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Q: What Is a Second Mortgage?

December 3, 2013 11:18 pm

A: It is a loan against the equity in your home. Financial institutions will generally let you borrow up to 80 percent of the appraised value of your home, minus the balance of your original mortgage.

You may incur all the fees normally associated with a mortgage, including closing costs, title insurance, and processing fees.

Home improvement loans are often written as second mortgages. And sometimes you can get a college tuition loan by using a second mortgage.

In case of default, the loan is paid off from the proceeds of the sale of the property, after the first mortgage has been paid off first. 


Why Settle for a Kitchen When You Can Have a Great Room?

December 2, 2013 7:15 pm

Earlier this month, we talked about downsizing kitchens—this isn't a move everyone wants or needs to make. So in our next two reports, we'll give equal time to those looking at morphing their kitchen from a practical utility space for food preparation, to a center of attention and functionality.

Design experts are seeing high demand for creating "great rooms," combining kitchen, dining, family and open, high-ceiling entertaining space. According to the Better Decorating Bible (, there are several basic concepts to consider when "spacing out" into a great room:

Choose wall colors carefully – Different colors can help define separate areas, so select hues in the same tone family to create a seamless flow from one space to another.

Furniture – If you have a country-style oak dining table try to choose the same style furniture in your living room. Avoid anything that is super opposite like ultra-modern minimalism in the living room and a country theme in the kitchen.  Try choosing the same wood, material, and style for each section of your open concept room.

Window treatments – Use the same theme throughout and all of your windows look identical. Different shades, blinds, and curtains can create a big, big decorating mess.

Accessorize – Tie in the accessories from your kitchen to your living room. If you have brown hued granite counter tops, pop a fuzzy throw in the same color family onto your couch. If you have a set of red hot kitchen aid appliances on your counters, use the same red pillows on your couches. You can even connect your guest bath decor with a red towel or rug, or even a bouquet of red flowers to tie the look together. Throw in some wooden photo frames with photos of the family to personalize your space!

Lighting – The correct lighting can define each space of your open concept layout and help visually separate them. Floor lamps in the living room work well while a pendant lamp in the kitchen blends in effortlessly.


8 Ways to Keep Work from Spilling into Your Season of (So-Called) Joy

December 2, 2013 7:15 pm

Picture it: Three days before Christmas and you’ve still got to bake your great-grandma’s famous cookies, do your eleventh-hour shopping, scrub the house, pick up relatives from the airport, and—oh yes—finish up that year-end marketing report and field a couple of client calls. You know the holidays aren’t going to be Norman Rockwell perfect. You’ve accepted that. Still, it sure would be great if you could at least leave work behind this year and just enjoy (endure?) your family—old sibling rivalries, critical comments from Mom, tipsy Uncle Fred and all!

Actually, says Brian P. Moran, you don’t have to show up late to your child’s holiday play because you’re tying up a work project, or run off to check your email while the turkey gets cold. You just need to muster up some discipline and think about time in a different way.

“Successful people work with great focus and intention, and they play the same way,” says Moran, coauthor along with Michael Lennington of the New York Times best seller The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks Than Others Do in 12 Months ( “When they’re working they’re really working, and when they take time off, they make the absolute most of that time. Rest and rejuvenation are the other side of the success coin.

“You must be purposeful about how you spend the time leading up to the holiday breaks,” he adds. “The reason most people end up working during their holiday time off isn’t that they just have so much to do that they can never take a break. It’s that they aren’t working with intention when they have the opportunity—and thus, they aren’t executing effectively.”

Being intentional about how you spend your time is the heart of the authors’ message. Our ability to do this impacts not only business profit sheets but also the quality of our personal lives.

Below are a few essential tips for what you can do right now to make sure your days off are free of work worries (not to mention shopping-cooking-decorating worries) so that you can spend true quality time with family and friends.

Picture the perfect holiday. Pigging out on grandma’s apple pie. Singing carols with your kids. Cheering on your favorite football team. These are the makings of a great holiday season, and they should serve as the vision that will drive you through the hard work you’ll have to get done before the office shuts down for the holidays.

