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What Couples Should Discuss Before Retiring


Compromise is an important part of marriage. From deciding how much to spend on a new living room set to what to watch on TV tonight, compromise is constant.

It can also be a big part of retirement conversations. While agreeing on the financial and logistical issues around retirement is great if you can get there, chances are there are some aspects of a life together without work that will be a compromise. Getting on the same page before retirement can make it a lot easier.

Here are some topics couples should talk about before retirement:

When to retire
Do you both plan on retiring at the same time? Maybe one person wants to wait until age 70 to receive the most Social Security benefits, while the other wants to collect them when they’re first eligible at age 62.

Full retirement age is 67 to receive full Social Security benefits. Delayed retirement credits for waiting until age 70 increase the monthly benefit.

What are your retirement goals?
Each person may have different dreams of what retirement should be. One may want to travel immediately, while the other wants to stay home.

Both can be done, of course. Discussing what you want to do in retirement is one of the best things about planning for it. Doing those things together — after figuring out what they are — can make your retirement dreams come true.

How to pay for it
Social Security is an important part of funding retirement, but it shouldn’t be the only way.

If your goals are bigger than your assets, you’ll have to make some adjustments. To determine how much money you’ll have in retirement, a couple should meet with their financial advisor.

Each spouse should have access to their savings, investments, pension, insurance and other accounts, and have a short monthly meeting on where they stand. Make sure each person is listed on the paperwork for each account and that beneficiary information is complete.

What’s in your will?
This is the unpleasant part of planning for retirement, but it’s something worth doing. Set up a will together so that your family knows how your estate will be handled, and what they should do about taxes and other financial issues. Your financial advisor should be able to help, as should an attorney.

This is the final step of retirement, and of life, and it’s one you don’t want to avoid. With proper planning, it will be after a long and enjoyable retirement.

Where to find free help with taxes
Preparing your tax returns can be a chore. The good news is that filing your taxes is free — if you can figure out how to fill out the forms accurately.

If not, you may want to buy some tax preparation software or hire a tax preparer to do the detailed work for you.

If you prefer not to spend money for tax prep help, or don’t have the money for it, there are some free alternatives. Here are a few ways to get free help preparing and filing your taxes:

Free e-file forms from the IRS
The IRS offers free fillable forms that can be completed online. The program operates from January through mid-October, when accounts are erased from the server. Estimated tax payments can be paid online, and tax refunds can be paid through direct deposit to your bank.

For incomes above $64,000, free file fillable forms are available. The forms offer only basic guidance and you must know how to do your taxes yourself. You must have your 2015 tax return available, and state tax prep isn’t available.

Free File
For incomes below $64,000, another IRS program, called Free File, offers help. It works with a dozen tax software companies in the Free File Alliance to provide free tax filing assistance.

The program is geared toward low- and moderate-income taxpayers. Some may have restrictions on age and where you live, and the program will walk you through programs that meet your criteria. After selecting the software that works best for your tax situation, you’ll be transferred from to the company’s website to complete your returns.

AARP aide
The AARP Foundation offers free help through its Tax-Aide program that’s run by volunteers.

The program has helped nearly 50 million low- to moderate-income taxpayers since 1968 and is available to anyone 50 and older who can’t afford a tax preparation service.

It’s offered at more than 5,000 locations in libraries, malls, banks, community centers and senior centers. AARP membership isn’t required.

Volunteer Income Tax Association
Known as VITA, this program from the IRS offers free tax help to people who generally make $54,000 or less, persons with disabilities, and limited English speaking taxpayers.

IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing.

Tax Counseling for the Elderly
The TCE program is another IRS program, offering free help for all taxpayers but focusing on people 60 and older. Its volunteers specialize in questions and pensions and retirement issues that are unique to seniors.

It’s offered at the same types of sites where the AARP program is, and many of the TCE sites are operation by the AARP Tax-Aide volunteers. Some sites also offer free help with Web-based tax prep software to file basic federal and state tax returns.

Hope you enjoyed this tip. Contact me today for all your real estate questions!

Making a Color Statement: Hot New Interior Color Trends



No matter your budget or time constraints, says Hollywood interior designer and set consultant Stephan St. Orang, nothing can change the mood and beauty of your home more significantly than interior paint and lighting.

“This is the year to look for color combinations that take their zing from nature,” St. Orang maintains. “You need only to take a nature walk to find surprising combinations that are vibrant, dynamic and that harmonize with one another in a joyful or pleasing way.”

