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Keeping It Real: How to Deal With Your Mental Health During a Global Health Pandemic

This blog post covers an in-depth topic of the importance of maintaining your mental health during the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). We spoke with three mental health professionals during two-episodes of our Facebook Live show – Keeping it Real: Real Estate and Real Issues for tips and resources for members of our community.

This is a REAL ISSUE we wanted to discuss with our Central PA community!

In April on our Facebook Live Show “Keeping it Real: Real Estate and Real Issues,” we felt compelled to cover a topic that has closely affected the Central Pennsylvania community as well as countless others across Pennsylvania, the nation and the world.

We hosted a two-part show where Sheena Lansannah, one of our licensed real estate agents, and myself (Erica Rawls), spoke with three mental health professionals to learn tips for families, adults and children on how to maintain their mental health during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic.

For this important topic, we spoke with:

  • Dr. Ericka Pinckney NCC, LPC/ – Associate Clinical Director – Keystone Human Services Central ID and Independent Contractor
  • Candice Coleman, M.A. HS. — Creator of The Green Couch Therapist @thegreencouchtherapist on Instagram & Facebook)
  • Matthew Wallace — Counselor at Youth and Family Alternatives, Inc., @mattymattofficial

Throughout this blog post, we’ll provide a variety of tips and information on how to manage your emotions, feelings of anxiety, children/families, working from home, and other subjects related to your mental health as we navigate the Coronavirus pandemic.

These topics include: (Click the links to jump to each section in the blog post below!)

  • Does It Help To Talk About How We Feel About the Coronavirus and What We’re Going Through?
  • What Can Parents Do To Help Children’s Feelings About Coronavirus?
  • How to Talk About the Coronavirus With Your Children – Coping Strategies & Tips
  • How to Maintain Your Mental Health as a Single Person in Quarantine
  • How to Avoid a Rut During Quarantine
  • How to Maintain Happy Thoughts
  • Resources for Adults & Teens

“Does It Help To Talk About How We Feel About the Coronavirus and What We’re Going Through?” — Yes, Absolutely!

You should absolutely talk about how you feel and it’s important to keep abreast of what’s going on, but you should do so in small doses. Don’t consume it 24/7, according to Candice.

“Yes, it’s definitely good to talk about it … but, you will need to take breaks from it, especially with all the media; constantly seeing it…it can be a trigger. Try as much as possible to take in facts and not hearsay,” Candice said.

And, Matt agrees with Candice. A lot of the anxiety around the Coronavirus is the fear of the unknown and not having all of the information, he explained. We are hearing about the deaths in the news and numbers rising, but we shouldn’t take in bad information.

“So, definitely educate yourself on what’s going on. Talk about it. Validate the experiences of those you’re in quarantine with,” Matt said.

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How to Talk About the Coronavirus With Your Children – Coping Strategies & Tips

You have to acknowledge their feelings—whether they’re upset or frustrated.

As our discussion evolved, Dr. Ericka Pinckney (Dr. Ericka P. from now on), reminded us of the importance of making our conversations about what’s happening developmentally appropriate for our children.

We watch the news and hear the technical terms and names like COVID-19, but, as adults, we need to help our younger ones understand what’s going on — and at their level of understanding.

Children — everyone from infants to college students — are being affected by the pandemic in a dramatic way. Happy moments, like birthdays, high school and college graduations, are now uncertain moments.

As parents, you may wonder if you should even talk about it with them. You have to acknowledge their feelings, whether they’re upset or frustrated, according to Dr. Ericka P.

“And … It’s also important for you to remain calm when explaining it to them so they can take on that sense of calmness in the household and not panic. … because there is a lot to panic about right now, but it’s important to, like we said earlier, to get information and give information to alleviate some of the stress of the unknown,” Matt added.

Everything is changing and this is something that is unprecedented. It’s never happened before, at least not in my lifetime, and especially working as a real estate agent, where we’ve also had to adjust how we conduct our operations during COVID-19.

What Can Parents Do To Help Children’s Feelings About Coronavirus?

  • Take control of what you can control
  • Teach them about the importance of germs & cleaning
  • Talk with your child(ren) about their feelings & the facts on Coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • Maintain a daily/schedule (get up at a regular time, eat breakfast, get dressed, etc)
  • Limit the amount of social media
  • Create games to help them express their feelings (Pinterest boards, emotional charades, vision boards, etc

With the ongoing pandemic, there are many things out of our control right now, and one of the most important things we can do is focus on the things that remain within our control, especially when it comes to our children because they look up to us.

According to Matt, it helps if you try to remain calm about the situation. You can’t control whether you catch the virus, necessarily, but you can control your ability to teach your children about germs and the importance of cleaning. You also can control how well you listen to them and let them express their feelings.

“One thing we have talked about with our 5-year-old [is] this is like a sick day, or a mommy, daddy, and son day – because he doesn’t really understand why he can’t necessarily see his friends,” Sheena said.

While we want to help our children understand what’s going on, it’s vital we take the time to explain what really is happening and provide them with factual information, Candice added. If they ask questions, even to things you don’t know, it’s okay to go and do more research to get the correct information, she said.

As Dr. Ericka P explained, you can think of the changes our children are currently going through like a disruption to our biological clocks right after we come back from summer break or a long vacation. Right now, our daily structure has been totally disrupted, therefore it’s on us, the adults, to recreate that structure, she said.

While there are people who may argue this could be viewed as an extended vacation for the children and may want to allow them to sleep in, we can see some problems that might cause, Dr. Ericka P said.

It’s more beneficial for you to maintain a schedule—like going to bed and getting up at a decent time, brushing your teeth, eating breakfast, etc—even though you can’t leave the home. You want to maintain an environment conducive to learning, according to Dr. Ericka P.