“Vision is the starting point of all high performance,” says Moran. “It is the first place where you engage your thinking about what is possible for you. The more personally compelling your vision is, the more likely it is that you will act upon it. It is your personal vision that creates an emotional connection to the daily actions that need to take place in your business. Once you understand the link between your vision (including that perfect holiday season) and your work, you can define exactly what you need to do to make the most of your time off.”

Create a pre-holiday season plan.

“Leading up to the holidays, it is a good idea to create a plan for each work week you have left,” notes Moran. “Your weekly plan captures just the keystone actions that drive your most important results. It defines your short-term and long-term commitments in the context of what you have to do this week. Be sure to include in your plan the non-work related tasks the holidays add to your plate, such as present shopping, tree decorating, gift wrapping, and so on. You will need to be sure to factor in time for these activities as well.”

For example, as part of the first week of your pre-holiday season plan, you might set up a meeting with your boss, colleagues, and/or clients to a) inform them of how much time you’ll be taking off for the holidays, and b) let them know what projects you’re going to prioritize. On the home front, you might also get together with your spouse to work out who will be handling what holiday responsibilities.

“All of this helps you focus on the elements of your plan that must happen each week in order to make that perfect holiday vision possible,” says Moran.

Resign yourself to being uncomfortable NOW so you can be comfortable LATER. Without a compelling reason to choose otherwise, most people will take comfortable actions over uncomfortable ones. This is just human nature. Problem is, the uncomfortable tasks you avoided prior to your holiday break are precisely the ones that will blow up, get out of control, or just keep you worrying while you’re trying to enjoy some time off.

“Important actions are often the uncomfortable ones,” says Moran. “In our experience, the number one thing you will have to sacrifice to be great, to achieve what you are capable of, and to execute your plans is your comfort. So, if your goal is to have a carefree holiday break, commit to sacrificing your short-term comfort today so that you can reach it. Take care of any tasks you’ve been avoiding now so that they can’t ruin your time off and so that they aren’t on your mind when you’re trying to have a good time.”

Know what to do when you’re not doing the things you know you need to do. Of course, upping the work ante prior to taking time off won’t be easy. There will be times when your level of execution is less than exceptional, and it’s very likely you won’t be able to ignore the nagging, guilty feeling that drop in execution brings on. But the good news is you can use that feeling—what the authors call productive tension—to get yourself back on track.

“Productive tension is the uncomfortable feeling you get when you’re not doing the things you know you need to do,” says Moran. “Our natural inclination when confronted with discomfort is to resolve it. Sometimes this leads people to simply bail on their plans. In your case, it might mean resolving that you simply can’t get everything done before your time off that you need to get done. So you throw in the towel and accept that you’ll have to do some work during your holiday break.

“But productive tension can also be used as a catalyst for change. Instead of responding to the discomfort by bailing, use the tension as an impetus to move forward. When you eliminate bailing out as an option, then the discomfort of productive tension will eventually compel you to take action on your tactics. If turning back is not an option, then the only way to resolve the discomfort is to move forward by executing your plan.”

Make the most of performance time and down time. As you work toward your time off, it will be very important that you not respond to the demands of the day reactively. In other words, you can’t satisfy the various demands of the day as they are presented, spending whatever time is needed to respond without giving any thought to the relative value of the activity. You have to use your time wisely.

You can keep control of your day through time-blocking. Basically, you block your day into three kinds of blocks—strategic blocks, buffer blocks, and breakout blocks. A strategic block is uninterrupted time that is scheduled into each week. During this block, you accept no phone calls, no faxes, no emails, no visitors, no anything. Buffer blocks are designed to deal with all of the unplanned and low-value activities—like most email and voicemail—that arise throughout a typical day, while breakout blocks provide free time for you to use to rest and rejuvenate.

“Again, be sure to factor non-work related holiday tasks into your blocked out time,” advises Moran. “If you don’t, these will be precisely the tasks that you’re either squeezing in at the last minute or end up doing in lieu of finishing up that project or returning a client’s call.

“Also, I want to stress how important breakout blocks are,” he adds. “Even in the frantic rush leading up to the holidays, you should allow yourself some down time. Always working longer and harder kills your energy and enthusiasm. Even before your time off you need to schedule time to refresh and reinvigorate, so you can continue to engage with more focus and energy. And keep in mind, your breakout blocks are great for scheduling the fun activities we associate with the holidays, like taking the kids ice skating or watching your favorite holiday movie.”

