cyber fraud via our mobile devices

How to Prevent Fraud on Your Smartphone

While millennials may be viewed as the most smartphone-savvy generation out there, that may not always be the case when it comes to cyber security.

With mobile devices capable of holding an abundance of personal data, millennials are particularly vulnerable to fraud if they do not use simple, but critical measures to protect their devices. In fact, according to a recent TD Bank survey of millennials, 23 percent are not using the screen-lock password feature on their device, 67 percent will use the same password, or a slightly different version of a password, and one in five will keep a list of passwords stored on their device.

To help millennials—and all of us—from falling victim to cyber fraud via our mobile devices, TD suggests taking the following steps:

Use better password protection. Think of your password as a guard that stands between your personal information and potential online risks. Use different user ID/password combinations for different accounts and avoid writing them down. Make the passwords more complicated by combining letters, numbers, special characters (minimum 10 characters in total) and change them on a regular basis. When you create passwords with combinations of letters and numbers that are unique for every one of your online accounts, you’ll make it more difficult to unlock your identity—helping to keep your information safe and secure.

Mobile musts: Your mobile device is vulnerable to fraudsters if left unlocked, so be sure to set a screen-lock password, which will protect your personal information if your phone is ever lost or stolen. Enable auto-lock so your device locks after a short period of time when not in use. If you lose your device and it is unprotected, notify your financial institution immediately and change your banking passwords.

Avoid using WiFi in public places: Accessing WiFi in busy public places, such as malls and airports, makes you more vulnerable to cyber fraud. Use your data to go online if you must in such locations—or wait until you’re in a more secure WiFi area.

Set up fraud alerts: If your device was lost, but then recovered or replaced, be aware that your banking information may have been compromised. Cover all the bases by having your bank notify you of potential fraud. Such alerts will let you know of any suspicious activity on your accounts and allow you to block access to your bank card. Do the same with any credit cards you have associated with your mobile device.

Check your statements and online accounts: If you lose your device and it is unprotected, be sure to notify your financial institution and review your banking information online. This will alert you to any fraudulent transactions more quickly and ensure your financial institution can take action to protect your accounts.

Taking the above precautions will make you a lot smarter—and safer—when using your smartphone.

If you’d like more homeowner information, please contact me.

Copyright© 2018 RISMedia,

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Buying New Construction Home Tips

5 Tips for Buying a New-Construction Home

Thanks to the shortage of available inventory in most markets, you can expect to start seeing more and more new construction. Buying a new-construction home is different than buying an existing home, however, so be ready to attack the process with a different mindset and specific strategies. Here are five important tips to keep in mind from U.S. News and World Report:

1. Choose an agent who works with builders. Start by selecting a real estate agent who has expertise working with builders and new-construction properties. He or she will be able to steer you toward a reputable firm whose designs suit what you’re looking for, in the location you desire.

2. Research the builder. Be sure to do your own research on the builder to determine the quality of their product and their overall credibility. Check online reviews, the state licensing board, local court records and even Google to find out if the builder has any pending lawsuits, complaints or disciplinary actions. Take it a step further and talk directly to past clients. A reputable builder will be happy to offer referrals.

3. Spend your money on size and location. When building from scratch, it’s tempting to spend your money on upgrades such as high-end countertops and bathroom fixtures, but that can quickly put you over budget. Instead, focus on choosing the right location and getting the square footage you need. Upgrades can always be made down the line.

4. Learn how to read a floorplan. Floorplans are foreign territory for many of us, so talk to your builder and real estate agent about how to accurately interpret them. Many builders offer virtual reality technology that turns the floorplan into a realistic 3D experience. Better still, visit a home that was designed with your floorplan so that you can get a firsthand feel of what you’re buying.

5. Get a warranty and an inspection. Most builders offer warranties, so be sure to ask if yours does and, if so, what exactly it covers. Certain companies, for example, offer a one-year warranty on workmanship, a two-year warranty on mechanical and electrical elements, five years on water leaks and 10 years on structure. Also, be sure to get an independent inspection before you move in. A home inspector will help identify any problems before the builder’s warranty expires.

