No question. Credit is the key determinant of your ability to get a loan and/or the terms of that loan. The better the credit, the better the terms. The credit scoring system is imperfect, but it is the best we have to predict the likelihood of a borrower’s ability and willingness to pay back a loan. However, before you give up on owning a home – there are steps you can take to see if your credit will prohibit you from buying today, and if your credit needs some polishing – there are steps for that as well.

Let’s start with what we call a FICO score. FICO is a proprietary brand name. It stands for FAIR Isaac Score – it is a software program that many lenders use to sort and tabulate the data that determines if you are a good credit risk. A FICO score is a three-digit number ranging from 300 to 850 (and up to 900 for some industry-specific scores). The minimum FICO credit score for an FHA loan is 500 or higher. If your score is at least 580, you also need at least a 3.5% down payment. You can still get approved for an FHA loan with a credit score lower than 580 and down to 500, but you’ll need a larger down payment of at least 10%. A lower score may also affect the interest rate you get on a loan (a fact you may have discovered when you last purchased a car). If your FICO score is 700 or higher you are considered a great candidate for premium terms on your loan.

There are many on-line sources to do a cursory check of your credit score. Federal law also allows you to request a free report from each of the national credit reporting companies once every 12 months at The free annual report does not include a credit score, but you can purchase your credit score when you request your report. Any loan officer can also pull a credit report for you. The pulling of this report can affect your score if it is done several times, so make sure you are serious about purchasing or working on your credit before you ask this to be done.

What if your credit score is too low to purchase a home? Good news here: a good loan officer can help you “rehab” that score and give you a time frame in which to expect to see your credit score rise. Follow the instructions of an expert and within months or a year you will have positioned yourself for homeownership.

The Kathy Chiero Group of EXP Realty Greater Cleveland works with a great team of lenders. Contact us for a referral and let’s get going finding you a house! Find us at

It was a few years ago that I got the call from an elderly client to sell her home. Pauline had lived in the home for over 50 years and raised two sons there. Her husband, George, died ten years ago, her eldest son, Greg lived in Atlanta and his younger brother, Scott, lived in Colorado. Along with her sons, Pauline had decided to sell the home and move to Colorado to live with Scott.

Pauline and George had raised their two boys in an 1100 square foot cape cod style home built in the 1950s. You’ve seen the style: the main floor is one living area, two small bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen. Upstairs is one long room with “cove” ceilings. Many times, this room is used as an attic and then converted into living space.

On the day of the house closing her sons flew to Cleveland to close up the home with her and start their move west. As a final “goodbye” the boys walked through the home with their mother. Both had not lived under this roof in decades and the memories were the running dialog of this last tour. Initially the two (now) men shared the small main-floor bedroom. As they grew, Dad finished out the attic space to make one large room. Scott and Greg fought over who got the “big” upstairs bedroom. Greg, the oldest, won, he thought. Only after spending his first un-airconditioned summer there did Greg feel he got the short end of the deal. (“Our own Ez-Bake oven. I was the Bake”). Eventually couches were thrown into the corner of the unfinished basement and this was the teen gathering area for friends visiting the boys in the 1970s.

As I was listening to the family narrative I marveled at an era when an entire family could exist for decades in a space the size of 1/4 of a basketball court. I don’t know the houses that Scott and Greg purchased for themselves but if they are like many of my next-generation clients the minimum is 2200 square feet, and many can’t imagine raising families in less than 3000 square feet (plus finished basements). One bedroom for each child + a guest bedroom is the minimum and 3 full bathrooms is becoming the norm.

The median size of a new single-family home in 1965 was 1200 square feet according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2018 that square footage has doubled to 2600 and 46 percent of new single-family homes had four bedrooms or more. (The cost of those homes has increased 10 times from $27,000 to over $270,000, but that’s another blog.) Bathrooms? Homes with at least 3 bathrooms make up 35% of American new build construction. A full 61% of American homes have two full bathrooms. Full is defined as a sink, toilet and a tub and/or shower.

Do we really need over 900 SF of space per person living in the home? Common sense would tell you, no, we don’t NEED that space. But America is not a nation of NEEDS, our culture, affluence, and lifestyle is one of relative luxury and WANTS. What do Americans wantin our homes? We want bedrooms for each child, we want an office (TWO offices, one for him and her is the latest trend), a man-cave, a she-shed, a finished basement for teens, and a studio for hobbies. Oh, and 3-car garage for our vehicles. Thus, 2600 square feet becomes the average.

