Friday, March 30, 2007

Poisons in my House

Household Hazardous Waste

In the spirit of writing a post every now and then about ways to make our Minnesota homes more "green", I thought I would touch on the subject of common household wastes. They can easily be recognised by labels saying "Warning, Flammable, Poison" and so forth. The problem with these products is that most people do not realize they shouldn't be thrown away in the garbage or poured down the sink.

It might take a little more of our time for proper disposal, but we should really make an effort to take Hazardous materials to the local County Eco-Site. Most are open a couple days a week and collect the items at no charge. Spring is here and as you begin your annual cleaning ritual, check your basements, garages, and sinks for anything that hasn't been used in years.

The following are items to look for and properly dispose of at a Minnesota Eco Site:
  • Gasoline, Gas cylinders, Propane Tanks
  • Batteries, Antifreeze, Oil
  • Pesticides, Weed Killer, Lawn Products
  • Aerosol cans

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Brooklyn Park Passes Point of Sale Ordinance

Under the guise of public safety, the city of Brooklyn Park, MN is added to the list of 11 other local cities that require a Point of Sale Inspection before the transfer of property to a new owner. Anyone that owns a single family residence, condominium, townhome, duplex, or any other type of residential real estate is required to apply for and obtain a Certificate of Inspection from the city. (The few exemptions to this rule include a new construction model home, new construction not previously occupied, and inherited property not occupied by the heir.)

According to the city, an application fee of $150 must be paid and then it is the responsibility of the home owner to order the inspection. The entire property must be made available for inspection, with the inspector looking at compliance for all city and maintenance codes. Consider this:
  • If you have a code violation, then you must fix the problem, even if you do not sell the home.
  • If your home is in compliance, than your certificate is only good for 18 months. If you take your home off the market and decide to wait a few years to sell, than you must apply all over again and pay the fee.
  • a temporary Certificate of Inspection might be issued if the inspector determines there is no hazardous conditions present and a buyer agrees to accept responsibility for repairs and complete them within 180 days of ownership transfer.
  • Ordinance does not go into effect until September 2007.

The city is trying to "clean up" its neighborhoods and blighted areas which is noble. But the only ones really being hurt are the home owners with good properties. They are the ones more likely to sell by this new ordinance... and no matter what the city calls it, it is still a tax. My question is, what if the homeowner is just too financially strapped to make the repairs. What will the city do, refuse to let them sell? And is it fair to put the responsibility on the new buyer, who also may not have the income to complete the repairs in 180 days? More interesting is the blighted properties that do not go up for sale, are still blighted, the whole reason for this ordinance. What a waste of taxpayer money by punishing those without the problems!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Minneapolis Real Estate Market Update, March 2007

I have not posted a comment lately about the Minneapolis Real Estate market because it really hasn't changed much in the first quarter of 2007. But seeing as it is the end of the first quarter, I thought you might like to see the statistics.

According the the Minneapolis Association of Realtors, buyers are still exercising caution when choosing to purchase a home in the local market. Just because it is a "Buyer's Market", doesn't mean they are actually buying. Pending sales (those under contract) are 14% behind where they were this time last year. At the same time, listings have increased by 10% above what they were in 2006.
Spring has arrived which is usually a good time to purchase, but when sellers wait until Spring to list their home, a huge influx of listings appear and once again supersaturate the inventory. Last fall there were 35,000 listings and now we stand at 29,000. Do note that 19% of this inventory is new construction. That's alot of new you know why competition is so fierce.
If you are even thinking about listing your home, you have to price it right from the get go or you might never sell. Currently we have a Housing Supply of at least 7 months. This means it will take 7 months for the current homes listed to sell. I doubt many home owners have that long. Most need to be somewhere else yesterday.

If you would like statistical information for a certain price range, please feel free to comment and I will update the post!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Remodeling in Minneapolis

Local Bloomington Couple Highlighted in Remodel Magazine

Reading is one of the past times I love...sometimes coming first when I should be updating my blog. I try to read at least two books a month and also the monthly magazines related to homes or real estate. While reading the Feb/March issue of Better Homes & Gardens Remodel, I came across an article featuring the kitchen makeover of some home grown Minnesotans.

