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Article from Houston on the Cheap

Lavender Run in Cypress, Houston Lights Display

Houston is full of neighborhoods decked out in Christmas lights — often synchronized to music. But how do you find these places tucked within a larger community? Word-of-mouth is certainly one way. I took the question to Houston on the Cheap’s Facebook page for readers’ suggestions on their go-to light displays in the area. After doing my own research, too, here is my list of Houston’s don’t-miss Christmas light displays in 2013:

Prestonwood Forest — This is considered the “granddaddy” of Houston neighborhoods with entire streets participating in elaborate light displays since the 1970s. This year lights are on December 7 – December 29 (dusk to 10 pm weekdays and till 11 pm weekends). The 2013 awards have been announced: Best All-Around (13911 Charlynn Oaks), Best House (14510 Ravenhurst), Best Block (8100 Kenmark) and more. Check out the Visitor’s map for details. The neighborhood is off Tomball Parkway (SH249).

Moss Lights (League City) — The Moss family started a static lights display in 2010 and has just been building up each year. 2013 has 80,000 lights synchronized to 9 songs that required 400 hours of programming. The light show is 7 days a week through January 5, 2014. The lights play 5:30 pm – 10:30 pm (Sunday – Thursday) and till 11:30 pm Fridays and Saturdays. Music is transmitted over 107.1 FM. Check out some of its videos online. Located in League City at 540 Southampton Lane. {Thanks to reader Amanda for sharing.}

Lavender Run (Coles Crossing in Cypress) — The Mayer family started a synchronized lights display at their home, 15911 Lavender Run, about six years ago giving 100% of its donations to a new charity each year.

The 25-minute light show runs nightly through January 1 at 7 pm, 7:40 pm, and 8:20 pm. This year, the family linked into seven neighbors’ houses for a full street effect. They also added fun new elements including snow machines, fire machines, bubbles, new laser light effects, and vanilla/strawberry smelling fog in addition to the 60,000 lights! All donations this year go to Make A Wish Foundation. They say it’s the Grand Finale, so don’t miss it! Music is broadcast on 107.1FM. Visit their website at ChristmasInCypress.com. [I visited this display this year and loved it. Can’t wait to take my family…]

Johnson’s Christmas Corner (Cypress) – The Johnson family’s light display (since 2006) features 77,000 lights and nightly themes of music such as Classic Christmas, Modern Classics, and Christmas Mash which plays everything. Kids can visit Santa on Saturday nights. There are snow machines, which the kids love! Music is broadcast on 94.1 FM. Located at 14811 Cypress Meadow.

Dickinson Festival of Lights (Dickinson) – For 16 years, the Dickinson community comes together to create a Dickinson Festival of Lights, a free walk-through lights display at Paul Hopkins Park. Lights will be on nightly through January 1, 6 pm – 9 pm. All parking and shuttle buses are free. Parking on weekends is courtesy the Dickinson Plaza Shopping Center, exit 19, I-45 N feeder. {Thanks to reader Melissa for suggesting…}

Viney Creek light display

Franck’s Christmas Light Show (Copperfield) — The Franck family on Viney Creek shares a neighborhood lights tradition since 2008. Songs are timed to music. The lights show runs nightly from 5:30 pm – 10 pm (Sunday through Thursday) and till 10:30 on weekends. Located at 15923 Viney Creek. Music is broadcast on 89.7 FM. [I visited this display this year and loved it.]

Christmas Katy (Katy) – This home in Pin Oak is celebrating its 7th year of synchronized Christmas lighting. It features 53,000 LED lights, 32 ft. tree, 10 ft. Nutcrackers, and 15 songs in its show. Neighbors are incorporated into the show so it’s a beautiful street. Music is broadcast at 89.9 FM. Hours are 6 pm – 10 pm (Sunday through Thursday) and till 11 pm on weekends. Located at 24603 Stoughton Court off I-10 and Pin Oak in West Houston.

Woodland Heights (Heights)-– This area of the Heights is known for its Christmas lights. This weekend is its Lights in the Heights, Saturday, December 14, 6 pm – 9 pm. Streets are blocked off to enjoy the lighted homes and musical performances — right from the porch!

Pecan Grove (Richmond) — This Fort Bend neighborhood near Richmond is known for its Christmas lights. Hayrides are not uncommon as folks gather up the kids and drive through the many lighted streets. {thanks to readers Reagan, Michelle, and Julie for suggesting…}

River OaksDrive through River Oaks to see the stately homes and huge oaks wrapped in lights. These traditional displays are amazing with dripping lights and more. It’s fun to ogle at the big homes!

Admission fees for lights: The neighborhoods listed above are all free. Houston-area has several paid holiday light displays:

Santa’s Wonderland
Moody Garden’s Festival of Lights
Zoo Lights at Houston Zoo

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heatingNow that temperatures are dropping across the country, its time to think about how you can slash your heating bills for the season. Here are five low-cost and/or no-cost moves to help you save money while staying comfortable at the same time.