Do these homes make us happier? That’s next week in House Call.

This blog is written by Kathy Chiero. The Kathy Chiero Group, EXP Realty Greater Colum-bus is the proud sponsor of DownSize Cleveland and Central Ohio’s top real estate team for the over-55 homeowner. Find us at

Getting a mortgage is a little like getting married: it is a highly intrusive dive into the financials of your life, and you sign a 30-year commitment. Who you choose to trust with the details is very important and goes way beyond an interest rate? But let’s talk about that interest rate: this little number is going to determine how much you pay the bank for the privilege of borrowing money. A 1% difference in an interest rate can mean $100’s of dollars difference in a monthly payment. However, the truth is that there is going to be very little difference between the rates of reputable lenders because they are all getting their money from the same source AND intend to make money on those loans by selling them again on what is called the “secondary market.” Because of this the interest rate on your loan is not an arbitrary or flexible number. For example, if one mortgage broker tells you they can get you a 30-year-fixed mortgage rate of 3.5% and everyone else is at 4.65% – the mortgage broker who offered you the 3.5% has hidden fees somewhere or is in some way going to recoup the money so that they are really making 4.65% with your loan. Confusing? Yes. The other “catch” is that a Broker really can’t tell you over the phone what YOUR rate will be. Why? Because they don’t know YOU. One of the biggest factors in establishing YOUR rate is YOUR credit score. The best way to choose a good loan officer is based on a combination of criteria: interest rates, in-house underwriting, skilled loan officers, and processes in place to serve you and close your loan on time on terms to which you agreed. How do you know which mortgage broker will do this? Ask a trusted Realtor: we do these 100 times a year and know the best mortgage brokers and the ones to stay away from (even if their rates are lower!)

The Kathy Chiero Group of EXP Realty Greater Cleveland is a team of great Realtors ready to go to work for you. Find us a

Real estate licensing differs in the 50 states in the United States. In Ohio, a licensed Realtor has completed 120 hours of education and passed an exam on State and Federal laws. Our profession requires honesty held in place by written rules and continuing education on servicing the public with the highest standards of ethics. However, as in any profession there are good, better, and best. What should you be looking for? You should look for a Realtor in the same way you would look for someone with whom to invest your money: Are they honest? On time and reliable? Listen closely to your needs and directives? Care for your money with the same attention they would for their own? After all, you ARE trusting a professional to guide you in the investment of a lot of money. Granted, most of the time much of the money is given to you by a bank, but the bank is going to want that money paid back and you are going to want to have made a profit in the transaction. You should feel like the Realtor is your advocate and trusted guide in the process.

What are some warning signs: Do you feel rushed or pressured? Do you feel like the Realtor isn’t available or isn’t available to YOU? Are you seeing homes which fit the parameters you have set or do you feel like you are being steered in a direction the Realtor feels is best for you? Are your questions answered clearly and in a timely manner? Do you feel a part of the process or do you feel pulled along by the decisions of others? If you feel any of these — you need to have an honest conversation with your Realtor and get back on track or find a Realtor that better fits your needs. The Kathy Chiero Group of EXP Realty Greater Cleveland is a team of great Realtors ready to go to work for you. Find us a

I get it. You are a DIY-er and you can find lots of great information (and houses!) on the internet so why get tangled up with a high-pressure salesperson? The truth is: you don’t have to. Just like anything else you CAN buy a house without independent representation. And if the homeowner is not using a Realtor, you both CAN buy and sell without any representation. The real question is why would you NOT want a professional on your side? Think of it like buying a car; you CAN buy a car online without assistance. But what if it cost you nothing to be advised on the best choice by an expert who has years of experience with that car? What if a mechanic would look over that car for you to make sure you are getting a car that has a minimum of unseen problems? And what if you got free great advice on what that car will be worth if you decide to sell it in 2-3 years? Wouldn’t that be the better choice for a big investment? It’s the same thing (on an even bigger investment!) when buying a home. Your Realtor is an advocate for YOUR interests with no obligation to the Seller. A good Realtor is not high-pressure, in fact, most Realtors want your business for a lifetime, so they are going to work to earn your trust the FIRST time. Your Realtor doesn’t get paid unless and until you buy a home. So, go with the wise choice: hire a good Realtor. The Kathy Chiero Group of EXP Realty Greater Cleveland is a team of great Realtors ready to go to work for you. Find us a

