Breaking Down Homeowner’s Associations (HOAs)

If you are buying a condo, townhouse, or free-standing home in a neighborhood with amenities such as a shared swimming pool, tennis courts, or parking garages, odds are that there will be a homeowner’s association (HOA). But, what is an HOA and how will it affect your quality of living? 

What is an HOA?

An HOA helps the community maintain a pristine appearance and make sure that all amenities and common areas are functioning smoothly. If something is broken, it is not up to the homeowners to fix it. Instead, the HOA is responsible for getting the job done. 

HOA Fees 

Fees vary immensely from neighborhood to neighborhood. The number and size of amenities in the neighborhood affect how much you’ll need to pay each month. Fees can also vary within your development. These can be for many different reasons, including the square footage, location, and orientation of your home, as all these factors will affect how much upkeep your property will need. 

HOA Rules 

HOAs are made up of homeowners in the community, who are elected by other homeowners. Board members will set up regular meetings to discuss major decisions and issues within the community. Homeowner’s associations don’t solely focus on the common areas of a community. They also have rules regarding your own home. A copy of these rules and regulations, called covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs), are given to homeowners upon moving in, where they are required to sign a contract saying that they will abide by the rules. 

Some examples of things that are often covered in a CC&R are:

  • Type of mailbox
  • Size and breed of dog (some HOAs will require additional insurance for breeds such as pitbulls, or will prohibit breeds entirely)
  • What color you paint your house
  • What kind of curtains to use if windows face the street
  • How long your lawn can grow

Before moving in, be sure to get a copy of the HOA rules so that you know what you will be required to do (or not to do). If you can, try to attend a HOA meeting before making your final decision. 

What happens if you violate the rules?

Just like the fees, consequences for breaking the rules vary from development to development. If you break the rules, or fall behind in dues, management could be able to evict you from your property. Some HOAs even have the right to foreclose on your property if you don’t follow the rules or don’t pay your dues. 

How to Build a Garage Apartment

Garage Apartment

A garage doesn’t have to be used for cars or for storage. You can turn your garage into an apartment. Here’s how to turn your garage into an apartment.

  1. Get clearance

Before you begin any project, you have to make sure that the remodeling you’re doing is legal! Take a trip to your city hall (or wherever your local government resides) and make sure that your local government allows such building.

  1. Safety matters

Once you've cleared your project with the local government, you need to pass a building inspection to make sure that the area you are building on is safe to do so.

  1. Obtain a permit

To start building, you have to get a building permit. Although you will be working on your own house, you need to obtain a permit to use all the heavy equipment needed to complete the job.

  1. Create a floor plan

What will the space look like? Before meeting with a contractor, you want to determine how you want the layout of your garage apartment to look so they can tell you if the plan is doable. Figure out how many rooms you want, where you want the doors to go, and whether you want to create a one-floor or two-floor apartment. Part of your plan should include a framed wall that covers the existing garage door opening. The door should be fixed in a shut position and may need to be screwed in place.

  1. Utilities

For a garage apartment, you will most likely need four, if not more, electrical outlets and, if wanted, separate plumbing. Luckily, most garages already have this! Depending on your floor plan, you may just have to move around some outlets or add in plumbing. However, if you want to add a kitchenette, some major construction may be required.

  1. Prep the area

The garage will need to be completely cleaned before construction starts. If needed, install baseboards, which should be caulked to the floor and the wall with a high-grade paintable caulk.

  1. Paint

When starting a painting project, always start from the top down. Start out by painting the ceiling and then move to the walls. All painting should be done before starting to install any flooring.

  1. Flooring

Wall-to-wall carpeting is not well equipped for garage apartments because of the “leak” factor that they possess. Typically, they are floored with ceramic or vinyl tile. Before installing the flooring, clean the floor again. If there is any paint buildup from your painting, you may need to use a weak acid wash to clean off the baseboards.

  1. Lighting

In most cases, the ceiling in your garage will have an electrical receptacle. This will make it very easy to install any sort of lighting fixture.

Garden State Home Loans Welcomes Stephen Oliver

Stephen Oliver Joins Garden State Home Loans

Cherry Hill, NJ, May 28, 2019. Garden State Home Loans is pleased to announce that Stephen Oliver has joined the company as a Mortgage Loan Officer.

Bringing several years of experience, vitality, and excitement to the position, Stephen Oliver comes to Garden State Home Loans from Trident Mortgage where he managed a 65 million dollar a year pipeline.  Stephen brings experience and creativity in structuring all types of mortgages including VA’s, USDA’s and PHFA’s to over $1.4 million plus jumbo loans.  As an active member of the community, Stephen spends a great deal of his free time doing charity work in the Tri-State Area.   His passion for the region and industry expertise made him the perfect candidate to lead the Philadelphia Area.

