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5 ways to clean up your credit report

Heres how to do-it-yourself:

1.  Do one scan for flat-out errors.  Go to and order your credit reports from all three reporting bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Look for accounts that arent yours, that have long been closed or otherwise are erroneously reported (e.g., payments listed as late that were actually on-time, a short sale listed as a foreclosure, etc.). Follow the instructions on the reports to dispute such report errors immediately - both online/on the phone and in writing. 

Be prepared that it might even take several rounds of disputes and submissions of documents proving your case to ultimately clear everything up - if you experience this, make sure to loop your mortgage pro in after the first dispute round, rather than waiting months and months to even make the first call.  It might be the case that the hard-to-dispute items are simply not making much of a difference to your ability to get a home loan. 

2.  Do another scan for small reporting inaccuracies you think dont make a difference - but do.  In particular, youre looking for things like:
  • delinquencies that should have aged off
  • balances listed as higher than they truly are
  • limits listed as lower than they really are, and
  • short sales/foreclosures that are improperly dated, among other things. 

Paying bills late or not at all is only one thing that dings your credit report and score. Having a maxed out credit account (loan, line or card) limits is another.  So, if your credit report shows your balances as higher than they actually are or your limits as lower than they actually are, this by itself can actually impair your credit score. 

These sorts of little, technical errors can, cumulatively, create a serious, negative impact on your credit score. They are very common - and commonly overlooked by consumers who are looking primarily for big, bad errors and wrong reporting that might indicate identity theft or other nefarious goings-on.  So take a second tour through your credit reports looking for inaccurate balances and limits.

In the same vein, triple-check the dates of any delinquent payments, collections, short sale(s), foreclosure(s), or bankruptcies that are legitimately reported. Another common error is for these sorts of derogatory credit marks to have been dated inaccurately.  Delinquencies should age entirely off your report after 7 years, and bankruptcies after 10.  The precise date of a short sale or foreclosure can actually make or break your ability to qualify for a home loan - so make sure it is reported accurately.

3.  Pay the right things off - and take care not to pay off accounts you need to show your responsible use of credit. A few things that most lenders will demand you settle, bring current or pay off entirely before you can buy a home:
  • accounts in collections
  • state and federal tax liens
  • past home loans or lines of credit in default that were not extinguished through foreclosure or short sale (e.g., second loans, home equity lines of credit, etc.)
  • defaulted federal student loans (for FHA loan applicants).

If you do have to negotiate with any such creditors for settlements or repayment plans, consider including the way they report the account as one of the negotiables in your settlement deal.  Consult with your mortgage professional about how you should ask the creditor to report the resolution as part of the settlement - you might not get it, but it certainly doesnt hurt to ask.
4.  Get your mortgage pro to help.  Up to now, youve been working on the reports that you can pull yourself, for free, as mandated under the federal Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act) through These reports are free and are the smart starting point for your credit Spring Cleaning, but they have two important shortcomings:
(1) They are almost never identical to the report your lender will actually use as the basis of your mortgage application, and
(2) They do not include the FICO credit score on which lending decisions are based.

5.  Ask about augmenting your report with non-traditional tradelines, if needed.  If you simply dont have much credit because you like to pay cash, kudos to you for managing your finances responsibly.  Increasingly, lenders will allow borrowers to use non-traditional accounts to document their credit history.  If you can document your history of paying your rent, health insurance, or even child care bills on time, every time, for at least 12 months, talk to your mortgage professional about whether you can use any of these accounts to prove yourself creditworthy to mortgage lenders.

Spring Home Improvements

Besides cleaning closets and planting flowers and cool-weather vegetables, spring should involve scrutinizing the condition of a house following the rough winter. Repairs and replacements wont just help owners enjoy their properties more; theyll also keep energy costs down as hot weather rolls in and attract more buyers, many of whom have become meticulous about inspecting roofs, appliances, and HVAC bills.

While most home owners need to prioritize costs, these 10 improvements are at the top of many contractors lists. Some of them are even more affordable than ever before, thanks to rebates from local communities, utility companies, and the federal government.