In 2010 my daughter went to college out of state. Lindsay was 18. It was her first time sleeping outside her own bedroom. She is gregarious by nature – I didn’t have a lot of worries when I boarded the plane to leave, but I did tell her I would call regularly to make sure she was OK. And I did. Day 1. Day 2. Day 3. Each day Lindsay filled me in on all the “news”. New classes, new friends, new foods, new college experiences. Then she stopped answering as often. Days at a time would pass and except for an occasional text – I didn’t talk to her as often. When I could catch her our conversation would begin with an apology for the silence. “Mom, I’m so busy. Mom I was with (new friend). Mom, I was playing volleyball.” I told her that I knew she was OK when she stopped answering her phone. I knew that the silence meant she was off and living.

I remembered that when the adult daughter of one of my real estate clients told me a version of the same thing. We had just sold the family home and Sarah’s mother, Lorraine, was living in a comfortable apartment in a beautiful retirement facility. Lorraine had fought the move. For years Sarah (who lives in another state) had encouraged her Mom to move and for years Lorraine had said she didn’t want to leave her familiar home. As her mother’s health declined, Sarah and Lorraine knew that moving somewhere safe was a hard, but necessary decision. On that “drop off” day, Sarah told her Mom she would call every day to check in on her. And she did. Day 1. Day 2. Day 3. Every phone call Sarah would hear the “news”. New classes, new friends, new foods, new retirement experiences. And then Lorraine stopped answering. At one point Sarah got concerned and called the facility administrator. Is my Mom OK? I can’t get her on the phone. “I can see her right now…” said the administrator, she’s playing cards with friends and I saw her this morning in a water aerobics class. “ “Water aerobics!” said Sarah. “I didn’t know my Mom owned a bathing suit!” Her Mom was off and living.

The staff at retirement communities and condo communities will tell you that the only consistent regret they hear from their residents is that the move wasn’t made sooner. Downsizing is good for your health: mentally and physically. Some of the benefits of downsizing:

  • Less Stress!  “Stuff” is stressful. Having it. Looking at it. The knowledge that we have to get rid of it. The more we own, the more our possessions tend to own us. Taking care of “stuff” – including our home is stressful and expensive. Many homeowners agree that a larger home leads to more stress as well as upkeep, including more cleaning, maintenance, furnishing and higher costs, which lead to more stress.
  • Healthy Activities:  Downsizing means that you’ll have fewer daily chores and more time for healthy activities like sports and exercising as well as getting more rest. Many retirement-oriented communities encourage and provide resources for physical activities you can’t do at home… or alone. Pools, walking paths, fitness facilities (and friends to go with you) will put you on the way to a healthier life.
  • New Friends:  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that more than 28% of adults over the age of 65 live alone, and 46% of women age 75 and older live alone. This is hard. And dangerous. Loneliness is a daily battle for many seniors and being alone in a medical emergency is a very legitimate fear. Community living solves this. You can be as independent as you want; you can be as social as you want. A community of like-aged and like-minded people means you will certainly have friends close by when and if you need them.

So, when your son or daughter or friend or family member gently asks you to consider the move to a retirement community… listen. Know that the move to Over-55 living can mean a rewarding final chapter of a life well-lived. (And you don’t have to hear “I told you so…” You’re too busy to answer the phone!)

You’ve heard the truism “a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step”. This is true when it comes to getting rid of ‘stuff.’ The challenge of removing a mountain of ‘things’ begins with disposing of the first thing. Too many people get overwhelmed by the height or volume of the mountain and never begin. I call it “frozen” in indecision. The mountain can be moved if you tackle the project one space at a time. (I don’t even say one ‘room’ at a time because sometimes that is overwhelming.)

Let’s start with a closet.

Begin with establishing four ‘piles’ for your decisions. Keep, donate, dispose, or sell. Give yourself 48 hours to act on your decision to donate, dispose or sell, otherwise the decisions will just become another pile. Pull every item out of the closet and put in one of the four piles. If your “keep” pile is the recipient of most of your generosity – you’ve got to be harder on yourself.

