Different Types of Title 

One of the many decisions you must make at the time of closing your home is how you will hold title to the home.  While most buyers don’t spend a lot of time thinking about this, how the deed to your home is titled could have a lot of impact on the biggest financial investment you are making.  Therefore, it’s critical to do some research on this issue and consult with a tax advisor (or legal advisor) before determining which way you need to proceed.

TGated Community photoo help you get started, here are some common ways your home can be titled.  First, is community property.  Arizona is a community property state, one of nine in this country.  What this means is that anything that is earned in a marriage is owned equally by each partner in the marriage.  Property acquired in this state is presumed to be community property unless otherwise specified by the parties.  Both people own one half of the community property, separately but unified.  However, this way to hold title does require a probate hearing in the event of death of one of the spouses.

If you are unmarried when you purchase property, this is typically titled as sole ownership.  Therefore, the buyer is the only person with interest in the property, and the property is included in his/her estate if he/she dies.  A married person can purchase separate property only if their spouse signs the deed stating that they are not interested in owning that property as community property.

If two people are not married but wish to purchase property, they can own it via joint tenancy.  This type of deed does not require the individuals to be married but they must have equal ownership in the property.  More than two people can own a property in joint tenancy, so long as all shares of ownership are equal.  A tax benefit of joint tenancy is that the estate will be passed on automatically to the surviving joint tenant(s) without the need for probate (ie, court).

A title holding trust is where ownership of the property is divided into any number of interests, and is often used by groups of people or corporations.  Because a trust can’t hold title on its own, once the loan is closed, a deed can be drafted to put the property in the trust.  The title holding trust gives the owner of the trust more specific ways he/she can detail the estate.

Finally, a final type of title to consider is also the most common way to title a home, and that is community property with right of survivorship.  This type of title retains all the benefits of community property but does not require a probate hearing in the event of a death of a spouse.  No court action will be required to clear the title.

Again, this is just a primer on the most common types of title here in Arizona.  If you have special tax consequences or financial concerns, please consider consulting with a tax advisor or attorney to make an informed decision about this exciting purchase.

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Beyond Backyard Birthday Parties

az on the rocks facility photoWhile backyard birthday parties can be the perfect way to celebrate your child’s special day, sometimes it’s fun to think outside the box and host the party elsewhere.  These options mean zero clean-up for you, and lots of fun for the birthday guest of honor and all of their guests.

  1. Butterfly Wonderland.  This new venue offers a fun way to learn about butterflies, as well as to interact with these beautiful creatures in the rainforest atrium.  Butterfly Wonderland offers three different party packages with two different themes: butterflies or bugs.  The packages include all-day admission (plus the 3D theatre) for up to 15 children and 3 adults, a decorated party room, a fruit platter and a birthday cake or cupcakes.  (Pizza is available for an additional charge).
  2. Amazing Jake’s Food and Fun.  This 90,000-square foot indoor amusement park houses a carousel, bumper cars, bowling, laser tag, tea-cup ride, roller coaster and go carts, plus dozens of video games.  There is also a giant buffet restaurant onsite offering pasta, pizza, salads, soup and dessert.  Birthday party packages include unlimited buffet access, a reserved party area, balloon bouquet ad rides for the party guests.  A minimum of 10 guests required.
  3. AZ On the Rocks.  This indoor climbing gym in north Scottsdale features 14,000-square feet of climbing walls, and claims to be the largest such gym in Arizona.  Birthday party packages include a sleepover option.  All party packages include climbing gear for 10 guests plus hosts to facilitate the party and climbers.  Additional options include pizza, drinks, ice cream, cake and goody bags.
  4. Circus School of Arizona.  This exciting option offers kids the change to learn circus arts such as aerial silks, tight rope, the trapeze, hula hooping, and more.  These arts are taught by professional circus performers.  Additional party package options include balloon artists, face painting, character performers and more.  A minimum of 7 guests is required.
  5. Enchanted Island Amusement Park.   Located within Encanto Park in central Phoenix, this outdoor amusement park is a fun place to host an outdoor birthday party this time of year.  There are various packages which can include unlimited rides, a party hostess, a shaded party area, decorations and ice cream.  One such party is the Pirate’s Cove Party which features a charcoal grill and a private bounce house or inflatable obstacle course within a one-acre private party area.

