Got a question about your house or personal finances? Our money-saving expert Ilyce Glink has the answers.

Dear Ilyce: We’re in the process of buying our first house. My question is, what is a good first offer to make on a house and how do you judge it? Does the assessed value of the property have anything to do with how much it is worth? Larry, Grayslake

A: There’s no pre-determined way to make a first offer on a house. Deciding that you’re going to offer 10 percent less than the asking price so that the seller meets you in the middle at, say, 5 percent below the asking price, is the wrong way to think about pricing.

In some cases, the right price will be 5 percent below the list price, the list price itself, or, in some insane markets, 5 percent above the list price — or more.

The best offers come from a lot of research.

Most home buyers look at the neighborhood “comps,” or the sales prices of home similar to the one you want to buy. Take a look at the amenities these homes have and how much they sold for. Now, take a look at the home you want to buy. What amenities does it have compared to the other homes in the neighborhood?

If you do this exercise often enough, you’ll soon be able to get an idea of what I call “relative value.” in other words, you’ll see a relationship between a home’s amenities and its sales price, and you’ll be able to figure out the purchase price you’re willing to pay for a particular home based on what other hoes have sold for.

You should spend a fair amount of time visiting local open houses. That way, when those properties sell, you can find out how much they sold for. In time, you and your spouse or partner will get a feel for what value means in your neighborhood of choice, and you’ll be able to apply your knowledge to new properties that come on the market.

Dear Ilyce: I have about $25,000 in debt and want to figure out a way to consolidate all of my bills. I have heard of companies that can help me have just one payment each month, but I don’t know who to trust. Can you recommend a few companies that do this? Thanks. Margie

A: You’re in a sticky situation because there are a lot of credit repair companies that would be happy to take a huge fee from you — without providing the advertised service.

I think the best credit counseling companies are those that are affiliated with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling ( One of the big ones is Consumer Credit Counseling Services ( Another well-regarded company is money management international (

The reason I like credit counseling companies that belong to the NFCC is that is that the counselors are accredited, and they adhere to state and federal laws in terms of how much they charge (nominal) and for what.

Make sure you take the time to interview these companies thoroughly before you sign onto a debt management plan (where your debts are consolidated) and make sure you take advantage of free budget counseling first. It’s possible that you don’t need to be in a debt management plan but can, with some help, adjust your spending enough to start making these payments on your own.

Start with and see where you can go from there. Also, go back to my website,, and use the search box to find other articles about fixing up your credit and paying down debts.


National Foundation for Credit Counseling – Consumer Credit Counseling Services – Money Management International –

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June 7, 2005