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Monday, June 24, 2013

5 Tips to Sell Your House Faster!

John L. Elwell, CPA, JD

Why you may want to sell your home now: an overview.

According to the National Association of Realtors, the median home sales price in May increased 15.4% vs. a year ago. It's the biggest annual increase since 2005 plus current home prices at their highest level since July 2008. So if you've been waiting to sell, now may be the right time. 

  • Interest rates on home loans are still low enough to attract new buyers.
  • Inventories are low - especially in popular areas - with fast turnover in sales.
  • The tax break is good - you pay no tax on anything under $500,000 of gain over what you originally paid for the house.

Five Tips for selling at top price.

Get a terrific real estate agent. The #1 variable in selling quickly and for a good profit is your real estate agent. The difference between a pro and an amateur can equal more than a 20% difference in the final sales price. 

Be sure to interview at least 3 agents (5 is preferable). And do have each one tell you exactly how, where and when and they'll market. The very best agents hold multiple realtor open houses as well as weekly buyer open houses. They also develop and pay for ads in various local real estate flyers, magazines and online.

De-clutter, store and clean your house ruthlessly. Your family pictures and knick knacks may be dear to you, but they're a turn-off to buyers. They want to see clean, bright and organized spaces. So rent a POD and store your stuff before you open your doors. This also includes everything inside your cabinets, closets, garage and basement.

Make cosmetic and absolutely essential improvements. There are many inexpensive things you can do by yourself to add eye appeal and perceived value. Your real estate agent will help you determine what is essential to bring the house up to local codes and what small things you can do to will add value and get a higher price.

If your house is "vintage" (aka "old"), you may want to get a professional inspection and written evaluation. This will help you develop a "must do" list of fixes and set a price (discussed below).

Maximize curb appeal on a budget. When people drive up to visit your home, their first impression sets the tone for the entire viewing.  So it's worth some "sweat equity" to add as much eye appeal as possible. Paint the front door in a stand-out color. Fix and paint gutters. Trim shrubs to a uniform height. Plant lots of flowers of vibrant colors around the front and back. Get a new "Welcome" mat. Be sure that bold house numbers are installed and visible from the street. 

Price realistically and without emotion.  Most realtors say that the biggest reason that a house doesn't sell is that it's overpriced. Your realtor should help you price. He or she must know local market and neighborhood values ("comparables") and how your house stacks up against its competition. 

A great source of help on all things "home."

If you don't already watch HGTV on cable, you'll be pleased with all the free help you'll get on this home and garden channel. Shows like House Hunters will help you understand the kinds of things that buyers look for. Love It or List It and Property Brothers demonstrate the ins and outs of renovation. Plus the new HGTV Magazine has all kinds of articles that give you "how tos" and ideas.

Happy 4th of July from everyone at Elwell Associates!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Why I love Wendy Williams

Why I love Wendy Williams

My friends and family laugh at me because I quote Wendy Williams at least 5 times a day. I DVR all her shows, watch her daily After Show segment on my computer as a work break, and have her new book downloaded from Audible. In short, I'm all over Wendy.

Until I discovered Wendy on Dancing with The Stars and first saw her show, I'd never heard of her. I don't watch much TV. I read, even have a Master's Degree in Literature. I'm a self-made business person. (See Linkedin.) But Wendy surpasses any accomplishments I could ever dream of for myself. She's a phenomenon, totally self-made and a tour de force.

Wendy in ChicagoWhy am I so crazy about her?

Why not?

I'm sick of watching all the news. Especially the parts about politics, Congress, war, uprisings, the stock market - to name a few. It only leads to fear and worry (for me). And while once I felt that I and my vote could make a difference, I have given up on the notion. If we don't know what's really going on behind the scenes, how can we hope to change it. It's a total downer.

So after a long day at work, I happily switch on Wendy. I smile the minute I hear her voice. She looks gorgeous. She dresses beautifully. Her smile in infectious. She never complains - even when she's sick or working 24/7 (like now with the show plus a role in the Broadway play Chicago). She keeps it light and fascinating. And while I've never followed the entertainment/celebrity world before, I enjoy hearing her talk about it with passion. Wendy's incredible personality and enthusiasm make her discussion bits compelling.

As well, Wendy goes to great lengths to be "Every Woman." She relates to young and old, Moms and aunties, single and married, rich and poor. She "gets" it: women in all walks of life share very common problems (except for her crazy celebrities, of course). She is far more than the "Hot Topics" lady. She is a relevant friend who makes a day brighter and better.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Moms & Mums Rock!