Break away from the safety of neutral whites, greys and beiges, so popular in the last few years of economic uncertainty, with bold and optimistic color combinations like these, he suggests:

  • Spring forest ambience –Wake up bedrooms or living rooms with walls of forest moss or leafy green and accent with splashes of yellow, vibrant pink and lavender in pillows and other accessories.
    • Sense and sensibility –Begin with an exuberant rush of bold color, such as walls of rich copper-orange to create a sense of warmth. Add calming accents of cool blues and light yellows to create a cheerful and uplifting space.
    • Earth and sky – Create a look of stylish, airy elegance in the dining room with walls of blue accented with darker wood trim. Add a soothing pale blue ceiling to soften the formality and accent one wall with a weathered, artistic stencil pattern to add visual interest.
    • Spiced life – Add interest and cheer to a rec room or home office with an unexpected pairing of natural pewter on the walls and a pop of persimmon on the ceiling. Or stick with a more neutral ceiling and make creative use of color by painting a wide swath of your favorite hue along one wall to create an interesting backdrop for favorite works of art.

Going Once, Going Twice...Sold! Put Together an Offer the Seller Won't Refuse



Submitting an offer on a home and waiting to hear back is one of the most stressful parts of the home-buying process. Since there is always room to negotiate when it comes to price, you want to be sure to put in an offer that the seller can’t refuse or you risk losing your dream home to someone with a higher bid. 

While prospective homebuyers are often unaware of current trends in the real estate market, many typically rely on advice and guidance from their parents, friends and coworkers who don’t necessarily have a good pulse on the real estate market. 

That’s why educated buyers who have spoken with their agent about an acceptable offer will have a better chance of hearing “sold” when the phone rings. Not only will a good agent offer valuable information, they can also help you buy the home you want at the price you want to pay.

Real estate agents have access to statistics and trend information that others don’t, so their advice is invaluable. But when it comes to submitting an offer, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s about more than just the money. In fact, there are several things you can include in the bid to help foster a successful deal. 

When it comes to getting a bid accepted, first-time homebuyers often have a significant advantage over repeat buyers because their agent is instrumental in advising them to not only take the time to get pre-qualified, but to also be pre-approved for a mortgage before they even begin looking for a home. And since they don’t have to wait for another house to sell, their offer will be attractive to someone looking to sell a home. 

Another thing to keep in mind is the fact that sellers are typically attracted to “clean” bids. A clean bid is one in which the buyer doesn’t ask for any contingencies, repairs or updates to be done. In the end, sellers are happiest when they can simply collect their money and move out quietly. 

Buyers should also plan in advance to have funds available for a fast closing. Many agents will tell you that even if you’re not the highest bidder, your bid may still be accepted because you are willing to close right away.

Before making an offer, be sure to talk with your agent and decide what you’re willing to give up in order to have your bid accepted, as it could be the most important bid you ever place in your life. 

For more information on increasing your chances of having your offer selected, contact me today at 734-516-1014.

Keep Water Away From Your Home's Foundation


Water is good for trees, shrubs and many other plant forms. It’s not, however, always good for your house, especially when your property stays wet and does not drain properly.

“Water is the number one cause of damage to the homes we live in,” says Jamison Brown with AmeriSpec Home Inspection Service in southeastern Virginia.

“Excessive water around and under the footprint of the home can produce a host of unwanted consequences — fungal growth and structural damage.”

To protect your home, the soil around the home should slope away from the foundation on all sides.

Typically, the recommended slope is one inch per foot for at least six feet away from the home. This rule of thumb is not always possible for hard surfaces like drives and walks. However, with these impervious surfaces, water can keep moving away from the home even if the slope is less.

With the passage of time, the presence of shrubs and household outdoor pets can result in a change in the slope around the home, says Brown. Homeowners should annually review the ground around the home to ensure the gardening activities, installation of mulch or raised beds — and the comfortable spot your dog lays to rest in — have not resulted in a low spot or a slope, which is pitched toward the home.

If the lot slopes toward a home, a swale, or a shallow ditch, should be installed to prevent surface water from flowing against the foundation. A swale should carry surface water around the home and away on the surface of the soil or to a catch basin that will carry the water via an underground drainage pipe.

