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Tips to remember at annual enrollment

It’s a good time to evaluate insurance coverage

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It’s that time again — annual enrollment, also known as open season or open enrollment. If you are lucky enough to be employed and receiving benefits from your employer, this is your opportunity to make changes to your elected benefit options.  Even if you are happy with your current selections and don’t think any changes are warranted, it is a good idea to reassess your needs and stay informed about what is changing.

First things first: one of the biggest problems participants make during open enrollment is making last minute decisions. If you want to make informed decisions and manage your costs, the best thing to do is attend an open enrollment meeting. This is your opportunity to listen to a presentation by a broker consultant and/or the product vendors and, most importantly, ask questions. Here are some other important things to consider:

Health Insurance. When choosing your health insurance option, remember this: health insurance is meant to be a financial safety net but is not meant to cover all costs.   Look at your choices carefully including premiums, deductibles and co-pays. If you have frequent medical appointments or other needs and anticipate submitting numerous claims, consider selecting the option with the least out of pocket expenses such as a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) or a basic Preferred Provider Organization (PPO). If you travel a lot within the U.S., consider a PPO with open access on a national basis so you are not stuck spending on out of plan services.

On the other hand, if your claim history is low and you think you will continue to be a light user of the benefits, see if a Health Savings Account (HSA) is available. An HSA typically has higher deductibles but you use pre-tax dollars to pay for your out-of-pocket costs and any money not spent will carry over year to year. Another way to use pre-tax dollars to pay for medical expenses is a flexible spending account (FSA) in which you can set aside a portion of your earnings to pay for qualified medical expenses. Just remember, if you don’t spend what you put aside during a calendar year, you will lose the money. So plan carefully and remember you cannot claim over-the-counter medications for FSAs or HSAs beginning in 2011.

Dental Insurance. Many employees do not opt for dental insurance because they think the premiums are too high. This may be true, but the premiums are a pre-tax expense and certain services are provided free, such as two cleanings a year. If you have access to a dental PPO, the services are provided at discounted PPO rates, so even if the plan does not pay for certain services like orthodontia, you may still get the benefit of a discount.

Life Insurance. It is always a good idea to talk to a financial professional who can help you access your overall life insurance needs in relation to your long term goals, your current income and expenses, and what you want your legacy to be. Once you have determined your overall need, you can then determine whether a group policy, a private policy or a combination of the two is appropriate for you. Group life insurance can be a great opportunity to get life insurance coverage quickly and without going through the underwriting process which can be timely and lead to exclusions or denial of coverage.   For some, group life insurance may not provide enough protection and particularly for those who are healthy, the cost of group benefits may be more than you can get privately.

Disability Insurance. Many white-collar employers offer short- and long-term disability insurance. Disability insurance is important to consider as this will protect some of your income in the event you become disabled. Again, however, many factors go into a determination of how much and what type of disability coverage is appropriate.  Often group coverage only protects up to 60 percent of your income (and sometimes even less) up to a limit. Additionally if your premiums are paid by your employer on a before-tax basis, you will be taxed on any benefits you receive. Private disability insurance on the other hand can be paid with after-tax dollars, which might allow you to receive benefits tax free.

This material is for informational purposes only and is not intended to act as specific advice. Please talk to a financial professional prior to investing and a tax advisor for tax advice. Benefit guarantees for insurance are subject to the claims paying ability of the insurer.

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Real Estate

Renovations in the time of COVID

Clean and de-clutter your home before listing

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cleaning house, gay news, Washington Blade

What do I need to do to make my house pretty and ready to sell in the time of COVID?  Some people are telling me that I don’t have to do anything, that it is a sellers’ market. Well, maybe. Do you know your market? Do you know the idiosyncrasies of your market? In many places, homes are flying off the market “as-is.” But in many places a much more nuanced home is getting the attention.

I am seeing more movement in the single-family home market. So, a seller might get by with doing basic repairs and some sprucing up/de-cluttering to get their house ready for the market. Then again, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, so when in doubt, clean it out. (Paint it out, stage it out, etc.)

If you want to do renovations, you might want to get estimates from multiple sources, and see who gets you the best deal. I am hearing some stories that there is a backlog in the supply chain for hardwood and some other materials. Also, many contractors are booked up right now, or have been scheduled to get work done for months now. If timing is going to be an important part of the puzzle, you might want to double check that the work can get done when you need it to be done, especially if you live in a building where you have to get permission to use elevators, do work between certain hours of the day, etc.

At the very least, find a good house cleaner to get in and do a good job on the type of cleaning that is not done on a normal basis. For many reasons. In the time of a pandemic, cleanliness is almost the number one thing people are looking at. Also, we all know that the carpets get vacuumed, the windows get cleaned, and the shelves get dusted. But what about deep in the corners and under the counters and in the air vents and filters?

That being said, there seems to be a shortage of homes on the market right now for the amount of buyers that are looking. A lucky seller right now might not have to do a total renovation and might want to leave some decisions to the next buyer, but I would still advise that they err on the side of cleaning, de-cluttering, and getting it photo ready to maximize their return on their investment.

 

Joseph Hudson is a Realtor with The Rutstein Group at Compass. Reach him at 703-587-0597 or [email protected].

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Real Estate

Real estate opportunity still knocking

Short- and long-term benefits for both sellers and buyers

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COVID-19 real estate market, gay news, Washington Blade

The last year has been challenging across the board, but one area that has continued to thrive is the real estate market.