1. Replace windows

If home owners houses felt drafty this past winter and they have single-pane windows, theres a good chance those were one of the culprits. But replacing them all can be costly $400 to $500 per window, plus $100 to $150 for installation, according to home improvement expert Tom Kraeutler of The Money Pit. Whether thats the place to spend dollars should depend on how long home owners plan to stay put or what houses listed in their neighborhood offer if theyre selling. If theyre the last ones with old, rotting-wood windows, that negative may affect buyer attention, Kraeutler says.
2. Install a new heating system and change filters If a sellers furnace and boiler were on their last legs this past winter, it may be time to install a new one, or at least provide sellers with a credit toward new equipment. Any choice should carry an EnergyStar label for best results. Existing systems still in good condition should have filters checked monthly and replaced when dark and clogged, a DIY project.

3. Clean air conditioning units

Before summer temperatures rise and HVAC pros are swamped, advise home owners to clean coils and change filters so their system doesnt have to work as hard. They should also have drain lines cleaned, so moisture is eliminated, says Douglas Tompkins, with Pro-Air Heating and Cooling in Newburgh, N.Y. If they havent had air conditioning, nows the time to weigh choices of a central system, heat exchange, or room units.

4. Install more insulation

A homes first line of defense to stop cold or hot air depending on the season should be the attic, according to most contractors. An energy audit can determine how much more is needed, if they already have some. Seattle-based contractor Ron Rice, of Your House Matters, suggests adding more than the minimum 8 inches required by most local codes up to 16 inches. For cold climates, installing electric or hydronic radiant heat under bathroom and kitchen floors will provide comfort next season.

5. Switch out inefficient appliances

Sometimes appliances are no longer smart to repair. The determining factors for that should be their age and the cost of repair versus replacement. Here, too, top choices carry an EnergyStar label. If home owners need to replace most of their kitchen equipment and have a limited budget or plan to move, Rice suggests they prioritize and first switch out the range, followed by the refrigerator, dishwasher, and microwave in that order.

6. Repair or replace roofs, gutters, and downspouts

Because of the tough hurricane season last fall and the winter blizzards, roofing contractors in many parts of the country have been busy. Morse recommends that those needing new roofs consider architectural asphalt shingles because of their long warranties (often 50 years), affordable prices, and attractive appearances that work with many house styles. In addition, many contractors have the equipment and experience to install roofs of this material, as opposed to metal. He also recommends that home owners have gutters and downspouts cleaned come spring so that water can flow through them; gutters should be angled away from a house to stop water pooling around a foundation and seeping into the basement. Gutter covers can be helpful but often dont eliminate all debris.

7. Paint

Damage often shows up at this time of year, especially in climates where theres been a lot of snow melting or winter rains, Morse says. Use the time to reassess your color choice for better curb appeal. Even changing the front doors color can make a difference.

8. Prune trees

Cutting limbs that may have been damaged during winter and that might fall on a roof or allow squirrels to enter a house is smart, and it can be a cost savings later on. Called thinning out, this method gets excess foliage trimmed to allow more natural light into a houseand cut down on artificial illumination, says Sacramento, Calif.-based landscape designer Michael Glassman. It opens the tree so you dont have dead spots in the interior and lets the tree take advantage of air flow rather than chop off the top, he says. A certified arborist will know the best ways to do this without removing too much of a canopy, which is useful for privacy and shade.

9. Mulch plantings

Along with fall, spring is a key mulch time. Mulch helps plants thrive by holding back weeds, retaining moisture so soil doesnt dry out, and adding a tidy look, Glassman says. Use bark, shredded fir, leaves, straw, or grass clippings.

10. Replace lightbulbs

When it comes to artificial light, most contractors recommend switching burned-out bulbs to LEDs, which last longer than incandescents, consume less energy, and have come down in price now often just $10. Quality has improved, too, and theyre dimmable and available in colors.