The above guidelines will help make your new-construction buying experience a happy and successful one.

If you need more real estate information, feel free to contact me.

Copyright© 2018 RISMedia,

The 50s. Maybe it was an illusion…

Maybe it was a reminder that America changes in every instant and never changes at all. Our streets have always been filled with music and temptation; addiction has always been with us, long before “us” was even America, from the Lotus Eaters of The Odyssey to the opium dens of the Wild West to the crack epidemic and on to our own new opioid crisis.

via Teen Idol Frankie Lymon’s Tragic Rise and Fall Tells the Truth About 1950s America | History | Smithsonian

Brighten Your Home This Winter

5 Ways to Brighten Your Home This Winter

With fewer hours of daylight and an array of stormy weather to contend with, our homes can often feel dark and dreary during the winter months. With just a few magical touches, however, you can lighten things up instantly. Try these ideas from diynetwork.com:

  1. Remove the screens from your windows. Depending on where you live, you might not even open your windows in the winter. Removing the layer of mesh created by a screen will let unfiltered light right in, brightening up your home.
  2. Invest in light-colored slipcovers. Cover your furniture in shades of ivory, white or even a sunny yellow. This will not only make your whole room feel lighter, but will also help brighten your mood. Try lighter-colored bedspreads and tablecloths, too.
  3. Uncover your hardwood. Remove area rugs from your hardwood floors so that natural light can reflect off the warm tones of the wood and onto your walls.
  4. Swap out your lightbulbs. Take a close look at your home’s lighting. The difference between a warm white, a cool white, and daylight bulb can greatly change the feel of a room. Try different bulbs in different rooms to create bright enough light at the right temperature.
  5. Lighten up your window treatments. Ditch the heavy, dark drapes for light-colored and sheer curtains. Placing them at the far edges of the window will go a long way toward letting in plenty of light.

If you need more real estate information, feel free to contact me.

Copyright© 2017 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News.

Colors of 2018 – Is Yours a Top Pick

Painting Project in the Works? Consider the Colors of 2018

When it comes time to refreshing our walls with a new coat of color, we all have our favorite hues. But it’s always worth taking a look at the colors the experts choose as trending shades for the year ahead. The editors at remodeling.com compiled the 2018 picks from the top paint companies. So before you spread the drop cloth and don your coveralls, consider whether any of the following fashion-forward colors will work in your home:

The Green Hour: This blue-green with a healthy wash of gray from Dunn-Edwards can pass as a neutral shade, but also lends a moody or dramatic look to a room. If you’re looking for something light and airy, this isn’t it.

Black Magic: This choice from Olympic Paint is a shade of black that offers striking contrast when used for trim and accent furniture. You can also consider painting one or two walls in this color, depending on the size and purpose of the room in question.

In the Moment: Another blue-green hue, this one comes from Behr, and offers a softer, more pastel option. This versatile shade would work equally well in a bedroom, kitchen or living room—and is a nice gender-neutral option for a baby’s room.

Deep Onyx: This shade from Glidden is another twist on black, offering a classic, timeless approach, just like “a little black dress,” as the firm’s marketing department aptly describes it.

Caliente: Just like the name implies, this fiery red from Benjamin Moore will quickly heat up a room. It’s perfect for a large dining room or any room that can handle a bright pop of color.

Oceanside: Yet one more take on a blue-green, this color from Sherwin-Williams is very deep and intense, just like its namesake.

If you’d like more information about homeownership, please contact me.