“Should I Consider Taking a Break from Social Media?”

Social media can definitely play a role in how you’re coping with the Coronavirus pandemic while under stay-at-home quarantine orders.

We all need a break sometimes and that requires taking a step back. Social media is just another opportunity for everyone to compare their lives, and people can get into jealous states for different reasons.

For example, there are many people quarantined with their family and/or loved ones, while others may be quarantined solo or in domestic abuse situations.

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How to Maintain Your Mental Health as a Single Person in Quarantine

  • Connect with people via virtual conferencing platforms like Zoom, Skype, etc
  • Attend a virtual club/dance party (Check out DNICE – Celebrity Instagram DJ @DNice)
  • Pick up your phone — make stronger social connections
  • Schedule virtual happy/hours with friends/family
  • Listen to a new podcast

As real estate agents, we still regularly speak with our clients and single people we’re working with—people who are alone while in quarantine. We asked our experts for tips on things they can do to maintain their mental health and avoid loneliness during the stay-at-home orders of the pandemic.

Suggestions our panelists shared focused on how to stay connected with others despite the lack of their physical presence. The tips include:

  • Using Zoom, Skype or another online virtual conferencing software or phone app to talk with others
  • Attending a virtual club/dance party on Instagram or Facebook – There’s a celebrity DJ on Instagram named @DNice you should check out!
  • Calling— instead of texting—to make stronger social connections over the phone
  • Scheduling virtual happy/hours with friends/family using the HouseParty App
  • Listening to podcasts based on your interests

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How to Avoid a Rut During Quarantine: 3 Tips for Adults & Families

  • Do an activity you normally don’t do (Bake/cook together, play games)
  • Create structured days and theme nights (Keep a routine—Get up & dressed!)
  • Don’t book Zoom (work) calls back-to-back (If you can control it)

If you seem to be doing the same thing every day and you feel like you’re in a rut because you’re working from home, or unexpectedly unemployed, and have children and/or pets, Candice recommends sneaking in some form of self-care every day, like a facial or quality time with a significant other.

“Whenever I find myself getting into a rut, you know, that’s a sign that, I, I may be burning out and may need to take a step back, [and] do something for me,” Matt said. “I think at this time, it’s important to get creative.”

Our panelists collectively shared the following tips for families to shake up their routine.

Tip #1 — Do an activity you normally don’t do (bake/cook together, play games)

Since we are now at home, plan an activity that you normally don’t have time to do. Bake your favorite recipes, have a family game night and rotate games, or create scrapbooks from old family photos!

Tip #2 — Create structured days and themed nights: Keep a routine—Get up & dressed!

One way to keep the flow of your household, especially from an educational standpoint, is keeping a routine with structured days and themed nights. Parents should model the routine for children to keep, like getting up, getting dressed, eating breakfast, and doing work (or school work/ an enrichment activity).

Then, you can create themed nights, like dress up, poker, or movie night, or another creative option you can think of since our choices of going outside are limited.

Tip #3 — Don’t book Zoom (work) Calls Back-to-Back (If possible)

If you are in control of scheduling your day while working from home, don’t book your calls back-to-back. Give yourself a break in-between.

Remember your phone still works, so every call doesn’t need to be a Zoom meeting or video conference.

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How to Maintain Happy Thoughts During the Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19)

  • Acknowledge your feelings and realize it’s okay to have them
  • Squeeze a stress ball
  • Do something else for a few seconds to take your mind off the negative thought
  • Focus on the things within your control

Maintaining your mental health during a global health pandemic can be difficult, especially when so many people around you are telling you to think positively, or be creative and start a new business.

However, that is not as easy as it seems for some people, and at times, negative thoughts can take over.

According to Sheena, coming home after leaving our Next Home Realty Office or going out for work-related activities used to be her place of peace, but now, since being at home all the time—home doesn’t feel as peaceful.

As our discussion on mental health evolved, we asked our panelists to discuss ways we can maintain happy thoughts when unpleasant ones come over us. Some suggestions they offered include:

Acknowledging your thoughts and realizing it’s okay to have them
Squeezing a stress ball or another form of a brief, physical release
Doing something else for a few seconds to take your mind off your negative thought
Focusing on the things you can control within your life

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Resources for Adults & Teens To Help With Your Mental Health During The Pandemic

We are blessed to have three mental health professionals join us for an important discussion on how to maintain your mental health during the Coronavirus — or any — global health pandemic during our Keeping it Real: Facebook Live show.

We asked them for information on resources for adults, teens, and children for things to do while staying at home in quarantine during the pandemic.

Check out our list curated by our experts!

Mobile Apps & Podcasts

  • Calm App – For meditation and mindful exercises
  • House Party App – For hosting virtual house parties
  • Brown Ambition (podcast) – Discussing mental health and financial planning
  • Therapy for Black Girls – (podcast) – Discussing all things mental health, personal development, how to make little decisions that allow us to become the best versions of ourselves.

Crisis & Mental Health Hotlines

  • HOME (Crisis Text Line): Text 741741
  • Call NAMI Helpline: 1-800-950-6264 Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m., ET, or by email at info@nami.org
  • Call Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 or Text VA Responder: 838255: Free and confidential support for Veterans and their families and friends during a crisis

Virtual Crisis Counseling. You can speak with a counselor online.

Virtual Museum Tours & Zoos

Virtual Activities & Things to Do at Home Resources

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4 Strategies to Get Help Advance Your Career In Corporate America as a Black Woman

The Erica Rawls Team is “Keeping it Real” with Kristin Harper, Founder & CEO of Driven to Success LLC

On our Facebook Live show, Keeping It Real: Real Estate and Real Issues, we cover a variety of topics desired by our social media audience.

