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Investment Properties

Should I Purchase an Investment Property?

If you’ve thought about purchasing a property to rent out as an investment or to renovate and resell, there are many points to consider before you plunk down a lot of cash. Make sure you look at the big picture to help in avoiding headaches and disappointment that could come as a result of poor planning.

Cash Flow

When you first purchase a property you intend to use for investment purposes, you should be aware that you may not see a return for quite some time. Consider the property’s price, the tax base in the area, the cost of needed improvements, marketing, and so on, that will come upfront before any money is collected from a prospective tenant or buyer. When setting your monthly rent or purchase price, be sure that you’ll be doing so at a price that creates positive cash flow. That means the amount covers all of your expenses (utilities included), plus some. Take into account that from time to time there will be unexpected repairs that you, as a landlord (in the case of a rental), will likely be responsible for as well.

If you’re purchasing a property to renovate and resell, consider the time and cost of renovations and the real estate sales market. This is where an experienced realtor is crucial. They can help you learn the time properties in the area are typically on the market, as well as the median sales price, comparable property sales prices, and so on. If possible, choosing an area with a low housing supply and a high demand is your best bet.

Be Aware of the Downsides

While doing your homework is more likely to put you in the “best case scenario” category, part of doing so is recognizing potential downsides in investing. For one, real estate is usually a long-term investment, especially if you’re looking to get into the rental market. When times get tough, you can’t just cash out.

When renting a property, be sure to thoroughly screen tenants. You may want to invest in a property management company that can perform proper background checks and that will field calls when problems pop up so tenants are not calling you at all hours of the day. Know that if you must evict a tenant, the process isn’t always quick and easy and a detailed lease reviewed by a legal representative is a must-have.

The Positive

The real estate market is in a great place for sellers. If you’re able to purchase a property to renovate and resell, there’s a good chance you’ll find a buyer relatively quickly if the home is in a desirable market. Rents are also increasing and there is no shortage of prospective tenants looking to move in. This can mean positive cash flow for you should you plan the expenses portion of your investment properly.

Need help navigating the market? Reach out to us!


Kutztown

Supporting Small in Kutztown

While Kutztown may be most famously known for being home to Kutztown University and famed artist Keith Haring, there are certainly some small business gems found there to this day, making it a wonderful place to call home. Here are just a few to know…

Paisley & Company. The perfect place for self-care, Paisley & Company “believes in small pleasures.” Handcrafted items include foaming soaps, lip balms, soy candles, body butters and so much more in an incredible array of scents. Bonus: you can even create your own scent combination and give it a custom name. Visit at 275 W. Main St. or online at paisleyandcompany.com

Saucony Creek Brewing Company. Did you know the brewery that calls both Kutztown and downtown Reading home got its start here in Kutztown? It’s true. Visit if you’re a fan of craft brews or unique and delicious eats. Pair a Golden Bear Pilsner with a Bavarian Giant Pretzel served with Stonefly beer cheese sauce, bacon jam and whole grain mustard. Yum! 15032 Kutztown Rd. or online at sauconybeer.com

Sorrelli. Are you a lady that loves sparkle or do you know a special person in your life that does? If you answered “yes,” then this is a must-stop. The family-owned fashion jewelry company got its start in Kutztown and has been selling its staple “Sorrelli Sparkle” with Swarovski crystals set in stunning bracelet, earring, necklace and ring designs ever since. 220 W. Main St. or online at sorrelli.com

Renninger’s Antique and Farmer’s Market. If you’re looking for a vintage find or to stock up on the freshest produce, you’ll want to plan a visit to Renninger’s Antique and Farmer’s Market. The antiques market is open on Saturdays and the Farmer’s Market and consignments shops are open both Friday and Saturday. Seasonal craft shows and other specialty sales are also held here. 740 Noble St., Kutztown or online at renningers.net/kutztown

Kutztown Strand. Plan a visit to the more than 100-year-old movie theater and see one of film’s newest releases, or a throwback if one is planned, in a nostalgic setting. The theater, originally owned by Paul A. Herman, was purchased by former Reading Mayor Paul Angstadt, who recently passed, in 1939. 32 N. Whiteoak St. or online at kutztownstrand.com


Credit Score

Credit Score 101: Why It’s Important & How to Improve Yours

When you’re looking to make a large purchase like buying a home, you’re most likely going to want to finance a good portion of the sales price. This means you will probably work with a mortgage lender – think bank, credit union and the like – to get the green light on a loan. You’ll have a much better chance (and will earn a better interest rate) if your credit is in good standing.

What’s Good?