The problem was to some how create a kitchen that was more user friendly. The cluttered kitchen desk, lack of storage space, poor lighting, and outdated cabinets & countertops just had to go. The couple sought the help of local architects Petra Schwartze and Dan Nepp to rework the area. What they produced is beautiful. A huge center island that looks like furniture, a gas cooktop that I envy, plenty of storage (including a hidden desk), and a soft butter-yellow color that instills a sense of peace and happiness to me. In other words, I love this kitchen! It has a touch of country, a twist of French, and just enough modern to make it work with today's lifestyle. The bead board, door pulls, and showcase niches above the cabinets are creative touches that make the kitchen such a star.

You might be thinking, I want a kitchen makeover too. Well, before you begin, make a list of the problem areas you want to change, then come up with a budget. With all our projects, I add another 10% on top of the price just in case I need to upgrade or add something later. Doing the job yourself is an obvious option, just be honest with yourself on what you can handle. The other option, while more expensive, is to pay a local Minneapolis architect to design the space for you. They tend to have ideas you never even thought possible and are able to change floor plans to make the overall home flow better. Do your homework, ask for referrals, and request photos of completed projects. Remember, it is your vision, so stay true to what you want and don't be afraid to speak up if you don't like something you see. In the end, you're the one who has to live with it!

To read more about this featured home article and view some interior photos of the the fabulous Minneapolis remodel, click here .

Friday, March 23, 2007

Most Don't Have a Clue

More Minnesota Buyers should Look into a C.L.U.E Report before Purchasing

A great little report that can tell you more than the sellers might, but is mostly unheard of by the majority of the public, is a CLUE Report. What is a CLUE report you ask? To begin with, the acronym means Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange. It is a database used by the insurance industry which includes information about any and all claims filed on a particular property.

In Florida, where I am also licensed, the report is being utilized more often due to the amount of past hurricanes. While full disclosure of any problems associated with a home is required by sellers, some sellers do neglect to inform prospective buyers if any damage has ever occurred to the home. A CLUE report will tell a buyer exactly what kind of claims have been filed against a particular property and when. Some might think such a report is not needed for Minneapolis real estate, but with hail storms, tornadoes, and fires still possible in the area, the report can be used as just another piece of information to put buyers mind at rest.

Buyers, the report can only be requested by the owner of the insurance policy, so don't try to do it yourself if you are thinking of purchasing a home. Instead, make your offer contingent upon review of the document. Consider it an extension of the Inspection Report.

Sellers, from the beginning, always disclose any and all damage & repairs that have effected the home during your ownership. If a buyer asks for a CLUE report, gladly provide one. While you might see it as an annoyance, it could just be the final key to selling your home.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Top 10 Qualities Consumers Look for in a Realtor

I am once again taking another real estate class to further my education. This weeks class covers business planning and will help me implement better systems to use in my everyday real estate life. We discussed some great topics, including a 2005 survey on what Minneapolis real estate consumers are looking for when they buy or sell with a local professional Realtor. Here is what they found:

Top 10 Qualities a Successful Realtor Must Have
  1. Must be Trustworthy - if you can't trust your agent, who can you trust?
  2. Putting Clients Interests First - if an agent cannot do this simple task, fire them immediately.
  3. Ability to Ask, then Listen - if the agent you interview to represent the sale of your home only talks about themselves and fails to listen to you, then move on to the next agent.
  4. Be Honest & Ethical - you would think with the Code of Ethics all Realtors must abide by, this would be a no brainer, but with the recent influx of inexperienced agents, it happens every now and then that you run into a dishonest person.
  5. Communicate - making sure all parties understand each other completely is paramount for a successful transaction.
  6. Knowledgeable - the only way to make a win-win situation for sellers and buyers is to negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. An agent must be able to think quickly on her feet and propose solutions to any problems that arise.
  7. Save Time - consumers usually do not have time to sell a home on their own, so they want an agent who can take care of all the details without troubling them everyday.
  8. Reduce Stress - the real estate process is very complicated. Buyers and sellers want a Realtor who can keep their legal liability in check and make sure all proper documents and disclosures are accounted for.
  9. Deliver on Promises - showing up on time for appointments and returning phone calls are very important to sellers and buyers.
  10. The "Recovery" - how an agent handles themselves after the transaction is an area many people need improvement. Follow up, taking care of problems, and just keeping in touch are deciding factors on whether a client will refer friends and family to their trusted Realtor.