Low interest rates and a year filled with unique changes have prompted people to think differently about where they live – and they’re taking action. As of late, the housing market is chock full of opportunities for both sellers and buyers. Regardless of whether one is taking the leap into homeownership for the first time or prepping to downsize for retirement, this is a market anyone and everyone should consider tapping into.

There has never been a better time to sell your home than right now. Thanks largely to low interest rates, buyer demand continues to soar. At the same time, inventory is historically low as many would-be sellers have opted to stay put in the last year. According to the latest Realtors Confidence Index Survey by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the average house is now receiving 4.1 offers after just 20 days on the market. Buyers are clearly eager to purchase, and because of the shortage of inventory available, they’re often entering bidding wars. This is one of the factors keeping home prices strong and giving sellers leverage in the negotiation process.

Homeowners who are in a position to sell shouldn’t wait to make their move. As our world inches closer to normal, more inventory will be hitting the market soon. By listing this spring, you will get your house on the market when conditions are still most favorable. With low inventory and high buyer demand, homeowners can potentially earn a greater profit on their houses and sell them quickly in the fast-paced spring market. Not to mention the opportunity to get by with that older water heater and home systems at large. Many buyers in this area tend to waive contingencies on their offer, clearing the path to a smoother and quicker closing.

While the challenges for buyers are very real, there is one massive factor to keep buyers motivated: interest rates. We’re continuing to see historically low averages in interest rates, and those rates are only projected to tick back upwards in the coming years. Last year saw interest rates come significantly down, and we’re still seeing an average of 3% on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages. Compare that to just three years ago when we were a whole 1.5% higher with averages of 4.5%.

With low interest rates nationally and the D.C. area’s strong home value appreciation rates, the investment of homeownership is a real possibility for more people. Over the span of the next five years, homeowners in the District are presented with a great opportunity to grow their net worth by more than $100,000 based on the current average sales price of $699,732 and projected rates of appreciation over the next five years. These conditions won’t last forever though, so take advantage of the opportunity when you can.

After a year of shifting sands, the housing market has emerged stronger than ever – with some unusual quirks. Opportunity is lending itself to short- and long-term benefits for both sellers and buyers. If your situation allows, this market may provide uniquely profitable opportunities for your real estate transaction. For more information or to talk about buying or selling real estate, give me a call at 571-439-2515.

 

Zach Twigg is a licensed Realtor in D.C. and Virginia with Bediz Group, LLC at Keller Williams Capital Properties. Call or text him at 571-439-2515, email him at [email protected], or follow him on Instagram and Facebook

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Real Estate

How and why to build a raised garden bed

Accessibility, ideal soil conditions guarantee success

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Fairly easy to construct and even easier to maintain, raised garden beds are a great way to raise plants and vegetables in the comfort and convenience of your backyard.

In a recent episode of the Exmark Original Series, “Done-in-A-Weekend-Extreme,” landscape designer and show host, Doug Scott, spoke to organic gardener Joe Lamp’l of “Growing a Greener World” about the ins and outs of raised garden beds.

Here are some of the top insights and tips Lamp’l shared.

• Why use raised garden beds? A raised garden bed can help facilitate the ideal growing environment, as most people don’t have that perfect soil naturally in their yard. Their accessibility makes them easier to work in and maintain. Plus, they’re a nice architectural design element in any landscape.

• What’s the ideal size? The main rule of the thumb applies to width. The bed should be no wider than 4 feet, as you never want to compact the soil when working. Length however, is based on personal preference and needs. As far as height is concerned, you want the roots to be able to grow out and down as much as possible — 6-inches at minimum. While 12-inches is common, anything higher is a bonus.

• What materials work best? Treated lumber is the most readily available and economical material and will likely last the longest, however, being an organic gardener Lamp’l prefers untreated hardwood, as it lasts almost as long and doesn’t contain chemicals. Other materials you have around the home and yard, such as rocks, old tubs, etc., can work too.

• Where’s the best location? Build your raised garden bed on level ground, in full sun exposure near a water supply.
DIY Instructions:
To build a 10-foot x 4-foot x 18-inch raised bed, you’ll need:

• Nine 6-inch x 6-inch x 12-foot cedar timbers
• Tape measure, t-square and marking pencil
• A saw and extension cord
• One box of 10-inch heavy-duty exterior wood screws
• Ten 24-inch x 1/2-inch rebar stakes
• Twenty 10-inch galvanized timber spikes
• Sledgehammer
• Impact drill and long drill bit
• Level
• Hammer
• Shovels
• Hardware cloth, wire cutters and fence staples
• Work gloves, safety glasses and ear plugs
• Wheelbarrow (to transport soil)

1. Begin by cutting six, 6 x 6 timbers, each measuring 10-feet 6-inches in length. And six, 6 x 6 timbers, each measuring 4-feet 6-inches in length. Drill rebar holes in each timber.

2. Once the first layer of bed has been placed, leveled and squared in your desired location, fasten the corners using 10-inch wood screws. Secure the entire layer to the ground with 10 pieces of rebar.

3. Place the second layer of timbers, staggering the corners and fastening them with wood screws. Secure this layer to the first with ten 10-inch galvanized spikes.

4. Install galvanized cloth to prevent burrowing pests from eating earthworms and destroying plants.

5. Place the third layer of timbers (following above directions.)

6. Fill with soil and plants.

For more tips and complete build instructions, check out “How to Build Raised Garden Beds” by visiting Exmark.com/backyard. Exmark’s Backyard Life is part of a unique multimedia destination with a focus on helping homeowners make the most of their backyard. There you can also access other series, including “Prime Cuts” and “Dream Yards.”

For an amazing crop this season, take a cue from the professionals and build a raised garden bed for best results.

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