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Has your financial situation improved greatly since you first took on your mortgage? That’s great! You have some options, including paying off your current mortgage ahead of time or refinancing to a shorter term. When it comes to the former option, it’s important to make sure there isn’t a prepayment penalty and that your credit is in good shape. When it comes to the latter option, we’ve some more information for you. Check out the factors below to help you figure out if this is a good decision and how you might go about refinancing to a shorter-term mortgage.

The benefits of a shorter mortgage

Shortening your loan’s term means that you will pay less interest over the length of the loan. This means you will spend less on your home overall. You will also likely secure lower rates, but your monthly payments may be higher. It’s important to make sure this is sustainable for your financial situation before making a change. Your credit score will have a major impact on the rate you’ll be approved for, so know where you stand before you apply. You can check two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.

If you can afford the higher payments, you will reduce your debt faster, pay less in interest and eventually be done with it altogether. Then you will be able to direct that monthly payment you had been setting aside to other financial goals. Your potential savings and home equity can allow you to make other investments or purchases, all while feeling more financially secure as you enter the next phase of life.

The precautions you need to take

You want to be sure paying off your mortgage early doesn’t pose a significant risk to your finances. The money you use should not threaten your emergency fund or other financial priorities. For example, if you can only afford to make the larger monthly payments by dipping into your savings or not contributing to your retirement fund, it likely isn’t a good idea. Since you will pay off your mortgage sooner, this will likely affect your tax situation.

Should you make the jump?

The first step is making sure changing the term of your loan makes financial sense. Calculate what you will save in interest costs over the life of the loan and compare that to what you will pay in refinance closing costs. If you will save more money than you spend, it could be a good idea.

The next step is contacting your current lender and asking them about your refinance options. Then it’s a good idea to shop around with other lenders to see if you can find better rates or terms.

This is not a decision that should be taken lightly, so evaluate the potential effects refinancing your mortgage could have on your finances before you make your choice. It may feel great to own your home outright and be mortgage-free, but not if it comes at the cost of other financial goals.

When it comes to real estate, a home’s haunted legacy can actually be a selling point. In New Orleans, for example, some agents add “haunted” or “not haunted” on their real estate signs to boost sales. (We’re not sure which works better on prospective Big Easy buyers.) And earlier this year a supposedly haunted house in Camden, NY, topped our Most Popular Homes of the Week for two weeks in a row.

But why are we real-estate stalking homes that could scare us? What’s the (terrifying) appeal, anyway?

A haunting attraction

“It is just a thrill factor for many people,” says sociologist Margee Kerr, who studies fear. “We kind of get caught up in it. We like telling the stories at parties. It is just fun.”

But rumored-to-be-haunted houses must share certain characteristics to get us excited, says Kerr, author of “Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear.”

First, the house should be old. “You’re not going to see too many haunted 21st-century homes,” Kerr says. And it isn’t just that old houses have old pipes and cobwebs. That aura of history gives us a thrill.

“Here we are in front of something that witnessed the passing of time, and that freaks us out because we’re standing close to an almost dangerous unknown,” she says.

It also doesn’t hurt if the house itself can give us the creeps.

“Creaky wood, old plumbing, basically anything that makes a lot of noise is terrifying,” Kerr says. “Every sound could potentially be the ghost.”

You need a proper phantom

But a resident ghost isn’t always a selling point—it has to be sympathetic. “Basically, we look for stories that have good ghosts or fun ghosts, not homes where a serial killer buried 10 bodies in the basement,” says Kerr.

A tragic haunting could be enough to keep a home on the market forever, or force the seller into dropping the price to unload the cursed property. And it even affects buyers who don’t believe in ghosts.

“These stories can circulate, and even if someone doesn’t believe in the folklore, the negative conditions can still sway a buyer,” Kerr says. “Once the house has a negative association, it can be hard to shake.”

A preference that’s made in America

Oddly enough, buying a house for its ghosts may be a truly American tendency. “We just tend to have more fun with it,” says Kerr. “It is almost a lighthearted, funny thing for many people.”

But the same isn’t true in other cultures. For example, Kerr saw a huge difference when visiting Japan.

“For many people in Japan, when a bad death has happened in a house, the house is exceedingly difficult to sell,” she says. “Many people believe the unrest in the home will cause their family problems in life.”

But for us, we’re thrill-seekers, and we might always love a good ghost story.

Purchases of new homes nationwide slumped in September to a 10-month low, disrupting a trend of steady improvement this year in the industry.

Sales dropped 11.5% to a 468,000 annualized pace and the prior two months were revised lower, Commerce Department figures showed Monday. The September rate, which included a record percentage decline in the Northeast, was weaker than all economists' forecasts in a Bloomberg survey.

Selling a home isn’t just about slapping down a fresh coat of paint—you need to delve into home buyers’ brains and figure out what makes them tick. From the moment they spot your listing to the instant they walk through your door, what persuades them to make an offer, and stick around to close the deal? To find out, we culled the most recent scientific studies that examine the home-buying mind to find out what turns it on—and off—and how you can use this information to your advantage.

