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Seven Ways to Pay Off Your Mortgage Faster


Paying down your mortgage as early as possible is one of the best suggestions that financial advisers make to their clients.  After all, throwing extra money at the biggest debt you may have can result in big interest savings and being mortgage-free years sooner.

Since mortgage payments are made with after-tax dollars, putting extra money down on a debt with an interest rate of 3.49% is equivalent to getting a guaranteed, risk-free return of over 5.0% for most taxpayers. If your mortgage rate is higher, your return would be higher too.

1. Shop around for the best mortgage possible with your credit score. 
When a mortgage company has a small overhead cost to stay in business it typically means that they will not charge you unreasonable ongoing service fees. Make sure you know the fees charged by your mortgage company before you sign the loan.

2. Select weekly or bi-weekly mortgage payments. 
A bi-weekly mortgage payment means you make 26 half-monthly payments instead of 12 monthly payments. But keep in mind that unless your initial mortgage is set up as bi-weekly, some lenders charge an upfront fee of $300-$400 to make bi-weekly payments, and even though you're making a payment every two weeks, the lender only applies it once a month.

If you make bi-weekly payments of $415 instead of monthly payments of $830, you could save almost $27,000 in interest over the entire amortization period of your mortgage, and you could own your home about 4-1/2 years sooner.

3. Prepay a little extra every month, or any time during the term of your mortgage. Increasing your payment by even a few dollars each month will pay down your principal amount faster. It is a good idea to pay 10-15% more each month. This amount shouldn’t put too much extra burden on you, and it will help to pay off your mortgage much faster. For example, if you increased your mortgage payments by just $170 from $830 to $1,000, you could save almost $48,000 in interest over the entire amortization period of your mortgage, and you could own your home about 8 years sooner. 

4. Make an annual lump sum payment. Use your tax refund, work bonus or any extra money you can save and apply it directly to your principal amount. Check your mortgage documents to find out how often you can prepay and in what amount. Many loans don't prohibit you from doing this, however the lender may have parameters on how many extra payments you can make. Ask this question when shopping for a mortgage loan. 
 
5. Pay as much as you can at renewal time. 
Most mortgages become open at renewal. This means you can pay as much as you want on your mortgage. If you chose a 5-year, fixed-rate term, and made a $10,000 lump-sum payment every time your mortgage came up for renewal, you would save about $37,481 in interest over the entire amortization period of your mortgage.

6. Red flag your extra payments. Always check your mortgage statement to make sure that any extra payments you made are being counted against the principal and that your bank has accurately documented your payments. Make the extra principal payments on a separate cheque and make a note on the memo line stating that the payment should be applied to principal reduction only. At tax time, tally up those payments and make sure they've been applied correctly. 

7. Stay informed. Once you have a mortgage, aside from making the payments, it's easy to forget about it altogether. By keeping up-to-date on interest rates and new products could save you money. You may want to shop for another product that better suits your needs. For example, to qualify for a mortgage, you may have started out with a lower-rate adjustable rate mortgage, but you want to switch to a more long-term affordable fixed-rate mortgage later. 
Fortunately, it's easy to virtually play around with various payment scenarios. Most financial institutions, banks, and mortgage brokers have online mortgage calculators that can easily calculate the savings for you. Combining two or more of these above tips would result in even bigger savings.

 



Choosing Outdoor Lighting for Curb Appeal & Safety


Well-executed exterior lighting can enhances the architectural detail of your property and makes your home look beautiful in the evening adding an abundance of curb appeal.   Aside from aesthetics, good exterior lighting can give you and your guest’s added security and peace of mind when entering and leaving your home.

Much of the success of exterior lighting depends mainly on its design. Professional lighting designers often talk about “moonlight effect.” That’s a naturalistic look that features light no more intense than that of a full moon, but still strong enough to make beautiful shadows and intense highlights.

A well-lit front entrance enables you to greet guests and identify visitors. Wall lanterns on each side of the door will give your home a warm, welcoming look, while assuring the safety of those who enter.

Install a single fixture above the garage door to provide lighting for safety and security. Consider installing a motion sensor on these fixtures or a photocell that turns the lights on at dusk and off at dawn to save energy.

Another important factor is making your home secure and safe from intruders and animals. Good lighting around the entire perimeter of your home can be a deterrent in itself. Illuminate any side of the house that would otherwise be in shadows. Spotlights installed on your eaves will accomplish this, or, for a more dramatic look, consider ground lights pointed up to graze your walls.

