Partner Spotlight: Hong Tran

May 23
Category | General

Would you share some of your background and personal story?

Like a company, the balance sheet can never tell the entire story. In 1985, my mother took four children in the middle of the night to escape Vietnam for a better world. My father never made it on the boat. He was caught and put in jail, which was very much like a concentration camp. On that same night, our boat was met by Communist guards before we entered international waters and everyone on the boat offered up their valuables to earn our escape. It worked, and they let us go.

The following day, we were robbed by Thai pirates. Since we had already given everything away, they retaliated by killing many people on the boat, including my mother, and three-year old baby sister. The pirates took their six boats and continuously rammed our fishing boat until we were slowly sinking. Holding onto a wooden board to stay afloat, we were eventually rescued by an oil driller and brought to Galang Island, a refugee camp in Malaysia. 

Luckily, my aunt, my father’s sister, was also on the same boat, and became our legal guardian at the refugee camp. She has six children of her own, and a niece and nephew from her husband's side of the family. Together we were sponsored by her husband who escaped in 1981, and eventually traveled to Salt Lake City, UT. In 1986, when the family heard that there was mill and factory work in Worcester, MA, we packed up to travel there and have stayed ever since.

I went through the Worcester Public School program, and graduated valedictorian of my high school, Class of 1996. With the help of my guidance counselor (since my family members didn't know what further education was), I was accepted to Brandeis and graduated in 2000. I was originally on a path to attend medical school, but later switched my interest and ended up in law school.

How did you find your path to becoming an attorney?

For me, becoming an attorney was accidental. As a Vietnamese immigrant, the elder generation always associated attorneys with liars and cheaters, and so it was never anything I thought to pursue as a career. After graduating Brandeis University in 2000 with majors in Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics, I eventually realized I no longer wanted to go into the medical field.

In 2003, I got my real estate license and worked towards obtaining my real estate brokerage license in 2005. From there, I established LeHong Real Estate & Business Brokerage. In the years following, I purchased several businesses and decided to enter law school as a part-time night student at Western New England School of Law in order to better protect myself and my investments.

Quickly into my second year of law school, I realized I could see myself practicing law as a career. In 2010, I graduated with my JD/MBA and sold everything to start my own law practice.

Who do you consider your mentors?

My mentors have always been my educators, beginning with Mrs. Dowd, who taught me English in ESL class at Granite Street School. Then my guidance counselor in high school, Mr. Dowd, helped me apply to college and exposed me to the possibilities of higher education. At Brandeis, Professor Kalpana White not only mentored me in the biology lab, but outside of the classroom as a human being. I still call her for advice today.

What are some of life’s most valuable lessons that you apply to business?

I have learned that hunger develops a drive, but it’s important to make sure this drive keeps you on an ethical path. Having a JD is actually a double-edged sword because you can use it towards helping people or hurting them. I work hard to make sure the path I take is clear, and that billable hours don’t dictate important decisions. 

Everything I do as an attorney has long-lasting effects on families and I find more value in that than using my JD to serve myself personally.

What are some of your passions outside of work?

Life is about giving back, and I have always wanted to leave the world a better place than I found it. I am inspired by my mother’s sacrifice and the educators who helped me get to where I am today. I currently serve as the board president for the Southeast Asia Coalition, which I have been part of for five years, and have aided in the service of over 10,000 immigrants like myself. I am also the VP of the Vietnamese Business Association of Massachusetts and work to grow the community and help mentor those in need of business assistance.

What do you value about your partnership with Kristen Walther?

Since meeting Kristen by chance through a mutual loan transaction, she has become much more than a business partner; I consider her both friend and family. I can call her in the middle of the night for advice on family issues, and she is always there to answer. This relationship and willingness to go beyond the parameters of a traditional business partnership has founded a loyalty and trust that can’t be matched.

Upgrade Your Curb Appeal on a Budget

May 22
Category | General

If you are ready to list, but are worried about giving buyers the best first impression of your home, there are several ways you can upgrade curb appeal without spending a lot of money. Here are some great ways to clean up your home’s outward appearance without going broke!

Lawn Maintenance:

Simple lawn upkeep is a DIY task that can add instant curb appeal. Keeping the grass cut regularly, trimming any bushes, and weeding flower beds will indicate that you have cared for your home inside and out. For a professional look you can even edge your lawn.

Paint the Front Door:

Make your front door pop and welcome guests with a color that contrasts to the front of your home. A gallon of paint costs as little as $25 dollars. A simple Google search of what color front door for a, (insert house color here), will give you lots of visual suggestions. You can also consider adding fancy house numbers, hanging a decorative wreath, or putting potted plants on the front step.

Wash the Dirt Off:

Simply use a garden hose on the strongest setting to get dirt and debris off walkways and siding. You can rent or borrow a power washer for any tough areas, but be sure to avoid the windows! Taking a scrub brush with bleach to any tough lime stains on stone or patio surfaces will also help clean up the look of your home for potential buyers.

Clean the Windows:

Start by cleaning the inside with Windex or other household cleaners. For outside, you can use your hose to spray off cobwebs or use a long-handle brush to scrub them clean. You might need to enlist the help of a neighbor and use a tall ladder, but cleaning both the inside and outside of your windows will make your home sparkle.

Light Fixtures:

There are so many affordable options for exterior light fixtures these days you might consider investing a little to upgrade the look of your home. Any outdated front door or garage fixtures should be replaced. If you don’t feel like spending money on new fixtures, you can always touch up the paint on the existing ones, replace the bulbs for consistent light, and make sure the glass panels are all clean.