Stephen can be reached by phone at: (904) 557-8532 or by email at:

Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Home Painter

Before beginning a painting project, it’s important to ask the potential company you are hiring questions about their business. Here are some critical questions to ask your painting company to help you decide the correct company for you. 

  • Do you require payment upfront?

While there isn’t a right answer to this question, it can give you a look into how stable of a company you are hiring. An upfront payment could mean that the painter needs the money to pay last month’s bills and may be in a hurry to finish the job so that he will have the funds to pay his workers. A good approach to paying is to make a partial payment after a couple days of work and the rest of the payment after the job is done. 

  • Are you licensed and insured?

Professional painters are required to have a state-issued license. Licensed painters can be fined or sued if they do a poor job. You want to hire a painter who has a comprehensive liability insurance policy, that includes workers comp. This will provide you with protection in case someone gets injured on site.

  • What protection equipment do you use?

Professional painters are required to wear safety equipment while on the job. This includes goggles, gloves, coveralls, and other garments or pieces of equipment that will protect the worker from injury or infection.

  • Do you use subcontractors?

Sometimes, a company will hire subcontractors instead of having their own staff. This can create a number of risks for you. Often, background checks are not performed on subcontractors. In addition, if they go unpaid, a subcontractor can file a mechanic’s lien against your property, which potentially can cause you to pay extra for the service. 

  • How will my stuff be protected?

You want to ensure that your stuff, including furniture, floors, and other fixtures, are protected throughout the whole project. The furniture should be moved away from the walls before painting begins and covered. Dropcloths should be used to protect your possessions. A dropcloth will absorb any paint spills. 

  • What kind of prep work will you be doing?

There is a lot of prep that needs to be done before your walls can get painted. This can include removing stains, caulking cracks, repairing drywall, and more, which can take up to one-third of the time spent for your paint job. Some companies will offer intensive prep-work, while others will offer none at all. 

  • Do you provide all supplies?

Typically, you’re responsible for purchasing your own paint and the company will take care of everything else. Some painters, however, will offer lower prices but will not provide basic supplies such as dropcloths and paintbrushes and paint rollers. Purchasing these items on your own can make the job more expensive than other higher quotes from companies that have their own supplies. 

How to Build Your Credit

Having a good credit score is essential for getting a good mortgage rate. Before purchasing a home, make sure you have started to build your credit and that it is in a good place. Here’s how to start building your credit to put you in an optimal position. 

How to start building credit 

At a minimum, you need to have at least one credit card open in your name. Then, you have to make a purchase using the card and make a payment. Once you’ve made your first payment, your creditor will submit that payment to one or more of the major credit bureaus. Typically, it will take between three to six months of activity before a credit score will be able to be calculated. 

However, you can’t stop there. Once you’ve established credit, you need to continue to build it. Credit history is based on performance. That means, the healthier your credit behavior is, the higher your credit score will be. 

What credit score do you need to get a mortgage

While building, your credit will most likely be in the 660s. This is considered to be a fair credit score, which may be enough for some lenders, but may not be enough for others. Most likely, a lender will want to see your credit score be somewhere from 700 and up. A good credit score will be any score from 700-759 and an excellent credit score will be any score 760 and higher. 

How to speed up the process

There a few ways to speed up the process of building your credit. 

  • Become an authorized user 

This means that you’re attached to another person’s credit card. This can be a parent, other relative, or friend who already has had an account and has a good credit history. You don’t need to use the account or have a card for the account. Once you’ve been added as an authorized user, there will be an immediate affect to your credit and may even be enough to generate a credit score if you don’t already have one.

  • Get a secured card 

If you’re having trouble qualifying for a traditional credit card, try applying for a secured card. A secured card is “secured” by a deposit that you set. This means that if you stop paying or default, the deposit that you set will be used to pay off the account. This lowers the risk for the lender. 

How to Sell Your Home in the Spring

Pay attention to curb appeal 

First impressions are important! The first thing a potential buyer sees is the front of your house, so make sure that the first impression they get is a good one! Clean off the dead leaves and debris from your lawn and make sure there isn’t any overgrown vegetation blocking the windows or path to the entrance. Not only will this make the outside of the home look great, but it also allows sunlight to stream into your home, giving your home warmth. 

Gardening is a great way to add curb appeal to your home, specifically by adding yellow flowers to your home. It’s been shown that the color yellow and yellow flowers stimulate buying urges, so it’s a great thing to add to the outside of your home! Tulips and daffodils in particular have been shown to induce feelings of happiness and contentment. 