Steps, paths, and driveways should be illuminated to make sure family members and guests are able to move about easily and safely after dark. You can install path lights or post lanterns or attach lights to the side of the house.  Low-level path lights, which spread circular patterns of light, will brighten your walkway while highlighting nearby flower beds, shrubs and ground cover. Low-level path lights can also be used to define the boundaries of long driveways.

If you have added exterior features like a swimming pool, an exterior porch or entertaining space, ensure these areas are well lit as well.

Choose lighting fixtures that look beautiful, but also throws light a good distance away from your home. This will help illuminate dark areas, and aid your vision to see outside from inside your home. If you have a large property, flood lights installed on the corners of your home will help throw light further than average wall sconces on the exterior of your home.

Another consideration to keep in mind is to select outdoor light fixtures that are energy efficient and made of durable material to suit the harsh outside temperatures during the hot summer days and cold winter nights.  In most cases, fixtures made of cast aluminum are a very durable option.



REMODELLING - COST VS. VALUE


REMODELLING YOUR NORTH VANCOUVER HOME BEFORE SELLING                  COST VS. VALUE

Lately, clients have been asking what type of renovation will bring me the best return when selling.  To answer this question I referred to the 2010-2011 Remodelling Cost vs. Value Report.  This report is produced every year by Remodelling Magazine and it examines which renovations give the highest return when the home is sold. Although the publication is American based the information below pertains to the Pacific Northwest and, therefore, should be applicable to Vancouver. Here are the results:

Project

Job Cost

Resale Value

Cost Re-couped

 

 

 

 

Entry Door Replacement (steel)

$1,464

$1,641

112.1%

Garage Door Replacement

$1,514

$1,461

96.4%

Deck Addition (wood)

$13,827

$11,956

86.5%

Minor Kitchen Remodel

$23,603

$19,854

84.1%

Window Replacement (wood)

$14,431

$12,016

83.3%

Basement Remodel

$78,828

$65,101

82.6%

Window Replacement (vinyl)

$13,401

$10,760

80.3%

Bathroom Remodel

$19,490

$15,514

79.6%

Attic Bedroom

$63,314

$50,325

79.5%

Deck Addition (composite)

$17,552

$13,878

79.1%

Major Kitchen Remodel

$65,686

$50,556

77.0%

Two-story Addition

$195,228

$141,181

72.3%

Siding Replacement (vinyl)

$13,980

$10,067

72.0%

Family Room Addition

$105,369

$74,944

71.1%

Entry Door Replacement (fiberglass)

$4,040

$2,738

67.8%

Master Suite Addition

$131,566

$89,058

67.7%

Roofing Replacement

$26,718

$17,499

65.5%

Garage Addition

$73,834

$48,204

65.3%

Bathroom Addition

$49,508

$31,306

63.2%

Home Office Remodel

$32,428

$17,641

54.4%

Sunroom Addition

$86,970

$46,319

53.3%

Backup Power Generator

$17,033

$8,878

52.1%

It is interesting to note that the best paybacks are exterior renovations that increase curb appeal and liveability.  They also happen to be the least expensive.  So if you’re basing your remodelling decision on bang for your buck consider outside renovations. For further information please click here.



CONSIDERING SELLING? HERE'S HELPFUL HINTS FROM GARDENWORKS


SPRUCING UP TO SELL

Considering selling your home? You will quickly find that marketing a property is not the way it used to be.  Nowadays, people sit at home and click away through homes for sale on the internet, looking for their next nest.

Often, one photo is enough to tell them “Yes I want to see that house”.  Your goal is to persuade potential buyers to actually visit your home and the starting point is ALWAYS the entrance. If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then the front of the house is the welcoming smile.

There are improvements you can make that will give you that competitive edge. The checklist is short: make the area feel welcoming; give your garden flow; screen less desirable views; and emphasize desired views.

WELCOMING: Take a fresh look at your home from the street and ask yourself: “Is the front door visible and pleasing?” Prune trees for security and visibility; paint the front door a different colour from the house; and build up the entrance area with a landing to give the door more prominence.

If you have to walk up the driveway to get to the front door consider making a pedestrian walk.  Run steppers or a full walkway through the lawn and garden to the front door. This provides a more pleasing entry than a garage or a carport.