The media would have you believe that the top two items that concern consumers the most are price and commission. This 2005 Survey from the National Association of Realtors shows that overall, during the height of the real estate boom, consumers had other requirements they felt were more important. Interesting how a actually asking the public what they want differs from the speculation heard from the doom and gloom media.

Are there any qualities that you would like to add to this survey? Please add them via comments if you do!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Price does Matter

Once a week I go grocery shopping and on the way out grab one of those real estate magazines which list all the homes for sale. I, too, like to see what is being advertised, and I look at what my fellow Minneapolis real estate agents are doing.

While flipping through the pages, I often see a home I like and look at the description to find out the price. Lately I have been noticing that many Realtors in the Twin Cities are not putting the price of the home anywhere in the ad. How annoying! What they want you to do is call them so they can "capture" you and hopefully build rapport enough to create a sale. Now, this is a good way to prospect for clients, but if I find it annoying, and I am a Realtor, I wonder how the public feels. It would seem more logical for the price of the home to be included, that way buyers know immediately if the home is within their financial means.

Other ads for more expensive homes say "Upper Bracket". To me this means that I am obviously too poor to even think about calling for the price. If the home is 6000 square feet on Lake Minnetonka, than it would be pretty stupid if I didn't realize the price was most likely $1 Million +. Stop being "snooty" and just put the price in the ad. With more buyers shopping via the Internet, you can quickly lose someone by not including the most important information in your print ads like price.

Does anyone else find this annoying or is it just me?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Using the Web to Find Information Your Realtor Won't Tell You

By Amy Hoak
From MarketWatch

Steve Roddel was walking through a house in Fort Wayne, Ind., when he wondered aloud if there were any sex offenders living in the neighborhood. Instead of commenting on her own, the real estate agent showing the home quickly pulled out her cell phone, connected to its Web browser and brought up Family Watchdog, a national sex-offender registry Web site. Little did she know that she was standing with the site's founder and CEO. Visit Family Watchdog.

A real estate agent can be a wealth of information about a house. So a home buyer who asks what crime is like in the neighborhood might be surprised when the agent defers the question, directing a client to the Web or the local police instead. "The Realtor will be the one that has the most contact from beginning to end. Because of that accessibility, the consumer feels that they can give them all the information that they need," said Alex Chaparro, president of the Chicago Association of Realtors. But there are some pieces of information that an agent simply can't speak about due to fair housing laws, including demographic statistics. And they often prefer to leave some characteristics, such as the quality of the school district or crime stats, answered by other sources.

The conservative approach is often taken in order to avoid a lawsuit popping up in response to frank neighborhood talk, said Ralph Holmen, associate general counsel of the National Association of Realtors. Agents are forbidden from giving any information that could be considered "steering," directing a client toward or away from a particular property in a discriminatory manner. And some of this information will make or break a decision to buy. The quality of school systems, for example, has long been of importance to home-buying families. Luckily, there are a variety of sources buyers can use to get at the information on their own.

To read the Full Story, click here...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Minnesota Hockey

Well, the main reason we moved to Minnesota was so my husband could be near hockey again. I did not know much about the sport, but after having my TV hijacked every Thursday-Saturday due to Gopher Hockey, I too have become a fan. Tonight, my husbands parents are in from Wisconsin and his brother flew in from Chicago so we could attend the WCHA Hockey Tourney going on this weekend at the Excel Center in St Paul. Cheering against Wisconsin will be fun, as most rival games are. Of course I am sure we will see some shenanigans as it is also St Patricks Day tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Credit Score Secrets, Part 3 of 3

How to Raise Your Score

In my last two posts, you have learned what your credit is and how it is derived. This post willhelp you better understand how to raise your score up from the depths of despair.

First of all, please know that it takes time to raise your score. If you need to buy a home tomorrow, but have a score in the 500's, chances are you will not qualify for a loan. But if you are being proactive and know you have at least three to six months, then take heart, you might just be able to do it if you follow the following things:

  • Pay your bills on time - as shown on the graph, payment history affects 35% of your score.
  • Keep your credit balances to 30% or lower - how much credit you have access to and how much of it you are using is extremely important. If all your credit cards are maxed out, it reflects poorly on your score.
  • Don't cancel credit cards to up your score - contrary to popular belief, canceling a card could hurt you. The length of your credit history makes up 15% of your score, so if you have had a card for 10 years over one for only a year, get rid of the shorter term card.
  • Don't apply for too many credit cards - when a merchant asks if you want to save 10% on your purchase by signing up for a credit card, just say NO! On spring break and want one of those free tee shirts by just "signing up"?... don't do it! Too many credit requests on your report makes it look like you are desperate for credit. And you just might use them and put yourself into more debt.
  • Watch for the types of credit you use - secured loans like car loans, and mortgages are good types, but unsecured loans, like credit cards, student loans, and so forth are considered riskier. However if you pay your loans on time, the unsecured loans will get a better rating.

