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5 Ways To Win Your Dream Home

If you're house hunting, then you need to know how to boost your chances of winning that perfect home. Follow these home-buying tips to stop another buyer from running away with your dream home.

  1. Be Financially Ready
    Don't submit any purchase offers until you have been pre-approved for a home loan. This paperwork makes you the more appealing buyer — especially if you're bidding against someone who has not yet contacted their bank.

  2. Offer More Than the Asking Price
    If you are serious about buying a specific home, offer more than the asking price. This will almost certainly eliminate the risk of being outbid because most buyers assume they should negotiate. Of course, before doing this, make sure the home is worth the amount of money you are offering and your finances can handle that amount.

  3. Drop the Contingencies
    If you are confident in the condition of the house or are willing to take on any potential repairs, make an offer without contingencies. This will be more appealing to a buyer. While you may still need to have the home inspected and appraised by your mortgage lender, avoiding other contingencies will make your offer more appealing.

  4. Have an Escalation Clause
    An escalation clause placed with an offer tells the homeowner that you are willing to automatically increase your bid for the home (up to your top offer) if a larger offer is submitted. The escalation clause will outline the increments you are willing to increase your bid by and the top amount you are willing to spend. If no other offers come in, your original offer stands. The only way you could be outbid in this situation is if someone offers more than you are willing to pay for the house.

  5. Know What's Happening in Your Market
    One more way to avoid being outbid on your dream home is to stay informed about what is currently happening in your market. You can do this by staying on top of the newest listings to hit your MLS, working closely with a real estate agent who has a reputation for keeping their clients up to date with the market and locating potential homes for sale before they are listed.

When you're searching for a home, understand the housing market is competitive. You can increase your chances of winning your dream home with the help of an experienced real estate agent who will help you place an attractive purchase offer using these home-buying tips.


Myth vs. Fact: Buying A House

You may hear all kinds of conflicting advice from friends, neighbors, and relatives. If you do your research, you can get a better understanding of what is actually involved in the home-buying process. Here are the truths about four common home-buying myths:

  1. You need to have perfect credit.
    Many people assume you must have a high credit score in order to secure a mortgage. That simply isn't true. If you have less than perfect credit, lenders are often willing to work with you to get a mortgage. Although it's not the only thing lenders look at when considering you for a loan, your credit score will have an impact on the interest rate, so make sure you review your credit report before applying. If you find any errors, report them to the credit reporting bureaus ASAP. Once they're removed, you can apply for your mortgage.

  2. You need 20 percent down.
    One of the most common misconceptions about the home-buying process is that you have to pay 20 percent of the purchase price for the down payment. Since this can be a large chunk of change, many people think owning a home is out of their reach. However, there are many first-time home-buyer programs that allow buyers to put down a lower down payment. For those who qualify for a Federal Housing Administration loan, your down payment can be as low as 3.5 percent. FHA loans also feature low closing costs and easy credit qualifying. Active or retired members of the military can apply for a Veterans Administration home loan, which requires no down payment for qualified borrowers.

  3. A 15-year fixed-rate mortgage is your best option.
    Many people opt for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage because they offer lower monthly payments than a 15-year fixed-rate loan. If you can afford to pay more on a monthly basis, you may want to consider a 15-year mortgage. With the 30-year option, you will most likely end up paying more during the term of the loan. It's also smart to keep an open mind about adjustable-rate mortgages. If you don't plan on staying in your home for the long haul, it could save you money if mortgage rates are low at the time you buy your house.

  4. You don't need an agent.
    While it may seem like a no-brainer, the home-buying process can be complicated and wrought with pitfalls. Buying a home is probably one of the largest purchases you will make in your life, so you want to do it right. An experienced real estate agent or REALTOR® who knows the ins and outs of the market and the features of a specific real estate area can make the process run more smoothly. Real estate agents often have local connections with other REALTORS®, insurance agents, appraisers and lenders who can help make the home-buying process easier.   Before you know it, you'll be the proud owner of a new home.

Don't believe everything you hear. Sometimes the "truth" couldn't be more wrong!


The Newbie's Guide To Buying A Home

Buying your first home is a big milestone in your life, but if you aren't careful, the process can cause some serious headaches. Here's what newbies wish they knew before purchasing a house.

Know what to do before you buy.

Life is filled with amazing journeys, and buying your first home should be one of its best. No matter what your budget, age, or your motivation for buying, there are a few simple steps that every first-time buyer should follow. These steps will go a long way and help you approach your home-buying journey with confidence.

Know exactly how much money you'll need to spend. 

That might sound obvious, but it's actually a complex question because you need to know your budget backward and forwards before buying a house and taking on mortgage payments.

Don't leave it to your lender to decide how much house you can afford. They may approve you for a much larger dollar amount than you actually want to spend. Don't forget to take into consideration additional money above and beyond the purchase price of your home for things like a down payment, closing costs, furnishings, and repairs.  

Track your expenses for a few months.

Before you start making offers on homes, make sure you've spent a few months tracking your expenses and gathering information about your debts, spending patterns, assets, and income.

How much do you make after taxes, and how much is left over? Make sure you can answer specific questions such as how much are your monthly expenditures for things like groceries, car payments, student loans, and other debts. It's better to overestimate than underestimate, but if you link your accounts to a budget tracking app, you'll have more exact figures. As a general rule, buyers shouldn't spend more than 30 percent of their monthly income on housing costs, but those costs include insurance, taxes, interest, utilities, and other expenses after your mortgage.

Consider listings that leave room for competitive offers.

After you've figured out the highest price you can afford, lower it a little and then start looking. You may be tempted to look at properties at the tip-top of your price range, but other potential buyers may have more flexible budgets.

Even if you're not searching in a red-hot housing market, there will probably be other buyers interested in every property you consider, so try to leave room for competitive offers. But just remember: even if most houses in the area are selling over the listing price, you don't necessarily have to pay more to stay competitive. You can add escalation clauses to the contracts you submit, which means the price only gets raised if other people have higher offers too.

Congratulations on the start of this life-changing adventure. Surround yourself with experienced, trustworthy experts, and you'll be buying a house and making your move in no time.


How To Know You've Found The Right Home

Finding a home — especially your first home — can be a wonderful experience.  You feel excited, energized, and a little confused too. Maybe it's the neighborhood, the potential in the home, or the fact that the home is move-in ready that appeals to you. With so many different variables, you want to make sure you're choosing the right house that fits your needs.

Whatever the reason for your interest in a particular home, you may still have some doubts. Use these tips to help you determine if you've found your dream home.

Searching for "The One"

Before you can determine if a house is "the one," you have to know what "the one" looks like. Think of it like any relationship: there are ideals and deal-breakers. Start with a list — things you have to have, things you want to have, and things you don't want at all.

For some people, the list focuses on location rather than features. This means they want to be near work, good schools, or within walking distance of town. Others want the chef's kitchen or a big backyard for the kids and pets to run around in. The list will help you decide what the most important items are and what you're willing to compromise on a bit. You'll also want to decide if you're willing to fix things up or if your "one" should be complete, with only basic maintenance on the horizon.

Signs You've Found the Perfect House for You

There is a lot of anticipation in buying a house, but there can be a slight hesitation as well. The pause often comes from wanting to be sure the house you're looking at buying is the right one for you. Luckily, there are a few signs that let you know when something is right:

  • You feel at home. When you look at the house from the street, you may start to feel a sense of excitement. You want to go in—and when you do, it feels inviting and welcoming. This is the first sign that a house is the right one.
  • You are possessive. Let's say you've toured a home. Maybe it's even your second visit. You see someone entering, and you want them gone. That possessiveness means there's already a part of you that thinks about the house as yours.
  • You start visualizing each room. Are you moving your furniture in with your mind? Can you see your favorite photo hanging there? If you are already visualizing what your house looks like, it may be the one.
  • The house fits your needs and wants. Does the house cover most of the basics? Are you in the right location and have the features you want? If the house covers all your basic desires, it is probably a pretty sure bet. If it is all you want and more, then that speaks volumes.
  • You can't wait to tell everyone. If you are texting, sending pictures, and getting excited about sharing the news about a particular house, it is probably a good choice. You're already getting invested.
  • Your intuition tells you it's the one. You shouldn't ignore your gut. If you walk in, and something inside you says, "This is it." Chances are, it is.
  • You don't want to look at any other houses. If you don't have the urge to see if there is something better or look at other options, you've got a pretty clear sign that you've found your home.

Buying a House

Once the signs say you've found "the one," it's time to leap into action. You don't want to wait too long to buy a house that works for you. Gather your agent, and your resources, and make an offer.


5 Can't Miss Tips When You're Buying A Fixer Upper

Buying a fixer-upper offers you an amazing investment opportunity and provides an endless assortment of projects for those who like to work with their hands.

No matter if you plan to flip the property quickly or live there for some time, you shouldn't cross a fixer-upper off your list when buying a house. Still, we all know that buying a house can be a complex challenge and fixer-uppers add a bit more for you to think about.

So... What do you really need to know when buying a fixer-upper?

Get off to a running start with these five tips:

  1. Start with Location
    Location is one of the most important things to think about in any home purchase. There are two strategies that may be effective here: One is the traditional "central location" that has the potential for a lot of curb appeal. The other is talked about less, but can still be a savvy choice: A more secluded and private property set back from the main road.

  2. Set Up a Sound Renovation Budget
    The perfect location can still be undercut if the needed repairs exceed your budget. The best way to get the real facts about what needs to be done is to get a complete house inspection. Then, get bids for the things you can't do yourself and figure out the cost in time and materials for those you can. When you have a figure that seems accurate, add 10% for the unexpected.

  3. Identify the Biggest Issues First
    Making repairs to the roof will not only add value but remove a major stumbling block that can easily scare potential buyers away. Working on the foundation isn't nearly as glamorous — it may add nothing at all to your future selling price — but you should double-check to see if it is necessary. What else can you look out for? Electrical, heating, and pest issues are important.

  4. Negotiate Hard
    So, you've done the calculations on what renovating your new find might cost you. Now, you can use that information as leverage in negotiating a better price. It's not unreasonable to ask for 20 percent or even 40 percent off the asking price. What other factors play in your favor? A property that's been on the market for a long time — or a good amount of cash to offer upfront.

  5. See if You Qualify for a Renovation Loan
    There are several different types of renovation loans, including the popular 203(k) loan backed by the federal government through the Federal Housing Administration. Many different banks can offer this loan as long as they follow federal rules. Homebuyers can get low-interest rates on a 203(k) and may be able to qualify even with less than perfect credit scores.

Buying a house can be the greatest step you ever take for your peace of mind, financial security, and yes — your enjoyment. The choice to make that house a fixer-upper can be considered a bold one. Still, for some people, there's simply nothing better.

Use our tips, and you'll find it's easier than you ever imagined to make the right decisions for buying a house. In just a matter of months, your very own fixer-upper could become the home of your dreams. If you go in with a clear view and realistic expectations, you can't lose!


What Is An HOA?

Buying a house exposes you to a large number of variables, including industry-specific jargon and abbreviations. HOA is one of these terms. It refers to a Homeowners Association.

What is a Homeowners Association?

An HOA is a regulatory group set up to manage shared property. This group collects regular dues and is then responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of community property. Common examples of this property may be a shared rooftop garden at a condo or a playground and picnic area at a townhome complex.

The more amenities an area offers, the more things there are that will need to be managed, and subsequently, the higher the HOA dues might be. HOAs are also responsible for establishing the covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) of an area. Essentially, HOAs make the rules for the homeowners living in this group. These rules can reach beyond city laws and establish guidelines for pet ownership, property appearance, and even noise disturbance. Copies of these rules should be available to anyone buying a house in the HOA area.

  • How are HOA fees determined?
    HOA costs are based on a variety of factors. Most HOA fees begin at $200 per month, and prices increase from there. The average HOA will consider the size of your household (a 3-bedroom will be charged more than a studio apartment) and the facilities offered in your housing area.

    Facilities go beyond recreation areas like the pool, and will also include maintenance for parking lots, hallways lights, smoke detectors, and elevators. HOA pricing begins with a basic allowance for daily maintenance and then charges a little extra each month for seasonal and emergency expenses.

  • Who is part of an HOA?
    HOA rules govern all housing units in a given area. While each property is individually owned, the community itself is communal property and subject to HOA rules. Examples of HOA areas can include a townhome community, apartment-style high-rise, or a suburban cul de sac.

    HOA basics are managed by a board of elected homeowners. These board members are required to hold regular meetings and provide copies of all CC&Rs to residents. Major decisions will usually be brought to a vote, allowing all registered members of the HOA to have a say in the decision.

  • How do HOA rules work?
    Property upkeep seems fine, but additional rules can be confusing. How does rule enforcement work, and what happens when you break an HOA rule?

    First of all, not all HOA's enact rules equally. Some HOA's save rules for only what they consider the most vital concerns like resident safety and accessibility. Other HOA's are concerned with property appearance and value, as well as impressions when buying a house in the area. An area with multiple sets of rules may have a tiered level of consequences, while an area with minimum rules likely has an established set of guidelines with more equal enforcement. But what's the bottom line?

    HOA rules can trump individual homeowner choices. You must follow the rules as stated in your area or face fines. Non-payment of fines or dues can have serious consequences, including a worst-case foreclosure of your property. It's important when buying a home to review any HOA restrictions before purchase to make sure that all items are standards you can comfortably live with.

So should you shop for HOA-qualified homes? It's a balance of choices between amenities and individual choices. For some this is an excellent answer.


Getting Your Credit In Shape Before You Buy A House

When you're buying a house, the preparation you do ahead of time plays a major role in the end result of your home search. During this time, there are a few things more important than your credit score. An excellent credit score can ultimately help you save big on interest payments over the life of your mortgage. Start by understanding these steps to building great credit.

  • Check Your Credit Score
    The first step is simply understanding where your credit currently stands, and it's easier than ever to do so. You are entitled to one free report from each of the three major credit bureaus each year, so you can check for free if you haven't done so already. Even if you know your report will be less-than-perfect, checking it is the only way to find out what you need to do to improve your score.

  • Ask an Expert
    If you're not too familiar with reading credit reports or simply want to make sure you don't miss any details, speaking with a credit expert is a great way to get up to speed. If possible, choose a credit/financial expert you know and trust. If not, ask around for recommendations from others who have been in your position.

  • Clear Up Debt
    Old, outstanding debts can do major damage to your credit score, so addressing those issues is one of the first steps in establishing good credit. Many creditors are willing to set up payment plans so that you can cover old debts over time rather than in one lump sum.

  • Pay on Time, Every Time
    Cleaning up old credit issues can be a real hassle, and making payments on time helps ensure that no new issues will crop up. If possible, it's even a good idea to pay down your balance a little extra each month. In addition to helping avoid complications, using your credit and then making payments on time is one of the best ways to improve your credit score long-term.

  • Set Up Automatic Bill-Pay
    Even small, local banks now typically offer online banking and automatic bill-pay, so why not take advantage? Doing so will save you time, help you avoid forgetting to pay on time, and keep your credit score moving in the right direction.

  • Plan Ahead
    No matter what part of the home-buying process we're discussing, planning ahead is always one of the keys to success. The same goes for getting your credit in order because repairing past issues takes time. Even if your credit is currently in great shape, you'll want to plan ahead so that you know what sort of interest rates to expect from your mortgage, and make sure your credit score is as strong as possible.

No matter where you're starting from, it really is possible to clean up your credit before buying a house, and the payoff is more than worth the effort. The key is to make sure you understand how your credit score is calculated, where your score could use improvement, and the steps you need to take to achieve your credit goals. With the right credit plan in place, you'll be well on your way to achieving your home-buying goals, as well.


The Most Common Red Flags When Buying A House

Watch for these red flags that could be signaling "Buyer Beware" during your house hunt.

  • Many Homes for Sale
    If you fall in love with a house, but notice numerous "for sale" signs in the immediate neighborhood, then you may want to ask yourself why. If there's a mass exodus from the neighborhood, there's probably a reason. You may not want to join a neighborhood where everyone's leaving.

  • An Old Roof
    Replacing a roof can cost approximately $12,000 to $25,000, with a life expectancy of about 20 years. Find out how old the roof is. Make sure you take its age into consideration when making an offer, or look for a home with a newer roof to ensure you don't have to tackle this repair too soon.
  • Unusual Odors
    Mold creates a musky or dank smell, and this is something you don't want to overlook. Head to the basement and give the home a good sniff, as this is where these types of problems like to hide. Also, be leery of a home that uses candles, air fresheners, or even the smell of fresh-baked cookies too liberally. The seller may have something to hide.

  • Uneven Flooring
    Gaps in flooring tile or bubbles in the laminate can indicate poorly laid flooring or a problem with the home's foundation. Both can be costly problems. If the flooring's uneven, you may want to look for a different property.

  • Poor Maintenance
    Look for signs that the home's owners didn't maintain the home well. Poor home maintenance is a problem when buying a house. If the owners weren't changing light bulbs or fixing leaky faucets, what else did they overlook that you'll have to pay for when you buy the home?

  • Fresh Paint in Select Areas
    Does one wall look like it has a fresh coat of paint while all others look old and dull? This may make you wonder what they are hiding. While they could be hiding that fire engine red accent wall that they loved, they could also be hiding signs of water damage, cracks, mildew, or mold.

  • Old Windows
    Like the roof, windows are costly to replace. Old windows also make a home inefficient. Check the windows for signs that they are older than they should be, and only make an offer if it accounts for the cost of window replacement.

  • Old Wiring
    Old wiring and outdated electrical systems can be hard to detect, but you need to check. These systems work but put your safety at risk, and you don't want to be buying a house that's not safe. You can look for knobs connecting to the wires or circular knobs on the fuse box rather than the toggle switches of newer systems. If you're unsure, ask the inspector about the electrical system before you agree to buy the home.

Remember, your job when you're buying a house is to do your due diligence to ensure you know exactly what you're getting. Watch for these red flags, and you can protect yourself from making a poor purchase decision.


How To Make Moving Easier For Your Kids

Moving into a new home is never an easy thing — especially for the youngest members of your family. While parents are making big decisions about buying a house, it is critical for kids to feel included in the part process too. Here are a few simple steps to ease into the transition and help make every member of your family feel more comfortable — and even excited — about your upcoming adventure.

A Family Affair: Keeping Your Kids Involved in Your Move

For children, fear of the unknown is one of the biggest factors in stress related to moving. They will be in a new place, surrounded by new people and away from the security of their current social group. The keys to dealing with that fear are keeping the kids involved in the move and helping them get familiar with their new hometown before you actually make the move.

  • Start by researching your new neighborhood or city online and allowing your kids to share in that process. Be sure to highlight any kid-friendly activities in the area and look for places where your kids can pursue their favorite hobbies.

  • Once you know where you're going to be buying a house, bring your kids for a few scouting trips around the neighborhood. Point out any fun places of interest and be ready to answer any questions your children have about your new neighborhood.

  • Tweens and young teens enjoy the feeling of independence, so let them explore some (safe) local places on their own can both generate excitement and make them feel more involved in the process.

  • For younger kids, you will naturally want to be more hands-on, but you can still offer the feeling of independence by supervising from the sidelines. Parks and playgrounds are great for this sort of supervised exploration.

  • The actual process of packing up your stuff and moving can be especially challenging for young children, who worry that their favorite toys and possessions won't be there when the moving trucks arrive at your new home.

  • To minimize that fear, allow young children to participate in packing their things and wait to pack their very favorite toys until you are very close to moving day. Show your children where their rooms will be in your new house so that they know all of their things will still have a place once you move.

  • If you're making a long-distance move, then one of the toughest challenges for children (and adults, for that matter) is living far away from family and friends. The good news is that today's technology makes it easier than ever to stay in touch.

  • Remind your kids that they will still be able to return to visit their friends and that there are plenty of great ways to stay in touch through technology. A going-away party may be a bit tough to pull off when you're also planning a move, but it can be quite beneficial if you can fit it into your schedule.

Perhaps more than anything else, the most important thing is simply to listen to the needs of your children when planning a move. Ask for their feedback, make them feel involved, and look for ways to get them excited about buying a house. It's not an exact science, but it's more than worth the effort — kind of like the rest of parenthood.


How To Find A Neighborhood That's Right For You

Buying a house is a big step in your life, whether it's your first home or the perfect place to retire. You've probably given a lot of thought to the amenities your new home should have, but you may not have put as much thought into finding the neighborhood that best fits your needs and budget. Here are some tips on finding the right neighborhood for you.

  • Do Your Homework
    There are lots of online tools that can make buying a house much easier by offering lots of great information — not only about the houses listed — but also about the neighborhoods. You can use these tools to get an idea of the neighborhoods that are acceptable to you and which ones are not. Some of the information you can find with online tools includes school districts and ratings, area employers, medical facilities, and activities. This data can help you narrow your search and find a neighborhood that really fits your needs.

    Some online resources also offer information on housing values in specific neighborhoods. Knowing the values of other homes in the same area can help you avoid paying too much for a home, as well as give you an idea of what the future might hold. Look for areas where homes are appreciating in value. Talk to your real estate agent about the prices in specific neighborhoods. An experienced agent should be able to give you a good overview of various neighborhoods and their pricing trends.

  • Check the History
    One of the most important things you should look at is the neighborhood's history, especially as it relates to flooding and other natural disasters. Flooding can be a serious issue that may require you to carry additional insurance on a home in that area, but don't dismiss a home out of hand just because it's in a flood plain. Instead, find out as much as you can about whether the home has flooded and how often it's happened in the past. A home in a flood-prone area may have never flooded, but it's important to find out before you make an offer.

    It's also important to check if there have been any natural disasters that affected the home you're considering, the neighborhood in which it's located, or the surrounding property values. Your real estate agent may not have this information, so be prepared to find it for yourself, if necessary.

  • Don't Forget about Convenience
    One of the considerations that may get lost in the shuffle of buying a house is that of convenience. Being near your favorite shopping options may not seem like a huge deal when you've found a house you love, but you can begin regretting your choice once you realize you're half an hour from your favorite store rather than half a mile. Don't forget to look at shopping and other nearby amenities, and consider whether or not you'll be happy if you can't walk to the corner store or local library like you used to.

  • Find the Dream, Avoid the Nightmare
    Buying a house is a big change, and moving into the wrong neighborhood can mean the difference between loving your new home, and only tolerating it. Make sure your dream home doesn't become a nightmare. No matter how much you like the home, if you don't like the neighborhood, you may be in for a rough time.

With these tips and help from your real estate agent, you'll be able to find a neighborhood that fits all your needs.


Bringing Order To The Chaos Of House Hunting

Every buyer-to-be knows searching for a home can be a challenge. However, your house hunt doesn't have to mean chaos if you start with an organized plan. Streamlining your search starts with a healthy dose of preparation by including a great real estate agent, setting a budget, creating a wish list, and reviewing real estate listings that meet your requirements.

These six tips can keep you organized and focused as you search for your new home.

  1. Involve Your Agent
    Your real estate agent isn't there just to set up visits and oversee the closing process when you're buying a house. They're also your number one resource for answering questions, sharing ideas, and providing real estate advice.

  2. Set a Budget
    While you don't have to know exactly how much you'll be able to spend at the start, it's a good idea to narrow your budget down to a comfortable range. Setting a sensible budget from the start makes every step that comes after easier. You can always adjust later if your finances change.

  3. Scout First
    Before you start scheduling visits, it's a good idea to scout some neighborhoods and identify possible matches. Doing online research will help you narrow down the possibilities. You can learn even more by driving through the most appealing spots that your research uncovers. Be sure to write down the info of any homes that catch your eye so that you can visit them later for a closer look.

  4. When in Doubt, Make a List
    Making lists are a great way to stay organized and super helpful when buying a house. Making lists of your needs, wants, and deal-breakers will help you lock in on the best fits and save time by quickly eliminating homes that just aren't a match.

  5. Ask Around
    Have any friends or family members who recently bought in a new community or live in a neighborhood you're considering? It helps to get the inside scoop on a neighborhood from someone you trust.

  6. Get Pre-Approved
    Want to impress potential sellers and gain some peace of mind in the process? Getting pre-approved for a mortgage is an excellent idea when shopping for a house and will make life much easier when it's time to make an offer. Get this step out of the way early and you'll be in great shape.

Creating a plan before you start your search for a home gives you the chance to enjoy the process and to make an efficient, informed decision when it's time to place an offer on your new house.


Open Houses: The Questions You Should Ask

Open houses serve many purposes, but one of the main functions is to answer a buyer's questions. Listing agents or sales associates are usually on hand to give insights about the home. Before attending your next open house, it's helpful to know what questions you want to ask before you go.

A Room-by-Room Guide of Questions:

  • Kitchen. The kitchen can be a huge money trap if it needs an overhaul. If appliances look less than new, ask about the age, if they function or if they've ever been repaired or replaced. If the kitchen has had a remodel, don't hesitate to ask about the contractor or if it was a DIY project. It's important to confirm updates have been done by a professional. A job done by an eager-to-save homeowner may pose potential risks. Other questions are countertop care (will depend on material) and asking what the cabinets are made of.

  • Baths. Unless the home is fairly new, you may want to inquire about the last time a bathroom received plumbing work. Other crucial factors are sewer lines or septic systems and whether the bathroom has ever had moisture damage or mold issues. For your own peace of mind, feel free to turn on faucets and check water flow or look for signs of leakage.

  • Bedrooms. Probably the biggest factor in bedrooms is size and shape. You'll want to ask about room sizes and ask if it's okay to measure the space yourself.

  • Garage. Garages are tricky spaces and may house some of your potential home's systems. Ask about the garage door and how it works, whether there is a heat source or if it gets really cold or hot, and find out the age of anything located in the garage.

  • Additions. Like any work done in a home, it's critical to know about any additions. Find out if proper permits were obtained, find out who did the work, and ask for the age of the addition.

  • General knowledge. Although going room by room is one way to approach information, it's beneficial to consider a few general items. Some things to inquire about include the windows and whether they are single or double pane. Find out the age of the water heater and its capacity. Ask about heating/cooling systems, the yard and drainage, basements, plumbing, the front door, the legality of outbuildings, past electrical work, and the roof. If a room is carpeted, find out if there are hardwoods underneath.

Work with a Real Estate Agent that Knows What to Ask

It's easy to forget to ask a question while visiting an open house. A good real estate knows to ask about everything from the cost of utilities to why a seller has listed their home for sale. One of the best steps you can take when buying a house is to work with an experienced real estate agent who knows what to ask.

The more information you have up front, the fewer surprises you'll have down the road. If you have questions regarding a home for sale, have your list ready before your next open house.


Buying A House? Try Our Home Buying Workout

If buying a house is on your bucket list, there's no time like the present to "get into training" for your house hunt. Here are seven steps to follow so you can hit the ground running this year:

  1. Required Reading – So it's not really required, but researching real estate tips online is free, easy, and informative. Read blogs, peruse forums, and watch videos. Checking out real estate tips from various sources will allow you to consider the market from new perspectives and is sure to yield a few tricks that will come in handy when it's time to close the deal.

  2. Find the Right Real Estate Agent – Working with a trusted real estate agent will make life much, much easier when shopping for a home. Your agent should be reliable, answer your questions promptly, understand the realities of your local real estate market, and has a plan specifically for you.

  3. Set a Budget – Setting a budget and sticking to it are two very different things. It's important to choose a number that fits comfortably with your overall finances. With a clear idea of what you have to spend, your real estate agent can help you find the best value for your investment.

  4. Check Your Credit Report – When working to secure a loan, the last thing you want is to find out that some old debt that you'd completely forgotten about or an error on the part of the rating agency is now causing trouble with your credit score. Avoid those unpleasant surprises by checking your credit score ahead of time and taking care of any outstanding issues.

  5. Get Pre-Approved – Having your finances in order from the start is a great way to gain an edge in competitive markets. In addition to being very appealing to sellers, pre-approval will give you a very clear idea of the funds you'll have available to purchase your new home.

  6. Become a Neighborhood Expert – When shopping for a house, it's good to remember that you are also shopping for the right neighborhood. Fortunately, researching neighborhoods is one of the more fun aspects of house hunting. Start your research online, then take the opportunity to get out, meet your potential neighbors, and sample the local businesses that make a neighborhood special.

  7. Think Twice Before Opening New Credit Cards – If your credit is in good shape, the end of the year is a common time to be solicited for new credit cards. Even if the terms really are favorable, you'll probably want to take a pass. Opening new cards can cause issues when it's time to secure a loan.

With these tips, you'll be in perfect shape to buy your new dream home.


Settling Into Your New Neighborhood After You Move

Whether you're moving across town or across the country, it's tough to feel like the new kid on the block — regardless of your age. Here are five great ways to make friends with your new neighbors and make the move into your new community.

  1. Just Say Hi!
    Your new neighbors are busy and most likely won't come knocking to help you unpack. So, if you want to meet your new neighbors, make the first step. Start by making the rounds through your new neighborhood and introduce yourself to everyone. Not only is this a great way potentially meet new friends, but it's also a great time to get recommendations on things like local mechanics, gyms, grocery stores, and upcoming community events; great information to know after buying a new house.

  2. Take the Kids Out to Play
    If you have children, go outside to play. Go to a local park. This will give you an opportunity to meet neighbors with children the same age as yours. Schedule a play date to get your families acquainted. Walking your children to the bus stop is a great way to meet several parents at once.

  3. Host a Get-Together
    If you don't like the idea of going door to door to meet your neighbors, you can encourage them to come to you. The simplest way to do this is by hosting a meet and greet. As soon as you're settled, plan a small party and invite only your new neighbors. Keep everything low-key and friendly. You shouldn't ask them to bring anything. Be clear as to whether or not kids are invited to the get-together.

  4. Become an Active Community Member
    After buying a house and getting settled in, look for ways you can become an integral member of the community. Sign up to volunteer at things like your local pet rescue, school functions, or 4-H events. You should also consider participating in community rallies and charitable events. The more active you are in the community and the more people you'll meet.

  5. Talk to People
    The odds are pretty good that you will run into at least some of your new neighbors while you're running errands around town. It's so important that you make an effort to be friendly and make small talk with as many people as you can in the months after buying a house in a brand-new neighborhood. The few minutes you speak to a cashier, bank teller, or the person standing in line behind you could be the start of a new friendship.

When you buy a house, there's plenty to be excited about during the packing and moving processes. Once you're settled in, roll out the welcome wagon and meet your new neighbors. Your new house and neighborhood will soon be feeling just like "home sweet home."


Military Veterans: The Best Tips For Buying A House

A Veteran's Administration loan is one of the most generous benefits offered to America's military veterans. In fact, many veterans find the VA loan a better proposition than conventional real-estate loans and even other government-funded mortgages.

Perhaps the major advantage of a VA loan is that there's no need for a down payment. Generally, conventional loans call for a down payment and may cover only 80 to 85 percent of a home's value.

A VA loan can allow veterans to buy homes when they don't otherwise qualify for a conventional loan. Backed by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, these loans let homebuyers get lower rates and qualify for a more expensive home than they would otherwise. Further, veterans can qualify with lower credit scores, and will not have to pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI).

An additional bonus for veterans who receive monthly disability benefits is that they don't need to pay the VA funding fee, which can be from 0.5 to 3.3 percent of the overall loan. 

Here's a look at who can qualify for a VA loan, and how to go about it. 

Eligibility for a VA Loan

Who is eligible for a VA loan? A Certificate of Eligibility, or COE, will be given to veterans or family members who meet one of these requirements:

  • Served 90 consecutive days of active service during war;
  • Served 181 days of active service during peacetime;
  • Has been an active member of the National Guard or Reserves for 6 years or more;
  • Was married to a service member who died in the line of duty or from a service-related disability.

To receive this COE, apply online, or mail in an application

Requirements for Getting a VA Loan

As mentioned above, veterans with lower credit scores can qualify for a VA loan. Nevertheless, there are some requirements for getting a VA loan, such as these:

  1. Enough income to afford the home.
  2. Reasonably good credit scores.
  3. Application for a VA Home Loan Certificate of Eligibility.
  4. Have all necessary military documentation, including the DD214, which is issued when a service member leaves the military.
  5. According to the VA website, certification that the buyer will occupy the home.

Find a Real Estate Agent Who Knows VA Loans

Homebuyers seeking a VA loan should see real estate agents who are familiar with the VA loan process. This is particularly important when it comes to the fees involved with VA loans. The VA funding fee is a one-time payment. It is owed by the veteran on a VA direct home loan or a VA-backed loan. This fee helps lower the cost of the loan for U.S. taxpayers since the veteran doesn't have to pay down payments or monthly mortgage insurance. In most cases, veterans with disabilities are exempt from this fee. 

What's more, an agent with VA loan experience won't waste your time with purchases that you can't buy with your loan. They can also have an advantage when it comes to negotiating with the seller's agent. They may be in a position to explain a veteran's story and appeal to the heart of a seller weighing several offers.

Other Loans

You of course can also look at other loans, either through the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which includes the mortgage-loan lenders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. There may also be some government-funded loans to pursue through agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Federal Housing Administration.

Good luck on your road to homeownership. If you're a veteran and are ready to pursue a VA loan, consult your VA Benefits Advisor today. 


Here's How You Can Find Your Dream Home

Many people can close their eyes and tell you what their dream home looks like. For some, it's a palatial estate, and for others, it's a three-bedroom Cape Cod with a white picket fence. Depending upon a person's finances and stage in life, their definition of their dream home can change. To help you define the home of your dreams, here are seven easy steps to set you on your journey.

  1. Create an Idea Book.
    An idea book is one of your best tools as you begin your house hunt. Homes literally come in all shapes and sizes with more features and amenities than you can probably count. In your idea book, outline what you need and want from your space. Jotting these thoughts down allows you to easily organize them into must-have lists as you continue the process.

  2. It's Okay to Dream.
    It is okay to dream a little when you make the decision to buy a house. Everyone wants to live in a space you truly love. Give yourself some time to dream and explore all the possibilities. Spend time on Pinterest or other online home galleries finding the features that you would include in your dream home.

  3. Determine a Baseline.
    Before you can narrow your wish list into a shopping list for your new home, create a baseline. Your baseline list includes the most basic features and requirements to consider when you buy a new house. Typically, your baseline list should include the number of bedrooms, a realistic price range, a basic home style, and lot size.

  4. Don't Forget About the Yard
    It is difficult to buy a house if the yard does not meet your family's needs. Would you use a swimming pool? Do you want significant acreage or a garden plot? Will you want an outdoor space for entertaining? Add a list of yard must-haves and wants to your idea book.

  5. Location, Location, Location
    Consider the amenities your neighborhood should include, such as access to public transportation, parks, and good schools. Try to limit your ideal neighborhood list to three to five locations.

  6. Dollars That Make Sense
    Make sure you have a full understanding of how much home you can afford. There is nothing worse than falling in love with a home only to find it is out of your budget. Examine your current financial situation and get pre-qualified for a home loan before you start your home search.

  7. Prioritize Your List
    After going through all of the detailed lists in your idea notebook, narrow your lists into a single, streamlined home needs list. Prioritize it into wants and needs. Try using a 1-4 scale, assigning "1" to must-have items, "2 and 3" to ideal items, and "4" to things you would like but could live without.

Talking to your real estate agent is one of the best first steps in securing your dream home. They'll help you find options that fit into your budget and have all the features you want.


Discover The Hidden Costs To Buying A House

When you're budgeting to buy a home — especially your first home, saving for a down payment is probably at the top of your list. Then comes your monthly mortgage (principal, interest, taxes, and insurance). At this point, many homebuyers start thinking they're in the clear. Not so fast!

The truth is — there are far more costs involved you might not have thought about that will affect your overall budget. And those costs, if not added in, can be enough to throw a monkey wrench into your home-buying plans.

Here are five hidden costs that can really add up:

  1. Home Inspection Costs
    One of the most important steps you'll take after having your offer accepted is the home inspection. It's an assurance that the home you're interested in has no hidden problems. You may be okay with some cosmetic fixes or even a kitchen replacement, but sometimes it's the things under the surface or the age of the home that can create unforeseen costs. Inspectors look at plumbing, appliances, and heating/cooling systems during their appointment. They may even refer you to specialists, like pest inspectors, if they see signs of something that concerns them. Many people don't factor in the hundreds of dollars you may end up spending on inspections, but that up-front cost can save you thousands in the long run.

  2. Taxes
    You may know that you'll be paying taxes on your new home, but many people don't understand you may be paying for a couple of months of those taxes at closing. On top of that, you may be paying for a year of homeowners insurance and any homeowners association fees due as well.

  3. Utilities
    Your costs for electricity, gas, sewer, and water could be higher depending upon where your new home is located. You should also budget for garbage collection, Internet, cable, and phone expenses.

  4. Maintenance, Repairs, Renovations & Redecorating
    Regular home maintenance (cleaning windows and gutters, landscaping, minor updates) is estimated at one percent of your home's value each year. This does not include larger, unexpected repairs that may happen.

    In addition to maintenance and repairs, allow for renovations and redecorating you may undertake when you move into your new house to make it your home.

  5. Moving Costs
    In your excitement to find and buy a home, it's normal to overlook the cost of moving. Moving can end up being a huge expense that you'll need to prepare for. There is a wide budget range depending on the route you take — hiring movers or a DIY move. But no matter what you choose, you'll be looking at paying for boxes and packing materials, a truck, time, and gas. Create a moving budget ahead of time, so you have the right amount on hand. Plan and schedule as far in advance as possible, so you have your choice of movers.

If you're buying your first home, don't be discouraged by these hidden costs. With the right planning and the right real estate agent, you'll be able to find your dream home and make your purchase without any major setbacks.


10 Things You Should Do Before Moving Into Your New Home

After buying a house, it's time to relax (for a second), take a deep breath, and plan your next move. Getting your new house ready for your arrival will take some work, but this is the sort of work you've been looking forward to from the moment you decide to purchase a home. We'll cover the details ahead, with ten important tasks for preparing to move in after buying a house. 

  1. Turn on Utilities
    The last thing you want is to show up to start making a home your own and find out you forgot to have the electricity turned on. Not that we're speaking from experience, of course. Just get this one out of the way ahead of time by calling your local utility companies.

  2. Change Locks
    When a home is on the market, it's not unusual for a REALTOR, contractors, and previous owners to all have copies of the keys. Having your locks changed when you move in is an easy way to boost security and make the home feel like your own.

  3. HVAC
    Even if you're not moving in the heart of summer or winter, you'll want to have your heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems serviced when you move in. These systems all require regular maintenance to maintain efficiency and may need a tune-up if they haven't been used in a while.

  4. Seasonal Prep
    If you're moving to an area with extreme seasonal weather, making a few preparations can save you plenty of headaches. Be sure to have rock salt, a snow shovel, and sturdy boots in your new home if you're moving in the winter.

  5. Change of Address
    Another easy one to forget during the heat of a move, so it's best to change your address as soon as possible. Basically, if a business sends you a bill or any regular correspondence, then it's a good idea to let them know your address is changing.

  6. A Coat of Color
    Painting your new home is a great way to make it feel like your own, and it's much easier to paint before you start moving furniture into your home. There's no shame in contracting out the job if you want that professional touch.

  7. Find Main Circuit Breaker
    Your circuit breaker is a key line of defense, allowing you to shut off electrical systems in an emergency or re-start tripped breakers. Get to know your breaker, its labels, and the systems it controls.

  8. Name and Number
    Moving into a new home means you'll be making plenty of phone calls, so create a list of key names and numbers for easy reference. It's also a good idea to write down the numbers of local emergency response services.

  9. Clean and Tidy
    If you're moving into an unfurnished home, you'll never have a better opportunity to clean those hidden corners. Even if the home is already furnished, it's a good idea to move things around and clean your new home thoroughly.

  10. Landscaping
    Depending on the time of year, you might also want to make some landscaping preparations. Spring is naturally a good time for planting, while fall and winter are great for cleaning.

There's plenty of work to be done after buying a house, but we have a feeling that you're going to enjoy every minute of it. Follow our ten tips for moving into your new home, and you'll already be off to a great start.


Feeling Overwhelmed About Buying A House? These Tips Can Help

Buying a home — whether it's your first home or fiftieth — can make you want to scream. Two-story or ranch... open houses... budgets. So much to do and so many choices. What's a home buyer to do?

You're more than likely making the biggest financial decision of your life. It's natural to feel stressed and overwhelmed until everything falls into place. The good news is that there is plenty you can do to alleviate the stress and keep your focus on the main goal — buying your dream home.

Here are six steps to ease home buying stress: 

  1. Set House Hunting Goals
    Finding the right home for you will be much easier when you have a clear picture of the type of home you're looking for. Decide what is important to you. List out your basic requirements for a home, like the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, yard, neighborhoods, school districts, and anything else that will factor into your final decision.

  2. Understand Your Budget
    Understanding your finances is an important part of buying a home. Without loan pre-approval and realistic budgets, you may lose out on your dream home. Before you start your home search, get pre-approved for your loan, secure the cash for your down payment and educate yourself to understand the whole financial picture of buying a home.

  3. Get Pre-Approved for Your Mortgage
    All home buyers should strongly consider obtaining mortgage pre-approval when diving into the real estate market. Mortgage pre-approval will significantly reduce the stress of buying a house because you won't have to worry about financing once you find the right match. Home sellers prefer pre-approved buyers because it shows that you are a serious shopper from the start.

  4. Don't Take It Personally
    Sellers are looking for the best offer, and at times, yours will not be it. Sometimes, sellers just are not ready to sell even if an offer is perfect. Look at rejection as an opportunity to find something even better. You never know what house is right around the corner.

  5. Have a Timeline
    Buying a home is certainly a process, and it starts long before you start negotiating the terms of a sale. In addition to making a list of your desired features for your new home, it helps set a rough timeline early in the process. Having a general idea of when you want to take each step and how you want to see things progress is a great way to limit stress, even if some steps take longer (or shorter!) than you expect.

  6. Take a Break
    Buying a home can consume you. Make sure you are taking time to do something else every once in a while. Take a break to go work out or have coffee with a friend. When it feels like all you're doing is eating, breathing, and dreaming about new houses, it is probably time to go have a little fun.

Buying your first home can be a wonderful journey with the right plan. Following these steps can help you feel calm and confident when closing day comes.


Ready To Buy? Check Your Credit Score First

When you are buying a home, your credit score is an important part of the overall process. Most home buyers will need a mortgage loan to complete their purchase. If your credit score has taken a few hits, it may be hard to get a loan with the terms you want. Here are five tips on how to boost your credit score as you begin your house hunt.

  1. Know What Your Credit Score Is and Why
    Before you begin, pay to have your credit score and history pulled from the major credit bureaus. While you can get a free credit history once per year, you do need to pay a small fee to get the actual score. This is worthwhile, as it will show you exactly where you stand.

  2. Dispute Any Errors
    According to the FTC, one out of every four consumers has an error on their credit reports. That means your risk of having one is pretty high. Not only should you check that the accounts listed actually do belong to you, but you also need to make sure that your credit limits are accurate. Higher credit limits will boost your score, so make sure that all your limits are accurately reported. If you notice errors, dispute them by making copies of everything, then sending your proofs with a dispute letter to the credit bureaus.

  3. Bring Past Due Accounts Up to Date
    Do you have past-due accounts on your credit history? Start making those accounts current, and then get into a better habit of paying your bills on time. It won't take long for those accounts to improve your score once they are current. Because the length of the past due accounts makes a difference, work on the accounts that have the oldest "past due" dates first.

  4. Avoid Opening New Accounts
    When you open a new credit card, the issuer will check your credit report using what is known as a "hard inquiry." These have a slight impact on your credit rating. Too many hard inquiries all at once will make your credit risk look worse than it is. While you are learning how to improve your credit score, avoid opening new accounts unless you have to.

  5. Lower the Credit Utilization Rate
    The credit utilization rate refers to the percent of your available credit that you are actually using. A credit utilization rate of less than 20 percent is considered good, and if it rises above 20 percent, you may notice a drop in your score. You might be able to lower this quickly by transferring balances from accounts with low credit limits to accounts with higher credit limits.

    You can also lower this rate by asking for higher limits on cards you have had and paid faithfully for a while. Many credit issuers are more than happy to raise your limit with a simple phone call. If that does not work, figure out which accounts are the closest to their maximum, and start paying those down first. When you reach the right debt-to-credit-limit ratio, your scores will improve.

Learning how to improve your credit score is a valuable tool as you start your search for a new home.


Should You Make Offers On Multiple Homes? Here's What To Know

It's a hot seller's market, as anyone trying to buy a home these days must know. Many would-be homeowners are getting frustrated, making offers on homes and then losing out when someone else snatches them up. In the real estate world, this has become the new normal, but it's no less upsetting for disappointed home buyers, who expend time and energy trying to find just the right home.

You may think a clever way to snag your dream home would be to make multiple offers on different houses. However, this option may not be allowed where you're shopping, and even if it was, you want to avoid this practice, as it's generally considered unethical. We'll explain why as well as give some tried-and-true methods for how you can increase your chances of securing that home you've been eyeing.

Why Making Multiple Offers on Homes Is Not Cool
At first, it seems to make sense. After all, if you don't make offers on two or three homes, you tell yourself, you may not ever be able to get an offer accepted.

But think about it. With each offer, you're likely going to have to put down an escrow deposit. Typically, an escrow deposit will be between 1 and 3 percent of the cost of the house. And, as you probably know, these days you should put down as much as possible, or you risk your offer being rejected. Let's say you're looking at a house priced at $275,000. At 3 percent, the deposit would be $8250.

But picture having to put down an offer on three houses simultaneously. Say the houses are all priced close to $275K. You could end up having to come up with escrow deposits of $24,750. Ouch! Then, in a worst-case scenario, all three sellers accept your offer. What do you do?

You will lose the escrow deposit on two of the houses. Further, you can take credit for causing two sellers hardship they didn't need. Since you presented yourself as someone with a serious offer, they likely thought you wanted their houses. What if they were under a lot of stress to sell a house — say, because of an impending move?

What's more, you and your significant other no doubt will be thinking about what you could do with that lost money: save for college, buy furniture, make some renovations, or take a vacation.

Avoiding Multi-Offer Pain
One way to avoid this multi-offer jam-up is to put down a serious offer on your no. 1 preferred home. Ask your agent to communicate that you need an answer that day and that if you don't hear back, you will have to put an offer on another home tomorrow. That way, the seller can't waste your time because they're delaying a response while waiting for a better offer than yours. So you won't lose a chance at your second choice of a home because you delayed too long making an offer.

If you need more advice about making offers for the home you have your sights on, don't hesitate to reach out to your real estate agent. They have the expertise you need to make the process go as smoothly as possible.


Tips For Buying A House On The MLS

The Multiple Listing Service (MLS) is one of the most powerful resources at the disposal of your real estate agent. No matter whether you want to buy or sell a home, it's essential to your success. But exactly what is it, and why is it so important?

The MLS is a huge database of home listings. Although the implementation is modern, the concept has been around since all the way back in 1907. Back then, real estate agents would gather in large offices and discuss properties on the market to connect with the right buyer or seller through their network.

These days, the MLS is conducted entirely online. It takes the form of 580 different regional databases all working together. Every regional MLS has its own listings, and agents pay dues to access them. So, getting the most reach on a home for sale means having an agent with plenty of MLS access.

Partner with a Real Estate Agent to Enjoy the Benefits of MLS

The MLS is the key to getting the best results on the market!

Sellers can't post a home on the MLS directly, because only dues-paying real estate agents can open a listing on the system. Sellers who don't realize this – and go the "for sale by owner" route — are at a major disadvantage when it comes to attracting a qualified buyer for their home.

As a buyer, the power of the MLS is at your fingertips. Your real estate agent will let you know all about the local MLS so you can review the newest listings. Of course, you don't have to do it all on your own.

One way a real estate agent helps is by curating those listings.

For example, many real estate agents will send you a weekly email round-up of all the different homes that may meet your needs. When you click through to the listing, you may be visiting your agent's site directly, but you can rest assured all the facts about the home come right from the MLS.

Since the MLS is used everywhere, it's an extra layer of verification that listings are factual.

Getting the Most from the MLS by Working with Your Agent

Let's consider some of the ways the MLS can help make your buying journey easier:

  • Clarify Your Priorities with Your Real Estate Agent
    When you decide to work with an agent, your first conversation should focus on your priorities and just what you want from a home. Each person who'll live in the home should develop 2-3 "must-have" items. This helps you recognize when an MLS listing is exactly what you want.

