Questions to Ask Before Deciding on a Real Estate Agent


Roughly 5 million residential real estate transactions were conducted in 2014. Of those, nearly 87 percent involved real estate agents, who can help both buyers and sellers of residential properties save time and maximize the value of their home. Before deciding which real estate agent might be the best fit for your needs, you might want to ask yourself—or your agent—the following questions.


Real estate agents licensed by state property boards are usually expected to complete regular training courses and abide by board-approved practices. Agents affiliated with the National Association of Realtors (NAR) are also bound by the organization’s Code of Ethics, which are intended to make sure real estate agents follow NAR’s approved protocols for home sales.


Because neighborhoods often have their own unique traits when it comes to advertising benefits like school districts and property values, you’ll want an agent who has successfully completed several transactions in the area you’re considering. For sellers, an agent with experience in the local market will know how best to appeal to buyers most likely to complete a sale.


One of the better ways to assess an agent’s ability to move a property is to visit an open house to see how they handle prospective buyers. An impressive presentation means they’re likely to devote a similar amount of energy to your own transaction.


While it’s not necessary that an agent’s office be packed with trophies, third-party recognition for outstanding sales or customer service can be a good sign that the agent is proactive and attentive to their client’s needs.


Agents often come with designations that might resemble a word jumble until you get familiar with details. An Accredited Buyer Representative has had additional training in representing those in the market for a home; a Seniors Real Estate Specialist has had experience working with buyers over the age of 50. Get to know an agent’s abbreviations and find out if they specialize in your situation.


As a buyer, you’ll want an agent familiar with the specific type of home sale you’re interested in. That means experience in navigating the details of federal loan programs, dealing with military financing, or having sold more residential properties than commercial. Buyers and sellers of private properties can also have a variety of special interests depending on the type of home being targeted. Rural homes, for example, have different details to work through compared to historic properties or condominiums. You’ll want an agent who has experience dealing with your specific case needs.


Agents typically receive a percentage of the sale price from the seller. Ask for specific amounts (typically three to seven percent), along with other closing costs. Sellers should also know whether an agent charges a fee for things like staging (dressing the home for viewing), photography, and other attempts to stand out in the market.


Hiring an agent should be like hiring any other employee: You’ll want to know that they have gotten the job done previously. While you can look at online reviews, it shouldn’t be a problem for an agent to provide contact information for buyers or sellers they’ve worked with so you can benefit from their perspective.


Keeping homes visible in the market, analyzing new listings, and communicating to clients requires a lot of leg work, so many agents have workers who assist them in keeping on top of their workload. At the same time, you don’t want an agent who will use assistants to pass along information. Make sure the agent will make keeping you informed their first priority.

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Fireplace Maintenance and Safety

Tend to your chimney with care with these expert tips!


Enjoying a warm, cozy fire requires a clean, safe fireplace.
Here are some tips for keeping it that way.
Fireplaces should not be used as furnaces. Use a fireplace for a short-duration fire — no longer than five hours.Keep the glass open to allow air to be drawn up to cool the chimney, but keep the screen closed to prevent sparks from jumping onto the carpeting.




Never leave a fire unattended when children are in the house. Adults, even if near, should not allow children to play near or with fire tools and equipment.


Open a window when using the fireplace to prevent the room from becoming smoky. The air coming in from the window will go up the chimney.



Before making a fire, open the glass doors, pull aside the screen curtains, and place the kindling, newspaper and logs inside. Next, open the damper and a window. The window needs to be open only a few inches. You can check to make sure the smoke will go up the chimney properly by lighting a match, quickly blowing it out and watching the smoke to see whether it’s going up and out.


Keep a nonflammable rug (available at fireplace-supply stores) in front of the fireplace so that sparks won’t melt or otherwise damage your carpeting.


Use fireplace tools to handle burning logs. Never use your hands.


Use a chimney cap to prevent water damage, to keep animals from nesting and to keep debris from blocking the chimney and causing carbon monoxide to flow into the house. Use a spark arrester to help prevent sparks from flying out, which could start a fire on the roof or lawn.


Glass doors may develop tough stains from flames and heat. To clean them, make sure the glass doors are cool, then scrape off any thick gunk deposits with a razor blade. Add a squirt of liquid dishwashing detergent to a bucket of warm water, or add a cup of vinegar to a gallon of water. Spray or sponge the cleaner on, and then wipe it away with newspaper (which is lint-free). Another option is to buy glass cleaner at a fireplace store.


