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What are the hidden costs for buying a house?

A word to the wise if you're shopping for a new home: the list price is only a baseline. You'll want to have a substantial buffer in your budget for a host of additional unseen fees.

This article will help you understand all the associated costs of buying a house so you're prepared.

Purchase Fees

Appraisal 

Before a lender will approve your mortgage you may be asked to undertake an independent assessment of the property's value. This helps your lender determine the mortgage amount, calculated as a percentage of the appraised market value. It also lowers the lender's risk of loss; an appraisal helps confirm that if you default on your payments, the loan could be repaid by selling the property.

Home Inspection

This additional expense is in your best interest. If major problems are uncovered, you can ask the seller to fix them as a condition of sale – or walk away if they refuse and the cost of repairs exceeds what you're willing to invest. Some home buyers choose to opt out of an inspection, but many lenders won't approve a mortgage unless one has been done.

Legal Fees

You'll need to retain the services of a property lawyer to protect your interests. A legal professional will complete title searches on your behalf, prepare the documents for property purchase as well as mortgage documents, manage the transfer of funds, and register your name on title when the sale is complete.

Insurances

Title Insurance

There's a growing demand from property investors, mortgage lenders, and auditors for additional protections that lower risk. Title insurance protects you from unforeseen issues that could lead to major trouble including:

·       Errors and defects (i.e. in existing surveys or the public registry)

·       Omissions

·       Restitution for unresolved issues with a previous owner

·       Undisclosed property heirs

Mortgage Insurance

Also known as a mortgage indemnity guarantee, this insurance protects the lender if you are unable to make your mortgage payments and/or if the lender has to repossess your home. Mortgage insurance is often a requirement for buyers applying for a high-ratio mortgage. 

Home Insurance

Also known as property, home owner's, or house insurance, home insurance protects you from damage or loss to the building as well as your home's contents. Proof of home insurance is often a condition for mortgage approval and, depending on your agreement, would protect you from loss due to earthquake, fire, flood, and theft.

Property Taxes

Property taxes cover infrastructure costs in your community (e.g. road construction and maintenance, traffic lights, sidewalks), recreation, public transportation, and the salaries of your local government employees including police, fire fighters, and city workers. Your portion is based on a property value assessment – so the higher the value of your home, the higher your taxes.

Utilities

As a home owner you'll need to pay for your electricity, water and gas usage (and possibly waste collection and recycling). Don't forget to include internet, phone, and TV hook up – as well as monthly service fees – in your monthly budget.  

Moving Day (and beyond)

In addition to hiring a rental truck or moving company, other potential costs could include:

  • New appliances

  • Renovations or repairs

  • Home furnishings

  • Strata fees (for condominium owners) and

  • Landscaping equipment

Final thoughts

If you're looking for a way to soften the financial blow of buying a home, talk to your lender.

You may be able to roll your mortgage insurance costs in with your mortgage payments – or qualify for a home equity line of credit to help cover your moving expenses and any required renovations. 

Three innovative tips for finding employees

We all know the usual process for finding new employees. Advertise a job. Read resumes. Conduct a telephone interview. Conduct a face-to-face interview. Choose someone. The steps to recruiting new talent have been the same for decades, leaving many people to think these are the only way to find new employees.

There are many top-notch employees that you might not be reaching if you don't change your strategy, however and these days there are many new and exciting ways to reach out to possible staff and attract qualified employees to your business. All you have to do is be willing to be creative in your thinking.


Get your current employees on it
Besides you, who knows better what you need in an employee than your current employees? Not only do they know what you need, they can vouch for the people they recommend. Using an employee referral program can save you the costs associated with advertising a position, undergoing extensive interviews, and then training and retraining employees who don't work out.

How does it work? Your employees recommend people for a job with your company and if their recommendation is successful they get a reward. This can be a cash bonus, a gift, additional days off work, or the opportunity to work from home for a few days.

Make sure the program's details are clear: does the referred employee just have to be hired for the benefit to kick in, or do they have to work at your company for a specific period? Does the gift get more extravagant if they recommend more successful recruits? 

Keep the rules simple and make sure all employees know about the program.

Turn to social media

Social media isn't just a great way to build your customer base, it's also a fantastic way to build interest in working for your company. Employees of all ages-but especially younger generations-use some form of social media to look for work. That could be LinkedIn, but it can also mean Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or a variety of other sites.

