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Michele Cummins: A foolproof “do what it takes” motto | REM

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What surprised Michele Cummins the most when she started her real estate career?

“In real estate they have this ‘have your cake and eat it too’ mentality,” she says. “As in, ‘We’re all Realtors here and we’re all one big happy family,’ and then the next thing you know, your Realtor “family member” is actually your most cutthroat competitor.




But looking back now, she’s not sure why she was surprised. When there are a dozen local Realtors vying for the biggest listing in town, cutthroat competition is expected. This made Cummins more resilient and less lazy, she says. In other words, she picked the hard way by presenting her genuine self to clients and Realtors.

In 2016 and 2017, she was Re/Max’s No. 1 selling agent in Fraser Valley, B.C. and one of the top one per cent agents Canada-wide. Now Cummins juggles her full-time real estate career, based at Re/Max Little Oak Realty in Mission, with co-hosting Fraser Valley’s only real estate radio show alongside radio personality Curtis Pope on Country 107.1 FM.

Cummins says the secret to her success is simple: “do what it takes. If nobody in my town knows who I am, I go knock on doors. If I’m expected to knock on doors, in the rain, on a Sunday when the game’s on, then yes, that’s what I’ll do. If my client wants to call me at 9 p.m., then I’ll do it, even if I had plans for a movie night,” she says.

Indeed, it’s a door knock that earned Cummins her first sale in the first month of her career. When she knocked on the doors of her first listing, a couple opened the door. They instantly suspected her because at 28, Cummins looked 10 years younger. “Are you new?” they asked. “Yes,” she said. “And because I’m new, I have the energy, the newest rules and laws and the most updated information at hand, because I just went through all the courses. I’m eager and hungry and I want to help you make the most money.”

“Well, come on in,” replied the couple. “We like your energy. Have a look at our place. We’re thinking about selling.”

She helped the couple sell their home and buy a new one. That was 20 years ago. They remain in touch with her to this day and exchange gifts on Christmas, every year.

Cummins didn’t intend to be in real estate. She bumped into it by happenstance.

An American transplant, Cummins has “been making her way north” since she was in her teens. When her family moved from California to Oregon, she was 13. Homeschooled by her mother, she helped her parents in their family-owned candy and gift store. At 15, she got her GED that allowed her to enter college. Cummins grew up in the country surrounded by acres of farm and horses. She developed a love for horses that quickly led to her breeding them and competing in Oregon’s horse circuit. At one point, her family owned 20 horses.

Cummins also had a love for acting. Her Hollywood dreams weren’t too far fetched. She grew up performing in community theatres and traced her ancestry back to MGM Studios, where her great-grandfather worked for 50 years, her cousins acted and her father manned the special effects for seven years. Acting was in her veins. In 1998, when her boyfriend, soon-to-be husband and Canadian musician Richard Cummins alerted her to Vancouver’s reputation of being “Hollywood of the north”, she knew what her next port of call would be.

When they moved to B.C., Richard found them a small cottage at a horse breeding farm owned by a Saudi couple who were doctors living overseas but needed a manager to look after their Swedish warmblood Olympic horses. This was a win-win deal.

While pursuing touch-and-go acting jobs, Cummins also worked at a car and truck rental. One day a Realtor with car trouble requested a rental while his car got fixed. Impressed by Cummins’s computer skills behind the counter, he quickly offered her a temporary job to help him as an office assistant. Cummins says, “It was a Tuesday. He showed me his office where he didn’t have a computer. He was old school, but his office was amazing. I met his manager, and then at the end of that one-hour walk-around, I said, well, if I do this, I would want to be a Realtor.”

Since then, Cummins hasn’t looked back.

Her training in the arts was put to good use too. In September 2018, Country 107.1 surveyed the region’s top selling agents to co-host a real estate radio show for their listeners in Langley, Surrey, Abbotsford, Mission, Maple Ridge, Richmond and North Vancouver. They called upon Cummins, and in short order, she got the job.

