High Schools

Often, parents goes out of their way to ensure that their child falls within the catchment area for a prestigious school, even if this means spending more money on housing than they would otherwise prefer.

Why are parents so obsessed with finding the best schools in their areas for their students? When dealing with families who cannot afford to pay for private education, one of the biggest motivating factors in their search for academic excellence near their homes is making sure that their children have the best education possible, thereby setting their offspring up for success in university applications and career ambitions. Some parents regard getting their children into the best school in their area as the only way to make sure their child grows up in a position to achieve and earn all the things they want from life.

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Parents’ obsession with finding the best schools for their children leads to some complications, primarily because it is so difficult to assess what really makes one school better than another. Is it the grades that the students earn, and if so is that an indication of high quality teaching? Are the socio-economic demographics of a school the most transparent way of assessing the level of success which will be enjoyed by each student upon graduation? How about graduation rates themselves, or the percentage of children at a school who go on to attend and graduate institutes of higher education?

Still other parents argue that the most important factor in choosing the best school in their area is the personal attention their children receive from teaching staff and other members of the school’s administration. Students, especially those for whom academic success does not come naturally, often need personal attention in order to excel, and one way to ensure this is to find schools where small class sizes are the norm. The conflict for many parents without extensive financial means is that these schools are often located in wealthy suburbs, and it can be difficult to afford homes in those areas – particularly for parents whose own academic career was not full of the same advantages they wish their children to have, and who work for low salaries as a result.

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What many parents don’t realize is that almost any school can be an excellent learning environment for their children and their children’s classmates, provided the parents of all the students are willing and able to get involved in the educational system. Teachers can put as much time and effort as possible into a day at school, but if parents fail to reinforce lessons about respect and responsibility at home, then their children’s success will eventually hit a glass ceiling.

To make the most of any school experience, parents should support their children and teachers as the students navigate the sometimes crushing responsibilities and efforts required to achieve a first-rate education without paying top tier school fees at a private institution.


Reverse Mortgage

Today’s financial market is one of the most difficult markets to navigate since the depression. Many questions about where to turn for advice and how to find the best financial products without sacrificing security abound.

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Reverse mortgages hold promise as a safe and secure tool, but many seniors have questions about reverse mortgages and the myths surrounding them. Questions include: How do they work? What do you give up if anything? And, how does the retention of home ownership work?

To start, let’s cover the basics and history of a reverse mortgage. The term came from early products in the 1980’s where the lender made payments to the borrower rather than the borrower making payments to the lender. As a result the product was named the “reverse mortgage”. These reverse mortgages (RM) often had significant downsides. Once the borrowers passed away the home became the property of the bank who lent the money, and at times terms applied where the borrower could be displaced from the home if they lived too long. Interest rates were typically adjustable with no fixed rate options available. Closing costs were often very high as well. In the 1990’s FHA, seeing great potential for the product, got involved and new rules were implemented allowing the borrower to pass on the home equity to their heirs, a guarantee to never be displaced from the home regardless of how long they lived, protection from home value volatility and much more. As a result, today’s reverse mortgages are a great option with very few drawbacks.

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So how does the RM work? A reverse mortgage is similar to a standard mortgage in that it is a loan that is secured by real property, namely the home. The big difference is that there are no mortgage payment requirements on the mortgage. How is this accomplished? The RM requires that you have equity in your home and that you are at least 62 years old. As a result a calculation is made to determine the amount of equity that can be lent by looking at the age of the borrower, the interest rate charged and the location of the home. This tells FHA and the lender how much they can safely lend without ever collecting a mortgage payment. As a result the lender can lend with minimal risk, but must wait to make their interest until the homeowner either chooses to move or passes away. Foreclosing is rarely an issue- only in cases where the homeowner does not follow the terms of the loan such as not living in the home, not keeping the condition of the home to reasonable standards or not paying the property taxes and homeowners insurance. This makes a loan that is very appealing to the lender who simply wants to earn interest on a low risk loan.

So where does FHA come into play? FHA had an impact on the reverse mortgage industry when it started insuring the lenders against losses in exchange for certain benefits to the homeowner. This helped reduce interest rates and eliminated most of the big drawbacks of doing a reverse mortgage. If the lender issues an FHA reverse mortgage they are insured against losses should the balance of the mortgage be higher than the value of the home when the homeowner’s pass away. Further, the same FHA insurance leaves the borrower the ability to leave the home equity to their heirs- and in most cases there is equity left for the heirs. Today’s FHA insured reverse mortgages are referred to as HECM loans, or home equity conversion mortgage.