By completing any or all of these affordable upgrades, your home will stand out to potential buyers from the minute they drive up for their first look.

Winning a Bidding War

May 15
Category | General

Today’s market has buyers bidding against each other for a low inventory of desirable homes. As if the prospect of buying a home wasn’t stressful enough, waiting to find out if your offer was accepted can heighten the emotions and make the waiting unbearable. Luckily, there are things you can do to better your chances of winning a bidding war.

Use a Pre-approval Letter:

A pre-approval letter is different than being pre-qualified. A pre-qualification verifies your income and how much your bank might lend you based on your credit. A pre-approval letter means that your lender has essentially underwritten your application and it is simply pending an appraisal. Submitting your financing documents to your lender before making any offers will allow you to act quickly when you are ready to make an offer on a new house.

Start with Your Best Offer:

You only get one chance to make a good first impression, which is why you should submit your best offer up front if possible. By doing your research and determining the value of comparable homes in the neighborhood, you can present an accurate and competitive offer. In an extremely competitive market, most houses will sell for over the asking price, so be sure to factor that into the price of the home you are considering.

Limit Your Demands:

Sellers want clean offers; not those that come with a lot of demands or contingencies. For example, if you can avoid asking the seller to cover your closing costs, or trying to get them to make repairs as part of the negotiations, you might have a better chance of having your offer accepted. Sellers have the advantage in a multiple-bid situation and the less complicated you make yours, the more likely they are to say yes.

Give the Seller More Time:

If you can be flexible with your moving timeline, it might give you the competitive edge to offer the seller more time to move out of the home. Not only will they be selling at a price they are comfortable with, but they now have the added bonus of making their own move less stressful. You can offer to have the seller rent back the home for a period of time, or push back the closing date.

Make it Personal:

It may seem silly, but some buyers are swayed by the personal touch of a hand written letter expressing why their home is perfect for you. You can introduce yourself in the letter, tell the seller all about your family, the things you love about the house, and the memories you hope to create there. If the seller is sentimental, they might appreciate the personal touch you’ve added to your offer and feel better knowing who is going to be living in their home.

Stay in Touch:

Even if you find yourself on the losing end of a bidding war, have your realtor keep in touch. A lot of things can happen between an accepted offer and the actual closing. If your offer was in top consideration, you might win out in the end should the initial buyer have complications

And just like that, the snow has disappeared and we are moving at rapid speed towards the end of the school year and warm summer months. If you have been thinking of planning a summer vacation, there’s still time to save and book a great deal. By following some of these tips, you should be able to get to your ideal destination, whether it’s local, or international.

Be Flexible

Let the destinations and resorts compete for your business. By being flexible on where you will travel, you have the luxury of choosing the best deal. The spontaneity of not knowing where you’re headed can be fun!

Set a Goal

Even saving for two months can give you a head start on diminishing the costs of travel. Set a realistic budget and book your location and amenities with confidence that you aren’t going overboard.

All Inclusive All the Way

Pricing packages makes planning easy and many resort vacation destinations offer an all-inclusive option. Many resorts offer child daycare or so the adults can enjoy some down time by themselves. You can eat, drink, and enjoy your trip all for the best price.

Know the Trends

Determine peak tourist times for each destination you are considering and avoid the crowds. Research any special events that are scheduled like festivals, sports tournaments, and concerts to be sure you are avoiding a rise in pricing due to an expected increase in tourists.

Save on Flights

Another way to be flexible is to shift your flights to mid-week instead of weekends. Tuesdays and Wednesdays have been proven the best days to travel for international flights.

Compare Perks

From room upgrades, to freebies, compare the extras that come with each destination or hotel and see what’s included in your costs. Many hotels offer small perks that don’t cost them much to enhance your experience and entice travelers.

Wherever you decide to travel this summer, you’ll have an even better time knowing you are getting the most for your money!

Many of the people who make up the first-time home buyer demographic have one thing in common; they also happen to be in the process of paying back large student loans. Roughly 70% of graduates leave college with debt, which can make the prospect of also buying a house seem impossible. But, with the help of a loan officer, and by following these tips, you can improve your chances of being approved for a mortgage despite your student loans.

1.) Start Early

It’s hard to know the exact right time to buy a home, which is why it’s best to be prepared for the idea early on. Staying organized and on top of your student loan documents, your other assets, and bank statements is a great place to start. Establish a safe place to keep all your paperwork and payment history so that when the time comes you’ll be prepared to present the necessary documents.

2.) Pay as Much as You Can

Work to decrease your student loan debt and any additional debts as much as you can. If the goal of owning a home is something you are seriously trying to obtain, then making large payments when you can will help decrease any outstanding balances. It does require sacrifice and diligence, but an aggressive strategy will pay off when the time comes to buy a home.

3.) Pay on Time

Being punctual with your payments on all debt is imperative to building your credit score and will help with income guidelines when you apply for a mortgage.

4.) Look into Refinancing

Many student loans can be refinanced or consolidated to reduce your monthly payment. A decreased interest rate can make the financial burden of student loans more manageable.

5.) Think Small

Many first-time homebuyers make the mistake of buying a house they simply don’t need or can’t afford. Working to buy a home that serves your needs without going overboard will save you money when it comes to your monthly mortgage payment in addition to taxes, repairs, and maintenance.

6.) Save for Your Down Payment

This goes back to starting the process early. If you can work to save as much as possible for a longer period of time leading up to the purchase of your first home, your debt to income ratio can be lower. The larger the down payment, the less you have to borrow. Getting pre-approved by a mortgage lender will give you an idea of the amount you can afford to borrow, and what you should be aiming for.

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