Now is the Best Time to Sell Your Home

6 Reasons Why You Should List Your Home During the Holidays

Traditional real estate wisdom may be telling you to hold off selling your home until after the holidays, but there are plenty of good reasons to list your home right now. Consider the following:

  • People who are looking for a home during the holiday season are most likely pretty serious about making a move. In fact, they may be in a bit of hurry. Putting your home on the market now might result in a faster sale at a higher price point.
  • Between family gatherings and holiday parties, you’ve probably got your home in bright and shiny, tip-top shape for entertaining. What better time to show off your home to prospective buyers, too?
  • In most areas of the country, yard maintenance decreases during the wintry holiday months. While you may have to blow a few leaves and clear away some snow from walkways, you won’t have to worry about keeping the lawn mowed, the garden beds weeded and the flowers blooming as you would if listing your home in the spring and summer.
  • The end of the year is usually a slower time for real estate professionals, so you will get lots of attention from your agent if you decide to list your home during the holiday season.
  • You will also have less competition in terms of other homes on the market, allowing your home to stand out more to prospective buyers.
  • You can stage your home to make an emotional connection to the holidays. Work with your real estate agent to tastefully decorate so that prospective buyers envision themselves hosting loving family celebrations in your home during the holidays. Stay away from overtly religious decorations and stick with decorations like small white lights, natural evergreens and a few shimmering metallics. An evergreen- or cranberry-scented candle will also emphasize that home-for-the-holidays feel.

If you need more real estate information, feel free to contact me.

Copyright© 2017 RISMedia, T

Get Ready NOW if You Are Thinking of Buying a Home in the Near Future

By Novelda L. Sommers, Marketing Content Manager, The Long & Foster Companies.

home dream

If you’re already looking ahead to 2018 and planning to make it the year you buy a home, now is the time to start getting your financial house in order.

By giving yourself plenty of time to address any factors that could be dragging down your credit score, you can save thousands of dollars in interest over the life of your mortgage. Having stellar credit also gives you a better chance at sailing through the loan process and getting your offer accepted in a housing market that’s expected to continue to favor sellers.

Prosperity Home Mortgage offers tips for prospective homebuyers who are beginning the process of applying for a home loan. The company also makes mortgage consultants available, who will walk clients through the sometimes-complicated process of getting a mortgage.

At the outset, these are some measures you can take to make sure your credit is in good shape as you embark on the journey to homeownership:

See what’s in your credit files. Three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, maintain detailed reports on our financial lives, and we’re entitled by law to see each one of those for free once every 12 months. You can access them through AnnualCreditReport.com. Don’t be fooled by look-alike sites. You can also get to the site through links on the government’s Federal Trade Commission or Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) websites. Your credit report has a lot of information about you, such as previous addresses, loans you hold or have paid off, open lines of credit, bankruptcies, liens and judgements. It’s important to make sure all of that information is correct. One in five credit reports contain errors, and correcting them takes time, so don’t wait to check.

Dispute any erroneous information with the credit reporting company and the creditor who made the report to them. Find out more about what to include in your dispute documents at the CFPB’s site. The site has instructions, template letters and guides for how to go about this.

Find out your credit score. Check your bank and any credit card companies you use to see whether they offer a free FICO score or other credit score. You might need to pay for a one-time score from one of the credit bureaus or myFICO.com, just steel yourself for sales pitches for monthly credit monitoring you might not want or need. Scores usually range from 300-850, and the higher the score, the easier it is to qualify for a loan and get a lower interest rate. A great place to be is in the high 700s and up, but a lower score won’t necessarily keep you from getting a mortgage. You just might have to pay more for it, because a lower score places you in a category of borrower that’s at higher risk of defaulting.

What goes into a credit score? Commonly, it’s:

  • 35 percent your history of paying accounts on time.
  • 30 percent debt-to-credit ratio (how maxed out you are).
  • 15 percent length of credit history.
  • 10 percent credit mix.
  • 10 percent whether you have opened accounts recently.

If you’re trying to bring your score up, it’s vitally important to pay all your accounts on time and make sure they stay current. You might be tempted to consolidate debt and close credit accounts, but that’s not always a good idea, because doing so can cause your debt-to-credit ratio to skyrocket, which makes you look maxed out.