Since our Facebook audience is largely composed of Black women, for our latest live video, we felt we should provide an in depth conversation to discuss what it’s like working as an Black woman in corporate America.

We sat down, virtually of course, with Kristin Harper, entrepreneur, Founder and CEO of Driven to Succeed LLC to learn valuable strategies that all women, but black women in particular, can apply to help them as they navigate their future corporate or entrepreneurial business careers.

Kristin previously held positions as Marketing Director for the Hershey Company on the Hershey’s KISSES Brand, and as a global vice president of marketing for Cardinal Health.

Black Women in the Workplace – Do the Same Rules Apply?

As a black woman are we held to the same standards as our counterparts in the workplace?”

“No, not as much grace is extended toward us,” according to Kristin.

Some people may say it’s personal or there’s a vendetta/conspiracy to keep black women down. However, it’s important to note that this isn’t necessarily done on purpose or due to negativity, Kristin explained.

Part of it is human nature: when people are similar to you, you gravitate toward them, extend more grace, and think more positively and optimistic about them, she said.

As such, over the years of working in three different Fortune 500 companies and working her way up and through various departments, Kristin has learned several lessons along the way about how to make the most of your work experience to help you move up and achieve your goals.

Read below for Kristin’s top tips for how to advance your career in corporate America, or watch our show.

1. Build Relationships Based on Who You Are as a Person and Not Your Identity

“You are more human than you are anything else,” Kristin said.

We asked Kristin if she could teach a younger version of herself how to prepare for the challenges she had to overcome along the way in her career journey, what would she change.

Kristin shared a story with us instead.

Kristin worked for a company for nearly eight years and was preparing to leave for another position. Before she left, she had a going away party where she received a card from her peers. Instead of reading comments about the contributions she’s made in her position over the years, the majority of the comments she received focused on her changing hair styles.

As black women, we change our hair often as it can be seen as an artistic expression to us; we cut it, wear it curly or straight, short or long, and even bald.

I know I change my hair every season, and I appreciate when others notice as it’s a way to start a conversation.

However, as Kristin shared with us, the comments she received didn’t sit well with her. After eight years, her peers recalled her different hairstyles instead of her contributions, achievements, or anything related to her job performance over the years, she said.

After leaving that position and moving to a new city, Kristin told us she started wearing more conservative hairstyles because she didn’t want the subject of the conversation to be about her hair.

“It was a personal choice. I didn’t want to spend energy talking about [my] hair,” Kristin said.

She didn’t switch up her hairstyles because she was ashamed to be black or talk about her hair. Kristin explained she simply didn’t want it to be the subject of the hallway conversation.

After attending a life-changing self development workshop, she realized, “I am more human than I am Black, woman, or any label or identity you can attach to me.”

We’ve learned from Kristin’s example that it’s okay to make choices about your physical appearance or how you carry yourself so you put the emphasis on who you are and not on solely how you identify yourself when it comes to a professional working environment.

2. Expand Your Network Beyond African Americans

Diversity is key, even within the black community there is a lot of diversity, we are not a monolithic people, Kristin explained.

When you’re involved with black-based organizations, you are in a safe zone, like family, but they can’t be the only people you associate with, especially if your gal is to advance your career.

The world is more than the 15% black population in the United States — and the world is bigger than the United States.

3. At Every Level You Have To Learn Something New

Over the years as Kristin moved up across various marketing departments at the companies she worked with, she discovered that to move up she had to continue to do and learn more.

When you’re an individual contributor, it’s all about being responsible, but as you climb that corporate ladder it’s all about what leadership role you’re in and the broader organization, Kristin explained.

“When you become a leader of people — and yes, there’s a difference between leader and manager — it’s less about what you deliver individually and more about whether you have the right talent on the team. If not, are you getting the right people and helping those who need to shift make that move with dignity? Do you have a clear strategy, a compelling vision? Are you delivering results? Do you have methods to show accountability?” she said.

These are all examples of things Kristin learned at each level.

4. Be Clear About What You Want — “You Are the Architect for Your Career”

You can’t expect your manager, or anyone, to advocate for you if you’re not clear about what it is you’re great at, based on feedback and your own personal assessment, and where you want to go.

“Set your vision and make it clear with your manager who has to be your number one advocate,” Kristin said.

Many people often think of their manager as their enemy. If people get stuck on having an adversarial relationship with their managers, they’ll never get the results they desire, Kristin explained.

“How Do You Approach Asking About Wages Without Coming Off Angry or Ungrateful?”

For people who don’t feel like they’re being compensated what they’re worth, or who feel they deserve a raise in compensation based on their contributions, many have difficulty figuring out how to properly ask for a wage increase.

According to Kristin, it’s a balance of expressing gratitude. It’s not going in there and saying, “This is what I deserve and you better increase it or I’m out!”

You have to know how the system is designed. Oftentimes, there are salary ranges for your position based on levels: median (middle), mean (average), and a high and low range. Knowing these ranges can help you better determine where you currently fall and provide comparison ranges.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook provides statistics on job salaries, projections and much more. You can also talk with job recruiters in your field to get a feel of the current landscape and inquire about salaries based on skill set, industry knowledge, etc.

Asking for a wage increase is beneficial for two reasons:

  1. If you want to go to another organization, in order for the organization to attract you they have to come with a better package than what you currently have.
  2. If you stay with your current organization, you’ll maybe earn 2%-3% more each year, which means loyalty doesn’t always pay.

If you find through research that your salary is not at the end of the scale you think you should be, you can bring the data to your manager to help make your case.

If you apply to other places and receive an offer, you can leverage that in your negotiations.