A French drain can also help get water into the ground where it can quickly disperse. The drain can be as simple as a huge hole dug and filled with rock, or it can be as sophisticated as a system of interior foundation drains that feed into a sump pump and exterior flow system.

Gutters and downspouts are also important means for getting water away from your home’s foundation, especially when the structure does not have substantial overhang. For gutters to function properly, they must be firmly attached to the eave of the roof; all seams must be sealed and the gutters must slope toward the downspout with a slope of one inch in 17 feet, says Brown.

A good rule of thumb — one downspout should not drain more than 35 feet of gutter. The gutters must be clean to prevent clogging. The gutter downspouts need to be extended away from the home a minimum of four feet with six feet being preferred. When downspouts are connected to underground drains, it is very important to keep all debris out of the gutters, downspouts and underground drains.

Air-conditioning units can also create unwanted water-logged areas. Consider extending your unit’s drain pipe to direct extra water away from the foundation and to a gardening area where moisture-loving plants like cardinal flower, Joe-pye weed, milkweed, giant coneflower, cannas or bee balm can drink it up.

Distributed by MCT Information Services

The Most Expensive DIY Mistakes



Do-it-yourself home improvement can be a great way to add value to your home without having to pay builders or plumbers to do the work. But even the simplest of DIY jobs can quickly turn into an expensive mess when tackled incorrectly. Here's a look at some of the most costly DIY mistakes to avoid. 

Unrealistic goals: Home improvement can be an addictive hobby and many enthusiasts fall into the trap of running before they can walk. Suddenly a simple blocked drain or drain repair can flood an entire house and leave a DIY amateur struggling to fix the problem. If you suddenly find yourself uncertain of the job you're doing, down tools and look for advice either online or from a professional emergency plumber.

Poor safety: Falling off a ladder, inhaling fumes and slicing open fingers are just a few of the DIY-related injuries that typically happen every weekend. Unfortunately these accidents not only hurt your pride, they can also affect your work and therefore your income. Safety goggles and gloves are a must, as well as gaining a proper understanding of the power tools that you are using. You are advised to read the instructions manual that came with the tools for guidance. Opening windows, while painting, will help to keep the air free of dangerous fumes, while loose-hanging clothing should be avoided to stop them getting caught up when using power tools. 

Not asking permission: Many homeowners are caught out when they tackle major improvements without first getting permission from the local authority. Fines for unapproved work can be hefty and the permit structure exists to make sure the job is done correctly. Many insurance companies also require proof that an improvement project followed official government guidelines, so ensure you check your rights first. 

Cutting corners: Tight budgets are a reality for many homeowners, but cheap tools and materials are unfortunately a false economy. Using 1/4-inch drywall instead of 5/8-inch, for example, will allow more noise to leak from room to room. Taking a professional approach and investing in the right tools for the job will ensure a good quality finish. 

Inaccurate measurements: Planning is a vital part of any project and rushing through measurements is a quick way to a DIY headache. All veteran home improvers follow the golden rule of 'Measure twice, cut once.' 

10 Surefire Ways to Raise Healthy Kids


With parents away at work in most homes, and kids routinely tempted by sugary treats, questionable friends and increasingly engaging electronics, it isn’t easy to raise healthy, responsible kids. But getting them off to a good start, and instilling an awareness of good habits and choices, may help them avoid some obvious pitfalls as they grow toward adulthood.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), offers these ten tips for parents who want to raise healthier kids:

Keep them covered –
 from earliest childhood, generous use of sunscreen, hats, and protective clothing will help protect them from sunburn and skin cancer.

Keep meds out of reach – Kids are curious. Store all medicines, household products, personal care products, and other dangerous substances in locked cabinets that are out of reach of small children.

Make nutrition important – From infancy, serve a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Omit high-fat, high-sugar snacks and help kids understand the connection between healthy eating and good health.

Get their teeth checked – Dental decay is one of the most common chronic infectious diseases among children and often leads to other illness. Use fluoride toothpaste, and oversee vigorous brushing twice daily.

Stress the importance of hand-washing – Good hygiene, including frequent hand-washing is one of the simplest ways to avoid disease. Show kids how to sneeze or cough into their elbow and encourage frequent hand-washing.

Teach pedestrian safety - Set limits on when and where your children walk and cross streets. Teach them about street safety, what traffic light colors mean, obeying traffic signals, and watching for cars.