Just what is a good credit score and how do you earn one? Most commonly, lenders will be looking at your FICO score, produced by the Fair Isaac Corporation. This number can range from 300 to 850. Scores of 800-850 are seen as exceptional, while 740-799 is very good, 670-739 is good, 580-699 is fair and lower is viewed as poor.

Want to be in that exceptional category? Here’s how: make your bill payments on time, utilize less than 25 percent of the available credit extended to you (think $1,000 or less on a credit card with a $4,000 limit), don’t open too many accounts, but have a good mix of them (auto loan, bank card, credit card).

Tips to Know

Did you know that closing credit accounts can harm your credit score? It’s true. To benefit your score, you want to have a low debt-to-income ratio. If you close an account with a high available limit, you could be increasing that number and negatively impacting your score in doing so. Keeping a credit card with a zero balance actually helps your score.

Some people are also under the impression that checking their credit score and report can harm their score. This isn’t true as these checks are considered “soft” inquiries and do not have any impact. Hard inquiries can change your score as they are made by lenders when you’re looking for a credit line extended to you. You don’t want to do this too often. Staying on top of your credit and knowing your score is actually a good idea.

Want a copy of your credit report? You’re entitled to get one free each year and can do so by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com


Berks County

Moving to Berks: What Makes it Unique & Wonderful

So your moving to - or considering moving to – Berks County. How exciting! If you haven’t already discovered so, the area is rich in many ways, be it the heritage, the arts, the fantastic foods, the abundance of recreational activities and so much more.

The History

You may have heard Berks County referred to as Pennsylvania Dutch Country, and with good reason. The area has historic sites aplenty, including the Berks County Heritage Center, the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center, Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, Daniel Boone Homestead and Conrad Weiser Homestead, just to name a few. Berks County also has a storied transportation history. You’ll discover this at the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles, at the Reading Railroad Heritage Museum and at the C. Howard Hiester Canal Center, too. Speaking of railroads, you can visit a number of them even today. Head to the Colebrookdale Railroad or the Wanamaker, Kempton and Southern Railroad for a ride.

The Arts

Be it music, theatre or visual arts, it’s alive and well in Berks County. Nonprofit organization Berks Arts organizes a nationally-acclaimed Berks Jazz Fest annually in April, and brings varied genres of music to the City Park Bandshell in Reading each summer for audiences to enjoy at no cost. GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in Reading in also renowned and is THE spot to visit to see live art in action as artists open up their studios to guests on select days and during special events. You can even sign up for an art class and explore your creative side. And don’t forget the galleries dotted all across the county including in Hamburg, Boyertown, Kutztown and West Reading, just to name a few.

A Foodie Heaven

You name the food and you can surely find it here in the Greater Reading area. From fresh sushi and decadent surf and turf dinners to authentic Italian, Pennsylvania Dutch, Greek and Mexican cuisine – Berks has you covered. Love wine and craft beer? You’re in the right place for that, too.

Outdoor Fun

Berks is home to the Greater Reading Trails System, delivering more than 125 miles of biking and hiking trails to explore. The system is the only Bronze Level International Mountain Biking Association Ride Center in the northeastern United States, in fact. The area is also home to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, recently named to the National Register of Historic Places and the perfect spot for watching the annual hawk migration. If fishing is your thing, you have Blue Marsh Lake or the Tulpehocken Creek. Rather watch others play? Cheer on minor league baseball team the Reading Fightin Phils or hometown hockey team the Reading Royals.

And that’s just scratching the surface!


Reverse Mortgage

All About Reverse Mortgages

If you’re 62 or older, you may wish to leverage the equity in your home, and you can do it with a reverse mortgage.

A reverse mortgage allows a homeowner that owns his or her home outright, or whom has considerable equity to draw from, to withdraw a portion of that equity without having to repay it until leaving the home. It allows an individual to borrow that equity as tax-free income.

Reverse mortgage borrowers don’t have a monthly payment and also do not have to sell their home.

The loan is repaid when the borrower either dies, permanently moves or sells the property.

How Does it Work?

The amount a homeowner can borrow (called the principal limit) varies depending on the age of the youngest borrower or eligible non-borrowing spouse, current interest rates, the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) limit and the property’s value. Typically, when a borrower is older, the principal limit is higher as the property is worth more.

Borrowers choosing a fixed-rate HECM receive a single, lump-sum payment verses equal monthly payments that come with a variable rate as long as one borrower lives in the property as a primary residence. Those payments can be for a fixed period of months agreed upon ahead of time. The money can also be issued as a line of credit to be accessed until it’s been exhausted. Payment can also be a combination of that line of credit and fixed monthly payments.

When a borrower dies or moves, the mortgage becomes payable in full.