Remember, if your score is really low, it could take a year or more to see good improvement. Credit bureaus are not the fastest at updating data from vendors. If you have a bankruptcy or foreclosure, it could take years as the negative comment stays for 7-10 years on your report. Keep your chin up though, if you follow this advice, you will surely come out on top and have your piece of the American pie!

Oh, for the love of technology...

Ok, so this has been me since Saturday evening, or more accurately, this was my husband Saturday evening, and me on Sunday morning.

After a long day of looking at homes for ourselves, we spent Saturday evening relaxing. We were going to head back out Sunday for more "shopping". I went to bed early, but was awoken to some angry words by my husband. He had just spent a long time writing an email, only to have the computer lose this email because it wouldn't connect to the internet. The last think I like is a sulky husband. Well, little did I realize I too would be shaking my fist at the screen demanding it to come online the next day.

To make a long story short, I called Comcast cable and they could do nothing for me. Their only solution was to send a repairman out on Tuesday....48 hours from then! As a real estate agent, this is NOT good news. But I sucked it up and made the appointment. Well, Monday afternoon I was driving back from errands and noticed a Comcast truck in my complex. I drove up and asked him if he could take a look at my cable as it was out. It was nearing 5 pm so I did not expect him to say yes, but surprisingly he did. He looked it over and said the problem was a maintenance one, that could only be fixed back at head quarters. What he was really saying is the Comcast had run out of bandwidth and since we were at the end of the line, we were the lucky ones with no cable signal.

Needless to say, we were back online in a couple of hours. I guess the moral of the story is, if you choose cable as your internet source, be forewarned they might run out of bandwidth on you. Also, it was a little refreshing in the long run not having to "worry" about not connecting with the world. I actually was able to read a book and enjoy our beautiful snow melt!

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Confessions of a Rehabber...

Tips on what you Should and Shouldn't Do When Rehabbing a Home

Take it from me, or anyone else you know for that matter, deciding to buy a fixer-upper and tackle the task of remodeling is no easy feat. Sure, all those infomercials out there claim you can make quick money flipping, but what they neglect to tell you about is all the headaches that come with it too.

My husband and I have done two homes - one small 1000 square foot home built in 1945 and one huge Queen Anne Victorian of 5000 square feet built in 1893. Here are some things we learned.

  • Don't let your eyes be bigger than your pocket book, no matter how much you love the home.
  • If that little voice inside your head is telling you to walk away, do what it says! Don't force the purchase of a home that will turn into a money pit.
  • Always use a contractor. Yes, I know you do-it-yourselfers out there will disagree, but for the hassle of handling 6 sub-contractors yourself, being on the job site everyday, and making sure the city doesn't shut you down because you forgot to pull a permit, is just not worth the ulcer it will cause.
  • Always get a written contract with the Contractor that is VERY specific on what the contractor will be doing for his fee. A hand shake over lunch is just plain dumb. Protect yourself!
  • Always put any changes you make during the project in writing and what the cost will be. Don't make the mistake of hearing from the contractor that he doesn't "remember" those changes. It will cost you more money!
  • Do not pay for the entire project up front and do not pay with cash. Create a paper trail with receipts and signatures.
  • Better yet, tell the contractor you would like to pay any bills to the sub-contractors directly. The last thing you need is for the contractor to tell you he paid them, when he just pocketed the money. (We lost $5000 this way)
  • Please, please, please pull the proper permits. Don't be dishonest just to save a few bucks.
  • If you are not happy with the way something looks, don't be afraid to speak up. Tell the contractor to fix it, and at no cost to you. Their mistake or poor work is not your fault.
  • If your contractor doesn't show up one day and is full of excuses, fire him now! If you let it happen once, he will keep taking advantage of you. Oh, and if you smell alcohol on any one's breath, get rid of them.
  • Lastly, ALWAYS have an exit strategy. Know if you are going to keep the home as a rental, flip it fast, or move into it.
Before we got into rehabbing, we educated ourselves about cash flow, creative financing, the local real estate market, and more. We spent two years preparing before we bought the first home. Trust me, it is nothing to just jump into. Understand too that you might possibly fail. Failure is normal in this line of business and you might face foreclosure, or have to sell the home at a loss. Keep your chin up and realize that you only learn from your mistakes.