Get them off the couch – At least 60 minutes a day of exercise helps build healthy bodies. Get kids involved with regular sports programs and/or bike-riding or other exercise.

Use antibiotics wisely –
 Antibiotic resistance, which occurs from overuse, can cause longer illness, more doctor visits and other problems. Use them only when your doctor has determined they will be effective.

Be generous with compliments – Complimenting your kids when they do something good encourages good behavior and keeps the lines of communication flowing more freely.

Be involved – Take an active interest in your kids’ daily activities – and talk to them. Involved parents can, without preaching, be a positive influence in their children’s resistance to alcohol, tobacco, and other poor choices.

Snow White and the Seven Sound Financial Principles



Mirror mirror, on the wallet... hey look, I just doubled my money! Ah, if only it were that easy! But we all know that keeping an eye on your finances is critical if you want to become debt-free. Like Snow White with the apple, taking too big a bite from your paycheck can prove poisonous to your financial health! This year, be proactive with your money and reap the benefits. Forget about those shorties from your favorite childhood tale; let me introduce you to seven big ideas that will help you fill that wallet WITHOUT the use of mirrors: Say Hi-Ho to my little friends!


SMARTY says this one is a no brainer - Refi your mortgage into a 15-year loan – At today’s low rates, refinancing your 30-year mortgage of $250,000 into a 15-year loan will cost you less than $300 per month more and save you $220,000 over the life of the loan. Plus, you’ll pay off the loan in half the time. (Shop for a no- or low-cost refi.)

BANKSY wants you to open an online bank account – Online banks like ING Direct and Ally offer paper checks and/or online bill paying as well as higher interest rates than most brick and mortar banks.

THRIFTY would like to remind you to save early and often – Regularly putting away a percentage of every paycheck will add up faster than you imagine. If you think you can’t afford to save, start with one or two percent and work your way up as you realize it’s easier than you thought.

VESTY looks up from the financial page and says - Buy top consumer brand stocks – Well-known brands tend to do well in any economy. Brands like Coca Cola, Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and Johnson and Johnson have paid dividends every year for the last 25 years.

JUMPY pours another cup of joe and sputters this advice - Transfer your credit card balances – Some banks are offering 0 percent promotional rates for 12- and 15-month periods. If you are carrying a balance and paying more than that, it’s just good sense to shop for one of these money-saving offers.

FLIPPY wants to remind you that residential real estate is a historically great investment, and now is the time to buy – Home prices are rising, but interest rates are still low. If you can, buy now to cash in later before you are priced out of the market.

BOB VILA (Ok, it doesn't end in "Y" and it doesn't have to; remember Doc? Work with me here, it's after 5:00 on Friday) - Bob says renovate wisely – If you are planning home improvements, invest in those that will likely raise your home’s value most when you decide to sell. Choose projects like adding a bath, installing double-pane windows, or updating the kitchen.

Put these proven strategies to work for you and watch as your finances grow from dwarf to giant! Tune in next time as I relate the story of Pinocchio, a boy made entirely of asbestos, and how he got his nose in a snit over the new EPA disclosure laws!!!  


Zero down loans part 3 - Last but not least, a win for our boys!



My grandson, Brandon, just got back from basic training! He has one more year of high school, then he starts his 8 year tour as a soldier in Uncle Sams Army. We couldn't be prouder of him as he joins the ranks of the country's finest young men and women in their endeavor to keep us all safe at night! Way to go buddy!

Thankfully, the USA has the brightest, bravest, and…well let’s just admit it; the most bad-ass military force on the planet! These guys (and gals) spend a significant portion of their lives in the worst possible living conditions; intense heat (or cold), extreme drought (or flood), bugs (or scorpions and snakes)… are you getting my point here? They go wherever they’re told to fight for our freedom, and the living conditions can border on sheer squalor. So it’s only fitting that they have their very own zero down loan program, so when they end their tours they can significantly improve their living conditions (and do it without spending a penny of their own money toward the down payment!)

You may be eligible for a VA Home Loan if:

  • You have served 90 consecutive days of active service during wartime, OR
  • You have served 181 days of active service during peacetime, OR
  • You have more than 6 years of service in the National Guard or Reserves, OR
  • You are the spouse of a service member who has died in the line of duty or as a result of a service-related disability.

The zero down VA loan does has some great features and benefits, including:

  • No Down Payment Necessary.