“Being a radio show host is definitely something that you have to grow into,” says Cummins.

With Curtis Pope, her show is like listening to two good friends having a conversation about real estate over coffee. While information-heavy, the question-answer format of their show allows them to convey boring stats engagingly.

“I add to this things like a hot topic where I will do a mini essay on a relevant and current industry issue, and because of the ever-changing market and rules, this is a good reason to tune in weekly,” she says.

The president of Canadian Home Builders’ Association, innovative builders, home inspectors, lawyers, mortgage brokers and other trusted subject matter experts are often invited as guests of the show.

Nowadays, Cummins finds herself toggling between getting straight to the point with her real estate clients off-air and elaborating the point on-air. “Every second counts in radio. On the radio, people want to hear the multiple layers to an answer, and all the factors that bring you to the eventual reasoning.  The ‘why?’ factor. Elaborating is the core of good radio, and so I have to shift into that mode when I get in the studio,” she says.

Over the years, Cummins has become a keen student of the real estate market. She likens it to climbing a mountain where there are peaks and valleys. “It goes up for about two to three years and then it always corrects about 10 to 12 per cent, before stagnating for an average of seven years,” she says. She predicted the price correction after spring 2018, and since last year, transactions for most Realtors in her region have halved, she says. Realtors are having to work harder and market more creatively.

Having her radio show has certainly helped Cummins’s career from a marketing standpoint. Most valuable, however, is the respect she receives from her peers.

For Cummins, real estate is more than a nine-to-five job. “Build your reputation, document your success, be innovative with your services, and you will have plenty to bring to the table in a client interview without ever having to resort to only looking good by making others look bad,” says Cummins.

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Real Estate

5 ways to reduce your mortgage amortization

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Since the pandemic hit, a lot of Canadians have been affected financially and if you’re on a mortgage, reducing your amortization period can be of great help.

A mortgage amortization period is the amount of time it would take a homeowner to completely pay off their mortgage. The amortization is typically an estimate based on what the interest rate for your current term is. Calculating your amortization is done easily using a loan amortization calculator which shows you the different payment schedules within your amortization period.

 In Canada, if you made a down payment that is less than the recommended 20 per cent of the total cost of your home, then the longest amortization period you’re allowed to have is 25 years. The mortgage amortization period not only affects the length of time it would take to completely repay the loan, but also the amount of interest paid over the lifecycle of the mortgage.

Typically, longer amortization periods involve making smaller monthly payments and having a much higher total interest cost over the duration of the mortgage. While on the other hand, shorter amortization periods entails making larger monthly payments and having lower total interest costs.

It’s the dream of every homeowner to become mortgage-free. A general rule of thumb would be to try and keep your monthly mortgage costs as low as possible—preferably below 30 per cent of your monthly income. Over time, you may become more financially stable by either getting a tax return, a bonus or an additional source of income and want to channel that towards your principal.

There are several ways to keep your monthly mortgage payments low and reduce your amortization. Here are a few ways to achieve that goal:

1. Make a larger down payment

Once you’ve decided to buy a home, always consider putting asides some significant amount of money that would act as a down payment to reduce your monthly mortgage. While the recommended amount to put aside as a down payment is 20 per cent,  if you aren’t in a hurry to purchase the property or are more financial buoyant, you can even pay more.

Essentially, the larger your down payment, the lower your mortgage would be as it means you’re borrowing less money from your lender. However, if you pay at least 20 per cent upfront, there would be no need for you to cover the additional cost of private mortgage insurance which would save you some money.

2. Make bi-weekly payments

Most homeowners make monthly payments which amount to 12 payments every year. But if your bank or lender offers the option of accelerated bi-weekly payment, you will be making an equivalent of one more payment annually. Doing this will further reduce your amortization period by allowing you to pay off your mortgage much faster.

3. Have a fixed renewal payment

It is normal for lenders to offer discounts on interest rate during your amortization period. However, as you continuously renew your mortgage at a lower rate, always keep a fixed repayment sum.

