June 27, 2020

5 Steps to Finding Your Next Home

Here is a great article for your next home purchase.




Posted in Buying a Home
June 26, 2020

20 Ways To Stretch Your Money

20 Ways to Save Money and Stretch Your Household Budget



These days, it seems like everyone’s looking for ways to cut costs and stretch their income further. Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to reduce your household expenses without making radical changes to your standard of living. When combined, these small adjustments can add up to significant savings each month.


Here are 20 things you can start doing today to lower your bills, secure better deals, and begin working toward your financial goals.


  1. Refinance Your Mortgage - For prime borrowers, mortgage rates are at or near historic lows. Depending on your current mortgage rate and the terms you choose, refinancing could save you a sizable amount on your monthly payments. There are fees and closing costs associated with refinancing, so you’ll need to talk to your lender to find out if refinancing is a good option for you.


  1. Evaluate Your Insurance Policies - If it’s been a while since you priced home or auto insurance, it may be worthwhile to do some comparison shopping. Get quotes from at least three insurers or independent agents. Try bundling your policies to see if there’s a discount. And inquire about raising your deductible, which should lower your premium.1


  1. Bundle Cable, Phone, and Internet - You can also save money by bundling your cable, phone, and internet services together. Shop around to see who is willing to give you the best deal. If switching is too much of a hassle, ask your current provider to match or beat their competitor’s offer.


  1. Better Yet, Cut the Cord on Cable - In many cases, you can save even more if you cancel your cable subscription altogether. An antenna should give you access to the major stations, and many of your favorite shows are probably available on-demand through a less expensive streaming service subscription.


  1. Revisit Your Wireless Plan - You can often save by switching from a big brand to an independent, low-cost carrier. If that’s not feasible, ask your current provider for a better deal or consider downgrading to a cheaper plan.


  1. Adjust Your Thermostat - Turning your thermostat up or down a few degrees can have a noticeable impact on your monthly heating and cooling costs. To maximize efficiency, change your filters regularly, and make sure your windows and doors are well insulated.


  1. Use Less Hot Water - After heating and cooling, hot water accounts for the second-largest energy expense in most homes.2 To cut back, repair any leaks or dripping faucets, install low-flow fixtures, only run your dishwasher when full, and wash clothes in cold water when possible.


  1. Lower Overall Water Consumption - To decrease your water usage, take shorter showers, and turn off the sink while you brush your teeth and wash your hands. If you don’t have a low-flow toilet, retrofit your current one with a toilet tank bank or fill cycle diverter. And irrigate your lawn in the morning or evening to minimize evaporation.3


  1. Conserve Electricity - Save electricity by shutting off your computer at night and installing energy-efficient LED light bulbs. You can minimize standby or “vampire” power drain by utilizing power strips and unplugging idle appliances.4


  1. Purchase a Home Warranty - While there is an upfront cost, a home warranty can provide some protection and peace of mind when it comes to unexpected home repair costs. Most plans provide coverage for major systems (like electrical, plumbing, and HVAC) and appliances (such as your dishwasher, stove, or refrigerator).


  1. Outsource Less - From lawn care to grocery shopping to minor home repairs, we pay people to do a lot of things our parents and grandparents did themselves. To save money, try cutting back on the frequency of these services or taking some of them on yourself.


  1. Prepare Your Own Meals - It costs nearly five times more to have a meal delivered than it does to cook it at home.5 And home cooking doesn’t just save money; it’s healthier, cuts down on calorie consumption and can offer a fun activity for families to do together.


  1. Plan Your Menu in Advance - Meal planning is deciding before you shop what you and your family will eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It can help you lower your overall food bill, eliminate waste, and minimize impulse purchases. When possible, buy produce that is in season, and utilize nutrient-rich but inexpensive protein sources like eggs, beans, ground turkey, and canned tuna.


  1. Plant a Garden - You can save even more on produce by growing it yourself. If you have space in your yard, start-up costs are relatively minimal. Gardening can be a rewarding and enjoyable (not to mention delicious) hobby for the whole family. And it could save you around $600 per year at the grocery store!6


  1. Review Memberships and Subscriptions - Are you paying for services and subscriptions you no longer need, want, or can utilize? Determine if there are any that you should suspend or cancel.


  1. Give Homemade Gifts - Who wouldn’t appreciate a scratch birthday cake or tin of cookies? And if you enjoy crafting, Pinterest and Instagram are full of inspiring ideas. Show your recipient how much you care with a homemade gift from the heart.


  1. Minimize Your Debt Payments - The best way to reduce a debt payment is to pay down the balance. But if that’s not an option right now, try to negotiate a better interest rate. If you have a good credit score, you may be able to qualify for a balance transfer to a 0% or low-interest rate credit card. Keep in mind, the rate may expire after a certain period—so be sure to read the fine print.