Fireplace coals can remain hot enough to start a fire for up to three days, so always wait at least that long before removing the ashes. At that point, close the damper to prevent cold air in the flue from stirring up excess dust while you’re removing the ashes. Be sure to wear a dust mask and open a window in the same room as the fireplace to prevent negative air pressure. Use a shovel to scoop the ashes into a metal container. Store the container far from combustible materials and surfaces and wood floors.


Never use a vacuum to clean up ashes, because live coals may remain in those ashes.


Have a certified chimney sweep inspect and clean the chimney when necessary. Have him show you how to check it yourself, too. The chimney should be checked at least once a year or after about 80 fires.


Shine brass fireplace utensils with Worcestershire sauce and a toothbrush.


Clean the firebox (the area where the logs burn) at least once a week during the months you use it, when ash builds up. Leave about an inch of ash because it acts as insulation, allowing the coals to heat faster and retain the heat easier.


Keep the firebox completely clean during the months when the fireplace is not in use.


To clean an exterior slate hearth, wash, dry and coat it with lemon oil every six weeks to make it shine. For cleaning exterior brick hearths, buy a brick cleaner at a fireplace shop.

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Setting Priorities In A Senior’s Move

Tips For Whittling Down The Options To Find The Perfect Spot

Trying to decide where to live during one’s golden years can be a difficult process. There are many different types of options available and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. When a senior is trying to choose a new place where they will spend their remaining years, it can be helpful to work through their priorities in relation to the new home.


Evaluate the reasons for the move and the priorities in a new home

ABC News shares that there are many reasons why seniors consider downsizing in their later years. This type of change may be due to the death of a spouse, financial challenges, or health concerns, or it may be time to retire and free up money to travel. Whenever possible, it is best to work up to a big move like this, as rushing into a relocation can lead to regrets.

Money Sense explains that many older adults are downsizing so they can reduce their expenses or boost their nest eggs, so determine a realistic budget and stick to it. Don’t be distracted by amenities available in a community if the overall cost would cause a financial strain, as this type of stress in one’s later years can be quite detrimental.

Next, do some thinking about how much space is needed. Will you have guests staying over frequently or will you be on your own most of the time? Do you need some unfinished storage space for belongings or will you be able to pare things down sufficiently to transition to a smaller home?

Location and maintenance work are key factors, too

Apartment Guide notes that you will also want to consider whether living in a maintenance-free home is something you want. Seniors often want to let go of any responsibilities regarding snow removal, lawn care, or exterior home repairs, so focusing on maintenance-free living can narrow your options quickly.

Another key priority for many seniors related to the location of the new home. If one needs to have easy access to a specific medical facility, care center, or shopping area, that needs to be factored in during the search. Location also plays a role when a senior depends on extended family for help, wants to be by grandchildren, or hopes to stay near neighbors or friends they have had for years.

Get organized early for a smooth transition

As the search for a new home plays out, start planning for the move itself. Staying organized and starting early are the best ways to ensure a smooth transition for your senior. Keep a notebook containing all of the information related to the move, including an inventory list of what will go to the new home, so that everything is maintained in one spot.

Then, work consistently on purging unwanted or unneeded items. Help your senior decide what will fit in the new place and what can be sold or donated, tackling one small area at a time. Keep similar items together while packing and label or color code all of your boxes to speed up the unpacking on the other end of the move.

Moving in one’s later years is rarely an easy decision. Get organized early on so you can help your senior focus on their best options and keep the move progressing smoothly. Consider factors such as a senior’s financial picture, their reasons for downsizing, and the ideal location of their new place so they can ultimately settle in the perfect spot to enjoy their golden years.


Jim Vogel vogel[email protected]

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Start an Online Business without Breaking the Bank


But here’s the thing: Instead of jumping on the bandwagon to start an online business, make sure you do your homework first. Most people launch a product and market it later. Big mistake!

You want to do the opposite – study the market first, launch next. How? Since it’s going to be an online business, start looking at online forums, comment sections of your competitor sites and what people are searching in Google (using Google Keyword Tool).

Once you pass stage one successfully, you can think about launching a website/product/service. That’s where the real magic happens.

Here’s what comes next:

  • Writing content
  • Starting a blog
  • Having a presence on social media
  • Establishing an expert status for yourself
  • Email marketing
  • Outsourcing tasks you don’t have the time or inclination for
  • Following influencers closely
  • Launching a product or paid service

The list is unending.