Buyers know within seconds if they want a home

With a decision as weighty as a home purchase, one might think that buyers deliberate over all the pros and cons before they decide to sign on the dotted line. Yet studies show this is not the case.

According to the “Psychology of House Hunting” report by BMO Financial Group, 80% of prospective buyers know if a home is right for them within seconds of stepping inside. The reason? Researchers theorize that our minds process far more information in less time than we think, so a lengthy deliberation process may be a waste of time.

Take-home lesson: Since buyers know within seconds of entering your home whether it’s The One, you’ll want to spiff up the area they’ll see in that time frame—namely, your foyer.

“It can be a challenge to keep this area tidy since that’s where homeowners put their mail, keys, coats, shoes, dog leashes, and other items,” says Sissy Lappin, a real estate broker in Houston.

Containers are key for keeping this mess under control: baskets or racks for shoes, bowls for keys and change—and, unless you have a nearby closet, you can never have too many coat hooks. Be sure to stash any seldom-used items elsewhere. Anywhere else.

They find aromatherapy confusing

It’s not all about what home buyers see; what they smell matters, too. But that doesn’t mean you should fill your home with potpourri or freshly baked cookies.

These “complex” scents can actually backfire in homes, according to a study by Eric Spangenberg at Washington State University, who found that shoppers will spend 32% more in stores where he piped in a simple orange scent rather than a multifaceted blend of orange, basil, and green tea. The reason? Complex scents may be nice, but they’re also more distracting as people try to figure out what they are.

As Spangenberg explained to the Wall Street Journal, “They are not there to process the smells. They are there to process whether this is a place they want to live.”

Take-home lesson: If you go for a scent, keep it fresh and simple. Spangenberg recommends lemon, basil, or pine. You have no time to grab scented candles?

“As a quick fix, I splash Pine-Sol down the sink,” says Lappin. “While certain scents might appeal to one gender but turn off the other, everyone loves the smell of clean.”

They’re wary of the number 9 in a price

On just about any shopping spree, we’re wooed by “charm prices”—in other words, T-shirts or towels priced at $9.99 rather than a round $10—because consumers tend to think that prices ending in 9 are a way better deal. Only with big purchases like homes, charm pricing makes buyers wary.

 

According to a study by Old Dominion University, 9’s near the end of a home price—say, $199,000 versus $200,000—are a turnoff. Why? Because these homes appear to be trying too hard to look like a bargain, and buyers don’t like that whiff of desperation when it comes to such a big purchase.

Take-home lesson: Avoid 9’s near the end of your asking price, because buyers may have a knee-jerk impulse to turn away.

“Charm pricing may be fine for T-shirts, but it looks sleazy on a home,” Lappin says. “You feel like you need a shower after seeing the price.”

Prices with round numbers are a turnoff, too

Another number no-no? Pricing your home with round numbers with lots of zeroes, like $200,000, seems like you pulled this number out of a hat. A more specific number like $217,000, on the other hand, makes it look like you’ve really done your homework and know exactly what your home is worth.

One study by Columbia Business School found that negotiators who ask for specific amounts are more successful than those who make rounded offers.

Take-home lesson: Avoid the round number trap and make sure your asking price is specific.“It will sound like you’ve run the numbers on your home, right down to the exact square footage,” says Lappin. “Oftentimes buyers will ask, ‘Where does this number come from?’ and I’ll say, ‘This seller has done their research and it will take an hour to explain it.’ That’s usually enough to convince them to fall in line.”

Buyers fall hard for staged homes

Staging a home to sell is all the rage these days, and research shows it works: A study by the Real Estate Staging Association looked at 63 unstaged homes that sat on the market for an average of 143 days. Once those houses were professionally staged, they sold, on average, 40 days after their makeover.

Take-home lesson: Pay attention to presentation. But you may not have to open your wallet for a professional stager; the basic premises are simple ones that anyone can put into practice. For one: If you’re already moved out, get some furniture back in the house.

“Seeing a house without furniture is like seeing someone naked in bright light: You can see all their flaws,” says Lappin. Or, if your home does have furniture, make sure it’s the right furniture for each room.

“If you turned your college kid’s bedroom into an office/workout room, change it back to a bedroom,” says Lappin. “I don’t care if it’s four-bedroom—if you only have a bed in one room, it will be perceived as a one-bedroom house. It may sound weird, but that’s how people think. They may say they have imaginations, but they really don’t. On a subliminal level, they take what they see to heart.”

Courtesy of Realtor.com

Autumn chores: raking leaves, weatherproofing, storing the patio furniture and preparing for next year’s tax returns.

With nearly three months left in the year, jumbo-mortgage borrowers still have time to make tweaks that can lessen what they owe in April. Here are some tips from tax experts—but be sure to consult a tax professional for specifics on your return.

First, the tax rules are tricky for home sellers who have claimed a home-office deduction.