5 tips for First Time Home Buyers


1.) Establishing a Realistic Price Range

A common mistake among first-time home buyers is purchasing more house than they can afford. You should not rely on banks to determine what you can comfortably spend on a new home. Banks are adept at determining the amount of monthly debt in the form of mortgage, insurance, credit card, student loan and auto loan payments. They have no way of knowing, however, what you spend each month on groceries, entertainment and utilities.

You should make a list of all monthly expenses, excluding rent or your current mortgage payment. Whatever is left after monthly expenses is the amount available for a mortgage payment and housing expenses such as taxes, insurance and home maintenance. Carefully consideration of your budget saves time by weeding out homes that you cannot afford and guards against overspending.

2.) Seeking Pre-approval

Getting pre-approved for a mortgage prevents a deal on a dream home from falling apart due to failure to obtain financing. You should compare loans from several lenders to see which one best suits your needs. A pre-approval letter will give you some power to negotiate on a homes price because the seller will view a pre-approved offer more favorably than an offer that comes without lender pre-approval.

Keep in mind that pre-approval is different from pre-qualification. During pre-qualification, the lender estimates what you can afford. Preapproval is a more involved process in which the lender looks at your credit report and performs an extensive financial background check. At this point, you will get a good idea of the mortgage interest rate as well.

3.) Setting Priorities

You should compile a list of what you need and want in a house. Needs might include the number of bedrooms, square footage, high-quality schools and commute time. These needs are aspects of the house that either cannot be changed or cannot be changed without substantial cost to you.

4.) Choosing the Right Neighborhood

Crime statistics, insurance rates, property taxes and school quality are important considerations for you. Because the neighborhood makes up a large part of a homes value, take your time to find exactly what suits your needs. You should also consider job commute, traffic during rush hour and proximity to amenities such as shopping, churches and libraries.

Driving through the neighborhood at various times during the day and night will provide a more complete picture of the location. Dont forget to talk to potential neighbors, who can be a good source of information regarding the neighborhood and residents in the community. Take note that bad neighbors can bring down the value of a house.

5.) Finding the Right Home Inspector

You will also need a professional home inspection. Even new houses may present costly problems evident only to a home inspector. You should talk to several inspectors before hiring one. You should ask about the inspectors qualifications, scope of the inspection, how long it will take and the nature of the report you will receive at the end of the process. Main areas covered by the inspection should include quality of construction, integrity of the foundation and condition of plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling systems. If the inspection uncovers serious issues, such as cracks in the foundation, you may decide to back out of the contract or ask the seller to repair the problem.

From the KCM Blog.

Five Emotional Mistakes Sellers Make


By Tara-Nicholle Nelson | Broker

5 Emotional Mistakes Sellers Make

Have you ever said something in the heat of the moment, then wished for weeks later you could reel those words back in?  Truth is, all of us commit emotion-driven mistakes in some areas of our lives.  But when it comes to selling your home - read: cashing out your most valuable asset - the stakes are simply too, too high to allow yourself and your transaction to fall prey to predictable emotional pitfalls.  

1.    Price reduction paralysis.  Wikipedia defines panic as a sudden sensation of fear which is so strong as to dominate or prevent reason and logical thinking, replacing it with overwhelming feelings of anxiety and frantic agitation consistent with an animalistic fight-or-flight reaction.  But theres a real estate-specific reaction to panic that the infinitely wise Wiki editors left out: freezing up entirely.

In cases of overpricing, the seller has most often started out as overconfident in their homes prospects on the current market.  But as the days on the market turn into weeks, or even months, that overconfidence morphs into panic: panic that the place will only get a lowball offer, panic that the place wont ever sell, panic that the seller will be stuck in the property, panic that the sellers future life or career plans will be ruined.  This is a panic that snowballs into increasingly disastrous hypothetical scenarios, and fast.

But sellers who cannot manage their fear and panic can end up paralyzed, unable to cut the list price.  And this begins the snowball effect of more and more days on the market, which aggressive buyers watch until they believe the sellers desperation will make them amenable to a lowball offer.

