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Blog Archive June 2019



Real Estate and Mortgage Transaction Scams and How to Avoid Them

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Buying or selling your home or an investment property is usually a complicated process. There are typically several people and steps involved, money to be distributed to various parties and a lot of paperwork. For this reason, it is highly recommended to enlist the services of a reputable real estate agent and when needed, also a lawyer, to review the documentation to confirm the terms are correct and properly executed. However, even with all of the best intentions, one simple mistake can take you on a whirlwind of fraudulent activity. Following are the most common mistakes that lead to fraud. Being aware of the methods scammers use to trick people into losing their money can help you avoid such cons.

Loan Flipping

The definition of loan flipping is when a lender does not act in the borrower’s best interest and repeatedly convinces them to refinance their mortgage, usually borrowing more money each time, charging higher fees and points. The homeowner ends up with higher payments they might not be able to afford and losing most of their property’s equity. The most common victims of this practice are seniors with memory impairment who have a great deal of equity in their homes.
To avoid such a scenario, keep in mind it is almost never a good idea to refinance your property if you’ve recently done so. Also, elderly homeowners or property owners should always seek advice from a trusted family member or friend before utilizing their home equity. Only work with lenders and banks you know and trust. Predatory lenders will seek you out, trying to persuade you to refinance. Also, when refinancing, always ask for all fees upfront so there are not any unexpected costs.

Rental Property Scams

Scammers will post rental listings on social media or Craigslist, asking for upfront payments or deposits to hold or see the property. In reality they do not own the properties and the prospective renter loses their money. This scam is very common. In fact, over 5 million renters in the U.S. claim to have been scammed in 2018 for at least $1,000.

To protect yourself from this type of fraud, be wary of anyone that asks for a cash deposit to hold or see an apartment. Verify that the person you are dealing with is the owner by checking the local property appraiser’s website. Insist that any monetary and contractual transactions are conducted in person and use a check, not cash, so you have record of the payment. If you are dealing with a real estate agent rather than the property owner, request to see their license so you can take a picture and verify it’s validity online through the state real estate licensing division.

Foreclosure Proposals

Scam artists will peruse public records and send notices of foreclosure relief to those in pre-foreclosure, taking advantage of those distraught to keep their homes. Statements will claim to be able to decrease mortgage payments and help the homeowner save their home for an upfront amount of money. Many state that they are associated with government agencies to convince the homeowner to give up thousands of dollars, resulting in an even more dire and hopeless situation.

The only way to truly resolve a foreclosure situation is to work directly with the entity that manages your loan by modifying it, requesting forbearance or other special arrangements. Help can also be sought from a HUD housing counselor to work along with the lender in determining the best solution. A clear warning sign of a scammer is if the person you are working with advises you not to talk to your lender.

Escrow Wire Fraud

This most commonly occurs during real estate transactions at the point in which escrow funds need to be transferred between parties involved. An expected incoming e-mail, text or phone call will be received with instructions regarding where to wire money. Scammers set up false websites similar to legitimate title and lending companies to fool you, using information that is almost exactly the same as you would expect to receive from your actual lender, but different by only one digit.

Before sending money to anyone, review the original documentation from your lender and call the office to confirm the wiring instructions you received. Never use links received via e-mail or text and do not send money online without verifying it with a live person at your lender’s office. You should be cautious if you are asked to change the wiring instructions and always confirm that your funds were received immediately after sending.


How To Work Smarter, Not Harder

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Most people equate being productive with long hours at work drinking unlimited caffeine to maintain concentration and focus. This mentality actually leads to being less productive because of the sacrifice and dread this evokes. Being productive does not need to be such a challenging or time consuming dilemma if approached with the right mindset and plan. Following are some ideas and tips to maximize your time and productivity. 

  1. Tackle your toughest job first. Assess your list of tasks for the day and eliminate the one that will be most difficult, or most unpleasant to complete first. This will reduce time spent procrastinating to avoid the task as well as negativity throughout the day from dreading the task.