  1. Get a Cash-back Credit Card - If you regularly pay your credit card balance in full, a cash-back credit card can be a good way to earn a little money back each month. However, they often come with high-interest rates and fees if you carry a balance. Commit to only using it for purchases you can afford.


  1. Ask for Deals and Discounts - It may feel awkward at first, but becoming a master haggler can save you a lot of money. Many companies are willing to negotiate under the right circumstances. Always inquire about special promotions or incentives. See if they are able to price match (or beat) their competitors. And if an item is slightly defective or nearing its expiration date, ask for a discount.


  1. Track Your Household Budget - One of the most effective ways to reduce household expenses is to set a budget—and stick to it. A budget can help you see where your money is going and identify areas where you can cut back. By setting reasonable limits, you’ll be able to reach your financial goals faster.



Want more help getting a handle on your finances? Use the budget worksheet below to track income and expenses—and start working towards your financial goals today! Please reach out to me for a downloadable version.








Mortgage/taxes/insurance or Rent




Utilities (electricity, water, gas, trash)




Phone, internet, cable




Home maintenance and repairs














Car payment/insurance




Gas, maintenance, repairs





Health insurance




Clothing and personal care












Gifts and charitable contributions




Savings, retirement, college fund









Tips and other





Total Actual Income


Total Actual Expenses







We would love to help you meet your financial goals. Whether you want to refinance your mortgage, save up for a down payment, or simply find lower-cost alternatives for home repairs, maintenance, or utilities, we are happy to provide our insights and referrals. And if you have plans to buy or sell a home this year, we can discuss the steps you should be taking to financially prepare. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation!


The above references an opinion and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be financial advice. Consult a financial professional for advice regarding your individual needs.

I hope you found this blog useful. Thank you, Sanja



1.      Insurance Information Institute -

2.      Department of Energy -

3.      Money Crashers -

4.      Harvard University -

5.      Forbes -

6.      Money -



Posted in Money Matters
June 26, 2020

Home Equity Do's and Don'ts



Home equity loans are an attractive borrowing choice because you get the best of both worlds: the freedom to use the funds for anything you want, just like you would with a personal loan or a credit card, but without the high-interest rates and fluctuating payments. 


Some of the best uses for home equity loans include: 


Consolidate High-Interest Debt. According to the Federal Reserve’s Consumer Credit report, the average credit card APR in the US is 16.97% as per the latest information collected in August 2019, while personal loans have an average APR of 10.07%. Home equity loans can help you consolidate your payments and save money by offering considerably lower rates as low as 3.99%. 


Home Renovations. HomeAdvisor’s latest data revealed that the national average spent per home renovation project in the US was $46,134 in 2019. Taking out a home equity loan for home renovations like a kitchen remodel, a new garage door, or to replace old plumbing can boost your home’s value and even increase your equity. Additionally, the IRS allows you to partially deduct the interest paid on a home equity loan as long as the money was used to “build or substantially improve” your home. 


Refinance Another Loan. This is one of the least talked about uses of home equity loans, but one of the most beneficial ones. If you’ve taken out a variable interest rate loan, you can use your equity to pay it off and turn it into a predictable, fixed-rate loan. 


Investing. Equity can be used to open a new business or grow an existing one, to purchase additional real estate, or invest in the market, to increase your earnings. 


Pay for Higher Education Expenses. College can be expensive, in fact, tuition fees and other required fees can cost as much as $44,384 in some states, as per the information available at the National Center for Education Statistics, which doesn’t even include room and board. If scholarships and federal programs aren’t enough to cover your child’s college expenses, tapping into your equity poses a great alternative to private student loans, which on average have a fixed APR of 9.66% as of 2019. 


As you can see, home equity loans can be used in a variety of ways that can impact your life positively. That being said, there are also not-so-smart ways of using your equity. Although some companies may advertise home equity loans to pay for big events, such as a wedding, to go on vacation, or to pay for big-ticket items, experts strongly recommend against this. 


While it’s true that home equity loans offer lower interest rates than most lending products, you must remember that your house is at stake if you default on your payments, so it’s important to use your equity wisely and avoid getting into debt unnecessarily.  

This blog is a collaboration project with Money.com. For more information please click the link below:


Posted in Money Matters
Feb. 29, 2020

For a Family

An article of this title appeared in the August 2014 issue of "Room" magazine. The story featured the prestigious VanGilder home in one of Iowa City's historic neighborhoods. 

Located at 330 S. Summit Street, the house was built in 1890. Since then, the VanGilders are the fourth owners of this lovely property. Dr. John VanGilder and his bride, Kerstin, purchased the house in September of 1976, 44 years ago, for their family of six. The VanGilder children, Sarah, Rachel, John, and David all grew up here and now have families of their own in Cleveland, Des Moines, Great Falls, and Seattle. 

"Why did you buy this house?" I asked Kerstin. She answered, "John and I loved the warmth of old homes; we loved established neighborhoods; we loved large gatherings of family and friends; we loved having enough space for the kids to have playrooms and a house flexible enough to be their home while they were in college. This place has done all that." 