All of the confessions above happened to us in one way or another. While I don't know if we will ever tackle another project, I still get the urge every time I see a beautiful home hidden by dirt and debris!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Blind Mouse gets Tripped by the State

Ok, so the mouse saw the income tax increase coming at him full speed. What he didn't expect was that today he would get knocked down by our Minnesota state Senate. Apparently those on the Health, Housing, and Family Security Committee did not like my post a few days back about my dislike of the proposed income tax increase. I also stated that I doubted they would try to increase property taxes as those are already maxed out.

So what brilliant idea have they come up with? Well, how about increasing the state deed tax by 50%. For those that intend on selling their homes, this could mean another large chunk of your equity is being taken by the local government. Minnesota residents are tired of higher taxes on private property. I love how they are calling SF 442 "The Housing Solutions Act". Some solution. This $70 million dollar tax increase takes investment dollars out of the hands of hard working Minnesotans just as the real estate market is declining.

Are you tired of all this nonsense? Then now is the time to act. The Minnesota Association of Realtors is sending out a message to all Realtors to forward a plea to stop SF 442. They are also asking the public to call their local representatives and tell them enough is enough. Find out who your Senators are and give them a call. Make sure you leave them a "nice" message though!

Consumer Oriented Carnival of Real Estate

Not the best, but getting better!

Well, I didn't win this weeks Carnival of Real Estate, but I am not surprised. Getting into writing again after not having done it (say for about 10 years) since college has been challenging and fun. But that's why I love blogging...gets my mind thinking again and allows me to post my experiences and opinions. Fifth place (oh, a tie for fifth) is pretty decent. I'll just have to come up with a stellar topic to wow the judges!

Monday, March 5, 2007

A Blind Mouse Could have seen This Coming...

I have reported in the last couple weeks how some area school districts are finding themselves in a financial shortage for the 2007-2008 school year. District 622 and 194 have decided the best way to make up for the lack of funds is by cutting school activities, teachers, nurses, and much more. Local property owners are already taxed to the hilt so this source of revenue would definitely hear a public outcry if increased once again.

Democrats have been watching apparently and are in the process of offering a solution to the problem. No, they are not cutting their salaries to make up for the difference. Instead they have promised to tax us more. Oh, but they are only going to tax the "rich". Remember, this is their Robin Hood motto. "Tax the rich...they've got the money so it won't be missed".

Well folks, if Minnesota Dems get their way, any single person making over $70,000 per year and any married couple making $150,000 + per year, will be taxed more than everyone else. This money will go into a state run fund and will be disbursed to schools as the dems see fit.

First of all, funds are never "disbursed" correctly, so don't' kid yourself. Second of all, people in these categories are not the "rich". They are middle class families as well. If a married couple makes just over a combined income over $150,000, they usually both work and have a family to support. That high income quickly dwindles just from income taxes. Now if you were to tell me that those over $300,000 in income will be taxed, then this might make sense, but seeing as I am strongly against tax increases of any kind, I would not like that scenario either.

So my solution is to make all Minnesota senators and congressmen give at least 10% of their income to the fund. (Since I am sure they are excluded from their proposed tax increase.) If their motto is take from the rich and give to the less fortunate, lets see them dig into their pockets and tell us how much they like it!

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Tis the Season...

...for Spring Cleaning!

Right now we are under a couple feet of snow, but it is March and quickly approaching spring. It's time to rummage through our garages and closets for the things we no longer need and start cleaning the neglected items of winter. I know everyone just loves to smell the wonderful cleaning products on the market. This year, why not try something different.

Choose Healthy Cleaners - Look for products with labels that say biodegradable, non-toxic, phosphate free, or made from all natural products. There is no regulation on wording so make sure to actually check the ingredients to make sure they are "green" friendly.