Even if someone who sees your post isn't interested, they may share it with their friends or followers, who will share it with theirs, vastly increasing your reach. Be sure you know who your target candidates are and what social media channels they use, and tailor your ads or posts to them.

If you have the time to have a long-view of recruiting, start building your company's employment brand online early, by releasing content that highlights your corporate culture. People may see those posts and come to you so you can build your talent pool. At the very least, you'll already be on their radar when it comes time to hire.

Reach out to past candidates
Just because someone wasn't the best candidate for a job in the past doesn't mean they aren't now. There could have been many factors that resulted in that person not being the best fit at that time. Perhaps they've taken courses or developed their experience since you interviewed them. 

When you interview people that you really like but they don't quite make the cut, keep their resume on file and consider reaching out to them when a position opens up. You never know when the time will be right for them.

Final thoughts
There are many things you can do that can be successful in finding the right employee for your business. As an added bonus, some of these strategies won't necessarily cost you a lot of time or money and may get you highly qualified and loyal employees.

Try some of them the next time you're hiring and see if that gets you the candidates you need.



These days your personal data is everywhere, and that information is valuable to marketers, hackers and everyone in between. If you want to prevent the unauthorized use of your personal information, you need to take a proactive approach to protecting yourself and your identity.

You can no longer afford to be blasé about your data security - if you are not taking proactive measures to prevent the use of your personal information, you are opening yourself up to all kinds of problems. Here are some tips you can use to protect yourself and your data in this age of data breaches.

Check Your Privacy Settings on Social Media

There is an old saying in the tech world - if the service is free, you are the product. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of social media. Avoid the Facebook may be getting all the headlines, but other social media companies operate in the same manner, selling your personal data to advertisers and serving up targeted marketing messages.

While there is nothing inherently evil in targeted advertising, it can become obtrusive when bad actors get involved. If you want to protect your data from the next Cambridge Analytica, you can start by adjusting your privacy settings. Controlling the type of data that is shared, and who it is shared with, can go a long way toward protecting your privacy.

Designate an Online Shopping Card

Shopping online is convenient, but it is important to stay safe. With so much credit card data being stolen, it has never been more important to be proactive about protecting yourself and your money.

You can start by designating a single card for all your online shopping. Use that credit card whenever you shop online, then check your statements carefully for signs of fraud and unauthorized use.

Avoid Saving Your Credit Card Data at Shopping Sites

It may be convenient to save your payment information, but it is also risky. Avoid the temptation to save your credit card information and instead take the time to enter it each time you shop.

This proactive measure will protect you in two ways. First, it will prevent your credit card information from being revealed in the next data breach, but it will also reduce the impulse purchases that might otherwise wreck your budget.

Use Strong Security on All Your Devices

Your online security is only as strong as your weakest link, so make sure all your devices are well protected. From your tablet to your smartphone to your laptop, make sure you have strong antivirus and malware protection on every device you use.

Implementing strong security and keeping it updated is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself from the next data breach. Think of your online security as a chain, one that requires the robust participation of every link along the way.

Data breaches are inevitable, and the bad guys keep coming up with new ways to steal your personal information. If you want to protect yourself in this dangerous digital world, you need to take a proactive approach, and that means building security into everything you do online.

 

If your small business operates on a tight budget you might be tempted to eliminate costs that you think aren't necessary. Often small business owners choose to go without business insurance as a way of saving money, but doing so can be incredibly costly in the long run. 

Business insurance is something that may seem like an unnecessary expense in the short term, but is worth the cost now in case something terrible happens in the future. It's better to spend some money to avoid paying a lot of money later, especially if there's a chance you could face a lawsuit. Unfortunately, even the most diligent business owners could wind up dealing with clients who think they have been treated unfairly, or who injure themselves while at your place of business. 

Here are three reasons you need small business insurance.
  1. You have clients visiting your business
    If you have an office, store or other facility that clients visit, you need general liability insurance to protect you in case a client is injured while on your premises. No matter how well you maintain your location, there's still a risk of someone slipping and falling, and injuring themselves. If that happens, you could face a lawsuit. Your general liability insurance will protect you in that case.
  2. You have a building or equipment
    If your business owns a building or has valuable equipment, you need protection against damage to either. Damage to your building or your equipment can affect your ability to maintain your income, and if you have to raise the money to replace your equipment you could be out of income for a long time.
    A business owners' policy will protect you in such circumstances so you don't have to put out thousands of dollars to repair or replace your damaged equipment or building. Don't assume your homeowner's insurance will cover any work equipment you keep in your home. It often does not, just as personal automobile insurance won't necessarily cover equipment you carry in your personal vehicle if it is stolen from that vehicle. 
  3. You offer professional services
    No matter how good you are at your work, there is a chance you'll come across a client who won't be happy with the work you provide. Professional liability insurance protects you in case a client claims you provided negligent services or otherwise failed to uphold your end of a contract. If your business works with subcontractors, having professional liability insurance protects you in case a contractor makes an error or fails to perform.   