Be cautious when leveraging another offer to try to gain your wage increase as it may not go in your favor — you should be prepared and willing to walk away!

How to Contact Kristin Harper & Find Her New Book on Career Advice

Book C

In July 2020, Kristin Harper will be releasing her new book “The Heart of a Leader: 52 Emotional Intelligence Insights to Advance Your Career.”

The book is 52 short, powerful and easily digestible bites of advice based on Kristin’s over 30 years of leadership experience.

She covers topics including leadership, personal branding, leading and influencing others, organizational politics and insights she learned early that helped her climb the corporate ladder.

To preorder her book visit, www.driventosucceedllc.com/books, or to inquire about keynote speaking or executive coaching, contact her at Kristin@DriventoSucceedLLC.com.

3 Ways to Make Your House Sellable for Potential Buyers

3 Ways to Make Your House Sellable for Potential Buyers

We meet with a number of sellers on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, and one common feeling we’ve gathered from partnering with homeowners is selling a home can be a stressful process.

If you’re a homeowner who is looking to move and you ever thought “I don’t know how I’m going to sell my house.”

Trust us. You’re not alone.

We understand the thought of packing up your entire life and moving it somewhere else can feel overwhelming — especially when you never sold a home before and don’t know where to begin.

The Erica Rawls Team is here to help!

We sat down with our project manager Robbi Guthrie, who is also an interior designer and owner of Mika Interior Designs, to learn the three things homeowners must do before placing their house on the market.

If you have ever worked with us before, you may have seen Robbi collaborating with us in one of our seller’s consultations.

Robbi understands what makes a house harder to sell and the things homeowners can do to make their house appealing to potential buyers. She spoke with us to share tips for sellers to help get their houses off the market.

In our post, we’ll share Robbi’s advice and explain the following three things you must do before selling a home and why they’re important:

  1. Get a Pre-Listing Home Inspection Before Listing Your Property
  2. Make Repairs and/ or Upgrades (That You Can Afford!)
  3. Declutter/Depersonalize Your Home For Showings

Before we get into the tips, we first want to help our sellers to understand…

The Most Important Thing to Consider When Selling Your House Is … Your Potential Buyers

It’s important to make buying a home a seamless process for potential buyers, according to Robbi.

“You want them to come into the space and feel comfortable and confident, and you want them to feel like, you know, this could be home,” Robbi said.

Aside from aesthetics, your potential buyers will consider the price and convenience of owning your home, so as a seller you want to make sure buyers are confident in your property.

This leads us to the first thing we advise you to do before selling your home…

1. Get A Pre-Listing Home Inspection Before Listing Your Property

Getting a pre-listing home inspection can give your home a clean bill of health when you put it up for sale — and a clean bill of health will give you leverage, even in a competing market.

You want to confidently say to your buyer: “I’m giving you a certified home that’s inspected so we know there are no issues with the HVAC system or roof.”

As realtors, we often recommend buyers get an inspection on a new home they’re interested in so they have an understanding of it structurally and mechanically as well.

If you know your buyer is going to get their own inspection, wouldn’t you want to be sure your home will pass?

As Robbi explained, if there’s a leaking faucet, your potential buyer may take a closer look at other things and scrutinize the entire property.

“And you know, that could make a buyer go and look at other properties, where otherwise, they would have stayed and made an offer,” she said.

For example, Jameel Poteat, a realtor and buyer specialist on our team, saw first-hand what can happen when we take clients to view a home and the sellers did not get a pre-listing inspection.

Jameel’s clients were the first to tour a new home on the market, and they loved it!

However, the clients noticed one thing wrong with the home and it happened to be a deal-breaker for them — they no longer were interested.

If the sellers would have obtained a pre-listing home inspection, they could have fixed the issue before the buyers even knew it existed and sold their home.

The benefits of getting a pre-listing home inspection will easily outweigh the costs.

Once you have the inspection completed, you can move to the next step. Which is…

2. Make Repairs And/Or Upgrades to Your Kitchen, Bathroom, or Roof (That You Can Afford!)

One of the benefits of a pre-listing home inspection is learning what repairs are needed, and determining if there are any upgrades you can do to make the house more attractive to buyers.

We highly recommend making any repairs you can, especially things like the roof – no matter the cost – because you’ll get it back in return.

If you know you need to replace your roof, it’s better to do it before the buyer learns about it from their home inspection report.

If you don’t make repairs you should be prepared for a buyer to ask for a deduction on the home. For example, if it would cost you $50 to fix a leaking faucet and you don’t, a buyer may ask for $1,000 off the home’s listing price.

Is There Anything In The Home Not Worth Fixing Before Selling Your House?

It depends.

We know everyone can’t afford to make all the major repairs their home may need before selling it, so we suggest putting a small fund together and asking your realtor what is the most important thing or things to focus on.

Is It Worth Making Upgrades to Your Home?

Yes, if you can do it!

When it comes to determining what price to sell your home, upgrades can make a significant impact.

According to Robbi, if you want to get a little more for your home than where it’s sitting now, you should invest in the following high-value upgrades that buyer’s love, which include:

  • The kitchen
  • The bathroom
  • The roof

If the spaces have been recently upgraded or you can’t afford to repair anything that’s not required, there are other things you can tweak that will make a difference to potential buyers.

Think about the last time your carpet was replaced. Was it over five years ago? Consider replacing it.

Have pets? You never know what unpleasant smell could linger in the house, and because you’ve lived in your home for so long, you could be immune to it. Ask a friend what they smell when they first walk into your house.

After your home is inspected and you’ve made your necessary repairs and desired upgrades, you’re ready to begin showing your home to potential buyers. Before you do, Robbi highly recommends you…

3. Declutter / Depersonalize Your Home Before Showings

Once you know for sure you want to put your home on the market, you must begin to look at it from the eyes of the buyer, Robbi explained.