The benefits of today’s reverse mortgages include the ability to live in the home payment free, to receive money from the RM to do home improvements, pay off debts or other mortgages, get protection from housing volatility, and get funds that are not taxable (full article). Money received from a RM is not taxed because it is not income, it is in fact loan proceeds just as getting cash from a mortgage refinance. The money does not affect Medicare or Social Security income as a result, but can have an impact on Medicaid for those receiving that assistance. Current RM have many option types available, including fixed rate options, equity lines where you use money only as needed much like using a credit card- but without any payment requirements, and options for having monthly payments sent to you, or having a lump sum of cash given to you at the loan settlement.

Because of the issues from reverse mortgages of the past, many myths about reverse mortgages abound, and are often spread by financial consultants, radio personalities, close friends and relatives and even mortgage professionals who are not experts on reverse mortgages. We have included a full section on reverse mortgage myths to help clarify these myths and what the real facts are.

The myths include, but are not limited to the following beliefs: • The bank will own the home when I pass away or move. • My kids will not inherit the home equity. • I cannot purchase a home with a reverse mortgage. • Reverse mortgages offer only adjustable rates • My kids will have to pay the lender if the mortgage balance is higher than the home value when I pass away. • I cannot do a reverse mortgage if I currently have a mortgage on my home. • Closing costs are extremely high. • I will be forced to move from my home if I live too long. • I won’t qualify because of my credit or income situation.


Cap Statement

Federal contracts are a very lucrative business. However, learning how to acquire projects takes time, effort and investment. Proposal writing for government contracts is by no means a simple process. However, if you attempt to respond to the agency’s Request for Proposal (RFP), you will have to bring more to the table than just having a good technical writer. The reality is that the “status quo” no longer gets the win. You have to do more than the basic RFP requirements.

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Agencies are now leaning towards trade-offs to justify their best value determinations. Lowest price does not necessarily get the award. As former government contracting officials and members of source selection teams, we have actually reviewed eloquent proposals and perfected efforts by technical writers – we know firsthand that only the proposals that have substance and give the government added value and what source-selection officials want to know actually win the contract. The agency wants to feel like it is getting a good deal – not just reviewing bids with the basic solicitation criteria.

Reasons Why Government Proposals Fail: The first thing to consider when responding to a multi-million dollar offer is whether you have the budget to do what it takes to win. Successful companies spend anywhere from $13K to $20K for proposal writing services for a contract valued anywhere from $1M-5M. Never just cut and paste old proposals for an upcoming project. Agencies spot templated responses from a mile away and automatically put your package proposal to the bottom of the pile.

When responding to a government Request for Proposal, we have found that the following summarizes why proposal fail.

1. The response is not specific and to the point. Government RFP preparation requires the bidder to articulate the key areas to the solicitation. Never try to write a book and expect the agency to understand what you are trying to say. Proposal writers must be very specific and to the point.

2. Too much focus on “we can do the work” instead of “how we are going to do the work.” When grading proposals, the government places a significant emphasis and weight on the bidder’s technical approach. You have to spell out HOW you actually perform each phase of the Statement of Work. Summarizing will not help you.

3. No emphasis on your risk management and quality assurance. One of the fatal mistakes in government contract proposal writing is that bidders miserably fail to address and highlight their risk management and quality assurance. The government is not going to award a contract worth millions and never pay attention to the risk involved. Each proposal writer that understands government contracting must include risk management into the response to the solicitation. If you don’t, then your competition certainly will.

4. Failure to understand best value considerations. In federal contracts, price alone is not the criteria for award and neither is past performance. Sometimes, agencies will consider a price/ past performance trade-off when considering awards. However, effective proposal writing includes more than just these factors. Congress has suggested that taxpayers’ money should get the “best bang”. Since the government generally buys commercial services and products, bidding on government contracts should incorporate factors commonly used in the commercial industry. This includes warranties, discounts for volume, accelerated schedules etc. At Watson & Associates, our success stems from the ability to help you to see the big picture in federal procurement and educate the agency when writing government proposals.

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5. Relying too heavily on teaming partners and subcontractors. Failure to understand that teaming rule can be the kiss of death in government proposal writing. Many companies that offer proposal writing services do not understand how to avoid this commonly-made mistake. Although FAR 9.6 allows for teaming and subcontracting, there are also limitations on subcontracting. When proposing a subcontractor or teaming partner, you have to understand the legal limitations. Failure to correctly propose your team can subject you to a bid protest based upon affiliation. Bidding on government contracts means that the prime contractor (you) must perform the required percentage of labor costs and not pass through the critical aspects of the project. This is yet another reason why our experience as bid protest and government contract attorneys adds value to our proposal writing services.