  • Get Preapproved to Verify Your Housing Budget
    In preapproval, you submit financial information to a mortgage lender, and they make a determination about what funding you qualify for. You have the chance to draw that funding within 30 or 60 days, so you can make your move immediately if you find the right home.

  • Stay in Touch with Your Agent About Your Findings
    Exploring the MLS on your own is fun! You might find a "diamond in the rough" you never expected. But be sure to keep your real estate agent in the know if your preferences or priorities change.

The MLS is one of the most valuable tools in the world of real estate. While you always have the power to browse listings in your area, it's a wise idea to reach out to a real estate agent as soon as you can. The right agent in your corner means smoother sailing to closing day and a home you'll love.


The Best Tips For Buying A Home In Your 20s (Or Early 30s)

The follow-up to the Millennial generation, the eldest members of Gen Z are aged 25 today. Research shows most of this up-and-coming cohort see buying a home as a major goal — one they plan to achieve earlier than their parents and grandparents.

Although they're an exciting new generation, Gen Z is in some ways a blast from the past. They think of homeownership as an important way to build wealth, just as their grandparents did. On the other hand, many Millennials remain wary of buying, especially among the older set.

Both older Gen Z and younger Millennials made a strong showing in the seller's market of 2021. There are many would-be buyers aged 25-35 who haven't settled on a property just yet, but their dreams are within reach. They just need to take the right steps to get there!

So, how can you buy a home in your 20s or early 30s?

Start with these tips:

  • Handle Debt with Care
    Mortgage lenders use the debt-to-income ratio as a crucial factor when deciding what loan package you qualify for – so the debt you accrue along the way makes a big difference. Always pay bills on time, and do your best to avoid taking on new debts within six months of applying for a mortgage.

  • Develop a Household Budget
    A household budget can help you save the money you need to pay off debts and accumulate a down payment, which is usually not less than 10% of a home's sale price. It will also come in handy when you need to decide whether the fixed costs associated with a given home are right for you.

  • Find the Right Real Estate Agent
    The right real estate agent is your best ally as you navigate the housing market. Remember, it's okay to talk to several agents before choosing one. An agent should help you clarify your goals and put you in touch with the right resources to make an informed decision at every fork in the road.

  • Connect with First-Time Homebuyer Programs
    First-time homebuyer programs provide buyers like you with the inside insight to make the most of the process. Check out government-backed mortgage programs such as those offered by the VA, USDA, and FHA. These often offer favorable lending terms and lower down payments.

  • Prequalify for a Mortgage
    In prequalification, you submit income information to a mortgage lender and get a firm commitment on a funding package you then have the option to use within 30 or 60 days. This empowers you to make a move on the home you want as soon as you find it, helping you be more competitive.

  • Set Your Priorities from the Start
    In general, it's a good idea for everyone who will be living in a home to set 1-3 "must-haves." This makes it easier for you to know when a home does or doesn't meet your needs. It also ensures your real estate agent can support you with listings that really work for you, potentially accelerating the process.

  • Negotiate with Care
    It won't be a seller's market forever. As buyers gain clout, it becomes easier to negotiate for better terms. Never be afraid to walk away from a home, and be wary of properties sold "as-is." A mortgage lender usually won't fund a home with serious issues, so you'll need to have it inspected anyway.

Buying a home might seem intimidating, but your real estate agent is in your corner from start to finish. Use these tips in conjunction with your agent's advice, and you will be on your road to homeownership.


How Much Should I Be Paying For A Home Inspection?

While a down payment and closing costs are the two main expenses buyers face when purchasing a home, many often forget the costs associated with a home inspection.

As a buyer, a home inspection is almost always recommended in order to protect yourself from the potential unknown pitfalls associated with a particular property. Since a new home is one of the largest purchases you'll ever make, it's worth investing in a good home inspection to protect yourself down the road.

Home inspectors can vary by quality, experience, and price, so it can really pay off to do a little research on the front-end.

What Happens During A Home Inspection?
A home inspection is a non-invasive examination of all the various elements of a property. It covers pipes, water, plumbing, heating, and cooling. Home inspectors also look for structural or safety issues caused by water, insects, or hire. Home inspectors may also visually assess the condition of the roof from ground level. The whole process typically takes three to four hours, depending on the size of the home.

Why Do I Need A Home Inspection?
Buyers who add a home inspection contingency to their offer have the opportunity to back out or renegotiate the terms of the deal depending on the results of the home inspection. A home inspection is critical for protecting you from purchasing a home with material problems that weren't immediately apparent during your home tour.

If an issue is uncovered during the home inspection, you can request the buyer fix it prior to closing, or you can revisit the details of your offer.

How Much Does A Home Inspection Cost?
The cost of a home inspection varies depending on the contractor. The average price generally ranges from $250 to $500. On an average 2,000 square foot home, you can probably expect to pay around $400. If you're closing on a larger home, the price tag on a home inspection can reach $600 to $700. Generally, older homes or homes with unique features tend to raise the price tag as well.

Keep in mind a standard home inspection doesn't cover everything. Additional types of home inspections might be more invasive and include water, termites, radon, and even sewer pipes. These additional inspections carry additional costs as well.

While nobody wants to think about additional expenses when buying a house, it's important to factor in home inspection costs. If the inspection does uncover a serious issue, you'll be glad that you did. If there are no problems, you're essentially buying peace of mind.


Let's Talk About Paperwork: What You Need To Buy A Home

From securing mortgage pre-approval through your lender to closing on your new home, the process of purchasing a home involves plenty of paperwork. You can make your life much easier by being prepared. Here are some of the key documents that you may need to provide or review throughout the process of purchasing your next home.

  • Proof of Income
    In order to apply for loan pre-approval and determine how much you may be able to borrow, your lender may request a variety of documents to prove your income. These documents may include pay stubs, tax returns, bank statements, and retirement account statements.

  • Proof of Employment
    Your lender wants to know where your down payment will come from and verify that you will be able to pay your mortgage, so they will also request proof of employment. Documents required may include pay stubs, 1099s, and W-2s.

  • Debt Information
    Your lender will also want to be aware of any debts that you already owe, to ensure that you can pay those debts while also covering your mortgage. That could include information on student loans, car loans, and any other debts that you may be carrying.

  • Loan Estimate
    While it's not an indication of your loan status, the loan estimate that your lender is required to send by law provides a broad outline of the terms of your potential loan. It's helpful to have this document available when you're comparing loan terms from multiple lenders.

  • Loan Pre-Approval Letter
    Once you've provided your lender with all of the necessary documents, hopefully the next step will be receiving your pre-approval letter. While it doesn't mean that you've definitely secured the loan, this important piece of paperwork gives you a better idea of your budget.

  • Purchase Agreement
    Once you have found a home you love and negotiated with the seller, the purchase agreement outlines the terms of the agreement. You won't need to create this document, but you'll need to be familiar with it in order to know your responsibilities before closing.

  • Seller's Disclosure
    In some states, the seller is required to disclose any known issues with the home. The seller's disclosure, if required, provides important details on the home's history.

  • Inspection Report
    The home inspection report provides detailed information on the condition of the home. If the inspection reveals problems, you might decide to negotiate with the seller for repairs or for a credit at closing that reflects issues with the condition of the home.

  • Home Appraisal
    The home appraisal, which will typically be arranged by your lender, details the value of the home in the current real estate market. If the appraisal comes in significantly below your offer, you may have to pay the difference in cash or try to negotiate a lower price for the home.

  • Proof of Homeowner's Insurance
    Your lender won't commit to a loan without proof that you have home insurance, so you'll want to have that ready to go in order to secure your loan.

  • Government ID
    Sometimes, the simplest things are also the easiest to forget. You will need a government-issued ID like a driver's license or passport on closing day. Before closing, check that your ID isn't expired and that all of the information is up to date.

The exact documents you will need depend on your location and other factors. If you have any questions about exactly which documents will be needed in your market, your real estate agent should be a great source of advice.


Single Homebuying Doesn't Have To Be Difficult

Many people assume they'll buy a house after they get married, but it's really never too early to start building wealth through homeownership. While studies suggest millennials are renting more than any other generation, single home buying is actually on the rise. While married couples may have a slightly easier path to homeownership (joint income goes a long way), single home buying is certainly achievable. If you're single and looking to purchase your first home, here is how to approach it:

Assess Your Financials
Single buyers face a few additional challenges when it comes to funding and financing a home purchase. Since you're only relying on one income, it may be difficult to qualify. The only way to know for sure is to assess your financial situation carefully. How much do you have saved for a down payment and closing costs? How much of a monthly mortgage payment can you afford? You'll need to be very clear on your financial situation, so you gain a better understanding of your budget.

Don't Drain Your Savings
If you already have a significant amount saved for your down payment and closing costs, you might want to keep saving. Remember many lenders will want to see a few extra months worth of mortgage payments in your account in case of an emergency situation. You'll want to keep saving to fund home repairs or to be ready for unexpected costs.

Focus On Your Credit
Your credit score is going to have a huge impact on your ability to secure a mortgage as well as your interest rate. As a result, it's in your best interest to do everything you can to improve it. Make sure not to miss any bills or monthly payments and really focus on paying off your debt as soon as possible — especially credit cards. Credit card utilization and balances have a significant influence on your credit score.

A Co-Signer Is Always An Option
While you might not have the benefit of dual-incomes, that doesn't mean you have to go through the mortgage financing process alone. A co-signer is always an option, so if you have a close family member that is willing to help you out. Remember, a co-signer is putting their own credit on the line and is also responsible for paying off the debt, so you'll want to make sure you're aligned on payment plan.

Plan For The Future
While you may not need a ton of space now, you might in the future. Therefore, it's wise to try to weigh your current needs and future plans when deciding on a home. Do you see yourself getting married and having children? How long do you plan to live in this home? While no one can predict the future, having a plan can go a long way towards helping you find the right home.

One of the best parts about single homebuying is you can choose the exact home you want. While the process can come with some additional hurdles, careful planning will have you on the route to homeownership in no time.


Buying A Home When You Have Children

There's nothing quite like the rewarding, exciting, sometimes stressful experience of buying a house, and all of those feelings are often amplified when you have children who also need to be considered throughout the process. Shopping for a home when you have children adds additional complexity and more considerations when choosing a home. Make your life easier by having a plan and including your children in the process of buying your next home.

Consider Both Present and Future When Choosing a Home

Whether you're thinking about the size, location, or layout, it's helpful to consider both present and future needs. Do you expect to add more members to the family? Do you have young children who currently share a room but will eventually need their own space? Will the neighborhood be just as appealing to your family in 5 or 10 years as it is now? Answering these questions can help you pick a home fits your family just as well in the future as it does in the present.

Research Neighborhoods and Local Attractions

Always remember that you're not just shopping for a home. Choosing the right neighborhood is a huge factor for any buyer, and it's especially important when you have kids. You want to be sure that a neighborhood is safe, has attractions that family members of all ages will enjoy, and has all of the services you need close to home.

Learn All You Can About Local Schools

The quality of local schools is also an important factor for so many parents in choosing the right neighborhood. Invest some time in researching local schools online to find a location with schools that offer everything you want for your children. The quality of local schools can influence the price of homes in the area, another reason why it's important to do your research.

Look for Safety Hazards When You Shop

Naturally, safety needs for a home are different when you have children. Things like open staircases, water features, close proximity to the street, yards without fences, and other factors can present safety hazards for the youngest residents of the home. Many of these things can be addressed with the child-proofing of hazards, but it's important to be aware of safety risks and have a plan for fixing them.

Keep Your Kids Involved in the House Hunting Process

Bringing your kids along during the house-hunting process, especially when you're scouting out neighborhoods, is an excellent way to help them overcome any fears of change and get them excited about their new neighborhood. Plan some fun family events between shopping stops, and make it an adventure for your kids.

Prepare Your Kids for the Transition to a New Home

Moving to a new location can be a scary experience for kids, especially if they will be far from their family members and current group of friends. That's why it's so important to talk to your kids about the move, answer their questions, and do the little things to make the transition easier. Make sure that they have their favorite toys, let them help you pack, and show them how they can use technology to communicate with the people they love.

There are two key things to remember about buying a home when you have children. Always keep the needs of your kids in mind when choosing a home, and involve them in the process to help ease the transition to living in a new place. Taking care of those two priorities will make life easier for every member of the family.


Your Buyer's Guide To Working With An Agent

Your real estate agent should be your greatest advocate throughout the process of making one of the biggest purchases that most people make in a lifetime, so it's important to understand exactly how the relationship between buyer and real estate agent works. Knowing what to expect when working with an agent will help make the process as smooth as possible and make it easier to accomplish your real estate goals. Get started with our buyer's guide to working with an agent.

  • Prepare Yourself for Buying a Home
    If you're familiar with the home buying process, it's helpful to get an idea of your overall budget and down payment that you can afford for your home before you hire an agent. Getting pre-approved for a mortgage is also a great idea. If you're buying a home for the first time, the right agent can help guide you through this part of the process.

  • Find Your Agent Before You Start Your Search
    In order to save both you and your agent some time, it's wise to wait on hiring an agent until you're serious about purchasing a home. So if you're just browsing listings online, you might wait to hire an agent. But if you're ready to start visiting open houses and making offers, then you'll definitely want an agent at your side.

  • Know What You Want and Set Expectations
    It's easier for your agent to help you find the right home if you understand what you want, and communicate it clearly to them. You'll save time by not visiting homes that don't fit your needs, and your agent will be able to make better recommendations when they understand exactly what you're looking for in a home.

  • Practice Good Open House Protocol
    In some markets, visiting an open house without an agent accompanying you is discouraged. If your agent says that solo visits are okay, make sure that you have a few of their business cards so that you can show the seller that you're represented. While it's generally okay to ask questions about the home, avoid asking questions about the seller or their motivations for selling.

  • Avoid Contacting the Seller's Agent
    The job of the seller's agent is to represent in the best interests of the seller, while your agent is there to represent you. So you shouldn't have a need to contact the seller's agent or to answer their questions about your motivations for buying a home. Let your agent handle any interactions with the seller's agent.

  • Rely on Your Agent During Negotiations
    As you move forward from searching for the right match to making an offer and negotiating, your agent's experience is very valuable. Lean on them throughout the negotiation process, in order to get the best results.

  • Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Advice with Paperwork
    Real estate transactions involve plenty of paperwork, and not every document will be easy to understand — especially if you're buying a home for the first time. When in doubt or when you have questions about paperwork, don't be afraid to ask for advice from your agent. They have the experience, and part of their job is to help you understand what you're signing when you fill out real estate paperwork.

Throughout the process of working with an agent, always remember that they're there to help you. If you have questions about the purchasing process or the services that they provide, your agent should be a great source of answers. Clear communication will make life easier for you and your agent.


Negotiating Tactics That Probably Won't Work

Every buyer goes into a real estate transaction hoping to win the negotiation, but not every negotiating tactic will have the desired effect. Understanding what won't work in a negotiation is just as important as understanding what will work, so let's take a closer look at a few negotiating tactics that you can leave behind when buying your next home.

  • Starting with a Lowball Offer
    You're likely to find lowball offers on every list of negotiating tactics that won't work, and for good reason. Unless you're negotiating in an extreme buyer's market, a lowball offer is unlikely to do anything but cause the seller to move on to the next offer.

  • Not Having a Backup Plan
    Negotiations are all about leverage. And if you don't have a backup plan, you're handing the seller plenty of leverage from the start. Even if you fall in love with a home and plan to do everything you can to purchase it, having a backup plan makes it much easier to negotiate for your first choice.

  • Giving Too Much Information Away
    You're likely to have interactions with the seller's agent when touring a home and at other points throughout the process. For leverage reasons, it's important to avoid giving away your motivations for buying a home or revealing other information that the seller's agent doesn't need to know.

  • Not Vetting Your Real Estate Agent
    Your real estate agent should be your greatest advocate during negotiations, which is why it's so important to choose an agent you trust to get the job done. Don't be afraid to ask for referrals from trusted sources and speak with multiple agents before making your choice.

  • Getting Too Cute with Counter-Offers
    If you truly want to purchase a specific home and you're willing to increase your offer by, for example, $10,000, then it's often better to make that counter-offer right away instead of moving your offer up incrementally. If the seller has other offers, they may not want to waste effort going back and forth about a few thousand dollars at a time.

  • Take It or Leave It Offers
    While it's sometimes effective to make your best offer quickly and let the seller know that it's your best offer, attaching a "take it or leave it" deadline to that offer is unlikely to work in your favor. Even if it's a great offer, it's important to leave some room for back-and-forth about the many terms that go into completing a real estate transaction.

  • Not Seeing the Big Picture
    Naturally, the purchase price of the home plays a starring role in any negotiation. But it's far from the only factor. Getting too singularly focused on asking price makes it easy to miss out on other opportunities to improve your offer, or to negotiate more favorable terms on things like closing, taxes, and contingencies.

  • Being Rude
    Just like you have your own reasons for wanting the best deal possible on a home, the seller has their own goals and reasons for what they do. Rude, hardball negotiating tactics are just likely to discourage the seller, so acting with courtesy and respect is more likely to help you accomplish your goals.

In the end, it's wise to remember that every negotiation is a two-way street. Many of the tactics on our list are either confrontational or put the seller in a difficult position that leaves little room for negotiation. So often, it's easier to negotiate more favorable terms when you're respectful to the seller and aware of the realities of your real estate market.


Your First Steps To Buying A Home

Buying your first home is one of life's greatest moments, but the journey to get there can be intimidating. After all, there are many steps associated with the home buying process — so there can be a lot to learn for those not familiar with the real estate industry. As a result, it's not surprising that we often meet first-time homebuyers who don't know where to start.

If you're looking to buy your first home, there are a few simple steps you'll want to review before you begin the process. Here is where to start:

1. Save For A Down Payment And Closing Costs
Before you search for a home, you'll need to make sure you have cash on hand to cover both a down payment and a closing costs. A 20% down payment is required if you wish to avoid paying a monthly PMI (private mortgage insurance) fee; however, obtaining a home loan with as little as 10%, 5%, or even 3.5% down is possible depending on your income. 

A down payment is only part of the story — you'll also need to save for closing costs. Closing costs can range from 4% to 8% of the home's price and are comprised of several different fees that support the closing process.

2. Obtain A Mortgage Pre-Approval
A mortgage pre-approval is basically an endorsement from a lender that signals you're eligible to finance a home. In order to obtain a pre-approval, you generally need to submit tax returns and W-2s for the last two years, your last two pay stubs, and your bank statements for the last 60 days; however, exact documentation varies by lender. You'll also need to authorize your lender to do a hard credit pull in order to obtain your consumer credit report. 

Once the lender does a high-level evaluation of your financial situation, you'll be issued a pre-approval letter with a ballpark figure of what you can borrow. This letter will signal to sellers and listing agents that you're a serious shopper and are ready to transact.

3. Find A Good Real Estate Agent
As a first-time buyer, you need an experienced real estate professional in your corner to guide you through the complex process. A real estate agent will help you with your home search, draft your offer, negotiate terms, and support you through the closing. He or she is also a consultant that can answer your questions and prevent you from making mistakes. Real estate websites and contacting local brokers is a great way to find an agent; however, many shoppers find an agent through word of mouth, so don't hesitate to ask for recommendations from friends, family, or neighbors.

4. Determine Your Criteria
Once you have an agent and a sense of what you can afford, it's time to decide on other home criteria. At a high level, you'll need to decide on the location, size, condition, parking, and other amenities that are important to you. From there, your real estate agent may help you find properties that are a match, or they may set you up with an automated search on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) website, a database of properties for sale.

5. Start Shopping
As you begin to discover prospective properties, work with your agent to schedule showings or attend open houses when available. Keep in mind, shopping for homes can be an emotional roller coaster. You may encounter a number of homes that aren't quite right or that miss the mark before finding one that's a good fit.

These steps will put you on a path towards owning your first home. Just remember, doing your research ahead of time and allowing time are the best ways to reduce the stress associated with first-time home buying.


Breaking Down The Most Common Homebuying Myths

Buying your first home is no easy task, and if you're shopping for the first time, you're likely to hear a lot of advice. While your friends and family may have good intentions, don't believe everything you hear. There are so many common home buying myths out there. In order to make the right decision, it's important to separate fact from fiction — especially when shopping in a hot seller's market.

To help you along the way, we've debunked some of the most common homebuying myths:

  • Myth: You Need To Waive The Inspection Contingency To Be Competitive
    Over the last year, there was an increase in homebuyers waiving home inspection in order to make their offer stand out. While this is a good way to sweeten an offer in a hot market, it's a risky proposition for first-time buyers.

    Despite this recent trend, a home inspection contingency is still the standard. It's not an unreasonable or uncommon request. As the market continues to calm down, waiving the home inspection contingency won't always be necessary to land a home.

  • Myth: You Should Avoid Putting Down Less Than 20%
    Many first-time shoppers are waiting until they've saved 20% for a down payment before making a purchase; however, this isn't always necessary. So long as you have a stable source of income and good credit, you can get by with putting down less than 20%. You may be required to pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI), which could cost you more in the long run; however, buying earlier with a smaller down payment helps you to begin building equity sooner.

  • Myth: A 30-year Mortgage Is The Best Deal
    Most buyers spring for a 30-year mortgage over a 15-year mortgage because it offers the lowest monthly payments. However, with a 30-year mortgage, you'll pay significantly more in interest over the life of the loan. By borrowing for a shorter period of time, you stand to potentially save hundreds or thousands of dollars in interest.

  • Myth You Won't Be Approved For A Mortgage If You Have Student Loan Debt
    While it's true lenders look at your debt-to-income ratio when evaluating your creditworthiness, they only focus on monthly payments in comparison to your monthly income. This means even if you have tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, you can still be approved if your minimum monthly payments are low enough.

  • Myth: You Have To Overpay To Land A Home
    There was some unprecedented activity in the real estate market in 2021, which sent home prices soaring. The national median home price increased 18% year over year. As a result, many buyers were forced to enter bidding wars that led to sale prices of $10K to $15K over asking price.

    However, the market has cooled down a bit over the last couple of months, and we expect that trend to continue into 2022. There should be an increase in inventory along with an increase in interest rates. This combination should help even out the buyer/seller balance. While home prices will likely continue to increase next year, we don't expect to see the double-digit percentage growth we saw in 2021.

While it's always good to hear different perspectives on the real estate market, many of the myths floating around today have little to no merit. The best thing you can do is trust your real estate agent to guide you through the process.


Buyer Etiquette You Should Adopt Now

A new home is one of the largest purchases you'll make in your life. While searching for a new home can be complex and time-consuming, it's important to remember that real estate agents, sellers, and contractors all have a role to play in the process. In order to keep things moving as smooth as possible, there are certain unwritten rules buyers need to know before setting out to purchase a home.

Here are some tips on home buyer etiquette to consider while shopping for a home in the new year:

  • Don't Be Late To Showings
    When you're late to a showing, it can be a major inconvenience to both the buyer and your real estate agent. Agents often run from appointment to appointment, so a late arrival can throw off their entire schedule.  Additionally, it's important to remember that a seller may be living in the home, and they might have to temporarily relocate to accommodate your schedule. Being late might put them out longer than anticipated.

  • Stick With One Agent
    Once you're serious about purchasing a new home, you should commit to one real estate agent. Remember, agents put in a lot of work without any guarantee of payment. If your agent can't make it to a particular appointment or accompany you to an open house, it's not an excuse to find another one. It's not fair to have a particular agent do all the leg work up front and then select a different agent when it's time for the closing.

  • Be Mindful Of An Agent's Time
    All real estate agents work on commission, so they're only paid when a home sale closes. Therefore, you should be serious about home buying and know what you can afford before working with an agent. It's totally fine to look at homes when you're in the "just browsing" stage, but just stick to open houses. The last thing you want to do is take up a significant amount of an agent's time if you weren't ready to buy in the first place.

  • Get A Mortgage Preapproval Before Shopping
    A mortgage preapproval is a statement from a lender that proves your ability to afford and finance a particular home. In many cases, a seller is unlikely to accept an offer without a preapproval, so it's highly recommended you go through this process first. Home shopping or making an offer without a preapproval can ultimately be a waste of time for all parties involved.

  • Leave Your Kids At Home If Possible
    It can be tough to arrange child care at a moment's notice, but it can be a good practice to have a babysitter on call during evenings or weekends while you're house hunting. Kids can be distracting during a showing, and it's not acceptable for them to run or play in the home. It's also not polite to ask a real estate agent to watch your kids while you tour the home.

  • Avoid Multiple Showings
    Revisiting the same property again and again can be inappropriate, especially if you're not planning to make an offer. In most cases, you'll want to avoid returning a second or third time. However, if you're serious about making an offer and want to return one more time to check things out, it's perfectly acceptable to do so.

Buyer etiquette is an important part of the home shopping process. By following these tips, you'll find the home of your dreams and make the experience as smooth as possible for all parties involved.


Forgetting Something? Here's What Buyers Always Forget

We get it, buying a home is complicated. No other purchase requires buyers to juggle so many moving parts at once. In fact, with the amount of energy and time required, buying a home can feel like a full-time job. It's no wonder it's so easy to forget about important items during the process.

However, forgetting details can actually make the entire experience harder for you. It's important to try to stay as organized as possible from the moment you start your shopping process through closing. To help, we compiled a quick list of items home buyers frequently forget to consider when purchasing a home:

  1. Resale Value
    When buying a home in a hot market, you may need to make a sacrifice or two. However, resale value should not be one of them.  The average consumer stays in a home for about 7 to 10 years, so when it comes time to sell, you want to make sure you're positioned to make a profit. Location is one of the most important factors when it comes to resale value, so be sure to keep neighborhood quality and school district top of mind while shopping.

  2. The Home Inspection Contingency
    A home inspection contingency protects you in the event the home inspection uncovers some costly issues. This is especially important for first-time homebuyers. You don't want to get stuck with a money pit that you can't afford to fix. Don't forget to make sure this is included in your offer. If your offer is accepted, temper your expectations until after the home inspection. You never know what might turn up.

  3. General Homeowner Expenses
    Your down payment and closing costs are likely to take a chunk out of your savings, but it's important to have some extra cash set aside for costs after you move in. If this is your first home, remember there is no landlord around to fix problems. These repairs are going to come out of your pocket. Additionally, you may need to purchase a lawnmower or other landscaping products. We recommend saving an additional 1.5% of the home's total value for unanticipated expenses after you move in.

  4. A Home Warranty
    The last thing you want is to face a costly upgrade, such as a roof replacement or hot water tank replacement, shortly after moving in. A home warranty is a great way to protect yourself from this potential scenario. Home warranties can cover a wide range of appliances and internal systems. Be sure to seek out a home warranty within one month of closing to get the best rates and terms.

  5. Staying Calm
    Buying a home can be both stressful and emotional. You may fall in love with a home only to have your offer rejected. You may purchase a home and immediately face unexpected repair costs. In either scenario, you need to try to keep a cool head. Plan for the best, but prepare for the worst. Make sure to keep some extra savings on hand to deal with any problems.

Buying a home is a great way to grow your wealth and generate a return. However, it does require a significant amount of work upfront. Try to stay organized through the process and lean on your real estate agent for some extra help.


Boost Your Credit Score With These Tips

If you're embarking on a journey to purchase your very first home, you might want to pay attention to your credit score. Your credit profile has a major impact on your ability to secure financing and can also influence your interest rate. Therefore, it can be well worth the time and effort to try to boost your credit score in the weeks or months leading up to a home purchase.

Most lenders require a 620 minimum credit score to qualify for mortgage financing (some are even much higher). While your credit score is influenced by healthy credit habits over time, there are still things you can do in the short term to increase it. Here is some advice:

  • Start With Your Credit Report
    Before you can improve your credit, you'll need to know what's on your credit report. Your report will contain your actual credit score and descriptions of each of your credit accounts and your payment history. Keep in mind, there are multiple credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax), and each has a different way of calculating your score. As a result, your credit could vary depending on which report you pull.

  • Check Your Report For Errors
    Your detailed credit report can often reveal errors or unpaid bills you might not be aware of. Carefully review your report for negative remarks. If you find any, try to pay any missed bills that were sent out for collections or reach out to the credit bureau to resolve the issue.

  • Pay Down Your Balances
    This might seem like a no-brainer, but high credit card utilization can really pull down your score. If you have some extra funds on hand, try to make a large payment if possible. However, you may not want to do so if it causes you to eat into your down payment or closing costs savings.

  • Increase Your Credit Limit
    If you can't pay off your balance, you can always try to increase your credit limit. Your debt-to-credit ratio is the total balances across all of your accounts divided by your total amount of credit available. This is a. metric lenders use to evaluate how responsible you are with credit. Call your credit card issuer and see if you can increase your line size. This will help reduce your debit-to-credit ratio and could boost your score by a couple of points.

  • Don't Miss Any Payments
    Even one or two missed payments can cause a drastic decline in your credit score. Therefore, you should never skip a payment. Paying the minimum amount is much better than skipping a payment altogether.

  • Avoid Unnecessary Hard Inquiries
    Hard inquiries occur when a lender pulls your credit report. They can have a negative short-term impact on your overall credit score. As a result, you'll want to avoid any unnecessary hard inquiries if possible. Keep in mind, you'll likely have at least one when you go through the pre-approval process with your lender. They typically disappear from your report after one year.

  • Don't Make Any Major Purchases
    Financing a major purchase prior to buying a home can significantly alter your credit profile. Avoid purchasing a new car or putting a significant balance on a credit card. Doing so will increase your debt-to-income ratio, which can heavily impact your credit. You should especially avoid major purchases after you've already been pre-approved by your lender.

Healthy credit habits play an important role in the home buying process. Your lender will evaluate whether or not you have a history of using credit responsibly. Practicing good habits is the best way to be prepared when it's time to apply for a mortgage. 


What Exactly Is An Investment Property?

Investment properties and vacation homes might seem like similar concepts — after all, they're both great ways to grow wealth and expand your real estate portfolio. But did you know these two terms have significantly different meanings? The distinction is actually pretty important when it comes to financing, and it really comes down to how you intend to use the property. If you've been thinking about purchasing an investment property, here is what you need to know:

What Is An Investment Property?
An investment property is a property that you purchase with the intent of generating income. In most cases, this means serving as a landlord and renting the property out to tenants. In other words, an investment property may be a business, while a "vacation home" or "second home" is another property away from your primary residence that you use for visiting or living in part-time.

While it's certainly possible to purchase a vacation home that you occasionally rent out, it's important to define the home's primary purpose when seeking financing. Trying to pass an investment property off as a vacation home for the purposes of achieving better mortgage rates can lead to severe legal consequences.

What To Look For In An Investment Property
While a second home or vacation home is often selected based on location and amenities, an investment property should be evaluated on the potential to generate a return. As a result, you'll want to consider features that can help you achieve higher rental income, such as size, parking, amenities, crime, and public transportation. Look into average rent for similar-sized properties within the same area to get a sense of how much you'll be able to charge. You'll need to have a solid business plan when applying for a mortgage on the investment property.

How To Finance An Investment Property
Financing an investment property is a bit more complicated than securing a mortgage on a primary residence or second home. For one, lenders typically require a higher down payment (at least 20%) for an investment property, and there isn't much flexibility here.

Also, because you're going to be making a profit on the property and because the transaction is much riskier, lenders won't hesitate to charge significantly higher fees and interest rates. Your lender also may require that the investment property be located within a certain distance of your primary home.

Tax Implications Of An Investment Property
Owners of primary residences and vacation homes can deduct mortgage interest from their taxes, and investment property owners can do the same. However, investment property owners have the added advantage of being able to deduct many other expenses associated with the property as they technically qualify as business expenses. However, your rental income will also need to be reported too.

Investing in real estate is a great tool for securing long-term financial stability. While financing is a bit more expensive than a vacation home, you also stand to make a larger profit if you're purely operating the property as a rental.


What You Can Learn From Price Per Square Foot

While asking price is usually the primary number buyers consider during the home shopping process, it's not the only cost-related figure you should consider. You'll notice most home listings also mention the cost per square foot. While this metric can be helpful, it's important to keep it in perspective.

When comparing two homes, the price per square foot and the total square feet will simply tell you which home offers more space at a cheaper price. However, this metric on its own isn't very useful. But when you're able to compare it against a larger sample size of nearby homes, you might be able to learn a bit more.

Calculating Averages and Medians
To determine the true value of a price per square foot figure, you need a good sample size to compare it to. The average price per square foot and the median price per square foot can be helpful when putting things into perspective.

  • Average Price Per Square Foot: The square foot cost of each sold home within a specific geography and timeframe divided by the total number of homes sold. With averages, one or two high-priced homes can skew the average.
  • Median Price Per Square Foot: The median is the true middle value between the highest price per square foot and the lowest price per square foot within a specific sample size. The median offers a better "middle ground" benchmark than the average.

The average and median cost per square foot can give you a good idea of how hot a local real estate market is within a particular neighborhood. You can easily find these metrics on most popular real estate websites.

One thing that makes calculating an average cost per square foot difficult is the lack of universal or standard laws that dictate how the figure is calculated. As a result, some homeowners may factor in unfinished basements or attics while others do not.

Why Price Per Square Foot Is Useful
Comparing the price per square foot on a listing to the average or median price per square foot within a specific area can give you additional insight into whether the home is appropriately priced relative to its size.

If the cost per square foot is above the local median, you could potentially use this as negotiating leverage. If the price per square foot is significantly lower than the median, the home might be a great deal.

Price Per Square Foot Isn't Everything
Price per square foot is just one of many factors to consider when evaluating a home. While it can tell you the price in relation to the size of the property, remember that not all homes are the same. Homes vary by features, amenities, features, and dozens of other factors that can drastically impact the sale price.

Price per square foot is an important consideration, but be sure to keep things in perspective. Your real estate agent can help you evaluate all factors of a particular property to determine if it's priced fairly and if there is any room for negotiation.


Why You Don't Need To Meet Home Sellers

When touring a property, it's common to be naturally curious about who lives there. After all, no one has a better perspective on the property than its current residents. It might seem as if an informal discussion with the seller could uncover a wealth of information and benefit both sides.

The truth is buyers and sellers rarely meet, and this is actually intentional in most cases. Many listing agents fear that discussions between buyers and sellers could ultimately derail the deal. While a conversation with the seller might seem advantageous, you really don't need to have one, and it may ultimately cause more harm than good. Here are a few examples of what could go wrong:

  • You Might Get Your Wires Crossed
    Discussions with sellers may ultimately lead to misunderstandings, which can impact real estate deals. One party may take offense to a comment, or the seller may inadvertently misrepresent a certain aspect of the property. Remember, most sellers aren't real estate professionals; they may not always offer a qualified perspective on a certain question.

  • Selling A Home Is An Emotional Process
    Selling a home that you've lived in for several years can be an emotional process. Homes contain important family memories, and as a result, parting with them can be difficult. When sellers are able to put a name and a face to the new owners, it may make them more reluctant to part with the property, which could ultimately cause the deal to fall through.

  • You Might Not Get Along
    You may find that you don't particularly like the seller, which could sour your perspective on the home itself. As the buyer, you could potentially make an offhanded comment, such as expressing displeasure about a recent upgrade, that could cause the seller to take offense. When buyers and sellers meet, it could potentially introduce personal conflicts into the transaction, which might cause the deal to fall apart.

  • Your Agent Should Be Able To Provide The Information You Need
    While a discussion with the seller would give you the opportunity to ask questions, you should be able to get most of the information you need from your real estate agent. A great deal of property-related information can be found in the listing disclosures, and your agent can coordinate with the listing agent to resolve any of your unanswered questions. When working with a good agent, you shouldn't feel as if a conversation with the seller is necessary.

Meeting with the sellers might sound tempting, but in many cases, the risks outweigh the upside. At the end of the day, you don't want to jeopardize the deal. Instead, rely on your real estate agent to get you the information you need.


Your Dream Home Is Sale Pending — Here's What You Can Do

House hunting in a hot market can lead to some occasional heartbreak for buyers who find their dream home just a few weeks too late. It's common to discover the perfect home online and then scroll down to see a "sale pending" status. However, all hope isn't necessarily lost. From time to time, home sales do occasionally fall apart during the closing process. If the listing is truly the home of your dreams, there are a few things you might want to do to prepare yourself if the opportunity arises.

What Does "Sale Pending" Mean?
The definition of "sale pending" can vary depending on the market; however, in a general sense, it means that an offer has been made, the seller has accepted, and the home is under contract.

Most homes that are "sale pending" do go on to close; however, there are reasons why the sale can fall apart during this stage of the process. If contingencies have not been met, there is a greater chance that the sale might not go through — as there may be issues uncovered during the home inspection, or the seller may not be able to find a new house. After all, contingencies have been satisfied; financing can still fall through.

What To Do If Your Dream Home Is Pending

If you're interested in a home that is listed as "sale pending," you need to be prepared to act in the event the sale does not go on to close. In order to be ready, here are a few things you can do:

  • Express Your Interest
    The first thing to do is to let your real estate agent know you're interested in the property. They can then notify the listing agent. While this doesn't mean the seller is going to pull out of the deal, knowing there is another offer on deck might mean the seller won't be as willing to negotiate with the current buyer if contingencies aren't met.

  • Make Sure Your Financing Is In Order
    If you're interested in a home that is pending, you'll want to verify that your financing is in order, so you're ready to act fast if the sale falls through. Make sure you go through the process of getting pre-approved with your lender so your agent can quickly submit an offer in the event the sale doesn't go through.

  • Prepare Your Offer
    Make sure to work with your agent to have the terms of your offer ready to go at a moment's notice. If the sale falls through, you'll stand a good chance if your offer is more competitive than the current buyers. In some cases, your agent may even consider submitting an offer ahead of time — just as a signal that there is additional interest. However, if the seller is under contract, they won't be able to accept your offer.

Most real estate transactions don't fall apart during the closing process, but it does happen. Cold feet, financing issues, or home inspections are the most common reasons. In the event this happens, you need to be prepared. Buying a home that is "pending" is difficult but not impossible. If it's truly the home of your dreams, it might be worth your time to put in some extra effort in the event the sale falls through.


Is Flipping A House Still Worth It?

Flipping a house might seem like a fun side hustle and profitable real estate investment, especially with how the process is portrayed on TV and in the media. While it's true many people make big money flipping properties, it's certainly not passive income. The truth is, flipping a home is a lot of work and comes with a tremendous amount of risks.

Before embarking on such an ambitious endeavor, we recommend taking the time to understand the contingencies, risks, and complications associated with house flipping. Below are some tips to help you determine if flipping is worth it for you:

Expect Unexpected Costs

In order to profitably flip a house, you need to be able to accurately assess the home's market value before you buy it. For a home in relatively bad shape, this can be a fairly difficult task. Overestimating value will either eat into your profit or result in big losses.

Once you've estimated the market value of the house, you'll need to estimate the cost of repairs and upgrades. If you're not experienced, this can be incredibly difficult. Not to mention unexpected repair costs will undoubtedly come out of nowhere.

Bottom line — make sure you do your homework upfront and consult with experienced professionals when determining market value and repair costs.

Financing Options Can Be Limited

If you're looking to flip your first home, be prepared to spend a lot upfront. Traditional lenders may be reluctant to finance a home that needs a lot of work. Other lenders may charge high interest rates. If you want to avoid expensive financing options, you'll want to try to put down as much as you can upfront.

It's A Time Investment

Flipping a house is a major time investment, so it might be a while before you realize a return. In many cases, you'll need to work for several months to make necessary repairs and upgrades. Once finished, you'll need to have it inspected to ensure it complies with local code. Then, you'll have to go through the process of selling the property. A lot of the work is repeatable, so if you plan to start flipping full time, you'll ultimately be able to do it a lot faster. Just be prepared for your first few to take longer than you might expect.

Establish A Network Of Professionals

One of the keys to flipping houses is having an established network of partners who can assist. You'll want to have a good real estate agent, home inspector, attorney, and insurance agent to guide you through each transaction.

When it comes to repairs, having a network of contractors is also important. Even if you're incredibly handy, chances are there will be many things you can't do on your own. Being able to rely on other professionals makes it easy to get quick quotes and predict repair costs is key.  Be sure to establish a good partnership with a local roofer, electrician, plumber, carpenter, and landscaper.

Flipping a house definitely has an upside. Just keep in mind it's not usually easy. Be prepared to commit a significant amount of time, energy, and money to the process.


Should You Tie The Knot Before Buying A Home?

Buying a home and getting married are two of life's biggest milestones. But which should come first? Today, approximately 25% of couples between the ages of 18 and 34 choose to buy a home together before they tie the knot.

While there's certainly nothing wrong with this, there are a few things to consider before you can decide whether it's the right move for you. 

  • Review Your Financial Standing
    Deciding whether to buy a home before or after you get married often hinges on each individual's financial health. If one or both of you have questionable credit, or either of your careers is likely to change in the near future, it may be a good idea to be patient when considering to buy a home together. That way, you can focus on other things, like potentially getting married, while your financial situations become steadier.
  • Discuss How You'll Title Your Home
    The actual ownership of your home is determined through your deed, not the mortgage. How you title your home will determine both legal ownership and how the property can transfer.

    Your title options will also vary depending on the state where you live. Most homes are titled sole ownership, joint tenancy, or tenancy in common. In some states, married couples are subject to "community property" laws. There are pros and cons to each option, so it's a good idea to talk to an attorney and/or a financial advisor before deciding the best way to title your home.
  • Agree on How You'll Split Costs
    Not only do you and your partner need to decide how (or if) you'll put your finances together to purchase the home, but there are also ongoing costs to consider. Beyond the monthly mortgage payments and homeowner's insurance, there are also issues like maintenance and upkeep, repairs, HOA fees, and any planned remodeling.

    Discussing how you'll handle these expenses in detail ahead of time can help you avoid conflict. Some couples decide to open a joint checking account and both contribute a set amount to it each month.
  • Have a Formal Agreement in Place
    Once you've discussed all the items above, consider having a formal legal agreement drawn up. It should reflect all of the decisions you've made and what each of you has agreed to do. Doing so doesn't mean that you don't love or trust each other. Instead, it's a smart way to protect yourself and is always recommended.
  • Make Sure You're Ready for the Commitment
    While most couples say buying a home together has strengthened their bond, it's also critical to be honest and transparent. Make sure you're frank with each other about your finances, future family plans, and career aspirations. These things are important to your long-term relationship and will also impact the ideal location, size, and price of your home.

    If you're planning on getting married, then you're likely already committed to each other. Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you're truly ready to make this major commitment.

Purchasing a home together can be an excellent way to start your future off right, and you don't necessarily need to get married first. Just make sure to be open and honest with each other as you discuss each of the items above. This is the best way to set yourselves up for a solid financial future and a lifetime of marital bliss.


What To Do When A Seller Counteroffers

After submitting an offer, a seller will work with their real estate agent to review the terms of your bid. If the seller decides to make a counteroffer, they've likely decided they aren't satisfied with your initial offer but are at least willing to negotiate.

If a seller makes you a counteroffer, it can be challenging to know what to do. However, real estate negotiations are very common, and your agent has the experience to conduct them on your behalf. 

Common Reasons For A Counteroffer
There are many reasons why a seller may decide to counter your offer. They may think your offer price is too low or they may request a larger earnest deposit. However, a counteroffer isn't always about the sale price. The seller might want to negotiate contingencies, or they simply may want to move the closing date. The important thing to keep in mind is that a counteroffer doesn't mean the bid was rejected, it simply means you're going to have to reevaluate the terms.

What To Do Next
Your real estate agent will help break down the seller's new requests. Then, take the time to consider what the seller is asking for. If it's a price more than you're willing to pay, be prepared to walk away. If it's negotiating contingencies, consider what's going to work for you.

Keep in mind, you don't have to make a yes or no decision. It is possible and common to counter the seller's counteroffer. It's not uncommon for several rounds of negotiations to take place before the buyer and seller come to terms. Just be prepared to lose out on the deal if the seller isn't willing to negotiate further.

How To Respond To The Counteroffer
If you decide to accept the terms of the counteroffer, you can simply sign the form and return it to the seller. If you're planning to issue another counteroffer, your agent can pull together a new form.

Either way, you'll want to respond promptly as all counteroffers have an expiration date. In some areas, the seller may issue a counteroffer to multiple offers, in which case, the speed in which you respond can make a difference. It's always a good idea to respond to the counteroffer as quickly as possible.

It's also possible for the seller to receive a better offer while you're in the middle of negotiating. If this is the case, the seller may decide to move forward with the new offer and reject your bid. As a result, it's best to keep the negotiation moving as quickly as possible.

Real estate negotiations are very common, so receiving a counteroffer isn't a reason to lose hope. Work closely with your agent and try to determine if there is a way to make the deal work for both sides. 


Can You Buy A Home With Cash?

Looking for a way to make your offer stand out in a crowded, competitive, seller-friendly real estate market? Most homes are purchased with financing, but cash purchases do make up about 13 percent of home sales, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. An all-cash offer is sure to get the attention of any seller and offers many advantages if you can make the numbers work. So let's take a closer look at those advantages and the reasons why you might consider buying a home with cash.

Can You Buy a Home with Cash?

In this case, a cash offer doesn't mean literally paying in stacks of $100 bills — it just means purchasing a home with your own money rather than through a loan. There are many benefits that can make a cash offer worth the effort from the buyer's perspective:

  • Making Your Offer Stand Out
    If you have been shopping for a home in 2021 in most markets, then you've likely run into a similar scenario. A home catches your eye, you make what you feel is a competitive offer, and you quickly find out that there are multiple other bidders also competing for the home. With so much competition, the price rises beyond what you're comfortable paying, and the home goes to the highest bidder. An all-cash offer is one of the best ways to make your bid stand out in a competitive market and may allow you to land the home even if your cash offer comes in a bit lower than the highest financed offer.

  • Sellers Love Cash Offers
    It's no surprise that sellers love cash offers, but why are they so appealing? The biggest reason is that once lenders get involved, the whole process becomes more complicated. Pre-approval for a mortgage doesn't mean full approval, so there's always a chance that a financed offer can fall through at any point in the process. For a seller who's in a hurry to sell their current property before moving to a new home, a cash offer also helps the process move forward more quickly with fewer potential hang-ups and a faster closing process.

  • An Advantageous Negotiating Position
    Since cash offers have so much appeal for sellers, they also put you in an advantageous position when it's time to negotiate. You may be able to purchase the home for less than you would with a financed offer and negotiate for other concessions from the seller. Even in a competitive real estate market, cash offers are rare enough that they're sure to get the attention of sellers.

  • Save Money on Interest and Never Worry About Mortgage Payments
    Why worry about mortgage payments if you don't have to? With a cash offer, you don't just get to forget about worrying about those payments. You also save plenty of money long-term by not having to pay back the interest on a loan.

  • Creating Instant Equity in Your New Home
    With a cash offer, you get full equity in the home right away. That can be very handy if you ever need to borrow money in the future, whether for home renovations or another reason. There's no substitute for the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you own your home outright.

With so many advantages to making a cash offer, why doesn't it happen more often? The challenge comes in saving enough money to make a viable cash offer. But if you're diligent about saving and willing to invest those savings into your next home, buying a home with cash can be well worth the effort.


Check Your Surroundings Before You Buy

In today's hot real estate market, it's easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of rushing to beat out other potential buyers. If you think you've found your dream home, you'll want to put in an offer as quickly as possible or risk the chance of missing out. But before you make that offer, it's important to take a step back and really look at all aspects of the property you're thinking about buying.

While you may love the home and the lot it's on, don't forget that every neighborhood is unique. Once you've purchased a home, you can't pick it up and move it. This makes the surrounding area just as important as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms.

Not quite sure how to research a home's neighborhood or what you should be looking for? Here are a few places to start. 

  • Area Crime Maps
    Sometimes, even the best-looking neighborhoods aren't free from crime. You don't want to buy a home where you won't feel safe, or you'll have to constantly worry about theft.

    You can help prevent this by checking out websites where you can find a summary of police and crime report information for a particular neighborhood. SpotCrime is one of the most popular.