Moms & Mums Are Heroes!
by Ellen Z. Elwell

In the early '90s, I began my lifelong marketing specialization: mothers. In rapid succession, my own agency became an agency-of-record for Beech-Nut Baby Food (owned by Ralston-Purina), Baby Orajel, A+D Ointment, Brainy Baby, Wonder Bread, Stonyfield Farm, Chex and Clorox brands to name a few.

Then, however, the only way to "hear" what Moms wanted and needed was focus groups and research data. The representation was small and the assumptions were high. 

Today . . .

Thanks to Social Media, marketers can get to know what moms and mums really want and need. Chat resources like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram allow any mom to make friends and influence people. And we can meet women who share our own interests - from pregnancy to cooking to losing weight to photography.

Can you imagine my amazement when I started to use Twitter? So many different conversations between moms and mums, so many different perspectives!

Revelation (to me): most mothers are insecure

I used to think I was the most insecure, inadequate mother in the world. Even though my beautiful, smart, sweet and wonderful daughter is happily married and has given me a wondrous granddaughter, I still feel that way. The combination of intense work and travel with running a household, arranging child care and school  - not to mention being a wife - was overwhelming.

Now, after following thousands of moms and mums online for several years, I feel that I was in the majority and just didn't know it. Most moms feel  we're lacking next to the "supermoms" who always look great and seem happy, who claim they have great love affairs with their husbands, have quiet little children . . . well, you get the picture.

Conversely, if you're like me, you look in the mirror and feel out of shape, stressed and tired. And every single day, wonder how and when you'll get everything - or even anything - back together. This is the real picture that I see every day on Twitter!


We have the opportunity to help each other!

About a year ago, I started following Pippa at @Story of Mum - a blogger in the United Kingdom. Her website/blog is totally amazing: it's all about mums speaking to one another - through Twitter - to understand how beautiful they are.

What's amazing is that Pippa actually gets mums to "tell" their most personal feelings, stories and photos along with projects and letters/articles on the blog to tell their own stories. Some are painful; others are uplifting. But they're all REAL. You have to visit the site to believe it. Mums actually help other mums feel better. 

You can follow Story of Mum on  Twitter, Pinterest,  Facebook and Storify. Pippa also has "Make Dates" (a UK expression) on Twitter two times a month. They are not sponsored and they're not designed to be giveaways. What they "give" is a feeling of community and support, and advice for and among mums who participate..

Until next time, I'll see you @ellenZelwell and #MomTips. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A to Z Vacation Savings Kit

Tired of hum-drum (or no) vacations? Ready to get more by spending less? Here are a wealth of resources to create a dream vacation without emptying your pocketbook!
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A to Z Vacation Savings Kit

Ellen Elwell

I love to plan a vacation - maybe even more than I love to take it! The great part about planning is that I get to "see" all kinds of fabulous places every day - right on my computer screen. But finding steals and deals to actually go to one is the biggest part of the excitement. My objective is to put together a great family getaway that's as luxurious as possible - for absolute bottom dollar.
One of the biggest reasons for not taking a vacation is "money" - lack of it, unwillingness to spend it, or just not knowing how to find great travel bargains. Here are some of my favorite ways I get the most for my travel dollar. If you have a little bit of patience, you can too!

The "Ground Rules" - Make Very Specific Vacation Choices
The best way to keep costs under control is make up-front decisions:
  1. Pick a range of travel and return dates (e.g., travel July 10, 11 or 12; and return July 17, 18 or 19).
  2. Choose at least two destinations for cross-pricing.
  3. Drive, fly or sail?
  4. Start with a maximum total budget - and then track costs of transportation, lodgings, food, admission fees against it. Add contingency funds for spending money and unexpected needs.
Helpful Free Planning Tools
Take - and keep - notes and lists using these links:
  1. Fill-in Planning Calendar - print it here.
  2. Transportation Calculator - compare costs of flying vs. driving in seconds.
  3. Blank paper and forms for notes and diary - choose and print.
  4. Pinterest - as you find locations you love, be sure to open a Pinterest account and "pin" them once label your travel pinboard. All your photos - with your comments and notes - will always be at your fingertips.
Vacation Destinations: Ideas and Tips
Season affects cost. You'll always pay less for off-season destinations. For example, ski areas are super-expensive during ski season. However, these beautiful areas
are also gr
eat for summer hiking, fishing, swimming and golf - and they're generally priced to sell. Conversely, theme parks are priced higher when kids are out of school. So to stretch your dollar, consider a "low" season destination like the Carribean, Hawaii or Florida.
All-inclusive beach resorts rock! You'll usually find fabulous deals at all-inclusive resorts.You get food, snacks, drinks, kids' camps and other entertainment - included in your room cost. You're probably familiar with Sandals, Dreams and Club Med but here are some others: "Top 10 Best Affordable All-Inclusive Resorts."
"Flash" sale sites provide daily travel ideas with photos. Sign up for daily emails from a few luxury hotel "bargain" sites. They do offer lower prices on fabulous digs. More important, however, they can help you pick a general destination . . . and then find hotel bargains near it.