Finally, pay attention to the way that you are mowing your lawn. Make sure that you don’t miss the edge along your driveway and sidewalks. In addition, when mowing, mow your lawn diagonally, as this makes your yard appear larger. 

Set out fresh flowers 

Fresh flowers are a great way to liven up any room, especially during the spring season where fresh flowers are everywhere. Natural scents are more appealing and are generally less overpowering than artificial ones.  

Utilize light colors in your home 

What encapsulates spring better than light, pastel colors? Replace some of your darker towels, throw blankets, and pillows with lighter colors that better represent the season that you are in. This will help to lighten up your room!

Offer an outdoor mat and an umbrella stand 

Spring weather is very unpredictable. You can go from sunny and bright one hour to a cloudy and rainy the next. Provide your potential buyers a place to wipe off their feet and place their umbrella if they happen to visit on a rainy day. 

How to Make a Tiny Closet Feel Bigger

Small closets can be annoying. While it’s hard (or near impossible) to change to space your closet allows you, there are ways to make your closet seem larger. Here are seven tips to make your small closet space work for you.

  1. Add a fresh coat of paint – and a light

To make your closet seem brighter and larger, paint the entire closet a white or off-white. A light color automatically seems brightens a space rather than a dark color, which will make a space seem smaller and closed in. You can also add in a light to brighten the space even further. Finally, to make the space seem as big as possible, add in a mirror on the inside of your closet door or on the back of the wall.

  1. Use closet organizers

An unorganized closet can make it seem like you have way less space than is actually available. Using closet organizers, such as shoe organizers, will give you set places to place your things, which will help you avoid creating huge piles of clothing.

  1. Use all available space

When space is tight, any space is good space! Shelves can be placed on the back of your closet doors to make room for folded clothes or shoes. Any awkward spaces can be filled with items that aren’t easily folded. Use your creativity to fill those spaces!

  1. Double your hanger space

Double up on the space you have available by using double rod hangers. As the name suggests, these hangers have two rods, which let you hang up more items in the same space. If you don’t want to use double rod hangers (or you want something in addition to them), consider purchasing new hangers so they all match. This can help to cut down the space that the hangers use.

  1. Remove the clutter

What don’t you wear anymore? What doesn’t fit? All these things are taking up precious space in your closet! Go through your clothes and get rid of all those that you don’t wear anymore or don’t fit. Clearing up the clutter out of your closet will not only free up space but will also give your closet an overall more organized appearance.

  1. Seal anything off-season in compact bags

This is especially helpful for your winter items, as they take up a lot of precious closet space. When you’re not using non-season appropriate clothes, compress them down in compact bags and store them away in areas with dead space, such as under your bed.

Getting Your Home Ready for Spring

10 Tips to Get Your Home Ready for Spring

With spring right around the corner, it’s time to get your house ready for the season change. Here are some things that will help you get your home ready for spring.

  1. Test smoke alarms

While this isn’t just a task for spring, it’s still important to remember to check and test your smoke alarms and CO detectors. If needed, change out the batteries. It’s quick and easy (and cheap) to do. If you don’t already have one, create a fire escape and safety plan for your family.

  1. Protect against allergens

Allergens come out in full force during the spring, so get a jump start in keeping them at bay. Declutter your home, check your pipes for leaks, and sweep up dust to keep mold, dust, and pollen away.

  1. Scrub walls, baseboards, and outlets

Winter damages your home, between the snow, rain, and melting salt. Now is the time to freshen up the walls, floors, and outlet covers to get your home shiny and clean for spring. Using a mild soap and water, scrub down the walls, baseboards, and outlet covers. Be sure that outlet covers are completely dry before replacing them.

  1. Clean faucets and showerheads

To clean faucets and showerheads, unscrew the faucet aerators, sink sprayers and showerheads. Then, let them soak in a mixture of equal parts vinegar and water solution. Let them soak for an hour before rinsing with hot water and replacing.

  1. Clean your grill

Chances are, your grill didn’t get too much use during the winter months. First things first, check the hose, specifically if you have a gas grill. Check that the hose from the propane to your burners and make sure it’s intact and clean. If there are any signs of tears, replace it! Then, use a wire brush and a damp cloth to clean off the grates. Afterward, pull out and dump the grease trap and clean it out. Finally, give it a bit of a test run before using it. Turn it on and let it burn for a few minutes. Make sure all burners are working and there are no leaks.