In today’s society, the first time your potential buyer may see your home is via pictures from an online listing. You want to allow the person to see themselves in the space, which means you need to have less of YOU in the space, Robbi said.

This means removing family photos and other personal items or painting bright or bold colored rooms and accent walls to neutral tones. Just because you love your red accent all doesn’t mean your potential buyer will.

This can be hard because your home can have sentimental value for several reasons:

  • You lived there for 10-15+years
  • You raised children or grandchildren there
  • You purchased the home single and now you’re selling it to get married
  • You love your first family home but you’ve outgrown it and need a bigger one

Despite all of the reasons you may be attached to your time, it’s time to depersonalize it for potential buyers, especially when it’s time to stage your house for showings.

Do Homes Sell Better Furnished or Unfurnished?

Furnished — every time.

As realtors who also work with buyers, we know they want to be emotionally tied to the house they’re looking to make their new home. Furniture plays a huge role in that.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR)’s 2019 Profile on Home Staging, when staging a home:

  • 83% of buyers’ agents said it made it easier for a buyer to visualize the property as a future home.
  • 28% of sellers’ agents stated saw staged home on the market for slightly shorter times
  • 22 % of sellers’ agents reported an increase of 1% – 5% of the dollar value offered by buyers, in comparison to similar homes.
  • 17% of respondents stated that staging a home increased the dollar value of the home between 6% and 10%.

Bottom line – furnished homes sell faster and for slightly higher prices than unfurnished homes.

However, there’s a difference between staging a furnished home and keeping everything in your house as-is for showings.

And that’s where Robbi’s role as an interior designer/project manager comes in.

“My job is to quietly and strategically tug at the heartstrings of the potential buyer,” Robbi said.

When staging is well done, you can walk into a room and it has an essence to it. A furnished home goes a long way to making a space feel comfortable.

Erica Rawls Team image

Contact The Erica Rawls Team – Let Us Help You Sell Your Home Today!

Doing the right things in the right order when you place your house on the market will help you sell your house in the timeframe you need.

Are you preparing to sell your home and need some assistance learning what you should be doing in the process?

Let us help you!

If you’re not sure what things need to be improved in your home, contact The Erica Rawls Team!

Complete our online form or call us at 717.500.2116 today!

To learn more about Robbi’s interior design services visit www.mikainteriordesign.com.

Why You Should Get Pre-Approved Before Looking for a Home

Why You Should Get Pre-Approved Before Looking for a Home

& How to Get Comfortable Talking to Mortgage Lenders

If you’re considering buying a home, you may wonder whether you should get pre-approved for a mortgage before you start looking for one.

While it’s common to look at homes before securing financing, you receive several benefits when you get pre-approved for a mortgage prior to shopping for your new home.

Finances are often one of the biggest hurdles for first-time homebuyers, and the thought of disclosing bank statements, credit scores, tax records and other financial information with mortgage lenders can be intimidating.

The Erica Rawls Team believes our home buyers are placed in the strongest position when they get pre-approved for a mortgage prior to shopping, especially when they know they may expect some issues to arise during the process.

So, to help potential homeowners become more comfortable talking with mortgage lenders about their finances, the Erica Rawls Team sat down with Angie Shaw, branch manager and loan originator at Fidelis Mortgage, to learn:

  • Why first-time homebuyers are hesitant to talk to lenders about their finances
  • Why so much paperwork is needed when getting a mortgage
  • Why mortgage lenders request bank statements & what they look for in them
  • Who underwriters are and what happens during the underwriting process
  • & much more!

So, Let’s Get Comfortable Getting Uncomfortable With Mortgage Lenders About Finances

As a first-time homebuyer, you may be nervous at the thought of sitting in front of a lender and having your credit score pulled, especially when it can determine your eligibility for something you really want — like a house.

Your credit score is one of the most important factors that will come into play when buying a home.

According to Angie, first-time homebuyers are hesitant to reveal their credit score to mortgage lenders for several reasons, such as:

  • They are nervous or insecure about what their credit score looks like
  • They are not monitoring their credit score
  • They have never pulled their credit score and they have no idea what it is

“Pulling your credit score is the first step to determining what we can do for you, and what kind of programs you qualify for,” Angie said.

There may be programs you qualify for and lenders can find that out upfront. You could think you owe a certain amount for your closing costs, but because a lender has collected your documentation, they might uncover that you qualify for some grant money, she explained.

Even if you attempt to obtain pre-approval for a mortgage and you are denied because of your score, or other factors, you can still obtain a house with a plan in place, our Realtor/Buyer Specialist, Sheena Lansanah, explained.

As real estate advisors, we want future home buyers to know you can talk to a lender without making a commitment on a home. You may know you want to buy a home, but you don’t have a plan for getting it, so it’s perfectly fine to talk to a lender before contacting a realtor. When you meet with the lender, you can simply have a conversation to learn what you can get pre-approved for.

If you don’t receive pre-approval at that time, it doesn’t mean it’s a “no” forever. Lenders can put you on a program to help you get to the point where your score is in a good place, Angie explained.

Why Is So Much Paperwork Required to Buy a House?

The amount of paperwork needed to purchase a home may seem daunting to you, but it’s necessary because of fraud.

People across the country — even if it’s only a small minority — try to create fake documents for others or themselves, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and conventional underwriters are all under pressure to prove the information home buyers provide in their application is accurate, Angie said.

To cut down on paperwork, some lenders have docless options where you allow them to verify your information electronically by signing into your bank account.