It’s easy to get burned out in the sea of tasks and strategies when starting an online business. Thankfully, there are tools available to help you get off the hamster wheel and launch a successful online business.

The best part? You don’t have to spend a fortune on these tools. Here are eight tools to start an online business without breaking the bank: 

1. Hostt

An online business needs a website domain name and space to “host it”. Hosting is an ongoing expense for your business and it usually incurs a monthly cost with an option to pay it upfront on a yearly basis.

And that’s where is revolutionizing the hosting world. What I love about Hostt is that it offers free hosting for all your websites. They also have a 24/7 tech support and a cpanel that makes website management quick and painless.

There is no catch – no ads. The hosting is 100% free. They only ask you to have one domain name with them (which costs $13.95 a year).

2. WordPress/Shopify

Once your website is set up and hosted, you’re ready to install a CMS or a platform on which your web pages and content will sit.

WordPress, originally a blogging platform, is the most popular solution in existence today. Most top bloggers use and recommend WordPress. The best part? It’s free to use.

Once you have your website hosted (see #1 above), your hosting company’s cpanel should let you install WordPress using the “1-click install” functionality.

WordPress is great for any type of website; but, if you want to create mainly an e-commerce store (in other words, an online store with a checkout shopping cart), you have better options out there.

Although WordPress is pretty flexible and a full-blown CMS now, it was originally built for blogging, not for e-commerce purposes. If you predict having a large product catalog and lots of e-commerce relevant features, try a service such as Shopify.

Most e-commerce experts will advise you against WordPress for an online store. Shopify is highly customizable, robust and affordable for a professional shopping cart. There are other alternatives available in the marker too, so make sure you do your research before launching a web-store.

3. BuzzSumo

Once you have a platform ready, you need content. And not just any content but good, solid content one that your readers find educative, interesting and engaging.

BuzzSumo is a neat little tool that analyzes what works for your readers. It helps you find content and topics that will do best for your type of audience.

Just open their webpage and enter your main keywords in the top search bar. You can also add a domain name to see what’s working well for them.

BuzzSumo returns a list of articles with the number of shares (so you know what is popular and can get ideas from those topics for your own website).

Super-helpful from SEO perspective also. So go on, give it a try!

4. MailChimp

But you can’t just stop after creating juicy content. The next step in line is to promote your content and one of the best ways to do it is email marketing.

Mailchimp is an email newsletter service that is used by more than 7 million people. You can get started with their “free forever” plan if you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers and send less than 12,000 emails per month (which is very likely when you’re starting out).

To get add-ons such as autoresponders and delivery by time zones, you can upgrade for as little as $10 per month. I’ve been using MailChimp for years now for my own websites and that of my clients, and have no regrets.

5. Buffer

Apart from promoting content and educating your readers via email, you can also use social media to share and push your new posts out there.

Buffer is a nice little tool to schedule all your posts across different social media. The clean and easy to use interface is one of the reasons it’s so popular. What I personally love is their “Suggestions” tab on the dashboard.

Buffer scours the web for best posts on other websites that you can instantly use to share with your own followers. When I’m low on the shareable content reserve, this feature is super-handy – all I have to do is read the suggested article and (if I like it) click the link to share or schedule it for my own channels.

6. ClickMeeting

If you are in a freelance/service-provider business model like I am, you have a constant need to communicate with your clients or collaborate with your team all over the world.

ClickMeeting is a platform to meet and record audio and video conferencing with your clients (for up to 25 participants). It’s perfect for briefing and presentation purposes. You can also brand all your meetings and impress your clients like a pro. Plus, they have a translation service if you’re exploring international markets.

They also offer a sister-product called ClickWebinar to conduct virtual trainings (for up to 1,000 participants) and webinars with your audience.

7. FancyHands

Let’s face it – despite all the tools in the world, you will still need external help. That’s where services such as FancyHands come into picture.

FancyHands brings you a team of virtual assistants who can do a lot of things at less than $1 a day, if you’re using their basic plan that costs $29.99/mo.

Here are some services for which people have requested in the past (as per the company’s website):

 My co-worker is in the hospital after a bad car accident. Can you call the gift shop there and ask them if they sell fun things to do to pass the time that they could send in a gift basket type of thing to him? Crossword puzzles, trashy magazines, stuff like that. I’d like to spend about $50. If they don’t do that sort of thing, please find a place that can.