    Other sites, like Area Vibes and NeighborhoodScout provide more in-depth information regarding crime and a variety of other things that impact a neighborhood's "livability."
    • School Districts Evaluations
      If you have children, you'll definitely want to check out area school districts before you put in an offer on a new home. Even if you don't have children, it's important to remember that the quality of a home's school districts can significantly impact its resale value. GreatSchools and SchoolDigger are both excellent resources for researching school districts.
    • HOA Restrictions
      If the home you're considering is in a homeowner's association, you'll want to get a copy of the HOA documents before making your offer. Not only is it important to know how much this will add to your monthly expenses, but you also need to understand the restrictions they have in place. The last thing you want to do is move into a home and find out your pets aren't allowed or that you can't park your truck in your driveway. 
    • Local Public Records
      Researching public records takes a bit more effort but is well worth it. This will help you evaluate your neighborhood not just for what it is but for what it could be. Start by looking at the other types of property nearby and finding out whether your area is zoned for commercial use.

      You'll also want to find out if there are restrictions for remodeling, if short-term rentals are allowed, and whether there have been any chemical spills, contamination, or other environmental hazards nearby. In addition, it's a good idea to do an online search for your neighborhood to see if anything comes up in the news. This could help you find out about possible development or other local issues that may impact you. 
    • Visits and Conversations
      Last, but certainly not least, it's a great idea to visit your potential new neighborhood at different times of the day. You may find that traffic is ridiculous at rush hour or that your neighbors love having loud parties well into the night.

      If you can, also try to speak to your potential neighbors to see what they think about living there. This can often be the best way to find out things you wouldn't otherwise have thought to ask about.

    While checking out your potential new neighborhood does take a bit of time and effort, it's still a good idea. Doing a bit of research now can save you from serious problems in the long run.


    Should You Buy A Home With No Money Down?

    If you've been trying to save up for a down payment on a home, you understand just how daunting this task can seem. In moments of frustration, you may have wished there was a way to buy a home without having to come up with a big chunk of cash.

    The good news is, there actually are legitimate ways to purchase a home with no down payment. But, just because you can do something doesn't necessarily mean you should. Here's a closer look at your options and the pros and cons of choosing this approach.

    How to Buy a Home with No Money Down

    If you're looking for a home in a small town, you may qualify for a USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) loan. These are only offered for homes in towns with a population of 10,000 or fewer. Some USDA loans offer down payments as low as 0%. They're also only offered to buyers in the low to moderate income range. However, in some areas, this is higher than you may think. 

    Many credit unions also offer mortgages with low or no down payment. To qualify, you'll typically need a good credit score and an income that's less than 80% of the area's average income. However, each institution has different guidelines, so it's worth it to check out your options.

    A VA loan, offered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, offers buyers the ability to buy a home with no money down and no mortgage insurance. The interest rates are typically attractive, but it's sometimes difficult to qualify. Most VA lenders require a minimum credit score of 620 and a special type of appraisal on the home. This means that even if you qualify, there's a chance the home you're looking at may not. Still, if you're an active-duty military person, veteran, or qualifying family member, it's worthwhile to check it out.

    Benefits of Zero Down Payment Home Purchases

    Now that you're aware of the options for purchasing a home without a down payment, you'll want to consider whether this is a smart move for you. Clearly, there are some major advantages. The largest is the ability to buy a home sooner. This is particularly attractive if you're currently paying a large sum for rent or you're in a less-than-ideal living situation.

    If you don't have to make a large down payment, you'll also have the option to use the money you've already saved for home upgrades, furnishings, and to use as an emergency fund instead. While this certainly sounds attractive, there are also some potential drawbacks to consider.

    Downsides of Buying a Home with Zero Down Payment

    Borrowing the entire home purchasing amount does come with some downsides. First, it's important to note that because you're taking a larger loan, you'll have to make larger monthly payments for the life of the loan. Having a large mortgage payment will give you fewer options in the future. If you're injured, have to change jobs, or run into other unexpected issues, you may find that it's much harder to adapt.

    When you borrow 100% of your home's value, you'll also pay more interest than you would if you made a sizeable down payment. While the rate difference might not seem like a big deal now, it can end up costing you tens of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of your loan.

    In most cases, you'll also have to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI). Unless you get a VA loan, this is required if you borrow more than 80% of your home's value. This can end up costing you thousands of dollars on top of all the other expenses previously mentioned.

    Finally, there's the chance that your home's value will decrease. If circumstances force you to sell your home, you could end up selling at a loss and owing the difference to your lender.

    Many home buyers find that the potential drawbacks are more than they're comfortable with and decide to wait until they're able to save up at least a small down payment. However, you'll need to carefully weigh these pros and cons so you can decide which choice is best for you.


    A House Next To A School? Read This First

    Finding the perfect home can be exciting; however, if it's located near a school, you may be having second thoughts. Homebuyers generally have a wide range of opinions when it comes to purchasing a home near a school. For those with kids, the convenience can't be beaten. For others, living near a school can be a major detractor. Ultimately the right decision comes down to your preferences. Below, we'll break down some of the pros and cons of purchasing a home near a school.

    Benefits Of Living Near A School

    • Your Kids Can Walk To School
      If your kids can easily walk to and from school, it can save you a ton of time. You'll no longer have to worry about making sure the kids catch the bus, and you won't ever have to sit in traffic on your way to drop them off. It will also be easier for your kids to attend after-school activities. Being able to walk to and from school is often something both kids and parents enjoy.

    • Proximity To A Park And Playground
      If you live near a school, chances are your kids will have easy access to a park and playground. This will make it easier for them to play with other kids after school and on weekends, which will ultimately lead to stronger social skills.

    • Higher Property Value
      Some parents are eager for the opportunity to live near a good school due to the convenience factor. As a result, it'll likely be easier to resell your property for top dollar as there is a good chance your home will be in top demand when it comes time to sell. Keep in mind, the quality of the school really matters when it comes to property value.

    Disadvantages Of Living Near A School

    • Traffic
      If you live near a school, you'll likely have to deal with increases in morning and afternoon traffic for at least 180 days per year. School buses and parents dropping off their kids can cause quite a bit of congestion on neighborhood streets. This can make your own morning commute difficult.

    • Noise
      Living near a school means you'll likely experience excess noise during lunchtime and after school. Kids on the playground, playing sports, or walking home are likely to be loud and potentially disruptive. If peace and quiet are important to you, then living near a school may not be a great option.

    • Potential Trespassing
      Living near a school means kids may be walking around your property on their way to or from class.  This means kids may cut across your yard or cause trouble. The closer you are to the school, the more likely this is to be a problem.

    Living near a school isn't for everyone, but for those with kids, it can certainly be convenient. At the end of the day, you should evaluate the quality of the school and the neighborhood before making your decision.


    Can A Seller Bow Out From A Sale?

    So you've found your dream home, your offer was accepted, and your agent is working towards a closing day. Everything is going according to plan and you'll be moving in just a matter of weeks, right? Not so fast...

    While it's usually rare for a seller to bow out of a sale, it can and does happen from time to time. Whether it's due to cold feet or an inability to find a new home, there are many reasons why a seller might want to back out of a deal. Therefore, it's wise for buyers to keep expectations and emotions in check until after the closing.

    Below are 4 common ways a seller can back out of a home sale without any financial or legal consequences:

    1. The Purchase Agreement Hasn't Been Finalized
      The seller has the right to back out of the home sale all the way up to the signing of the purchase agreement and potentially even five days after. Verbal agreements do not count, and a contract isn't enforceable until it's actually signed, so keep that in mind.

      Some real estate contracts also contain an attorney review period, which grants both parties the right to back out within a defined timeframe (usually 3 to 5 days). Bottom line — until both sides put pen to paper, the deal isn't done.

    2. Contract Contingencies
      Sellers may decide to make the home sale contingent on certain circumstances, such as finding a new home. If the seller or their agent adds an escape clause to the contract, it's important to be aware of it. Your real estate agent can help try to negotiate these terms, or at the very least, minimize the timeframe. If the seller is attempting to draw up a complicated contract, you may also want to consult a real estate attorney.

    3. The Buyer Breaches The Contract
      Purchase agreements usually contain requirements for buyers, such as securing financing or closing within a set period of time. If a buyer does not hold up their end of the bargain or adhere to the terms of the contract, the seller has the right to back out of the deal.

    4. If The Buyer Agrees To The Cancellation
      Following the home inspection, a seller may refuse to make or pay for certain home repairs, which will essentially leave it up to the buyer to decide on the next steps (if there is a home contingency clause in the contract). In this instance, the seller's unwillingness to cooperate may force the buyer to walk away.

      If a seller has unique circumstances that are causing them to rethink the deal, they may also try to talk through the situation with the buyer in an attempt to get the buyer to agree to drop the deal.

    If a seller decides to back out of the sale after the deal is already under contract, a buyer can pursue legal recourse. A real estate transaction is a lot of work and very expensive for both sides, so a buyer is well within their right to seek damages. There are also real estate laws that may force the seller to honor the terms of the purchase agreement; however, laws do vary by state.

    Luckily, sellers don't back out of deals very often; however, if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, it's important to know when a seller is able to walk away without repercussion. Your real estate agent should be able to advise you on the best course of action.


    What You Should Ask Title Insurance Providers

    Title issues are an unfortunate component of real estate transactions, and something buyers should always be aware of when closing on a property. Title issues occur when there are liens on the property, unpaid taxes, or other claims of ownership, all of which can cause havoc when it comes to a closing or can lead to future financial problems for buyers.

    In order to avoid title issues, lenders will require that you work with a title company to research the property and buy title insurance to protect both yourself and the lender in the event issues come up during or after closing. Title research and title insurance policies can be complicated, and many homebuyers are understandably unfamiliar with the nuances of title law. To help you navigate this complicated area of real estate, we've compiled a list of questions you should always ask when selecting a title insurance company:

    • What Are Your Insurance Rates?
      While the average annual cost of a title insurance policy is around $1,000, title insurance rates really can vary depending on where you live. Some states regulate title insurance rates and fees, while others do not. If rates aren't set at the state level where you live, then you may want to consider shopping for the best rates when selecting a provider.

    • How Experienced Is Your Title Attorney?
      Working with a title insurance provider with little to no legal experience in real estate can lead to some major problems. Your insurance carrier's title attorney is ultimately going to determine if you can legally acquire the title before issuing title insurance, so you want to be sure you can trust their opinion. As a result, you want to make sure you're working with someone who has experience and can conduct the proper research.

    • What Is Your Claims Ratio?
      The number of title insurance claims your provider receives relative to its total number of customers can tell you a lot about the way it conducts title searches. A high claims to customer ratio indicates their title clearing process may not be as extensive as one would hope. As a result, the claims ratio is a good metric to evaluate the quality of the provider.

    • How Long Does A Title Search Take?
      The speed at which your title company can clear a title is an important factor, especially when you're under a tight closing deadline. Typically, most title companies can conduct a title search in under two weeks. If your provider tends to take a long time, it's important to know it upfront. Luckily, your real estate agent should have a lot of experience working with title companies and should be able to refer you to one that is reliable.

    • Can You Provide An Example Of A Challenging Title Search?
      If you really want to get a sense of how your title provider handles complex title searches, ask them to provide some challenging examples. Ask what problems they ran into, how they handled them, and the final outcome. Knowing how your provider has handled title issues in the past can provide some reassurance that they'll be able to handle any complications that pop up with your title.

    Title issues can derail a closing or lead to major headaches down the road. While insurance policy can help mitigate some of the risk, you ultimately want to work with a provider that can conduct thorough research and help you get ahead of any potential issues.


    What To Do If Your Dream Home Fails Inspection

    As a buyer, it's easy to become emotionally invested in a home, especially when you find one that meets all of your criteria.  However, it's so important to ensure your offer includes a home inspection contingency and to keep your emotions in check until the home inspection report comes back. A home may seem like a dream come true on the surface, but the home inspection report may transform it into a nightmare.

    A home inspection usually takes place within the first 10 days under contract. The report will usually outline minor defects to major structural issues and everything in between. If there are serious issues such as foundation damage, roof damage, or mold in the basement, you'll likely need to negotiate with the seller on how to remediate the issues. If your dream home fails the home inspection, that doesn't necessarily mean all hope is lost. Don't panic. Instead, your real estate agent can help guide you through these steps:

    • Request For The Contingency Period To Be Extended
      If it turns out the home has numerous problems, you'll likely need some time to wrap your head around them. First thing is first — ask your real estate agent to request to extend the contingency period. If granted, you'll have some extra time to carefully calculate the costs of the necessary repairs.
    • Determine Your Ideal Solution
      Just because a home fails the inspection contingency doesn't mean the deal has to fall through. In most cases, it just means you and the seller will need to negotiate a solution. Once you've reviewed the report and calculated the repair costs, determine if you want the seller to have the repairs completed before closing or if you'd rather close sooner and have the seller reimburse you for the repair costs. Your real estate agent can help you with the negotiation process.
    • Consider How Much You're Willing to Invest
      If the seller flat out refuses to make the repairs or reimburse you for the costs, then you'll need to seriously consider how much you're willing to pay for the home. If it's truly the home of your dreams and you have some extra funds to invest, paying for the repairs out of pocket may be worth it to you. If not, then be prepared to walk away. Remember, during the contingency period, you still have the opportunity to walk without losing any money. Luckily, in the majority of cases, buyers and sellers can reach a resolution.

    While it's true that a failed home inspection can sometimes derail a home sale, deals are more likely to fall through due to an unwillingness to negotiate on how to remediate the situation. The best thing you can do is keep emotions in check, calculate the cost of repairs, and attempt to negotiate with the seller. Depending on the cost and the severity of the repairs, there is a good chance you can come to a resolution before walking away from the deal.


    Should You Buy A Foreclosed Home?

    Foreclosed homes can create excellent buying opportunities for home shoppers, but how do you know if it's worth the risk? Between 2008 and 2015, foreclosed homes were common on the market. While they're not nearly as common today, they do still pop up and can often be purchased at a low price. This is usually because banks are usually eager to recover their costs.

    If you're planning to make an offer on a foreclosed home, there are several things you should know before beginning the process.

    What Is A Foreclosure?
    A foreclosed home has been seized by a bank because its owner defaulted on the mortgage. As a result, foreclosed homes are owned by banks. When you enter into a mortgage contract, lenders implement property liens, which entitle them to take over your home if you stop paying your mortgage.

    3 Ways To Buy A Foreclosed Home

    • A Short Sale - The original homeowner might decide to sell the home for less than the total owed on the mortgage; however, this may be subject to bank approval which can take some time.
    • At Auction - Foreclosed homes are usually sold at auction. In order to purchase a home at auction, you'll likely need to make the full purchase in cash. The majority of auctions do not allow for financing through a mortgage. 
    • From The Bank - You may also have the option of purchasing the property directly from the bank if the property hits the market. However, you'll need to work with a real estate agent as most banks don't sell directly to individuals.

    Risk Of Buying A Foreclosed Home
    While you might be able to grab a foreclosed home at a bargain price, these homes are usually not without some degree of risk. Below are several things you'll want to keep in mind when deciding whether to purchase a foreclosure:

    • Maintenance Concerns - If a homeowner is struggling financially, and they know they're going to lose their home, chances are they aren't keeping up with maintenance and repairs. Don't be surprised if the home comes with significant issues. Make sure to keep enough cash on hand to deal with maintenance problems as they arise.
    • As-Is Sales - When buying from a bank, the sale of the home may be "as-is," which means there is usually not a home inspection contingency and you don't have negotiation power when it comes to repairs. What you see is what you get.
    • Redemption Periods - Many banks do offer homeowners the ability to redeem their property if they're able to catch up on bills. You may have to wait a period of time before you can actually claim the foreclosed property. Redemption periods vary by state.

    Should You Buy A Foreclosed Home?

    The answer ultimately depends on your situation and risk tolerance. In many cases, it can be difficult to know exactly what you're walking into. Don't be fooled by the price tag. The best advice is to not invest all of your cash into the purchase of a foreclosure, as you'll need to keep a significant amount on hand to deal with repairs.

    When buying a foreclosed home, you may end up getting a great property at a reasonable price. The key to mitigating the risks is to work with an experienced real estate agent who can help guide you through the process and point out potential risks.


    Construction Red Flags To Watch Out For

    Looking for a new home can be a very overwhelming experience, especially for first-time homebuyers. There are so many factors to consider, you might worry that you're forgetting something. In reality, it's common for homebuyers to become fixated on certain features or amenities that they may not recognize some significant red flags that could cause issues down the road or create significant repair costs. To further complicate things, today's fast-paced, competitive market means a lot of buyers don't have the luxury to take their time when evaluating a potential home.

    Luckily, real estate agents are experienced, and they're more than capable of recognizing red flags or potential pitfalls that might not be apparent to homebuyers. By making yourself aware of these common red flags, you can be better prepared when touring a potential home. Keep an eye out for these common construction red flags when shopping for your new home:

    • Structural Issues
      Structural problems can be tough to spot, but they are one of the most important things for homebuyers to recognize. Major cracks in the foundation and damp or wet basements are the easiest way to recognize major structural issues. However, if you're unsure, you can always hire a structural engineer to evaluate the property. Structural issues are incredibly expensive to repair, so you want to do your due diligence upfront.

    • Pooling Water
      Poor drainage in the yard is one of the most common causes of structural issues or foundation damage. Check the permitter of the home to ensure downspouts are dispensing water at least 3 feet away from the foundation. If your property sits at the bottom of a hill or there appears to be grading issues, be sure proper drainage is installed around the home.

    • Uneven Floors
      While it's normal for floors to become slightly uneven over time, a floor that is visually uneven or obviously sloped may be indicative of a larger issue such as foundation damage. This is another area where a structural engineer can help evaluate the severity of the issue.

    • Poor Workmanship
      Identifying poor workmanship often requires a special eye and experience in repair work. However, it's absolutely something buyers should be on the lookout for, especially if they're buying a home that was recently flipped. Examples of poor workmanship might include poor plumbing, such as leaky sinks and toilets or bad carpentry work. It may help to have an experienced contractor evaluate the quality of the home along during the home inspection process so you can identify potential issues.

    • Sagging Ceilings
      Ceilings aren't usually the first thing buyers notice when touring a home, but it's important to look for any sagging areas or even small water bubbles. These types of ceiling issues could suggest there are leaks and that an expensive roof replacement may be due in the near future.

    • Electrical Issues
      Electrical issues are common in older homes. Check to see if the home still has an older electrical panel with tube wiring. While it's difficult for any regular consumer to evaluate the condition of a home's electrical wiring without experience, it's still a good idea to flip the light switches and check the conditions and age of outlets around the house.

    Your first home is one of the most important investments you'll make, so it's important to do your homework upfront. Being aware of these red flags can help you avoid costly pitfalls in the future. It always helps to work with an experienced real estate agent who can help you identify issues.


    Are You Ready To Be A Homeowner?

    Buying your first home is a rite of passage that many people dream of. However, before you take the plunge, it's important to make sure you're really ready. Your finances have a lot to do with it, but it's not the only thing you'll need to consider.

    Here are five important questions to ask yourself before you buy your first home.

    1. Are You Ready to Settle Down? 

    This may be the most important question of all. It's completely normal to try living in a few different areas before you're ready to put down roots. However, you won't want to consider buying a home until you're fairly sure you plan to stay where you are for a significant amount of time. 

    Ideally, you'll want to commit to staying in your new home for at least seven to ten years, as this is roughly one full cycle of the housing market. 

    1. Do You Have Stable Employment? 

    It will be easier to get a home loan if you've been in your current job for at least two years. More importantly, you'll want to know you can count on your current income before you commit to buying a home.

    An unexpected job loss can completely upend your life. The loss of income could potentially cause you to have difficulty paying your mortgage. You'll also need to find a new job that's reasonably close to your new home. Otherwise, you may need to sell your home before you're ready or deal with renting it out.

    While it's impossible to predict the future, make sure you feel fairly comfortable about the stability of your job before you consider becoming a first-time homeowner. 

    1. Are You Financially Prepared? 

    When deciding whether you're ready to buy a home, you'll need to take a close look at your finances. Make sure you have enough saved up for your down payment, your credit score falls within acceptable ranges, and you have an emergency fund.  

    It's a great idea to meet with a lender before you start your home search. This will allow you to have a solid understanding of how much you can really afford and what you'll need to bring to the table when you close. Having a pre-qualification letter will also increase the chances that the seller will accept your offer.

    1. Are You Ready for Maintenance and Upkeep? 

    Remember that you'll need additional money beyond what's necessary to purchase your home. There's also the cost of keeping up with repairs and maintenance. This may include everything from maintaining your lawn and landscaping to the occasional need for a plumber, electrician, or handyman. 

    Caring for a home is also a labor of love. Make sure you're willing to put the time into keeping it looking nice and taking care of any small issues before they can turn into big problems.

    1. Are You Looking for More Stability? 

    Buying a home allows you to settle down in a way renting simply can't. When you rent, there's always a chance your landlord could raise the price or even decided to sell.

    As long as you make your mortgage and tax payments, no one can make you leave a home you own. This will give you a strong sense of security.

    When you're not worried about housing, you can also put more effort into focusing on other parts of your life — like getting that promotion, spending time with your loved ones, and getting more involved in your community.

    If you answered "yes" to each of these questions, congratulations! You're both mentally and financially ready to buy a home. Soon, you'll get to enjoy one of the most satisfying adventures of your life.


    What's A Contingent Offer?

    It'd be nice if buying a home was as easy as buying something at the grocery store, but because it's one of the largest purchases you make in your life, there's bound to be a lot of steps and fine detail during the buying process. One of those details may be a contingency offer, depending on your situation. Have you ever wondered how both buyers and sellers remain protected during a house transaction? That's exactly what a contingency offer does: it requires that the buyer (or seller) meet certain criteria in order for the sale to be finalized. This may seem like an extra hurdle, but it can actually be a saving grace. Here's how.

    Home Inspection

    This is a fairly common type of contingency, and it ensures that if something wrong is found with the home, whether it be a structural or other issues, the buyer has leverage in asking for repairs and fixes. Another option the buyer might have is walking away from the sale altogether if serious issues are found. Unless you're committed to a fixer-upper, as a new homeowner you typically don't want to spend your time and money on projects the seller should have addressed, and a home inspection contingency can protect you from that.


    This is another important contingency because it helps buyers avoid overpaying for a house. If the appraisal, which determines the fair market value of the property, comes back lower than what the seller has asked, the buyer can back out of the deal and keep their deposit. Paying a high mortgage is not desirable for anyone, and for most, it may not even be feasible, so an appraisal contingency can be a lifesaver.


    A title contingency brings up the history of the home's ownership and checks to make sure there are no liens still tied to the property. If there is a title dispute, the last thing a buyer wants is to be slapped with legal fees, so this type of contingency can protect the buyer and leave it to the legal experts to resolve any issues.


    This contingency protects both buyer and seller. You can't buy a home if you don't have the money to back it up -- or at least you shouldn't. A mortgage contingency makes sure a loan has been approved before the sale is finalized. If something goes wrong during this time, for example, the buyer isn't able to procure a loan within the specified time, the buyer can walk away with their deposit and the seller can focus on other qualified buyers.

    Home Sale

    If you're trying to buy and sell a home at the same time, this contingency may be right for you. However, it's not the most common type of contingency, and sellers aren't likely to go along with them. This contingency finalizes a home sale only if the buyer is able to sell their current home by a specified date. In this case, the seller has to trust that home will sell, or else they've wasted a lot of time and effort.

    Some buyers decide to forgo contingency offers if they're desperate to purchase a house, for example, if it's their dream house and they're in the middle of a bidding war. But being cautious and safe is oftentimes the smarter option. A good real estate agent can help you make the most educated decisions when buying a home.


    Renting or Buying: What Are The Differences?

    If you're new to real estate, it can be a lot to take in. Maybe you've rented a home before and you're ready to dive in and buy your first property, or maybe you have no experience with renting or buying and need some information to get started. Either way, here are some pointers for better understanding why now may be the right or the wrong time to buy your first property.


    There's a myth out there that renting is a waste of money compared to buying a home since you aren't investing money into the place where you live. But the truth is living anywhere costs money; it's just that your finances and other factors of your life will determine the best living situation for you. Here are some signs you may want to hold off buying a home for a little while:

    • You have debt
      If you have debt you're working to pay off, be it student loans or some other debt, renting can be an ideal option because you won't have unexpected expenses while you're renting. This allows you to budget more effectively (and reliably) to reduce your debt.
    • The future isn't set in stone
      If you think your job may change in the near future, or you just aren't sure what life has in store for you for the next few years, renting may be preferable to buying a home because leaving an apartment once your lease is up is a lot easier than selling a home. Houses are typically considered long-term investments, which could be an issue if you don't have a solid plan for the future.
    • You want more time
      Homeownership comes with some responsibilities that fall solely in your lap, like mowing the lawn and repairing things around the house. If you rent, many of those responsibilities are left to your landlord, giving you some extra time to enjoy your property and the area.


    Buying a home is certainly a big decision, likely a bigger one than deciding to rent. But if it seems big and scary, don't be afraid! Experienced real estate agents make the buying and selling processes a breeze. If you're considering buying a home, these factors might make up your mind:

    • You're investing
      Mortgage payments can sometimes be comparable to monthly rent, but at the end of the tunnel, you'll own your property. If you take care of your property, it can increase in value, giving you more leeway if you'd ever want to move in the future.
    • You can do what you want
      This one isn't entirely true — there are limits to what you can do to your property both inside and out — but you definitely have more freedom compared to renting. If you want to transform a room, you can do that. If you want to reimagine your landscaping, you can do that too, because it's your property.
    • You have a family
      If you have a family or are planning to have one soon, buying a home is typically the best option because homes are made for families. You have privacy, space, and a long-term place to call your home.

    If you're still unsure about what's the best next step in your housing journey, a good real estate agent can help you hit the ground running. It's also a good idea to reexamine your finances and goals for the future.


    Your Guide To Homeowners Associations

    A homeowner's association, commonly referred to as an HOA, is an organization of community residents that establishes and enforces community property rules. Typically, HOA members reside in a condominium complex, a planned community, or a subdivision of single-family homes. Buyers who purchase a home within an HOA community automatically become HOA members subject to rules and regulations under the HOA guidelines.

    What is the Purpose of an HOA?

    The main purpose of an HOA is to establish community goals that benefit residents and implement rules and regulations that provide community safety. An HOA is responsible for managing the community's business affairs and budget, overseeing community projects, and maintaining communal areas for residents.

    Most HOA organizations are made up of a group of board members and community residents. HOA residents usually elect a Board of Directors that includes a president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, and auditor. The Board of Directors is responsible for enforcing community rules and regulations under HOA covenants, conditions, and restrictions.

    In smaller HOA communities, the Board of Directors may appoint a property management company or onsite property manager to handle duties and collect fees from residents. State HOA laws and community regulations mandate regular meetings to discuss association policies, budget, and finances.

    What are Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions?

    All HOA rules and regulations are outlined in Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs), governing bylaws for HOA members. CC&Rs are legally binding documents describing guidelines on home and property modifications. Common regulations cover:

    • Exterior paint colors
    • Roofing types and colors
    • Lawn maintenance and landscaping
    • Fencing and exterior structures
    • Outdoor trash receptacles
    • Recreational vehicle parking
    • Family pets

    If homeowners don't follow CC&R guidelines, they are usually issued citations and fines by the Board of Directors. Typically, CC&Rs are given to all homeowners with their closing paperwork on the home's purchase.

    What are HOA Fees?

    All HOA communities have mandatory fees paid by residents to make sure there are available funds for special projects and regular maintenance. Depending on location, home values, and community amenities, HOA fees may vary significantly from $200 to $1,000 per month.

    HOA fees are usually deposited into a special account and used to pay for regular landscaping and maintenance, trash pickup, shared utilities, community repairs, and homeowners' insurance that covers public spaces and amenities. Additional assessment fees may also be collected if the community experiences unexpected expenses for damages caused by natural disasters such as earthquakes, fires, floods, high winds, hurricanes, and tornadoes.

    HOAs can periodically raise fees according to CC&R guidelines. Fees may be increased to cover inflation, rising operating costs, and necessary community projects to increase resident safety. If HOA fees increase, residents must be given at least a 30-day notice required by law.

    What are the Benefits of an HOA?

    Millions of homeowners prefer living in an HOA community rather than a privately-owned residence. For homeowners who want a lifestyle with more amenities and less home maintenance, an HOA community offers many benefits.

    Because HOAs have regulations that promote a uniform community environment, most residents enjoy cleaner grounds, well-maintained structures, and manicured landscapes without the hassle of scheduling maintenance and repairs.

    HOA communities also have shared amenities including swimming pools and hot tubs, barbecue grills, clubhouses, sports facilities, ponds and gardens, and walking paths. Many provide special events throughout the year such as cookouts, swim parties, dances, and holiday events.

    Living in an HOA community may not fit everyone's lifestyle, but it may provide the perfect opportunity for homeowners who are searching for more free time, fewer outdoor tasks, and neighborhood activities.


      Should You Offer More Or Less Than Asking Price?

      Making an offer on that amazing house you just found requires some strategic thinking. There's almost always some negotiation involved and a little knowledge can help you come up with a good offer. The advice of an experienced real estate agent can prove invaluable during this step. Here's what you need to know to make a great offer and help get you in that new home you've been dreaming of.

      Market conditions matter

      Current market conditions are the biggest factor to consider in your offer. In a buyer's market, there are plenty of houses available and buyers have more negotiating power. Sellers are usually more flexible since they aren't getting as many offers and houses often take longer to sell.

      In a seller's market, there are lots of buyers and not as many houses available. There is more competition among buyers and homes sell faster. Sellers are likely getting multiple offers and buyers are willing to pay more or negotiate less. It isn't unusual for homes to sell above the asking price.

      When to offer asking price or higher

      There are factors other than the current market conditions that determine what kind of offer you can make. These are some instances where you might be offering more than the asking price.

      • You're competing with multiple offers. If they're willing to offer over list, you may not have a choice. In this situation, you might be competing with cash offers and buyers who are willing to waive contingencies too. You'll likely have to find other ways to make your offer stand out as well.
      • It's absolutely THE house. How much do you really want it and are you likely to find another home you love? If you've been looking for a while or are desperate to get in a home, a higher offer can let the seller know you're serious.
      • It's a newer listing. When a listing is new, it's unlikely the seller would immediately lower their price. You'll probably need to offer at least list price.

      When a low offer could work

      Everyone wants a good deal, and there are times when a low offer can get you exactly that. The offer shouldn't be so low that the seller is unwilling to negotiate. You're still getting a deal if they counter with an offer above yours but below list. As a general rule, an offer of 20% - 25% below asking would be the bottom limit, and few sellers would accept that. But there are situations where low offers can pay off.

      • It's an older listing. Most sellers don't want their house on the market indefinitely. If there hasn't been much interest, they'll be more likely to accept a lower offer.
      • Look at the comps. If the comps indicate the house is priced high or one with more updates sold for $10,000 less than what they're asking, you have a good argument for a lower offer. 
      • You're paying cash. All cash offers are usually significantly lower since they have a lot of benefits for the seller.
      • The house needs major work. Fixer-uppers aren't necessarily a bad thing, as long as you know what you're getting into. A low offer is appropriate to help offset the cost of major repairs.
      • The house needs minor updates. If comps in the neighborhood are updated, and the property you're looking at isn't, you may be able to make a slightly lower offer.

      Making your offer appealing is important and that starts with the price. Understanding how different factors affect your offer can help you work with your real estate agent and get you into that new home.


      Buying and Selling a Home at the Same Time

      Buying and selling a home at the same time can be a complicated process, to say the least. It's best described as a delicate juggling act, where the best possible outcome is highly contingent on timing. In an ideal world, you could sell your home, release your built-up equity, and find a new home all within a period of a few weeks. Unfortunately, these steps rarely fall in the right order.

      That doesn't mean that all hope is lost or that buying and selling a home simultaneously is impossible to pull off. However, it's still a good idea to be aware of some of the less ideal scenarios that can arise from the process.

      Issues With Funding
      If you don't have a significant amount of cash saved up, the purchase of a new home might depend on your ability to use the equity tied up in your existing property as a down payment. In most cases, it's wise to have your total down payment amount saved up before attempting to buy and sell a home at the same time. However, there are some workarounds such as a cash-out refinance, a bridge loan, or a home equity line of credit. Just remember, if you have an FHA or a VA loan, you might not be permitted to have multiple mortgages at once.

      Losing Bid to a Non-Contingent Offer
      When simultaneously buying and selling a home, it's common to make an offer on your new home contingent on selling your old home. While this approach can help simplify the process, it can also open the door for another buyer to swoop in and make a more compelling offer that's not contingent on the sale of an existing property. As a result, contingent offers can sometimes put the buyer at a disadvantage.

      Coordinating Logistics
      Buying a home requires days of negotiations and hundreds of decisions along the way. When you're attempting to sell at the same time, your workload essentially doubles. Lining up closing dates, negotiating with multiple parties, and coordinating moves can require a lot of time, work, and energy. This can often result in decision fatigue and a lot of extra stress. Our advice is to always work with a good real estate agent who can help streamline the process.

      It's Best To Assess Your Financial Situation
      Buying and selling properties at the same time can create a number of risks. As a result, it's best to do a thorough assessment of your financial situation before deciding the best course of action. Do you have enough for a down payment? Can you afford multiple mortgages? These are important questions to ask yourself before committing to one option or another.

      It's also important to work with your lender and your real estate agent. Depending on your financial situation, your lender may be willing to pre-approve you for a new mortgage depending on the value of your existing home and your credit profile.

      Simultaneously buying and selling a home can present unique challenges, which is why it's essential to work with a good real estate agent so you don't have to go through the process alone. A real estate agent can bring valuable years of experience to the table and can even anticipate issues before they arise. 


      Considering School Districts While Home Shopping

      There are lots of factors to consider when buying a home and for most buyers, location is right at the top of that list. And with that location comes school districts. Even buyers without school-age children will take them into consideration. So what exactly goes into evaluating whether the school systems you're looking at make the grade?

      School System Data

      • Student to teacher ratios and standardized test scores.
        This is some of the most revealing information about how schools are really doing. Lower teacher-to-student ratios mean teachers have a reasonable workload and are available to help students individually when they need it. It also means the school is less likely to be overcrowded. Standardized test scores can give insights as to how effectively students are learning. If most students are scoring average or above average on those tests, they have learned the information effectively and are able to apply it.  
      • Graduation rates and college-bound students.
        These statistics can be helpful, but they don't tell the whole story. A more useful piece of information is knowing the percent of graduates that require remedial work when continuing their education. A high number here would indicate that students are graduating without the skills they need.  
      • Age and condition of the facilities.
        Buildings that are overcrowded and deteriorating can be distracting, uncomfortable, and provide less room for learning and other activities. All of this can create a less than ideal or even dangerous environment. This information also might give some insight as to whether your taxes are likely to go up in the near future.
      • Fiscal responsibility.
        A financially sound school district is more likely to continue to meet higher educational standards further into the future because they consistently have the resources to do so. This is especially important if your children are very young and you plan on staying until after they graduate.

      Other Factors

      The data-based factors mentioned above are a good place to start. But there are some other more subjective factors to consider that are just as important.

      • Does the school or district meet your children's needs?
        If your student is special needs or gifted, you'll need to do a little more investigation to make sure what they need is available. Small districts often transport students to neighboring larger districts if these services aren't available, so you'll want to know that too. If your student has a sport or other outside interest like music that they participate in, you'll want to make sure those kinds of opportunities are available to them as well.
      • Parent involvement and how other parents feel about the school and district.
        A good amount of parent involvement means the schools are going to be more aware of and responsive to the needs of students. First-hand information about the schools is invaluable. If you can talk to the PTA or other parents to get a feel for the situation, that is excellent information to have.
      • Transportation.
        This is something that affects your family every day, so it's worth looking into ahead of time. Not all school systems provide transportation and some may not provide it to every school or every area of the district. Transportation to and from daycare can be an issue as well.

      The school district is an important consideration when buying a home. Knowing what to look for can help you make an informed decision that will benefit your family and most importantly your children.


      Old or New: Which House Should You Buy?

      While shopping for your next home, you may run into the situation where you're deciding between a previously lived in house and a house that's brand new. A spotless new construction may be enticing enough to convince you to pony up the larger cost, but the decision between old versus new is more complicated than just the price tag. In fact, there are a lot more factors to consider, and there's no one answer that applies to all shoppers. Here's what you should know.

      Buying a New House

      Buying a brand new home comes with some advantages over one that's housed previous families. Here are the pros for buying a new home:

      • Maintenance - In a brand new home, there's little you need to worry about with maintenance, at least for several years. Your wiring, plumbing, roof, and HVAC system will all be in pristine condition and built to code, requiring only minor upkeep. Even if something goes wrong, there may be a builder's warranty.
      • Energy Efficiency - With new and modern building materials and tech, a new home is likely to be more energy-efficient than an old home. Some new homes might even come with solar panels and dual pane windows that help slash energy bills.
      • Customization - Since you're starting with essentially a blank slate, you have a lot of options for customizing interiors to exactly how you imagine them. The work will be speedier for any contractors as well since they won't have to tear out old fixtures.

      Buying a new home can be a great option, but it does come with some drawbacks.

      • Cost - A brand new home can cost considerably more than an existing one, usually at the tune of an additional 20-30%. Because of this, it may not be feasible for first time buyers who don't want to break the bank. That's also not including the likely higher property taxes.
      • Location - It's difficult to put up a brand new home in an existing neighborhood, which means a new home is less likely to have the same immediate community that comes with an older home. The commute to work might be longer as well.
      • Resale Value - Because the house is new, there's no history of past transactions to show what the house has been worth over the years. If you're buying a new construction as an investment, that can turn out to be a potential risk.

      Buying an Existing House

      Just like with buying a new house, buying an existing one comes with its own set of pros and cons. Here are some of the advantages.

      • Cost - An existing home will usually have a lower selling cost than a new one. This cost can be disguised by inevitable renovations, so it's best to have an idea of what work will need to be done to make the purchase worth it.
      • History - An older house - and the neighborhood where it lies - will have an existing history and character that just isn't present with a new home. Little quirks of the construction add to the charm, and neighbors will have lots of stories about the previous owners and the neighborhood. An older home will also have more mature landscaping.
      • Proven Investment - An existing home is less likely to see the volatile value swings of a newer home, so you can take comfort in knowing your investment is sound. And if you strategically pump renovations into the home, you could even sell later on for a profit.

      Buying an existing home of course comes with the side effects of decades of homeownership.

      • Maintenance - Almost the complete opposite case for a newer home, an existing property is almost guaranteed to require some serious attention. Some of this maintenance may be negotiated with the seller, but you'll likely have to do some dirty work yourself.
      • Outdated design - The interior design, as well as the interior layout, may feature some once popular but now outdated concepts that clash with what the modern homeowner will want. Expect to see outdated fixtures and little closet space.
      • Competition - Due to the reduced cost and location of an existing home, you'll likely see more competition than you would for a new construction. This can be upsetting for buyers who lose out on a home they thought would be perfect.

      Buying a home, whether it's a new or an existing one, is a big decision. There's no wrong or right answer that applies to all shoppers, so it's best to find a good real estate agent who can help you make the right decision.


      Your Buyer's Guide to Fixtures

      Fixtures are an important part of any home, especially for buyers looking to reduce expenses. If you're purchasing a home, you expect to see the same fixtures in the house you saw earlier. Unfortunately, some buyers are surprised when they move in to find the seller removed fixtures.

      When you're in the market for a new home, finding one that complements your design style, existing furnishings, and lifestyle can be challenging. Since the purchase of a new home is a major expense, homebuyers often look for homes with upgraded fixtures that appeal to their sense of style and reduce the costs of new fixtures.

      What are Fixtures?

      As a general rule, fixtures are things that are permanently attached to the home. Common fixtures that usually remain with the home include:

      • Lighting
        Permanently attached ceiling fixtures include recessed and spotlights, track lighting, chandeliers, and pendants. Because these fixtures are often difficult to remove without an electrician, most sellers leave them behind. In some cases, a seller may remove expensive antique chandeliers and high-end fixtures.
      • Built-Ins
        Built-in fixtures like cabinets, entertainment centers, bookshelves, and window seats are usually custom-made items designed and built for specific spaces. Plantation shutters, blinds, shades, and draperies are also often custom-made items. Most sellers leave custom-made fixtures with the home, as they are unlikely to fit spaces in a new home.
      • Hardware
        Hardware includes doorknobs and handles, cabinet knobs, and drawer pulls. In most cases, the seller with leave these for the new buyer, because it's too time-consuming to remove them. However, some sellers may remove expensive hardware that can be used in their new location.
      • Kitchen Appliances
        Most mortgage lenders require a new home to have a kitchen with working appliances; however, they don't have to be the same ones you saw during the open house. If the home's listing mentions "recently upgraded kitchen" or "professional-grade appliances," you should expect to see them when you move in. Unless specified, washers and dryers usually go with the seller.
      • Home Security Systems
        Home security systems can be hard-wired into the home or activated with plug-in equipment. While wired-in systems always stay with the house, sellers may choose to take plug-in systems with movable and wireless features with them.
      • Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
        In most cases, sellers leave these fixtures with the house since they are inexpensive to replace. Most mortgage lenders require working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in a home. If a home inspection shows these fixtures missing or not working properly, the new homeowner will be required to install them.

      Get a Purchase Agreement

      A purchase agreement between the buyer and the seller is important to specify which fixtures remain in the home and which ones do not. Your real estate agent should draw up a purchase agreement signed by the buyer and seller to avoid any disputes. The purchase agreement should list all fixtures that remain in the home for the new buyer. If you're buying a new home, you shouldn't just assume the fixtures you saw are included in the sale.

      A purchase agreement can also specify movable items that the buyer wants to keep. Sellers often negotiate prices to leave area rugs, bookcases, wall-hung shelves, patio furniture, outdoor gas grills, and washers and dryers.

      If you're buying a new home, it's important to work with a real estate agent who can draw up a proper contract with a purchase agreement. That way, moving into your new home will be a rewarding, stress-free experience.


      Should You Buy a Fixer-Upper?

      Buying a fixer-upper home can be a great way to acquire a home in a neighborhood you might not otherwise be able to afford. Maybe you've picked out a charming older home you think just needs some tender loving care to bring out its best. That may be true, but beware of romancing yourself into a costly renovation nightmare, where you can't recover your investment once the house goes on the market.

      That doesn't mean you should avoid fixer-uppers altogether. But do be aware of the possible pitfalls. Once you've weighed the pros and cons, you can make a more informed decision about investing in that sweet little mid-century modern you've had your eye on.

      Consider these points before buying a fixer-upper.

      DIY Skills Can Make a Fixer Upper More Affordable

      So you've fallen for a fixer-upper, and you're weighing the possibilities. One of the first things to consider is how much of the work you're able to do yourself. If you love to work on old houses, you're a step ahead. But those with no DIY skills may be locked into overseeing contractors for every renovation. That can cause some headaches and will certainly cost more than if you can do the work yourself.

      Renovations: Cosmetic or Structural?

      Once you make an offer for a home and it's accepted, you'll need a home inspection. An inspection can help assure your fixer-upper is a good investment, or it may provide a warning that you should take a pass. 

      Be mindful that major repairs — foundation fixes, roof and wall renovations, plumbing, and electrical system redos — may not raise the house's value sufficiently to offset the renovation cost. Ideally, a fixer-upper should require mainly cosmetic repairs. These repairs don't cost a lot, and they raise the value of the home. They might include painting touch-ups, fixing doors, installing new light fixtures, drywall repairs, refinishing floors, and updating bathrooms and kitchens.

      Also, be aware that if your fixer-upper has some differences that set it off from other homes in the neighborhood — for example, two bedrooms instead of three, or one bathroom instead of two — these may impede selling it.

      Further, you will want to avoid renovations that promise to take an extraordinarily long time. By the time you finish, you may find that the home's market value has gone down. 

      Can You Afford It?

      Add up the cost of materials and labor — that is, your labor and that of any contractors. Then, subtract that figure from the estimated market value of the home post-renovation. Compare your fixer-upper with other homes in the neighborhood to determine estimated market value. Deduct another 5 to 10 percent for extras, possible problems you may encounter, and inflation. The figure you arrive at should be your offer.

      Financing Renovations

      You've got several options when it comes to financing your renovation. Putting the bills on a credit card is easy, but you'll be paying high interest rates. A renovation loan lets you finance a house and improvements together. The interest rate is lower than many other financing types, and you can take longer to pay off the loan. Some types of renovation loans include:

      Is a fixer-upper worth it? The answer, as with any investment, is: "It depends." For many homeowners, a fixer-upper will be the right choice. Just be sure the renovation is not more work and more expensive than you're anticipating. A good real estate agent will also help you make a more informed decision.


      How Long Does It Really Take to Buy a House?

      Are you ready to buy a house? Then it's time to start planning. The more that you plan ahead, the easier that the process will be in the long run. Part of that planning includes knowing exactly how long each step will take, so you know what to expect with each milestone in the purchasing process. Let's take a closer look at what it takes — and how long it takes — to buy a house.

      1. Decide Whether Now Is the Time to Buy
        Before you get serious about buying a house, it's smart to make sure that now is the right time. Having savings set aside will make it easier to put together a strong offer, and a good credit score is key to getting a mortgage.

      2. Find a Great Real Estate Agent (One Week)
        The right real estate agent will make life so much easier as you navigate the purchasing process, so it's worth taking the time to interview a few agents and find the right match. If you have some referrals from trusted sources, then you're already ahead of the game. This step can take anywhere from a few days to a week.

      3. Find a Lender and Get Pre-Approved (One Week)
        Getting pre-approved for a mortgage doesn't mean you have final approval, but it does give you a strong idea of exactly how much you'll have available to spend on your home. Remember that you don't have to take the first mortgage offer. Shop around to find a lender that suits your unique needs.

      4. Shop for Homes and Find a Match (Varies by Individual)
        Shopping for a home is the least predictable part of the process from a time perspective. Maybe you'll fall in love with a home that fits your budget right away, but it can also take anywhere from weeks to months to find the right match. A good real estate agent and a strong idea of what you want from your home can help speed up this step.

      5. Negotiate with the Seller (One Week)
        Depending on the seller and how much competition there is for the home, the negotiating process doesn't have to take very long. Just start out with a viable offer and respond promptly whenever you receive a counter from the seller.

      6. Get Final Approval for Your Mortgage (One to Three Weeks)
        While pre-approval is important, it doesn't mean you will automatically qualify when it's time to secure your loan. The lender will still want to take a closer look at the house you're buying and make sure that your finances are in order before giving final approval.

      7. Home Appraisal and Home Inspection (One to Two Weeks)
        The home appraisal and home inspection are the final key steps to securing your mortgage. You can expect a few days to schedule each appointment and a few more days waiting for a report after each appointment is complete.

      8. Close the Deal on Your New Home (Five to Eight Weeks)
        On average, it takes about 50 days to close on a home after you're done negotiating with the seller. This includes time for the appraisal, inspection, and more. If you or the seller are on a rushed timeline, you may be able to expedite the closing process.

      When you're buying a house, it's always wise to include a little extra time to account for the unexpected. With a plan in place and the right real estate agent, you can navigate the process with confidence.


      Finding a Home Loan Right for You

      Whether you're buying a home for the first time or have navigated the process before, choosing the right home loan is key to long-term financial happiness with your next home. The number of loan options available can feel daunting to sort through, but the good news is there's a loan available to suit the needs of nearly every buyer. The trick is finding the right one for you. Get started with our guide to some of the most common types of home loans and how they might fit your needs.

      • Conventional Mortgages
        Conventional mortgages rank among the most commonly used loans, and there are two types available. Conforming mortgages are backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, with maximum loan limits set by the county. Borrowing with a conforming, conventional mortgage will allow you to make a lower down payment but may require a higher interest rate than other loans. In most cases, you will be required to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI) if your down payment is less than 20 percent.
      • Jumbo Mortgages
        The second type of conventional loan is a non-conforming mortgage, often referred to as a jumbo mortgage. A jumbo mortgage is typically used to purchase homes in affluent areas, where home values are higher than the limits for conforming loans. A jumbo mortgage requires excellent credit, a significant down payment, and extensive documentation to prove that the loan will fit within your finances.
      • FHA or USDA Mortgages
        There are also a variety of government-insured loans available, including FHA and USDA mortgages. FHA mortgages are a popular tool for first-time buyers because they require low down payments and are available to buyers with less-than-perfect credit. USDA loans are primarily used to purchase homes in low-income or rural areas and may not require any down payment for buyers who meet certain income limits.
      • VA Mortgages
        The final type of government-insured loan is a VA mortgage, which is available to military members (active or veteran) and their families. VA mortgages are very flexible, with low interest, no down payment needed, and no requirement to purchase PMI. These loans are generally considered a great option for military buyers because of the flexible terms and minimal requirements.
      • Fixed-rate Mortgages
        When analyzing mortgage options, it's also important to consider how your loan terms might change over time. If you want financial certainty and have the opportunity to lock in a low rate, then a fixed-rate mortgage may provide just what you're seeking. With a fixed-rate mortgage, your interest rate is locked in for the duration of the loan, with terms that usually last for 15, 20, or 30 years. It takes longer to build equity with a fixed-rate mortgage, but choosing a fixed rate allows you to budget precisely for the life of the mortgage.
      • Adjustable-rate Mortgages
        Unlike with a fixed-rate mortgage, your interest rate on an adjustable-rate mortgage can change over time based on market conditions. Some adjustable-rate mortgages will offer a low, fixed interest rate for the first few years, followed by fluctuating rates after the initial term. While adjustable-rate mortgages can offer lower interest rates to start, they also come with risks. Higher interest rates can make your payments unmanageable over time and may also make it harder to refinance if home values drop.