Is it clothing? Try it on. If it doesn’t fit, isn’t in style, or you haven’t worn it in a year put it in one of the other three piles. Someone needs it. Your overflow is someone else’s provision. Don’t fall into the trap of “maybe” or “I might” – that’s what caused your clutter to begin with. Is it the ‘stuff’ of life: books, CD’s, games, etc. If it hasn’t been pulled from your closet in over a year it goes into one of the three piles to get rid of. When you are finished, return to the closet the “keep” items: you should have left only the favorite items you use on a regular basis and your closet should have considerable more order.

Now, let’s tackle the remaining piles.

Let’s start with the trash: that’s easy, throw them away.

Now, the giveaway pile. Immediately put the giveaway items in a box or bag and put them in the backseat of your vehicle. If they are ‘giveaway’ to a specific person, but them in a box labeled for the person. (Make sure you ask if the recipient wants your ‘gift’, don’t assume.) If they are ‘giveaway’ to charity, put them in another box. Don’t put the boxes in the trunk – the trunk becomes an out-of-sight-out-of-mind disposal site. The next time you are running errands you are always aware of these items in your back seat. Drop them off at the friend or family member or the donation site as you are in the area.

Finally, the “Sell” items. There are many online resources to sell your unwanted items. I’ve found great success with Facebook marketplace; for larger volume there are companies like; for entire estate or household sales there are many local online and physical auction houses. The key is – know how to handle the online market place or hire someone to do it. If you have an entire household of “stuff” you are often better off setting aside “sale” items and having a professional handle it for you.

Give yourself a goal of one ‘space’ a week to clear. If the ‘space’ is a room, give yourself time to thoroughly inventory the ‘stuff’ so that you are keeping only the essential, loved, or items that give you joy.

The Kathy Chiero Group of EXP Realty Greater Cleveland specializes in helping homeowners “downsize”. We are the creators and presenters of Central Ohio’s premier downsizing event, DownSize Cleveland. How can we help you? Contact us for a free in-home analysis of the value of your home, tips for getting your home sale ready and additional resources for getting rid of stuff.

I make a living walking through the homes of strangers. I could be an expert witness if Americans could be put on trial for having too much stuff. George Foreman is a very rich man because every household owns at least two of his grills.

I was recently meeting with a homeowner who was ready to downsize. They were selling their 4000 square foot home (with a full basement, full of ‘stuff’) and had begun the “keep, sell, donate, trash…” process of parting with their belongings. I noticed in the “keep” pile several boxes marked “Christmas”. I asked where they were moving. They said to a 1700 square foot condo without a basement. I asked about the large amount of ‘Christmas’ going with them and (she) admitted that she couldn’t bear to part with the décor that had framed this wonderful holiday in their home for over 30 years. And, she said, “We’re not sure what we’ll need in the condo and it would be a shame to have to buy it all again.” True. But I can very competently assure them that they won’t need, nor have room for 16 wreaths.

Downsizing means parting with a lot. In a previous blog (Tip #1: Avoid Tackling Everything at Once) I wrote about thoughtfully sorting through your home and keeping only the items that are essential, you love, or bring joy. In this blog we emphasize the first of that troika of advice: take only things that are essential. And, by extension of that definition: you only need one of most things. While each of 16 Christmas wreaths has a special memory: 15 of them are likely to take up space in a box, never seen at your new home. Pick one.

The kitchen is the sacred Temple of Too Much Stuff. How much dishware does two people (or one) need? How many serving spoons? How many mixers, griddles, pans, or toasters? Probably half of what you own would suffice. And, this is an area that local donation sites would LOVE your stuff. In Cleveland we have ministries and non-profit charities which help immigrant families or working poor get settled into homes. For a tax donation credit you can bless these families with your culinary dust-collectors (and they will get used. Every day.)

Linen closets: when you were raising kids it was necessary to have a linen closet full of sheets and towels. Do you even own the beds anymore that fit the sheets? Will those beds be going with you? Do all of those towels need to go with you? No. Pick the ones you use, love, or bring you joy and donate the rest.