What Can Reverse Mortgage Payments be Used for?

Reverse mortgages are often attractive to seniors living on fixed incomes as the payments can help supplement their income to cover the cost of any needed home repairs, out-of-pocket medical expenses and the like.

Other Requirements of Note

Aside from needing to be age 62 or older, to qualify for a reverse mortgage, you must also:

1. Occupy the property as a primary residence.

2. Not be delinquent on any federal debt.

3. Be financially able to make property tax payments, as well cover homeowners’ insurance costs and those of a homeowners association, if applicable.

4. Be able to participate in an information session held by a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-approved reverse mortgage counselor.

There are certainly positives and negatives when it comes to taking on a reserve mortgage. Always discuss all of the details with a qualified professional before signing any documentation.


Wyomissing

Wonderful Wyomissing

Wyomissing is a prized locale in Berks County, and July is a hot month for the borough with its famed Independence Day Celebration. What else is worth exploring? Venture out and discover some incredible businesses here, including…

Dundore & Heister. Head to this butcher and market for incredible meats and even complete single-portion meals on select nights. The shop specializes in whole animal butchery and offers a variety of pasture-raised meats, including beef, chicken, lamb and pork in an assortment of cuts. Market items include condiments, rubs, snacks, sweets and even beverages. Visit at 1331 Penn Avenue or online at dundoreandheister.com

Sly Fox Wyomissing. Visit this neighborhood gathering spot that features award-winning Sly Fox beer and other Pennsylvania-based cocktails. Leave room for a meal, too. There are some incredible finds on the menu, including Beer Battered Brussels Sprouts, a Loaded Fry Stack, and gourmet pizzas like the Burrata Margherita, Kielbasa Pizza or simply make-your-own. You can even get cauliflower crust and substitute for Vegan cheese. 820 Knitting Mills Way or online at slyfoxbeer.com/wyomissing

Boscov’s. Boscov is a big name in Berks County and Wyomissing’s Berkshire Mall is home to one of several Boscov’s department stores. Did you know Boscov’s is America’s larges family-owned department store? It’s true! Head there for all of your home and fashion needs, including handbags and accessories, bed and bath items, furniture, electronics and so much more. 1665 State Hill Rd. boscovs.com

Kemerton Refill & Refresh. Looking to lead a more sustainable life? If you answered “yes,” you must put Kemerton Refill & Refresh on your “to shop at” list. The one-stop zero-waste refill shop specializes in reusable containers and organic, plant-based, cruelty-free products. Shoppers can bring containers from home to fill up or may select from a variety of glass bottles in the store. Village Shopping Plaza, 82 Commerce Drive or online at kemertonrefillandrefresh.com

Russo’s Italian Market. For lovers of authentic Italian dishes and ingredients, Russo’s Gourmet Foods Market is a must. The family-owned and operated business offers a large selection of imported products and general grocery items, too, and they’ve been doing it for more than 60 years. Stop in at the café and savor a meal or you can even hire Russo’s to cater an event. 1150 Bern Rd. or online at russofoodmarket.com


Fixer Upper

Is a Fixer Upper for You?

Fixer Upper – the term has become synonymous with the HGTV show of the same name and has inspired many to purchase less-than-perfect properties in need of some serious TLC, transforming them into dream homes to live in, or to flip and sell to someone in search of a fabulously renovated property.

But is buying a fixer upper something you should tackle? Here are some pros and cons to consider…

The Positive

1. Lower Purchase Price. Because the properties are often outdated and in need of potentially serious repair, you can expect to score a much lower price tag. This means your down payment will be lower, too.

2. No Bidding War. Most often, these “fixers” sit on the market as many buyers are looking for homes in move-in ready condition. So, you’re likely not going to experience competition for the property and may even have ammunition for getting a better-than-list price.

3. A Blank Slate. Because you are purchasing the property with the intent to renovate it, you can design it to your taste. Saving on the purchase price will hopefully allow for you to spend on customizing the home. You have the say. You get to choose the features, materials, contractors and the like.

The Potential Pitfalls

1. Costly Renovations. If you’re looking to save money overall, you may find yourself breaking even once you discover what repairs are needed, how much materials cost, and the price of the labor to do the work.

2. Unpredictability. Even if you’ve had a home inspection performed on the property, if it’s an older home, you can run into unexpected and costly issues that may not have been discovered at the initial inspection. Budgeting, therefore, can also be difficult.

3. Time for Completion. Unless you are able to live elsewhere while work on the property is done, there is a very real possibility that you could be living in a construction zone for quite some time, especially if the work is being performed by contractors as you are tied to their schedules.

Is finding a fixer-upper on your “to-do” list? Reach out to us! We can help get you started.