The best way to deactivate this panic is to put a plan in place before it ever arises. Work with your agent to understand how to use the data around how long most homes in your area take to sell as a guidepost for making price reductions, if and when the need arises.

2.    Excessive attachment.
 Yes, this is the place your kid took her first steps, the place you carried your bride over the threshold, maybe even the place your parents built with their bare hands. But at the time you make a decision to sell it, it also becomes a property, an asset, that like any other good you would sell in the course of business, must be marketed and priced and transacted for. 

3.    Ignoring the needs of your target audience.  Again, by virtue of putting your home on the market for sale, you have become a de facto marketer.  And every marketer knows that its essential to understand your target buyers wants, needs and lifestyle in order to get top dollar for your product (thats your home).  Its up to you - working with your agent, of course - to figure out who the target market for your home is and to market it accordingly.

4.    Celebrating too soon.  An old friend of mine who happened to be a former pro athlete would often shake his head when a team went wild over a mid-game rally.  His mantra: Dont celebrate too soon. In sports, some say that celebrating too soon can cause you to relax and play less aggressively or less defensively for the rest of the game, giving your opponent a chance to make a last minute comeback.

And the same is true in real estate. Multiple offers and above-asking sales prices happen frequently on todays market, but its critical not to assume your home will be in that number until a deal is actually closed.

 5.    Price confusion.  Some sellers have a confused understanding of the mechanics of determining the fair market value of a home and setting a list price. This leaves them vulnerable to the trap of letting their financial self-interest and fantasies for the future get in the way of setting a smart list price.

See, a homes fair market value is defined by what a qualified buyer will pay for it at a given moment in time.  The best way to estimate or approximate that for a home before it is actually sold is to look at what qualified buyers have actually paid for very similar nearby homes, as recently as possible.  This is what agents call looking at the comparables or comps - most listing agents will do a formal version of this process called a Comparative Market Analysis, and present that to a seller to consider in setting the list price for their own home.

Bidding wars are back!


The bidding wars are back. Seemingly overnight, many of the nation's major housing markets have gone from stagnant to sizzling, with for-sale listings drawing offers from a large number of house hunters.

In March, 75% of agents with broker Redfin said their clients' offers were countered by rival bids, up from 56% who said so in late 2011.

The competition has been most intense in California, where 9 out of 10 homes sold in San Francisco, Sacramento and cities in Southern California drew competing bids during the month. And at least two-third of listings in Boston, Washington D.C., Seattle and New York generated bidding wars.

"The only question is not whether a new listing will get multiple bids but how many it will get," said Kris Vogt, who manages 14 Coldwell Banker offices in the Sacramento area. One home in an Elk Grove, Calif., subdivision recently received 62 separate bids. The final sale price was for more than $150,000, well above its $129,000 asking price.

In Cambridge, Mass., two condos that could be combined into one large home hit the market two weeks ago for $800,000 each, according to Pat Villani, president of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in New England.

"The brokers stopped taking names after the number of bidders reached 250," she said. The winning bidder offered $2 million for both units.

Homebuyers eager to purchase before home prices and mortgage rates rise are finding few homes for sale as sellers hold out for better deals, said Glenn Kelman, Redfin's CEO.

Many homeowners are still underwater, owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, and they want to wait until selling becomes profitable again. By doing so, they can avoid short sales, which carry big hits on credit scores, 85 to 160 points, according to FICO.

The top 10 richest zip codes

Image: ZIP Code chart

11 Things women want in a home!


5 things you need to know are happening today in KC


KANSAS CITY, Mo. 1. KCI Airport terminal design to be presented

The Kansas City Aviation Department will present the findings of its study on the feasibility of adopting a single terminal design at Kansas City International Airport to the Kansas City Council on Thursday.

The $4 million, federally financed new terminal planning study will be presented to the councils Transportation&Infrastructure Committee at 8:45 a.m. and again to the general council during a 1 p.m. business session. Both sessions are open to the public.