Toys, Games, and Electronics: For decades you have been the Keep of all Things Kids. Now is the time to pass the “stuff” mantle on to the next generation. Most of these things you don’t use, you don’t love them, and they don’t bring you joy. You’re keeping them for the people you love and bring you joy, your adult children. Like the dinner bell call of our grandparents: “COME AND GET IT!!” (Or it will be gone…)

The Kathy Chiero Group of EXP Realty Greater Cleveland specializes in helping homeowners “downsize”. We are the creators and presenters of Central Ohio’s premier downsizing event, DownSize Cleveland. How can we help you? Click here for a complete list of “getting rid of stuff” tips and resources and a free in-home analysis of the value of your home

One of the most common excuses I hear from downsizing homeowners about not getting rid of “stuff” is this: “I don’t know where I’m going so I’m not sure what I will need or not need.” Can I gently help you? With respect… and very few exceptions… I DO know where you are moving. You are moving to a much smaller space. For most of you your new “space” will be a kitchen, one main living area, one-to-three bedrooms, and one or two bathrooms. You might have a 1- or 2-car garage. If you are moving to a condo you probably will not have a basement. In total you will be living in 1700 or less square feet. If your plans are to move to a retirement community or an apartment, your living space will likely be on the smaller side: 900 – 1100 square feet with only one bedroom.

What does that look like? If you are living in a 2400 square foot two story, imagine living only on the main floor.

With that in mind, you no longer have an excuse. Now you can look at your belongings in your current home and ask yourself “which of my three or four living areas (living room, kitchen, or bedroom/s) will this item go in? If there is not a room for it, it can’t go with you. Sounds simple, but the decision making can be excruciating. The furniture, décor, and household items you own are in your home because at one point you brought them there for use or enjoyment. There is very little you don’t “like” and a lot you are attached to. (And, let’s be honest, most of us are not excited about making the move to begin with, much less pouring salt on that wound by having to rid ourselves of things we love!)

If you have trouble visualizing the new space, go walk through a condominium model home this weekend. Visit an apartment complex and walk through the model of a floor plan you would consider. Or, ask for a tour of the retirement community you are considering. “Feel” the space and visualize where your things will go. Many of these communities will give you a drawn floor plan with room measurements so that you can more accurately and realistically “place” your furniture items.

Storage is at a premium in these kinds of communities. You may have a garage if you’re fortunate, or more likely, a large closet or maybe a storage “bin” in a community area. The days of just “put it in the basement” are gone – every inch must be allotted to the items you use every day.

The Kathy Chiero Group of EXP Realty Greater Cleveland specializes in helping homeowners “downsize”. We would be happy to help you by showing condos or homes to you which fit your budget and downsize plans.

We are the creators and presenters of Central Ohio’s premier downsizing event, DownSize Cleveland. How can we help you? Click here for a complete list of “getting rid of stuff” tips and resources and a free in-home analysis of the value of your home

There is a Russian proverb that says “when a man dies, a library burns down.”

My pre-real estate career was that of a news reporter.  I worked for a nationwide cable news network and traveled our nation on assignment.   In 1990 I was asked to cover the reopening of Ellis Island.  After the immigration station closed in November 1954, the buildings fell into disrepair and were abandoned.   Peeling paint was the décor and rats were the residents until the site was named a National Landmark in 1966 and monies were dedicated to its restoration. (It’s marvelous restoration if you never visited…)

My job was to find someone who had “come over on the boat.”  That iconic person who remembers the vision of the Statue of Liberty after weeks on open seas.   Old enough to have been there, but young enough to articulate the memories of Ellis Island processing.    This was pre-internet and the only way to find that person was to sit in a dusty closet in a Manhattan Immigration field office.  I was pointed to boxes full of paper files; some semblance of organization but a far cry from the web-based data systems that spoil us today.

I don’t remember her name.  I will call her Olga.  But I remember she lived on the 63rd floor of a New York high rise, her home for over 50 years.  She was from Poland and was 14 when she came to America.  For two hours Olga told her story:  A narrow escape from the Nazi Wehrmacht, the tide of fear which followed  Germany’s politico-military power.   She cried when she saw the Statue of Liberty; she feared the health tests on Ellis Island would send her back.

Her story forever captured on videotape, we said goodbye and I rode 63 floors down to the busy streets of Manhattan.   As I was walking away from her building I looked up.  I wondered which window was Olga’s?  One window in a sea of windows.  One building in a sea of buildings. One city in a nation of immigrants.  All the people passing by…did they know what a treasure lived midway up this highrise? How many more stories are behind those windows?  How many Olga’s waiting to be asked?

What is your story? What a tragedy to allow your story to burn without sharing it! One of the benefits of age is the wisdom of experience and the rich treasure of life stories. What treasures of experience do you have to share? Have you ever taken the time to ask a stranger? How much richer would we be if we stopped to ask and to listen to the person behind the window on the 63rd floor?