GARDEN FLOW: Are your plants overgrown and otherwise out of proportion? This looks like work and prospective buyers may be put off. Prune or replace these plants. Fresh mulch does work wonders to liven up a garden. This also reduces weeds and creates a low maintenance effect. Combat the choppy look of isolated garden beds by connecting them to create a graceful, flowing look. Finishing touch; potted plants are very impressive at the front entry!

LESS DESIRABLE VIEWS: With new and old varieties of tall, slim trees, it’s easy to block a poor view. A beautiful pergola, screen or well-made shed can be a more immediate solution.

DESIRED VIEWS: If your best panorama is at the front of the property, a sitting area is a definite must! No matter the size or amount of use it gets, the look is updated and inviting. If your backyard is the highlight, create an enticing peek-a-boo in the side yard plantings to let it show through, if possible.



SOME THINGS DON'T BELONG IN THE BLUE BOX


Most of us know that not everything goes into our curbside recycling, but what do we do with these items?  For a small fee some items can be recycled at Pacific Mobile Depots.  Visit their website for details and costs.

Another great site is the North Shore Recycling. Once on the site, look for the big brown button that says "where do I recycle this?" Click on that to find out how to recycle or dispose of over 200 items." This list covers just about everything!

 

Help punch out styrofoam! A North Vancouver company is providing residents with an option for recycling goods such as styrofoam, some plstics and gable-top milk, soy & soup containers which don't fit in the curbside pick-up options. For $6 you buy a red bag, which is slightly larger than the average garbage bag and once filled, return it to the company. The drop off time is Saturdays 9AM to 1PM. This option is provided by WCS Recycling, located at 1493 Dominion St, North Van.

Make conservation second nature.

 




FIVE TIPS TO MAKE YOUR BATHROOM STAND OUT.

Every homebuyer has a vision of their perfect house and the rooms that are most important to them. Because of their relatively small size in comparison to the rest of a home, bathrooms are often overlooked in the staging process, but for many, it could be the most important room in a buying decision. 
 
    A bathroom is more than just a place for grooming; it’s a sanctuary. It’s a place one can relax in a hot bath and escape the stresses of daily life for a few moments at a time.
 
    Updating a tired-looking bathroom is one of the best things you can do to increase a home’s resale value and the fixes are not too costly or labor intensive. 
 
    Easy fixes include adding new, luxurious-looking towels, replacing the shower curtain and adding candles around a bathtub. However, with a little more money and effort, your bathroom can become a talking point of the house.
 
    Here is a look at five great ways to upgrade a bathroom.
 
    1. Beautify: By adding decorative glass, stone tile or accents to the bathroom, it will stand out among the other houses in the neighborhood that are for sale. Extra-wide wall tiles are popular these days and wood cabinets can be beautifully embellished with intricately carved wooden inlays.
 
    2. Lighting: Add more lighting options around the room, especially around the vanity to reduce shadows and glaring. This is something that isn’t too expensive and can really highlight the positive features of a bathroom. Mood lighting around the tub area is also increasing in popularity. 
 
    3. Bath/Shower: It’s not too often you hear someone complaining about a bathtub being too large, and that’s because there’s nothing better than coming home from a hard day’s work and relaxing in a big soothing tub. By putting in a new tub and creating more of a spa-like atmosphere, you will have buyers imagining themselves washing their cares away. Adding a massage element to the showerhead or one that replicates rain showers is also something that will appeal to buyers. 
 
    4. Update Fixtures: Not as costly as some of the other tips, changing out the fixtures in a bathroom can add a great deal. From cabinet handles to faucets, the addition of brushed nickel or other metals that are polished and elegant are always a huge hit. And if space permits, add a second sink.
 
    5. Think Green: The bathroom is a prime place to start putting those environmentally friendly devices to work. Installing fixtures that save water, such as a low-flow showerhead, a low-flow faucet aerator, and a dual-flush toilet, can save thousands of gallons of water each year. Adding energy-efficient windows is another easy option, since the size of bathroom windows are relatively small. Another fix that is both decorative and energy efficient is the addition of natural stone flooring, which helps the bathroom stay cool during the summer, and warmer during the winter.
 
    When buyers walk into a renovated bathroom that exudes quality and offers an intimate, contemporary feel, it’s one of the top things that people will remember about a home.



RENO SMARTS


HGTV star Jim Caruk has opened the Build It Youself Learning Center at www.biyworkshops.com to help would-be DIYers.  Who better to give tips on a successful reno?

1. Gather tear sheets from magazines, photos from websites, paint chips, fabric swatche, etc., for inspiration and to find the style you like.