      Choosing the right type of home loan is a big decision, so it's crucial to gather as much information as possible and seek advice from trusted advisors. By fully understanding the options available, you can make the right choice for your financial future.


      5 Reasons to Get Pre-Approved Before House Hunting

      If you've been thinking about buying a house, you're probably excited to get out there and start exploring your options. However, before you begin house-hunting, there's one thing you should do first — get pre-approved by your lender. Sure, it's not the most exciting part of buying a house, but it will help things go much smoother and may save you from a lot of frustration. 

      Still not convinced? Here are five important reasons why you should take the time to get pre-approved before you start the process of buying a house. 

      1. It Makes Your Search More Efficient

      You might think you know how much you can afford to spend when buying a house. However, when you get a pre-approval, the lender looks at your current financial information and lets you know exactly how much they're willing to give you. You'll also know how much you need to put down and your estimated monthly payment.

      Armed with this information, you can make sure you're only looking at homes within your price range. This will help you narrow down your search, saving you both time and frustration. When you know you're shopping in your price range, you can also focus on the home's features rather than on the asking price.

      1. It Makes You a More Powerful Buyer

      It might surprise you to learn that buying a house is often a competitive process. If you end up in a bidding war with other potential buyers, having a pre-approval could increase the chances that the seller will choose your offer. Even if there aren't any other bids, showing that you mean business by coming to the table with a pre-approval can give you more negotiating power.

      1. You're Unlikely to Get an Unpleasant Surprise 

      There are few things worse than falling in love with a home and then finding out you have credit issues or other problems that will prevent you from getting the loan you need. Going through the pre-approval process before buying a house will uncover any potential issues and give you time to fix them before you have to go through the heartache of losing your dream home.

      1. You'll Still Have Time to Shop Around

      It's smart to compare lenders when you're thinking about buying a house. Unfortunately, many buyers mistakenly think that getting a pre-approval means they're stuck with the lender that gave it to them. This isn't the case! You can still shop around and choose the lender with the best offer. Just make sure you get your quotes all within a short time period (typically two weeks or fewer), so your credit doesn't get dinged multiple times.

      1. It Can Speed Up the Closing Process

      When you apply for a mortgage loan, you need to provide a lot of information and complete many different forms. Getting a pre-approval before buying a house means the lender will already have almost all of the information they need. You won't have to scramble to provide documents at the last minute, making the closing process go smoother and getting you into your new home faster.

      These are just a few of the most important benefits of pre-approval. If you think buying a house is in your future, do yourself a favor and start contacting lenders before you're ready to begin your search. You'll be glad you did! 


      Buying a House in the Winter

      Thinking of giving new meaning to "home for the holidays" this year? Winter may not be the first-choice season for buying a house in the eyes of many shoppers, and that's precisely why it's an ideal time for savvy buyers to find the right home in an advantageous market. You will definitely have less competition for buying a house in the winter and may even find a better deal than during the busier spring and summer. If you've been wondering about whether now is the right time to buy, take a look at our list of reasons why buying a house in the winter can be a great idea.

      • Less Competition Makes It Easier to Land Your Top Choice
        There's no doubt that most people plan on buying a house during the spring and summer, which makes winter an afterthought for many shoppers. That's great news for anyone who does choose to shop in the winter because it means that you'll have less competition when you fall in love with a home. With less competition, there's also less chance that you'll have to engage in a bidding war to land your first choice.
      • A Slower Real Estate Market Makes for Motivated Sellers
        Naturally, having fewer buyers on the market also means that the sellers who list during the winter are highly motivated to make a deal. That means that you may be able to find a better price when buying a house in the winter and secure other advantageous terms that a seller may not be willing to provide during busier times.
      • Get a Complete Impression of Properties During the Winter
        Winter is often the most challenging time of year for home maintenance, so shopping during the colder months will often give you a better impression of how well a home has been taken care of, how drafty it is, and how well the heating works. The lack of plant life in the winter also allows you to get a complete impression of the property's exterior than you would in the spring when plants are in full bloom.
      • Faster Closing Times 
        Many sellers who list during the winter are looking to close the deal quickly once they find a buyer so they can move on to their next home. Buying a house in the winter often means faster closing times, so you'll have a shorter wait to move into your new home.
      • Increased Flexibility with Moving Dates
        Ever try to plan a move during the spring or summer? Many movers are booked solid during those months, which means you have to take whatever date and time you can get for your move. With fewer people buying a house during the winter, it will be easier to get your preferred dates from your mover.
      • More Time with Your Real Estate Agent
        While any good real estate agent will make time for their clients no matter the season, there's no doubt that winter is also a slower time for most real estate agents. That means that your agent will have more time to focus on clients like you who are interested in buying a house during the winter.

      Buying a house in the winter may come with some challenges, but it also offers many advantages that simply aren't available during the busiest selling seasons. If you're willing to bundle up and brave the cold, there are great opportunities to be found during the winter months.


      5 Times When It's Okay to Offer Over Asking Price

      You've been thinking about buying a house for some time now, and you've finally found the perfect home. Your dreams are about to come true, and you're thrilled! But... it's not quite done yet. Before the house is yours, you'll need to make an offer, and the seller needs to accept it. This is a critical moment, and you have an important decision to make. 

      Most homebuyers expect to negotiate the price down when they're buying a house. However, there are some times when offering more than the asking price just makes sense. The thought of doing this may make you wince, but if one of the following situations applies, it could be the best move. 

      1. You Know (For Sure) There Are Other Offers
        Bidding wars are common when you're buying a house in a seller's market, but they can really happen at any time. Before you make your offer, it's a good idea to have your real estate agent ask the seller's agent if there are any other offers on the table. If you find out you're going up against other buyers, making a higher offer could give you an edge over the competition.
      2. You're Competing with Cash Buyers
        If you're buying a house with financing, the seller knows your offer is contingent on your loan approval. From the seller's point of view, accepting a cash offer is far less risky. To give yourself the best chances of getting the house you want, you may need to sweeten the pot by making an offer that's high enough to entice the seller to take a risk on you.
      3. You Can't Imagine Losing It
        Buying a house isn't all about money. If you've truly fallen in love and you're sure the house is your dream home, it's definitely not the time to make a lowball offer. You'll be heartbroken if the deal falls through, whereas offering more might help you seal the deal.
      4. The House is Clearly Underpriced
        In some cases, a seller will purposely underprice their home to create a bidding war. If you come across a great house that's clearly well below the market price, you can bet you're not the only one who will notice. Others who are interested in buying a house are likely going to start making offers too.
      5. The Seller Isn't Motivated
        Buying a house from a seller who is just "testing the waters" or in no hurry to sell can be challenging. Sometimes having your real estate agent call the seller's agent is enough to get a good idea of the seller's motivation. You can also look at how long the home has been on the market. If the home is attractive and there's nothing wrong with it, but it's been on the market for more than 30 days, chances are you're dealing with a seller who's in no rush. In this case, making an offer above asking might be the incentive to get the seller to bite. Just make sure you're not offering too much.

      When you're buying a house, making the right initial offer could mean the difference between finally purchasing your dream home and losing out. The stakes are high, so it makes sense to consult with a knowledgeable professional. A great real estate agent will help you analyze the situation, so you can make the smartest offer possible.


      How Home Equity Fuels Your Next Move

      Selling your home is as much of a lifestyle decision as it is a financial decision. Like any other investment, you want to make sure that you're making financially responsible decisions every step of the way. One option that you have when selling your home is to use your current equity to finance your next move. Research shows that more and more homeowners are gaining equity in their homes regardless of state. By paying the equity in your current home towards purchasing a new home, you can achieve your real estate goals sooner than later.

      What is Home Equity?

      The equity in your home is its current value minus the remaining mortgage debt. As you pay your monthly mortgage, you grow the equity in your home. For instance, If you purchased your home for $200,000 using a mortgage loan and only have $50,000 remaining on the loan, your home equity is $150,000.

      How Can I Use My Existing Equity?

      As you consider selling your home, you likely already have another real estate goal in mind. Whether you're downsizing or purchasing a home for your growing lifestyle needs, you'll need to create a plan for how you're going to buy a new house. Instead of using your savings for another down payment, you can leverage the existing equity in your home to fund the purchase of your next home. There are a few ways that you can use your existing equity when selling your home:

      • You could use the existing equity as collateral for your next home.

      As you search for a lender to secure a mortgage for a new home, they may allow you to use the existing equity in your current home as collateral. One advantage of this option is that many lenders will match the rate of your original mortgage.

      • You could use a cash-out refinance.

      The option allows you to pocket the equity as cash to put towards the new home. Prior to selling your home, you may have refinanced your mortgage. This option works similarly, allowing you to use as much as 85 percent of the home's appraised value in equity.

      • You could take out a HELOC.

      A HELOC, or a Home Equity Line of Credit, gives you a set balance that you can use as much as necessary. For instance, if your HELOC is for $20,000, you can choose to only use $10,000 of it. This is beneficial because you'll only pay interest on what you use, not the full amount.

      • You could finance all of your new home's purchase price with your equity.

      A mortgage lender may allow you to accept a loan for 80 percent of the purchase price and then take out a home equity line of credit for the remaining 20 percent. After selling your home, you'll then use the profits to pay off that home equity line of credit.

      Is using your equity to fund a new house purchase the right decision when selling your home? That depends on how much equity you have and how much you need to finance for a new home. Speak with your real estate agent to determine if leveraging your equity when selling your home is right for you.


      Why Buying a House During the Holidays is A Great Idea

      Buying a house? Worried about the real estate market slowing down during the holiday season?

      Getting a transaction done in December can be challenging … for the sellers, that is. They need to work extra hard to advertise a home and make sure it's in great condition for showing. Sometimes that means adjusting their holiday plans or scaling back their usual decorations so the home's great features will shine through.

      But buying a house is very different, and the holidays are no reason to put off your plans.

      In fact, staying in the market throughout winter can actually make buying a house easier.

      Let's look at some of the biggest reasons why:

      1. Sales Prices Are Lower
        Just because the seasons change, it doesn't mean sellers are less motivated. In fact, research by ATTOM Data Solutions shows that December 26 is the best day of the year to buy a home at a deep discount compared to similar homes that sold at other times of the year. The data indicates all the top six days best days to buy were in December. The price difference is more noticeable in colder climates where snow can slow market activity.
      2. Fewer Sellers, Less Time
        Many sellers do step out of the market in the last quarter, concerned that hanging in there could leave them waiting 90 days or more for the right buyer. Sellers who remain tend to be those who have pressing personal reasons to get the transaction finished. 
      3. A Final Tax Boost for the Year
        A huge number of tax benefits can potentially accrue after buying a house. Buyers may enjoy incentives on expenses like property taxes, mortgage interest, and points paid when closing the property. Buying as an investment vehicle can unlock even more tax savings when an appropriate business entity is set up in advance. No matter what approach you take, you could find yourself with a substantial tax refund in the new year.
      4. The Potential for Lower Interest Rates
        Interest rates can fluctuate at any time of year, and the historic lows reached multiple times over the course of 2020 might reverberate through the market for years to come. As a general rule, though, interest rates are low in the winter and get higher and more volatile during the busy seasons of spring and summer. Still, you should work with your real estate agent to make your move at the right time and lock in the best rates you can get.
      5. A Faster Closing Process
        Closing day is the ultimate goal when buying a house, but it can also be very complicated. The traditional closing means meeting up for several hours to sign off on reams of paperwork. It ends with ownership (and the keys!) given over fully to the successful buyer. Many people are involved in this process, and lenders, brokers, inspectors, and even real estate lawyers are usually motivated to get deals done before the end of the year.

      Buying a house can be a great adventure and an important life milestone. If you end up exploring the real estate market near the holidays, don't fret. Connect with a trusted local real estate agent who can help you navigate the twists and turns. As a buyer, you have nothing to lose by seeing what's out there. And before you know it, you might just discover that buying at this time of year was one of your best decisions.


      Getting Out of the Rental Rut

      There's nothing wrong with renting your home. In fact, in certain circumstances, it's the smarter choice. However, if you've been renting for what seems like forever, you might have started thinking about wanting to get out of the "rental rut."

      While it's nice to know you can call the landlord any time there's a problem with the home, there are some major advantages to buying a house of your own. If you've been on the fence about finally taking the leap into home-ownership, consider these important benefits. 

      • You'll Build Equity
        One of the biggest advantages of buying a house is that you're no longer handing over your hard-earned money to pay for someone else's property. Each time you pay your rent, that money is gone, and you have nothing to show for it. Whenever you make an improvement to the home you're renting, or you take care of routine maintenance, you're building your landlords equity – instead of your own. Buying a house allows you to start building your equity. It's a long-term investment that you can sell or take a loan against in the future.

      • You'll Have More Stability
        When you rent, you don't have any control over changes your landlord might decide to make. Not only can your monthly rent payments suddenly go up, but your landlord could also decide to sell the property – meaning you'll have to find a new place to stay. Buying a house gives you a lifetime of predictability and stability. If you get a fixed mortgage, your payments will always remain the same. As long as you keep making those payments, no one can ever tell you it's time for you to go. 

      • You Might Save on Taxes
        In addition to being a great long-term investment, buying a house will likely also create short-term benefits in the form of tax savings. You may have access to the mortgage interest payment deduction, tax write-offs, and other tax deductions that aren't available to renters. This could allow you to start making money back on your investment right away. 

      • You Can Give it a Personal Touch
        Another huge advantage of buying a house is that once you do, it's yours. This means that you don't have to ask permission to paint, change out the carpets, or completely update the landscaping. When you own your home, you're free to give it your own personal touch in any way you see fit. 

      • It's a Great Time to Buy 
        It's one thing to understand the advantages of buying a house. It's quite another to feel financially prepared to do so. Luckily, the current economic conditions are perfect for buying a house. Interest rates are at historic lows, so locking in a mortgage today can save you tens of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of your loan. There are also many programs available that can allow you to buy a home with little to no money down. 

      If you've been thinking about buying a home, now is a great time to do it. However, the inventory of homes for sale has also reached record lows. Since there are fewer houses on the market, it might take you longer to find your dream home. Starting the process of buying a house sooner, rather than later, will give you the best chance to take advantage of these optimal conditions and finally get out of that rental rut. 


      5 Ways to Buy a Home That Won't Bust Your Budget

      Buying a house is one of the most significant financial decisions of your life. Many first-time buyers believe such a decision involves going "all-in." Buying a house does not mean you have to overextend your finances. There are many ways that you can buy a home without busting your budget. With a little patience, research, and practical consideration, you'll be on your way to buying your dream home.

      1. Tally Up Your Current Expenses & Assess Your Finances
        The first thing you need to consider is your current finances. You'll need to add up all of your current monthly expenses and compare them to your monthly income. Once you know how much you're earning and spending each month, you can determine cost-cutting opportunities to increase your savings. Keep in mind that assessing your full financial health means also looking at your credit score. One of the best ways to proactively prepare for buying a house is to get preapproved for a mortgage so you know roughly how much your mortgage payment would be for a home in your budget range.
      2. Create a List of Must-Haves
        One easy way to blow your budget while buying a house is to lose focus on what you need in a home. Before you begin your search: Create a list with three columns: Must-Have, Would-Be-Nice, and Don't Need. Place the features and elements of a home in each column, such as a swimming pool, fireplace, two-car garage, and extra bedrooms. Add community features too, like proximity to schools, sidewalks, streetlights, and gated neighborhoods. 

        As you search, you'll be able to assess each home under your unique rubric so that you're only looking at homes within your budget that meet your needs.
      3. Plan for Increased Costs
        Buying a house is costly, and considering the number of responsibilities it includes, many first-time buyers don't realize how many additional costs are associated. From moving expenses and renovations after the purchase to repairs, replacements, and miscellaneous costs years into homeownership, the expenses quickly add up. One way to keep your finances comfortable is to plan these expenses into your budget. Setting aside $10,000 that would typically be routed to the listing price allows you to have a substantial budget for immediate expenses such as replacing your roof or purchasing new appliances.
      4. Purchase Less Than You Can Afford
        Although it's wise to avoid going over budget, you're not required to spend every cent of your established budget. If you have a maximum budget of $250,000, search for homes in the $200,000 - $225,000 range. This strategy will allow you to remain competitive in the event of a bidding war without overextending your finances. Bidding wars aside, imagine buying a house and still having as much as $50,000 to spare! You can easily put that towards remodeling, repairs, or even as a rainy day fund.
      5. Search for "Undesirable" Homes
        Here's a secret many won't admit: many "undesirable" homes are fantastic opportunities. While some buyers may be skeptical of homes listed on the market for too long, wise house hunters will see this as an opportunity to save some cash. Seek out houses that aren't selling and discover why. It might be because it doesn't have a specific feature that surrounded homes have. These slow-to-sell homes may also have motivated sellers who are willing to drop the price or negotiate on certain closing costs, which means you'll be buying a house for a great value. 

      Buying a house doesn't need to wipe out your bank account. With a little planning and preparation, you can buy a home without busting your budget.


      First-Time Buyer? 10 Things No One Tells You

      Buying a home is one of the greatest feelings, but it can also seem like one of the most stressful and confusing processes. As one of the largest financial purchases an individual will ever make, homebuyers must be as informed as possible. Unfortunately, many facts aren't readily known by most buyers entering a real estate transaction for the first time. If you're considering buying a home for the first time, here are ten essential things that you should know:

      1. You Don't Need an Agent, But You Should Use One 
        You can sell or buy real estate without hiring a real estate agent. However, in many cases, you may lose more money than you save by purchasing a home without an agent's help. Agents have the knowledge, experience, and resources you need to achieve your real estate goals while securing your financial goals.
      2. Buying a Home Involves More Money Than Only the Sale Price
        There are many expenses aside from your down payment, including closing costs, moving costs, repair/renovation costs, and new furniture purchases. As you budget for your home, make sure you're taking more than just the listing price or mortgage price into consideration.
      3. You're Allowed to Ask as Many Questions as You Want 
        You need to be comfortable and confident in the home that you're buying, which means you should ask as many questions as you desire. Your agent and the seller will gladly address your concerns and make sure you can make a responsible, informed decision.
      4. You Don't Need a 20% Down Payment 
        Although it's the standard, a 20 percent down payment is only one of many options. Some lenders will accept lower down payment percentages while other loan programs may not ask for a down payment at all if you qualify. If you have the money on-hand, you can also present a cash offer to the seller.
      5. You Must Have Your Finances in Order 
        Your credit report, income statements, savings account, and mortgage preapproval can influence your ability to buy a home successfully. Before you begin your house hunt, make sure your finances are presentable and that you're able to secure and afford a mortgage loan.
      6. Sometimes, Sales Fall Apart 
        Despite your best efforts, there are many reasons why home sales fall apart even after a seller accepts your offer. From failed inspections to issues with lending institutions, sometimes a home sale does not successfully follow through as planned. Don't be discouraged; your dreams of homeownership will still happen.
      7. No Home is Perfect 
        As you live in your new home, you'll begin to notice certain aspects you don't enjoy. Whether it's the backyard flooding during heavy rainstorms or how the sun heats a particular room in the morning, no homeowner is ever delighted with every inch of their home. Thankfully, you can fix most "imperfections" and make your home that much more enjoyable.
      8. School Districts are Important for All Homeowners 
        Even if you don't have children attending school, the school district serving your home will significantly impact its value over time. Try to purchase a home within a district that has a history of high rankings.
      9. There is No True "Right Time to Buy" 
        Although there are times when the market is generally more favorable to buyers, there is no "perfect" time to buy a home. Even when purchasing a home in a preferable market, the market could change by the time you're ready to sell. The only right time to buy a home is when it feels right for you.
      10. You Don't Need to Buy a Home 
        Buying a home is a great accomplishment, but it's not a requirement to live a happy, fulfilling life. The worst mistake a first-time home buyer can make is purchasing a home when they're not ready. Never feel pressured to buy a house and always trust your instinct throughout the process.

      Buying a home may seem overwhelming, but detailed knowledge of the process can make it much less stressful. Learn as much as you can about buying a home before you place an offer and always consult your agent for advice.


      Five Ways to Get the Most from Virtual Tours

      Real estate's traditional touchpoints are helpful when buying a house, but most people want to avoid all of the face-to-face contact in today's world. To continue offering excellent service, more real estate pros are introducing virtual tours.

      A virtual tour provides you with the opportunity to walk through a home using streaming video. Because of its crisp, live visuals and high interactivity, it's a step up from a static "tour" that uses property photos to create a panoramic view of a home's interiors.

      Touted as "the next best thing to being there," a virtual tour can actually be better than an in-person walkthrough in some surprising ways. And yes, it is a tremendous asset when you're buying a house!

      Here's how to make the most of a virtual tour for your decision-making:

      1. Choose a Live Tour Over a Recorded One
        While a recorded tour could be accessed any time, you don't want to miss out on the opportunity to go live. Your real estate agent should be prepared to walk through the property and give you details on all it has to offer, just as you would expect from a typical tour or open house.
      2. Ask Questions and Make Requests
        A live virtual tour also has the benefit of being interactive. Don't hesitate to ask questions. Keep an eye on the action at all times so you can get clarifications: For example, asking your agent to zoom in on a particular area so you can get a closer look.
      3. Take Your Time
        Without travel time to consider, a virtual tour can be much faster than an ordinary one. Still, you want to take as much time as you need, since setting up a second tour might be a hassle. Block off about 90 minutes to explore a single-family home, even though you might take only an hour.
      4. Review the Instant Replay
        Every virtual tour creates a "permanent record" – the video your real estate agent is taking. Be sure to ask him or her to send you the video so you can review and digest, potentially spotting things you didn't notice before. It's wise to bring this up early so your agent doesn't delete the file by accident.
      5. Take the Chance to See More Properties
        As you're buying a house, you're bound to run into more than one property you find enticing. Use the time you save to compare more homes. Even if you don't see anything else that catches your eye, you'll be able to go forward with confidence knowing you did your research.

      What's the key to success? Don't overlook the value of a virtual tour – but be sure you get the information you need from the experience. Buying a house is one of the biggest decisions you'll ever make, and a good virtual tour can help you get there faster.


      Run Don't Walk! 5 Things to Do When You Find a House You Love

      Sometimes, you just know. Perhaps it's the location, the layout of the home, the backyard, or more likely a combination of many factors. But when you know that a home is the one, it's time to get serious about buying a house you love. Before you can make a competitive offer, it pays to be prepared. That's why you should do these five things when you find a house that you love.

      1. Arrange a Showing to See the Home Firsthand
        With detailed listings, neighborhood guides, property photographs, and more, it's easy to fall in love with a house online. But there's still no substitute for a full tour. If possible, arrange a showing so that you can tour the home in person before you get serious about making an offer. If a showing isn't possible, see if there is a virtual tour or virtual open house available. Getting as much information as possible is critical when buying a home.
      2. Make Sure That Your Finances Are in Order
        Buying a house is so much easier when you prepare your finances in advance, and that starts with your credit score. In the past, you could request a free credit report from the three major credit bureaus annually, and use what you learn to improve your score. However, due to the impact of COVID-19, the three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, are now offering free credit reports to all Americans on a weekly basis through April 2021 so you can protect your financial health. These free credit reports will be available on

        Pay off old debts, and avoid opening new lines of credit before securing a mortgage and buying a house. Save as much as possible for your down payment, to increase the appeal of your offer and keep mortgage payments as low as possible.
      3. Develop a Competitive Offer
        Once you've gotten an up-close impression and decided that this home is the one, it's time to create an offer that catches the seller's attention. Having pre-approval for a mortgage, or better yet, being fully underwritten upfront – is a must for buying a house. Beyond that, in a competitive market, you will want to make a serious offer that comes close to the buyer's asking price, as long as the asking price is reasonable for the current market. A low-ball offer is likely to be ignored and may cause the seller to take you out of the bidding entirely.
      4. Request a Home Inspection to Identify Underlying Issues
        No matter how much you love a property, you should always have it inspected before buying a house. The inspection may reveal hidden maintenance issues that need to be addressed, and the cost of repairs will have an impact on your final offer. In extreme cases, an inspection can uncover serious issues that may make you reconsider buying a house, but typically the cost of repairs can be covered in negotiations.
      5. Consider a Personal Touch to Supplement Your Bid
        While the financial nuts and bolts of your offer have the most significant influence when buying a house, some sellers are also looking for a buyer who truly loves the home and will work to improve it. Sending a personal letter to let the seller know exactly why you love the house and how it fits your family can help tilt the competition in your favor.

      Every negotiation is unique when buying a house, but taking the right steps after falling in love is key to landing your dream home. Learn as much as you can about the property; make sure your finances are in order and make an offer that separates you from other buyers.


      Avoid These 5 Mistakes When You're Buying a Luxury Home

      Luxury home buying is vastly different than traditional real estate purchases. Everything from the way that you search for these properties to how your sales associate assists you through the process is significantly different. It should come as no surprise that many first-time luxury homebuyers often fall victim to these five mistakes:

      1. Choosing an Inexperienced Agent
        Specialty home sales require specialty agents. Hiring an underqualified agent will not have the experience necessary to not only help you find the home you desire but to also help you successfully negotiate the purchase. By enlisting the assistance of an agent who specializes in luxury properties, you have an experienced resource who knows how to navigate these transactions to your benefit.
      2. Failing to Identify Your Homebuying Goals
        Many people dream of owning a "mansion," but few can articulate what they really desire in a property. Before you begin your search, you must be clear about your homebuying goals. This includes detailing everything from amenities and customized design details to the community it's located in and its proximity to other destinations that you frequent.
      3. Shopping By Sight Alone
        It's easy to get overwhelmed by a luxury home's features, and these details can easily leave you with positive or negative first impressions. Tour the home to objectively determine if it will suit your desires. Remember, swapping out countertops is a lot easier than remodeling the floorplan itself.
      4. Overextending Your Finances
        Purchasing and continuing to finance a luxury home is no small feat. Aside from the down payment, closing costs, and various taxes, these homes require significant investments for furnishing and upkeep. Many sellers won't even consider offers from buyers who cannot show that they are preapproved for a loan and that they have assets, employment history, and accounting statements that show that they will handle the financial responsibilities of the home for the long haul.
      5. Unnecessarily Overpaying
        The seller's listing price can be misleading, especially if you're unfamiliar with current market values. Many first-time luxury buyers assume that the listing price is accurate, and unfortunately, pay more than the home is valued at.

      Owning a luxury home is a reality, but you must be aware of potential pitfalls along the way. Avoid these mistakes by enlisting the help of a knowledgeable and experienced luxury real estate agent.


      What You Should Know Before Buying Beachfront Property

      Buying a beachfront property is a lifelong dream for people of all ages, and for good reason! There's nothing like the feeling of salt air in your hair, a cool breeze coming off the water on a hot day, or a pleasant summer evening spent on a patio with waterfront views. But beachfront properties typically come with a premium price tag, so picking the right property is crucial. 

      • A Vacation Home or Permanent Residence?
        Before you start shopping, it's important to decide how you plan to use your beachfront property. Will you be living there full time, using it as a vacation home, or perhaps even renting it out during high-value months? You may have significantly different needs for a vacation home than for a property where you'll be living full time, and that extends to the community where the home is located. A small town with limited services may be perfect for a vacation, but you might want a more robust community for a permanent residence.
      • Deciding Which Type of Beachfront Property Suits Your Unique Needs
        There are so many different types of beachfront properties, from cozy, charming bungalows to sprawling estates, and naturally, those properties will have very different price points. There are also big differences from one beach to the next. Do you want a home near the ocean, or will any beach work? Would you prefer a quiet, out of the way beach, or do you love the excitement and variety that come with seasonal tourists? Both your budget and your preferences should play important roles in picking the right type of beachfront property.
      • Scout Communities That Suit Your Budget
        Once you have an idea of the type of property you want and your budget, you can get busy scouting out potential communities. Visiting communities in person is ideal, but if you're shopping from afar you can still learn a ton online. Consider the services you'll need, the type of lifestyle you want, and the cost of living to identify potential matches.
      • Get to Know the Neighbors
        When you get serious about buying a house in a particular neighborhood, there's no substitute for getting feedback from the locals. If you're able to talk with your potential neighbors – or anyone who has called the neighborhood home for a long time – you can discover so many little things that tell you whether the neighborhood is right for you.
      • Pick a Solid Home to Stand Up to Beachfront Conditions
        Beachfront properties are exposed to the elements far more than most properties, which makes buying a house that can stand up to those conditions more important than ever. Make sure to thoroughly inspect any home that catches your eye, and seek professional opinions on whether the home is worth the investment.
      • Choose a Real Estate Professional Who Knows Beachfront Properties
        While you can learn plenty about beachfront properties from your own research, having the right real estate agent on your side makes a big difference in finding the right match. Choose a real estate pro who has experience with beachfront properties, and can help you focus your search on properties you'll love long-term.

      Buying a house on the beachfront truly can be a dream come true, but there are usually some obstacles to navigate in order to find the right match for your needs. With enough research, a willingness to shop in different areas, and a commitment to finding the property that works for your budget, you can find a beachfront property you'll truly love.


      Do You Have What it Takes to Tackle a Fixer-Upper?

      Buying a house that needs renovations can be a great way to find a deal, but the choice between a move-in ready home and a fixer-upper is about more than just the purchase price. The cost of renovations, the time you have available to tackle DIY tasks, your timeline for moving in, and your risk tolerance all play an essential part in making the right choice. If you have what it takes to tackle a fixer-upper, you may be able to customize your home and save some money on the purchase price.

      • Can Your Budget Accommodate Renovations and Unexpected Costs?
        Naturally, the draw of a fixer-upper is that you can purchase it for a much lower price than a similarly sized and located move-in ready home. The trick is deciphering exactly how much work the home needs, how much it will cost, and whether the combined renovation/purchase cost of the home will ultimately be more affordable than buying a house that's ready right now. When calculating renovation costs, it's also important to budget for the unexpected, because there are often surprises when renovating an older home.
      • How Much of the Work Can You Handle Yourself?
        One way to keep renovation costs down when buying a house is to handle as much of the work as possible yourself, but it's important to be realistic about what projects truly qualify as DIY. If you have experience in the contracting trades or have renovated a home in the past, then you may be able to tackle some of the more costly aspects of renovating. Most people who are buying a house will be able to handle smaller renovation tasks DIY but will need to leave the bigger, more costly aspects of renovating to the pros.
      • How Soon Do You Need to Move In, and Do You Have a Place to Stay?
        When we talk about surprises during renovations, we don't just mean in terms of cost. Time is also an important factor. If you have a place to stay and don't need to move into your new home right away, then time may not be a major issue. If you need to move in ASAP, then a fixer-upper probably isn't the right choice when buying a house.
      • Do You Have Trusted Service Providers?
        No matter how much or how little of the work you can handle DIY, you'll likely still need contractors, an architect, and other service providers to tackle key tasks. It helps to have people you know and trust – or referrals from trusted sources – when coordinating work on a fixer-upper. Having quality service providers helps keep added costs down, and makes it easier to keep the project on schedule.
      • Do You Have a Vision for the Home You'd Like to Create?
        Success with a fixer-upper depends in large part on having a plan and being able to see it through to completion. So it's essential to have a vision of the home that you want to create. If you don't have the desire to customize every detail, then buying a move-in ready house may provide more value for your investment.

      While there are risks involved, buying a house that needs work can allow you to maximize your budget and customize your new home to your preferences. The key is to be honest with yourself about whether a fixer-upper fits your needs, and set clear goals when buying a house.


      Pros & Cons of Buying a Luxury Home

      Does owning a luxury home sound like a dream? For some owners, it's actually a painful reality. While the elaborate designs and dazzling amenities of a luxury property are appealing, buying a luxury home includes the same number of pros and cons that you'd weigh when buying a more modest piece of real estate. Before you set your sights on owning a lavish living space, take a moment to consider a few of the advantages and drawbacks that these homeowners face.


      • Amenities Galore
        Unlike many cookie-cutter developments found in traditional communities, luxury homes are often highly customized and cater to specific interests. Fabulous features like at-home basketball courts, theaters, gourmet kitchens, multi-car garages, separate guest wings, and rooftop entertainment areas are highly desirable. Many of these homes are also ripe for customization, allowing the buyer to transform nearly any room into the space of their dreams. Simply put, luxury homes offer amenities that standard single-family homes and condos simply cannot offer.

      • Enhanced Quality of Life
        Those who purchase a luxury estate often do so for the quality of life it affords. Many luxury homes are located within communities that feature their own world-class amenities like resort-style pools, golf courses, private beach access, fitness centers, restaurants, athletic fields, and so on. These communities are also often located within close proximity to highly desirable shopping, dining, and entertainment destinations.


      • High & Constant Cost of Ownership
        Maintaining a luxury home can be a costly affair. Interior cleaning, exterior upkeep, and repair costs can all add up to tens of thousands of dollars over a few years. These are in addition to yearly property taxes, community fees, and other mandatory expenses.

      • Unpredictable Loss of Value
        Unfortunately, luxury homes are not immune from the volatility of the real estate market. During unfavorable years, these properties can lose enough of their value to significantly displease the owner. There are also ways to lose your investment, even in a healthy market. There are a number of expensive upgrades or renovations that you may choose to complete that may not give you a noticeable return on investment.

      Owning a luxury home is the ideal living situation for some families. For others, it can be a headache and ultimately a bad investment. Be sure to consult with a luxury real estate professional to determine if buying a luxury home is the right decision for your lifestyle.


      Buying a House During COVID-19

      The coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on real estate markets across the country, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you need to put your home-buying plans on hold. Residential real estate sales have been ruled essential services, and the industry has adapted so that you can shop for your next home from the safety of your current residence. There are deals to be found in many markets, for buyers who are willing to adapt to the temporary new normal in real estate. Learn how to find your next home in our guide to buying a house during COVID-19.

      • Be Prepared to Do Most of Your Shopping Online
        In many markets around the country, in-person showings and open houses currently aren't possible due to social distancing regulations. So if you're planning on buying a house, most of your search will likely take place online. Many sellers have adapted by providing virtual tours of homes, in addition to traditional online listings. Virtual showings are a great way to get a deeper impression of a home and explore every room as if you were visiting in person.
      • Attend Virtual Open Houses to Learn about Homes
        In addition to virtual tours, some sellers and real estate agents are offering virtual open houses to help buyers get a stronger sense of what homes have to offer. Virtual open houses have the added advantage of allowing you to ask questions of the real estate agent or seller about the home. If an online listing or virtual tour piques your interest in buying a house, be sure to attend the virtual open house when it's available.
      • If You Can Visit Homes, Prepare to Practice Social Distancing
        If you live in a market that is still allowing in-person visits or a state where markets are beginning to open back up, make sure you're ready to practice social distancing. Wearing a mask or face covering, sanitizing regularly, not touching surfaces, and keeping a safe distance from others can help you stay safe while buying a house.
      • Prepare for an E-Closing or the Use of a Remote Notary
        The typical closing process involves a handful of people gathering in an attorney's office, but that's not currently possible in many locations. Instead, expect to handle your closing digitally with an e-closing, by videoconference with a remote notary, or with a "drive-through" closing where you sign the relevant documents without leaving your vehicle.
      • You Can Handle the Mortgage Process Digitally, Too
        If you're buying a house, then you're probably shopping for a mortgage, too. Fortunately, the mortgage industry adapted to handling things digitally even before COVID-19, so there shouldn't be a huge adjustment. Your lender can help walk you through the process remotely and answer any questions you may have.
      • Is It Safe to Buy a House Without Visiting In Person?
        Whether buying a house sight unseen is a good choice depends on your tolerance for risk, but virtual showings and open houses allow you to get a deeper picture of any property you're considering. Military members and people changing jobs often had to take the plunge without visiting a home before COVID-19, so it's certainly possible to find a great home from a distance.

      While the process may look different from what you'd expect traditionally, buying a house during COVID-19 is certainly still possible as long as you're comfortable handling things digitally. Remember to always check your local coronavirus regulations so you know what to expect when you start shopping.


      Does Your Buyer's Agent Have You Covered?

      Buying a house is a complicated process no matter how many times you've done it, but the right real estate agent can make life much easier.

      Any buyer's agent can tell you that they'll have you covered, but the best agents will earn your business by showing it. They anticipate your needs in advance, guide you through each step of the purchasing process, answer questions, and help you with every milestone on the path to buying a house. With the right agent, you can approach the home buying process with confidence.

      • Regular Communication and Updates
        Communication is crucial when buying a house, so you want a buyer's agent who's easy to reach, contacts you promptly, and reaches out whenever there's an update to share. When you have a question, you want to be sure that your agent will respond quickly with an answer. And if you prefer to communicate by email, social media, instant messaging, or text, make sure your agent is available through your preferred channels.
      • Knowledge of Local Real Estate Markets
        The right agent can tell you about so much more than homes in the communities where you're interested in buying a house. They should be an expert on neighborhoods, school districts, local attractions, and the many little things that go into picking your next community. Of course, a good buyer's agent will also have extensive knowledge of local real estate prices and trends.
      • A Strong Professional Network
        The best agents work hard to establish a strong professional network so that they can point you in the right direction when you need other services related to buying a house. Whether you're looking for a lender, a mover, or a contractor to make repairs, the right buyer's agent will be able to recommend high-quality service providers.
      • Guidance on Local Rules and Regulations
        Local regulations have an impact on so many things, from the long-term costs of owning a home in a community to the ways that you can alter your property after buying a house. Different communities also have varying rules that govern the process of buying a home. Make sure that your agent has extensive knowledge of local rules, to avoid unexpected complications with your purchase.
      • Negotiating Skills
        Whether negotiating the price of your purchase or negotiating for repairs after the home inspection, the best agents have both the skills and emotional intelligence necessary to negotiate with the seller's side. An agent who has you covered will always be looking out for your best interests and will listen to your needs to understand precisely what you want to accomplish in each negotiation.
      • Guidance Through the Closing Process
        The closing process is often a stressful time for buyers, especially if this is your first time buying a house. This is one area where the best buyer's agents shine by guiding you through each step. They'll help you handle the extensive documentation required for closing, and will make sure to tie up any loose ends to avoid complications with closing on your new home.

      If you're still searching for the right buyer's agent, then interview multiple agents that can help you get an idea of what each has to offer. 


      Truth or Dare? I Know How to Win at Price Negotiations

      Do you think that buying a house is a bit easier than others make it seem? Perhaps you're right. After all, many homeowners put their homes For Sale By Owner and likely just as many buyers that choose to forego traditional real estate advice and attempt to purchase the home using only an escrow agency. Many buyers believe that they have the wit and luck to negotiate the sale themselves — even without any prior experience in selling or buying a house. Are these investors coming out on top when buying a home, or are they missing out on the knowledge and experience of a qualified real estate agent who can potentially save them thousands?

      For anyone who has watched potential buyers negotiate a home sale on television or in the movies, spoiler alert, it isn't that simple. While some aspects of a real estate transaction are pretty cut and dry, we caution buyers to attempt price negotiations alone. Money is subject to buyers, and sellers often take it personally. A buyer may be offended by what they perceive as an unreasonable asking price while a seller may be insulted when receiving a lowball offer.

      What many buyers fail to realize is that the price negotiations when buying a home involve much more than the listing price. The "price" of a home is all of the expenditures involved on the buyer's side, financial and otherwise. A seller may agree to pay the price of the closing costs, but the buyer may need to pay the "price" of renovations or furnishings that require an investment after the home purchase is finalized.

      Why Investing in a Real Estate Agent Saves Money When Buying a Home

      While some buyers may balk at the thought of paying a broker to perform a service that they believe they can do themselves, these individuals typically don't understand how much an experienced and knowledgeable agent can save them in the end. Real estate agents are expert negotiators who know not only how to approach this conversation, but also know which aspects of the sale can and should be negotiated for the buyer.

      For example, a buyer may be able to talk a seller down a few thousand dollars on their own, only to realize that they need to replace their roof within a year of the home sale. In contrast, a real estate agent can order a roofing inspection from a certified roofing company and negotiate a replacement roof installation before the sale. The investment of a few thousand dollars ends up saving the buyer upwards of tens-of-thousands of dollars on the roofing and potential damage expenses.

      Can a buyer negotiate buying a home on their own? Absolutely. Some even come out on top in the end. However, this is not a wise decision for most buyers, especially those who are entering into their first real estate transaction. By hiring an experienced real estate agent, buyers have the potential to save more than they ever could have entering into negotiations alone.


      What Can You Expect to Pay at Closing?

      Many first-time homebuyers don't realize that they will be responsible for certain expenses that are due at closing. In addition to a down payment, closing costs are often divided between the seller and buyer. These expenses are a normal part of the home buying process, some of which are traditionally placed under the responsibility of the seller or buyer. Let's define several standard closing costs and identify which party is typically responsible for this expense.

      Common Closing Costs Explained

      Those buying a house should anticipate paying an additional two to five percent of a home's selling price in closing costs. Those selling a property should anticipate paying roughly six to ten percent of the home's selling price in closing costs.

      Common closing costs buyers take on when buying a house include:

      • Loan Origination Fees: These costs are charged by the mortgage lender or financial institution and cover the charges associated with creating the loan applications.
      • Notary Fees: All fees charged by a licensed notary public.
      • Appraisal Costs: The fee charged for a licensed appraiser to appraise the property.
      • Home Inspection Fees: The fee charged for a licensed home inspector to professionally inspect the home.
      • Credit Report Fees: Any fees associated with the running of your credit report through your mortgage lender.
      • Land Survey Fees: Any fees associated with a land survey conducted by a licensed surveyor.
      • Deed Recording Fees: This cost covers the fees associated when the deed transfer is recorded in public records.

      Common closing costs sellers take on when selling property include:

      • Seller Costs: These costs cover payments made to all real estate agents or brokers conducting the transaction.
      • Attorney Fees: Fees charged for legal services rendered by the seller.
      • Unpaid HOA Fees: Any homeowners association fees that the seller still owes prior to the home sale.
      • Property Liens: Any liens or judgments against the property will typically be paid off by the seller.
      • Prorated Property Taxes: Any property taxes accrued up until the home sale.
      • Title Insurance Fees: These fees are typically the buyer's insurance premium.
      • Transfer Taxes: These fees are charged by the local government to transfer the property title from seller to buyer.
      • Loan Payoff Costs: Any interest or prepayment penalty fees the seller incurs when paying off their mortgage loan at the time of the sale.

      In some situations, buyers may be able to negotiate with sellers to relieve themselves of various closing costs. For example, sellers who desire a fast sale may be willing to cover certain costs or buyers may be willing to accept a lower counteroffer if the seller agrees to absorb some of these expenses. If you're interested in buying a house, we suggest that all buyers anticipate these additional costs and save accordingly.


      6 Tips for Moving While Social Distancing

      To update a famous saying, time and tide wait for no man--nor pandemic. If you're buying a house, you may not have the luxury of waiting until things get back to "normal" or some semblance of it.

      But social distancing doesn't have to bring your plans for buying a house to a halt. Use these six tips for incorporating safe and healthy practices when you move.

      1. Ask About COVID-19 Policies
        Moving companies have been declared essential businesses, but each one is responsible for creating and maintaining their own policies safeguarding employees and customers who are buying a house. At a minimum, movers should be using gloves, face masks, shoe coverings, and hand sanitizers. Don't be afraid to ask specific questions about steps the company is taking to keep movers, trucks, and equipment germ-free. It's also vital to clarify cancellation fees and refund policies if worse comes to worst, and you're forced to postpone the move.
      2. Avoid Free Moving Supplies
        When buying a house, packing with boxes recycled from stores, neighbors, or friends has traditionally been an economical and eco-friendly practice. Unfortunately, the spread of COVID-19 has made it too risky to use materials that have been handled by others. Stick to purchasing new boxes and supplies or using what you already have on hand.
      3. Clean and Re-Clean
        One of the first tasks upon buying a house is sorting through possessions and deciding what to keep and what to toss. Now is not the time to indiscriminately pack items in a box and worry about them once you get to your new home. Many possessions have likely been in closets, cabinets, attics, and basements gathering dust. For best results, clean items thoroughly before packing and after unpacking. If you have items to donate or resell, contact the appropriate charity or business about their rules.
      4. Establish Ground Rules
        Whether you use professional movers or go the family-and-friends route, it's more important than ever to make sure everyone is on the same page. Before you begin, review the procedures everyone should follow and get agreement from all. Guidelines to cover include handwashing and sanitizing, maintaining a minimum physical distance, and using personal protective equipment.
      5. Minimize Contact
        Social distancing has made us more aware of situations where germs and bacteria can be transmitted. Consider all the elements of moving and look for ways to minimize contact. Can paperwork and payment be completed online? What is the fewest number of people you need to complete the move? Is it feasible to transport your belongings with a storage pod? If this is your first time buying a house, get input from family and friends about situations you may not anticipate.
      6. Don't Take Chances
        After buying a house, the worst-case scenario would be if you were exposed to COVID-19 pre-move. If that happens, even if you're asymptomatic, postpone the moving date if possible. If not, hire a full-service moving company to handle all packing, transportation, and unloading while you self-quarantine. This is also recommended if you're sick or in a high-risk group, where both conditions lower your resistance.

      Buying a house is rarely easy, and moving during a pandemic can up the uncertainty. Accept the fact that these are unusual times, plan your move with caution instead of fear and enjoy peace of mind in your new home. 


      Buying a Vacation Home in the US? Here's What You Need to Know

      Do you daydream about a waterfront home where you and your family can get away from the stress of daily life on a whim? Forget the worries about availability, fees, or restrictions. As a bonus, you can cover costs by renting the home out periodically.

      If owning a vacation home is part of your American dream, here's some useful information to help you make it a reality.

      • Be Realistic
        People often get caught up in the emotional aspect of having a vacation home without really giving any thought to how much they'll actually use it. What if you grow tired of the spot and want to vacation in different locations? Ultimately, it may be more cost-effective to make a rental arrangement with another homeowner in the area.
      • Crunch the Numbers
        You may spend less time at your vacation home, but it's every bit as much of an expense as your primary residence. Create a detailed budget including mortgage, insurance, taxes, and contingencies such as maintenance and repairs. Be sure to consider how the purchase of a vacation home fits in with retirement, kids' college tuition, and other big-picture goals.
      • Plan for Higher Rates
        Many people who purchase vacation homes still have mortgages on their primary homes, making them a bigger financial risk. As a result, lenders sometimes require larger down payments and higher interest rates for second-home mortgages, especially if it's an investment property.
      • Perform Due Diligence
        While a vacation home may mean fun and relaxation, it's also an investment. Approach the purchase just as you would any other major purchase and gather all the appropriate facts. You might discover that the location you have in mind has a dismal outlook in terms of real estate trends.
      • Rent First
        Are you considering a certain area based on recommendations from friends or glowing reviews in travel magazines? That doesn't mean it's a good fit for you. Rent a home first and spend some time getting to know the area before you make a bigger commitment.
      • Know the Difference Between "Vacation" and "Investment"
        Regardless of your perspective, lenders and the IRS have specific definitions of what constitutes a vacation home vs. an investment property. For example, some lenders will consider a second home to be an investment property if you rent it out at all, while the IRS affords some leeway.
      • Learn the Tax Ramifications
        Tax write-offs are one of the benefits of homeownership. This also applies to vacation homes, but different criteria may apply. It's well worth the cost to consult an attorney, CPA, or another professional who is knowledgeable about current tax codes.
      • Have a Rental Plan
        How much will you charge? Is the property governed by the rules of a homeowners association? Will you use Airbnb or another third-party service? If you're planning on renting out the home for a significant part of the time, don't expect to play it by ear.
      • Be Cautious About Alternative Ownership Options
        Fractional ownership, timeshares, and other plans involving multiple parties may sound like a good answer but tread lightly. Not only do these plans come with a wide range of restrictions, but reselling them can be difficult at best.
      • Work With a Local Real Estate Agent
        The expert guidance you get from a real estate agent who knows the area you're looking at can be invaluable.

