Author: Ali Palacios - Broker

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Annual review of your escrow account

What is escrow?

Your mortgage payment is made up of the following:

  • Part goes toward your mortgage to pay your principal and interest.
  • The other part goes into your escrow account for property taxes and insurance premiums (like homeowners insurance, mortgage insurance, or flood insurance).

When you purchase a home and put down less than 20%, the lender will requiere that you escrow your taxes and insurance. An account is opened at the time your home is purchased. The funds within the account are used to pay your property taxes and insurance premiums. These are paid by the lender directly using these funds. This typically helps the home owner because you don’t have to save for these funds separately.

In Texas we pay property taxes in arrears. In Jan of the current year, you are paying the past year’s property taxes. By “property taxes” I’m referring to property, School, MUD, LID and/or Drainage Taxes (not all applicable for all).  It might look something like the image below.

At the beginning of the year I’d suggest you do two things:

  1. Make sure that your taxes have been paid. Lenders make mistake and sometimes overlook a payment. Taxes are due by Jan 31st so make sure that the payment is applied before that date.
  2. Review your escrow account for errors, shortages and overages.

#1 Confirm Payment

Go into the jurisdiction’s website and make sure your balance is zero. If there is a balance owed make sure to follow up with your lender.

#2 Yearly escrow review

Property taxes and insurance premiums change over time. Most lenders will review your escrow account each year to make sure you’ll have enough to cover your expenses. To help with any unexpected increases, you need to keep a minimum balance in your account at all times. It’s normally calculated to not be more than 2 months of escrow payments (but this will vary by bank).

The lender will add your taxes and insurance and divide this amount by 12. This is the minimum amount you need in your escrow account. Normally the lender will want at least 2 month cushion to cover any potential increases in taxes or insurance. Most lender will send you an analyzes by mail or online.

Shortage

If you have an escrow shortage due to an increase in your taxes or insurance premiums, you are responsible for the difference. The bank will send you a notice stating the amount outstanding. It’ll be your choice how you handle it. You can either pay the entire shortage in one lump sum or you can choose to have the amount spread out over the coming year. This means if your shortage is $500, expect to pay an additional $41.67 each month the following year to make up the shortage. Your payment might also increase more as the lender increases the amount going into escrow to pay the next year’s taxes and insurance. In this example you might see an overall increase of approximately $80-100

Please note that if you choose to pay the total shortage in one lump sum, your payment will still increase to cover next year’s potential shortage.

Surplus

If you have too much money in your escrow account, you might get a refund check from the lender. This usually occurs when taxes go down or payments are overestimated. The lender will pay the appropriate amount to each jurisdiction. Whatever is left goes to you, minus their desired cushion. You should receive notice that you have an escrow surplus and will receive a check not long after that. If this doesn’t happen, contact the lender for further details.

Going Forward

The lender should repeats this process every year but don’t relay on the lender to foresee issues. Be proactive! Before May of every year you will get your proposed assessed value from the tax jurisdiction. Review these statements. Has it increased? decreased? How will this effect your escrow balance?

To avoid unpleasant surprises, pay attention to correspondence from your insurance company or taxing jurisdictions. If you’re aware that your payments will increase, you can put additional money towards your escrow each month to avoid a shortage. If you see that your payments will go down, you can contact your bank to try to decrease your monthly escrow payments.

You can ask your lender to analysis your escrow account at any point. You do not have to wait for them to schedule the review. Increases or decreases in your annual tax or insurance bills may cause your monthly mortgage amount to change.

You can (and should) protest your taxes. The protest deadline is May 31st of each year. The final amount is established by the final quarter of each year.

For more info: Tax Protest

Chewy Coconut Cookies

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ cups salted butter, softened
  • ½ cups brown sugar
  • ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-½ cup shredded sweetened coconut

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugars. Add the egg, mix well. Add the vanilla, mix well.

Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, mixing well after each addition. Once all the flour is combined, add the shredded coconut and mix.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spoon 1 teaspoon of batter onto pans. Dough spreads while baking, so leave ample space between dough balls.

Bake for about 8-10 minutes, or until edges are browned.

Remove from oven and cool on a cooling rack.

 

VARIATIONS AND TIPS

  1. Add 1/2 cups of chopped pecans for a yummy variation
  2. Let cookie cool completely moving them off the pan. Cookies will be very softs right out of the oven
  3. You can make the batter in advance. Scoop into portions and freeze. You can take them from the freezer to the oven. You might need to add 1 more minute to the calling time. The cookie will last 2-3 months in the freezer.