Don’t go it alone. It’s likely that out of your network of colleagues and friends you aren’t the only one who is a) hoping to have a work-free holiday break, and b) currently working frantically to make that goal possible. And if that’s the case, team up with them. The peer support you receive will be invaluable in your pursuit of the perfect holiday season.

“Your chances of success are seven times greater if you employ peer support,” says Moran. “In working with thousands of clients over the past decade, we have found that when clients meet regularly with a group of peers, they perform better; when they don’t, performance suffers. It’s that simple.

“But there is a caveat,” he adds. “Who you associate with matters. Stay away from victims and excuse makers. Treat that mindset like a deadly, contagious disease.”

Isolate yourself from modern day distractions. In our modern world, technology can be a major distraction. When you’re focused on executing your pre-holiday season plan, don’t let smartphones, social media, and the Internet distract you from your higher-value activities.

“Some spontaneity is healthy, but if you are not purposeful with your time, you’ll get thrown off course,” explains Moran. “Allow yourself to get distracted by emails, social media, or the latest viral video while you’re working your pre-holiday break plan, and before you know it, you’ll be working on the project you didn’t finish while the rest of your family is laughing and having fun in the kitchen while baking holiday treats. Learn to isolate yourself from distractions when there is important work to be done.”

Make a keystone commitment for your holiday break. As Moran and Lennington explain, many of their clients set a 12 week goal in a certain area—say, getting fit. Then they build a 12 week plan around it with a handful of tactics like “do 20 minutes of cardio three times a week,” “train with weights three times a week,” and so forth. But the other option is to again set a 12 week goal but, rather than building a tactical plan, identify a keystone or core action and commit to completing it every day for the next 12 weeks. It’s this second option that can help you make the most of your holiday time off.

“Your keystone commitment might be making breakfast for your family every morning—something you don’t get to do during a normal work week,” suggests Moran. “Or you might commit to doing a different holiday activity with your family each day—driving around to look at Christmas lights or going to a candlelight service or working in the local soup kitchen.

“Setting a keystone commitment helps you avoid wasting your time on meaningless activities,” he adds. “Remember, your pre-holiday break plan was all about spending your time with great intent and purpose so that you’d be able to truly enjoy your time off. Why should you stop being more purposeful with your time once you’re actually away from the office? Think about the difference these relatively simple commitments can make to you and your family!”




A Holiday Open House in 8 Simple Steps

December 2, 2013 7:15 pm

The holiday season is a perfect time to welcome friends and neighbors for a casual get-together that is warm and casual and relatively stress-free.

Party planners at suggest eight easy steps to a successful soiree for hosts and guests alike:

Plan early – Send out invitations 3-4 weeks in advance, making it clear whether children are invited. If you plan a buffet, with guests coming and going during designated hours, check your stock of baskets, trays, and other serving supplies. Decide whether you will use real china, glassware, etc. or holiday paper or plastic – and purchase what you need early.

Plan the menu – Keep it simple, with a selection of appetizers, sandwich fixings, salads, and desserts that can be prepared days ahead of time and frozen or refrigerated until party time. Using recipes you have tried before is a good way to please your guests and stay calm and confident.

Make desserts special – Everyone loves cookies, so bake up dozens far in advance of the party. Consider pudding or mousse in pre-filled, refrigerated glasses. Add fresh fruit, and a favorite pie or two, and you’re done.

Foster the flow – People tend to follow the food, so set up stations throughout the living area. Place beverages on one table, main dishes together, and desserts on their own table. Stack plates and napkins, put utensils in a basket, and have waste baskets readily available.

Select the drinks – Offer your choice of red and white wine, beer, soda, tea and coffee. For kids, consider juice boxes.

Remember the kids – If children will be there, set up a game and puzzle table in one area of the living room. Have a selection of board games and jigsaw available, and perhaps a few coloring books and crayons.

Decorate early – Except for fresh flowers, which may be bought the day before, you can cover the tables, set out centerpieces and serve ware, and deck the halls with your favorite holiday décor days before the party.