1. Add insulation. Adding insulation and weather stripping can slash your annual energy costs up to 30% by keeping out the cold or heat and minimizing the stack effect. Start by sealing large gaps around the chimney, furnace flue, plumbing pipes, ductwork, light fixtures, and soffits in your attic. Then lay insulation between attic-floor joists and on the hatch or door, or add more if it’s already there. Look for insulation that’s become dirty, a sign of air movement that reveals other gaps you must fill. Also, insulate ducts running through the attic.

2. Seal up the leaks. Caulking and weather-stripping cracks and gaps around your home are some of the most cost-effective steps you can take to conserve heat. Focus on the attic, basement, windows, and doorways. Also. check near pipes, vents, or electrical conduits that go through the wall, ceiling, or floor. When sealing leaks, use “no-VOC” or “low-VOC” caulking to minimize potentially harmful indoor gases. Look for these products at your hardware store or online.

3. Program thermostats for savings. Shave up to 20% off your heating costs by lowering the thermostat 5 degrees F at night and 10 degrees F during the day if no one is home. Most electronic setback thermostats let you set different schedules for weekdays and weekends. Some automatically switch from heating to cooling, and many tell you when it’s time to change your furnace or air-conditioner filter.

4. Save money on hot water. Insulating hot-water pipes and lowering the temperature on your water heater from 130 degrees to 120 degrees can help you save up to 5% on your energy bills.

5. Shorten showers. Showers account for two-thirds of your water-heating costs, so even shaving off a few minutes can help. Replacing a showerhead that’s more than 12 years old with a low-flow model can save up to half the hot water used for showering.

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whole-foods-bag_300The Howard Hughes Corporation® (NYSE: HHC) and its wholly-owned subsidiary The Woodlands Development Company (TWDC), recently announced that Whole Foods Market® will soon begin construction in Hughes Landing on Lake Woodlands, a 66-acre mixed-use development within The Woodlands. Hughes Landing is anticipated to be a dynamic environment featuring up to 11 office buildings; shopping, dining and entertainment; an upscale hotel; a fitness center and up to 800 multi-family residences.

 

“Local residents have long expressed strong interest in having a Whole Foods Market in The Woodlands,” said Paul Layne, Executive Vice President of Master Planned Communities for The Howard Hughes Corporation. “It will be an exceptional destination within Hughes Landing and across The Woodlands, adding to the many benefits of living, working and playing in this vibrant community.”

 

Founded in 1980 in Austin, TX, Whole Foods Market is the leading natural and organic food retailer. As America’s first national certified organic grocer, Whole Foods Market was named “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store” by “Health” magazine. The company’s motto, “Whole Food, Whole People, Whole Planet”™ captures its mission to ensure customer satisfaction and health, Team Member excellence and happiness, enhanced shareholder value, community support and environmental improvement. With 73,000 Team Members, Whole Foods Market has been ranked as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” in America by “FORTUNE” magazine for 16 consecutive years. The grocer currently has more than 350 stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

 

“The Woodlands is a great fit for us,” said Mark Dixon, President of Whole Foods Market’s Southwest Region. “We are excited about the Hughes Landing development and its central location that is easily accessible to residents of The Woodlands and surrounding areas.”

 

Whole Foods Market plans to open its new 40,000-square-foot store in Hughes Landing in 2015. The main entrance will be situated off Lake Front Circle, near the intersection of Lake Front and Lake Woodlands Drive. Ample surface parking will be located adjacent to the market.

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FHABackToWorkProgram

FHA BACK TO WORK LOAN PROGRAM – A minimum of 12 months have elapsed since the date of foreclosure, deed-in-lieu, short-sale, bankruptcy CH. 13 or 7.  FHA is allowing for the consideration of borrowers who have experienced an Economic Event and can document that:

  1. 1. Certain credit impairments were the result of a Loss of Employment or a significant loss of Household Income beyond the borrower’s control.
  2. The borrower has demonstrated full recovery from the event.
  3. The borrower has completed housing counseling from HUD- approved housing counseling 30 days before but no more than 6 months prior to making a loan application.

This program is now available from many lenders.  Contact us today for a referral to a participating lender

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tax-creditWhen you are looking to sell your home, there are a lot of fees that can be associated with it. Some of these you cannot avoid, some you can and others you can reduce. Today, we are going to look at how to reduce the closing costs on selling a home.

Since the lending industry is highly competitive, many of them are willing to offer a reduced closing cost when finalizing the sale. It’s similar to buying a car in the way that you can negotiate down from a sticker price when you threaten to go to another dealership.

Use your own bank

If you are already a member of the bank that you are attempting to get a mortgage from, it will be a lot easier to reduce these closing costs. Many banks offer this as a way of customer retention (which is the most important part of business since new customers cost more to acquire.)

If you say that paying a closing cost is a deal breaker and that going to another bank is a possibility, your bank is likely to waver and give you the deal you want. It can seem like it’s the wrong thing to do, but you have to be competitive in a competitive finance world.

Acquire a Good Faith Estimate

Lenders are now required by law to give out a Good Faith Estimate to anyone that is borrowing money from them. This will help prevent mortgages that may be deemed as taking advantage of customers by means of nickel and diming them.