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How to Downsize

Is it time to downsize? There are many reasons for downsizing: financial, environmental, transitioning to an empty nester lifestyle, or simply a desire to simplify one’s life. Whether it’s a home post-retirement or a vacation home or even a home to create a simpler lifestyle, making the move from a larger home to a home with a smaller footprint will take some planning.

condoThe first step to downsizing is to take inventory of your things, as your possessions that currently fit into your larger home simply will not fit in your smaller home. There are dozens of resources which address this process, but deciding what to keep and what to get rid of is the most critical part of this process. Try the Kondo Marie method of focusing on what items you love and what items bring you joy. By process of elimination, the remaining items that do not, should be thrown away, sold or donated. An exciting part of downsizing is letting go of things that you don’t absolutely need, which helps you to focus on what is important.

Grouping like items together is another way to visualize what items you need to get rid of. For example, putting all of your baking and cooking items into groups can help you identify whether you have duplicates of items as well as items that you’ve never used at all. You may not have space in your new downsized home to house small kitchen appliances such as pasta makers or bread makers, especially considering these items may not be used sufficiently to justify taking up precious storage space.

Finally, map out your new space to determine where you are putting the items you are keeping in your new space. Larger furniture items may not be appropriate for the scale of your new home, so winnowing down the larger pieces to one or two favorite pieces will make the transition much easier. Recognize that storage will not be as plentiful for your smaller items, and this will drive your decision-making processes.

While your current large scale house may not be in your future, a home which provides more freedom (financial and otherwise) will be, and that’s something to look forward to! I’m happy to assist you with this major life decision.

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Black Friday and the Mortgage Quiet Period

One of the biggest shopping days of the year is almost here AND you’ve also made the decision to purchase a home.  Deciding where you want to live, and what you want your home to look like are the fun part.  But, figuring out the technical aspects obtaining a mortgage is the not-so-fun part.   After you’ve gone through the loan process and have been approved for a loan, it’s easy sailing, and time to celebrate!  Not so fast . . .

Barnes & Noble store photoThe time between the original check of your credit which led to your loan being approved to the loan closing is called the mortgage quiet period.  This time is even more critical nowadays in this tighter economic climate, with loan writers being more vigilant about financial activities that may affect your original credit score.   From the loan writers’ point of view, financial activity during the quiet period in the mortgage origination process can sometimes be a warning sign of fraud, particularly when an unscrupulous borrower attempts to take out more than one loan on a property in a scam known as “shot gunning.”

Unfortunately, then, even if you’re not a borrower who has had issues in the past, ANY financial activities you undertake during this quiet period will be subject to scrutiny.  Borrowers who take on any type of installment debt may adversely affect their credit score at closing, as these debts will affect borrowers’ debt-to-income (DTI) ratio.  Therefore, signing up for a store credit card as part of a Black Friday promotional offer, or financing new furniture or a vacation on a credit card may jeopardize your pending loan.

Other actions subject to a red flag by the loan officer may include withdrawing cash from any accounts that were used to verify funds for the loans, or changing jobs may be considered signs of financial instability, and are strongly discouraged during the mortgage quiet period.  Even making large deposits into these same accounts could cause issues as lenders are required to source all funds in a transaction.  This means they need to prove the sale of items and verify financial gifts, which can delay the loan process significantly.

Bottom line, be sure to notify your loan officer if you need to make any changes to accounts or if you need to make a large purchase, so they can be properly documented, and the loan officer can be assured of your good faith.  I’m also available to answer any questions you may have about this process.  I look forward to working with you in your home search!

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How Important is Your Credit Score?

Gated Community photoThe information we receive about what is important when applying for mortgages seems to change daily.  One of the more confusing aspects of this process is how important your credit score actually is.  According to www.lendingtree.com, there are both “official” and “unofficial” credit scores that are used when you apply for a mortgage to buy a home.

The “official” credit score is the score that is determined by various government-backed mortgage lenders. For example, FHA minimum guidelines require a minimum FICO score of 500 to be eligible for an FHA mortgage. If your score ranges between 500-579, you are required to make a down payment of 10%, but if you have a higher score, you only need to put 3.5% down. Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac require that borrowers’ credit scores be at least 620.

However, these scores often don’t matter as much in the “real world” of lending, per www.lendingtree.com. This is because lenders also have to look at the reason for a lower credit score before underwriting the loan. So if the lower score is caused by late payments or collections, the lenders will likely require a higher credit score than FHA or Fannie Mae, to protect their loans. For example, while Wells Fargo recently dropped its minimum credit score requirement to 620, it’s still higher than the FHA official minimum credit score requirement.

One of the most illuminating statistics is that over 97 percent of all FHA loan approvals went to applicants with scores above 620. (www.lendingtree.com) There are mitigating circumstances, however, that can be considered by the lenders. Options for navigating this sometimes-complex process include contacting multiple lenders, or of course, using a loan explorer or marketplace, such as those offered by www.lendingtree.com.

