"Sandy Don't Come Here - Go Home"

That was a sign I saw on a condemned building in Union Beach NJ.

Recently I had the privilege to participate in the disaster relief effort in New Jersey and witness first hand the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy. A good sized contingent from our church traveled up to East Brunswick, New Jersey and the Union Beach neighborhood. To the North we could see the Manhattan skyline. Looking South to these neighborhoods what we saw was simply overwhelming. Words cannot describe the staggering losses people have suffered. We worked to clear debris and remove drywall in homes damaged by the seawater surge. In some areas water was close to 6 feet above street level. Mold is a big problem, so we removed carpet and opened walls to allow the drying process to start. We saw lots homes that were damaged that had not even been helped yet. So many will be condemned due to mold and rot if they are not rescued soon. 

It was heartwarming to speak to residents who were so appreciative of our help. I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it is for them to carry on. Homes and business have been lost, and they couldn't have been more kind and gracious to us. Tragedy often brings out the very best in people. That spirit was certainly on  display in Union Beach. 

Here are some photos that give some sense of the damage.

Waiting for our assignments with the Manhattan Skyline on the horizon .

Islamic Relief USA was there as well.
My camera reversed the lettering on his sweater!
They said they were the Smurfs, and we were the Bees.

Tearing it up!

Complete devastation

All that's left

Only the foundation and the rubble remain

High water mark is over my head!

"Warren Buffett Just Made a Huge Bet on the US Housing Market"

What a headline! Warren Buffer just bet on the housing turnaround by accelerating his purchases of real estate brokerages in the US and Canada. Operating as Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, he is looking to position himself to take advantage of the coming housing recovery. I wonder what he sees that most homeowners in the US haven't yet realized? Clearly he is bullish on the home market rebounding and plans to take advantage of that opportunity. Are you with him? I am. 


Hanging pictures drives me crazy!

This looks like a pretty nifty device to help hang pictures properly every time. I've watched the videos and it looks pretty simple and easy. Has anyone ever used this tool personally? I'd love to hear any reviews. 


Reduce Your Mortgage Faster! Save for College or Retirement!

Low home prices mean reduced mortgage amounts. Low interest rates save you even more. How about taking it to the next level and pay off your mortgage even faster? Here are some ideas I picked up in a recent Toronto Star article. 

Making mortgage payments for 20 to 30 years can take a huge bite out of your budget, even with low interest rates. A $300,000 mortgage at 3.29 per cent, amortized over 30 years will cost $161,300 in interest.
Yet it’s surprisingly easy to reduce your amortization – and the amount of interest you’ll pay.  When you’re mortgage free, a big part of your budget will become available to help achieve your other financial goals.
Here are three ways to become mortgage free faster:
1. Make a lump sum payment
A lump sum payment, or prepayment, reduces your outstanding principal.  The sooner you can make a prepayment, the less interest you’ll pay over the long term.
Coming up with a large lump sum - up to $75,000 on a $300,000 mortgage - is next to impossible for most people. But even a small sum – from a bonus or tax refund, for instance – can reduce your overall interest amount.
2. Increase the amount of your payments
Most mortgage lenders allow you increase your payment by 10 to 100 per cent, but there may be a fee if you change it again during the calendar year.  This option is easier than coming up with a large lump sum. 
Paying an extra $100 a month on a $300,000 mortgage at 3.29 per cent over 30 years will save you more than $11,000 and reduce the amortization by 3 1/2 years.
3. Make more frequent payments
Financial institutions offer a number of payment options. If you decide to make more frequent payments, make sure you choose an accelerated option.  Accelerated bi-weekly payments can save you thousands in interest charges because you’ll make the equivalent of one extra monthly payment each year.
There is very little extra savings if you just switch to a more frequent payment without taking the “accelerated” option.
On the same $300,000 mortgage as above, a bi-weekly payment will save $289 in interest over the life of the mortgage. On the other hand, with an accelerated bi-weekly payment (an extra $50 per payment) you’ll save more than $18,000 over the life of the mortgage.
You can save thousands in interest by paying off your mortgage as fast as your budget allows. Contact your mortgage lender for your payment options and any penalties or fees you may be required to pay.
Best of Luck!