Final thoughts
Too many small business owners only learn how important business insurance is when they realize their home insurance doesn't cover their business, or their auto insurance doesn't cover theft of work tools from their personal vehicle. Unfortunately by then it's often too late.

You've worked hard to build up your business, you shouldn't lose it due to a lack of insurance. Despite your best efforts, you can't foresee what sort of liabilities you may face in the future, and your ability to cover them with insurance may mean the difference between keeping and losing your company. Understanding what insurance you need and how it will protect you will go a long way to your peace of mind. If you need advice on who to talk to, or what insurance is right for you, reach out to our team.






4 questions you should ask your accountant

4 questions you should ask your accountant Ideally, you and your accountant are more than just "adviser" and "client". With your combined skills, expertise, and shared mission to support a thriving business, you're more like strategic partners. The key to achieving success in any partnership is, of course, strong communication. At your next meeting, be sure to ask your accountant these four important questions.
  1. What's my best strategy for increasing revenue?
Every business owner strives to improve profit margins – but the best way to quickly and/or sustainably grow revenue will vary from business to business. When reviewing your financials, ask your accountant to pinpoint and suggest smart strategies for driving greater revenue. For your unique company that might mean focusing on new leads, encouraging customers to buy more frequently, incorporating cross-selling or up-selling, and/or re-thinking your pricing strategy.
  1. How would you assess our financial performance this quarter/year?
It's part of your accountant's job to stay current with your company's financial statements and reports (i.e. your balance sheet, income statement, profit and loss statement, and cash flow reports). Some small business owners – especially those who lack confidence in their financial literacy skills – may only want to know the basics, in simplest terms. Let your accountant know you'd like a more thorough analysis of your finances when you next meet, and help understanding what the numbers mean. Ask for key ratios, like your gross profit percentage, and an assessment of the big picture, drawing comparisons with past performance as well as trends in your industry. Also ask for any insights your accountant might have into the reasons for new or surprising developments, and what you can do to correct areas where your business is falling short – as well as what actions you can take to continue any positive trends.
  1. How can you help me grow my business?
Your accountant should be prepared to offer professional advice to help your business expand and grow over time. Scaling a business can be tricky as it requires a company to do everything it must to keep their customers happy while adapting to change – such as new staff and new systems to accommodate a greater volume of customers. Financial systems may need to change as your business expands; likewise, your company's financial management may need additional support as you transition to a larger company. Ask your accountant how you can best work together to facilitate smooth, sustainable growth with minimal disruption to operations, and for tips on how to successfully scale based on past experience with other small business clients.
  1. What are your most successful clients doing?
Chances are your accountant serves as a trusted advisor to a number of clients – and therefore, will be privy to the inner workings of companies who are struggling and others who are thriving. Neglecting to ask your accountant about their clients' success stories is a missed learning opportunity. Even if a business has little in common with yours – operating in a different industry, or as a seller or products versus services – there's value in learning what yielded impressive results for another company. Alternately, you might ask your accountant how their clients overcame challenges similar to yours to help you brainstorm possible solutions. Final thoughts Your accountant is an incredibly valuable resource for your business – and not just at tax time. Be sure to check in every quarter so you have the up to date financial info you need, and your accountant's professional advice when it comes to making key business decisions.

What you need to do before you retire

If you haven't given any thought to what your retirement will look like, now's a great time to start. It might not be the most fun thing to think about-not when there are vacations to plan or houses to buy-but retirement planning is a vital part of your overall financial plan.

Most people dream about they day they no longer have to work. They dream of having a leisurely coffee in the morning without running to a meeting or they want to spend six months of the year visiting exotic locations. Being able to do so requires planning. It means you have to think about your financial future and take steps to make sure you can afford the lifestyle you want to live.

Here are some things to do before you retire.

Examine your retirement needs

Before you can even begin to think about how to save for retirement, you need to know what you want your retirement to look like and how your finances will affect it. Consider how you want to live in retirement. Will you want to travel a lot? Downsize your home? Have your regular home and a holiday spot? Will you need to renovate your house?