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Ten Best Restaurants in Glendale

Glendale's Westgate photoGlendale, AZ is bumping!  This vibrant city is constantly growing, not only in population, but culturally.  Part of that culture is the food and restaurant culture.  Here are a few of the more popular culinary options, according to Yelp.com . . .

  1. The most popular restaurant in Glendale is Little Saigon.  This restaurant is located at 7016 N. 57th Avenue, in the heart of downtown Glendale, and serves Vietnamese Food.  Reviewers applaud this little restaurant’s authentic cuisine and its low prices.
  2. Next is Ta’Carbon, located at 5834 W. Camelback Road.  This Mexican grill restaurant touts its carne asada as being the best in the country.  The Yelp reviewers appear to agree, and sing the praises of all of the tacos this little restaurant offers, as well as their reasonable prices.
  3. Next up is ATL Wings, situated at 8024 N. 51st Avenue.  This restaurant has locations in Arizona and in New York, and offers traditional and boneless chicken wings served over a dozen ways.  Reviewers rave about both the food and the service.
  4. Those looking for Caribbean food should check out Caribbean Cuisine, located at 6031 N. 67th Avenue.  This cool little spot offers authentic Caribbean and Jamaican food, including a fresh fish of the day dish, and homemade ginger beer.
  5. Polish food is where it’s at, at A Touch of European Café, located at 7146 N. 57th Drive.  From the homemade Pierogi, to the hunter’s stew with kielbasa or one of the daily homemade soups, there’s something for everyone at this gem of a restaurant.
  6. Italian and pizza are on the menu at La Piazza al Forno, an Italian kitchen and brick oven pizzeria located at 5803 W. Glendale Avenue.  Reviewers praise the various Italian dishes as well as the brick-oven pizza.  Made famous by Guy Fieri’s Triple D show, this tiny little restaurant continues to wow its customers.
  7. Authentic German food is served at Haus Murphy’s, on 5739 W. Glendale Avenue.  This is another restaurant featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive Ins and Dives show.  Their menu showcases potato pancakes, schnitzel, and authentic German sausages.
  8. Vegetarians and Indian cuisine aficionados may enjoy Biryani and Bites, located at 15224 N. 59th Avenue.  Reviewers exclaim over this newer restaurant’s authentic biryani and appetizers as well as its many options for vegetarians
  9. Located at 5819 W. Glendale Avenue in downtown Glendale, Cuff is an Asian Fusion and American food restaurant featuring an eclectic menu.  Reviewers compliment the great service and atmosphere.
  10. Rounding out the top 10 restaurants in Glendale is a gourmet taco shop, La Santisima.   Located at 5932 W. Glendale Avenue, this restaurant features several different gourmet style tacos as well as burritos, handmade quesas, as well as a large salsa bar.

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Treating for Termites

Whether you are buying, selling or living in a home, termites are likely something you will encounter.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that homeowners spend more than $2 billion annually on termite pest control and on repairs caused by termite damage.  Termites also damage more than 600,000 homes annually here in the United States.  Therefore, termite prevention and control are a critical part of home maintenance.

2 story home photoThe first thing to remember is that termites do work slowly.  Most termite colonies take 2-3 years to form.  Therefore, if you do see evidence of termites, you have time to determine how you’re going to deal with them most effectively, and it’s not going to be an emergency situation.  Generally speaking, termites become more active in times of moisture as they can’t move around without moisture.  So here in Arizona, that time is typically after monsoon season has ended, and the temperatures have dropped—mid-September through December.

It’s critical that you have a termite inspection of your home at least once a year.  In between the inspection times, be sure you personally walk around the exterior and interior of your home every few months to look for mud tubes (dry brown tubes the width of a pencil on the walls).   If you do discover evidence of termites in the form of these tubes, it’s time to call a termite exterminator.  This is a matter of opinion, but there’s an argument to be made that you should sign up for a termite service that will be around in the next several years so they can repeat the service if there are problems later on.  Finding a warranty service that will warrant the service is very important.

Finally, take steps to prevent future termites.  Preventing moisture from getting inside the walls of your home is critical.  Therefore, keep your home’s foundation dry by preventing irrigation systems from dripping or leaking near your home’s structure.  Keep attics well-ventilated and seal all openings into your home such as cracks and knotholes.  Taking these simple steps will go a long way to prevent these omnipresent wood-loving bugs.

 

Crime Rates

neighborhood-street photoWhen determining what neighborhood is a good fit for you and your family, several factors likely come into play.  These factors probably include how far the neighborhood is from your place of employment, or the local airport if you travel often, whether the schools are a good fit for your children, whether there are HOAs, how centrally located the neighborhood is to shopping and major freeways.  One item you may not consider right away is the rate of crime in that particular neighborhood.  These statistics aren’t as obvious or as easily discovered as the others, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t as important.