Sinking Spring

Sinking Spring is Up-And-Coming

Sinking Spring and the surrounding area is seeing a bit of a revival the past few years, with more surely on the horizon. Head out to the Penn Avenue area and a bit beyond for some great small and not-so-small business finds, including…

Lidl. The newcomer in Berks County for grocery offerings is located at 3564 Penn Avenue and boasts “High Quality. Low Prices.” Lidl, getting its start in 1973, asserts that it is revolutionizing grocery shopping and that its less complicated process allows the company to deliver lower prices, high quality and the best shopping experience for customers. Shop for groceries as well as home essentials, toys, décor, gardening supplies and more. Additional details, including weekly specials, can be found at www.lidl.com/stores/US01442

GO FISH! Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar. Consider yourself a sushi connoisseur? A seafood lover? If you answered “yes” to either, then this is a must-visit spot at 301 S. Hull St. Owner Heather Clark is passionate about procuring products that are sustainable, fresh and environmentally-friendly. Enjoy a few sushi rolls, a dinner entrée, and certainly a handcrafted cocktail from the bar for a special treat. Visit for more info at gofishseafood.com

Berks Lanes. Looking for a place to take the family or some friends for some fun? Head to Berks Lanes. It’s more than just bowling, offering billiards, an arcade and bites to eat, too. Leagues are offered, as are birthday party packages, day-of-the-week specials and a rewards program. Visit in person at 3190 Shillington Rd. or online at www.berkslanes.com

Willow Glen Flea Market. Love a good vintage find or a bargain item in great shape? You can find it at the Willow Glen Flea Market, 94 Park Avenue, open on Sundays seasonally starting in April and running through November, from 5am to 1pm. Pets are welcome, too. For more info visit www.willowglenfleamarket.com

Crave Cafe. In search of the perfect spot to grab a cup of coffee and to enjoy conversation with friends? Find it at the Best of Berks award-winner, Crave Café, located at 4600 Penn Avenue. It’s more than just coffee. Enjoy delicious homemade soups, salads and sandwiches and discover just what everyone is raving about. Learn more at www.cravecafe.net


Open Houses

7 Tips for Hosting a Successful Open House

The market is hot, and you want prospective buyers to choose your property. One thing you’ll want to do is to nail your open house. To that end, here are 7 tips to heed for hosting a successful open house…

1. Be Tour-Ready. Most often, a buyer is looking for a home with little to no work required – aka – something move-in ready. Be sure big projects are complete, and that you pay attention to little details like mowing the lawn, keeping up with household chores like the dishes, dusting and sweeping, too. Then you can start thinking about putting the Open House sign on your lawn.

2. Make it Neutral. You’ll want to present a neutral palette when a prospective buyer views your property – one that allows him or her to picture themselves living there. Put away clutter and personal items like photographs to facilitate that.

3. Advertise. If you’re working with a realtor, he or she will likely take the reigns in posting your listing and upcoming open house in the appropriate places, but you can also work to help spread the word by sharing those posts to your personal social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter. Be sure you have the posts set to “public” so others can continue to share the information with their connections.

4. Leave for the Day. Don’t hang around on Open House Day. That means take Fido or your kitty somewhere else for a bit, too. The buyer doesn’t want to feel pressure from existing owners and this also aids in allowing them to envision residing in the space.

5. Trust your Agent. Hire someone who you feel confident will show your home off to its full potential and that will sing its praises.

6. Time it Right. Weekends during the day are the best time to schedule an open house as potential buyers most often don’t have to contend with work and school schedules at that time.

7. A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words. You know the phrase. Work with a professional to photograph the property in a way that shows off all of its beauty. Sometimes if a buyer doesn’t like what he and she sees in a photo, they move on then and there.

Need some help listing your property? Reach out to us!


Rent or Buy

Renting vs. Buying: Which is for You?

Looking to move? You’ll likely be faced with making the decision of whether to rent or buy a property.

Here are some pros and cons to consider that may help you to decide which choice best suits you.

Time

Do you anticipate living in the area you’re looking to move to for an extended period of time, or will it be a more temporary situation, say less than 5 years? It could be worth the investment to purchase if you’ll be in a home for five years or more as you can build equity in the property and could be rewarded for it when it comes time to sell.

Lifestyle

Do you have the time to invest in a property’s maintenance and upkeep? Owning a home (unless it falls under a Homeowner’s Association) often means you’re in charge of all of the related tasks and expenses that come with it. Think: lawncare, snow removal, gutter cleaning, heating and cooling system maintenance and the like. If something breaks, it’s your problem. But, if you want to change something about your property, you’re most likely able to do as you wish.