Please make a lunch reservation at Barolo under my name for Friday at 1pm and call Jennifer Wilson’s office and let her know that the meeting is confirmed. Please add it to my schedule as well.

Please fill me in on the top 5 trending topics on Twitter today, both worldwide and locally in Los Angeles.

A fun way to get your time back, right?

8. Xoom

I saved the best for last – getting paid. Xoom is a perfect alternative to Paypal. Where Paypal is notorious for charging hefty transaction fees (try this calculator to find how much you’re being charged), Xoom charges a flat fee of $4.99 for up to $2,999.

With their 24/7 customer support and faster money transfers, Xoom is one of the easiest ways to send money.

Your Turn

Are you starting an online business? Which one of the above tools is your favorite? Would you like to add more? Tells us your thoughts in the comments below.

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How Will Millennials Get Into the Housing Market?

Don’t be surprised if the housing market gets tighter next year. The country’s largest generation — millennials between the ages of 18 and 34 — are expected to enter the market for homes in big numbers.

In a recent survey at the National Association of Realtors’ website, 61% of millennials surveyed said that they plan to go house shopping next year. Millennials account for more than 75 million Americans and they represent the largest generation in the country, now outnumbering baby boomers by about half a million.


Only about a third of millennials have reached the prime home-buying age of 31, so if they begin entering the housing market next year, they could become the driving force for home sales for the next decade or longer.

But they do face some hurdles. Among these is existing debt, more than likely student loan debt. Another is stagnant wages. A third is stricter loan underwriting standards. And, fourth, home prices keep rising.

A new study from Fitch Ratings calculates that someone repaying student loans on a monthly payment of $203 qualifies for a loan amount $45,000 lower than a person with no student loan debt. A monthly payment of $400 reduces mortgage loan capacity by about $89,000.

Because home ownership has historically been the single best wealth creator for most Americans and an important driver of U.S. consumer spending, the longer a person delays buying a house the more significant the foregone home-equity creation. Yet home ownership rates for Americans under 35 has dropped from around 44% in 2004 to 34% this year, the largest decline among all U.S. age groups.

About 42 million Americans face student loan debt totaling nearly $1.3 trillion, an average of more than $30,000 per person, and, according to Fitch, “rising monthly repayment requirements are eating into prospective home buyers’ cash flows.”

Wages have not kept pace with the increase in student loan debt. Fitch notes:

Nominal wages for recent university graduates rose by 13% between 2007 and 2015, but average student loan balances for all borrowers surged 60% and national rental prices increased 22% over the same time period.

Loan underwriting standards have tightened to the point that first-time buyers now need a credit score of about 745 in order to qualify for a mortgage. In 2000, a credit score of around 715 was needed.

Fitch is not particularly upbeat about the home-buying situation facing millennials. The firm sees student debt as an enormous albatross for recent and future college graduates. Potential home buyers will struggle to repay their student debts because wages aren’t growing fast enough to keep up with college costs, and that will force recent graduates to rent for longer before considering a home purchase and that, in turn, will leave the millennial generation out of the housing-based wealth economy.

The survey we mentioned at the beginning of this story noted that 61% of millennials plan to look for a house next year. The same survey also revealed that 73% of all respondents who are considering buying a house have been considering it for less than three months. Will they get discouraged the further along they get?

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Tips To Sell Your Home Faster

Ever wonder why some homes sell in a day and others linger for months?
We’ve got tips from the experts to get your place off the market, stat.



A fresh coat of paint for your front door sets the tone of a well kept, updated place. I like a line of paint by Benjamin Moore called Grand Entrance (it comes in 11 colors), which was designed specifically for the front door. I always choose a color that makes a bit of a statement, yet complements the home’s existing exterior color.

First, prep the door by cleaning it and give it a light sanding to smooth out any old paint lines. Use a good brush to apply the paint.


Buying new cabinetry is expensive, and full custom cabinetry can take months to complete. But you can update your existing cabinets by painting them white. I also suggest painting the island cabinetry gray ( Benjamin Moore’s Kendall Grey), which will contrast nicely with the white.

The most luxurious homes have Calacatta gold marble kitchen countertops, but if you’re updating for a sale,  consider swapping out old granite with less expensive marble that has a similar look. “Carrera marble is one of my favorites for a more reasonable cost,” she says.