Do a last minute check – Moments before the guests are due, take a last look around. Check the food tables, set out last-minute cheeses or condiments, and turn on some holiday music. Light a scented candle or two to fill the house with the welcome aromas of sugar and spice or forest greenery.


Q: My Budget Won’t Allow for Expensive Add-Ons; Is There Another Way to Find And Make Space?

December 2, 2013 7:15 pm

A: That space may be as close as the next room, particularly if there is unused or under-utilized areas in your home.  A garage, attic, side porch, large closet, or basement can all be converted to fit the use you have in mind.  Or, maybe, a small area can be carved from a larger area like a kitchen or living room to create, say, a powder room.  This concept of “stealing” space from a neighboring room is called space reconfiguration and it is much cheaper than a major remodeling job.



Word of the Day

December 2, 2013 7:15 pm

Listing. Contract used for hiring a real estate agent to sell a piece of property.  Also a piece of property that is for sale.


Top 5 Cyber Monday Safety Tips

November 28, 2013 1:00 am

The Internet makes holiday shopping so easy—no fighting for parking spaces at jam-packed malls, no waiting in endless lines to get to the register.

But even if you consider yourself a pro, shopping online isn't without risks. These tips from can help you protect yourself and your finances as you hunt for that perfect gift:

  • Use a credit card rather than a debit card. Credit card payments can be withheld if there's a dispute with a store, and if the card is stolen, you won't have to pay more than $50 of fraudulent charges. But with a debit card, you can't withhold payments—the store is paid directly from your bank account. And if your card is stolen, you could be liable for up to $500, depending on when you report it.
  • Find out if the public WiFi hotspot you're using at a coffee shop or bookstore is secure. If it's not, your payment information could be compromised over the network.
  • It's risky not to read the terms of service agreement before you buy online. You could inadvertently sign up for subscriptions or get hit with additional fees or restrictions. Terms of service are often in small print or presented right when you are anxious to purchase.
  • Be careful if you're buying event tickets online as gifts. Some venues may practice restricted ticketing, requiring the same credit card used in the online purchase to be shown to get into the event.
  • Use caution buying digital assets like books and music—they can't be given away as gifts if they've been downloaded to your account. You should either purchase a gift card for the book or music site, or check with the company. Some services have ways to "gift an item" but it varies depending on the provider.



Seven Ways to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

November 28, 2013 1:00 am

Identity theft is a serious crime that can wreak havoc with your credit. Preventing it starts with managing your personal information carefully and sensibly. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends a few simple precautions:

  • Carry only essential documents – On any given day, go not carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, a birth certificate or passport with you outside the house unless they will be needed.
  • Keep new checks out of the mail – When ordering new checks, pick them up at the bank, if possible, instead of having them sent to your home. This makes it harder for your checks to be stolen, altered and cashed by identity thieves.
  • Be careful on the phone – Identity thieves may call, posing as banks or government agencies and asking for personal information. Do not give out credit card numbers of other personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call.
  • Your trash can be a thief’s treasure - Shred all receipts, credit card offers, bank statements, returned checks and any other sensitive information before throwing it away.
  • Stay on top of your credit – Check credit card statements, be alert if a statement is missing, and make sure your credit reports are accurate. If possible, sign up for a credit monitoring service, which will alert you to any changes in your credit report.
  • Keep a list of account numbers – In a safe place, such as a locked box, keep a list of your account numbers, expiration dates and phone numbers. If your wallet is stolen, or a card is missing, you can quickly alert your creditors.
  • Create complex passwords or PIN numbers – Using a random mix of letters or numbers makes it harder for identity thieves to discover the codes.

Word of the Day

November 28, 2013 1:00 am

Origination fee. A charge by the lender for granting and processing a new mortgage loan.


Q: What’s the Best Way to Choose a Home Loan?

November 28, 2013 1:00 am

A: A lot will depend on the length of time you plan to live in the home, other financial obligations, and potential savings gained from comparing the monthly costs of a home against the up-front costs and closing costs involved with a particular loan.  

Also, you will need to be comfortable with whatever choice you decide to make.  Trust your instincts and do not be pressured into signing for a loan that will not really work for you.



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