Rather than just making lower payments, you can keep your payments static, since the more money applied to your principal, the faster you can clear your mortgage.

4. Increase your payment amount

Many mortgages give homeowners the option to increase their payment amount at least once a year. Now, this is very ideal for those who have the financial capacity to do so because the extra money would be added to your principal.

Irrespective of how small the increase might be, in the long run, it would make a huge difference. For example, if your monthly mortgage payment is about $2,752 per month. It would be in your best interest to round it up to $2,800 every month. That way, you are much closer to reducing your mortgage amortization period.

5. Leverage on prepayment privileges

The ability for homeowners to make any form of prepayment solely depends on what mortgage features are provided by their lender.

With an open mortgage, you can easily make additional payments at any given time. However, if you have a closed mortgage—which makes up the larger percentage of existing mortgages—you will need to check if you have the option of prepayments which would allow you to make extra lump sum payments.

Additionally, there may also be the option to make extra lump sum payments at the end of your existing mortgage term before its time for renewal.

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Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: What you need to know

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Your home is likely the biggest asset you’ll ever own. So how can you protect it in case something were to happen to you? To start, homeowners have a few options to choose from. You can either:

  • ensure you have mortgage protection with a life insurance policy from an insurance company or
  • get mortgage insurance from a bank or mortgage lender.

Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: How do they each work?  

The first thing to know is that life insurance can be a great way to make sure you and your family have mortgage protection.

The money from a life insurance policy usually goes right into the hands of your beneficiaries – not the bank or mortgage lender. Your beneficiaries are whoever you choose to receive the benefit or money from your policy after you die.

Life insurance policies, like term life insurance, come with a death benefit. A death benefit is the amount of money given to your beneficiaries after you die. The exact amount they’ll receive depends on the policy you buy.

With term life insurance, you’re covered for a set period, such as 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. The premium – that’s the monthly or annual fee you pay for insurance – is usually low for the first term.

If you die while you’re coved by your life insurance policy, your beneficiaries will receive a tax-free death benefit. They can then use this money to help pay off the mortgage or for any other reason. So not only is your mortgage protected, but your family will also have funds to cover other expenses that they relied on you to pay.

Mortgage insurance works by paying off the outstanding principal balance of your mortgage, up to a certain amount, if you die.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes directly to the bank or lender to pay off the mortgage – and that’s it. There’s no extra money to cover other expenses, and you don’t get to leave any cash behind to your beneficiaries.

What’s the difference between mortgage insurance and life insurance?

The main difference is that mortgage insurance covers only your outstanding mortgage balance. And, that money goes directly to the bank or mortgage lender, not your beneficiary. This means that there’s no cash, payout or benefit given to your beneficiary. 

With life insurance, however, you get mortgage protection and more. Here’s how it works: every life insurance policy provides a tax-free amount of money (the death benefit) to the beneficiary. The payment can cover more than just the mortgage. The beneficiary may then use the money for any purpose. For example, apart from paying off the mortgage, they can also use the funds from the death benefit to cover:

  • any of your remaining debts,
  • the cost of child care,
  • funeral costs,
  • the cost of child care, and
  • any other living expenses. 

But before you decide between life insurance and mortgage insurance, here are some other important differences to keep in mind:

Who gets the money?

With life insurance, the money goes to whomever you name as your beneficiary.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes entirely to the bank.

Can you move your policy?

With life insurance, your policy stays with you even if you transfer your mortgage to another company. There’s no need to re-apply or prove your health is good enough to be insured.

With mortgage insurance, however, your policy doesn’t automatically move with you if you change mortgage providers. If you move your mortgage to another bank, you’ll have to prove that your health is still good.

Which offers more flexibility, life insurance or mortgage insurance?

With life insurance, your beneficiaries have the flexibility to cover the mortgage balance and more after you die. As the policy owner, you can choose how much insurance coverage you want and how long you need it. And, the coverage doesn’t decline unless you want it to.