Living in this home, Kerstin and John made continual improvements to it, all of which reflect their love for quality workmanship. They hired the best contractors to help them make the quality upgrades that such a historic home deserves. 

The kitchen was remodeled in 1977 by Gene Duffey Construction. Kerstin was so delighted with the workmanship, that, in 2009, she again asked the Duffey Brothers to help design a significant addition to the structure. This project added 800 square feet to the original house; it enlarged the kitchen and added, on the main floor, a master bedroom, which includes a large walk-in shower. No expense was spared. 

In the kitchen, the Duffey craftsmen built quarter-sawn oak cabinets with glass door fronts. The kitchen also features such rare amenities as granite countertops, a 500-pound hand­crafted oak table, a 36-bottle wine cooler, a floor-to-ceiling pantry, a "food-planning" kitchen nook, and a granite-top breakfast bar. Deserving special mention is the Thermador cooking ensemble embracing a 6-burner gas stove-top, a vent hood that boasts food warming lights, a double-wall bake oven, and a separate warming oven. The kitchen must be seen to be fully appreciated. 

An east-facing door leads to a covered porch where one can enjoy a coffee or, perhaps, feed the birds. This porch overlooks a big back yard with a masonry cooking grill and a custom-built swing. Just another place for people of all ages to congregate. 

The 2009 addition has heated floors, so spending time there is remarkably pleasant in the winter. It is not hard to imagine that much of the VanGilder household's life was lived in the kitchen. 

Parties and more formal occasions can be held in the separate dining room, away from the preparations in the kitchen. The dining room can be closed off with solid oak pocket doors, although, by keeping the dining room open, one does not lose the cozy aspect of this spacious house. 

The living room has custom-built bookshelves and a wood-burning fireplace. It would be the perfect place to park your baby grand piano. If your job permits it, and if you like to work from home, this house accommodates you with an office/library/reading room right off the living room. Also accessible from the living room is the screened porch, which extends your living space to the outdoors. 

A leaded glass window designed by fine-arts student Ronna River graces the ample and inviting foyer. It was Ms. River's thesis piece. The period in which magnolia trees are in bloom is quite short, so this stained-glass window gives you magnolias the year around. 

The wraparound porch was completely redone in 1990. Kerstin found light fixtures that had been in a school to lend atmosphere and charm to the porch. I envision some begonias and ferns to transform the porch to a party space or a summertime retreat. 

Of the seven bedrooms in this house, two have private bathrooms. The master bedroom is now downstairs, a part of the renovation project of 2009. This room was designed with aging­in-place philosophy; access from the kitchen to all points of the main floor is direct and easy. Whether for a person who has difficulty with stairs or just for those who prefer sleeping on the main level, the new addition is perfect. 

The old, upstairs master bedroom also has large windows, heated floors in the bathroom, and a private, three-­season room with wainscoting on the ceiling and walls. There are 16 windows on three sides of this air-conditioned porch. It could be a summer bedroom or yet another place to please your fancy. 

While he was in medical school, Kerstin's son lived in the attic. The attic is one big room, but it's sort of like an apartment with bathroom and space for a bed, space with shelves for a study, space for a dining table, space for living-room furniture, space for you-name-it. The attic space is a vast room almost 36 feet by 30 feet wide! 

A new roof was installed in 2010, and the house has been repainted since then. The concrete driveway is about 15 years old. 

There is even a carriage house, which now serves as a double garage. Half of this space has been used for storing wood for the fireplace. A workshop/storage space also exists in the carriage house. You could use it, for example, to store your golf clubs or outdoor furniture. 

The upstairs of the carriage house is unfinished; it is an open area with a high-pitched ceiling. It would make a fabulous art studio or a spacious office. Outside of the carriage house, there are three car parking pads. 

As I visited with Kerstin, I realized that her love for this home is reflected in every corner of every room, in every detail and in every improvement. The tradespeople and craftsmen who helped her with the upgrades were rehired again and again. They did such outstanding work that I asked her to give me a list of their names so that the new, fifth owners will know who has been taking care of the house, trimming trees, doing gardening work, removing the snow, and maintaining the mechanical items. I have that list and am personally visiting with the contractors. 

This home is a jewel, an Iowa City gem! If you loved "This Old House," the TV program, you will be able to live it yourself in this beautiful, warm, distinctive home. Indeed, a home "For a Family." 

Please look at the articles from the "Room" and "Elements" magazines. The VanGilder home was featured in both publications for its excellent custom work and splendid layout. 

View the Listing


Sanja Hunt 

Listing Agent 

Posted in Buying a Home
Jan. 30, 2020

5 Steps to Make Your Home the Best on the Block

Posted in Selling Your Home
Dec. 23, 2019




Posted in
July 31, 2017

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