  2. Avoid Multitasking. Depending on your position, it may be difficult to focus on only one task at a time, but focusing on several at once reduces productivity by up to 40%. In fact, splitting your focus between several tasks also impedes your memory, increases stress and greatly escalates mental fatigue.

  3. Schedule Breaks Often. Although it may seem as if you are wasting valuable time, pausing all work related activity for a short time actually leads to greater productivity. A short break enhances concentration, creativity and memory. Working without breaks can result in difficulty making decisions, physical stress and mental exhaustion.

  4. Plan a To-Do-List. Having a realistic game-plan for the day sets the tone for what needs to be prioritized, no matter what other distractions or tasks develop. Your list should be short and manageable. If it is too long or detailed it will be overwhelming and no longer seem a priority.

  5. Use All of Your Time Efficiently. Time spent at the office does not need to be the only time used for productivity. Small increments of time gathered throughout the week can add up to significant amounts of work completed. Time during exercise, shopping, commutes, children's sports practices, etc. can all be used to catch up on a podcast or e-mail, review a presentation or do some research.

  6. Set Deadlines. Sometimes having a set end point is the challenge needed to complete a project. The deadline can even be in a couple hours and several times a day for different projects. Deadlines can be motivating when completed as they increase satisfaction.

  7. Be Organized. A disorganized workspace usually leads to misplaced or lost information, which in turn, leads to wasted time and productivity. An organized desk space, including e-mails, allows the user to quickly pull the information needed at a moment’s notice, without delay.

  8. Avoid Distractions. Everyone has different triggers to distract them but for most nowadays, social media is a main focus. In fact, the average American spends up to 25% of their workday on social media. Constant alerts and notifications continuously draw users to check for updates. While at work, disable app notifications and put your phone on silent mode to avoid being interrupted by the distraction of an update.

  9. Get Your Sleep. Being sleep deprived decreases your ability to be productive and increases the likeliness of making mistakes. Sleeping seven to nine hours per night boosts mood, creativity and memory while reducing overall stress.

  10. Exercise. Just as you need to take care of your mind to reach it’s full potential, you must also take care of your body. Regularly putting our body in motion improves attention span as well as learning potential and memory capability. In fact, science has proven that those who exercise regularly have greater volume in the parts of the brain that control memory and thinking. 
To achieve maximum productivity, one would ideally be well rested, focused, motivated and alert. Since that cannot always be the case, using some or all of the tips explained would help keep you on track to accomplish more work in less time. As the wise saying states, “Productivity is not the number of hours you work, but the amount of work you put into those hours.”


Advantages and Disadvantages of being a Homeowner Versus a Renter in 2019

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The United States is going into its 2nd official year as a renter dominated market. What does that mean? All across the country from the West coast to the East coast, more people are renting than owning their homes for the first time. This is due to a combination of several factors such as escalated home prices, less availability and increasing interest rates.

The scale of growth for renters over homeowners has shifted so dramatically that in 2018 the growth in renters was 23.7 million as opposed to the growth in homeowners at 700,000. This huge growth for renters over homeowners occurred in 97 of the 100 top cities in the United States.

The Chicago market has it’s own unique traits to consider when deciding how to best invest your money in a home purchase. While the city is afflicted by high taxes and limited inventory, Chicago’s economic growth over the past 5 years has been remarkable. The Chicago housing market is also overwhelmed with more underwater mortgages than any other city. Almost 250,000 houses, condos and apartments are worth less than their mortgages. Acquiring a foreclosure is also a realistic consideration for homeownership in the Chicago market.

The flip in the housing market favoring renters means there are several different types of factors to consider when weighing your options. Here are some considerations to take into account when making your decision to become a homeowner or renter. 


  • Typically, a home will increase in value and build equity as an investment for the future.
  • A mortgage payment will be fixed and more stable than renting long term (based on a fixed rate mortgage).
  • Interest and property taxes are a tax deduction.
  • Homeownership brings a sense of pride and satisfaction.
  • You will be more likely to create roots in your community.
  • Purchasing a home is a long-term commitment.
  • Financial responsibility of all maintenance for the home is yours.
  • Owning a home makes it more difficult to leave when you choose to do so than renting.
  • Mortgage payments are usually higher than rent payments.
  • The purchase of a home requires a lot of upfront fees such as a down payment, closing costs and realtor commission.
  • The value of your home may not increase for years.