      Businessman Arnold Glasow once said, "The average vacation is one-tenth playing and nine-tenths paying." With some clear-eyed planning, you can change that ratio with a smart investment in a vacation home that provides endless enjoyment.


      Buying a House? Not as Easy As It Looks on TV

      Do you think that buying a house is a bit easier than others make it seem? Perhaps you're right.

      Many people believe that they have the wit and luck to negotiate the sale themselves — even without any prior experience in selling or buying a house. Are these investors coming out on top when buying a home, or are they missing out on the knowledge and experience of a qualified sales associate who can potentially save them thousands?

      For anyone who has watched potential buyers negotiate a home sale on television or in the movies, spoiler alert, it isn't that simple. While some aspects of a real estate transaction are pretty cut and dry, we caution buyers to attempt price negotiations alone. Money is a subject buyers and sellers often take personally. A buyer may be offended by what they perceive as an unreasonable asking price while a seller may be insulted when receiving a lowball offer.

      What many buyers fail to realize is that the price negotiations when buying a home involve much more than the listing price. The "price" of a home is all of the expenditures involved on the buyer's side, financial and otherwise. A seller may agree to pay the price of the closing costs, but the buyer may need to pay the "price" of renovations or furnishings that require an investment after the home purchase is finalized.

      Why Investing in a Real Estate Agent Saves Money When Buying a Home

      While some buyers may balk at the thought of paying an associate to perform a service that they believe they can do themselves, these individuals typically don't understand how much an experienced and knowledgeable professional can save them in the end. Real estate agents are expert negotiators who know not only how to approach this conversation, but also know which aspects of the sale can and should be negotiated for the buyer.

      For example, a buyer may be able to talk a seller down a few thousand dollars on their own, only to realize that they need to replace their roof within a year of the home sale. In contrast, a real estate agent can order a roofing inspection from a certified roofing company and negotiate a replacement roof installation before the sale. The investment of a few thousand dollars ends up saving the buyer upwards of tens-of-thousands of dollars on the roofing and potential damage expenses.

      Can a buyer negotiate buying a home on their own? Absolutely. Some even come out on top in the end. However, this is not a wise decision for most buyers, especially those who are entering into their first real estate transaction. By hiring an experienced real estate agent, buyers have the potential to save more than they ever could have by entering into negotiations alone.


      10 Valuable Homebuying Lessons

      When it comes to parenting, teaching home skills is considered a major part of the job. But while their kids may know how to cook a steak or fix a leaky pipe, the basics of actually buying a house are frequently overlooked.

      For most people, a home is the biggest and most significant purchase they'll make. Are you ready to take that step? Here are ten lessons your parents never taught you about buying a house.

      1. Consider Location
        We've all heard the #1 mantra of real estate: "Location, location, location." Even so, when buying a house, many people minimize the importance of location and focus on the home itself. The right location affects lifestyle as well as the property value. Is it worth owning a larger home if you have a long commute to work or you're far from services and amenities? Establish priorities first.
      2. Set Your Budget
        Don't confuse pre-qualification limits with a budget. Lenders will often give you pie-in-the-sky numbers without knowing how comfortable you are with debt and other criteria specific to your situation. When calculating your budget, don't forget to allow for related expenses such as closing costs, mortgage interest, and insurance.
      3. Check Your Credit Score
        While FHA and other government-backed loans may accept slightly lower numbers, traditional lenders generally require a minimum credit score of 620 for mortgage approval. In addition, the higher your credit score, the lower the interest rates you can qualify for.
      4. Put Down as Much as You Can
        It's tempting to go with a mortgage that requires little to no money down, but you'll end up regretting it in the long run. A standard 20 percent down payment reduces your monthly obligation and gives you equity upfront.
      5. Get Pre-Approved
        Pre-approval is a more precise, in-depth process than pre-qualification. It spells out exactly how much a lender is willing to give you and lets sellers know you're not just a lookie-loo.
      6. Use All Five Senses
        Appearances can be deceiving, so go beyond the surface. You're buying a house, not touring a museum. Don't be afraid to knock on walls, look in closets and cabinets and investigate odd sounds and smells.
      7. Operate on Your Own Schedule
        If you're not ready, don't let someone else's timetable sway you. Despite what anyone may tell you, there will always be more houses on the market. "Last chance" is a myth.
      8. Don't Ignore the Exterior
        Some homeowners sink all their funds into the house itself, neglecting landscaping and other outside features. Upgrading the yard, garage, and home exterior can be just as expensive as indoor remodeling.
      9. Be Flexible
        Buyers sometimes have a misconception that bidding on a home is a cut-and-dried process. Everything is negotiable, but keep in mind you should be prepared to give something in order to get something. If you find yourself on the losing side of several bids, reexamine your strategy and make necessary adjustments.
      10. Seek Professional Advice
        Successfully navigating a real estate transaction from start to finish is challenging, especially if you're a rookie. The experience and know-how of a professional real estate agent are invaluable in terms of the time, trouble and money they can save you.

      Buying a house is serious business, but it doesn't have to be scary. As with most worthwhile activities, preparation makes all the difference.


      Your Guide to Buying a Home

      Based on the size of the investment, the intricacy of legal documents and the potential for second-guessing, buying a house is one of the most intimidating decisions most of us will ever face. With so many moving parts and the amount of technical knowledge involved, how can anyone be expected to make the right call?

      To borrow a popular expression, buying a house is like eating an elephant: take it one bite at a time. Plan your strategy with this practical list that demystifies the steps of the homebuying process.

      1. Put Your Financial Ducks in a Row
        Knowing what you can comfortably afford removes a lot of the guesswork. Take a clear-eyed look at your savings, budget and credit score. If any element isn't where it needs to be, take steps to correct it.
      2. Get Pre-Qualified and Pre-Approved
        Pre-qualification is a ballpark estimate of how much money you could potentially borrow, calculated off of general information you provide. When you get a little further into the buying process, a lender will use verified documentation to provide pre-approval for a specific amount. While you will still need to complete a mortgage application, pre-approval signals your status as a motivated buyer and demonstrates your financial worthiness.
      3. Do Your Homework
        Once you've established a price range you can afford and what features and amenities you're looking for, study real estate listings in your preferred area. See if your wish list is realistic according to current asking prices. Pay attention to fluctuations and how long homes remain on the market.
      4. Find a Dependable Real Estate Agent
        DIY is great when you're remodeling or upgrading your home, but when you're actually buying a house? Not so much. An experienced and knowledgeable real estate agent is worth their weight in gold in terms of the time and money they save you. And the fee is paid by the seller, so you have everything to gain and nothing to lose.
      5. Start Looking in Earnest
        Now that you have your price range and neighborhood dialed in, it's time to get serious. Huddle up with your real estate agent to find listings that fit your criteria and make some in-person visits.
      6. Make an Offer
        This can be one of the scarier steps in the process, but one where your real estate agent is truly invaluable. What contingencies does the offer need to cover? Do you offer the asking price or take a chance on a lower bid? Your agent can help answer all these questions and more.
      7. Schedule a Home Inspection
        You have no doubt looked in closets, turned faucets and light switches off and on and made sure doors open and close. A formal home inspection goes deeper into structural and technical issues that affect the saleability of the house. Depending on the results, you may choose to negotiate for repairs or a reduction in the sale price.
      8. Apply for a Mortgage
        Conventional, FHA, adjustable rate. There is a wide array of elements that go into a mortgage. A good mortgage lender will help you sort them out and find the type of loan that best meets your needs.
      9. Obtain an Appraisal
        The lender will arrange for a third-party appraisal to confirm that they're financing you for a fair price.
      10. Close the Sale
        Limber up your wrists. Purchasing documents still require a live signature, so be prepared to do a lot of writing.

      And just like that, the elephant is gone. When you follow these steps, buying a house becomes a lot less overwhelming and a lot more fulfilling.


      Making the Switch: Transferring Your Utility Services

      Buying a house is one of the biggest investments you'll ever make. It's easy to get excited about moving into a new home; however, too often we do not pay attention to the details that lead up to that long-awaited move-in day.

      There's a long list of things that you need to do to ensure a smooth transition, and one of them is transferring your utilities. You don't want to spend your first night in your new home without electricity, water, or gas. Ahead, we take a look at five things to remember about setting up your utilities when moving into your new home.

      1. Start Early
        When buying a house, you need to start the process of transferring your utilities as early as possible if you want to complete the switch-on time. Start to think about what utilities you want to shut off in your old place and turn on in your new home. That way, you will have a lot of time for any in-person appointments you might need to switch your utilities before moving into a new house.
      2. Make A List of Current Providers
        Make a list of all utility providers that you currently have accounts with before you start calling. Write down your account number and the company's telephone number alongside each provider. Having this information organized will make things easier when calling to transfer your utilities. Some of the services you might have to transfer include gas, electricity, internet, and waste removal.
      3. Find Out Who Your Providers Will Be
        Some of your current utility providers may not provide service to your new home depending on where and how far away you are moving. Unfortunately, this means that you won't be able to simply switch over your account to a new address. Therefore, you will have to find new utility providers in your new locality. One of the best ways to go about it is to inquire at the local city hall or municipal building. You can also ask your real estate agent or landlord.
      4. Notify Your Utility Providers of The Move
        After you have all the utility information in one place, it's time to contact each provider separately to let them know that you will be moving. We recommend that you notify your utility providers about the move at least two weeks in advance. It's always a good idea to call about a month in advance for utilities that need installation such as internet and cable services.
      5. Update Your Address and Clear Your Final Bill
        Don't forget to update your address. Be sure to provide your new address when calling utility providers and change your mailing address with USPS. You can easily choose the date that you wish to start forwarding your mail by visiting their website. That way, utility providers will be able to send you the last bill that will be ready soon after the shut off/disconnection date.

      Finally, don't forget to have your utility providers come to your house and do a final reading of your electric, water, and gas meters before moving. Make a copy of the meter reading reports for your files just in case you receive any unexpected bills. Generally, moving can be stressful, but using this checklist will help you switch utilities to your new home with minimal hassles. 


      6 Questions to Ask Before Buying a Condo

      Are you buying a home? Consider a condo!

      A condo can be a great way to get a first home, downsize without losing amenities, or build value for the future. However, there are a few details about condo living you might not realize.

      1. What Are the Average Condo Fees?
        Because condos tend to share walls and landscaping, management needs a way to pay for community property. Condo fees meet that need, but they can be confusing for first-time buyers – partly because they go up and down.HOAs can levy assessments for improvements, such as repaving. These projects may have little impact on your quality of life, but you may be required to pay them. 
      2. What Do Condo Fees Pay For?
        Condo fees pay for "must-have" expenses like snow removal and lawn care. However, other features vary by development. Some condos offer free storage space, and others don't. Bear in mind luxury amenities like pools and tennis courts can lead to higher fees.
      3. Are There Any HOA Red Flags?
        Several signs can indicate the homeowners association isn't all it's cracked up to be. First is a lack of reserve funds. Low reserve funds may mean fees increase in the near future – it only takes one fire, weather event, or other problem to trigger an assessment.

        Naturally, you should talk to residents (past and present!) to get the scoop. Be wary if there are complaints about poor maintenance or fund misuse. Also, ask if the development has changed owners or has pending litigation.
      4. What Are the HOA's Rules?
        Everyone moving into a condo must agree to HOA rules sooner or later. They are spelled out in CC&Rs – "Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions." This standard document will outline all the rights and responsibilities condo residents must follow.

        While most HOA rules are minor, some might cramp your style. You may not be able to paint your home any color you want or decorate outside in specific ways. Breaking these rules can result in fines and even eviction.
      5. Are the Units Modern and Well-Maintained?
        It's crucial to go over every aspect of the condo with a fine-tooth comb. The units should be clean and tidy. Water heaters should be relatively new: They typically last 15 years.

        Be wary of older condos. Outdated materials and construction practices can cause big repair bills or even put you in danger. Lead paint and popcorn ceilings are risks, the latter because of asbestos. These hazards are most likely for condos built before 1982.
      6. What is the Potential Resale Value?
        There's good news and bad news when it comes to resale value. First, the good news: Condos typically outperform detached homes when it comes to appreciation. The bad news: Most buyers aren't in the market for condos at any given time.

        Resale value is highest in developments where buyers outnumber renters. There should be few unsold units unless new units have only recently been completed. And, of course, HOA fees should line up with similar developments in the area.

      When you're house hunting, if buying a single-family residence doesn't meet your needs, a condo can be just the thing. With these six questions in mind, you'll be equipped to make the best choice for you.


      What Baby Boomers Want in a New Home

      Baby Boomers have led the way in many areas, and now they're redefining what retirees want in a new home. Unlike the generation before them, Boomers, who are between ages 55 and 73 in 2019, are not ready to live the easy life. They want homes that support their active lifestyles without sacrificing other amenities.

      The following are some of the attributes Baby Boomers are looking for when they're buying a house:

      • Diversity
        Rather than looking for a quiet retirement community, many Baby Boomers are looking for diverse communities that have residents from all age groups. They want to interact with everyone from young families to older residents, and communities that have amenities like clubhouses can make this easier.
      • Luxuries
        Some Baby Boomers may want to downsize their homes a bit when it comes to square footage, but they want upscale features. Superior construction is important to them, and they want to have the latest finishes, wood floors, and upgraded trim. Because they may have lived in an older home for a while, newer amenities are important to them in what they see as their dream home.
      • Accessibility
        One-level homes or two-story homes with first-floor master suites are important to Baby Boomers, who are thinking about current or future mobility issues. Other features that increase accessibility, such as raised dishwashers, lowered microwaves, and multi-level countertops, are also popular among this age group.
      • Low maintenance
        Boomers are usually still quite active and have more free time than younger homeowners, but they don't want to spend their time mowing the lawn or making repairs. Buyers who are moving from older homes appreciate newer homes that are move-in ready and won't need many repairs in the near future. Although they like to have a lawn and patio, they don't have to be large. Having outdoor maintenance taken care of as part of a homeowners' association agreement is also a plus.
      • Location
        Location is a priority when you're buying a home, no matter what your age. While younger homebuyers want a home in a good school district, Baby Boomers often want to move closer to their children and grandchildren. Many, however, prefer to live close to their current home so they can maintain relationships with friends and be close to their favorite restaurants, doctors' offices, shops, and other familiar locations.
      • Proximity to recreation
        Since Baby Boomers are more active than previous generations were at this age, they want to enjoy recreational pursuits now that they finally have the time to do so. Many want to live near the water, and communities that offer amenities such as a pool, tennis court, and fitness center are also popular. Living near places to hike and play golf is also a priority.
      • An office space
        A dedicated office space that allows Baby Boomers to work at home – either full-time or part-time – is a priority to many who are buying a house. They're putting off retirement until a later age when compared to previous generations, and they want a separate room to work in that gives them privacy and lets them draw a clear line between work and leisure time.

      Baby Boomers have different priorities than their parents, and other generations have had at a similar age. They're usually still quite active, and they're looking to spend their time on leisure pursuits and possibly their profession rather than on chores at home. As a result, they're focused on buying a house that makes it easy for them to age in place with what they value.


      How to Spot a Walkable Neighborhood

      The ability to get around without a car can really make a neighborhood feel like home. Not to mention walking is good exercise, relaxing, convenient, economical and better for the environment. With all those benefits, it's no wonder living in a walkable neighborhood is something homebuyers really want. Here's what to do when buying a house in a walkable neighborhood.

      • Do some research.
        There are websites that can give you some general insight into a neighborhood and you can read comments and ratings from people that actually live there. Although the true walkability of the neighborhood may be difficult to determine by using only online information, you can use other information about the neighborhood to help determine if it's walkable enough to consider buying a house there. How many people live in the neighborhood, what kinds of places there are to walk to, low crime and proximity to public transportation can be good indicators. If you're familiar with the neighborhood you can ask some people there.
      • Look for a neighborhood center.
        Walkable neighborhoods have some kind of a hub that draws people there and encourages them to walk around. Parks and public spaces or a main street business district can easily attract pedestrians.
      • Use tech for a virtual tour.
        Use Google maps street view to "walk" the neighborhood before going to see it in person. Just keep in mind this might not tell the whole story since you probably won't know when the photos were taken.
      • Visit the neighborhood in person at different times of the day.
        Take notice of how much pedestrian and bike traffic you see. Notice how often the buses run. See if the places you would go to are open for business when you would use them.
      • Look for pedestrian-friendly features.
        The two big ones are obviously crosswalks and pedestrian signals. But others to look for include wide sidewalks, cut out curbs that slope to avoid step-ups, some shade, and street furniture like benches where you can stop to rest. These little things indicate walkability is actively being encouraged.
      • Do a "near me" search while you're in the neighborhood.
        Search for something you would use often such as coffee shops, the grocery store, or places to work out. Are the walk times reasonable and would you actually do it every day? Are the routes you would take easy to navigate?
      • Look for local dining spots.
        If there are plenty of places to eat, other people in the neighborhood are likely to be out and about as well.
      • Check out the commute.
        Not only to know how you would get to work but so you can see how many people in the neighborhood walk, bike or take public transportation. When modes of transport other than cars are easy to access and work well, more people are likely to use them.

      If finding a walkable neighborhood is one of your top priorities when buying a house doing a little research will go a long way toward finding the right neighborhood for you.


      How To Get Your Lowball Home Offer Accepted

      In general, a lowball offer is anything 15% or more of the seller's asking price. However, this depends on the seller's perceptions. If a price is at the low end of what a seller hopes for, just about anything could be thought of as low.

      That said, making a lowball offer isn't the end. It's always better to try!

      Talking to a seller's agent early on can clue you in that a lowball offer is worth making:

      • The property is inherited and the seller wants to move fast to avoid upkeep costs.
      • The listing price for the home is already higher than the local market will bear.
      • The house is old or inspection discloses that it is need of substantial repairs.

      Even if none of these situations apply, that doesn't mean it's time to give up. Several techniques make buying a house with a modest offer easier. Here's how you can get it done right:

      1. Choose an Agent Who Knows How to Negotiate
        Not everyone is a born negotiator. Even those who have the iron nerves and proactive temperament often have to spend years developing the right skills. That goes double in real estate, where both the stakes and emotions can be high. Choose an agent who has a proven record getting the best deal in challenging situations and you'll get better results.
      2. Don't Neglect the Seller's Agent
        The seller isn't the only person on the other side of the negotiating table: The seller's agent is a key figure. He or she will decide how to frame an offer when discussing it with the seller, which can make or break your deal. If the seller's agent is convinced that the offer meets the seller's needs, you've just won an important ally.
      3. Pay Attention to the Listing's History
        Ideally, a home should be sold within 30 days of the initial listing. For most properties, 31 to 60 days isn't a crisis – but every day after that raises red flags. Homes that last 90 days or longer have a greatly reduced chance to sell. Tune in to the signals the listing sends you, in terms of price changes, date, and updates, to find ways to sweeten your offer.
      4. Keep the Seller's Motivation in Mind
        Depending on the time of year and the state of the market, time or flexibility can be just as vital to a seller's interests as a handsome payday. Explore the seller's other needs and motivations for listing at a certain time. This can provide you negotiating leverage at no cost to you if, to give one example, you're able to help sellers out by closing on the timeline they need.
      5. Be Sure the Offer Really is Low
        It might sound strange, but it is possible to overestimate how well the local housing market is doing. If your agent is on the ball, he or she knows what amount similar local properties have sold for recently. Market trends can quickly change what counts as a high or low offer. Regional background can give people varying perspectives on different figures, too.

      Consider a lowball offer a golden opportunity: If you move forward with confidence, you might just save yourself tens of thousands of dollars when buying a house. Remember: The worst they can do is say no.


      How to Buy the Wrong House

      We spend a lot of time talking about how to buy the right home, and for good reason! Buying a house is a complicated process, and the right advice can have a big impact on your bottom line. But... don't you ever wonder what it would take to buy the wrong house? Sometimes knowing what not to do is half the battle, and that's certainly true when buying a house. So without further ado, we present to you the perfect plan for buying the wrong house – AKA what not to do when shopping for a home.

      • Definitely Don't Do Any Research Online
        If you're trying to buy the wrong home as quickly as possible, then there's no time for little details like researching homes and communities. Knowledge will only slow you down. Instead, go entirely with your gut, and ignore the information that most shoppers rely on when buying a house. Just to be safe, avoid asking for opinions on potential destinations from trusted sources. If you want to get technical, you can always print out a nice map and throw darts at it.
      • Why Bother with a Real Estate Agent?
        A real estate agent takes a small commission from the sale, but what do they really do for you? If you have no need for community expertise, a comparative market analysis, or trusted, personalized advice from a real estate expert, then you have no need for a real estate agent. After all, it's not like the right agent could save you thousands in negotiations, or scour the market to help you find the perfect property... right?
      • Who Needs Mortgage Pre-Approval?
        Sure, you'll probably need a mortgage to purchase a home unless you happen to be sitting on a pile of cash, but that can wait. Getting pre-approved might make it much easier to negotiate when buying a house, but that would take the time you could be using to not research communities. Better to just wait until the last minute, and let the chips fall where they may.
      • Any Neighborhood Will Do the Trick
        Everyone knows that the neighborhood you choose has nothing to do with how happy you'll be with the house. After all, it's not like you'll be spending years of your life there, visiting local attractions, getting to know the neighbors, and becoming part of the community. If you want to make sure you get the wrong home, try pulling neighborhoods out of a hat, or just pick the one with the nicest name.
      • Love at First Sight
        When shopping for the wrong house, it's important to know what you want. There's no time for debate, careful consideration, or expert advice. Instead, focus on a property that causes you to fall in love at first sight, and avoid doing any further research on the property. Don't get bogged down in unimportant details, like whether the home will still be standing five years from now.
      • No Need for an Inspection
        Once you fall in love with the wrong home at first sight, you'll want to avoid anything that will make you fall out of love. The foundation may be crumbling, but did you see that breakfast nook? A thorough review of the home's health will only raise questions, so it's better to avoid it entirely.

      Buying the wrong home may feel like it takes a lot of work, but nobody said it would be easy. Or you could do the opposite of these tips and find a home you'll love long-term... but where's the adventure in that?


      Is Your New Home in the Right Neighborhood

      Becoming a homeowner is about more than finding a great house. In a perfect world, your dream home will also be located in your dream neighborhood. And while it may not always be a perfect world, that doesn't mean you can't have both. 

      When you're looking at homes, it's important to consider the surroundings as well as the amenities of the house itself. Here's how to make sure your new home is in the perfect neighborhood for you. 

      • Make a list.
        Ask yourself what you want to have in the general area of your new home. Maybe you'd like to have lots of nightlife options nearby, or perhaps you'd prefer to live on a quiet street far from all that hubbub. It could be that you want to have the mall nearby, or a quiet coffee shop to walk to, or a park next door where you can walk your dog. Write down a solid set of "must-haves" and "would-like-to-haves" so you can evaluate the neighborhood.
      • Compare types of homes.
        Do you see yourself buying a historic house, or living in a newly built condo? Older houses are typically located closer to city centers with all the amenities of downtown close by, while new constructions are more often located in suburban areas.
      • Think of the children.
        Do you have kids? Can you see yourself having them while you live in your new home? That can add a whole new set of requirements, like having great schools and parks nearby and paying extra attention to neighborhood safety. 
      • Consider the commute.
        Everyone has their own definition of what constitutes a doable commute. Maybe you don't mind driving an hour to and from work every day, or maybe you want to walk just down the block to your office. Either way, be sure to consider how much travel time you're willing to spend going to and from work.
      • Go exploring.
        When you find a house you like, it's time to put boots on the ground. Online tools like Google Maps are great for getting a general idea of what you can expect to find in the vicinity of the house, but there's no substitute for exploring the area in real life. Take a walk and go for a drive around the neighborhood to see how it feels in person.
      • Look and listen.
        Don't stop at a visual assessment of the neighborhood; it's also important to listen. If you hear barking dogs, traffic from the nearby interstate, or party noise, you're probably going to be hearing them for years to come, so make sure you're okay with that.
      • Check out other houses.
        Look at all the homes on your block, not just the one you want to buy. If you see well-kept homes with clean, tidy yards, that's a sign that it's a neighborhood where the residents take pride in home ownership. It's also a great idea to talk to some of your future neighbors and get some honest opinions about the neighborhood.
      • Ask yourself what's missing.
        Is there something specific that your current home doesn't offer? It could be that you're landlocked and always wanted to live near the beach. Or maybe you like to bike around, but live in a very un-bike friendly neighborhood. Look for a place to live that offers the things you want, but don't currently have. 

      Whether you're looking for your next home or your first home, a lot of different considerations come into play. Be sure to look beyond the walls of your house itself, and find a neighborhood that you can call home for years to come. 


      Today's Buyer: How Technology Helps You Buy a Home

      Technology changes everything, from the way we communicate to the way we experience the world. It would be impossible to count the ways in which technology has changed real estate in recent years.

      But the real question isn't how has technology changed the game, it's how can you use it to help you win. If you're gearing up to buy a home, it's essential to use technology to your advantage. Luckily, there are a lot of ways to do just that. 

      • Searching for a Home
        The Web has vastly improved the speed and ease at which today's buyers can search for homes. A lot of the long-distance driving associated with finding a home has been replaced with online searching. Real estate websites have made it much faster to conduct an online search and narrow down your options before you start visiting homes in person. These websites are not exactly new, but they continue to evolve, with ever-improving tools to search for homes based on price range, location, amenities, and many other criteria.
      • Finding an Agent
        With or without technology, a skilled real estate agent is still one of the greatest resources you can have. But the ways you can connect with real estate agents have greatly improved thanks to technology, which allows you to view an agent's accomplishments, awards, and experience at the touch of a button. Social media also makes it easier to learn more about a prospective real estate agent; chances are your agent will have personal and/or professional profiles on all the major social media platforms.
      • Viewing Homes
        It wasn't long ago that browsing online real estate listings meant endlessly scrolling through blurry pictures of houses in an attempt to find something that met your needs and fit your price range. Today's listings are different. Thanks to sellers' and agents' increasing ability to harness technology, it's much more common now to see beautiful, professional photos of every home, and sometimes even 360-degree views inside. Plus, tools like Google Maps make it easier to explore remotely, with street-level views that make it possible to get a feel for a city or town even if you're on the other side of the country. 
      • Getting a Mortgage
        Securing a home loan has never been the most enjoyable part of the home-buying process. Technology hasn't changed that, but it has made searching for a mortgage much faster and more convenient. Before you head to a lender in search of pre-approval, you can get a free credit report online to see if you need to work on your credit or use one of many free mortgage calculator apps to get an idea of how much you may qualify for. Many financial institutions also offer online applications, allowing you to get pre-approved for a home loan right from your laptop. 
      • Closing on a Home
        Attending a home closing in person has long been a requirement for buyers, even though sellers have had the ability to skip out on the proceedings for years. With the increasing availability of remote closings, that's no longer the case. It must be said that there are drawbacks to not being physically present on closing day, especially if you have questions, but for anyone moving a great distance, the ability to close on a home remotely and sign documents online can be a huge advantage. 

      When you're ready to become a homeowner, technology is one of your greatest assets. Learn to use it to your advantage, and you already have a leg up on the search for your dream home. 


      Tips on Buying Land for Sale

      Are you considering a move to the country, on a lot where you can build the unique home of your dreams? There are many advantages to buying acreage, but the process is a bit different that what you may be used to when buying a house. Location is still a huge priority, and it's important to know exactly what to look for from the right piece of land. Understanding how to identify the right acreage for your needs will make it much easier to find the ideal match, whether you're buying as an investment or looking for a place to build your next home. Start the process with our six tips for buying an acreage that you'll love long-term.

      1. Remember That Location Is Still King
        It may be a bit different than choosing the right location in an urban setting, but selecting the right location for your acreage is still one of your most important priorities. Consider your commute time for work, how long it will take to reach necessary nearby services, and of course what you want from the setting of your property. Every shopper is different, and the right location for you depends on personal factors.
      2. Consider the Availability of Services
        Buying an acreage doesn't mean going "off the grid," so you'll definitely want to check on the availability of key services like utilities, garbage collection, internet service, and road maintenance. Learn whether there are any existing wells on the property, assess their quality, and find out if you will have to build a new septic tank for your home.
      3. Learn the Rules of the Land
        Acreage can be a blank canvas for building a new house, but first, you'll want to make sure there aren't any restrictions on how you can use the land. Find out if there are any protective covenants or ordinances that regulate how you can use the land, as well as any local zoning laws that apply to the property. Contacting the local zoning commission is the best place to start when discovering how you can use a potential property.
      4. Research Property Boundaries
        In addition to learning about zoning rules, you'll also want to know exactly how much land you'll be getting when you buy an acreage. You can check with the county assessor's office to find out exactly how many acres are being taxed for the property, which will give you a strong idea of what you're buying. For added security, consider hiring a professional surveyor to analyze the property boundaries.
      5. Consider Additional Costs of Ownership
        Maintaining an acreage may come with additional costs, like an ATV, mower, garages, and farming equipment if you plan to grow food. Consider how you expect to use the land, and plan for any additional costs of ownership that may arise.
      6. Rely on Your Real Estate Agent
        Whether you're buying acreage or buying a house, the right real estate agent can make life so much easier. Start the process by interviewing agents with rural experience until you find someone who suits your needs, and then rely on your agent whenever you need advice. The right agent will have the experience and knowledge necessary to allow you to purchase acreage with confidence.

      Buying an acreage may be different from buying a house, but the processes also share many similarities. By choosing the right location, preparing for costs of ownership, learning the rules of the land, and relying on your real estate agent to assist you throughout the process, you can find the acreage that best suits your needs.


      5 Reasons to Buy Instead of Rent

      While renting a home is a rite of passage for most people, there comes a time when most of us get tired of stroking a check to the landlord every month. If you've started thinking about joining the 65 percent of Americans who own their own homes, you'll be glad to know that now is a great time to do it! 

      Not sure if you're ready to take the leap into homeownership? Check out these five huge advantages of buying a house over renting.  

      1. It's a Great Long-Term Investment
        It's true that buying a home adds some expenses you won't have as a renter. You'll have to pay for things like closing costs on the mortgage, taxes, insurance, and maintenance expenses. However, when you're paying down your own mortgage instead of paying monthly rent, you're investing in your future.  Buying a house allows you to build equity that you can later pull out if you need it. Owning a home also gives you an asset that you can sell when you get older or pass onto your loved ones. 
      2. You May Qualify for Tax Benefits
        Although tax laws are complicated, many homeowners are able to take deductions for the mortgage interest they pay. This gives those who buy a home a clear advantage over those who continue to rent. 
      3. Buying a House Give You More Control
        When you sign a rental lease, there are usually a ton of stipulations you'll need to follow. You may not get to decide what color to paint the living room or whether you'll add a dog to your family. Want to put a pool in the backyard or add an extra bathroom? If you rent, you're out of luck. Buying your own home gives you the power to make all of these decisions and more. You can control the landscaping and all of your home's interior and exterior features. You also get to decide who stays in your home with you, and for how long. 
      4. Homeownership Gives You More Security
        As long as you make your mortgage and property tax payments on time, no one can throw you out of a home you own. As a renter, however, there's always a chance that the property owner will decide to sell the property, and you'll have to move. When this happens, it's almost never at a time that's convenient for you.

        There's also the chance that your landlord will eventually raise your rent as the cost of living continues to rise. Homeowners who have locked in a fixed mortgage payment are creating extra stability in their lives. While your homeowner's insurance, utility expenses, and property taxes will likely rise, you'll at least have the peace of mind in knowing that your mortgage payment will never go up. Even better, once you pay off the mortgage, you can eliminate that expense from your budget. As a renter, you'll never have that opportunity. 
      5. You'll Feel a Huge Sense of Accomplishment
        For many people, buying a house is one of the biggest accomplishments of their lifetime. You'll be able to feel proud of what you've done, and know that you've done what it takes to make your dream of owning a home a reality! 

      10 Mistakes to Avoid as a First-Time Home Buyer

      Buying your first home is an exciting experience, but it is also a complicated process. Learning all you can about that process before you get started is essential to reaching your end goal – buying a house you'll be proud to call home at a price you can afford. One of the most important things to learn about is how to avoid costly missteps along the way, so here are ten mistakes to avoid as a first-time home buyer:

      1. Not dealing with credit reports ahead of time
        Check your credit reports – even if you are sure you have good credit. Report errors are common, and they can increase your interest rate, or even make it difficult to get approved for a loan. Get copies of your reports and make sure they are accurate. If not, get them corrected before they are examined by lenders.
      2. Not knowing what you can comfortably afford
        You need a solid budget in place to avoid getting in over your head when buying a house, so tally up your expenses carefully. Subtract the total from your take-home pay and see what's left every month for an accurate appraisal of how much you can afford to pay for your new home.
      3. Not getting pre-approved for a loan
        Having a pre-approval in hand when you're ready to make an offer on home signals the seller that you are a serious buyer, prepared to make a deal and follow through. Not having one, especially in a competitive market, can result in your offer being rejected in favor of one from a buyer who has all their ducks in a row.
      4. Failing to shop around for the best mortgage deal
        Many first-time home buyers pay more than they should for a home loan by getting a mortgage from the first lender they speak to. Get quotes from at least three to compare interest rates, fees, and terms.
      5. Under-estimating the costs of home buying
        First-time home buyers are often taken off-guard by expenses that come up during the home-buying process. Expenses to budget for include appraisal and home inspection fees, and the biggie; Closing costs, which are generally between 2 and 5 percent of the purchase price of the home.
      6. Applying for new credit or spending too much before the closing
        Your mortgage is approved and the closing date is set. Now you're home free, right? Not quite. Your lender will check your credit again just before closing, and if you have made large purchases or opened new credit accounts, your credit score could fall. This may result in a higher interest rate or even a mortgage cancellation.
      7. Looking for perfection and overlooking potential
        Great homes can be decorated badly, so being able to overlook cosmetic, easy-to-fix details to see the potential of a home is key to making your best deal.
      8. Failing to consider the neighborhood
        You may love the house, but will you hate the neighborhood? Check it out before you sign on the dotted line.
      9. Skipping the inspection
        If you really love a home, it can be tempting to speed the process by skipping the inspection. This can be an extremely costly mistake, leading to large, unexpected expenses later.
      10. Not using an agent
        A good buyer's agent will protect your interests – and only your interests – as you navigate the home-buying process. Having someone solidly in your corner when you're buying a house is invaluable when it comes to avoiding the common pitfalls first-time home buyers often encounter on the road to becoming a new homeowner.

      Consider the Pros and Cons Before Buying a Fixer-Upper

      When you're buying a house there are lots of decisions to be made. One of those decisions is whether or not you're willing to purchase a fixer-upper. You're sure to find plenty of examples glamorizing the fixer-upper experience, and it can be tempting to want in on the action. You've likely heard tons of stories about incredible deals people got because their home needed a little work. Not to mention all those TV shows where houses no one could even lives in gets turned into something worthy of a magazine spread and sold for top dollar. Fixer-uppers can definitely be an amazing find, but before you dive in head first, weigh the pros and cons to make the right decision for you.


      • Fixer-uppers are usually discounted. Fixer-uppers generally have lower asking prices and do sell for less than move-in ready homes. There is often less competition too.
      • You can remodel the way you want. You don't have to hope you find what you want. You have more control over how the home looks, feels, and functions when you're the one in charge of the remodel. You can spend your money on what's important to you.
      • You may be able to afford a larger home or a different neighborhood. Since fixer-uppers tend to sell for less even in the most desirable neighborhoods, your purchasing dollar can go further.
      • Ensuring the repairs are done right. You'll have control over the repair process so you don't have to worry about the quality of materials or workmanship. If you think the contractor is cutting corners, you can hire someone else.
      • Remodeling boosts your property value immediately. This can be a plus if you're planning on living there only short term or looking at buying a house for an investment property.


      • Your home isn't move-in ready. You'll have to wait until construction is finished to enjoy your new home or rent it out. That can impact your budget.
      • It's a lot of work. Whether you plan to do it yourself or hire contractors, there is a lot of effort involved. Not everyone is willing to take it on. Being honest with yourself is the best strategy here.
      • Remodels can easily go over budget. It's not unusual for any kind of remodel to go over budget. There can be unexpected surprises, additional costs, or design changes. It's a good idea to leave room in the budget for additional costs.  
      • There's a risk of ending up with a bigger project than you planned. In some cases, it's just not possible to know the full extent of repairs until the job is in progress. That can negatively affect your budget and timeline for repairs.
      • You may overestimate your DIY skills. Often when someone is buying a house, they plan on doing some projects themselves. Especially for first-time buyers, it can be easy to underestimate how much work a project is or how much time you'll have to do it. Additionally, some repairs may require hiring a contractor to comply with local ordinances.
      • It can be harder to get financing. The current condition of the home and types of repairs needed may mean it's more difficult to get financing or limit your financing options.

      When you're buying a house, you need to look at the pros and cons to make an informed decision. And that strategy is even more important if you're planning on purchasing a fixer-upper. But doing your homework, getting estimates and budgeting appropriately may make that decision the right one for you.


      6 Questions to Ask a Buyer's Agent

      There are a lot of great real estate agents out there. But just because someone is a great agent doesn't mean they're the right agent for you. You need someone skilled, experienced and, above all, dedicated to helping you find your dream home. These are the questions you need to ask to find a great buyer's agent. 

      1. Are you fully licensed?
        You don't want to work with someone for whom real estate is a part-time job or a hobby. You want an agent who is dedicated to the job and has had years of experience. Ask if the agent is fully licensed. If the answer is, "yes," ask how long they have had their real estate license. 
      2. What is your experience in the neighborhoods I'm interested in?
        Markets change from day to day, and from one neighborhood to the next. If you know where you want to live, it's important to find a real estate agent who has a solid understanding of the real estate market in the neighborhood you're interested in. That includes the ability to track real estate trends in that neighborhood over a long period of time. 
      3. What can you tell me about your negotiation style?
        The ability to negotiate is one of the biggest things home buyers look for in a real estate agent. But negotiating skills aren't always something that every agent has. Ask about negotiation courses they have taken, and tough deals they have had to go through. The ability to negotiate is crucial to you getting the best price on your home. 
      4. How many homes have you bought or sold in the last year?
        This is one of those questions that doesn't really have a right or wrong answer. But the answer could still tell you a lot, and you may get a gut feeling about an agent based on how they answer this question. If they give you a large number, that might mean that they're good at buying and selling houses, but it could also indicate that they have a lot of clients, so you might not get the level of attention you deserve. On the other hand, if they answer with a lower number, it doesn't necessarily mean they aren't good at their job; it could simply mean that they dedicate all their resources to relatively few clients. 
      5. Can I talk to some of your former clients?
        Hopefully, before you meet with a real estate agent in person, you will already have read some online reviews and gotten a sense of how the agent's former clients feel about the service they received. Even so, talking to those clients in person can be very illuminating. Plus, the way the agent answers this question can tell you a lot. Pay close attention to how willing they are to refer you to old clients. 
      6. Do you have experience with clients like me?
        There may be no more important question to ask an agent. It's essential that you work with someone who not only has a lot of experience but who has a lot of experience in situations like yours. Have they sold a lot of homes in your price range? If you are a first-time homebuyer, do they have a lot of experience with helping people buy their first home?

      Having a great buyer's agent on your side is one of the best ways to make the process of finding your dream home much easier. There are a lot of great agents out there, and finding the right one comes down to asking the right questions. 


      10 Tips to Make Moving Easier

      There are a lot of things to look forward to when you buy your first home and move on to the next chapter in your life. Packing up all your things is not one of them. Still, moving day is unavoidable, and when that day comes, these simple tips will make the process easier than you thought possible. 

      1. Get More Boxes
        They say it's better to be safe than sorry, and when it comes to packing, they're absolutely right. Make sure you have plenty of boxes before moving day, along with packaging tape and labels, so you know you won't run out.
      2. Pack Smarter
        Keep in mind that one size doesn't fit all. Get large boxes as well as small ones so you can stuff the big ones with lightweight items (pillows, towels, clothes), and fill the smaller ones with heavy stuff (books, knick-knacks, electronics). 
      3. Make a Packing Playlist
        Everything gets easier when you have the right tunes playing. Make a playlist you can pack and unpack to. Keep it upbeat and filled with your favorite jams to help you keep moving, and steer clear of sad songs about moving on and leaving things behind. 
      4. Stretch it Out
        There's no reason to wait until the last minute. The farther ahead you can make arrangements and start working on packing, the less stress you will feel. Give yourself at least four weeks for the whole process. Start by making lists and getting organized, and then move on to packing up items you seldom use before you start boxing up the essentials. 
      5. Don't Pack on Moving Day
        Moving day is for moving, not packing. By the time you wake up on moving day, everything should already be boxed up and ready to put into the truck. 
      6. De-Clutter Your Life
        When you sell your house and get ready to move, you have a great opportunity to reduce clutter and get rid of unwanted items. Have a yard sale. Donate old clothes and unused furniture. Recycle what you can, and throw out what you can't. The less you own, the easier it is to pack it all up. 
      7. Keep Irreplaceable Items With You
        Don't waste valuable mental energy worrying about whether your valuables and family heirlooms will make it out of the moving truck unscathed. Set aside items that have sentimental value and can't be replaced, and carry them to your new home in person so you know they're safe.
      8. Label and Color-Code Everything
        It's impossible to overstate the importance of labels. Make sure every box is clearly marked so you know exactly what's inside. Take it a step farther by color-coding your labels based on where everything goes, using different colored labels for each room.
      9. Put Your Kids to Work
        If you have children who are old enough to help out, give them jobs to do. Feeling important and being able to help out will make the process easier for them, and will definitely take some weight off your shoulders. If you have kids who are too young to help out, it's usually best to send them off with a relative on moving day. 
      10. Pack a "First Day" Box
        Set aside anything that you will need right away when you arrive at your new home and put it all in one box. Include essential toiletries, phone chargers, a coffee maker, and anything else you want to have easy access to as soon as you arrive. 

      When you're moving, countless exciting paths lie ahead. Following these ten moving tips will make the moving process much more simple and stress-free. 


      6 Tips on Buying Acreage

      Are you considering a move to the country, on a lot where you can build the unique home of your dreams? There are many advantages to buying acreage, but the process is a bit different than what you may be used to when buying a house. Location is still a huge priority, and it's important to know exactly what to look for from the right piece of land. Understanding how to identify the right acreage for your needs will make it much easier to find the ideal match, whether you're buying as an investment or looking for a place to build your next home. Start the process with our 6 tips for buying an acreage that you'll love long-term.

      1. Remember That Location Is Still King
        It may be a bit different than choosing the right location in an urban setting, but selecting the right location for your acreage is still one of your most important priorities. Consider your commute time for work, how long it will take to reach necessary nearby services, and of course what you want from the setting of your property. Every shopper is different, and the right location for you depends on personal factors.
      2. Consider the Availability of Services
        Buying an acreage doesn't mean going "off the grid," so you'll definitely want to check on the availability of key services like utilities, garbage collection, internet service, and road maintenance. Learn whether there are any existing wells on the property, assess their quality, and find out if you will have to build a new septic tank for your home.
      3. Learn the Rules of the Land
        Acreage can be a blank canvas for building a new house, but first, you'll want to make sure there aren't any restrictions on how you can use the land. Find out if there are any protective covenants or ordinances that regulate how you can use the land, as well as any local zoning laws that apply to the property. Contacting the local zoning commission is the best place to start when discovering how you can use a potential property.
      4. Research Property Boundaries
        In addition to learning about zoning rules, you'll also want to know exactly how much land you'll be getting when you buy an acreage. You can check with the county assessor's office to find out exactly how many acres are being taxed for the property, which will give you a strong idea of what you're buying. For added security, consider hiring a professional surveyor to analyze the property boundaries.
      5. Consider Additional Costs of Ownership
        Maintaining an acreage may come with additional costs, like an ATV, mower, garages, and farming equipment if you plan to grow food. Consider how you expect to use the land, and plan for any additional costs of ownership that may arise.
      6. Rely on Your Real Estate Agent
        Whether you're buying acreage or buying a house, the right real estate agent can make life so much easier. Start the process by interviewing agents with rural experience until you find someone who suits your needs, and then rely on your agent whenever you need advice. The right agent will have the experience and knowledge necessary to allow you to purchase acreage with confidence.

      Buying an acreage may be different from buying a house, but the processes also share many similarities. By choosing the right location, preparing for costs of ownership, learning the rules of the land, and relying on your real estate agent to assist you throughout the process, you can find the acreage that best suits your needs.


      Buying Your First Home Might Be Closer Than You Think

      Buying a house is one of the biggest parts of the American dream, but that doesn't mean you have to wait for it your whole life. If you take the right steps, you can start on the path to homeownership right now.

      Each step builds on the last, and you'll learn more about your needs and challenges as you go. If you run into something you need to reassess, advice is a call or email away. Real estate agents help first-time buyers like you every day.

      Here's how to get off to a good start when buying a house:

      1. Work on Building Your Credit
        Strengthening your credit can help you get a better interest rate on your mortgage and may save you thousands of dollars. Aim to pay off (but not close!) any high-interest credit accounts you may have. Don't start on any new financial obligations, such as a car loan.
      2. Gather Financial Information
        Any loan provider you work with will want details of your financial situation. That usually includes three months of pay stubs and two years of tax filings. If you are self-employed or your income varies for other reasons, you may need to submit a longer income history. If you have past issues such as bankruptcies or charge-offs, prepare to explain them.
      3. Develop a Budget
        Tally up your monthly expenses and income sources to figure out how much disposable income you'll have for home expenses. You might find costs you can cut so you can save for your down payment. Remember, you shouldn't spend more than 30% of your monthly income on housing.
      4. Talk to a Real Estate Agent
        Before you talk to a lender, reach out to a real estate agent you can trust. He or she will help you get clear on your needs and develop realistic expectations for the process. A real estate agent will be your best ally throughout the process, answering your questions and steering you toward the resources you need to get to closing day without a hitch.
      5. Get Prequalified for a Loan
        Prequalification is a process where you submit financial information to your lender of choice so a loan package can be issued as soon as you need it. This is essential if you are dealing with "motivated sellers" or putting in a bid on a home that has attracted a lot of prospective buyers.
      6. Assess Your "Must Haves"
        It's time to start making your dreams a reality. Everyone who will be living in the home should come up with a list of five features that they most want from it. Although it's hard to find a perfect home, this will help you zoom in on areas where everyone agrees. You'll also know at a glance which properties don't match your priorities, saving you time.
      7. Compare Homes and Neighborhoods
        This is where your real estate agent shines. He or she should get you off to a running start with a list of neighborhoods that suit you. From there, make time every weekend to attend open houses, tour properties, and look at current listings. You can do it!
      8. Get a Home Inspection
        A home inspection gives you a complete report on the home's condition from top to bottom. Most buyers choose to walk away from homes with electrical, plumbing, or pest issues, and mortgage programs for first-time buyers will not finance homes with certain serious defects.

      Buying a house is a lot to wrap your mind around at first, but it's easier than it looks. 


      8 Things to Negotiate When Buying a House

      When it comes to buying a house, you need every advantage you can get. That's why honing your negotiating skills is so important. The ability to haggle is crucial to getting the right price, but the right price is just one of many things that are negotiable when you're buying a house. Here's what else you can work into the deal. 