You also need to know what you'll have to pay for, and how. Do you currently own a home but plan to sell it to move into something smaller? Will your home be paid off by the time you retire? Do you want to maintain certain investments in your senior years or would you prefer to be liquid?

Next look at the income you'll have. What will your current investments likely provide for you as you age? What will your pension be? Will you have income you can count on beyond a pension? Are you eligible for other entitlements?

Having a firm understanding of how you want your life to look as you age and what money you'll have to live off will help determine how you can start saving today for retirement and help you sort out when you can afford to retire.

Deal with your debt

Next you need to look at the debt you currently have and make a plan to deal with your bad debt. Although many people think all debt is bad, in truth there is good debt. Good debt is part of a strategy that builds your wealth over time. Owning a home can be good debt. Bad debt takes away from your wealth. This may be through interest, such as on credit cards for example.

Retirement will be less financially stressful if you can reduce your bad debt before you retire-and preferably well before you retire.

Then examine whether there are other financial matters that need addressing. Do you have a current will? Is your insurance up to date? Should your investments be reviewed? Is it worth it to make additional superannuation contributions?

Final thoughts

Once you know what you want your retirement to look like and you have an idea of your finances, you need to develop a financial plan. Retirement savings don't just happen with good intentions. It takes planning, saving, and understanding what financial vehicles are best for you to make your dreams a reality.

Talking to us can help you sort out what you need to do now, a few years in the future and as you enter retirement to ensure you're as financially comfortable as possible.

Ideas for business goals this year

The start of the year is the perfect time to dust off last year's business plan and set some new goals for the future.

While some entrepreneurs love planning, others feel overwhelmed by the process. How do you decide on just a handful of goals that take priority, with so many moving parts that make up a business?

These tips can help you get started brainstorming how your company can plan for greater success in the years ahead.

Redefine your brand

Is the elevator pitch you used a year ago – even six months ago – still accurate? Unless you are crystal clear on who you are as a company, whom you're here to serve, and what you hope to achieve in the next one to three years, it's going to be hard to come up with meaningful goals. Take a look at your company vision, mission statement, and core values. If they need tweaking to reflect where your business is today and where you want it to go, start there. Then you can move on to setting some useful long and short term goals.

Big picture planning

Entrepreneurs dream big-and they should! Thinking big can lead to ground breaking products and services that become the foundation of innovative, successful companies. When it comes to goal-setting, thinking big is great, too. But in order to make those big ideas like "increasing market share" or "growing profits" happen, you need to break them down into smaller, specific goals and strategies tied to a budget and timeline. For instance, while your overarching objective may be to "grow profits by 50% by December 31", your smaller goals might include:

• Launching a social media campaign the first week of March to attract 2,500 new prospects by months' end; or
• Increasing total sales by 40% with the opening of an online store by July 1st. The key is to define goals that are measurable and achievable.

Define smaller goals

Thinking through how you'll achieve your larger objectives can be a fun exercise – one you can turn into a group activity, including your entire team. Sit down and discuss what you know about your customers. Review your historical sales data and look over your up-to-date budget and forecasting. With all the relevant information at hand and everyone at the table, you can come up with strategies that align with your company vision, assign deadlines, and get buy-in on what everyone needs to do to see your ideas through to completion.

Final tips

It's worthwhile to take some time to reflect on your personal goals as you think through your business goals. Maybe you've been wanting to get involved in mentoring, improve your networking skills, or attend more conferences. Self-development is, in a sense, professional development – and vice versa, so include them in your plans. Of course, coming up with business goals is just one part of the equation. You'll also need to monitor your progress, noting milestones and sharing your company achievements with your team on a regular basis. Tracking your results will help your employees stay motivated – and it also gives you the chance to adjust your goals and strategies in time to achieve the best possible results by year's end.

The ins and outs of employee performance reviews

When you run a small business, you're involved in your company's sales, accounting, marketing, and human resources, among other things. Being responsible for human resources isn't just about hiring and firing people, although those are large parts of the role. It's also about managing the people who work for you while they work for you.

Conducting regular employee performance reviews is part of managing your workers. While performance reviews may seem daunting, if you have a plan for doing them and focus on rewarding great employees while helping less successful employees achieve more, you'll find the performance reviews not only motivate your employees, they enhance your business and decrease employee turnover.

Here are some tips on conducting productive performance reviews.