For example, if you have two credit cards each with a limit of $10,000, and you are carrying a balance of $5,000 on one of them, then you close one of the cards, you suddenly go from using 25 percent of your available credit to 50 percent. A credit utilization rate below 30 percent is usually considered good.

You shouldn’t open new accounts if you’re about to apply for a loan. Especially avoid making any major purchases on credit. Don’t move a lot of money around between accounts, co-sign on another person’s loan, or change your job, name or address. Stability is key.

As long as your financial habits are healthy, your Prosperity mortgage consultant will recommend you continue using credit just as you normally would, because deviations can raise red flags.

Once your credit is optimal and you’ve gotten a mortgage preliminary approval from your lender so you know your exact price range, contact a Long & Foster real estate agent who can help you get the best deal on your ideal home.

 

Finding a Builder to Construct Your Custom Home on Your Lot

By Suzanne Whitenight Pilcher, Marketing Coordinator, Long & Foster Companies.

Perhaps you were lucky enough to inherit property or bought a parcel of land to build your dream home. Now, how do you select the right builder to construct the home you’ve envisioned? Whatever style and size home you’re building, you’ll want to know you’re purchasing a good quality home from a reputable builder.

Where do you start?

It’s best to find companies who are familiar with the building codes in your area, according to Pauline Dent, director of builder & developer services with the Long & Foster New Homes division. Each jurisdiction has specific building codes, so you’ll want to hire someone who knows the codes and can comply with them. The National Association of Homebuilders offers a list of local builders on their website.  In addition, a real estate agent familiar with custom home building can be a great resource.

What’s the builder’s specialty and reputation?

Whether it’s a traditional colonial, modern or craftsman-style home you have in mind, take a look at pictures of the houses each builder has constructed. Ask how many homes they have built that are similar to the design you have in mind.  Then, go to see the products they’ve built in the last few years.

In addition, ask for personal testimonials from past clients. Dent adds you’ll want to talk to a variety of customers, in every stage of owning – meaning those that recently moved in, individuals who have lived in the home less than two years and people who have lived in their houses longer than two years. Ask them if the work was completed on time and on budget and if they had any major issues during construction. Your real estate agent may also have had some experience with the builder to help attest to their reputation.

How much will it cost?

Although it’s important to hire a qualified builder, finding one who can construct a home in your price range is just as critical. Gather quotes from the list of builders you’ve collected and be sure you understand what’s included in each quote. For instance, does the price include site and finish work, landscaping and clean-up of the property? What level of finishings will be included – will you have granite or laminate countertops?

Site work, including land clearing and grading, the construction of driveways and walkways, installation of utilities, permits and fees, can cost more than $60,000 in some areas, according to John Jorgenson, a leading new homes agent in Long & Foster’s McLean, Virginia, office. Check to be sure your builder includes it in the price or you’ll have to budget for these necessary costs.

Just as with any new home purchase, a knowledgeable Realtor can help you find a reputable builder and can guide you through the homebuilding process.

Home Based Business – Insurance is Important

Operating a Business from Home: Make Sure You Have the Right Insurance

By Novelda L. Sommers, Marketing Content Manager, The Long & Foster Companies.

It could happen in a heartbeat – a client slips and falls on your property, a hacker figures out how to steal your customers’ data, or any number of other possible hazards – and suddenly your home-based business could be in real trouble if you don’t have the right insurance.

Homeowners insurance doesn’t cover all of the risks associated with doing business from home. There are policies that specifically cover incidents that might come up related to your business.

An insurance agent can help you determine your exact needs. The experts at Long & Foster Insurance recommend that home-based business owners have a commercial insurance policy in place to ensure they are properly covered.