For many, this method may feel like an invasion of privacy, but it’s not. You’re only signing in to authorize the bank to provide the lender with the information they need. You’re not giving out your username or password.

To get pre-approved for a mortgage, if you receive a regular W-2, you can expect to submit the following documents

  • W-2’s for the last few years
  • 1-2 months of recent pay stubs
  • Bank statements for the last 2 months
  • Tax returns for the last 1-2 years

If you pay or receive child support, have a divorce decree, or already own a home, additional documentation will be required.

“The reason why we want that information upfront is so that we can give you the most accurate pre-approval and put you in a program that best suits your lifestyle and your family’s needs,” Angie said.

Consider this analogy.

When you go to your doctor to receive a medical diagnosis, you have to provide your complete medical history, get exams — some that may be uncomfortable, even awkward — and fill out several pages of paperwork. You do all of this so your doctor can provide you with a complete and accurate diagnosis.

As our realtor Sheena put it, “When we know every piece of the puzzle we can definitely advise you in the best way possible. Once you know where you are, you know where you are going —”

“ — and that empowers you,” Angie added.

If you want to go house shopping with the Erica Rawls Team we believe in talking with a lender first because we truly believe in being properly prepared when purchasing a home.

Could you imagine going house shopping and falling in love with a home only to find out you can’t make an offer on it ? — for whatever reason.

That’s more disappointing than giving up all of your tax and financial information.

One of our responsibilities as realtors is to guide you properly to ensure you have all the tools necessary to make the best investments and decisions — whether it’s the money or the pre-approval you have — so you know everything before making that huge decision.

“Giving that paperwork and documentation upfront can really avoid heartbreak and at pain at the end,” Angie said. “The reason why we ask for a comprehensive list is so that we prepare your life, uncover anything we may not have talked about initially so that you’re not two weeks before settlement and we find out there’s an old tax lien somewhere in another county or state, and it never came up in our search.”

“We’re not judging how much you spend a month, if you go to Starbucks every day, or if you go out to eat every night. We don’t care about that,” she said.

What’s Involved in the Home Mortgage Underwriting Process?

When going into the home mortgage pre-approval process as a first-time homebuyer, you may experience fear of the unknown, particularly when it comes to not understanding what happens in the underwriting process.

You also want to know the personal and financial information you provided ends up in the right hands and remains secure.

We can tell you, as a loan originator, Angie is required to be licensed to take all of your personal information, pull your credit, and determine what program you qualify for in order to structure the mortgage from there. Then, your information is sent to a processor who examines the supporting documents, that were previously reviewed, before submitting them to an underwriter.

The underwriter has designations through HUD, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, VA, USDA, or the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that allows them to underwrite a certain type of loan, like an FHA mortgage loan.

In the home buying process, an underwriter’s role is to audit your documents to determine you have the ability to pay back the mortgage

Underwriters follow processes to make sure the mortgage meets their underwriting guidelines for their designation, whether it’s for HUD, FHA or conventional. They run programs behind the scenes to check if there’s anything odd out there that wasn’t disclosed — not purposely, but we are going over a lot of information upfront and there are times clients forget about past obligations thinking they have been resolved, Angie explained.

The underwriter is the final decision maker, and signs your loan documents — and they are also the ones on the hook if your loan goes bad, too!

So, What Do Underwriters Look for In Your Bank Statements?

According to Angie, when reviewing your bank statements, underwriter’s look for the following potential red flags:

  • Large Deposits: If you have a side business and often make large cash deposits, underwriters will ask where the money came from. They want to be sure all funds must be sourced and accounted for when using the money to get a mortgage.
  • Changing Jobs More Than 3 Times in One Year: If you start a new job every three months that’s considered a red flag because it can make you look inconsistent. This, however, does not apply to freelancers or individuals who are self-employed. If you fall into one of those categories, your income is calculated differently. It’s important for freelancers and entrepreneurs to show they are making money along with two years of their tax returns.
  • Inaccurate or Inconsistent Information: Because they are auditing your financings and ability to pay back the mortgage, they need to verify the information submitted in your application is accurate and aligns with your bank statements.

Should You Get Pre-Approval For a Mortgage Before Looking For a House? Yes, It Benefits You!

When you get pre-approved for a mortgage before you start looking for a home, you can look securely knowing that if you write an offer you will go to the closing table.

And, if you’re not approved right away that’s okay! We will work with you to get you there.

“What’s great about Erica’s team is that I’ve been with them where we worked [with clients] for a year. We do not mind putting in the time. If we give you a plan and you’re sticking to it, they will stick with you and they will be there at the end when you finish the plan,” Angie said.

Are You Looking for A House Nearby? Contact The Erica Rawls Team Today!

If you’re ready to take the next steps to purchase your new home, complete our online form or give us a call at 717.409.6500 to contact the Erica Rawls Team online today!

The #1 Reason to Sell Your House in the Winter

The #1 Reason to Sell Your House in the Winter

Many sellers believe spring is the best time to put their homes on the market because buyer demand traditionally increases at that time of year. What they don’t realize is if every homeowner believes the same thing, then that’s when they’ll have the most competition.

So, what’s the #1 reason to sell your house in the winter? Less competition.

Housing supply traditionally shrinks at this time of year, so the choices buyers have will be limited. The chart below was created using the months supply of listings from the National Association of Realtors.The #1 Reason to List Your House in the Winter | Simplifying The MarketAs you can see, the ‘sweet spot’ to list your house for the most exposure naturally occurs in the late fall and winter months (November – January). 

Temperatures aren’t the only thing that heats up in the spring – so do listings!The #1 Reason to List Your House in the Winter | Simplifying The MarketIn 2018, the number of homes on the market increased from December to May. Don’t wait for these listings and the competition that comes with them to come to the market before you decide to sell your house.