2. Make careful, concrete plans to avoid surprises that can delay or raise the cost of your project.

3. Keep a balanced budget. If you invest in cabinetry and appliances which are long-lasting, you may have to forgo luxuries like granite countertops. Remember, you can always upgrade later.

4. When planning your budget, add 10 to 20 percent to cover the unexpected.

5. If you are doing some of the work yourself, stick to what you are good at.

6. Before hiring someone, check out their work in progress and inerview them so you know your personalities and work styles mesh.

7. Set realistic time frames. A renovation of any kind is not going to happen overnight.



COLOUR your home with a coat of fresh paint


There are some excellent websites that have a wealth of information on preparing  rooms for painting, which paint to choose, faux finishes and more.  Check out Benjamin Moore who has a system called Personal Colour Viewer.  You can choose your room, change the colour fan to your choice and 'paint' walls, trim, ceilings, etc.

And Ralph Laren Home has a fantastic website as well, that should answer all your colour questions. Again you can choose a room, choose a color and watch the room change.

These sites also include a paint calculator, a Personal Portfolio, color choices identified with the product number and you can e-mail the images and details to your painter!



PRACTICAL PRODUCTS


Anti-scald Sink and Bath Plug

Scalding can e a real household danger, especially for children and seniors,  So, this hot water "sentry" could save someone from a serious injury.  It looks like an ordinary bath or sink plug, but the anti-scald plug changes color if it's in hot water.  As the temperature increases, the color becomes more vivid, revealing the word "hot" in bright letters - a very practical warning device that is more effective than the traditional "toe test".  The plug is also available in a more sensitive model for parents who are bathing babies and younger children.

Multipurpose Bathroom Scale

The ordinary bathroom scale has really gone upscale, with the introduction of a new multipurpose bathroom scale that measures not only your weight, but just about everything else you'd want to know.  It measures body fat, muscle mass and water density, for your very own in-house body diagnostics analysis!  It also has a self-adjusting memory that can keep track of several different people and can report the progress for each.  It even has a "recommendation" display...but maybe that's getting just a little too personal!

 

 

 



TIPS FOR A GREEN HOME


Five Tips for a Green Home

 

Eco-friendly. Carbon footprint. Global warming. Energy-efficient. These catch phrases have become part of our lexicon as we’ve become more aware of our impact on the environment and our role in protecting it. As a homeowner, there are some simple, inexpensive steps you can take to make your home energy-efficient. Get started on the road to being “green” with these five tips:

 

Change Your Light Bulbs

By replacing just five incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs, you can save $100 per year on electric bills while using up to 75 percent less energy and removing greenhouse gases from the environment.

 

Buy ENERGY STAR® Appliances

ENERGY STAR-qualified appliances, such as refrigerators, washers and air conditioners, meet a higher level of energy efficiency set by the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy than standard models. According to ENERGY STAR, if just one in 10 homes used ENERGY STAR-qualified appliances, the impact could be compared to planting 1.7 million new acres of trees. And, switching to these appliances is not only good for the environment, but easy on your pocketbook. Although these appliances may costs more, you can reduce your energy bill by $80 per year.

 

Seal Up

Cracks and air leaks represent cash seeping from your doors and windows. Get rid of air leaks in doors, windows and other areas by caulking gaps and cracks. This will help decrease your heating and air conditioning bill. But make sure you use silicone sealants. Acrylic caulk tends to shrink, while silicone sealants are waterproof and won’t shrink or crack, creating less waste.

 

Use Less Water

Did you know that roughly 60 percent of a home's water consumption takes place in the bathroom, according to the California Urban Water Conservation Council? The largest culprit is the toilet, which accounts for 27 percent of your household supply every year. By installing low-flow toilets, showerheads and faucets, you can save thousands of gallons of water each year. In addition, replace leaky fixtures. That slow-dripping faucet can waste as much as 2,400 gallons of water per year.

 

Adjust the Thermostat

When adjusting your home’s thermostat, the rule of thumb should be: turn up the dial in the summer and down in the winter. Lowering the temperature by just one degree will reduce your electrical costs. And if you use a programmable thermostat, you can program your air-conditioning and heating systems to reduce output while no one is at home or at night while you sleep. Ceiling fans are also helpful in circulating the air to keep the room cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

 

Going green doesn’t have to be overwhelming or costly. By making just a few small changes within your home, you can help decrease energy consumption and help make the world a “greener” place.