Some beautiful sites for daily browsing:
Getting Reasonable Air Fare
Don't forget to plan for two destinations (as mentioned above). Your flight can easily be the biggest - and most non-negotiable - cost of a trip. So as travel pros say, "Chase the fare, not the destination." Here are some great places - with links - to start your search:
Getting the lowest fare isn't a secret. You only have watch for and "catch" fares when they dip. For example, flights may be cheaper at midnight on Tuesday vs. daytime on Thursday. Saturday may be a better day to book than Monday. Or a flight may be under=booked and need to fill seats.
Since you probably don't want to watch the computer cost tables 24/7, there are sites that will watch them for you - free. Examples: Hotwire, Hipmunk and Flight Deal and my all-time favorite site in the world, Hotwire.
I'm not a cruise person - but lots of my friends are because it's extremely affordable - especially for a family. In general, fares are lower as you get very close to departure since they have tons of rooms to fill. If you do book late, however, make sure that you do it a week before departure. It takes a bit of time to solidify trip insurance and excursions.

Pros. It's easy to pick a budget and stay within it. "Extras" generally include room upgrades, excursions and trip insurance (essential). If you're not too picky about your room's location and configuration, you get a super-cheap trip to many interesting destinations.
Cons. The ships having the lowest costs can be crowded because they hold 1000's of people. The meals and entertainment may be "mediocre" since restaurants and theaters handle masses of people (think the hearty Vegas buffets).
Good bargain sites for cruises:

Hotel Bargains

I admit that I love wonderful hotels. Until a few years ago, I traveled 40-45 weeks a year on business. This means that I spent a lot of time in hotel rooms for sleeping, working and reading. Cleanliness is the world to me, but room service was high on my "must" list. So I learned how to get fabulous prices - one way or another. I used to use my IBM employee number to frequently book a Ritz-Carlton in a major city for 1/3 the normal price. I joined a dozen hotel loyalty clubs for their upgrades. I'd tip a front desk person at check-in to get a "fabulous room". And now, with the internet, I find coupons, specials and so much more.

#1 Booking Considerations: Cleanliness and Safety
On top of being a heavy traveler, I also had Intercontinental Hotel Group as my significant client for a period of time. From them, I learned so much (more than I can share now). They have a great operation and verified my lifelong feeling that it's worth paying a little more for hotel quality.

Life Magazine's 10 Worst Hotels and Motels in America
The term "Better safe than sorry" applies to accommodations - especially in this time of crime and bedbugs (seriously!). So before you book, do check out or Google a hotel's name and location to make sure it's reliable and clean.
The Thrill of Traveling "FREE" with Loyalty Points
Last year, we went to New York City for 4 days for free - except for entertainment and meals - on points. The airline points were saved the "normal" way, with travel and credit card purchases. But the hotel nights were free - ones I received when I signed up for a Hyatt Visa credit card. This hotel chain (like most others) offers 2-4 free nights just for signing up for their Visa credit card.

To find out more about how to vacation for free on points, allocate some time to reading the MommyPoints blog. It's amazing!

Another tip: check out Award You can enter all your loyalty programs into your free online "wallet." Then this free, uncomplicated website will keep all your account numbers, passwords and point balance on one screen. (It does keep data for American Airlines and Delta - the only key exceptions.) It's worth a bit of time to check out all your loyalty accounts - even places like Sephora and smoothie shops. In 2012, there were 18 Billion unclaimed miles in the U.S.!

Don't skip your vacation because of limited funds. With a little planning, you can find a wonderful, inexpensive getaway. Drive to a city and stay free at a Hilton or Holiday Inn (see the Loyalty Points material above). Or get amazing deal on travel sites like Hotwire, Jetsetter or Shermans Travel. Once you get the hang of bargain browsing, you'll be amazed at what you can find.

As for me, I'm on the hung for a super-fabulous, super-affordable (free?) vacation in Maui! Aloha until our next blog!

Results? Comments? Please email me at I'm looking forward to hearing from you!
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