Added Bonus: Serious Buyers Are Out in the Winter

At this time of year, purchasers who are serious about buying a home will be in the marketplace. You and your family will not be bothered and inconvenienced by mere ‘lookers.’ The lookers are at the mall or online doing their holiday shopping.

 Bottom Line

If you’ve been debating whether or not to sell your house and are curious about market conditions in your area, let’s get together to determine the best time to place your house on the market.

4 Keys to Buying a Home in Today’s Market

4 Keys to Buying a Home in Today’s Market

After a few months of thinking it over, you’ve finally made the decision to purchase your first home.

You picture the process to be fairly simple: find a realtor, tour a few homes until you find your dream home, obtain a mortgage, and then you have your new home,right?

Not exactly.

You meet with your realtor and view a few homes, but the houses you see don’t match up to what you imagined your forever home for your family would be. 

Because you’re ready to buy your first home, you feel annoyed and frustrated at the process. Then, it happens. Your realtor shows you a house for sale that meets all your requirements, but it has several competing offers. 

Your realtor says you need to be ready to make an offer to the seller soon so you don’t lose the property, and to have the best chance you should not ask for a seller assist.

Reality sets in, and you quickly realize you are nowhere near as ready to purchase a home as you initially thought, especially from a financial standpoint. 

It’s not uncommon for first-time home buyers to reconsider once they realize they may have to compete for a home and don’t fully understand what financial considerations are taken into account at that point in the home buying process. 

Fortunately for you, Erica Rawls Real Estate Advisors know buying a home can be complicated, and our job is to make it as simple as possible for you. 

To help first-time home buyers and others who are looking for a new home, we’ve shared four key things you need to know before buying a new home in today’s market. 

1. Save As Much Money As You Can Toward The Total Purchase Price

That’s right. The most important thing to do you can do when buying a home is saving money.

You may be afraid of not knowing exactly how much money it will cost to buy your new home, but if you have enough saved toward it, when the time comes, you will have a better chance at getting your home.

Here’s Our Tip: Have at least 7 % of the total purchase price saved. This amount includes the down payment, closing costs, and may not may not include money for future repairs and furniture.

Now, you may be thinking how much money is that? Let’s break it down with this example.

Let’s say the home you want costs $100,000, and you have to put a 5% down payment toward the cost, which would be $5,000.

You also need to plan for closing fees, which you can expect to pay, on average, 3% of your home’s purchase price, so that would be $3,000. Then, you know you want to have $3,500 saved for future repairs and furniture.

In this case, you’d ideally want to have $11,500 saved at a minimum ($5,000 + $3,000 + $3,500) to include the down payment, closing costs and repairs/furniture. 

You would only need about $7,000-$8,000 if you want to save 7% without factoring in future repairs or furniture.

If you’re in a competing offer for a home you don’t want to be in a position to ask for seller assistance, which can risk your chance of getting the house. 

Here’s a real-life scenario where having enough money saved benefited the potential buyer in a competing offer.

Our team worked with a millennial who saved $20,000 toward their dream home,which was between $130,000 – $150,000. When the millennial found out there was a competing offer, they told the seller they could make a $10,000 earnest money non-refundable deposit with no seller assistance — the millennial won the offer!

The amount of money you save is going to make or break you in today’s market, so save as much as you possibly can.

You may be thinking, I already have so many other bills and obligations, how can I begin to save for a home?

Don’t get discouraged.  Here are a few tips to help you with saving for your dream home 

  • Tip 1: Don’t make any large purchases, including furniture, until AFTER closing! Keep your focus on the down payment and closing costs.
  • Tip 2: Save a portion of money from your tax return! The beginning of the year is a great time to start a new savings plan. Jump-start your savings using your refund.
  • Tip 3: Find a program that will help you pay for your closing costs. There are even some programs will pay up to 100% of the costs!

2 . Understand Your Credit Score And/Or Work Toward Improving It

Aside from saving money toward the down payment and closing costs, your credit score is another important factor that you need to consider when purchasing a home in today’s market. 

If you know the importance of having a good credit score to buy a car, then you understand how imperative a good credit score will be for buying a new home. 

The higher your credit score is, the less risky you will appear to the lender. You will also have a lower interest rate on your mortgage over the life of the loan, which saves you money long-term. 

You may be wondering, “What credit score do I need to buy a home?”

Here’s Our Tip: Reach for a minimum of a 740 middle credit score across all three credit bureaus so you will have the most favorable terms available to you.

It’s possible to purchase a home with a credit score lower than 740, such as a 640 or 680, but you will pay at least one percentage point higher in interest, which is a significant amount of money over the life of a loan. 

There are some programs that may allow you to purchase a home with a score of 580 — we do not recommend going this route!

We want you to be financially successful when it comes to purchasing a home so you become a successful homeowner. 

If you’re credit score is not where you’d like it to be, work on ways to improve your score before you enter the home buying process. 

“What if I can make a big down payment? Does my credit score matter then?”

Your credit score doesn’t matter if you pay in cash. Otherwise, yes, it’s still a factor, even with a large down payment. 

If you make a larger down payment it will not fix a poor credit score. The down payment will only reduce the amount of the loan you will need. 

For example, the house you want is $250,000 and you qualify for a $150,000 mortgage. You can still get the home if you have $100,000 in cash to pay it off. 

3. Have and Maintain a Steady Job For At Least 2 Years

One thing lenders review when considering whether to grant you a mortgage is whether or not you have a steady income. 

Lenders like to see at least two years of employment when they’re considering you for a mortgage. They will review at least two years of your tax returns — whether you receive a W-2 from an employer or work as an independent contractor. 