      1. Closing Date
        You may want flexibility on the closing date for any number of reasons. You could be in a hurry to move in because you're starting a new job on a specific date, or maybe you want to push the date back so your kids can finish the current school year. Closing date is always open to negotiation, but do keep in mind that the seller may have their own timetable, so try to arrive at a date that serves all parties.
      2. Closing Costs
        These can cover any number of one-time fees that must be paid on closing day. Closing costs often include inspection and appraisal fees, loan origination fees, recording fees, and lender title insurance. They are typically paid by the buyer, but that rule is not set in stone. As home prices continue to rise, it's common for buyers to negotiate a deal in which sellers pay the closing costs. 
      3. Contingencies
        A contingency essentially stipulates an action or condition that must be met before a real estate contract becomes binding. Some of the most common contingencies include inspections, appraisals, and repairs, but the buyer or seller can negotiate any number of contingencies. For example, you could stipulate that purchasing your new home is contingent upon financing coming through, or upon selling your old home.
      4. Inspections
        No one should ever buy a home without having it professionally inspected. With that in mind, the specifics of that inspection (i.e. the inspection timetable, the depth of the inspection and how you proceed after the results come in) are often open to being a negotiation. If the seller tries to negotiate a sale in which they refuse an inspection, you should see that as a major red flag. 
      5. Repairs
        If a home inspection reveals problems or defects, it's up to the buyer and seller to decide whether repairs will be made before the sale is finalized. You can reach an agreement that repairs must be completed at the cost of the seller, or negotiate a lower sale price that takes the cost of repairs into account. 
      6. Appliances
        It's quite common for large appliances to be included in the sale of a house, but be sure to ask. As a buyer, it's important to know exactly what you're buying. If you want the seller to leave the refrigerator, washer and dryer, or other major appliances behind, you can include it in the negotiations. Conversely, if you want the seller to take these items with them, you can make that clear as well.
      7. Taxes
        Many states and cities have required transfer taxes and fees that must be paid when a property changes hands. Whether the buyer or seller pays these fees is not set in stone. In a buyer's market, it's not uncommon for buyers to insist that the sellers pay these taxes; but if you're a buyer looking to make your offer more attractive, you could offer to pay them yourself.
      8. Furniture
        Including furniture in the sale of a home isn't quite as common as including appliances, but it's not unheard-of. If you absolutely love the decor, you can negotiate a price that includes any part of it that you and the seller agree on (although it may need to be drawn up in a separate contract from the property itself). 

      The fine art of negotiating is one of the best skills you can have when you're buying a house, and it's also important to work with a real estate agent who can bring his or her bargaining skills to the table. And remember, price is just one of many things that may be open to negotiation. 


      Need a Home Loan? Why it Pays to Shop Around

      When it comes to finding a mortgage, not shopping around could mean you're leaving a lot of extra money on the table. A shocking number of first-time buyers go with the first home loan offer that comes along. But that could be a big mistake. 

      Shop and Save
      When you consider the potential savings gained by shopping for the best mortgage rate, it's shocking how many don't put in the effort to weigh their options. The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau reports that nearly half of all mortgage borrowers don't shop around when looking for a home loan. 

      Buying a home is likely to be the biggest purchase you ever make, and you're going to be working at paying off your home loan for 15, 20, or 30 years. Depending on the details of your loan, the interest rate, fees, and many other factors could vary widely. Consider options from various lenders.

      Shopping Tips
      Most experts agree that it's best to look at at least three different lenders to make sure you're getting the best deal on your mortgage. That should include your own bank and at least one national lender.

      Mortgage rates can vary quite a bit from one lender to another, and often change from one day to the next, so all that shopping around can pay off. Just a fraction of a percentage point can add up to thousands of dollars over the lifetime of your loan. Keep a few things in mind as you look for the best home loan: 

      • Gather your financial documents. Have all of your financial documents gathered before you start meeting with lenders. Documents like pay stubs, bank statements, and tax returns will be needed before you can secure a loan.
      • Know your credit score. Your credit score is one of the most important factors that determine whether a lender will be willing to offer you a loan, and can significantly impact your mortgage rate. Know your score before talking to lenders, and take steps to improve your credit score if necessary.
      • Compare quotes. Most lenders will be perfectly willing to give you a rate quote or price quote free of charge with no obligations. This is not the same as pre-approval, which is a more involved process; however, getting quotes will give you an idea of what you may qualify for. Be sure to explore online options for comparing home loans as well as talking to individual lenders.
      • Consider added fees. The big number that you will be looking at when you compare loans is the mortgage rate. As important as that number is, be sure not to stop there. Get details about any extra fees, conditions, and costs associated with your loan so you can determine the true cost of your mortgage.
      • Get pre-approved. With your credit report and financial documents in hand, you will be able to get pre-approved for a home loan. This is a crucial step that will give you a solid picture of how much a particular lender is willing to offer, and is essential to determining a budget for buying a home. 

      Forbes recently reported that buyers who compare one extra quote could save $1,500 on their home loan and that buyers who compare two extra quotes could save $3,000. No matter how you look at it, the numbers are very clear about one thing: it pays to shop around. 


      How Far in Advance Should I Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage?

      Are you wondering when you should get a pre-approval for a home loan during the buying process? Here, we look at when and how far in advance of purchasing a home you should get pre-approved. We also look at why you should get the pre-approval.

      When Should I Get Pre-Approved For A Mortgage?
      Ideally, you want to get pre-approved for a mortgage before you start looking for houses. Doing so will help you find any obstacles to your pre-approval like having excessive debt or a poor credit score. You'll also be able to determine your home-hunting price range. 

      Additionally, you will become more competitive in the market in comparison to buyers who have not gotten their pre-approval. All of those aspects will help your cause when the time comes to shop for a house.

      Overall, a pre-approval is a preliminary review of your financial status to determine:

      • Your purchasing capacity
      • The amount of risk you bring

      The lender performs it at the moment you apply for a loan. But it can also be done before you hand in a formal application.

      The pre-approval process serves two purposes:

      1. The lender wants to know if you are qualified to borrow funds from them. Hence they will look at your credit score, debt level, current employment and income status, and other financial aspects.
      2. It helps you to identify your price range in terms of the loan amount.

      Why Should You Get Pre-Approved Before Shopping for a House?
      In most cases, it makes sense for a home buyer to get a mortgage pre-approval before they begin to shop for homes. The process of getting pre-approved for a mortgage helps you concentrate your search on the sort of homes you can afford, depending on the creditor's willingness to lend.

      However, the pre-approval review process is not a substitute for budgeting. You need to review your income and expenses to establish how much you can afford in monthly payments.

      The process of pre-approval comes into play later, when you are ready to shop for a property. You should have a budget in mind already before you move onto this phase.

      There is also another good reason to get a pre-approval before home hunting. A house seller will give your offer priority over other buying offers that have not been reviewed by a lender. In other words, you'll be taken more seriously as a potential home buyer.

      Overall, it makes excellent sense when you look at it from the seller's point of view. No seller wants to accept an offer from somebody who does not qualify for a mortgage loan. Therefore it's wise to get pre-approved before hunting for homes.

      It is also worthwhile to note that preapproval is different from final approval. You can still be rejected for a mortgage even after a loan officer has pre-approved you. It is a common occurrence.

      "Pre" means that it happens at the beginning of the mortgage process. For you to receive final approval from the mortgage lender, you also need to undergo a rigorous underwriting procedure. The underwriter will typically review your application and your credentials to establish whether you're an acceptable risk. If the underwriter issues a green light, then you will get final approval.

      What Documents Are Necessary for a Mortgage Pre-approval?
      The lender will want to confirm your identity, credit history, working history, income, and monetary assets to give a pre-approval. He or she will probably ask you to fill out a residential loan application, called 1003 ("ten-oh-three").

      The 1003 application will ask for your details, financial information, and loan details, which include:

      • Bank accounts, including your retirement account
      • Any other assets you own
      • The property you own
      • Employment and income information
      • Your employer's contact details
      • Debts you owe

      Your lender will also perform a hard credit -inquiry and might require supplemental documents based on your situation.


      How Credit Scores Impact Your Interest Rate

      There's no doubt that a strong credit score makes it easier to secure a mortgage with favorable terms when buying a house. The higher your credit score, the lower you can expect your interest rates to be, which can translate to significant savings over the life of your loan. A damaged credit score, on the other hand, can lead to higher interest rates, and make it difficult to qualify for certain types of loans without repairing credit first. Understanding how credit scores impact your interest rate is an important step in securing a mortgage for your next home.

      • Risk-Based Pricing Highlights Importance of Credit Scores
        The mortgage industry is largely based on risk-based pricing, which means that the cost of your loan goes up based on your level of credit risk based on the lender's calculations. Credit scores range from 300 to 850, and to qualify for a conventional mortgage you'll typically need a score of at least 620. Where your score lands between 620 and 850 has a big impact on your interest rate, so it's worth keeping your credit history as clean as possible.
      • What's a "Good" Credit Score and How Do You Learn Yours?
        While standards vary between lenders, most agree that a "good" credit score checks in at 670 or above. Unsure of your credit score? You can request a free copy of your credit report once per year, allowing you to see your three major credit scores. After the first annual report for each bureau, additional reports in the same year require a fee. HUD-approved housing counselors can also provide you with a free report, and help you review it.
      • How Lenders Use Credit Scores to Calculate Interest Rates
        Higher credit scores lead to lower interest rates, and lower credit scores lead to higher interest rates. A higher score increases the lender's confidence that you'll make payments on time, while a lower score presents increased risk to the lender. The difference between a 620 and 750 credit score could lead to a half-percent increase in rate, which may not sound like much but ultimately makes a big difference.
      • A Small Change in Rates Makes a Big Difference Over Time
        Even a change of half a percent in your mortgage rate can ultimately make a major impact over the life of your loan, and the potential exists for even larger gaps in interest rates based on credit score. That half-percent difference, over the life of a 30-year mortgage, could add more than $20,000 to the total cost of the loan.
      • How to Repair a Damaged Credit Score
        If your credit score could use some work, the ideal time to start is before you start shopping for a loan. Make all payments on time, resolve old debts, and review your credit report to look for inaccuracies. If there are inaccuracies in your report, resolve them with the relevant credit agency.
      • Protecting a Strong Credit Score Before Buying a House
        If your credit is already in great shape, make sure you don't do anything to lower it before shopping for a mortgage. That means it's best to put off big purchases and new lines of credit until after you're done buying a house.

      While your credit score impacts many facets of the mortgage process, the biggest key is in how it affects your interest rates. A higher credit score ultimately means lower interest rates, and that's a big win financially long-term when buying a house. Even if your credit has seen better days, there's plenty you can do to get your score in shape before pursuing a mortgage.


      Mortgage 101: Home Loan Basics

      Buying a house is one of the most significant financial commitments most people make in a lifetime. Most home buyers don't make their purchase with one lump sum of money. A mortgage makes it possible to pay for a home over time. If you're buying a house for the first time, it's essential to understand how mortgages work, and what to expect from your loan. Fortunately, there's plenty of help available, starting with our guide to home loan basics.

      • How Does a Mortgage Work, and Why Is It Necessary?
        A mortgage is a loan used to purchase a home, and in many ways, it's similar to loans for a smaller purchase. The difference – aside from term and overall cost – is that a mortgage is specifically for buying a home, and it's customizable. You borrow an agreed amount, pay a set or adjustable interest rate to the lender, and have a predetermined time to pay back the loan.
      • Key Steps Toward Qualifying for a Mortgage
        There are a wide variety of mortgage types available when buying a house with varying qualification standards. In addition to conventional mortgages, the three types of government-backed mortgages are VA loans, FHA loans, and USDA loans. To qualify, you'll need to meet a minimum credit score requirement, verify your income with documentation, and deal with any errors/issues on your credit report. Getting pre-approved for a mortgage gives you an idea of your buying power, and shows sellers you're serious about buying a house.
      • How Your Down Payment Impacts Your Loan
        The size of your down payment will impact the size of your monthly mortgage payment, and with conventional mortgages may also influence your interest rate. Making a larger down payment means you borrow less money, which may let you pay the loan off faster.
      • Interest Rates and Your Mortgage
        Every mortgage type has a set, base interest rate. Your rate will also be influenced by how much you choose to pay in closing costs – paying more closing costs means a lower rate while opting to pay less can increase your rate.
      • Calculating Monthly Mortgage Payments
        Your monthly mortgage payment depends on three key factors: how much you borrowed, how much interest you're paying, and how long you have to pay back the loan. Plug those three data points into a mortgage calculator, and you can calculate your monthly payments. Remember that if you opt for an adjustable-rate mortgage, your payments are subject to change over time.
      • Speeding Up the Process of Paying Off Your Mortgage
        If you wish to pay off your mortgage ahead of schedule, there are two main options. Either you can refinance, allowing you to pay off the loan more quickly, or you can pay more than required each month. If you want to pay off your loan early, work with your lender to find the path that's best for you.

      Working with a lender you know and trust makes life much easier. If you're not sure where to start, your real estate agent can help you find a lender. By consulting trusted sources, doing your research, and asking key questions, you can navigate the process of securing a mortgage with confidence.


      Buyers Beware: Mortgage Closing Scams

      Buying a home--especially your first home--is an incredibly exciting time in one's life. When it comes to closing on your mortgage, it is important to exercise caution so as not to fall prey to scams designed to steal your hard-earned money.

      According to an FBI report, Americans lost nearly $150 million to real estate scams in 2018. In fact, scams targeting the real estate industry have increased over 1,100 percent since 2015.

      Scammers use a variety of tactics to get rich at your expense. While the rewards of owning a home outweigh the risks of fraud, it's wise to educate yourself about common mortgage scams as you navigate the home-buying process.

      Be Aware of Phishing Scams at Closing Time

      Mortgage fraud takes many forms, and phishing scams have become increasingly popular. Scammers target real estate professionals to monitor emails and identify clients nearing closing time for the purchase of their new home.

      Scammers create phony emails posing as real estate agents, closing officers, or other trusted parties attempting to coax unwitting buyers to redirect their monies into fraudulent accounts by sending last-minute changes to wiring instructions.

      When in Doubt, Check it Out

      While it's easy to think you would never fall for this kind of scam, these emails can look almost exactly like the real thing. There are steps you can take to avoid falling prey to this crime.

      How to Avoid Being Scammed

      • Before closing on your mortgage, review the process (in person or over the phone) with trusted individuals like your real estate or settlement agent. Be careful about exchanging details about your closing through email. Agreeing to a code phrase (or safe word) only known by involved parties may be an excellent way to confirm their identities in the future.
      • Keep a record of all parties names and contact information involved in the closing for reference.
      • Before wiring any money, confirm information with trusted representatives in person or by using the phone number you previously agreed to.
      • Do not use phone numbers or links sent in an email. Scammers can closely replicate your agent's email address and phone number as part of the phising scam.
      • Do not email financial information.
      • Be cautious during phone conversations. Scammers often call and ask you to confirm your personal or financial information. When in doubt, always contact your trusted professionals to confirm whether the request is legitimate.

      What to Do If It Happens to You

      When it comes to closing on your mortgage, remember the adage that if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

      Reduce your risk of fraud by remaining aware of the latest phishing scams, working with people you trust, and seeking advice from official government resources when you think something seems "phisy." While you can't completely eliminate the risk of fraud when buying a house, vigilance goes a long way toward protecting your hard-earned money.

      If you suspect you are a victim of this crime:

      • Contact your bank or wire-transfer company immediately. Ask for a wire recall. By reporting the issue immediately, you can increase the likelihood that you'll be able to recover your money.
      • Call your local police department.
      • Call your lawyer.
      • Change your name and user password on all financial sites.
      • File a complaint with the FBI by contacting the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.

      Closing on a new home can be one of your most memorable life moments. Take the right steps to ensure your home-buying memories are happy ones.


      5 Smart Ways to Buy a Foreclosure Bargain

      Buying a foreclosed home can be an excellent way to find a bargain, but there are also quite a few obstacles to overcome before landing the right foreclosure. The number of foreclosed homes available varies by area and fluctuates based on market conditions. You may be able to save significantly on the overall cost of buying a house and purchase "more home" for the same investment. Understanding exactly what you're getting into is crucial for succeeding on the foreclosure market, and we've got five tips to help you find the right home, for the right price.

      1. Never Buy a Foreclosure You Haven't Inspected
        At auctions, you will rarely have the opportunity to inspect the home, and that can lead to major regrets once the keys are in your hand. A foreclosed home may be a bargain compared to a comparable home on the open market, but it's still a major investment. If you want to avoid buyer's remorse, don't purchase a foreclosure sight unseen. Make sure you get the opportunity to complete a thorough inspection.
      2. Work with a Knowledgeable Real Estate Agent
        Just as with buying a house of any type, finding the right real estate agent will make life much easier when shopping for a foreclosure. An agent with foreclosure experience will be able to help you avoid common pitfalls, research prices for homes, find the right listings, and ultimately make a competitive bid. 
      3. Research the Prices of Comparable Homes
        One way an agent can help you is by providing an analysis of the market for comparable foreclosures. While foreclosure prices are different from market prices, knowing how much a home would be worth on the market will also help you put together a strong bid that still saves you money. You can research on your own as well, by visiting listing sites that allow you to search for foreclosed homes and setting the filter to show foreclosures.
      4. Plan for Extra Costs after Purchase
        Foreclosures are sold as is. When purchasing a foreclosure, it's always wise to plan for significant maintenance and upgrade costs after your purchase. If the previous owner was unable to afford their mortgage payments due to financial distress, then there's a good chance that important maintenance tasks may have been overlooked for the same reason. A thorough inspection can give you an idea of the potential costs, but may not reveal underlying issues. And even if the home is in great shape, you'll want cash on hand to customize it to your needs once you move in.
      5. Make a Competitive Bid
        All of your research, planning, and the help of your real estate agent will really pay off when it's time to make a competitive bid. While you'll naturally be shopping for a bargain, there is likely to be competition. The right bid depends on the home, the market, the level of competition, and how much you expect to spend on maintenance/upgrades after purchase.

      Buying a foreclosure is different from buying a house on the open market, but many of the same rules still apply. Inspecting the home thoroughly, knowing the price of comparable homes, and working with a real estate agent who knows foreclosures will help you make a competitive bid for the right home. While it may take more than one try to find the right match, your preparation and patience can ultimately pay off with a great bargain.


      Tips for Buying Land to Build a New Home

      Whether you're having trouble finding the perfect home on the market or have always dreamed of building your own home from the ground up, there are a variety of advantages to buying land to build a home. But shopping for vacant land is also a bit different than buying a house, so it's important to be prepared. That's true whether you're buying acreage in the country or a smaller vacant lot in a more urban area. Researching the process ahead of time makes it much easier to find the right piece of land for your next home, and we've got some key tips to help you achieve your goals.

      1. Location
        Location is naturally still a huge priority when shopping for land, just as it would be when buying a house. You'll want to make sure that the land is located in a community you can love, with a manageable commute to work and all of the local services that you'll need. Of course, location will also have an impact on price, so it's a good idea to consider school districts, nearby attractions, the demand in the community, and anything else that may impact the cost of the land.
      2. Neighborhood
        For long-term happiness, finding the right neighborhood is almost as important as building the right home. The neighborhood where the land is located has a big impact on your day-to-day life, so consider whether a neighborhood has all of the services you need, what you'll do for fun, and what your neighbors are like. If there's anything you simply must have from your new neighborhood, place it at the top of your priority list while shopping.
      3. Zoning and Land Restrictions
        The last thing that you want is to purchase a piece of land only to find out that local zoning laws or land restrictions may keep you from building the home of your dreams. Find out whether there are restrictions on any plot that draws your interest, and research the zoning of your plot and nearby properties.
      4. Access to Utilities
        If you're buying land in a rural area, then it's vital to make sure that you will be able to gain access to all of the utilities you need, including water, power, and internet service. A larger piece of land may require new utility lines or pipes to be run, which can add to the cost of developing the land.
      5. Options for a Land Mortgage
        Planning to finance your land purchase? Then just like with buying a house, it pays to start researching your mortgage options early. It can be easier to secure a land mortgage for partially developed land with some utilities in place, but there are still loan options available for plots that haven't yet been improved in any way. 
      6. The Right Real Estate Agent
        No matter what you're looking for from your next plot of land and the home that you will build, there's no doubt that working with the right real estate agent will simplify the process. Ask for referrals from trusted sources, interview multiple agents, and don't stop until you find the right match for your needs.

      While there are a variety of unique factors to consider when buying vacant land, there are also many similarities with buying a house. By choosing the right location, understanding exactly what you're buying, planning ahead, and identifying the right real estate agent, you can find land that's perfect for building your next home.


      Read This Before Buying a Short Sale Home

      Shopping for a short sale home can present an opportunity to find a deal when buying a house, but it's important to understand exactly what to expect from the process. In a short sale transaction, the property owner's lender agrees to accept the buyer's purchase offer, even though the offer is less than the seller owes on the home. Because of the unique circumstances required for buying a house on a short sale transaction, there may be some additional hurdles to clear before you purchase the home. Short sale transactions are increasingly common, and you'll want to read our guide before taking the plunge on a short sale purchase.

      • Comparable Sales and Too Good to Be True Prices
        One key to remember with short sales is that the lender or lenders have to approve the transaction, so the asking price could be much different than what the lender will actually require. A short sale home with an extremely low price is unlikely to be approved by the lender, so it's important to look for comparable sales when shopping for a short sale home. The closer your offer comes to the home's actual value, the more likely the lender is to approve it.
      • Research Property Records and Loans
        Finding out how many loans are on the home and how much is owed will help you decide whether a short sale is worth pursuing. A property with multiple loans will require sales approval from multiple lenders, which can complicate the process. Some lenders are easier to work with on short sales than others, and your real estate agent should be able to point you in the right direction.
      • Find an Agent Who Knows Short Sales
        Working with the right real estate agent should always be a top priority when buying a house, and that's especially true when you're targeting a short sale. In addition to having familiarity with various lenders, an agent with short sale experience knows how to navigate the technical details of the process.
      • Short Sales Take Time
        You may have heard stories of short sales taking up to 6 months to close, and it's not uncommon for lenders to take multiple months to reach a decision. If you're hoping for a quick close, then a short sale is typically not the best option. If you can afford to wait, then you have a better chance of finding a deal.
      • Short Sale Documentation
        In order to sell a home on a short sale, the seller needs to submit a short sale package. The short sale package submitted with the offer should make a compelling case for why the seller needs a short sale, and the listing agent will need extensive financial documentation from the seller for the short sale package. Make sure that the seller has the necessary documentation.
      • Above Competition, Below Market
        If you're willing to take the extra steps required for a short sale, then you'll want to make sure that all of your hard work pays off with a good deal. The goal is to offer a price above other buyers, but below market value for the home. Your real estate agent should be a great resource when putting together your offer.

      If you're considering a short sale home, the first thing to remember is that the transaction takes time. By preparing for the process, researching property records, reviewing the required documentation, and working with a real estate agent who has short sale experience, you can successfully navigate the process of buying a house on a short sale.


      Home Search Made Simple

      Buying a house may look complicated, but it doesn't have to be intimidating.

      Any home search is an expression of your needs and values. With the right approach, you can make sure you get what you want from the process. And, yes, it can even be fun. Here's how:

      • Choose an Area to Focus On
        Before you can start looking for a home, you need to have a general idea where you want to be. Most homebuyers begin by drilling down to a single town or city. High-level considerations like the job market, healthcare, transportation, and the state of the community usually drive a choice. It's a good idea to explore an area and spend plenty of time there before you choose.
      • Decide on a Neighborhood
        Some neighborhoods may only span a few blocks, but each neighborhood a community offers will provide a different lifestyle. Walk and drive your possible neighborhoods, visiting them at different times of the day and week. This will give you a better idea of the patterns of life in an area. If possible, talking to local residents is the best way to get insight fast.
      • Prioritize Needs for a Home
        What do you most need from your home? Anyone who will be living in the new home – including the kids, if they're old enough to understand – should compose a list of 4-6 priorities. While it's usually hard to "have it all," you can identify areas of commonality. A home should meet all of your basic needs and have something to get everybody excited!
      • Review Loans and Budgets
        The first step to getting a new home loan is often to set up a budget. This helps you understand how much disposable income you have, which gives you an idea of your financial range when buying a house. With this information in hand, you can compare loan offers from various lenders. Getting prequalified for a loan early can save you time once you identify the home you want.
      • Compare Home Options
        This is where the footwork starts. Many buyers will take a few months before choosing a home they are excited enough to bid on. Your real estate agent is an important ally here: He or she will help you take advantage of market trends and zero in on the best value. Try not to "fall in love" with a home until you've seen the full range of what's available out there!
      • Make an Offer (and Negotiate)
        There are several steps between choosing the home you want and making it to closing. Be ready for twists and turns: For example, a home inspection report could reveal problems at a property that are costly to fix. It's your real estate agent to the rescue: An agent's local insight helps you make informed decisions. Plus, agents have experience in negotiating on your behalf.
      • Close on the Home
        The closing day can be nerve-wracking, but it's also one of the most exciting days when buying a house. It is true that a deal can fall through at the last minute, but this is rare. Unless your final walkthrough uncovers something objectionable, things usually go off without a hitch. Bring a pen and be ready to sign, sign, sign ... this process can take a couple of hours. Then the keys are yours!

      No matter what your real estate goals are, partnering with a trusted real estate agent is essential. Not only does it make buying a home faster and easier, but it often means you'll save money, too. 


      Buying a House for a Blended Family

      When the step-siblings of The Brady Bunch made their TV debut in 1969, the concept of a blended family was something of a novelty. Today, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 75 percent of divorced people remarry and 65 percent of those remarriages include children. In addition, a study by Pew Research Center indicates that 16 percent of kids under the age of 18 are living in blended families.

      By definition, a blended family increases the number of household members, making it unlikely that either of the current homes is suitable options. If you're buying a house for a blended family, start off on the right note with these helpful tips.

      • Get Professional Financial Advice
        In first marriages, couples are generally building a financial profile together. Couples who come together later in life have already established careers, credit histories, and tolerance for risk. Consult a financial advisor who can help create mutually compatible goals and budgets.
      • Be Realistic about Space Considerations
        What seems doable in theory often turns out to be impractical in reality. How many kids can reasonably share a bedroom? Will everyone have to stand in line to shower in a single bathroom? Give your blended family room to breathe as they become accustomed to their new living situation.
      • Choose Location Strategically
        If real estate is all about "location, location, location," that applies double to buying a house for a blended family. Instead of having only one side relocate, you may decide on a "neutral" neighborhood to put everyone on equal footing. Proximity to kids' other parents is also a vital factor in shared custody arrangements.
      • Involve the Kids
        When partners in a new relationship have children, kids may often feel they are along for the ride. They may find themselves in the middle of changes completely out of their control. Bring kids along as you view houses and solicit their input to emphasize that it's their home also. Once you've made the move, assign each child a designing "project" to put their own stamp on the new home.
      • Plan Timing Carefully
        Coordinating the process of buying a house with the sale of your existing home can be tricky enough. When you add in the sale of a second home, it becomes a real juggling act. Prepare a backup plan, such as renting out one of the homes or moving into a short-term rental, in case the timing hits a snag.

      The definition of family continues expanding to include previously non-traditional forms, but the idea of home as the center of family life remains constant. Buying a house that accommodates the needs of a blended family is the first step toward creating happy memories together.


      5 Factors to Consider When Negotiating a Home Price

      As you're buying a house, you have two challenges:

      • Get the home you want, even if there happen to be other bidders waiting in the wings.
      • Get a price you can be happy with, including (if needed) repairs and other concessions.

      Naturally, understanding where the seller is coming from will help. Some sellers are motivated to complete the transaction as quickly as possible. Others may be flush with offers or have time to burn. As the buyer, resist the urge to be intimidated. You hold plenty of cards!

      Not all sellers price a home in a way that makes sense for their market – especially if they don't use the services of a reputable real estate agent. Other times, there might be complicating factors that change your perspective on what the home is worth. Standing your ground is best.

      Keep these factors in mind as you're negotiating a price when buying a house:

      1. The Outcome of Your Home Inspection
        A home inspection report tells you essential facts about a home. The inspector's job is to give you a top to bottom assessment of the home's condition, which includes any repair work that needs to be done. You can negotiate for virtually any type of repair, but be especially wary of pest infestation, problems with sewer or septic, and anything to do with electrical systems.
      2. Conveyances
        A seller can offer you all kinds of perks to sweeten the deal. Often, these are provided in lieu of lowering the asking price. A conveyance is a transfer of ownership of things like furniture and other personal property in the home. If you are moving a long way, for example, you might find that relocating to a fully-furnished home gives you great peace of mind.
      3. Concessions
        Concessions, on the other hand, are benefits and discounts that are usually rolled into closing costs as an agreement is finalized. A seller might offer you cash for moving expenses or new appliances, for example. The most common type of concession is money for repairs: However, don't be afraid to get creative with concessions in your negotiating strategy.
      4. Current Market Conditions
        Keep your eye on the market in every stage of your negotiation. Buyers usually devote a lot of thought to how market conditions affect their financing package, but that's not all to remember. Local real estate trends can mean the home will go up – or down – in value in the next few years. Ask your real estate agent if the seller's price is fair in light of your likely home equity.
      5. The Home Appraisal
        If there's one thing every buyer should know, it's this: Negotiate according to the appraised value of the home, not the list price. In most cases, your lender will look at the appraised value to ensure your financing package matches up with the amount you need to spend. If the seller's price is above market value, a little more time can turn the tides to your advantage.

      Buying a house is a long and sometimes complex process. If you do not feel comfortable with the thought of having to negotiate, prepare in advance by partnering with a real estate agent you trust. He or she will support you with the skills and experience to handle negotiations.

      Negotiating may seem stressful. It does, of course, add a little more uncertainty to the buying process. In the long run, though, it is the winning strategy for getting the best value possible. You may not be able to stop yourself from falling in love with a home, but you can save yourself some money!


      Buying a House with a Pool

      In-Ground vs. Above-Ground Pools

      A swimming pool can be a major perk when you're shopping for a new home, allowing you to maximize the use of outdoor space and providing plenty of warm-weather family fun just outside your door. Whether you're shopping for a new home or adding a pool to your current home, it's important to consider your options. Both in-ground and above-ground pools come with their own unique advantages and drawbacks. Choosing the right option depends on your budget, space, future plans, how you will use the pool, and a variety of other factors. Consider the most important factors to find the right fit:

      • Space
        How much room do you have in your potential home's back yard, and how much of that space are you willing to give up to accommodate a pool? While in-ground pools often offer more swimming area and take up more space, that's not always the case. A large above-ground pool can offer the same swimming space as an in-ground pool, and cover about the same amount of area in your yard. So if you have room for one type of pool, then you probably have room for the other.
      • Longevity
        Do you want a pool that may last decades or one with an average lifespan of 8 to 15 years? Above-ground pools cost less to install but tend to need replacement after a maximum of 15 years. In-ground pools are often last longer, especially if they are made from fiberglass. If you want a pool that will last for the long haul when buying a house, then in-ground has the edge. But above-ground pools still offer a fairly substantial lifespan.
      • Cost
        While you won't have to worry about installation costs if you're buying a house that already has a pool, the cost of the pool may factor into the price of the home. An above-ground pool typically costs less to install, even if you're also installing decking around the whole pool. In-ground pools cost more to install, and the difference can be significant. If keeping costs down is a primary concern, then above-ground may be the way to go.
      • Maintenance
        No matter which type of pool you choose, maintenance will be required – whether you handle it or you find a local pool company to do the job. The good news is that routine maintenance costs really don't differ too strongly between the two types of pools. However, in-ground pool systems are often more complex, which can lead to higher repair costs when something does break.
      • Variety
        While above-ground pools offer many of the same perks of their in-ground cousins, there's no doubt that in-ground pools ultimately offer more variety. Whether you're talking about the shape, depth, look, or construction of the pool, there are simply more options with an in-ground pool. If you're buying a house and looking for a pool with a deep end or a unique shape, then the payoff of an in-ground pool may be worth the cost.

      In the end, the right option for you depends upon personal factors. An in-ground pool is more expensive to maintain, but also longer lasting. An above-ground pool may be more affordable to operate but doesn't always offer the same longevity or variety. Fortunately, both options offer plenty of potential for outdoor fun.


      Baby Boomers Are Moving to College Towns

      Retirement is here for many Baby Boomers. If you are one of those born after 1944, you may be deciding where you want to put down your retirement roots. Have you considered going back to college?

      Living in a college town as a retiree is different than when you were eating in dining halls and spending hours in the library all those years ago. Now, you can enjoy the benefits of adulthood while also taking advantage of the diverse offerings of an area that surrounds the college.

      Small Town Feel
      While some colleges are in metropolitan cities, others are nestled into smaller communities that formed around the institution. These tend to be friendlier, cost less to live in, and have a lively, exciting vibe.  Also, neighborhoods in these mid-size areas are quite walkable or offer reliable public transportation.

      Big Adult Fun
      College towns also come with plenty to do, often at reduced rates. What's your fun day out? Love sports, art, ballet, theater, or music? You can take in a game or day at the museum at colleges with ticket prices at budget-friendly levels. Some colleges bring in nationally recognized speakers. Additionally, artists of all kinds also seem to be attracted to communities near colleges, and this brings engaging exhibits, festivals, and even art-based community projects that are not necessarily attached to the school. 

      Along with cultural and sports activities, college towns frequently are home to unique boutique restaurants. Whether you enjoy a funky vegan eatery or a high-class establishment, living in a college town may prove to be the ticket to culinary satisfaction on a retirement budget.

      Good Medical Care
      If your health is a concern, large universities house high-quality medical schools, and thus, excellent hospitals. This is one of the best options for those handling long-term or complicated medical issues. Additionally, you may have access to special trials put on by such teaching hospitals.

      Get Educated
      And for the retiree that never wants to stop learning, colleges let folks take classes at reduced rates, or audit them free of charge. 

      Of course, before going back to school be prepared to do some homework. Take a look at the neighborhoods to determine which ones will fit a lifestyle that may be quieter than that of some of your younger neighbors. Also, as with any new place, ask questions about its crime rate and amenities for seniors. 

      So in considering the next chapter of your life, don't forget that making a move back to school might be the future that's right for you in retirement.


      8 Ways to Start Over in a New City

      Moving to an entirely new city as an adult is both exciting, and challenging. There are so many new things to experience, but in many ways, it may feel like you're also starting over from scratch. That's why it helps to have a plan, and you can start with our guide to 8 ways that you can start over in a new city.

      1. Scout Your City Before You Arrive
        Starting over in a new city is much simpler when you have an idea of what to expect ahead of time, so be sure to scout out your new city long before it's time to make your move. Find out where essential services are located, check out attractions you might visit for fun, and sample the local dining scene.
      2. Work with an Experienced Real Estate Agent
        Handling the logistics of your move and getting to know your new city is a lot easier when you have an experienced real estate agent you can trust for guidance. You want an agent who makes life as easy as possible while moving, and who knows the community.
      3. Make Yourself a Regular
        Once you arrive, find a few favorite coffee/dining/nightlife spots where you can make yourself a regular. Get to know the staff, talk to other regular customers, and look for new opportunities to build relationships. Before you know it, you'll have a comfortable hangout where "everybody knows your name."
      4. Don't Be Afraid to Say "Yes"
        It's easy to say "no" when somebody in your new city asks you to try something new, but do your best to resist the temptation. Say "yes" to new opportunities to connect with people, even if they invite you to something that normally might not be "your thing."
      5. Be Aggressive in Searching for New Friends
        Making new friends as an adult can be a challenge, but the most important step is putting yourself out there with a willingness to meet new people. Whether you're chatting with people from work, at your new, regular hangout, or anywhere else in the city, be aggressive about making new friends.
      6. Find a Job That Fits Your Needs
        Finding the right job is naturally a huge priority for anyone making a move to a new place because a job means financial security and new social opportunities. A job provides a reliable schedule for each day and helps you build a comfortable routine in your new home.
      7. Don't Be Ashamed to Act Like a Tourist
        It may seem strange to act like a tourist in a place you now call home, but everybody starts as a tourist when living in a new location. Don't be afraid to get out and explore, take in all of the local attractions, and search for out-of-the-way hidden gems just like you would on vacation.
      8. Keep Trying New Things Even After You're Comfortable in Your New Home
        If you follow our tips and your plan, then you'll soon start feeling comfortable in your new home city. Just don't let that stop you from exploring, and trying new things. There should be plenty more to experience in your new city, even after you're comfortable with the basics.

      Every person – and city – is unique, but starting over in a new town doesn't have to be a mystery. By exploring the community, building new relationships, being open-minded to new experiences, and learning as you go, you can quickly start to make your new city feel like home.



      8 Neighborhood Perks to Look For, Even if You Don't Use Them

      Many homebuyers have a list of amenities they want in their new neighborhood, while others haven't given it a second thought. While you might think you don't need some of the most popular neighborhood perks, having them available will make the area more desirable and improve your home's resale value. 

      Not sure what types of perks to look out for? Here are the top eight that are trending right now. 

      1. Access to Great Grocery Stores
        Thriving neighborhoods are often centered around food, so you'll want to make sure there are convenient shopping options nearby. Living near a fresh local food source like a Farmer's Market is ideal, but at a minimum, you'll want to make sure you're close to at least a few desirable grocery stores.
      2. HOA Amenities
        If you're going to be paying homeowner's association (HOA) fees, make sure you're getting at least a few amenities that are worth it. Some offer a community pool or clubhouse, and others offer perks like trash pick-up and landscape maintenance. It's always a good idea to get a full list of what your HOA dues cover before you commit to a home.
      3. Nearby Fitness Options
        A good gym or fitness center is one of the most popular HOA perks. Homes without access to an HOA-sponsored gym can still benefit from being near a public fitness center. Even if you never plan to join the gym, having one nearby is a benefit that might sway future homebuyers. 
      4. Walkability
        Walkable neighborhoods are all the rage lately, and it's a trend that's not expected to go away any time soon. Neighborhoods with sidewalks, plenty of outdoor gathering spaces, and a variety of businesses within walking distance are in high demand. 
      5. Access to Schools and Parks
        Even if you don't have children, living in a neighborhood with great schools and public parks will support your future resale value. Beware, however, of moving too close to a school or park if you're not going to frequent these places. You might find that dealing with the extra traffic and noise isn't worth the potential future benefit. 
      6. Proximity to Freeways
        Most people don't want to live right on top of a major freeway, but it's also inconvenient to live 20 or 30 minutes away from one. A home with easy access to major thoroughfares is a draw for many buyers. This is one perk you might think you don't need but will be thankful for when the time comes.
      7. Neighborhood Watch 
        A neighborhood watch shows that the people who live in an area really care about keeping crime low and taking care of each other. It helps to make your community safer and is a great way to build camaraderie with your fellow neighbors. If you're just moving in, it's also an excellent way to introduce yourself and get involved. 
      8. A Great Community Vibe
        Some people enjoy the feeling of being able to name-drop their well-known neighborhood. Others want to live in an area that's known as being hip, up-and-coming, or for having a unique, artistic vibe. Not only will this help ensure that you're going to love your new neighborhood, but when you're ready to sell, the area's reputation will speak for itself. 

      Buying a House That's Energy Efficient

      Buying a house that's energy efficient is important to most of us these days. We're all so much more aware of the impact that we have on our environment, and how important it is to minimize our environmental footprint as much as we can. Energy-efficiency can also have a significant impact – for the better – on the costs of owning a home, reducing the amount of money that must be budgeted to cover those monthly utility bills. So what do you need to know about buying an energy-efficient home?

      Key features to look for when buying a house that's energy efficient

      If your goal is to buy an energy-efficient home, features you should look for include:

      • Good Insulation – An energy-efficient home will have well-insulated walls, floors, attic spaces and crawlspaces. Sellers should be able to provide an R-value for the home's insulation, and the Department of Energy offers guidelines on appropriate R-values according to the region.
      • Good windows – Drafty windows are huge energy wasters, causing heat loss in cold weather and heat gain in the summer. Look for newer, double-pane windows when you're home shopping, preferably windows that have earned the Energy Star seal.
      • Efficient appliances – Look for appliances that are Energy Star certified, which means that they are more energy efficient than average appliances. Appliances that can carry that seal include heating and air conditioning systems, washers and dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators, water heaters, among others.
      • A solid, energy efficient roof – You will, of course, want to be sure the roof of any home you're considering is in good shape. For maximum energy-efficiency, also look for one that uses Energy Star certified roofing materials, which reflect more of the sun's rays away to reduce heat gain – and therefore the amount of energy needed for summer cooling.
      • Low flow plumbing fixtures – Low flow toilets, faucets, and showerheads conserve water, of course, but they can also add to the energy-efficiency of your home. Reduced water flow when you turn on hot water faucets means less energy used by your water heater.

      Energy-efficiency claims: Verify for your piece of mind

      Energy-efficiency is a big selling point in today's market, so home sellers are generally eager to hit the right "green" talking points when they're listing their homes. While most people are quite honest in their descriptions, any buyer would be remiss if they did not do a little due diligence to verify the sellers energy-efficiency claims. Good ways of double-checking include:

      • Review utility bills for the home – Ask to see utility costs from the past year, then contact the local utility company to find out how those costs compare to the average bills of other, similarly-sized homes in the area. An energy-efficient home should have lower than average energy usage and costs.
      • Request an energy audit – A home energy audit, done by a licensed professional, evaluates energy usage in the home to give you a very accurate idea of just how efficient it is overall.
      • Ask about certifications – If the home you're interested in is a newly constructed one, ask the seller if it is LEED or Energy Star certified. Either of these certifications ensures that the home has been built for energy-efficiency.

      Taking these steps to ensure that you're buying a house that's energy efficient may add a little time and expense to the home shopping process. However, if you are planning to live in that new home for a while, shopping carefully will pay off in the long run with a smaller environmental footprint and lower energy bills.


      6 Ways to Spot the Next Hot Neighborhood

      Do you dream of living in one of the area's hottest neighborhoods, but find that all the homes are out of your price range? If you want to live in a trendy area, but also want to get the most out of your real-estate-dollar, the trick is to buy an inexpensive home in a neighborhood that's destined to be the next new hotspot.

      Cities and urban areas across the country are going through a revitalization, also known as gentrification. Formerly run-down, lower-income regions are experiencing an influx of affluent residents, causing the neighborhoods to become desirable and home prices to rise. This trend is growing year-over-year as buyers have been placing more value on locations close to city centers and near their places of employment. 

      Up-and-coming neighborhoods tend to start as neglected and run-down areas that might have high crime rates. Purchasing a home in these areas can be risky, so you'll want to do your homework first. 

      How can you tell a neighborhood is getting ready to pop? Start with these six pro tips.

      1. Start with the Current Hotspots
        If you take a close look at some of the hottest local areas, you'll likely find neighborhoods just on the outskirts that need some love and attention. Purchasing a home in these neighborhoods will guarantee you're close to the amenities you want, and it's likely just a matter of time before your new neighborhood catches on.
      1. Keep an Eye Out for Construction
        An increase in construction is a good sign that a neighborhood is up-and-coming, but by the time you see the equipment, it's often too late. Instead, pay attention to the news to see what projects are in the works and attend city council meetings. If the city or large private investors are willing to put money into a neighborhood, it's a good sign that you might want to invest there too. 
      1. Listen to the Press
        If the news outlets begin reporting on revitalization in an area or referring to it as up-and-coming, home prices often start to climb. If you hear these reports and are ready to jump on a purchase right away, you might be able to get in before prices skyrocket.
      1. Follow the "Cool" People
        Historically, areas, where artists and musicians choose to live, have become some of the hottest neighborhoods in the country (think SoHo in NYC). This is because they typically search out less-desirable areas looking for cheap rent, then significantly improve it by bringing their creative energy.

        Also, look for areas where younger people are flocking. It's almost guaranteed that trendy bars, restaurants, and other cool amenities will follow. 
      1. Consider a Historic Area
        Areas designated as "historic" are prime for revitalization. Not only is the city or local government likely to invest in improvements, but many also offer significant tax breaks for buyers willing to spend in the area. If you're ready to put the time and effort into a restoration, you can turn a diamond-in-the-rough into a gorgeous dream home. 

      2. Talk to Your REALTOR®
        A good REALTOR® will have his or her finger on the pulse of the local area and know which neighborhoods are destined to be the next hotspots. Together, you can also examine real estate trends like days on the market (DOM). A decrease in DOM quarter-over-quarter is an excellent indicator of a neighborhood's popularity. 

      Multi-Generational Homes: Find a House the Entire Family Will Love

      Multigenerational living is making a comeback. With shifting conditions in the job market, younger people are finding it more challenging to achieve immediate success on their own. At the same time, many families are choosing to make space for elders to help their quality of life while saving money.

      While the conditions that gave rise to this new housing trend are far from thrilling, the choice to embrace a multigenerational household can lead to wonderful results for families.

      The key to making it work is to take care of finding a place everyone can call home.

      Here's how you can get it done right.

      1. Respect Everyone's Needs – and Make Those Clear
        When seeking a property for many generations to share, it's a good idea to have everyone pitch in and participate. This starts with having each member of the family write a list of their "must-have" items for the home: It should be a list of 8-10 items, ideally in order by priority.

        Yes, if you are buying a house for a big family, you will have to find ways to compromise. By creating these lists, however, everyone in the family makes a contribution. This way, you can try to focus on the desires you hold in common and find properties that provide them.
      2. Think About Safety and Convenience
        Often, you'll have to think critically about your family's needs before you uncover everything.

        For example, an elder member of the family may benefit from an access ramp in the home or, if possible, simply living on the bottom floor with all conveniences provided nearby. If a home is "almost" perfect, you can negotiate for funds to do any necessary safety renovations.

        Also, think about how convenience plays a role. For example, how many members of the family will be driving regularly? Will you need a larger driveway or even a standalone garage? It may be necessary to measure and make sure you have sufficient space.

        Go through each room of the house and think about the ways to use it. Let each member of the family visit each prospective home and give their opinion. It's vital to find a middle ground, but it's also wise to listen carefully. Address objections to a home quickly.
      3. Consider How Your Situation Changes Your Financing
        A larger family may mean more working adults living in the household – that, in turn, can make it easier to get the financing you need. Even family members living on a fixed income can have their income considered. This can raise the amount you may be eligible for and reduce interest.
      4. Let Your Real Estate Agent Know Your Plans
        A real estate agent's job is to support and advise you during the process of buying a house. He or she will do a better job if you lay your goals out from the beginning. This also empowers you, since you're able to ask the right questions and choose an agent with experience.

        Multigenerational homes are growing in importance, but not every agent knows the ropes. In your first chat with an agent, talk about your family and the specific amenities you really want. A good agent will be able to provide insight on home listings that may suit you.

      Having many generations under one roof provides brilliant opportunities for family members to bond. Young people can learn and grow with the wisdom of their elders, who get to see all their life milestones. It all begins with selecting the right home with the help of a real estate agent.


      Kid Power and Home Buying

      There are so many factors to consider when buying a house, especially if you're shopping for a home for your whole family. And it's about more than just the number of rooms, or even the school district where the home is located. According to a survey from SunTrust Mortgage, 55 percent of buyers with at least one child under 18 years of age say their child's opinion was a factor in their purchasing decision, and that number jumps to 74 percent with parents from the Millenial generation. So there's no doubt that kids have a huge influence on the purchasing process, and for good reason. Factoring in the needs of your children – both now and in the future – can help you identify a house that you'll be happy with for years to come.

      How "Kidfluence" Shapes Home Buying Process

      There are two important factors to consider when shopping for a house with kids – what the children want from the home, and what you need from the home in order to make life easier for the whole family. It's also important to look to the future, and consider what your kids will need from the home in 2, 5, or 10 years. By planning ahead while considering the current needs of your children, you can find a home that fits every member of the family.

      • School District – The quality of the local school district has always been a major priority for most parents shopping for a home, even if buying in the best districts often comes with an increase in price. For many parents with children, the quality of the school district takes precedence over other neighborhood preferences, like attractions, entertainment, or commute to work.
      • Room for Everyone – If you ask kids what they want before you start shopping, a room of their own will often rank at the top of the list. Buying a home where everyone has their own space can be worth the cost, and becomes especially important when younger children start making the march toward their teenage years.
      • A Safe Place to Play – A fenced-in yard is a parent's dream, and kids will love it, too! A safe, outdoor space where kids can play – and adults can throw a barbecue – is a major perk when buying a house, allowing you to enjoy peace of mind while the kids have the time of their lives.
      • Access to Attractions – Whether you're shopping alone or with children, finding the right neighborhood is a huge factor in long-term happiness when buying a house. With kids, it's nice to have nearby parks, museums, and attractions, where you can enjoy family outings close to home.
      • Love Your Layout – An open floor plan may look nice aesthetically, but it also means that younger children will have free rein to run throughout the house. Having doors, hallways, and spaces where it's easy to place a gate can make it easier to keep an eye on kids. Of course, it also means that you can set aside your own space, where you can enjoy some peace, quiet, and conversation with other adults.