What is a Good Faith Estimate? It is the estimate of all costs and fees that are involved with a sale, and can not exceed 10% of the price. There’s a short time frame in which the lenders are required to give out a Good Faith Estimate after a customer applies, so you can quickly look to save a few hundred dollars on the closing costs.

Be assertive

Have the lender explain in detail what fees you are being charged and why you are getting charged in the first place. Too many people blindly agree to a mortgage without getting the details first.

Asking why the fees are there will keep the lender on their toes so you know you are getting the best deal and not being taken advantage of. Now, some of the fees are not actually charged by the lender, but you can possibly have them reduce the fees in order to seal the deal.

Just don’t accept the first deal on the table and always ask questions. Being assertive can save you hundreds if not thousands overall.

Make it part of the loan

There is a way in which you don’t have to pay any closing costs right away by making it part of the overall mortgage. Closing costs aren’t always cheap and can be up to 5% of the overall cost. If you plan on staying in the house for a considerable amount of time, this may be the way to go as it is included in the monthly payment.

It’s not as likely to have the closing costs reduced if you do this method, but if you are unable to dish out the large closing fees before moving into the property, this may be the only way.

It’s always important to really do your homework before getting involved with a mortgage. Always shop around for the best deal that has the lowest fees and interest rates. Skipping over the details can cost you thousands over the course of a mortgage. Stay knowledgeable and you will save money in any form of business.

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Credit_reportYou just found out your mortgage interest rate from your lender and it’s much higher than advertised rates. You know your credit is better than that so why is it costing you more than it should to buy a home?

Before you lock in your rate, do some quick investigating.

You could have an error on your credit report that is affecting your credit scores, which in turn, affects your interest rate.

According to a study by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), approximately one in four U.S. consumers have an error on at least one or more credit reports that could be serious enough to lead to higher rates on loan products. Worse, only one in five consumers were able to obtain a modification to their report.

The three credit reporting bureaus, Experian, Transunion and Equifax, collect data independently – which increases the margins for error. Your lender has no way to know if your report is correct, so it’s up to you to get copies of each of your credit reports and check for errors.

Once a year you are entitled to see a free copy of your credit report. You can go to http://www.annualcreditreport.com and order the reports separately. This is important because banks typically run one report to help set your interest rate. They also check credit reports again just before your loan closing, so you want to make sure that all three credit reports are correct.

If you find an error, you must report it in writing to the appropriate credit reporting agency. Include your name, social security number, date of birth, a copy of the report with the error circled; and copies, not originals, of documents such as social security cards, final payments, release of lien, court orders, or whatever you need to get the report changed.

Make sure your lender has copies of everything so you can prove the credit bureau is in error, not you.

The work you put in is well worth it. According to the FTC, consumers were largely successful at disputing erroneous data.

  • 25% of consumers said the error was corrected by credit reporting agency
  • 80% of consumers said some modification was made to their credit report
  • Over 10% saw their credit scores changed after filing disputes
  • Credit scores changed up to 25 points for 5% of consumers
  • One in 250 consumers saw their scores rise 100 points or more

Once you’ve been able to get each report corrected, you’ll be able to get a better loan rate.

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loansComparing mortgage loans is one of the most important things you can do when you’re buying a home. The decisions you make will determine the size of your monthly payments, how much you pay upfront, and how much interest you’ll pay over the life of the loan.

You might find it simpler to compare loans if you ask each lender a series of questions, including:

  • What is the loan’s interest rate?
  • Will I be charged points?
  • What are the closing costs and all other fees?
  • What is the annual percentage rate, or APR – the rate you’ll pay per year for all the costs associated with the loan?
  • Is there a pre-payment penalty?
  • How is the loan amortized, meaning how quickly is the principal paid off?

Find out the answers to these questions no matter what type of loan you’re considering. Each can affect the overall cost of your loan.

If you are considering an adjustable-rate mortgage, or ARM, you can compare loans by asking:

  • When does the rate adjust?
  • How often does the rate adjust?
  • Is there a cap limiting the amount by which the rate can adjust? What would my monthly payments be if my interest rate hit that cap?
  • What is the index and margin that will determine my rate? How has the index changed over time?

ARMs are inherently more risky than fixed-rate mortgages because you’re gambling on whether interest rates will go up or go down before your rate adjusts. Understanding the best- and worst-case scenarios can help you weigh the pros and cons as you compare loans.

But there’s one other big question to consider before you get an ARM:

  • How does the discount introductory rate compare with rates for 30-year fixed-rate loans?

If there’s not much difference when you compare the two, the fixed-rate loan might be a safer bet. You won’t save much in the short-term, and could save a lot over the long term. Plus, you reduce your risk if interest rates shoot up and you can’t refinance before the rate adjustment.

Finally, to truly compare loans, you have to ask yourself some questions:

  • How long do I expect to stay in my home?
  • Are my job and income secure over the long term?
  • Will I be able to afford higher payments in the future?
  • How comfortable am I with risk?

In the end, the best loan is the one that works for your needs.

Written by Lending Tree on Monday, 07 October 2013 13:30

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