Here’s Our Tip: If you’re considering leaving a job, wait until AFTER closing.

Lenders understand if you’re working in a position where you’re going from one job to another in the same field that would be considered a promotion, but it still makes the closing process more difficult with additional paperwork to file. 

4. Assess Your Finances – Can You Really Afford the Monthly Mortgage Payment?

The last thing to consider when buying a home in today’s market is how much you can actually afford to pay for your mortgage each month. 

Once you’ve saved the money for your closing costs, boosted your credit score to the ideal range and established you have a steady income, you need to determine how much you can afford for your monthly mortgage payment.

Just because you qualify for a certain mortage doesn’t mean you have to take it. If you qualify for a $250,000 mortgage but know you can’t afford more than $1200/month for a mortgage payment, you may consider taking a $150,000 mortgage instead.

Here’s our tip: Create a list to determine all of your monthly bills and expenses. This can give you an idea for how much you can afford each month for your mortgage.

You know your monthly financial obligations and personal desires better than anyone else. In your list factor things such as how much you shop, spend on bills, potential vacations, children’s expenses (if applicable), etc. 

Contact Erica Rawls Real Estate Advisors Team Today!

If you’re ready to take the next steps to purchase your new home, complete our online form or give us a call at 717.409.6500 to contact the team at Erica Rawls Real Estate Advisors today!

The Cost of Renting vs. Buying a Home [INFOGRAPHIC]

The Cost of Renting vs. Buying a Home [INFOGRAPHIC] | Simplifying The Market

Some Highlights:

  • Historically, the choice between renting or buying a home has been a tough decision.
  • Looking at the percentage of income needed to rent a median-priced home today (28.4%) vs. the percentage needed to buy a median-priced home (17.5%), the choice becomes obvious.
  • Every market is different. Before you renew your lease again, find out if you can put your housing costs to work by buying this year!
Wage Increases Make Home Buying More Affordable

Wage Increases Make Home Buying More Affordable

Everyone knows that housing affordability has been negatively impacted by rising prices and increasing mortgage rates, but there is another piece to the affordability equation – wages.

How much a family earns obviously impacts how easy or difficult it is for them to afford to own a home. Because of an improving economy, wages are finally beginning to increase – and that dramatically affects home affordability.

According to the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) September 2018 Housing Affordability Index,wages have increased in every region of the country:

Wage Increases Make Home Buying More Affordable | Simplifying The Market

After applying current salaries, home prices, and mortgage rates to their Home Affordability Index equation, the index, though still lower than this time last year (160.1 to 146.7), increased over the last month (141.2 to 146.7). For the complete methodology used by NAR, click here.

The percentage of income needed to own a home has also decreased each of the last three months. It currently sits at 17% which is substantially lower than historic numbers.

Wage Increases Make Home Buying More Affordable | Simplifying The Market

Bottom Line

If you are a first-time buyer or a move-up buyer who believes that purchasing a home is not within your budget, let’s get together to determine if that is still true.

The True Cost of NOT Owning Your Home

The True Cost of NOT Owning Your Home

Owning a home has great financial benefits, yet many continue to rent! Today, let’s look at the financial reasons why owning a home of your own has been a part of the American Dream for the entirety of America’s existence.

Realtor.com reported that:

“Buying remains the more attractive option in the long term – that remains the American dream, and it’s true in many markets where renting has become really the shortsighted option…as people get more savings in their pockets, buying becomes the better option.”

What proof exists that owning is financially better than renting?

1. In a previous blog, we highlighted the top 5 financial benefits of homeownership:

  • Homeownership is a form of forced savings.
  • Homeownership provides tax savings.
  • Homeownership allows you to lock in your monthly housing cost.
  • Buying a home is cheaper than renting.
  • No other investment lets you live inside of it.

2. Studies have shown that a homeowner’s net worth is 44x greater than that of a renter.

3. Less than a month ago, we explained that a family that purchased an average-priced home at the beginning of 2018 could build more than $49,000 in family wealth over the next five years.

4. Some argue that renting eliminates the cost of taxes and home repairs, but every potential renter must realize that all the expenses the landlord incurs are already baked into the rent payment – along with a profit margin!

Bottom Line

Owning your home has many social and financial benefits that cannot be achieved by renting.

What’s Going On With Home Prices?

What’s Going On With Home Prices?

According to CoreLogic’s latest Home Price Insights Report, national home prices in August were up 5.5% from August 2017. This marks the first time since June 2016 that home prices did not appreciate by at least 6.0% year-over-year.

CoreLogic’s Chief Economist Frank Nothaft gave some insight into this change,

“The rise in mortgage rates this summer to their highest level in seven years has made it more difficult for potential buyers to afford a home. The slackening in demand is reflected in the slowing of national appreciation, as illustrated in the CoreLogic Home Price Index.  

National appreciation in August was the slowest in nearly two years, and we expect appreciation to slow further in the coming year.”

One of the major factors that has driven prices to accelerate at a pace of between 6-7% over the past two years was the lack of inventory available for sale in many areas of the country. This made houses a prized commodity which forced many buyers into bidding wars and drove prices even higher.

According to the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) latest Existing Home Sales Report, we are starting to see more inventory come to market over the last few months. This, paired with patient buyers who are willing to wait to find the right homes, is creating a natural environment for price growth to slow.

Historically, prices appreciated at a rate of 3.7% (from 1987-1999). CoreLogic predicts that prices will continue to rise over the next year at a rate of 4.7%.

Bottom Line

As the housing market moves closer to a ‘normal market’ with more inventory for buyers to choose from, home prices will start to appreciate at a more ‘normal’ level, and that’s ok! If you are curious about home prices in your area, let’s get together to chat about what’s going on!