      While you, of course, have the final decisions, listening to your kids can make life much easier when buying a house. Just remember that the tastes and desires of children change quickly, so it's important to use your parental powers to focus on what matters most long-term. Balance the present and future to find a home that both you and your children can love.


      5 Ways to Simplify Your House Hunt

      Buying a house might be one of the most challenging purchases you make. It's an exercise in the physical, mental and emotional. For all the effort it takes from start to finish, the energy invested will pay off with an enjoyable and practical purchase to build wealth. These five tips will help you simplify the process. 

      1. Get your financial paperwork in order.
        You will need to submit detailed financial records to the lender that may take some time to assemble. The sooner you start the process, the sooner the lender will be able to approve you for a loan. 

      2. Ask a mortgage lender to pre-approve you for a loan.
        Pre-approval means that a lender is ready to finance a home purchase. By taking this step early, you'll know how much a lender is willing to loan you. You won't spend time looking at properties beyond your price range, and you'll be viewed as a serious buyer when it comes time to buy your dream home.

      3. Find a REALTOR®.
        A REALTOR® will take care of all the many essential details involved in the search, purchase, and closing processes. 

        You and REALTOR® will select the homes to research and view any that are within your price range and in your desired neighborhoods. Establishing "must have" and "nice to have"checklists will help you narrow your searches. Sticking to the checklist keeps you on track.  

      4. Organize the data.
        When you're buying a house, after a while, it may become challenging to remember which was which. To keep each home fresh in your memory, keep track of the MLS ID number each home has. Enter them into a text or spreadsheet document so that you can always search for it later.

        You can also enter the essential numerical data like bedrooms, baths, square footage, price, and garage and lot size for each possibility. Be sure you include the MLS ID next to the home's details. Once you're finished, you can sort the spreadsheet to make decisions based on your priorities. 

        It's easy to do on your phone or computer and keeps the information immediately available. 

      5. Do virtual drive-bys.
        If you're not crazy about long drives to essentials like grocery stores, schools for the kids, or parks and recreation, use mapping features found on GPS units, apps, or other websites to find the nearest amenities to the homes you're considering.

        Online satellite maps also make it easy to see the neighborhood of the property listing, as well as the surrounding areas. If you like what's nearby, keep the property on your list. If not, cross it off and inform your agent. 

      Buying a Home Near Retirement

      Buying a house can be rewarding at any time of life, including just before retirement.

      It's never too early or too late to buy a home. Having your own home offers great peace of mind during retirement.

      Still, it's important to do research and come up with a home buying strategy that makes sense for you. Buying a home in your 50s or 60s is very different from doing it in your 20s or 30s.

      Let's look at ways to clear the path to the best decision – and the best home.

      1. Don't Be Tempted to Reduce Your Retirement Investing
        No matter how close retirement may be, this is the biggest thing: Don't cut your investments! Reducing retirement savings by what seems like a tiny amount – say, $100 a month – can have major repercussions in the future. Even if retirement is only a few years away, you could still find yourself thousands of dollars short of what you need for a comfortable lifestyle. Your home is an asset, but it won't replace retirement investments. Keep those separate.
      2. Look at Your Budget Before and After Retirement
        Even with a handsome retirement nest egg, you'll still need to make some changes when you shift from wages to a fixed income. But it may not be as big a change as you think. In a sense, most jobs offer a "fixed income" – you know what you're getting for months or years at a time. If retirement is ten years off or less, you have the insight you need to start figuring out how much you may make from pensions, Social Security, and retirement income. Your total monthly house payments should be no more than 25% of whatever income you are taking home. Your monthly budget in retirement may be anywhere from 20% to 50% less than your current budget. Keep this in mind as you consider what level of payment is feasible in the coming years.
      3. Seek Out Financing Before Retirement Begins
        Although retirement means lower income, you can still use the benefit of your years at work. If you are at least three years from retirement, you are still in a strong position to use your wages or salary as the basis of your mortgage loan consideration. Mortgage lenders are prohibited from discriminating against potential borrowers based on age. Still, they will want to understand your income and ability to pay back your loan. Both your overall financial picture and your credit score will tend to be better while you are still in the workforce. There is nothing dishonest about using this as the basis of your mortgage loan consideration as long as you plan for how circumstances may change in the future!
      4. Think Seriously About Your Post-Retirement Needs
        Every home you will ever own is a snapshot of your needs at one particular time in your life. The home you buy before retirement will be very different from the one you bought soon after college. Deciding what you'll need is essential. While many retirees will opt for a smaller home, for example, some desire additional space so they can host their children and grandchildren. Will you need specific safety features? Are you comfortable with a two-story home or do you want the convenience of a single floor? What amenities matter to you? Going into the process with a clear picture in mind will save you both money and time.

      An experienced real estate agent is your best friend in the home buying process.


      What are the Benefits of Using a Weighted Blanket?

      Have you heard about the way thousands of people are using weighted blankets to improve their sleep? Over the last few years, weighted blankets have increased in popularity due to their ability to benefit the body and mind. If you've heard of this product but still aren't sure what exactly a weighted blanket is and how it can improve your health, read on to discover why these resources are changing lives around the country.

      What is a Weighted Blanket?

      Unsurprisingly, a weighted blanket is exactly what it sounds like — a blanket that is significantly heavier than even the "heavy" cozy blankets you may cuddle up with. You may have also heard them referred to as gravity blankets. These blankets get their additional weight from a variety of materials including glass beads, rice, millet, and plastic pellets. The outer material can be light like linen or heavier like Minky fabric.

      Weighted blankets have been used for decades in the special needs community as a therapeutic resource. When used, they apply Deep Pressure Therapy to the individual's body which provides plenty of health benefits. Today, they're being sold commercially as a tool that has the ability to help many individuals improve their quality of life. They can be used overnight to help create a more restful sleep or during the day to calm anxiety.

      What are the Benefits of Weighted Blankets?

      Numerous studies have shown positive results from the use of weighted blankets in a variety of contexts. Many psychiatrists use them on patients who have experienced traumatic events or are in times of crisis. Those with disabilities like autism use them to help them focus their behavior and emotions. Aside from clinical use, researchers have found that these tools can also help people at home who are struggling for a number of chronic issues.

      Here are a few ways weighted blankets may benefit you or your loved ones:

      • Lower anxiety levels.
      • Manage on-going stress.
      • Regulate your sleep cycle and limit insomnia.
      • Calm you when you experience sensory processing disorders.
      • Address ADHD symptoms and enhance focus.
      • Reduce restless leg syndrome symptoms.
      • Improve your quality of sleep.
      • Elevate your mood.
      • Calm your body and mind after a long day.

      Building Equity May Be Easier Than You Think

      Equity is an oft-used term in most real estate fields and has a rather significant bearing on personal wealth and your future plans.  Understanding equity in and of itself isn't difficult, but there are some things you should know that may help build equity and potentially pay off your mortgage.

      What is Equity?

      Equity is essentially the value of your home minus what you still owe on it.  Unless you're purchasing a home up front with cash, then you will have equity on your side and a mortgage as a liability.  Of course, the longer you pay your mortgage, the more equity you build and the more each incremental payment will go towards principal instead of interest.  

      So how can you build equity faster?

      Make a Larger Down Payment

      For most conventional mortgages a 5% down payment is a requirement, and most mortgages have some form of PMI or private mortgage insurance for any equity less than 20%.  With that said, the larger your down payment the more equity you have at the onset of your mortgage and the shorter the duration you pay PMI.  

      A larger down payment will also lower your monthly payments and, depending on how aggressively you're paying your mortgage, can potentially help you pay it off faster.

      Make Paying Down Your Mortgage a Priority

      One of the best ways to get more equity faster is to make paying down your mortgage a top priority.  Let's face it, homes and mortgages are a longterm commitment which means paying off a mortgage and building equity can take some time.  

      In order to prioritize paying down your mortgage, consider paying extra each month.  An additional payment of as little as $25 can trim months, even years off of a mortgage and give you an extra $25 per month in equity.  Additionally, you can choose to put income tax refunds, gift money, bonuses, or one-time payments towards your mortgage.  Finally, consider refinancing to a shorter loan note or a lower interest rate to maximize where your payments go.

      Increase Your Property Value

      When it comes down to it, many homeowners living in older homes neglect the fact that they can add significant value to their property.  Remember, equity is your property value minus any debt.  Therefore, increasing property value will inherently increase your equity in your home.  

      Of course, when many homeowners think about increasing property value, they see the dollar signs following soon after with visions of pricey remodels, extensive work, and days without conventional creature comforts.  And while this may be the case, how much you choose to spend will depend largely on how much value certain improvements add to homes in your local region.  

      Additionally, maintaining your home can be just as valuable as spending in increasing your property value.  We're talking about maintaining big-ticket items such as HVAC systems, other mechanical systems, and staying on top of potential problems including exterior weathering, rot, and pest issues.

      Make the Most of Your Equity

      No matter what method you choose to increase your equity, make sure your efforts are not in vain.  Weigh the pros and cons to attacking your equity on a variety of different fronts.  It may work best to mix and match tactics and focus on long-term equity gain as well as making bigger headway in the short term.  


      7 Ways to Lose at Negotiating a House Price

      Buying a home is a life-changing event. Where you live, the neighborhood, the attributes, and amenities of the house can affect your family for years, impacting almost every element of life. Location may change your work-life balance by extending or shortening the daily commute. Your mix of friends and social activities will likely be related to where you buy a house.

      Overpaying at the outset or having extensive repairs in subsequent years can also impact your future net worth if you cannot recover your investment when you sell.

      In short, the home you choose impacts your quality of life.

      Research First Before Buying

      Researching the market is the best place to start. Knowing existing market prices, your borrowing limit and creditworthiness, neighborhood characteristics, and location-related issues will help you to develop a sense of what, where, and how much you may be able to afford.

      Also, meet with prospective real estate agents to determine who makes you most comfortable and confident of success. Discuss the market. Is this a buyers' or a sellers' market based on demand, availability, and interest rates? 

      In recent years, the supply of available homes for sale has fallen compared to the number of active buyers. The rate of new home construction has not kept pace with rising demand. Interest rates have been at historic lows. The inevitable result?  We currently have a seller' market.

      A different set of negotiation strategies may be helpful in this instance.

      What is "Losing?"

      Losing a home purchase negotiation can take two forms:

      • First, and most obvious, would be paying more than you should have for the home, much to the delight of the seller.
      • The second way to lose in negotiation is to see your perfect dream house go to another buyer because you were haggling over insubstantial amounts or issues.

      Ways to Gain When Negotiating

      Suppose you have searched and found a home that fits your criteria in the target price range. You decide to make an offer. 

      Don't do the following:

      1. Don't Appear Aggressive: An aggressive, demanding offer can end negotiations before they begin. Know that negotiation does not have to be adversarial and contentious. One great suggestion is to accompany your initial proposal with a polite letter, complimenting the owners on their beautiful home and how much you love the property. Set the stage for positive negotiations.
      2. Not Knowing Why the Seller is Selling: Try to determine concrete reasons why the home is on the market. Is it related to proposed or pending activity in the area?
      3. Not Studying the Market: How long has this house been on the market? Why? Know the immediate market and comparable sales. Offering according to this information will likely be more successful.
      4. Do Not Forego Inspections: Professional inspections for house structure, mechanical elements, swimming pools, walkways and driveways, and pests are essential.
      5. Consider Not Demanding All Repairs Be Fixed at Seller's Expense: Some homes are offered "as-is."  Some sellers agree to lower the price instead of repairing. If you otherwise love the home, a few-thousand-dollar compromise may mean only a few dollars a month in your mortgage.
      6. Don't Quibble Over the Décor: Too often, because of paint or carpeting, buyers gag when entering a home that is otherwise near-perfect. Fixing the décor may not be a substantial cost. Personalizing the home is likely your goal anyway.
      7. Don't Brag About What You Can "Really" Afford: Instead, kindly advise that any additional cost will be painful.

      Avoiding these issues should encourage prospective homeowners to take a more thoughtful, yet firm, approach to home buying.

      Most importantly, listen to the advice of your REALTOR®.


      9 Pro-approved Packing Hacks to Make Moving Easier

      So you've just bought a house, and you're excited about settling into life in that new home. What probably isn't quite as exciting is the prospect of moving all your stuff into that new home. Moving is hard work, and the process is often chaotic. The good news is that there are things you can do to reduce the stress and frustration involved in getting the job done. Here are nine pro-approved packing hacks to make moving easier:

      1. Take pre-packing pictures – Before you unplug and pack that complicated home theater system or any other electronics with lots of wires, snap a couple of pictures of just how it is all set up. This will save you the chore of figuring it all out from scratch later, and the frustration that comes with it.
      2. Keep cords from tangling – Cords that are packed away in boxes always seem to become a tangled mess by the time they are unpacked. To avoid this, tuck each one into an empty toilet tissue tube before boxing them up.
      3. Color-code your boxes – You'll do a lot less lifting and carrying when it comes time to unpack if you color-code while packing. Get an assortment of colored tape, assign a color to each room, and mark each box you pack with the tape color that corresponds with the room in which it belongs. That makes it easy to place boxes in the right rooms as the moving truck is unloaded, saving you the time and work of rearranging them later.
      4. Seal up against spills – Packing cleaning supplies, shampoos, and other liquids can be tricky and often leads to messes. Putting a little plastic wrap between bottle opening and lid can give them a stronger, more travel-safe seal.
      5. Pack some essential "first-day" items – Your first day in your new home will be a lot more comfortable if you set yourself up to have what you need without hunting through dozens of boxes to find it. Pack a box or two to travel right with you that is full of towels, shower supplies, toilet tissue, clothes, food, plates, forks, and other necessary items.
      6. Don't fuss with clothes – Packing clothes can be done by leaving them right where they live. Rather than taking them from dresser drawers and boxing them up, tape the drawers shut to keep your clothes safe right where they are. Clothes on hangers can be handled as well. Just bunch hangers up, tie them together and slip a plastic trash bag over the clothes they hold.
      7. Keep hardware where it needs to be – Some things may need to be taken apart for the move, like shelving or furniture. Put hardware, such as screws, nuts, bolts, and brackets, into plastic bags and tape them to the furniture that needs them.
      8. Use towels, sheets, and blankets for packing – Dishes and other fragile items need cushioning to protect them during the move. Household linens can serve the purpose and save you money on packing supplies.
      9. Cut handles in boxes – Large boxes can be hard to handle, especially if you can't get a firm grip. Use a box cutter to cut triangles into the side, making handles for easier lifting.

      Moving isn't fun, and it is rarely a smooth, stress-free process, but putting these tips to work for you can make it a little easier. By planning and keeping things organized for more efficient unpacking, you'll spend much less time settling in and get to the end goal more quickly – enjoying your new home.


      5 Tips to Improve Your Credit Score

      Some think a credit score is a number that puts an arbitrarily derived value to someone's creditworthiness.  This couldn't be further from the truth.  Credit scores are not only important, but big business and could be the difference between getting financing, a loan, or even a job.  

      Just as it takes time to build credit, it can also take time to repair credit.  If improving your credit score is on your to-do list for the new year, take a look at our five tips to improve your credit score.

      1. Know and Monitor Your Credit Score
        If you're reading this, then you likely already have an idea of what your credit score is, but if you're simply doing some legwork on how to improve credit, then it would be wise to have a copy of your credit report in your hands.  By law, you are allowed a free credit report from each of the major credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.  You can request a report from any one or all three of the agencies to keep tabs on your credit report.  Since you get one free one each year, you can request one every four months throughout the year and keep a rough score of your credit report over time.
      2. Check for Discrepancies
        Mistakes happen, but when you're talking about your credit score, they can also be expensive.  Studies have shown that roughly 20% of all credit reports have mistakes on them, and a big mistake could be very costly to you if you're looking at getting a loan or a mortgage.

        Grab your credit report, comb it over, and make sure there aren't any glaring issues.  Check that all of your personal information is correct, make sure all of your credit accounts are accounted for, and check that there aren't any incorrect payment or delinquency issues.
      3. Pay on Time and in Full
        Payment history comprises 35% of your credit score which means that delinquent payments or not paying in full will damage your credit significantly.  If you have a bad habit of paying your credit card or cell phone bill late, then break it right away!  Since payment history makes up a substantial chunk of your credit score, it can also make the most significant impact if you choose to take steps to improve it.  Pay on time and see how much of an impact it makes.
      4. Pay Down Debts
        The amounts you owe on credit accounts make up 30% of your credit score.  Just like paying on time, paying off your credit notes will give you a big boost and a major step towards improving your credit score over time.  Petty debts can be especially burdensome to many Americans.  Small debts such as unpaid medical bills, unpaid utility bills, or skipping out on something paltry can hit you on multiple fronts in your credit score.  If possible, knock out those overhanging debts ASAP.
      5. Don't Apply for More Credit
        If improving your credit is the name of the game, then stop applying for more of it.  While credit card offers from various banks and merchants may seem great on the surface: 10% off, 0% APR for 60 months, $200 credit, etc., applying for that credit isn't so great. Every time you apply for a new line of credit, a little red flag goes up on your credit report.  New credit accounts for 10% of your credit score, but new credit apps or new lines of credit can take their toll.

      6 Tips for Winning a Bidding War

      Finding your dream home can be a lot of fun, but it's also serious business. If you've ever found yourself in a heated bidding war with another prospective buyer, then you know exactly why.

      As stressful as a bidding war can be, there are plenty of ways you can turn the tables in your favor. So if you're locked in a desperate tug-of-war with another buyer, take a deep breath and use these tips to make sure you come out on top without overspending.

      1. Know What You Can Really Afford
        It's important to know the absolute maximum price that you can pay, factoring in monthly mortgage payments, property taxes, homeowners insurance, maintenance, and any other expenses, such as possible homeowner association or condominium fees. Knowing your maximum will prevent you from going too high if you find yourself in a bidding war; and if you do end up losing out to another buyer, at least you'll know that you made the best offer you could.
      2. Find the Right House for Your Budget
        Look for homes that are priced slightly below your maximum budget, and make a substantial offer – this isn't the time to try to lowball the seller. If there is another bid and the price starts to inch its way up, knowing that your maximum budget is a bit higher than the asking price gives you some wiggle room.
      3. Make Sure You're Pre-Approved
        Being pre-approved for a home loan not only gives you a more solid picture of what you can afford but also lets sellers know that you are serious about buying. Pre-approval might not give you a leg up over a buyer who is willing to pay way more than you, but if a bidding war is at a dead heat, a buyer with pre-approval has a significant advantage over one who does not.
      4. Put Cash on the Table
        If your finances allow it, one of the best ways to gain an advantage over other buyers is to increase your upfront cash payment. Sellers always prefer to get cash rather than waiting to see if the buyer's mortgage comes through, so the more you're able to pay upfront – even making an all-cash offer, if possible – the more likely it is that your offer will be accepted.
      5. Skip the Contingencies
        Buyers and sellers each come to the table with any number of contingencies. The seller may need to close on their new house before selling their old one, or you may need to move in on a specific date. If you're not the only potential buyer, it helps to be flexible about contingencies, and accept as many of the seller's as possible.
      6. Make a Personal Connection
        It's possible to win a bidding war you never thought you would win by making a personal connection with the seller. The key is that it has to be genuine; ingratiating yourself to the seller in a transparent attempt to get ahead will not do you any favors. But you should attempt to get to know the people who are selling the house and write a personal note to the seller about the future you envision for yourself in your new home.

      8 Things You'll Need As You Move Into Your New Home

      When you're buying your first home, of course, you'll remember to get things like a sofa, bed, and kitchen table.  However, there are a ton of "little" things you might not remember come moving day.  Here are eight essential items you will need for moving into your home.

      1. Paper Products
        Toilet paper and paper towels should be top on your list.  You also might want paper plates, tissues, and napkins.
      2. Cleaning Products
        Moving can make a mess, and while your new home might not be a total disaster, it's unlikely it's as pristine as it was at the showing. At a minimum, you'll need to clean the bathroom and kitchen immediately since you'll use them first. So make sure you have the right supplies to do so.  
      3. Tools
        When you have your own home, there's no getting around it--you'll eventually have to make some minor repairs. It's not practical to call someone for all the little things. Fixing loose hinges and cabinet handles, hanging pictures, or putting up curtain rods are well within the skills of most homeowners and only require a few basic tools. It's a good idea to have these tools handy on moving day so you'll be prepared.
      4. Locks and Keys
        You'll want to change the locks right away and get an extra key made or possibly pay a locksmith to come and change them out. Your safety should always be a priority.
      5. Equipment for Yard Work
        Even if you've decided that after buying a house you want someone else to do the yard work, it's unlikely you can avoid the task entirely. You likely will have to sweep a walkway, shovel snow to get out of your driveway, or clean up after a storm. Often people decide to do their yard work after buying a house to save a little money. Here are a few tools you may need:
        • Lawnmower
        • Snowblower
        • Push broom
        • Garden hose
        • Wheelbarrow
        • Garden gloves
        • Window treatments - The window treatments often leave with the previous owners. If that applies to your home, you'll want to get them in place right away for privacy and controlling the amount of light that comes in.
      6. Garbage Cans and Trash Bags
      7. Appliances
        If the major appliances aren't staying, you'll want to get these right away. It's just not practical to go without a refrigerator or washing machine for too long, especially if you have a family.
      8. Home Safety Equipment
        Buying a home means you're responsible for its upkeep and that includes basic safety. You don't want anything to happen to your family or your property. If you're getting a home security system, you'll want to get that in place quickly as well. Home safety equipment includes:
        • Flashlights
        • Fire extinguishers
        • Batteries
        • Smoke detectors
        • Carbon monoxide detector 
        • Light fixtures and lightbulbs - Again, these are not always things included when you're buying a house. If that's the case with your new home, you'll want to have a few lamps when it gets dark the first night.

      With these new home essentials, you'll be well on your way to successful homeownership.


      7 Tips for Millennials Buying Their First Home

      Buying your first home is one of the most exciting--and scariest--things you'll ever do. When you consider all of the steps involved from saving for a down payment to closing day, it's no wonder most people find home buying intimidating.  The good news is, it doesn't have to be!

      With a little bit of knowledge and preparation, you can be ready to make the jump into home ownership in no time. Here are some of the best tips to help you get started. 

      1. Set Up a Separate Savings Account
        It seems like there's always something waiting to take a bite out of your paycheck. If you want to save up for a home, you'll have to make it a priority. Set up a separate savings account exclusively to cover the costs of buying a house and schedule regular deposits every payday.
      2. Take Good Care of Your Credit
        Your credit plays a significant role in your ability to finance a home, so start taking steps immediately to get it in the best shape possible. Check your credit score and review the report for accuracy. Make sure you pay all of your bills on time and pay down high balances if possible. As soon as you start thinking about buying a house avoid opening new credit accounts as this can negatively impact your credit score.
      3. Understand All of the Costs Involved
        When you're serious about buying a house, one of the most critical steps is deciding how much you can afford to pay. Make sure you include all of the potential costs. This includes items like taxes and insurance, closing costs, homeowner's association fees, and ongoing maintenance expenses.
      4. Shop Around for the Best Mortgage Offer
        Research the current mortgage rates and check with a few lenders to make sure you get the best deal. In addition to wanting a great rate, you'll also need to be on the lookout for other fees. This includes closing costs, loan origination fees, and pre-payment penalties. Make sure you add up the total costs before you make your final decision.
      5. Research the Neighborhood Before You Buy
        Remember what seems like the perfect home may not be, especially if it's in a less-than-perfect location. Before buying a house, research the neighborhood you're considering and make sure it has the features you want. This may include things like access to good schools, proximity to shopping and dining options, and a short commute to your job. Also check online for crime safety reports and walk around the neighborhood to make sure it feels safe. 
      6. Understand Your Home Inspection
        Never consider buying a house until you know its true condition. Plan to attend your property inspection so you can see first-hand anything that comes up during the process.  You'll also want to understand what the inspection does and doesn't cover. For example, many inspections don't include looking for evidence of mold, radon, or pest activity. Before committing to purchase a home, review the inspection report and make sure there are no major red flags.
      7. Hire a Good Real Estate Agent
        It's true that the home-buying process can be complex, but you don't have to go it alone. Hiring a great real estate agent means you'll have someone on your side every step of the way. From vetting potential homes to negotiating contracts and more, a real estate professional can give you the expert advice you need. 

      First-Time Buyers: Do You Know the 5 Cs of Credit?

      Buying a house comes with a lot of considerations for anyone and especially first time home buyers looking to get into the housing market.  Usually, home buyers put a lot of thought into how they can afford a home but often forget about building creditworthiness or ensuring that they are a worthwhile risk for a lender.  

      If you're a first-time buyer, do you know the 5 Cs of credit?

      1. Capacity
        From a lender's perspective, capacity is a borrower's ability to repay a loan and comes down to largely your income versus expenditures or other debt obligations.  Some lenders may take your current income and project it decades into the future to see how your income will change over the time you have your loan.  

        Capacity also deals with your cash flow which can raise a big red flag if you spend unnecessarily or have considerable debt obligations elsewhere.  One way to improve your capacity as a borrower is to pay off any debts (especially credit cards) and make a conscious effort to be less of a debt burden to your lender.

      2. Collateral
        Collateral, unlike capacity, deals with the purchase you're about to make (i.e., your new home).  In other words, does the price you plan on purchasing your home for appraise for that price?  If the appraisal of your home falls woefully short of the price you plan on paying or what you've contracted for, then the bank may not have adequate payment in the event you default.

        One way you can protect yourself in this area of credit is to make sure the home you're buying is in good, livable condition with no obvious signs of value-damaging issues such as termites, structural flaws, or anything else that could muck up potential reselling.

      3. Character
        For the most part, character comes down to how you pay you to manage your money and how faithful you are to your debts.  Do you pay your debts, child support, rent, car payments, and other financial obligations on time and in full?  How likely are you to repay a mortgage if it were lent to you?

        These questions evaluate what type of person you are and how much of a risk you are to default on a large loan.  For the most part, if you've had a spotless history of repayment and faithfulness in making payments towards your required financial obligations, this will be the least of your concerns.

      4. Capital
        This examines how much money you have available for a down payment and may make a huge difference if you're deficient in another area of the 5 Cs.  For example, maybe you rate poorly on capacity or another criterion but are willing to make a substantial down payment.  

        Capital shows not only how much you have available towards your home but how much proverbial "skin in the game" you're willing to put forth.  A large down payment can display commitment and character to your lender.

      5. Conditions
        Finally, what are the market conditions in your area?  Are they likely to degrade or improve?  This helps your lender decide whether or not they can make up enough of the difference of your loan in the event you default on your mortgage.

        While no one buys a house with intentions of default, it does happen, and lenders must protect themselves if it does.  You can help smooth over the conditions aspect of your mortgage by sitting down with your lender and discussing your financial situation and together find the right financial solution for a mortgage.

      7 Tips for Buying a House Out of State

      According to USA Today, approximately 40 million people throughout the United States move each year. While many movers relocate within the same city, long-term lifestyle goals such as job opportunities and better climate drive large numbers of people to migrate out of state.

      If you find yourself facing such a change now or in the future, finding a new home will be at the top of your to-do list. Reduce stress and uncertainty with these valuable tips for buying a house out of state. 

      1. Do Your Homework
        Research is vital whenever you're buying a house, whether it's across the country or across the street. Fortunately, the internet puts unprecedented amounts of information at your fingertips providing data and photos.

        But you have one more assignment when you move out of state: check out your target areas. City-Data and Best Places to Live are two top sources that drill down to neighborhood and zip code levels for population demographics and quality of life information, including the cost of living and school ratings.

      2. Find a Reputable Buyer's Agent 
        No matter how thorough you are, there's no substitute for professional help. A buyer's agent based in your desired location will have invaluable information regarding local real estate laws, potential pitfalls and other area-specific details. 

      3. Ask Questions ... and Keep Asking
        Regardless of how many homes you have purchased in the past, when you're buying a house out of state, pretend it's the first time. Ask every question that occurs to you, even if you think you know the answer. Don't let pride or embarrassment keep you from uncovering vital information.

      4. Watch Out for Scams
        Sadly, the flip side of digital access is that it's more appealing to real estate scammers who can manipulate pictures and information to mislead unsuspecting buyers. Take everything with a grain of salt until you can confirm it in person or through a reliable source.

      5. Conduct Virtual Tours
        Thanks to modern technology, you can "see" potential homes without leaving your current house. Have your agent (or family and friends, if possible) take you on virtual tours with FaceTime or Skype. Once you have the candidates narrowed down, plan a quick trip for in-person visits.

      6. Attend the Inspection
        Nothing takes away the excitement of a new home faster than discovering a problem you thought was a molehill is really a mountain. No matter how detailed a home inspection report is, the only way to know the house's true condition is to be there in person.

      7. Be Patient
        Even if you've done your due diligence, the logistics of buying a house out of state are bound to slow up the procedure to one degree or another. For example, loan approval may require jumping through an extra hoop or two. Have patience and trust the process, secure in the knowledge that millions of people have successfully bought homes out of state for years.

      Buying a house out of state should be the start of a dream, not a nightmare. Use these tips to streamline the transition and find a house that will truly become a home.


      7 Tips for Millennials Buying Their First Home

      Buying your first home is one of the most exciting--and scariest-- things you'll ever do. When you considered all of the steps involved from saving for a down payment to closing day, it's no wonder most people find home buying intimidating.  The good news is, it doesn't have to be!

      With a little bit of knowledge and preparation, you can be ready to make the jump into home ownership in no time. Here are some of the best tips to help you get started. 

      1. Set Up a Separate Savings Account
        It seems like there's always something waiting to take a bite out of your paycheck. If you want to save up for a home, you'll have to make it a priority. Set up a separate savings account exclusively to cover the costs of buying a house and schedule regular deposits every payday. 

      2. Take Good Care of Your Credit
        Your credit plays a significant role in your ability to finance a home, so start taking steps immediately to get it in the best shape possible. Check your credit score and review the report for accuracy. Make sure you pay all of your bills on time and pay down high balances if possible. As soon as you start thinking about buying a house avoid opening new credit accounts as this can negatively impact your credit score.

      3. Understand All of the Costs Involved
        When you're serious about buying a house, one of the most critical steps is deciding how much you can afford to pay. Make sure you include all of the potential costs. This includes items like taxes and insurance, closing costs, homeowner's association fees, and ongoing maintenance expenses. 

      4. Shop Around for the Best Mortgage Offer
        Research the current mortgage rates and check with a few lenders to make sure you get the best deal. In addition to wanting a great rate, you'll also need to be on the lookout for other fees. This includes closing costs, loan origination fees, and pre-payment penalties. Make sure you add up the total costs before you make your final decision. 

      5. Research the Neighborhood Before You Buy
        Remember what seems like the perfect home may not be, especially if it's in a less-than-perfect location. Before buying a house, research the neighborhood you're considering and make sure it has the features you want. This may include things like access to good schools, proximity to shopping and dining options, and a short commute to your job. Also check online for crime safety reports and walk around the neighborhood to make sure it feels safe.  

      6. Understand Your Home Inspection
        Never consider buying a house until you know its true condition. Plan to attend your property inspection so you can see first-hand anything that comes up during the process.  You'll also want to understand what the inspection does and doesn't cover. For example, many inspections don't include looking for evidence of mold, radon, or pest activity. Before committing to purchase a home, review the inspection report and make sure there are no major red flags. 

      7. Hire the Right Real Estate Agent
        It's true that the home-buying process can be complex, but you don't have to go it alone. Hiring a great real estate agent means you'll have someone on your side every step of the way. From vetting potential homes to negotiating contracts and more, a real estate professional can give you the expert advice you need. 

      5 Things to Consider When Buying a Vacant Home

      Who doesn't love a bargain? If you find a vacant home for sale, there's a good chance it's the best deal on the block--but that low price tag could also come with potential risks. We're not saying that you should always avoid buying a vacant home, proceed with caution. Here are five things to be aware of when you're considering a vacant home.

      1. Plumbing Woes
        The plumbing is one of the most vulnerable areas in a house that's been sitting empty for a period, especially if the previous occupant didn't take enough care to turn off the water properly, drain and treat the pipes before moving out. As a result, you're likely to discover cracked gaskets, dried-out valves, and even ruptured pipes when you turn the water back on. To give the home inspector a better shot at detecting plumbing issues, turn on the water for a few days before having the home inspected. If there's a leak, you'll know it.

      2. Pest Control Problems
        Vacant homes offer a perfect opportunity for mice, rats, bats, and squirrels--even raccoons and possums--to set up shop in a warm, sheltered space. Chances are, there are at least a few critters holed up in any vacant house, so hire a pest control professional to do a thorough check before buying. The big problem with pests like mice and rats isn't just that they're a nuisance, but that they sometimes chew up wiring and insulation, leading to more expensive damage. 

      3. Incomplete Inspections
        If a home's utilities are all turned off, it's impossible for even the most dedicated home inspector to thoroughly check the electricity, water, gas, heating and cooling systems, along with all the appliances connected to these systems. And if a home has been vacant for a long time, there's always a chance that some issues are present. Having all the utilities temporarily turned on before the inspector arrives is a hassle, but it could save you from buying a house with significant defects. 

      4. Future Maintenance Costs
        So, you've taken the necessary steps, hired an inspector, and the house in question comes back with a clean bill of health – for now. The problem is, even if the home seems fine now, the fact that it has been vacant or abandoned for an extended period could still be a problem down the road. Vacant homes tend to come with a lot more future maintenance costs that a new or well-maintained older home, so make sure you're prepared for the possibility of costly repairs down the line. 

      5. Insurance Obstacles
        You may want to get homeowners insurance for your peace of mind, or you may be required to ensure your home, depending on the situation. Either way, most insurance agencies won't insure a vacant house without having their home inspector check it out. And even then, they may require that you have some costly repairs done before they are willing to issue a policy. 

      7 Tips for Single Women Buying a Home

      Buying a home is a worthy objective for a single woman. It is also a significant accomplishment that involves planning, saving, and achieving a good credit score. It takes a bit more effort when you are the only source of income, so here are seven tips for the single woman interested in buying her first home.

      1. Check Your Credit Report
        Checking your credit report is the first step towards homeownership. Not only will you see your credit score, but you will also look at all accounts you have had over the years including credit cards, student loans, and auto loans. You will also see late and on time payments towards those accounts and accounts in collections (if you have any).
      2. Fix Problem Accounts
        Problem accounts will typically be in a separate section of the report so that you can find them easily. If you haven't previously reviewed your report, you may be surprised by what could be there. Try to get any accounts up-to-date if they are legitimate and work to have incorrect information removed before applying for a mortgage.
      3. Determine a Budget
        Determining your budget is a crucial financial decision. You may pay less for a mortgage than your rental payment. However, you will also have property taxes, homeowners insurance, and potential repairs. Be realistic and work those costs into your budget before buying a home.
      4. Get Pre-approved
        After saving for your down payment, work with a mortgage company to get pre-approved for a loan. You will be better prepared to make an offer when you find your dream home. The sellers will also view your offer as more sincere and workable.
      5. Research Real Estate Agents and Neighborhoods
        Finding a real estate agent with extensive knowledge about the neighborhoods in which you are interested is essential.  You want to move to a safe neighborhood that is also affordable, and you want to have an experienced, reliable real estate agent to help you. Determine in advance the type of neighborhood you want. Are you looking for an area with an active singles scene? Or are you looking for someplace close to work?

        Check with family and friends for referrals to real estate agents. Look for one that has experience working with first-time single home buyers. You should also make it a priority to find an agent with the patience to answer all of your questions and will show you homes within your budget.
      6. Check Everything Twice Before Closing
        Once your offer has been accepted, you and your real estate agent will prepare for closing the transaction. You will need a home inspection before closing. Read this report carefully and look for any potential issues that could lead to repairs. If you find any, you can ask through your agent that the sellers repair them as a condition to closing.

        Also, read your loan agreements closely. Be sure you understand every provision and ask the agent or loan officer to clarify anything that may confuse you. Now is the time to get answers to any lingering questions.
      7. Enjoy Your New Home
        The last tip is the best. Enjoy your accomplishment and your new home. 

      How Important is Commute Time?

      When you're house hunting, most people have a home-buying checklist that helps determine if a place is right for them.  The price, neighborhood, walkability, schools, size of home and yard top the list.  One thing sometimes not considered is commute time.

      Many real estate experts warn that commute time plays a huge role in your daily life, and can ultimately affect your mood and happiness--even your physical health. Statistics show that people are often happier living closer to their work.  Here are buying a house and commuting.

      1. Housing Costs
        When you're buying a house, the cost of the house is one of the first things you look at, right? Generally, the price of a home drops as you move further from the center of a city or urban area, into the suburbs. The general guideline many REALTORS® suggest is to start at your work and drive until you can afford it. Then begin your home search. 
      2. Commuting Costs
        The cost of commuting where to live much less cut-and-dry than we'd like. Commuting costs include the price of gas, insurance, car maintenance and repairs, toll fees, and parking - or the cost to take public transport each day. When you're gauging the price of a home, it's incredibly important to factor in how long you'll be commuting each day, and add your commuting costs to rent or mortgage to get more accurate comparisons.
      3. Commuting Stress
        Your health should always be a big factor when you're buying a house.  Commuting takes a toll on your health, both mental and physical. Studies show that people with longer commutes experience more frustration and stress and are likely less satisfied with life than those with a short daily commute. Longer commutes also contribute to higher blood sugar levels, higher cholesterol, and neck and back problems.
      4. Your Lifestyle
        Commute time isn't only for work.  It's for when you want to go out for entertainment. If you enjoy the nightlife, bars, clubs, access to restaurants and shopping, then an hour-long commute into town will quickly become a miserable hassle that keeps you from the things you love. If you're a homebody, then the hustle and bustle of urban neighborhoods might not work for you.
      5. Job Flexibility
        Many careers offer an amount of flexibility that wasn't available in the past. If your work allows for flexible work hours, then you may be able to save yourself commute time by avoiding rush hours. Even better for your commuting costs is telecommuting; more businesses are allowing their employees the option of telecommuting to work at least part of the time.

      Ultimately, the decision of where you live is up to you. If you're questioning actual commute time, take a test drive. Try the commute a couple of times, see how long it'll take, how much it will cost, and keep these factors in mind when you're making your final decision.


      Our Loan Fell Through! Now What?

      When you're buying a house, there's an anxiety-filled time delay between making the deal and closing day. The details usually come together, but what happens if your loan falls through?

      Don't panic. If your lender refuses to finance you, it doesn't have to be the end of your home ownership dream. Here's what you can do to move forward.

      1. Find Out Why?
        Don't wait for a letter from your lender. The moment you learn that they won't finance your home, call and ask why? If it's fixable, you need to work it out quickly before the seller moves on to the next prospect. The lender's explanation should dictate your next move.

      2. The Home Costs Too Much
        If it's a home value versus price issue, the appraised value isn't high enough to justify the loan you requested. You have several alternatives:

        • Appeal the appraisal: It's a complicated process. The appraiser works for the lender, so you have to go through them for an appeal. The homeowner can present supporting proof for an appraisal reconsideration. If the lender allows it, you can pay a fee for a second appraisal. In the end, the value might stay the same.
        • Renegotiate the selling price: Talk to the seller's agent about your value versus price problem. The seller might reduce the selling price making it in line with the appraised value.  
        • Increase your down payment: Upping your down payment reduces your mortgage amount. Look for down payment assistance programs by checking state and local home-buying resources and independent services. Withdrawing money from your retirement account or borrowing cash from a family member might be an option.

      3. Your Job or Income Changed
        When you're buying a house, a career shift changes your financial circumstances at a time when lenders are looking for consistency. They may still approve your mortgage if you can show consistency in your career track, occupation, and income.

        If you change your field after qualifying as self-employed or a business owner, lenders want to see that you're in a similar field earning a like amount of money. That might be impossible if you went from fulltime employment to owning a business. Lenders prefer to see three years of consistent business income.

      4. Your Credit Changed
        Ask your lender to explain any specific credit issues preventing you from buying a house. Find out if they'll reconsider your financing if you clear up the problems and raise your score. If it's your debt-to-income ratio, paying down your debt might help. If you have unresolved credit disputes, talk to the creditor to see if you can get them off your record.

      5. You Don't Meet the Requirements
        If your mortgage denial involves issues you can't resolve independently, check into alternative financing programs. FHA insured loans, VA backed loans, Fannie Mae HomePath financing, Freddie Mac Home Possible® Mortgages, and USDA's Rural Development Loan Program have lower down payments, flexible income requirements, and reduced interest rates.

      If You Can't Work it Out
      It's frustrating when you get so close to buying a house and lose it. If you must walk away from your dream home, you'll move forward having learned some tough lessons. Before you get back out there, take a few preparatory steps.

      Get Pre-approved
      While it won't guarantee home financing, pre-approval gives you a potential yes. Access your three major credit reports at and work out any problems ahead of time. Maintain career and income consistency. Both are critical to the home loan evaluation process.


      Does Walkability Top Your Home Buying List?

      When it comes to buying a house, there are many factors to consider. While the number of bedrooms, the home's layout, and price-point are essential, buyers are now paying more attention than ever to the neighborhood surrounding a potential new home.

      A home's proximity to retail shops, restaurants, entertainment, and other businesses has always been an essential factor in the home-buying decision. The ability to reach these destinations on foot, also known as "walkability," is growing in popularity. Many home buyers are adding this to their list of desired features, and sellers already living in these neighborhoods are using it to their advantage.  

      What is a Walkable Neighborhood?

      Walkable neighborhoods usually feature a main street or public space that serves as a center for activity. The local population must be reasonably dense for these areas to thrive. You will typically find a good mix of business and residential space, with affordable housing nearby.

      Pedestrians and bicyclists are typically kept in mind while planning neighborhoods. They include plenty of sidewalks, crosswalks, and bicycle lanes. Buildings are often close to the streets, with parking lots located in the back. The best walkable neighborhoods feature plenty of greenspaces for its residents. 

      Why Walkability is Important
      The advantages of buying a house in a walkable neighborhood go well beyond simple convenience. Being able to reach most of your desired locations on foot improves your physical and mental well-being, reduces your carbon footprint, lowers expenses, and improves your home's resale value. 

      Improved Physical and Mental Health
      Studies have found that residents living in a walkable neighborhood weigh an average of six to ten pounds less than those who live in areas where driving is necessary. Walking often also decreases your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems.

      Cities with easy access to amenities and public transportation are good for your mental health too. Residents living in walkable cities are often both happier and healthier than their counterparts living in sprawling suburbs. 

      Reduced Environmental Impact
      Living in an area where you can reach your desired destinations without hopping into the car also reduces your carbon footprint. Buying a house in a walkable urban location can reduce your transportation emissions by as much as 70 percent, making it one of the best things you can do for the environment. 

      Lower Expenses
      The cost of buying, operating, and maintaining a vehicle is one of the most substantial expenses in the average household's budget. Even if you decide to keep your car after moving to a walkable neighborhood, you will use it far less. Using your car loess reduces the amount of money you'll spend on gas, tolls, parking, and vehicle wear and tear. 

      Increased Resale Value
      Those who aren't concerned with the ability to walk to their destinations can still benefit from living in a walkable neighborhood. As the trend continues to grow, homes located in these neighborhoods will become more desirable. Buying a house in an up-and-coming area now can mean a significant increase in your future resale value. 


      10 Things No One Told Me Before Buying a House

      Buying a house is a rewarding, but complex adventure. The more you know about the process, the easier it is for you to find the right deal for you.

      Over and over, first-time homebuyers, in particular, have mentioned there are things they wish they'd known. This list of ten common "things no one told me before buying a house" will get you off on the right foot when it's time to house-hunt!

      1. Down Payments
        It wasn't that long ago when a 20% down payment was considered standard for buying a home. Things have changed: Lenders are often willing to work with you on a lower down payment. There are even first-time homebuyer programs that require a very low or no down payment.
      2. School Districts
        Homebuyers who don't have children and don't plan to in the future often overlook the quality of schools in an area. It's a good idea to take these into account, though, since excellent schools often track alongside property values over time. A good school may mean a good investment.
      3. Mortgage Amounts
        You don't have to spend every single cent of the mortgage loan amount you were approved for when buying a house. Although it can be tempting to spend the maximum, experts suggest you should choose a package that limits payments to 30% of your gross monthly income.
      4. Furnishings
        Furnishings for a new home often end up more expensive than expected. Early in the process of selling your existing home, make plans for which items you want to keep and which to sell. Then, check your new home to ensure the "keep" items fit in: Physically and style-wise!
      5. Monthly Payments
        Lender websites often make buying a house sound as easy as making monthly payments on your principal and interest. However, there are several components of a monthly payment, including things like insurance, taxes, utilities, and other matters that may go to several different billers.
      6. Contractors
        After buying a house, one of the first things to do is find a good contractor. Your new maintenance contractor should provide you with a detailed, itemized estimate of what it will take to resolve the issues the home inspector uncovered earlier in the buying process.
      7. Credit
        Your credit score and credit history are both critical to your ability to attract a mortgage lender. In general, you shouldn't open any new credit accounts while buying a house. Don't close any accounts, either: This won't help your credit score, and it can spook lenders, too.
      8. Lenders
        It's always a good idea to comparison shop between the various lenders who might be able to offer you a mortgage loan. No lender is perfect, but a tiny difference in Annual Percentage Rate (APR) can save you – or cost you – thousands of dollars over the life of your loan.
      9. Neighborhoods
        The development plan for your neighborhood can have a significant effect on property values over time. The local planning office can give insights on the civic improvements and commercial developments anticipated in the area so you can raise your resale value.
      10. Repairs
        Maintenance and repair costs are inevitable for a new home. To ensure that you've got the funds on hand, it's a good idea to budget 1% to 4% of the home's value annually. This figure may increase if the house is older, larger, or subject to extreme weather.

      Buying a house doesn't have to be difficult. Now, you can go into the process more informed. The only thing missing: Help from a real estate expert who can make things easier.


      How to Find a Home Fire Extinguisher

      As you plan home improvement projects, consider focusing on fire safety. As the National Fire Protective Association explains, home fires occur more frequently during winter than any other season. Candles, open flames, and holiday decorations cause winter fires, but home heating equipment is the biggest contributor. You need fire extinguishers in your kitchen, garage, and other critical areas of your home.

      Just as with any home improvement project, you have options. When you choose fire extinguishers for your home, it's essential to make the right choice. Consider these options:  

      • Get the Right Type
        It's important to buy the extinguisher type that best fits your circumstances. Type A for wood, paper, and plastic, etc. Type B is for flammable oils and vehicle fluids. As Type C units don't conduct electricity, you can use them on electrical fires.

        Use Type D extinguishers on flammable metals in industrial operations. Restaurants use Type K extinguishers for vegetable and animal oil fires. Type ABC is a multi-use extinguisher. You can also purchase a BC extinguisher for use on class B and C fires.

      • Get the Right Size
        Home fire extinguishers come in a variety of sizes. You should choose the largest size you will feel comfortable handling in an emergency.

      • Rechargeable versus Disposable
        As you plan your home improvement safety project, you should consider whether you want to purchases rechargeable or disposable extinguishers. Disposable units have plastic fixtures while rechargeable units are mostly metal. The metal units are more durable and also more expensive. They're your best option when you want to cut back on plastic products.

        A rechargeable fire extinguisher could be more cost efficient in the long run, but you'll have two fundamental issues:

        • You'll have to remember to get it recharged.
        • You have to find a location that will recharge it. advises consumers that only certified fire equipment dealers or service companies should refill them. Refill costs vary depending on the contents and unit size. Local fire departments in some areas will do a recharge for free or for a reasonable price.

        Disposable extinguishers are a good option if you don't want the hassle of finding a service company for a refill. They're disposable, but because they're hazardous waste, you can't put empty units in your household trash or recycle bin. You'll have to check around for a recycling center that takes them. 

      • Know If It's Charged
        Each extinguisher has a small round gauge that tells you if it's time to recharge or buy a new one. When your extinguisher is charged, the needle inside the gauge points to the green or full area. If it points to red/empty, that means it's empty, or it's lost pressure.

      • Fire Extinguisher Safety Tips
        To make the most of your fire extinguishers, you should place them in convenient locations in rooms with potential fire hazards: kitchen, workroom, garage, etc. You should also keep them in good working condition and understand how to use them. Think PASS: Point, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep. Never try to use an extinguisher to fight a fire that's out of control and never get too close. 