Dumplings, dumplings and more dumplings

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound well-ground, fatty pork
  • 1 pound Napa cabbage, rough slices
  • 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine or sherry
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • Pinch of white pepper
  • 1 package frozen or fresh dumpling wrappers
  • small bowl of water

DIRECTIONS

Pork filling:

Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Add the cabbage; blanch until just wilted. Using a slotted spoon, remove cabbage to strainer set over a large bowl. Press down on cabbage to squeeze out all liquid. Transfer to cutting board; roughly chop. Combine onions and pork, add ginger, Add the soy sauce, cooking wine, sesame oil, salt, and pepper to the meat mixture. Stir in chopped cabbage until completely incorporated.

Dumplings:

Using a spoon, place one heaping tablespoon of dumpling filling in the center of the dumpling wrapper. Using your fingertip, wet the outer edge of the dumpling wrapper with water. Fold up the sides of the dumpling into a half-moon shape. Pinch the edges of the dough until completely sealed. Do not overfill the dumplings. If any filling comes out, remove some and seal the dumpling completely.

Cook:

Boiled dumplings: To cook the dumplings, gently lower them into a medium pot of boiling water and boil for approximately three to five minutes. They are done when the dumpling skins are translucent and the dumplings have been floating for about three minutes. Remove from pot carefully with a slotted spoon.

Pan fried dumpling: Add 2 tbsp o oil in a pan, add on layer of dumplings, fold side up. Add 1/2 cup of water and cover. Steam the dumplings for about 4 mins. Dumpling wrapper with be translucent. Uncover and continue cooking until all the water evaporates and the dumplings are golden brown on the bottom side.

Fried: Heat oil and fry each dumpling until golden brown.

Serve hot with your favorite dumpling sauce

 

VARIATION AND TIPS

  1. You can freeze dumplings raw for up to 2 month.
  2. Bacon Cheese Burger dumplings: for filling combine  2 cups medium shredded sharp Cheddar, 1/3 pound thin-cut cooked and chopped bacon, 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt, 1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper, 1/2 large red onion, small diced, 8 ounces 80/20 ground beef. Serve with ketchup and mustard
  3. Shrimp and onion dumplings: for filling combine: 1 lb chopped deveined and cleaned shrimp,  3 sliced green onions, 1/4 tsp grated ginger, 1 clove grated garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon ground black pepper, 2 teaspoons sesame oil.
  4. Buffalo Chicken dumplings: for filling combine 1 lb ground chicken, 1 cup of buffalo sauce, 1 cup grated colby cheese, 1/2 cup cream cheese, 1/4 cup blue cheese.
  5. Add 1/2 cup of chopped kimchi into the recipe above for pork and kimchi dumpling
  6. Simple dipping sauce: 4 tbsp Soy sauce, 1/8 tsp grated ginger, 1 tsp Sriracha sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil. Combine and serve with dumplings

You can fill these with anything! Share your filling ideas 🙂

Bolognese Sauce

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 large carrot, finely diced
  • 1 medium celery rib, finely diced
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground veal or 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 5 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 cans of small diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Freshly grated Parmesan, for serving
  • 1lb pasta

DIRECTIONS

Cook onions, celery, carrot, and garlic in oil. Use a 8-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add Beef and veal/pork and cook over moderately high heat, stirring and breaking up lumps, until browned, about 6 minutes. Stir in tomato paste. Cook for 4-5 minutes on low heat. Deglaze the pan with wine, water, add diced tomatoes, gently simmer, covered, until sauce is thickened, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Add salt and pepper and remove from heat.

Cook the pasta for 1 less minute than stated on package. Toss into sauce and finish cooking. If needed add a little pasta water into the mix. The sauce should evenly cover the pasta. Add grated parmesan cheese to taste and stir.

Serve with more parmesan cheese 🙂

 

VARIATIONS AND TIPS

  1. Sauce may be made 3 days in advance, cooled before you refrigerate. You can also freeze the sauce (no pasta) for up to 2 months.
  2. This same sauce can be used for lasagna, so yummy!
  3. Add chili spices (2 tbsp chili powder and 1 tbsp cumin) and 1 can of beans to make a great chili.  Serve with corn bread or fritos. Top with cheddar cheese and onions

Pecan and Dulce de Leche Pancakes

Makes approximately 12 6in pancakes

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups buttermilk (or regular milk with 2 tbsp of white vinegar or lemon juice)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tablespoons dulce de leche
  • 1/2 cup pecans, toasted and finely ground (not chopped)
  • 1 cup Candied Pecans rough chop
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

Service with dulce de leche on top

DIRECTIONS

Mix all the ingredients through the ladies pecans together until smooth. Melt a little butter in a sauce pan, medium heat, pour a ladle full of batter into the pan. Cook on one side until all bubbles have popped, flip pancake. Cook for 1 min or until golden brown. Repeat until all the batter is all used. Keep warm. Serve with dulce de leche or butter and maple syrup.