Do you have pets or want them? It’s becoming increasingly difficult to be a pet owner and to find a pet-friendly home. When you buy a property, you’re investing in allowing yourself more freedom to make these kinds of decisions.

Costs

Aside from maintenance, owning a home also means you’ll need to invest in homeowner’s insurance and you’ll pay property and school taxes, too. An offset to this, versus renting, is that you are building equity in your home over time and it should be considered a major life investment. When you rent, you may not have to worry about expenses like home repairs and taxes, but you are also investing in building equity in a property owned by someone else. You can’t “cash out” per se and reap those benefits down the road.

As a renter, remember that though your monthly rent and living expenses may be lower than if you carried a mortgage, you most likely are not afforded rent control. Your landlord can change your rent as he or she wishes and you have no say. He or she could also choose to sell the property you live in, necessitating an unexpected move. Some things are simply out of your hands.


West Reading

There’s Lots to Love in West Reading

February is the month of love and there’s certainly lots to love in West Reading, PA. In fact, the Berks County borough once used a “Love West Reading” tagline (look for a rebranding effort celebrating the arts soon)! The Main Street district right along Penn Avenue, in particular, offers a wealth of unique independent business to shop and support. Here are just a few we encourage you to check out…

The Complete Baldwin Brass Center. Looking to spruce up your home’s kitchen or bathroom with an upscale renovation or to simply purchase signature Baldwin Brass ornaments for your holiday Christmas tree or as a timeless gift to give a loved one? This is a must-visit spot at 623 Penn Avenue. Learn more at www.baldwinbrasscenter.com

Art Plus Gallery. Do you enjoy the arts and pieces from local artists in particular? Get to this gallery at 604 Penn Avenue. The nonprofit cooperative allows juried members to showcase and sell pieces in a variety of mediums including paintings, calligraphy, photography, jewelry, sculpture, fabric and ceramics. Visit for more info at www.artplusgallerypa.com

Sweet Ride Ice Cream. Travel back in time when you visit the award-winning ice cream parlor and soda shop at 524 Penn Avenue serving up premium ice cream, sundaes and handcrafted sodas, just to name a few. Flavors include tried and true favorites and unique creations, including Banana PB Chip, Frozen Hot Cocoa, Rum Raisin and many more. Vegan flavors are also offered. Visit online at www.sweetrideicecream.com

The Barley Mow Craft Beer House. When you’re looking for a good beer or brunch, stop at 719Penn Avenue. Bonus: if you’re a dog owner, you can bring your pooch too; the business is pet-friendly! The Barley Mow is a beer lover’s dream, offering more than 700 craft beers from 100+American craft breweries. They also fill growlers and crowlers to take home. Learn more at www.barleymowbeer.com


Refinancing

Should You Refinance?

If circumstances are right, refinancing your home can be a smart move that saves you money each month and over the life of your mortgage. Refinancing is when you obtain a new mortgage to pay off your old one. How do you know when to find a lender and switch things up? Here are some things to consider…

Length of the Loan. You may want to refinance if you’re looking to lock in a lower interest rate and shorten your repayment time frame. While switching from a 30-year loan to a 15-year loan may increase your monthly payment, you will likely enjoy a lower interest rate that you will repay for a shorter period of time before satisfying your mortgage.

Lower Monthly Payment. Conversely, you may choose to refinance your home to take advantage of a lower interest rate than your current mortgage affords you, thereby lowering your monthly payment and possibly the interest you pay on the life of your loan. You’ll want to be sure this works to your advantage though as you may be starting over at a 30-year mortgage repayment timeline depending on the loan you lock into. Make sure you run the long-term numbers.

Cash in on Home Equity. If you’ve built equity in your home but have other higher-interest debts you’ve accrued or if you need to make some improvements and don’t have cash on hand, you may consider a cash-out refinance. This kind of transaction allows you to borrow more than needed to pay off your current mortgage so you get “cash back” in a sense. This overage can allow you to eliminate or consolidate credit card debt, instead making a monthly payment at a lower interest rate. The money can also fund things like replacing a home heating system, a roof replacement, or another significant up-front expense.

Some individuals choose to put the extra money into their retirement savings, banking on being able to take advantage of compounding interest.

Things to Consider

Remember that refinancing also incurs closing costs, so you’ll need to take that expense into account when figuring out if moving to a new loan will really be worth the investment. Cash-out refinances also often require home appraisals and the associated fees. You’ll need to track interest rates, too.

Obviously, the best time to refinance is when rates are low. Your credit score should be in good standing, as it will impact your ability to get the best rate. Improving your score or keeping it high is something that should always be top-of-mind.