These are among the types of policies an agent might recommend, depending on your business’s situation:

  • Business property coverage: It covers property used in business operations.
  • Business income coverage: This provides coverage for the loss of income a business suffers after direct damage of the covered property.
  • General liability: These are policies for damages that you could become legally obligated to pay due to bodily injury, property damage or personal and advertising injury that occurs on your business’ premises, operations, completed operations and products.
  • Electronic data processing: A policy would cover loss of electronic data processing equipment and media that’s owned, leased or used by the homeowner.
  • Goods in transit: This covers product that is either owned by the insured or the insured’s customer while it is being transported.
  • Valuable papers and records: A policy would cover loss of paper and records which have no duplicates.

Another type of coverage that is becoming more popular is cyber insurance, covering risks having to do with vulnerabilities that come with being online. One example of that is data breach coverage. If a home-business owner stores payment information, social security numbers, etc., and that data is compromised – depending on what type of policy you have – a policy might cover the cost of mailing notifications to customers that were affected, public relations expenses and credit monitoring services, among many other coverages. It might also cover defense and settlement costs if the business is sued by someone who was impacted by the breach.

The U.S. Small Business Administration offers a free online guide to choosing insurance for your business. A Long & Foster Insurance agent can also help evaluate your needs and select a plan that will keep your business safe and sound.

Home Based Business – Know the Local Rules

Make Sure You Know the Local Rules Before Moving with a Home-Based Business

By Novelda L. Sommers, Marketing Content Manager, The Long & Foster Companies.

If you’re among the many small business owners who operate out of your residence, and you’re looking to relocate, you don’t want to move to your new dream home only to find out your enterprise isn’t allowed to operate there.

More than half of small businesses registered in the United States are home-based, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Entrepreneurs who maintain home offices should research local licensing, homeowner’s association covenants and zoning rules before committing to buy a house.

Often a home business is not permitted if customers are required to come to the home or it involves specialized equipment.

“In most situations, determining the permitted uses of a property is entirely the buyer’s responsibility.  Once you buy the house, it’s likely too late to do anything about a use restriction,” said Tony Boone, deputy general counsel at The Long & Foster Companies.

If the local zoning rules prohibit your type of business, there may be a process for applying for a variance.  However, that is often an expensive and difficult endeavor with no guarantee of success.

Business-owning home shoppers should call the department of planning and zoning in their prospective locality and ask if their at-home business is allowed at the new address, said Callie Dalton, a top producing Long & Foster agent in Roanoke, Virginia. Buyers also need to review any homeowners’ association documents whose covenants, rules and regulations likely to govern the use of the properties in the neighborhood.

“We do suggest that they check with the HOA and local zoning boards to be sure that the property can accommodate a home business prior to writing an offer,” Dalton said. “That way, we aren’t tying up someone’s home, only to find out later it is not suitable for the buyer’s needs.”

Most HOAs prohibit any business that increases foot traffic in the neighborhood, Boone said. Mail-order businesses, on the other hand, might be allowed because they don’t require customers to visit the property. However, there is no standard rule and what is permitted in one neighborhood may not be in another.

Boone recommends speaking with a real estate attorney if the use of a home for business purposes is an important factor for the buyer, “Zoning, covenants of title and HOA rules can be complex and the distinction between permitted and prohibited businesses can be very subtle.”

Mike Mavromates, a Long & Foster agent and managing broker in Avalon, New Jersey, said most of his clients who plan to work from home in his state, for example, don’t need special zoning permission because they only maintain small, single-person offices, with the bulk of business conducted elsewhere.  These professionals – such a loan officers or real estate agents – might perform office work at home, but don’t usually bring clients to their personal residences.

But a number of home-based business owners do need to obtain proper approvals with the municipality’s zoning authority, he said.

“They have to provide details, to include how many clients will visit, parking information, how many customers may visit at one time, etc.,” he said. “Depending on their industry or store, there are signage restrictions and strict requirements for lighting and restrooms, to name a few. They must be aware of and have appropriate approvals.”

The SBA offers general guidelines for researching your location and making sure you are correctly registered with state and local authorities. The administration has offices throughout the country where business owners can get advice about complying with state and local regulations.