One good resource which also arguably offers the most accurate statistics is the local police department in the city or zip code in which you are searching.  For the City of Phoenix, this Police Department website offers crime maps and stats, as well as neighborhood crime counts.  This information will give you a clear picture of how much, or how little, crime has happened in that particular neighborhood.  For the City of Scottsdale, this website features the same information, specific to the city of Scottsdale.

There are also privately-run and managed websites which also offer and analyze such information.  One such website is Neighborhood Scout, which not only ranks the “safest” neighborhoods based on the numbers of reported crimes, but also groups the types of crimes between property and violent crimes.  Another privately run website which discusses crime statistics is this one, which examines crimes in Scottsdale by year and compares Scottsdale to other cities in Arizona.  These websites should only be used as a general starting point, as their accuracy can’t be verified like the government-run websites.

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A Day at the Museum

Here in the Valley of the Sun, we are culturally blessed with a plethora of museums to visit.  Whether your interest is music, art, history or science, there is a place for you to enjoy.  Here are a few of the more popular options . . .

Phoenix Art Museum—The largest art museum in the Southwestern United States, the Phoenix Art Museum is home to a large collection of art, sculpture in the outdoor garden, as well as festivals, art films, live performances, and photography exhibitions.  The website is updated with current as well as future special exhibits so you’ll never miss whatever is new. There are a restaurant and a Museum Store on site.

Heard Museum—This museum focuses on American Indian art and history, and offers a fascinating, in depth look at this beautiful culture.  With a combination of contemporary art by Native Americans as well as ancient artifacts and textiles, the history of the tribes is well-represented and presented.

Children’s Museum of Phoenix—This incredible, multi-story museum literally has something for every age.  Babies will enjoy the baby areas, toddlers will be able to enjoy most of the areas and elementary-age children will have the run of the entire museum.  Packed full of interactive exhibits from the Noodle Forest, to the recreated grocery store and restaurant, to the book loft, art studio and multi-story Schuff-Perini climber, this museum can easily take an entire day to discover.

MIM museum photoMusical Instrument Museum—This incredible museum is ranked in the top 20 museums in the United States by Trip Advisor.  With over 360 exhibits, representing every nation, this comprehensive museum is a delight for adults and children alike.  The MIM lets you experience all facets of music via sound, videos, and instrument exhibits.  The onsite café is also very popular.

Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve—This museum on a 47-acre Sonoran Desert preserve features the largest concentration of Native American petroglyphs in the Phoenix area.

Arizona Science Center—This center is popular with all ages, but children especially will enjoy its many interactive and hands-on exhibits.  Be sure to check out the planetarium, the IMAX movie and any special exhibits.  Free coupons are sometimes available to Phoenix Library members.

Dog Parks in the Valley of the Sun

green common area photoIf your current home isn’t blessed with a large backyard, or your pooch is friendlier and more social than most, finding a great dog park may be of the utmost importance to you.  Here in the Valley of the Sun, fellow dog lovers are always on the lookout for outdoor recreational options for their pets.  These may fit the bill:

  • Grovers Basin Dog Park, located at 20th Street at Grovers Ave in Phoenix.  This 2.3- acre dog park is divided into two separate fenced enclosures, one for small dogs and one for large dogs.  The park has running water for the dogs to drink, as well as pooper scoopers.
  • Paradise Valley Park, located at 17642 N. 40th St in Phoenix.  The dog park is located in the west end of the park north of the softball fields, and features 2.4 acres of grass and two ramadas with tables and benches.  This park also has chilled drinking fountains for dogs (and humans) plus two double-gated, separate fenced areas for large and small dogs.
  • Chaparral Dog Park, located at 5401 N. Hayden Road, Scottsdale, AZ, features a 2 acre fenced area of dogs.
  • Surprise Dog Park, located at 15930 N. Bullard AvenueSurprise, AZ.  This 1.5-acre dog park is located in Community Park. It has a small dog area as well as a large dog area. The dog park is open from sun up until 10 pm and provides drinking fountains for dogs and people.
  • Desert Horizon Park, located at 15444 N 100th St, Scottsdale, AZ 85260, featuring one fenced area for all dogs.  There is a large grass area, shaded seating for humans, and a fountain for the dogs.
  • Foothills Dog Park and Dog Run, located at 19021 North 57th Drive, Glendale, AZ 85308.  This park features an agility course as well as divided by size fenced play areas for the dogs, as well as drinking fountains.  Humans will enjoy the shaded benches and the lighting for evening visits.  This park is closed on Wednesdays for maintenance.

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