  • Renting is generally less expensive than home ownership. Rental payments usually include utilities.
  • Rental contracts can be negotiated for periods of time that suit you, giving you the opportunity to move to a better option when your lease is completed.
  • As a tenant, you are not physically or financially responsible for maintenance or repairs to the property. Anything that needs to be repaired or replaced is taken care of by the landlord
  • There is not a large upfront payment other than a security deposit to initiate a lease.
  • There aren’t any tax advantages for renting.
  • Your rent cost will most likely increase from year to year or at least over the course of time, unlike a fixed rate mortgage.
  • You will not have a growth in equity or home value if you rent your home.
  • You cannot truly claim a home as yours.
  • A landlord can decide to sell at any time and you can be forced to move.
Homeownership is a rewarding experience but also a huge responsibility. Anyone considering it should have a stable income, a calculated budget and savings accounted for. Your lender will determine the amount you are able to spend on the purchase of a home based upon your credit score and on what terms. If your preferences lead you towards the option of renting, be sure to inform yourself regarding the building and landlord before signing a contract and confirm the terms and conditions you’ve both agreed upon.


Freelance Niche Grows To Mainstream Workforce

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The number of freelance and self-employed workers is estimated to reach an all time high of over 50 million by the year 2020. As the fastest growing labor group in the United States, accounting for about one-third of the population, the traditional idea of an office cubicle is a notion of the past. Companies and organizations are realizing the benefits of contracting this type of alternative work source for all levels and various departments. The most concentrated areas currently employed by freelance workers are in Information Technology, Operations, Marketing and Research and Development.

Intermediate organizations such as Upwork and Fiverr have greatly facilitated and spurred the onset of this industry trend. These companies have answered the demand of this new industry by perfecting the niche of attracting high-level talent and vetting their qualifications and expertise. The result is a large selection of high quality candidates for business owners and larger corporations that is simple to navigate and efficient to use.

The average weekly hours logged by freelancers per week is currently averaging 1 billion and rising. This group is mainly the younger generation, which is cleverly using their skills to maximize their valuable hours to earn high wages.

The obvious appeal of freelancing is freedom. Choosing to complete assignments at locations of convenience and at times that revolve around your lifestyle are priceless.  Not being restricted to the confines of an office, eliminating commutes and creating a schedule that does not include limited vacation days are other huge advantages. Freelancers are also able to control their workload, once established, therefore determining how which and how many employers to work for and their income potential. Over 30% of freelancers earn $75,000 or more, most likely due to the increased use of freelancers by larger corporations. In fact, up to 30% of Fortune 500 companies are relying on platforms such as Upwork to hire freelance workers for senior level positions.

The use of this alternative work force has even led to hybrid positions that did not exist even ten years ago. Talents are being truly analyzed to create positions that will fully utilize the capabilities of the candidate rather than just fill standard positions. For instance, if a freelancer is hired to be a financial advisor but is also capable of motivational coaching, that may be a supplemental role implemented into their job. This is a great way for those with multiple talents and interests to utilize and explore their potential. This also maximizes their earning potential. Most freelancers claim they could never return to the restrictions of a traditional job after the independence of being self-employed.

The freelancing trend is also proving to be advantageous for the corporate world as well. Organizations are reaping the benefits of employing freelancers as part of their workforce. By doing so, they can reduce the size of the physical office space they require, thereby lowering overhead expenses, as well as the costs associated with some of the benefits provided to full time employees. Of course, incorporating freelancers requires a new office culture to be implemented. It must be easy for a freelancer to communicate and insert themselves into the existing office dynamic, promoting work efficiency and ease.

Overall, the freelancing movement will most likely continue to grow as more college graduates seek to maximize their skills while valuing their time and prioritizing life experiences over office time. In fact 46% of Generation Z, those born between 1995 and 2012 and therefore just beginning to graduate college in 2017, are entering the workforce as freelancers.

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