpet, and it’s antimicrobial, which makes it great for kids. It might be best for bedrooms as high wear areas mean more dings and scrapes.
  6. Machine-washable area rugs help save expensive flooring from wear and tear. Check out ruggable.com for lots of beautiful options.

Why You Might Push People Away (And How To Fix It)

Even the friendliest and most extroverted people can sometimes behave in ways that push people away, whether or not they realize they’re doing it.

If you’ve noticed friends seem more distant than they used to, it may be time to evaluate your own behavior. These are just a few of the ways you might inadvertently be pushing friends away—and ways to remedy them.

Do you only engage when it’s about you? Do you only initiate with a phone call or text when you have news to share? Are you chatty when they ask about your day, but you don’t reciprocate?

  • It can be disheartening when a friend only seems interested in talking about themselves and rarely seems interested in how you’re feeling.
  • Next time: Call or text to ask how they are. Ask follow-up questions. Be attentive to spending as much time listening as you do talking. Clear your mind of other issues and focus on their words.

Do you complain every time you talk to friends? Do you vent about a bad work or relationship situation during every conversation? Are the complaints similar each time?

  • Everyone needs to vent now and then, but if you repeat the same complaints and never attempt to change the situation, that’s an unpleasant (and monotonous) monologue to hear.
  • Next time: Consider solutions to the problem so you can discuss how it changes. If possible, try to reframe it to see any positives. Also, focus on something not about you!

Do you try to solve all problems by yourself? Do you think things won’t be done properly if you don’t do them? Do you ignore advice from others?

  • Working together on a project may mean doing something differently than you would have done if you were solo, but different doesn’t mean worse—and cooperation builds personal bonds.
  • Next time: Ask for help, and then listen carefully to others’ suggestions. Make implementing the solution collaborative.