2.  Meeting to discuss renewing Missouri Film Tax Incentive program

The Missouri Motion Media Association will discuss its campaign to renew the Missouri Film Tax Incentive program and related industry issues at the state level at 7 p.m. April 4 at Think Big Partners, 1800 Baltimore Ave. The event is presented by the Film Commission of Greater Kansas City.

3. Eisenhower Middle School students to assess water quality

Students from Eisenhower Middle School will visit Muncie Creek to assess its water quality as part of the Earth Force GREEN program funded by General Motors. General Motors will present the Blue River Watershed Association with a grant to further education and research about the local environment.

4. Animal adoption event

North Shore Animal League America's 2013 Tour For Life will arrive in Kansas City to partner with Wayside Waifs for a special mobile adoption event at the Walmart Supercenter, 1701 West 133rd St., Kansas City, MO from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

5. Gov. Jay Nixon to visit Blue Springs

Read more:

What happened last week in finance.....

S&P 500 HITS HIGHEST ALL-TIME CLOSE... The S&P 500 ended a holiday-shortened week at its highest close ever, 1569.19, beating the record set on October 9, 2007. That means this major stock benchmark has now recouped all its losses since the 2008 financial crisis. The Dow Jones Industrial Average already beat its 2007 all-time high on March 5 and then set new records ten more times after that. But the new all-time high for the S&P 500 is considered more significant. As one analyst put it, "Having the Dow reaching new highs was good, but the S&P 500 is broader, it's's an important message for investors."

Investor behavior is seen as a leading economic indicator and last week offered more evidence their optimism is leading us in the right direction. We had year-over-year increases in New Home Sales and Case-Shiller home prices, up the most since 2006. GDP for Q4 was revised up to a 0.4% annual pace, not where it needs to be, but way better than the initial 0.1% reading. Even Durable Goods Orders gained more than expected. Eurozone worries dissipated with a bailout for Cyprus expected. Over here, Consumer Spending in February was up the most since last September, while personal income and consumer sentiment beat estimates.

The week ended with the Dow up 0.5%, to 14579; the S&P 500 up 0.8%, to 1569; and the Nasdaq up 0.7%, to 3268.

There are still enough concerns about our economy and Eurozone finances to keep investors interested in the safe haven of bonds. The FNMA 3.5% bond we watch ended the week up .07, at $105.19. In Freddie Mac's Primary Mortgage Market Survey, average fixed mortgage rates edged up slightly for the week, but are still near historical lows. The Mortgage Bankers Association reported demand for purchase loans up 7% for the week and up 10% versus a year ago.

DID YOU KNOW?... A tax credit is a direct dollar-for-dollar reduction of your tax liability. It's way better than a tax deduction, which only reduces your tax liability in proportion to your tax bracket.

St. Patricks Day Parade Information for KC!


This weekend, prepare to see greena lot of green! St. Patricks Day is here, and no matter what part of the city youre in, theres a parade and/or party to attend. Heres a quick look at some of the Irish-themed festivities:

Snake Saturday | 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., March 16, North Kansas City

Head to downtown NKC for the annual Snake Saturday celebration, featuring a parade and all-day events. This years theme is Irish Roots& Cowboy Boots, so dress accordingly!

33rd Brookside St. Patricks Warm-Up Parade | 2 p.m., March 16, 63rd & Wornall Road

Bring the whole family to one of the citys favorite parades! The Brookside parade features more than 100 entries and is led by Grand Marshall Carl DiCapo, along with Frank and Teresa White (Mr. and Mrs. Irish).

41st Annual Kansas City St. Patricks Day Parade | 11 a.m., March 17, Midtown Kansas City

What started as a walk around the block of a downtown bar has evolved into the largest one-day celebration in the city. Grab your lawn chairs and stake out a spot along Broadway from 33rd to 43rd streets as you cheer one of the best parades in the country. Afterward, head to Westport for all the St. Pattys drinking and debauchery you can handle!

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