 

VARIATIONS AND TIPS

  1. Looking for just regular buttermilk pancakes? Remove the dulce de leche and pecans
  2. Have extra pancakes? freeze then individually and heat then up as needed in the microwave.

 

Asian Style Pork Belly

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1.5 lbs pork belly, cut in 1 in pieces
  • 1/2 cup Chinese rice wine
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 2 tbsp of brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic (whole)
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 bunch Green onions (sliced)

Serve with steamed white rice

DIRECTIONS

Brown the pork belly pieces in small batches (do not crowd the pan) until brown. I used an electric pressure cooker, the sauté function. Once all pieces have been browned add them back to the pot and toss in all the rest of the ingredients except the green onions. Add 2/3 cup water. Cover the pressure cooker and set for stew setting.

Once the setting is complete, uncover the pressure cooker and turn the sauté function back on. Cook until the sauce reduces and becomes as thick has honey. Stir several time so that the pork is even coated.

VARIATIONS

  1. I make a cuban style pork belly. Pork is cut into 1in pieces and browned as stated above. Add the pork back into the pan with 1/2 cup orange juice, the juice of 1 lime, 5 cloves of garlic, 3 packages of saloon Goya, 1/4 tsp dried oregano, 1 small sliced onion, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper. Once the pork is cooked in the pressure cooker you will once again open the pot and set it to sauté. Cook until the pork is dark brown, stir often.

Italian style burgers

Makes 4 patties

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb beef or turkey
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup of Italian style bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • 2 tbsp tomato pesto (or sun-dried tomato pesto)
  • 1 cup grated cheese (I’ve used parmesan, provolone, mozzarella or a combination of these)
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 buns
  • 1 tomato sliced
  • 1 small red onion sliced
  • Green leaf lettuce or arugula
  • Pesto or basil leaves (optional)
  • 4 cheese slices – Mozzarella or provolone

DIRECTIONS

Mix ground meat with egg, bread crumbs, garlic salt, tomato pesto, grated cheese and black pepper. Mix well and found 4 patties. Heat a sauce pan with olive oil, place patties in pan and cook for 5 minutes on each side or until done to taste. Add sliced cheese and cook until melted. Toast buns, add condiments as desired. Enjoy!

VARIATIONS

  1. This same mixture can be turned into a meatloaf. Mix the same ingredients and top with a 1 cup of ketchup or tomato sauce. Place in greased loaf pan. Cook for 30 mins or until done. Serve with parmesan potatoes!
  2. This same mixture makes amazing meatballs. Mix the same ingredients and form 16 small meatballs. Brown the meat balls in olive oil and add your favorite spaghetti sauce.

 

 

Butter Pecan Cookies

I used a 1 in scoop and this recipe made 60 small cookies. If you use a larger scoop you will need to make cooking adjustments. See below.

Ingredients:

2 cups pecan halves, finely chopped

2 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 and 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 sticks (8 ounces) salted butter + 2 tablespoons of salted butter

1 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 large eggs, at room temperature

32 pecan halves, for decoration (optional)

 

Directions:

  • Melt 2 tbsp butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add in chopped pecans and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Set aside until needed.
  • In a large bowl combine flour, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda; whisk well, set aside until needed.
  • Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat; continue cooking, stirring often, until golden brown (light caramel color). Add browned butter  into a large, heatproof mixing bowl. Add in both sugars and whisk well to combine. I mixed it for about 2 mins so the mixture would cool slightly. Add in vanilla. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating until eggs are just combined.
  • Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour, stirring until just combined. Fold in the buttered pecans.
  • Cover bowl and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

To Bake:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Scoop 3 tablespoon sized rounds of dough onto the prepared sheet, leaving 2 inches in between each cookie for spreading. Firmly press a pecan half on top of each ball of cookie dough, if desired, then bake in preheated oven for 6 minutes, or until edges are set and the center is still a little jiggly. Allow cookies to cool on the pan for 15 minutes, then carefully transfer to a cooling rack. Repeat with remaining cookie dough.

Notes

  • If using a 2in scoop, the cookies will take about 9-10 mins to cook
  • I scoop all the cookies and freeze the balls of dough. This way I can bake a few batches as needed. If frozen you might have to bake the cookies for an addition 2 mins.
  • Cookies will stay fresh for 3 days when stored in an airtight container.