With mortgage insurance through a bank, you don’t have the flexibility to change your coverage. In this case, you’re only protecting the outstanding balance on your mortgage.

Do you need a medical exam to qualify? 

With a term life insurance policy from Sun Life, you may have to answer some medical questions or take a medical exam before you’re approved for coverage. Once you’re approved, Sun Life won’t ask for any additional medical information later on.

With mortgage insurance, a bank or mortgage lender may ask some medical questions when you apply. However, if you make a claim after you’re approved, your bank may ask for additional medical information.* At that point, they may discover some conditions that disqualify you from receiving payment on a claim.

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5 common mistakes Canadians make with their mortgages

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This article was created by MoneyWise. Postmedia and MoneyWise may earn an affiliate commission through links on this page.

Since COVID-19 dragged interest rates to historic lows last year, Canadians have been diving into the real estate market with unprecedented verve.

During a time of extraordinary financial disruption, more than 551,000 properties sold last year — a new annual record, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. Those sales provided a desperately needed dose of oxygen for the country’s gasping economy.

Given the slew of new mortgages taken out in 2020, there were bound to be slip-ups. So, MoneyWise asked four of the country’s sharpest mortgage minds to share what they feel are the mistakes Canadians most frequently make when securing a home loan.

Mistake 1: Not having your documents ready

One of your mortgage broker’s primary functions is to provide lenders with paperwork confirming your income, assets, source of down payment and overall reliability as a borrower. Without complete and accurate documentation, no reputable lender will be able to process your loan.

But “borrowers often don’t have these documents on hand,” says John Vo of Spicer Vo Mortgages in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “And even when they do provide these documents, they may not be the correct documentation required.”

Some of the most frequent mistakes Vo sees when borrowers send in their paperwork include:

  • Not including a name or other relevant details on key pieces of information.
  • Providing old bank or pay statements instead of those dated within the last 30 days.
  • Sending only a partial document package. If a lender asks for six pages to support your loan, don’t send two. If you’re asked for four months’ worth of bank statements, don’t provide only one.
  • Thinking low-quality or blurry files sent by email or text will be good enough. Lenders need to be able to read what you send them.

If you send your broker an incomplete documents package, the result is inevitable: Your mortgage application will be delayed as long as it takes for you to find the required materials, and your house shopping could be sidetracked for months.

Mistake 2: Blinded by the rate

Ask any mortgage broker and they’ll tell you that the question they’re asked most frequently is: “What’s your lowest rate?”

The interest rate you’ll pay on your mortgage is a massive consideration, so comparing the rates lenders are offering is a good habit once you’ve slipped on your house-hunter hat.

Rates have been on the rise lately given government actions to stimulate the Canadian economy. You may want to lock a low rate now, so you can hold onto it for up to 120 days.

But Chris Kolinski, broker at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based iSask Mortgages, says too many borrowers get obsessed with finding the lowest rate and ignore the other aspects of a mortgage that can greatly impact its overall cost.

“I always ask my clients ‘Do you want to get the best rate, or do you want to save the most money?’ because those two things are not always synonymous,” Kolinski says. “That opens a conversation about needs and wants.”

Many of the rock-bottom interest rates on offer from Canadian lenders can be hard to qualify for, come with limited features, or cost borrowers “a ton” of money if they break their terms, Kolinski points out.

Mistake 3: Not reading the fine print

Dalia Barsoum of Streetwise Mortgages in Woodbridge, Ontario, shares a universal message: “Read the fine print. Understand what you’re signing up for.”

Most borrowers don’t expect they’ll ever break their mortgages, but data collected by TD Bank shows that 7 in 10 homeowners move on from their properties earlier than they expect.

It’s critical to understand your loan’s prepayment privileges and the rules around an early departure. “If you exit the mortgage, how much are you going to pay? It’s really, really important,” Barsoum says.

She has seen too borrowers come to her hoping to refinance a mortgage they received from a private or specialty lender, only to find that what they were attempting was impossible.

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