The focal point of any master bedroom is the bed, and the bedding has to look magazine-worthy, like something you’d want to jump right into. People buy homes because they fall in love with them, so make that master bedroom an emotional statement with an irresistible bed. A duvet cover set will allow you to slipcover your existing comforter and a few of your pillows.

To make your bed look irresistibly cozy, create layers by adding another comforter folded at the end of the bed, plenty of pillows, and a few accent pillows. If you don’t have a headboard, or if your headboard isn’t a statement maker, a few Euro-size pillows (26×25) will fill the gap. And Joseph says you should never be able to see under a bed or to see sheets hanging down, so if needed, use a bed-skirt and proper bed-styling on days your broker takes photos or shows the house.


Homes listed on Thursdays sell faster and for more money than homes listed on other days of the week, according to a 2015 study by Redfin. Redfin’s study shows homes listed on a Thursday have a 22 percent chance of selling above list price (compared to the 17.5 percent chance they have when listed on a Sunday).


You never know when your broker might call you about scheduling a last-minute showing, so you need to be prepared.  The beds should always be made and the dishes should never be left in the sink.


If you’re willing to have an open house, do it within the first week: The Redfin study found that holding an open house during the first week that the home is listed will help your home sell for 2 percent more than what it would sell for if you held your open house later. It will also help you sell your home within 90 days.


Your home will sell up to three weeks faster if your pictures are amazing, and you’ll get $3400 more for it, according to Redfin.


Your photographer should take a minimum of 25 pictures, and some should include the community. For example, if your home is near a park make sure the photographer includes a picture. If it’s near a popular shopping mall, include a photo of the mall.


Your house will get five times more visits the first day it hits the market than it does a week later, which means everything has to be perfect the first day. Testing the waters with a higher price and planning on a price drop later could scare away prospective buyers.

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Millennials Are Waiting to Buy a Home

Young couple looking at a new house

Say what you will about millennials and their commitment issues, but when it comes to real estate, younger Americans aren’t shying away from homeownership because they refuse to stay put and settle down. Rather, millennials aren’t buying homes at the same pace of previous generous because they feel they just can’t afford it. To further understand this phenomenon, NerdWallet did some digging into why millennial’s have slowed down considerably on the home-buying front, and these are the reasons it uncovered.

"poor" option checked off on credit score options

1. Their credit isn’t good enough

Back before the housing bubble burst in the ugliest way possible, it seemed like almost anyone could get approved for a mortgage. Standards have since gotten stricter, however, and these days, a growing number of millennials feel they can’t take the leap into homeownership because their credit scores just aren’t high enough.

Since length of credit history is one of five key components that goes into determining a credit score, it’s natural for millennials to have a clear disadvantage on that point alone. But what many younger would-be homebuyers don’t realize is that while credit requirements have gotten more rigid, folks with lower credit scores have different avenues to explore. While it’s true that an estimated one-third of millennials don’t have a high enough credit score (620) to meet the industry’s minimum standard requirement, FHA loans require a minimum credit score of just 500.

Furthermore, there are ways to build credit quickly to make homeowner a more feasible option sooner rather than later. Paying off a chunk of existing debt, requesting a higher credit limit, and correcting credit report errors can all work to boost a credit score in a relatively short period of time.

Model house on a pile of dollar bills

2. They don’t have enough saved for a down payment

Many prospective homebuyers of all ages assume they’ll need to put 20% of their property’s value down at closing — a target that, according to Fannie Mae and the Federal Reserve, is well out of reach for the majority of millennials. But what many folks don’t realize is that there are ways to get around that 20% requirement. FHA loans, for example, require as little as 3.5% down. And those who qualify for USDA or VA loans can get away with putting no money down at all.

A big part of overcoming that 20% hump therefore boils down to education. In a 2015 Fannie Mae survey, 73% of millennials had no clue about the aforementioned lower down payment options, but a little research might help more young Americans overcome this particular barrier. Of course, putting more money down at closing means paying less in mortgage costs overall, but those who are really intent on owning should know that they may have other options, especially if their credit is strong.


3. They don’t earn enough to cover their monthly mortgage costs

Americans aged 25 to 34 earn an average income of just over $35,000 a year, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And at first glance, that may not seem like enough to swing a monthly mortgage payment, especially when you consider the peripheral costs of homeownership, like property taxes, insurance, and maintenance. In addition, Trulia reports that there are fewer starter homes on the market these days than in previous years, which means millennials with limited income have even fewer options for finding affordable properties.