Do them frequently and regularly

Once a year isn't regular enough because employees will go for too long without having a sense of how well they're doing, or what areas they can improve in. By the time you get around to discussing an issue, it's likely gone on a long time.

Instead, have more frequent discussions with your employees and set up shorter-term goals. Conducting reviews every two to three months keeps your employees informed about their performance and gives them time to address any feedback you give them. That helps them feel secure in their role. It also gives you a chance to see how employees view your business and make sure you're all on the same page about expectations.

Be present

The majority of workers want to do a good job and want to learn where they can improve. Your performance evaluations are important to them and also to the future of your business. Show your employees you care about them and their growth by being dedicated to those conversations.

Don't check your email, texts, or voice mail while conducting an evaluation. Make sure other employees know not to disturb you during this time. Also, make sure the focus stays on the employee in front of you, not on other employees and their performance, or on office drama. This performance evaluation should be as important to you as it is to your employees.

Be consistent and flexible

Owning a small business means you likely have personal knowledge about some or all of your employees.

That's why it's vital you be consistent in how you evaluate employees. If one employee would receive a special bonus for meeting her sales quota, all employees should receive that bonus. No one should receive special treatment just because you know more about their personal circumstances. That said, it's also important to be flexible. A person whose focus is sales can't be measured on the same scale as someone in marketing. They each contribute differently to your bottom line but still have a vital part in the success of your business. Your reviews need to take into account each employee's role within the company, what their goals are, and how effective they are at getting their job done in their department.

Final thoughts

Performance evaluations are vital for your small business. They help you keep communication with your employees and monitor how well your employees are meeting their goals. Even the best employees have issues that arise once in a while, and conducting a regular performance evaluation helps identify those issues early and develop a plan for addressing them, preventing minor troubles from becoming insurmountable. Finally, by rewarding your great employees during performance evaluations, you can motivate them to achieve their goals and you can decrease turn-over rates.

What to do if you get audited

No business owner looks forward to a letter from the taxman requesting a closer look at the books.

If you've received an audit letter – an official request by the tax authority to review your accounts and confirm your taxes have been paid to date – don't panic.Prepare.

These four steps will help you get through the process with minimal stress and the best possible outcome.

Respond promptly

If you file your taxes reliably and pay on time, there's a good chance the government tax office contacted you for a spot check.

In this case, all that may be asked is that you provide receipts and answer a few questions.Give the tax office the information they've requested promptly so they can close the file quickly, and you can move on. If an on-site audit is required, you can't avoid the inevitable. Call to confirm the date and request any information the auditor will need to help you prepare.

Responding promptly and cooperatively every step of the way is the best strategy for getting through an audit. Reacting defensively or unprofessionally can invite more probing questions.

Seek professional help

Get in touch with your accountant as soon as an audit has been scheduled for advice and support. And if you've been handling the books on your own, now is the time to consider hiring a tax accountant.

A tax accountant can explain the audit process, help you get your books in order, and offer personalized advice to help you prepare.

You may want to hire a tax lawyer if you have concerns that are beyond an accountant's scope – if, for instance, you have unfiled returns, under-reported income, understated tax liabilities, or if you can't validate all of your expenses for the tax year in question.

Many tax lawyers offer a free consultation and can provide peace of mind by explaining your obligations and rights, and ensuring those rights are protected.

Get organized

An auditor will ask you to provide receipts that prove you qualify for any write offs you've claimed. On the day of the audit, be ready with your paperwork and be prepared to answer any questions.

Being organized and prepared shows you've done your best to report your taxes accurately. If your papers are in good order, and you don't raise any red flags, it's much more likely the auditor will wrap up once the audit's basic requirements are met.

As a word of caution, only provide the auditor with the information they've asked for – no more, no less. Offering more explanation or "proof" in the hope of avoiding further questions may backfire, raising new ones. Stick to specifics.

Pay quickly

In the best possible scenario – your records are in order and you've been conscientious about paying your taxes – an audit won't lead to any unpleasant surprises.

If, however, an auditor finds that you do owe unpaid taxes, unless you have a solid reason to challenge the auditor's findings, pay what you owe immediately.

You'll avoid accruing additional penalties, interest, fees and payments. Perhaps more importantly, you'll be able to put the audit behind you so you can get back to focusing on your business.

Final thoughts

A final word to the wise: if you do try to fight the taxman, before pursuing legal action weigh the cost and benefit. Legal fees can add up quickly, so be sure the amount requested by the auditor - including interest and penalties - is worth what you'll end up paying in legal fees.

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