Make Your Own Cleaners - what did our grandparents do before mass production? They made their own cleansers. Not only does this save money, but it helps keep toxins out of the water supply. Baking Soda, vinegar, borax, and vegetable oil are basic ingredients needed to make a product that is just as good as some store-bought varieties. Try this Clean & Green site for some good recipes.

Choose Reusables - Reuse those old rags and sponges instead of wasting paper towels and other disposable cleaning supplies. Get rid of the swiffers and get a dust mop like I grew up with. Old socks make a great duster too and T-shirts are good for window cleaning.

I'll be posting other Green ideas for the household this year, so make sure to check back periodically for new posts!

Friday, March 2, 2007

New Point of Sale might be required for Brooklyn Park

Brooklyn Park might Join New Trend

The City of Brooklyn Park in Minnesota is debating a proposed point-of-sale housing inspection ordinance. If passed, they would join at least 6 other cities that also require the inspection for resale homes, those being Bloomington, South St Paul. St Louis Park, Crystal, Richfield, and New Hope.

The point-of-sale ordinance would require an inspection by a city inspector of all single-family, duplex, townhouse, condominium or other residential buildings with in 14 days of the property being listed or sold for. The fee would be $200 and repairs would be required even if the property does not sell. The ordinance might take effect May 15, 2007. If it does take affect, all properties currently listed for sale will have to comply as well. There is no "grandfather" period.

A partial list of items the seller must correct would include: plumbing systems, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, electrical fixtures, venting, accessory structures, sump pump drains, junk vehicles, egress windows, broken windows, roofing and roof ventilation, foundation, exterior peeling paint, un-permitted work, unpaid fines and utility bills.

The Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors is on the side of the home owner and is asking the city to reconsider its proposal saying, “the Association does not believe that requiring code compliance at point of sale will effectively assist a community in maintaining a healthy, affordable housing market. Point of sale inspections affect only the small percentage of properties that are sold each year (3 to 5 percent in many areas). Most problem properties are not for sale. To increase its effectiveness, a city should direct its efforts at the problem properties, rather than focus on point-of-sale inspections.”

I believe, too, that this is just another unneeded and unwanted "additional" government law that should be rescinded. I am not a fan of "more" government. What are your thoughts? Do you see a need for more local government ordinances that really do not benefit the home owner?

(The most recent proposed ordinance is available on the Brooklyn Park website. Questions about the proposed ordinance should be directed to Gary Brown at the City of Brooklyn Park, 763.493.8101 or )

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Credit Score Secrets, Part 2 of 3

How Your Credit Score is Derived

To continue with our discussion on Credit Scores, it is always important to understand the basic ways your score is calculated. Many factors determine the complex process including whether you pay your bills on time, the length of your credit history, and whether you even have a record of credit. Scores are pulled from each of the three Credit Bureaus and reflect your credit history over the last 24 months. The goal of the report is to provide lenders with a future forecast on how you will manage your debt. Lenders typically pull what is called a "Tri-merge", a quick snapshot of all three companies, that shows each FICO score. Yes, you can have a different score for each reporting bureau, as they each have different computing formulas. (My last report showed a range of 750-815.) So in this case the bank looks at all three and usually either takes an average, or goes with the middle number.

Important Tip: If your lender is pulling a Tri-merge, ask them for a copy. They are charging you for it so you should get a copy no matter what.

With all the confusion that three bureaus create, they have finally decided to work together and make it easier on the consumer. In 2006, the concept called Vantage Score was born and is intended to standardize the scoring system. Since this new system is so new, it will probably take a few years before lenders catch on.

Items that can affect your score are foreclosures and bankruptcies (remain on history for 7-10 years), late payments on mortgages and credit cards, repossessions, length of credit history (better to have had a credit card for 5 years than 1 year), just to name a few. It is possible to get your credit back on track. Review your report and check for mistakes. Look for outdated data, paid off loans that are listed as being due, and credit cards that are not yours. It does happen that other peoples problems are accidentally listed as yours.

(See the graph to the left on how the FICO score is broken down.)

Important Tip: Do not be afraid to call a creditor and ask to have a derogatory comment removed from your history. I did this for a credit card company, and since it had been reported for 2 years, they said they had no problem sending a notice to the bureau to have it removed.

Look for the final installment, How to Raise Your Score, next week.