Homebuyers will usually need at least a 10 percent down payment for conventional loans or a 3.5 percent down payment for FHA financing. On a $200,000 loan, that's $20,000 for conventional borrowers and $7,000 for FHA. For many homebuyers, coming up with that kind of cash up can be challenging. Being able to purchase with $0 down means VA borrowers don't have to spend years saving to scrape together a big down payment.

  • Less Stringent Qualifications.

Many first-time homebuyers might not yet have a strong credit history, which can make it more difficult to get approval for a mortgage or qualify for an affordable interest rate. Since the VA Loan is government-backed, VA Loans are easier to qualify for at competitive rates.

  • Lower Monthly Payments.

Since VA Loans don't require the added monthly expense of private mortgage insurance (PMI), they tend to leave more money in your pocket each month. In addition, the competitive VA Loan rates can save a typical buyer thousands over the lifespan of the loan.

This one is kind of a no brainer guys…if you, or your friends and family members would like more info on this awesome program for our veterans, you can sound off at 734-516-1014, or email me at for your basic training on this mortgage plan!

I don’t know but I’ve been told, livin’ on the street can sure get cold…

Call Jeff for all your housing needs, and get your butt out of the weeds!


Zero down home loans part two; I'm no doctor, but I won't be staying in a Holiday Inn tonight!



In my first blog post, I talked about the largely unheard of zero down physician loan program.  As a recent award recipient from MD Preferred for providing real estate and relocation services to doctors, I felt it an appropriate topic.  However, after fielding several calls and emails from friends and clients, some of them dripping with sarcasm (“hey Jeff, I’m going to go enroll in med school so I can buy a house with no down payment – see you in 10-12 years” and such) I’ve come to the realization that many of you are not, in fact, doctors (or comedians either, apparently).  So in the interest of fair play (and squashing their fledgling comedic aspirations), I have uncovered a zero down loan program for those of who want to buy a home with no down payment, but just couldn’t cut it in Med School!

Established by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA – that’s right; the same guys that grade your meat, you know; Prime, Choice, Select, rural development loans are designed to help moderate income American's buy a home in rural and suburban communities.

They are among the most competitive loans in the market place!

*Zero money down

*Low 30 year fixed interest rates

*Government guaranteed

*Flexible credit guidelines

*Roll your closing costs into the loan

If you want to live in a qualifying suburban town or rural area – determined based on population - a USDA Rural Development Loan may be the answer to securing your dream of home ownership. And you won’t need 8+ years of med school, because unlike the physician loan, this zero down program is for everyone!  Just think; zero down mortgages AND better cuts of meat...courtesy of the USDA!   

These federally backed and funded loans are one of the last true “No Money Down” options on the market.  Now is the PRIME time to call me at 734-516-1014, and SELECT your CHOICE of the TASTIEST homes out there, because this USDA program is a CUT above the rest!  Ha, see what I did there?  Man, all of the sudden I’m hungry… steak sounds good…

WOW! Zero down loan program especially for doctors



No down payment? IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE?!?

What’s up doc? Well, your income for one…let’s face it; you didn’t spend all those years in med school because you liked the cramped dorm rooms! But now that your income will allow you to afford an incredible home, you still need to pay off those student loans, then start saving for a down payment… meanwhile, the home prices sure aren’t getting any lower; how much more will that dream home cost when you are finally ready to buy?

The good news is, there’s no need to wait! I’ve uncovered a phenomenal loan program designed to especially for doctors that lets you buy now at today’s market values, and you don’t need a down payment. This Program is only available to medical doctors who have a minimum degree of an M.D., D.O., D.M.D., D.V.M. or D.D.S. degree and proof of sufficient income (i.e. employment contract). Minimum credit score and maximum debt-to-income ratios apply to qualify for the program.


*700 credit score required for loan amounts up to $500k

*720 credit score required for loan amounts over $500k

*100% financing up to $500,000.00

*On loan amounts between $500,000 and $1,000,000, 5% minimum down payment is required

*No mortgage insurance required

*No pre-payment penalty

*2 months reserves required

*5 and 7 yr ARM available

I’ve been selling real estate for 22 years, and I’ve uncovered some awesome mortgage programs, but this one is truly special. If you would like more info about this program, or would like a consultation to determine which loan program best fits your needs, call Jeff McLaughlin today at 734-516-1014, or send me an email at I can help you keep more of your money in your pocket no matter what your profession is!


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