  1. Prep your garden

Once the snow is gone, it’s time to get your garden ready. Prune and trim any dead branches and overgrown shrubbery, obstructive plants, and weeds.

  1. Wash exterior windows

Take some Windex to your exterior windows to get them cleaned up for the spring season. If you have windows high up on your home, consider hiring a window-cleaning service to take care of the job!

  1. Repair walkways

Snow and ice can seriously damage your walkways, leading to cracks and loosened bricks and pavers. Patch any cracks you find and replace the bricks or pavers that have come loosened. If you find any stains on your walkways, rent a power washing to remove them.

  1. Clean up outdoor furniture

Your outdoor furniture has been sitting unused for a long time! Put on a fresh coat of paint and/or replace the cushions to make the furniture as good as new.

  1. Clean out gutters

If your home has trees around it, there’s a high chance that there are leaves or pine needles in your gutters. This can lead to issues with clogging when the spring rain comes, leading to the rainwater being blocked from flowing through your gutters. This clogging usually happens at the elbow of a drainage system, where the downspout connects to the gutter. But don’t worry! The elbow is easily removable. Just remove it, check and clean out the clog, and put it back.

What is the KonMari Method?

How to Organize like Marie Kondo

If you haven’t heard, there’s a new way to tidy up that’s sweeping the nation. The KonMari method, originated by Marie Kondo, is a minimalism-inspired approach to keeping a tidy home by tackling your stuff category-by-category rather than room-by-room. When following the KonMari method, there are a few basic rules for you to follow.

  1. Tidy all at once

When tidying up, we tend to go room-by-room, spanning over a long period of time. Instead, devote an entire day or weekend to tidying. Tidying only one room at a time over an extended period of time will lead to your home just getting messy again quickly.

  1. Know where you want to be

Create concrete goals instead of vague ones. Just telling yourself that you want to live in a clean home is not enough. Instead, visualize what your ideal lifestyle. (FINISH)

  1. Determine if the item “sparks joy”

Having products that you can’t stand only generates negative emotions. You don’t want to look around your house and see things that only bring negativity. While tidying, pick up each item, touch it, and ask yourself if it brings you joy. If not, set it aside to donate or get rid of. It is necessary with the KonMari method to feel each of these items and use your emotions to make the decision about whether you are going to keep the item or not.

  1. Tidy by category, not location

Not everyone keeps the same items in the same location. In fact, most people don’t! For example, you may store clothes in your closet, a dresser, and in bins under your bed. Instead of just cleaning out your closet and then moving on to other areas, take all (yes all!) of your clothing out and go through each piece to decide whether it brings joy and if you’ll still use it.

  1. Tidy in order

Marie Kondo has an ideal order in which you should tidy up. This order is:

  • Clothing
  • Books
  • Papers
  • Miscellaneous items
  • Sentimental items

This whole method is about discarding items that don’t add value to your life. The intention of the KonMari method is to end up with a clutter-free home that brings joy to your life.

Items a Moving Company Won’t Move

Six Things a Moving Company WON’T Move

Moving companies can be very helpful, especially to those who have a lot to bring to your new home. However, there are a few things that they might not be able to move.

  1. Unsealed personal care products

Any unsealed products, such as lotions, shower products, and skin care products, are a no for moving companies. If something were to spill, it runs the risk of running the entire shipment and the company doesn’t want to be on the hook for that. Instead, pack sealed personal care products in your suitcase and take it with you or, if they’re nearly empty, pitch them. New house, new personal care products!

  1. Flat-screen TVs

Not only are flat-screen TVs pricey, but they are also very fragile. This is especially true for plasma-screen TVs, which need to be kept upright to avoid any damage to the inside glass panels. If you have a flat-screen, mention it to a moving company before hiring them, so they are prepared for the job.

  1. Expensive clothes and accessories

While this isn’t necessarily something that moving companies will say no to moving, it may give you more peace of mind if you bring your expensive, unique designer clothes, formal wear, and accessories with you.

  1. Fine art

Fine art is not the most common of products to show up on an inventory list, and because of that, most standard moving companies probably won’t be able to move them. However, there are professional art shipping services that can help you. Many of these services offer white glove service and insurance.

  1. Photo and photo albums

While these aren’t particularly heavy or monetarily valuable, pictures hold a high sentimental value. They are also fragile and can get damaged easily. Additionally, once photos are ruined, it’s most likely gone for good. Many movers may decline the risk that comes with transporting photos.

  1. Special items

Special, extra-heavy items, such as pianos, pool tables, and hot tubs, may be too difficult for standard moving companies to move. Talk to potential moving companies before hiring them to figure out if they would be able to move heavier items.