But when NerdWallet ran some numbers, it found that in most regions of the country, millennials do earn enough to afford the monthly mortgage payment for a median starter home. Also, taking on that sort of mortgage payment wouldn’t push their debt levels into dangerous territory. And because interest rates are at an all-time low, now is actually a good time for millennials to lock in their home loans, while they’re still reasonably affordable.

While those housing costs might seem daunting on a modest salary, younger Americans who are serious about owning should create a budget and map out their monthly expenses to see what taking on a mortgage might actually look like in practice. Those who are willing to sacrifice in other spending categories, like leisure and restaurant meals, may come to find that they can manage those payments after all.

Debt sign

4. They have too much existing debt

One final reason why millennials are delaying homeownership boils down to existing debt. And it’s a valid concern, especially given the extent to which student debt levels have climbed year after year. Student Loan Hero reports that the average college grad aged 20 to 30 makes a $351 monthly loan payment. Meanwhile, ValuePenguin estimates that the average borrower under 35 has $5,808 in outstanding credit card debt.

Interestingly enough, data shows that college grads have a greater likelihood of buying homes — especially since they typically have higher earning potential than those without a degree. But given that the average Class of 2016 graduate came away with over $37,000 in loans, it’s certainly reasonable that millennials might choose to delay homeownership until they’re able to get their debt levels under control.

Though millennials have several good motives for holding off on homeownership, these reasons, as NerdWallet puts it, may be more a matter of perception than reality. While it’s true that younger Americans have their share of hurdles to overcome, those who are really intent on becoming homeowners have more options than they probably realize. And the sooner they act on those opportunities, the less money they’ll end up throwing away on rent.

Maurie Backman is personal finance writer who’s passionate about educating others. Her goal is to make financial topics interesting (because they often aren’t) and believes that a healthy dose of sarcasm never hurt anyone. In her somewhat limited spare time, she enjoys playing in nature, watching hockey, and curling up with a good book.

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Shocking Truths About Real Estate!


You’ve probably read about—or even met—people who claim to have made fortunes large and small trafficking in real estate. “Flipping” houses can seemingly make tens of thousands of dollars appear overnight, all while working your own hours.

If it you think it sounds a little too good, you’re right to be suspicious. Below, some harsh realities about the real estate game that most aspiring investors, homeowners, or potential buyers should learn about sooner rather than later.


Property owners who aren’t looking to make real estate their livelihood can generally commit to homes for personal use because of their perceived long-term value. But maintenance costs—new roofs, plumbing, property taxes—and interest rates can all conspire to negate any appreciation in the home over time.


Buying an investment property to sell at a profit has a lot of pitfalls, but one of the most dangerous is not having a back-up plan when the market has turned a bad corner. If selling outright isn’t an option, learn about a lease-to-sell arrangement, renting, or selling below cost to another investor.


Having a property examined by a professional prior to closing is a wise decision, but not all problems present themselves in an obvious way. Inspectors generally don’t remove or cut into walls to inspect interior issues; water problems might not be apparent until the area gets a considerable amount of rain. Once you own the property, you’re on the hook for any expensive repairs that could have been brewing quietly for years.


If you’ve considered investing in commercial property, strip mall locations can be an attractive option: they’re modestly-sized and can attract a lot of foot traffic, making them appealing to business owners. But those locations typically need to be renovated top to bottom every five to 10 years. Unless you plan on turning it around in short order, realize that a very large bill—adding to the overall cost of the property—will come around before long.


When you first put your home on the market, you might expect to spend months fielding offers. But in some cases, the very first potential buyers will be the ones making you the most attractive offer. Early birds tend to be highly motivated and have already scoped out your neighborhood to determine a fair market value.


Say you’ve tried to circumvent a lot of hassles by buying a rental property. The tenants cover your mortgage and leave a profit, but one or more come forward and say they can’t make their lease payments on time. While laws vary by county and state, evicting them isn’t a straightforward process. Waiting for a court date can add months to their delinquency; showing up with law enforcement to have the (ex) tenant moved out means cleaning up, repairing damage, and removing any belongings left behind.


Property owners might believe they can handle minor repairs themselves, but residences can have issues requiring major plumbing or electrical work. By law, some of these repairs need to be performed by licensed professionals, adding hundreds or thousands of dollars to the cost of maintenance.


Buying a home in foreclosure is often perceived as a significant savings opportunity—but these homes are rarely abandoned in immaculate condition. Foreclosed homes can be in violation of codes and might even come with a buyer-beware asterisk to the sale, meaning that buyers would have no recourse if they bought something with major structural damage.


If you’d prefer to represent buyers and sellers in real estate transactions to collect commissions, keep in mind that a portion of your salary will be eaten up by recurring costs. Accessing online listings carries premium charges; so does getting a license. Joining associations means paying dues.


For commercial buildings, sellers can often find that buyers have very particular size and layout needs. A property might be too big, too small, or with the wrong kind of parking available.  That’s why investing in commercial listings require a lot of patience: it could be months to years before both parties find a perfect match in one another.


So much can go wrong with real estate that investors who decide to make it a career usually don’t make it past the 12-month mark. Like any business, it requires long hours, patience, and an ability to roll with unexpected crises. If you’re still standing in your second year on the job, you might just make it.

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What’s the Origin of Jack-O’-Lanterns?

The term “jack-o’-lantern” was first applied to people, not pumpkins. As far back as 1663, the term meant a man with a lantern, or a night watchman. Just a decade or so later, it began to be used to refer to the mysterious lights sometimes seen at night over bogs, swamps, and marshes.

These ghost lights—variously called  jack-o’-lanterns, hinkypunks, hobby lanterns, corpse candles, fairy lights, will-o’-the-wisps, and fool’s fire—are created when gases from decomposing plant matter ignite as they come into contact with electricity or heat or as they oxidize. For centuries before this scientific explanation was known, people told stories to explain the mysterious lights. In Ireland, dating as far back as the 1500s, those stories often revolved around a guy named Jack.

Legend Has It

As the story goes, Stingy Jack—often described as a blacksmith—invited the devil to join him for a drink. Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for the drinks from his own pocket, and convinced the devil to turn himself into a coin that could be used to settle the tab. The devil did so, but Jack skipped out on the bill and kept the devil-coin in his pocket with a silver cross so that the devil couldn’t shift back to his original form. Jack eventually let the devil loose, but made him promise that he wouldn’t seek revenge on Jack, and wouldn’t claim his soul when he died.

Later, Jack irked the devil again by convincing him to climb up a tree to pick some fruit, then carved a cross in the trunk so that the devil couldn’t climb back down (apparently, the devil is a sucker). Jack freed him again, on the condition that the devil once again not take revenge and not claim Jack’s soul.

When Stingy Jack eventually died, God would not allow him into heaven, and the devil, keeping his word, rejected Jack’s soul at the gates of hell. Instead, the devil gave him a single burning coal to light his way and sent him off into the night to “find his own hell.” Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has supposedly been roaming the earth with it ever since. In Ireland, the ghost lights seen in the swamps were said to be Jack’s improvised lantern moving about as his restless soul wandered the countryside. He and the lights were dubbed “Jack of the Lantern,” or “Jack O’Lantern.”

Old Tale, New Traditions

The legend immigrated to the new world with the Irish, and it collided with another old world tradition and a new world crop. Making vegetable lanterns was a tradition of the British Isles, and carved-out turnips, beets, and potatoes were stuffed with coal, wood embers, or candles as impromptu lanterns to celebrate the fall harvest. As a prank, kids would sometimes wander off the road with a glowing veggie to trick their friends and travelers into thinking they were Stingy Jack or another lost soul. In America, pumpkins were easy enough to come by and good for carving, and got absorbed both into the carved lantern tradition and the associated prank. Over time, kids refined the prank and began carving crude faces into the pumpkins to kick up the fright factor and make the lanterns look like disembodied heads. By the mid-1800s, Stingy Jack’s nickname was applied to the prank pumpkin lanterns that echoed his own lamp, and the pumpkin jack-o’-lantern got its name.

Toward the end of the 19th century, jack-o’-lanterns went from just a trick to a standard seasonal decoration, including at a high-profile 1892 Halloween party hosted by the mayor of Atlanta. In one of the earliest instances of the jack-o’-lantern as Halloween decor, the mayor’s wife had several pumpkins—lit from within and carved with faces—placed around the party, ending Jack O’Lantern’s days of wandering, and beginning his yearly reign over America’s windowsills and front porches.

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