      Your Home Safety Plan

      Fire extinguishers are a perfect idea when you're planning a home improvement project with a focus on safety. They work hand-in-hand with your smoke detectors in keeping your home and family safe.


      Buying Your First Home - Are Your Ducks in a Row?

      When you decide on buying a house, there are plenty of options and factors to consider, and amidst all your excitement and anxiety, it can be all too easy to leap into the housing market before you are ready. With some careful planning on your part, the home buying experience can be fun and not-so-stressful. Consider this your to-do list as you begin the process. Your ducks will be all in a row, and your search for the perfect home will be much more productive.

      1. Target Your Desired Location
        Though it may seem like common sense, deciding just where you want to live is a crucial step in buying a house. Even if you're staying in the same city, you'll want to decide which neighborhood is best suited to your lifestyle. Whether you're moving across town or hundreds of miles away, researching different communities early on helps you focus on fewer homes once you begin viewing houses seriously.
      2. Assess Your Finances
        Before you speak with a lender or set your sights on a particular home, get acquainted with your finances. Sit down and make a budget, and determine how much flexibility your monthly expenses and savings allow when it comes to purchasing a home. Don't forget to consider extra costs such as your down payment, closing costs, and added expenses you'll be responsible for as a homeowner including insurance, property taxes and HOA fees. Check your credit score now, and look for ways to improve it such as paying down credit card debt.
      3. Pump Up Your Savings Account
        You are likely already thinking about a down payment, and ideally, your savings will cover it. If not, it's time to build up your savings. Cutting back on unnecessary expenses now may hurt a little, but forgoing those extras will pay off by helping you reach your home ownership goals. Find creative ways to add to your savings like investing in CDs, selling unused or unwanted items, and doing a bit of part-time work.
      4. Pre-Approval Brings Peace of Mind
        Although pre-approval from a bank doesn't guarantee a mortgage, it's a relatively good indication of what they will ultimately be willing to lend you. Once you know how much you can afford to spend, the process of buying a home becomes less frustrating as you can narrow the search down to homes in your preferred location that fall into your budget.
      5. Pick an Agent, But Not Just Any Agent
        Choosing the right real estate agent should be a priority when buying a house. All agents are different, and finding one that makes you feel both comfortable and assured of their skills and knowledge is essential in making your house hunt successful. Interview a few agents, and don't hesitate to ask them about their experience and knowledge of the area and the housing market. Have a look at their website and ask for referrals before deciding. After all, your agent will be your best friend and advisor throughout the process.

      Following these simple but important steps will go quite a ways in making your experience of buying a house a pleasant one. So put on your game face, do your homework, and get ready to find the home of your dreams!


      Do School Districts Affect Home Prices

      When you're buying a house, you may wonder what exactly goes into determining the value of a property. In many cases, appraised value is based on an algorithm with variables including the home's actual construction, land values, location, and more.

      In addition to reviewing the appraised value, you must also decide how much a home is worth to you based on your tastes and factors like neighborhood demographics, crime rates, traffic, and proximity to shopping and other conveniences.

      Home buyers with and without children often wonder how much influence the area's school districts have on a home's price. Here's what you need to know.

      Great Schools Matter More than Good Schools

      Although some argue that certain schools perform better as a result of being in a more affluent neighborhood, rather than the other way around, it's hard to argue with statistics when it comes to the correlation between quality school districts and home prices.

      A study found that the cost of homes in areas where the school districts were only average was based almost purely on the home's characteristics like size and location. In above-average school districts, however, properties are often priced well above what the characteristics of the home would have indicated. This suggests that only top-notch schools significantly impact home sale prices.

      Buyer Statistics

      According to the National Association of REALTORS®, approximately 25 percent of all buyers are concerned with the quality of school districts in their potential neighborhoods.

      40 percent of buyers at peak child-bearing age (36 and under) reported that school districts were a major influencing factor in choosing a home, as did 35 percent of those between the ages of 37 and 51. With such a large demographic citing this as a concern, it's not surprising that school districts are a factor in determining home pricing. 

      School District's Impact on Home Prices

      The next obvious question home buyers have: "How much more will a great school district cost me?" Economists estimate that a 5 percent improvement in a school district's test scores can increase home prices in the area by approximately 2.5 percent.

      A study of metropolitan areas across the nation found that being located in top-notch school districts can add an average of up to $50 per square foot to a home's price. This means buyers of a 2,000 square foot home could be shelling out up to an extra $100,000 to be in a great district.

      The Snowball Effect

      When it comes to pricing homes, supply and demand is a major factor. The simple fact is that there are only so many homes available in the best school districts, and there are often more buyers than sellers. This means a bidding war may occur when a home goes up for sale in a desirable area, leading to homes being sold for well above the asking price. When the next home goes up for sale, appraisers use the most recent comparable sales to assess its value, and the snowball effect continues.

      The bottom line is that buying a house in an area with excellent schools is likely to cost you more. However, as long as the district retains its status, it should continue to contribute to your home's value for years to come.


      Home Utilities: Do Your Homework Before You Buy

      Buying a house comes with a sense of pride and accomplishment, and it can also bring a few surprises. One of the most common mistakes of first-time home buyers is forgetting to factor in the cost of utilities when searching for and purchasing their new house. The cost of homeownership involves much more than making a monthly mortgage payment, and planning for utility costs as a part of your overall budget makes finding the right home a lot less frustrating.

      Hidden Costs Can Sack Your Budget

      It's important to look at the big picture once you decide you are ready to become a homeowner. You've likely already thought about how much you can afford to spend on a mortgage payment, and you may have even obtained a pre-approval from your bank. However, there are additional factors that will affect what you have to spend each month once you close on your new home. Some home buyers take utility costs for granted assuming that the costs will be similar to what they currently pay.

      If the home you are considering is larger than your current home or apartment, keep in mind that more square footage will likely mean higher bills for heating and cooling. Buying a house in a city or town could come with a water bill if the property accesses the local water system instead of a private well and sewer system. Natural gas or propane availability for heating and cooking should be considered when figuring a budget to purchase a home. The last thing you want as a homeowner is the surprise of utility bills you cannot afford after you've settled into your new house.

      Be a Smart Shopper

      Your real estate agent is your biggest ally while searching for your perfect home. Be open and honest about your budget, and ask plenty of questions regarding utility costs for any home that catches your attention. Your agent can help you obtain utility costs from the seller for the past year to give you an idea of what you can expect regarding monthly expenses. You may need to adjust the figure according to personal factors such as the size of your family and the way you will use your home, but a the very least, you have a starting point to help you plan your budget.

      Once you find a home that you are seriously considering, you might find ways to make the home more energy efficient to save you money on utilities for years to come. A home inspection is one of the best ways to pinpoint its areas that could be improved to make it more comfortable for your family and your budget. Windows, doors, and insulation are all areas that can make a huge difference in energy costs. Major systems in the home such as the heating and cooling system and water heater should be considered for efficiency and a possible upgrade if necessary. If your budget will allow it, addressing these repairs early on makes way for ongoing savings.


      How to Make Your New House a Home

      The hardest part of buying a house is, well buying a house. But just because you've signed the paperwork and gotten a key doesn't mean your job is complete. Now you have to tackle what might be the most critical part of the whole project. Time to turn that house into a home.

      It's not always easy to take an empty house and make it feel like a place where your family belongs. Luckily, there are a lot of ways to transform your now digs into a homey, lived-in space where everybody feels comfortably at home.

      • Unpack
        Unpacking takes time, and it's easy to keep putting it off, but let all your stuff sit in boxes day after day isn't doing your new house any favors. Do a little unpacking every day until your house starts to feel like home. 
      • Hang Some Art
        Bare walls make a house feel like an empty shell. The sooner you're able to get all your favorite artwork up on the walls; the more familiar the space will begin to feel. If you're buying a house for the first time, or are moving out if a much smaller place and don't have a lot of stuff to hang, now might be a great time to go out and find some art that you love.
      • Let There Be Light
        Insufficient lighting has a way of making a house feel uninviting. Throw open the shades, lift the blinds, and install dimmers so the fluorescent lighting less harsh.
      • Make It Smell Like Home
        You might have heard that smell is the sense most closely tied to memory, and it's true. You'll feel more comfortable and relaxed when you bring some familiar aromas into your house.
      • Stock the Kitchen
        Deep down, we all know that the kitchen is the most important room in the home. Getting this room ship-shape will go a long way toward making your house feel like home. Fill up the fridge, stock the pantry, and find a place for all your pots, pans, plates and utensils. Nothing makes a house feel homey like being able to make a home-cooked meal in your kitchen.
      • Bring in a Pet
        If you already have pets, they'll waste no time getting acquainted with their new place. If you don't, this might be the perfect time to think about adopting a new four-legged family member.
      • Have People Over
        Entertaining guests is a great way to make yourself, your family and all of your friends more comfortable in your new space. If your house isn't quite ready for guests yet, don't sweat it. Do a walk-through with your friends to show them around, have a cook-out out back, or host an unpacking party and then have a meal together afterward. Comfort is contagious, and you'll all feel at home in no time.
      • Take Your Time
        You might not want to hear this, but sometimes the secret ingredient to feeling at home in your new house is time. The more time you're able to spend there unpacking, decorating, exploring its nooks and crannies and just relaxing, the more at home you'll feel.

      A lot goes into buying a house and making it a home, but making that space feel like your own can be one of the most enjoyable and satisfying parts of the entire home buying process. The important thing is, in the end, to make sure your house is the kind of place where your whole family feels at home.


      Buying a House Together. What Unmarried Couples Need to Know.

      Last year, 16 percent of all first-time home buyers were unmarried couples. Some of these couples are of the "buy a home first, get married later" variety, while others simply have no interest in getting married, ever. 

      It's important that you understand the potential risks of buying a house as an unmarried couple, and it's just as important that you learn how to avoid some of the potential pitfalls. 

      Communication Is Key

      Honesty is important in any relationship, but if you're buying a house together, you might have to discuss a few topics, both personal and financial, that you haven't had to talk about before. For example, both parties' credit histories are going to be examined when you apply for a mortgage, so if one partner has a poor credit score, that's something you'll want to bring up long before it becomes an issue. 

      But beyond financial matters, you'll also need to be upfront about your needs, desires, and expectations for homeownership. Purchasing a house that one half of the couple is secretly unhappy with is a recipe for disaster, so make sure all lines of communication are clear. 

      Sign a Prenuptial Agreement for the House

      It goes without saying that no couple wants to talk about breaking up. But if you're planning on buying a house together, it's a conversation you're going to need to have. Not only that, but it's best to put down your plans in writing.  

      Who pays for utilities, maintenance, and repairs? What happens to the property if you split up? What if one of you dies or becomes disabled? These aren't fun topics, but it's important to discuss them all the same, preferably leading to a mutually agreed upon co-ownership contract with the help of a legal professional. 

      Consider Your Title Options

      There are three ways a couple can own a property. Whichever you choose, you'll still both be living in the home together, hopefully for a long time. Still, it's important for unmarried couples, in particular, to consider their title options carefully: 

      1. Sole ownership means that only one name is listed on the deed, which essentially makes one person the sole owner of the house. There are tax benefits to this option if one member of the couple makes drastically more than the other, but there is also a risk that if you split up, one of you will be left with nothing. 

      2. Joint tenancy means that each person owns a 50 percent share of the property, and if one person dies, the other automatically inherits full ownership. It makes sense if you're committed to going in 50-50, but an unfriendly breakup could spell trouble. 

      3. Tenants in common is an option that allows unequal ownership. For example, one person could own 75 percent of the property, and the other could own 25 percent. This gives you the option of tailoring each person's share to their financial contribution. One stipulation to remember, however, is that if one person dies, the other does not automatically inherit the property unless it is spelled out in the deceased party's will.

      Buying a house can be a challenge for just about anybody, but if you're a couple who are thinking about buying a house before you get married, you might be in for a few more challenges than most. 


      The Pros and Cons of HOAs

      Home shoppers have a lot of choices to make. You have to carefully weigh an endless laundry list of factors, from location and price to size and style, and hope that you end up with a beautiful house that meets all your needs.

      For some, knowing that a house is part of a community with a homeowners association (HOA for short) could either sweeten the deal, or it could be a total deal-breaker. Let's take a moment to go over HOAs – what they are, how they work, and their many advantages and disadvantages.

      What HOAs Mean To You

      A homeowners association is usually founded by a real estate developer to manage the houses in a given area. They are most common in master-planned communities. Essentially, buying a home that is part of an HOA means that you agree to live according to the association's rules and pay a fee that goes toward the general maintenance and management of the community.

      What those rules are and what you are paying for tends to vary quite a bit.  Consequently, you might enjoy living in one particular homeowner's association, but find another to be oppressive, costly and unnecessary. Some homeowners love HOAs, and even specifically seek out houses that are part of one. Others refuse to be part of one, ever. 

      Pros and Cons

      HOAs maintain common areas, which might be a big selling point if you're not into mowing lawns, trimming hedges and shoveling snow. The HOA will care for the pool, community gym, clubhouse and any other amenities that are shared by the whole community. 

      You have to pay your dues. If you live in a community with an HOA, then membership is probably mandatory, and you'll have to pay the monthly or annual fee. Falling behind with your HOA can mean foreclosure. 

      HOAs handle disputes between neighbors. That means you get to contact the HOA about a noisy neighbor, a barking dog or an unkempt yard, rather than confronting the neighbor about it in person. Likewise, if someone has a complaint about you, you'll hear about it through the HOA.

      The HOA sets the standards for your home. Some HOAs are a lot more strict than others, but they all have some say over things like where you park your car, what color you paint your house, how often you clean your roof and mow the lawn, and how lavishly you decorate for the holidays. 

      They protect the value of your home. As we've said, buying a house in an HOA means you agree to live by their aesthetic and safety standards. Some find these oppressive, but they also serve to keep curb appeal high and maintain the value of your and your neighbors' homes. 

       Rules aren't for everyone. In fact, there's a good chance that you decided to buy a house instead of rent to get away from rules. So when your HOA tells you that you can't build a new deck, have to be out of the pool by 10 pm, or can't have parties on certain nights, you might not like being told what to do and how to live. 


      Why Some Pending Home Sales Fall Through

      The vast majority of home sales are successful transactions that make it to the final closing stage. However, now and then a pending sale for a home will fail to make it to the final closing stage. Failure to close out on buying a home can be the result of a wide variety of reasons, whether it is buyer's remorse or related to financial issues. Here are the top five reasons why pending home sales never make it to the final closing stage. 

      1. Mortgage Loan Rejection
        Buyers with plenty of income and a strong credit score are not always guaranteed to qualify for a mortgage loan. Losing a job at an unexpected time or going through a divorce can cause the application for a mortgage loan to be rejected. Failure to provide enough money for the closing costs can also result in a mortgage loan denial.
      2. Low Appraisals
        Not all home loan application rejections result from the failure to meet strict standards. A lower than expected appraisal can make it difficult for a buyer to purchase a home, as it will force the buyer to make up the difference or renegotiate for a lower price with the seller. If the seller is unwilling to lower the price, and the buyer doesn't have the extra money to make up the difference, the pending sale will fail to reach the closing stage.
      3. Home Inspections
        Most homes look similar to an untrained professional, but a home inspector can pinpoint troubling details that may cause a buyer to hesitate on purchasing a home. Any cracks in the wall or a leaky roof can cause hesitation and make a buyer reconsider the purchase of a home. A buyer can ask for additional compensation for these issues, but a seller may refuse to negotiate. Ultimately, this will result in the fail of a pending sale before it can reach the final closing stage.
      4. Buyer's Remorse
        A standard contract usually allows a buyer two to three weeks to do additional inspections and take care of other details before the deal is finalized. A buyer can cancel the agreement at any time during this period, and some first-time buyers get cold feet and do not feel that they can afford the long-term commitment of purchasing a new home. However, an experienced real estate agent can provide the necessary guidance and help first-time buyers avoid feeling overwhelmed throughout the process.
      5. Buyer Fails to Sell Home
        Many home contracts are dependent upon a buyer selling their home within a specific time period, such as 30 or 60 days. Depending on the area, some homes are much more difficult to put on the market. Failure to sell a home during this time period will result in the cancellation of a contract, as the vast majority of homeowners are unable to pay for two mortgages at the same time.

      Purchasing a home is a lengthy process that is dependent on the completion of various steps throughout the home buying stage. Understanding these common roadblocks to pending sales can help clients overcome any obstacles and purchase a home without any complications.


      5 Things to Take On Your Next House Hunt

      For a prospective home buyer, embarking on a house hunt is an exciting adventure. You're ready to purchase a home and are anxious actually to see the homes available in your target location. Much like preparing for a vacation, there are certain things you'll want to bring along on your house hunt. Gather the following items to take with you before leaving for your house hunt.

      5 Things to Make Your House Hunt Easier

      1. Notebook and Pen
        You may have a great memory, but it's wise to carry a notebook and pen with you while you are searching for a house. There are so many factors to consider and reconsider while walking through a home and taking notes gives you a solid starting point for comparing houses later in your decision-making process. Hopefully, in your notebook, you will have written down a list of must-have features and deal breakers beforehand so you can easily refer to your checklist while inside each home you visit. It's also a great idea make a list of properties you want to visit to help keep you on schedule and ensure that you don't miss a potentially great house.
      2. Comfortable Clothes and Shoes
        During your house hunt, you will be doing a lot of walking, stair climbing, bending, and stretching. Wearing comfortable shoes and clothing will undoubtedly make the day more pleasant. You may need to take off your shoes when touring homes, so footwear that slips on and off quickly is a smart choice for a day of house hunting.
      3. Small Camera or Phone
        Taking pictures of the homes you visit allows you to capture different angles and reference points, and gives you a great comparison resource for later. You'll also be able to show family and friends what you've seen on your house hunt so they can offer opinions or advice if you are having trouble making a decision. Bring a small, easy-to-handle camera or use your phone's camera for convenience.
      4. Two Essential Tools
        Of course, you want to keep your load as light as possible while viewing various homes, but a couple of small household tools brought along for the hunt will prove more useful than burdensome. When you are preparing for your day out to look at homes, put a good flashlight and a tape measure in your tote or car. A compact but bright flashlight will give you a better view of dark spaces such as attics, basements or storage closets, so there's little guesswork when it comes time to make your decision. Bringing a tape measure gives you the confidence of knowing if your furniture and decor will fit before you making an offer on the home.
      5. The Voice of Reason
        It's likely that you will be both excited and a bit emotional while looking for your new home, and your real estate agent is there for support and information. However, bringing along someone you trust, such as a close friend or family member, is a great way to help keep you on track with your goals and budget. A good friend or family member who knows you well may point out the pros and cons that you might overlook.

      House hunting, while somewhat stressful at times, should be a memorable and fun experience. Get your house hunting game plan together, and let's find your next home!


      Secret Tips to Avoid Buyer's Remorse

      You know the feeling. You're headed home from the store with that big purchase you were so excited about before you bought it – only now you're not so sure. 

      That sinking feeling in your stomach is buyer's remorse, and it's not a good feeling. You certainly don't want to feel it right after you've bought a house. What if you've acted too quickly? What if you find a better house next week? What if you can't afford it? Here's how to steer clear of the dreaded buyer's remorse after buying a home.

      1. Don't Settle
        If you have a feeling that you haven't gotten the house you wanted, it might be because you didn't. It is crucial that you not settle for a home that doesn't meet your needs. In the end, you'll never be satisfied with it if you do. As you're out on the house hunt, make a complete list of "must-haves," "would-like-to-haves" and "dream features," and use this checklist to evaluate every house you tour. If a home doesn't meet your criteria, this list will make it easier to keep looking until you find one that does.
      2. Be Careful About the Opinions of Others
        Buyer's remorse often sets in when you start showing your new house to other people, and they start asking questions. They probably mean well, but questions about the size and layout of the house, its location, and how much you paid for it can cause you to start questioning your choice. So do your best to take the questions and comments of friends and family members with a grain of salt.
      3. Get Your Finances in Order
        Buying a house comes with significant financial commitments, and that responsibility if one of the most significant factors that cause people to second-guess their decision. The best way to combat this is to make sure you're financially ready before purchasing a house. Be sure that your income is steady and your job is secure, plan your budget carefully, and leave yourself enough of a nest egg that you don't end up "house poor."
      4. Don't Keep Going to Open Houses
        Continuing to look at houses after you've bought one is like leaving your online dating profile up after you've gotten married. What good can it possibly do? After finding a house, it's best to leave the house hunt behind. Instead of continuing to look at other houses and wondering if you can find one better, focus instead on working to make your new house feel like home.
      5. Work With a Professional
        If you go through the process of finding and buying a house on your own, it's easy to feel lost and overwhelmed. Even if you're successful, the lack of guidance could cause you to second-guess your decision. It's important to work with a qualified, dedicated real estate agent. Not only can they help you with every step of the home buying process and offer expert advice along the way, but the fact that you've had professional assistance will make you more confident that you've chosen wisely.

      Of course, the most important way to avoid buyer's remorse is buying a house that's perfect for you and your family.


      5 Reasons Buyers Pick Move-In Ready Homes

      When buying a house, would you prefer a home that's a fixer-upper, or one that's ready for you to move in right now? While some buyers enjoy the challenge and can manage the cost of fixing up a home, there are many who prefer the perks of move-in ready home. These home buyers would rather not worry about remodeling, extensive maintenance work, and finding contractors. They want a house that is ready to be lived in, with ample amenities, minimal maintenance issues, and everything they need to feel at home.

      Why Many Buyers Prefer a Move-In Ready Home

      1. Know Exactly What You'll Get When You Move In
        While there are various definitions of a move-in ready home to consider, we're talking about a home that has been prepared for your arrival in every reasonable way. So a move-in ready home should be clean, well-maintained, and ready for you to live in right now. One of the perks of a move-in ready home is that you don't have to worry about projecting what the home will be like after you've spent a bunch of money to get it in shape. Instead, the home that you see is exactly what you'll get, and you can prepare accordingly.

      2. Minimal Maintenance Issues to Worry About
        It's nice to know exactly what you're getting with a move-in ready house, and even nicer not to worry about investing the time and money required to fix up a fixer-upper. A move-in ready home should not have any significant deferred maintenance, which means less time heading to the hardware store or calling contractors after you move in. Instead, you can focus on making your new house feel like home.  

      3. No Need For a Temporary Residence
        Whether you're moving for work/family reasons or you're simply ready to purchase a home, buying a move-in ready house means you won't have to worry about finding a temporary residence while you are "in between" homes. As long as you prepare ahead of time, you can be ready to move in as soon as you own the home. No waiting, no hotels, and no wondering when the home that you purchased will be ready for you.

      4. Get Started Quickly in a New Location
        There are always a ton of little things to take care of when you move to a new location, and some buyers don't have the time to devote to fixing up a home while still taking care of other priorities. Buying a move-in ready home can significantly lessen your workload when you move to a new community, so you can keep the focus on the tasks that matter most to you.

      5. Fewer Big Investments After Moving In
        Minimal maintenance issues are a nice start, but that's not all that you should expect when purchasing a move-in ready home. Major systems in the house, like HVAC systems, plumbing, and electrical systems, should all be in solid condition with a move-in ready home. Since those systems often account for some of the biggest costs in updating a fixer-upper, your budget can really benefit from choosing a move-in ready home instead.

      When you're shopping for a home, it's important to understand the benefits of a move-in ready home. The ability to move in right away, get comfortable, and hit the ground running in a new location is a huge draw for many new buyers and one you may want to take into consideration during your search.


      Real Estate Checklist to Buy Your First Home

      Buying a house is a lengthy process that requires an extensive amount of preparation and paperwork before you ever get to the sign the final papers. Before you consider purchasing your first home, it is important to prepare in advance to make the process as smooth as possible. Here is a helpful real estate checklist that can help you avoid common issues and make the entire house purchasing process much easier.

      1. Set Your Budget
        The first action you need to take before you begin looking for a home is to set your budget. Are you looking for an expansive four bedroom home or do you prefer to downsize? The size and location of your home can help you determine your budget and allow you to determine if you need to make any adjustments. Reviewing the current interest rates, the type of mortgage loan, and the size of your down payment can give you a general idea of the costs of a home.

      2. Check Credit Score
        The next step is to review your credit score, as this plays a critical role in determining the interest rates of your home. A high credit score will result in low-interest rates, while a poor credit score will cause much higher interest rates and may even prevent you from being eligible for a loan. If you notice any errors on your credit report, it is important to contact the credit bureau to correct any mistakes.

      3. Review Mortgage Lenders
        It is always a good idea to review multiple mortgage lenders to find the best deal available. Different mortgage companies offer a wide variety of rates, and some companies provide much better financing than others. Determining the amount of mortgage than you can afford and gaining pre-approval is an excellent way to show sellers that you are serious about purchasing a home.

      4. Save & Prepare for a Down Payment
        If you wish to attain the best rates, you will need to at least make a 20% down payment on your home. The current median home value is slightly over $300,000, which results in a down payment that is over $60,000.  However, you can also pay less to fit within your budget, as not everyone can afford a 20% down payment.

      5. Find a Real Estate Agent
        A real estate agent can answer any questions during the home searching process and help you find a home that perfectly fits your needs. Asking for referrals from friends and family can help you find a highly qualified agent in your area. A real estate agent will help you locate homes within your budget and provide essential guidance throughout the home buying process.

      Buying your first home is a daunting task for many people but using this real estate checklist can help simplify the entire process. First-time home buyers that follow these guidelines can avoid common mistakes and find their perfect dream home with the help of a highly qualified real estate agent!


      What a Girl Wants...More Single Women Buying Homes

      Single Women Buying More Homes Than Single Men

      Throughout history, women have been no stranger to breaking boundaries and exceeding expectations. When it comes to real estate, women have continued to raise the bar and bridge the gender gap in surprising ways. In recent years, the market has taken notice that more and more single women are buying homes.

      Understanding the Numbers

      In fact, according to the National Association of REALTORS®, single women made up 18 percent of recent buyers. This is more than twice the rate of single male home buyers. The U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics jointly sponsors the Current Population Survey which considered women who were never married, widowed, and divorced in their finding. This survey concluded that out of the 60,000 households covered by data collect, a record-breaking 22 percent of single women were homebuyers.

      This awe-inspiring statistics can be attributed to a number of reasons. Single women of all ages cited ever-increasing rental costs, downsizing, divorce, and everything in between as their motivation to purchase a home. While married couples continue to dominate the largest share of the home-buying market, single women secured the second largest share of 18 percent as they surpassed the smallest share of buyers, just 7 percent, which is comprised of single men.

      The NAR also reports that older women, typically 72 or older, are the primary investors in real estate. Generational trends indicate that single women are more likely to purchase a home in their golden years than men. In 2016, the percentage of females between 50-60 years old who bought a home was double that of men in the same age range.

      Smart and Strategic

      The home buying process can certainly be a nerve-wracking process for anyone, this can be especially true for single women. Here are some smart strategies females can use to help them navigate the complex and often overwhelming home-buying process.

      Let's face it - a girl wants what a girl wants. And when it comes to home, making a hasty or poor decision can lead to big trouble. As you consider your home-buying options, here are a few things you should keep in mind.

      • Consider a fixer-upper - While it may not have all the bells and whistles of a turnkey or newly-built home, a fixer-upper gives you the ability to manage financing more easily and create a design that's truly your own.
      • Timing is everything - the time of year you choose to purchase your home can make a huge difference. If you have the flexibility to wait until the market is in your favor, you'll have a larger inventory to choose from, at a better price, with more affordable options.
      • Lower Debt - It's imperative that any potential home buyer significantly reduce existing debt before beginning the home-buying process. This will provide a host of additional benefits. Debt reduction can help improve your status as a mortgage applicant and increase your appeal to sellers who appreciate the reduced liabilities your liability reduction. This can also help you to lower your debt to income ratio and give you a better foundation that you'll need to manage the ever-growing list of new and unexpected expenses associated with homeownership.

      Red Flags to Watch for at an Open House

      Visiting several open houses on a Saturday or Sunday is a good way to house hunt, especially since it'll give you a chance to take your time and look at everything without pressure. Use this freedom to do a little poking around, and as you browse, watch out for these red flags.

      5 Tell-Tale Signs This May Not Be the Right Home For You

      1. Foundation Problems
        The first thing you should look for, and the fastest deal-breaker on your list, is any sign of foundation problems. When you walk around the outside of the house or visit the basement, small cracks in the foundation shouldn't pose a problem, but large gaps are warning signs of future trouble. As you walk through the house, check to make sure doors and windows open and close easily and fit right in their frames; poor fit may indicate the house has shifted significantly. Cracks in the drywall above doors or around windows may also indicate a problem. Also, pay attention to whether walls have been removed during renovations; if those were load-bearing walls or structural supports, removing them may have caused the weight to shift to other parts of the house that weren't mean to support it.
      2. Repair Work and Other Signs of Needed Maintenance
        As you walk the property, look for signs that the owners don't keep up on the maintenance. Burnt-out bulbs, leaky faucets, slow drains, clogged gutters, and uncut lawns may not seem like a big deal, but they may indicate a lax attitude about necessary maintenance. If the owners haven't taken care of these things that everyone can see as they walk through the home, what have they neglected that you can't see?
      3. Strong Odors or Scents
        Obviously, if you smell something unpleasant such as mildew when you walk into the house, it should give you pause. But an excess of pleasant scents can also be a warning sign, as it may mean that the seller or their agent is trying to cover something up. It may be just for the open house, but at the very least you should schedule a time to come back and look at the home again when the seller or the agent isn't trying as hard to make it smell nice.
      4. Random Patches of Fresh Paint
        It's not uncommon for sellers to repaint the interior of their homes before listing, especially if the paint was old or if they were trying to depersonalize custom colors on the advice of their agent. But if you walk into a room and find just one wall or even part of one wall, has a coat of fresh paint, you should question why the seller would paint such a small section. Best case scenario, they had just recently done a repair; worst-case scenario, they're covering something up that would otherwise be cause for concern.
      5. Trust Your Gut... and Your Agent
        If you see something concerning during an open house, don't be afraid to say thanks, but no thanks. Remember that a home will be looking its absolute best for an open house, so if you still see something that makes you pause, there's probably more to it than meets the eye. If you're uncertain, don't forget to utilize the most important resource at your disposal: your agent, who has seen hundreds of houses for sale, and has the experience to get a quick read on the property.

      Buying a Home? Minimize the Time & Maximize the Results

      Make the Most of Your Home-Buying Efforts

      When you're ready to buy a home, you don't want the process to drag on indefinitely. Of course, you can't necessarily avoid traditional home-buying steps such as showings, negotiation, home inspection, mortgage approval, and closing. But if your mission is to minimize the time and maximize the results, you'll have to plan and organize every step.

      Prepare Financially

      Long before you decide to start looking for a home, you must get your financial life in order. It eases the mortgage approval process.

      • Clean up your credit - Access your three credit reports at Straighten out any errors or problems.
      • Get out of debt - Mortgage companies will see you as more creditworthy.
      • Build a cash cushion - A healthy bank account will give your credit image a boost. You'll have the money you need for closing and moving expenses. You'll be ahead when taxes, utility bills, home maintenance, and other homeownership costs start rolling in.
      • Get Pre-Approved - Your mortgage company will review your credit-worthiness and issue a letter explaining how much they're willing to finance. Homeowners will be more willing to negotiate when you're pre-approved.
      • Determine your home-buying budget - Run the numbers through the Fannie Mae "Know Your Options" app or another online mortgage calculator.
      • Investigate alternative loan sources - Check out FHA, VA, USDA, and other loan programs. Some have lower down payments and less stringent work history and credit requirements,

      Figure Out What You Want

      Assuming you've made peace with the idea of giving up your weekends to perform homeownership chores, the next step is figuring out what kind of home you want.

      • What neighborhood do you prefer?
      • What's important as far as home style, bedrooms, features, and amenities?
      • What do you not want?
      • How much can you afford to pay for heating, cooling, and home maintenance?

      Connect with a REALTOR®

      A REALTOR® can move your homeownership dream forward by first telling you if what you want exists in your neighborhood of choice.

      To find the right professional, ask friends and family for referrals. Visit nearby open houses and meet the listing agent.  Before you call for an appointment, consider the traits you require.

      • Knows the real estate market in the area where you want to live
      • Has a consistent sales history
      • Is willing to show you only homes that meet your requirements
      • Has negotiation skills
      • Has time to work with you

      Don't Waste Your Time

      If you want to maximize your results, you must minimize time wasters. Don't spend too much time evaluating a home with problems you know you won't want to deal with. Put it on your "No" list and move on. Also:

      • Never waste time looking at homes you don't like.
      • Look for any conditions you consider unacceptable.
      • Take photos so you don't forget the problems.

      And when you find a home you love, check existing records before concluding a deal.

      • Ask for a copy of any seller's inspection reports.
      • Check county records for tax issues or liens.
      • Ask for any current land surveys or appraisals.

      The best way to maximize your home-buying effort is to connect early on with a real estate professional. A real estate professional can negotiate a purchase that includes a quick closing so you can move in as quickly as possible.


      5 Tips for Buying a Home in a Different State

      If your home search involves relocation to a different state, your search can be a difficult one.

      When you're house hunting in your current city or home state, you're in familiar territory. You know your way around. You have friends and family to point you in the right direction. But when you're looking for a home in another part of the country, you're pretty much on your own.

      The idea of a cross-country or state-to-state move can leave you feeling anxious and alone. You can't smooth out all of the complications, but your home search will go more smoothly if you're organized and follow these "Five Tips For Buying a Home in a Different State."

      1. Sell the Home You Have
        If you already own a home, you should do your best to sell it and close before you buy another one. Be prepared to invest your time and energy into successfully closing on both transactions.
      2. Get Pre-approved for a Mortgage
        Before you begin your home search, check with a mortgage company or bank about mortgage pre-approval. If you have a home mortgage, talk to your current mortgage company. If not, check with a company that has an online presence or offices locally and in your future state.

        Mortgage companies want to see job consistency, creditworthiness, and the ability to pay. If your credit is in order and you're relocating due to a job transfer, you may have fewer approval difficulties.
      3. Figure Out What You Want
        You may not know the real estate market in your future home state, but you should have an idea of the kind of home you want. Start by making a list of requirements. Consider cost, style, neighborhood, school systems, commute time, and other features that are important to you. Check out your future state, city, and neighborhoods online. You can get an idea of what's available at your price.
      4. Find a Relocation Specialist
        A knowledgeable and experienced real estate agent specializing in nationwide relocation is your best resource. They will be your advocate in your new town and assist you through the process.
      5. Explore Your Future State
        You can get some information online and from your realtor, but it's important to see your new location in person. A visit puts your home search into context. When your agent discusses neighborhoods or local features, you'll have a better understanding of what they're talking about. If the perfect home becomes available before you relocate, you'll be in a better position to make a decision.



      New Construction or Existing Home? Which Will You Buy?

      Buying New Construction vs. Existing Homes

      The majority of homes purchased in any given year are existing homes. However, new home construction is picking up with the economy. You don't necessarily have to have a home designed yourself to move into new construction – some firms build these solely to sell them.

      Lots of people, especially those who want to buy a home for the very first time, don't think much about the advantages of a new home. It's worth considering, especially if you've saved up enough money for a down payment.

      Let's take a closer look: 

      Benefits of a New Home

      • New Homes Don't Need Repairs
        There are no surprises when it comes to a brand new home. Yes, you could go with a fixer-upper and get an inspection done in advance, but with a new home, you don't even have to go through that hassle. Homeowners are always surprised just how much maintenance a house needs, and a new one simply demands less. That saves you money and it's less stressful too.
      • New Homes Are Clean As Can Be
        Before you buy a home, the seller should go through it and clean everything carefully. The rule of thumb is pressure cleaning the exterior and steam cleaning carpets and upholstery. For one reason or another, though, many sellers simply don't follow through. New homes are spotless – no mysterious stains and no built-up pet dander and other allergens.
      • New Homes Mean New Amenities
        This is another one that tips the scales if you want to buy a home that's as modern and up to date as can be. Sellers may sometimes leave kitchen appliances or even upgrade them before selling, but there's no telling how long the rest of the house has been exactly as it is. New homes offer all the latest, including interior design and architectural trends that are tough to renovate.

      Benefits of an Existing Home

      • An Existing Home is Easy to Come By
        The majority of the housing stock in most communities consists of older homes. This means you have all kinds of options in terms of location and proximity to opportunities in employment, education, dining, and whatever matters to you. In some ways, it's easier to find an old home that matches everything you want than a newer one.
      • Existing Homes Can Be Inexpensive
        A home with history tends to be easier to finance than one that's fresh and new. Depending on your needs and budget, you might find you want to look closely at homes that could use a little TLC. Some DIY lovers enjoy the opportunity to paint, fix, and build. And you'll spend less time searching high and low for an appropriate mortgage option.
      • Existing Homes Offer Landscaping and Character
        Older homes tend to have larger front and back yards, which may be phased out in more recent construction. They also have had plenty of time to foster beautiful, mature trees and vegetation. Homes in historic styles offer a great deal of character and are often sturdy and robust despite older maintenance standards. Plus, both neighbors and neighborhoods tend to be more stable.

      Buy a Home – New or Existing – With Help from an Expert

      No matter whether you're looking for new or older homes, your real estate agent is the one person in your home buying journey who is almost as crucial to the outcome as you are.

      As the buyer, you call the shots, but your real estate professional is there to make sure you can make an informed decision every step of the way – and, ultimately, find your dream home.


      Is a Fixer Upper the Right Choice for You?

      A fixer-upper can be one of the best deals in any housing market--if you're prepared.

      Many people especially first-time home buyers start their search at the top of the budget range they can afford or get financed. However, the decision to take on a fixer-upper can not only save lots of money but give you a special sense of pride as you put your mark on your future dream home.

      The choice to consider a fixer-upper will open a whole new segment of the market to you.

      But: It's important to take some extra precautions with this kind of "home improvement."The process of finding the right fixer-upper comes down to three big steps:

      1. Insist on a Home Inspection
        A complete inspection is absolutely essential for any fixer-upper, especially if the home is offered "as-is." An as-is property doesn't always have serious problems, but it's more likely. An inspection often costs only a few hundred dollars and can alert you to issues that may be too costly to fix.

        Some big problems to look out for include:

        • Old or faulty wiring and electrical system.
        • Major problems with plumbing or well water.
        • Presence of termite damage or signs of pests.
        • Mold or mildew anywhere in the structure.
        • A weakening of the building's foundation.

        Remember, some government-backed mortgage programs require inspections and won't approve funding of a home with significant safety concerns, regardless of planned home improvement.
      1. Develop Priorities and a Budget
        With an inspection report in hand, you have the opportunity to figure out what your top priorities are. Planning should begin with repairs or fixes that will make things safer, then those that make you more comfortable in your new home, followed by aesthetics.

        Once you've written a list, the next step is to clarify which home improvement items you would like to do yourself versus which ones you'll want a contractor's help for. You can get bids for anything that needs to get done fast. Visit your local hardware store to price supplies for DIY.

        Ideally, you should also factor time into the equation. If you're interested in a "fix and flip," then you'll usually have to move pretty quickly to take advantage of favorable market conditions. On the other hand, if you're planning to stay, you have all the time you could need.
      1. See If It's Still a Good Deal
        Once you have a handle on what a fixer-upper will ultimately cost, then you can determine if it is still a true bargain. Your real estate agent will be able to advise you on your other options and the trade-offs that could be involved in your choice: For example, by looking at smaller homes, you could find attractive prices without the challenge of having to do major renovations.

        In many cases, there are relatively small issues that make a fixer-upper look like it's in worse shape than it really is. This is especially true in larger and older homes. If previous owners just haven't had time to keep up with maintenance, a property might simply need some paint and TLC.

      Many buyers--from first-time homeowners to "fix and flip" investors--seek out fixer-uppers all the time. Fixer-uppers are not only uniquely satisfying, they present other opportunities as well. For example, a low-priced fixer-upper might make it easier for you to obtain financing.

      Whatever the case, finding the right real estate agent for you is essential. Personalized advice from an expert you can trust will make the process easier and help you avoid oversights.


      What Does Sale Pending Mean?

      When is a real estate deal truly done, and when is the last possible moment that you can make an offer on a home you love?

      Ask any experienced real estate agent, and they'll tell you that the deal is never really done until closing is complete. So a home that is classified as a "pending sale" may be very far along in the process, but the deal has not been closed.

      While the seller cannot enter into a contract with you while still in a contract with another buyer, there are advantages to making an offer on a property that's pending sale when looking to buy a home, and being prepared with a strong offer means you'll be ready to pounce if for any reason the original deal doesn't close.

      Pending Sale? You Can Still Make an Offer on Your Dream Home

      When a home is classified as pending sale, the buyer and seller have gone a long way toward completing an agreement. Pending sale means that contingencies have mostly been met, contracts have been signed, escrow requirements have been fulfilled, and the transaction is simply awaiting the final steps of the closing process. There are a few key factors to consider when deciding whether to try to buy a home that is pending sale:

      • A pending sale is not a done deal, so you can absolutely make an offer while a home is pending.

      • It's still possible for contingencies to go unmet, financing to fall through, or other unforeseen issues to derail the sale, and if the original deal goes south making an offer will put you in position to capitalize.

      • A pending sale means that the buyer and seller have entered into a contract, which means that the seller cannot break that contract just because you decide to come in with a better offer.

      • The seller is prohibited from entering into a contract to sell the home to you, while still in contract with another buyer. While some agents will still say their client is listening to offers while the home is pending sale, a contract is a contract.

      • It's not just financing and contingencies that can derail a sale at the last minute. While it's rare, sometimes the buyer will decide not to buy a home just before closing, rather than the seller. In those cases, being prepared with a great offer may help you land a quick sale. Just make sure to learn what you can about why the original buyer backed out.

      • While you can't simply swoop in with a better offer on a pending sale, you can set yourself up to be first in line if the original buyer is unable to close the deal. Just remember that the seller won't be able to act on your offer unless the pending sale falls through.

      • If you're the one selling a home, remember that the same concepts apply. The deal isn't done until it's done, so it's not a bad idea to find out what other options are out there--just in case.

      In the end, making an offer on a home that's pending sale is certainly possible, and may even allow you to buy a home that you love. It's important to remember, however, that making an offer on a pending sale is not the most likely way to land a home. It may be worth the effort if you truly love the home, because there is always a possibility that the original deal will fall through, leaving you first in line to purchase the home.


      Home Buying Advice: Seal the Deal with Your Purchase Offer

      When you have found the perfect house, you don't want to lose it by not making a proper purchase offer.

      Giving an offer that is too low provides the seller with the option to refuse it and for other potential buyers to outbid you. This scenario doesn't have to be your story when you are buying a house; there are ways to make an offer that the seller can't refuse.

      Know the Seller's Motivation

      When you are ready to make a purchase offer, know what is motivating the seller. Look at the deal through the seller's eyes to know how to make an offer they can't refuse. A seller has typically three main issues when they set out to sell their home. Money is the first issue as they may be relying on this sale to purchase their own new home. If they are ready to move, time is another motivating factor yet there is going to be an emotional tie to the property as a third factor.

      If you are working with an agent while buying a house, contact them to see if they are able to find out why the seller has decided to move. If getting the highest amount possible is their motivation, you may have to submit an offer close to the asking price for them to consider it. To know what an appropriate bid would be, work with your agent to compare recently sold homes in the area.

      If the seller is motivated by terms and wants the deal to go through as quickly and painlessly as possible, you may want to give up some of the options that allow you to get out of the deal. Contingencies slow down the selling process and giving up some of these time-consuming processes may sway the seller in your direction.

      If the sale is causing a lot of emotional upset with the seller and they are just having a hard time letting go and not accepting any offers, you have to prove you are not just anybody. Check with the realtor to see if writing a letter of intent to the seller expressing your love of the property and the bright future you hope to have there may sway the seller in your favor.

      The Timing of the Offer

      The faster you can submit an offer, the better your chances of a purchase are for you. If your bid is the first one received by the seller, it becomes the leverage offer and will be used against others received. If your offer isn't acted upon right away, don't panic. Sellers have a deadline for accepting bids before they can consider others. Make the offer in a reasonable time and don't sit back waiting while others may be getting consideration.

      Make a Realistic Offer

      Buying a house isn't the time to become over-confident and submit an offer that is lower than acceptable just to see how the seller will react. This act may just have the seller refusing to work with you on any offer. On the other hand, do not submit an offer you cannot financially follow through. Before making an offer, know it is the perfect house for you, know how much you can afford to pay, and how far you are able to go in obtaining this for your home.


      What is Private Mortgage Insurance?

      Buying a house? You'll want to get the facts about Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI).

      Whenever you're considering buying a house, it's best to go into the situation as prepared as you can be. An experienced real estate agent helps, but the knowledge you bring to the table is also essential.

      PMI – private mortgage insurance – is one area where buyers often face confusion.

      • What is PMI?
        PMI is a form of insurance you may be required to pay for if you have a conventional home loan.

      • Who Benefits from PMI?
        The home buyer pays but gets none of the benefits. PMI is exclusively intended to protect the mortgage lender in the event that a buyer defaults on loan payments. It is not an insurance policy on your personal property or belongings.

      • How Much is PMI?
        PMI usually runs from 0.3% to 1.5% of the original home loan amount annually.

      • When Do I Need PMI?
        If you have a conventional commercial mortgage--not one backed by any government agency--then you probably need PMI. In federal home loan programs, the loans are guaranteed by the government. PMI isn't required in these situations, but the total cost of the loan may be higher.

        If you are buying a house with a down payment of 20% or more, then you may not need PMI, either. Whether PMI is required and how much you are expected to maintain will depend on the standards of each lender. Requirements may differ depending on the loan's total value, too.

      • Who Arranges for PMI?
        Although you'll probably compare many lenders before deciding which one should finance your mortgage, you don't have to do any comparison shopping when it comes to PMI. Instead, it's the lender who determines the right PMI arrangement and selects the insurer.

      • Who Receives PMI Payments?
        Payments go into escrow and are paid to the insurer by the mortgage lender.

      • How Do I Make PMI Payments?
        Usually, PMI costs are rolled directly into your mortgage payment and you pay them monthly. This ensures that it's impossible to accidentally overlook the PMI payment. As long as you are making mortgage payments on time, you are also up to date with your PMI.

        However, there are alternative options. In some cases, you may make a single, upfront payment of the PMI premium. This is a convenient way to reduce total cost of ownership. If you later decide to move or refinance, however, you might not be entitled to a refund of the premium.

        Sometimes, you may be required to pay both an upfront premium and a monthly premium. Your lender should help you determine the best option for you. For example, increasing your down payment may make it possible for you to avoid the upfront payment requirement.

      • Do I Need PMI During the Life of My Mortgage?
        Homeowners who have continuously paid their mortgage premium for several years often have the option of canceling their PMI insurance. This option may kick in after five years, ten years, or longer. Ask your lender for details.

      • How Does PMI Affect My Loan Eligibility?
        Some level of PMI is required by many lenders, but not all. Electing to adopt an optional PMI policy can help you secure a loan that you might not otherwise qualify for. Plus, having PMI will usually lower your interest rate, which influences how quickly you can pay off your loan.

      In most cases, there are several ways to improve your loan options: Adding to your down payment, pursuing government loan programs, and, yes, PMI. With personalized advice from your mortgage lender, you can make the right decision.


      5 Things to Consider Before You Start Flipping Houses

      House flipping is all the rage these days, and it's easy to see why.

      With low-interest rates, high demand for homes and tight inventory, there's great potential to buy a home and quickly resell it for a profit. Even so, buying a house isn't the kind of investment that should be taken lightly. 

      A quick glance at all the house flipping shows on TV proves just how popular the idea of flipping a house for profit has become. But a 30-minute TV segment misses a lot of important details, so if you're planning to make a killing in the flipping game, be sure to consider a few things first.  

      1. Money is Made on the Buy, Not the Sell
        It might sound counter-intuitive, but the price at which you purchase a house—not the price you sell it for—determines how much money you make on it. At least, that's a helpful way to look at it. Far too many inexperienced flippers buy homes for too much and are shocked to find that, after all the renovations have been made, it's impossible to resell at a profit.

      2. Know What You Can't Afford to Fix
        The key to flipping is buying a house that needs only cosmetic repairs. The home could need new carpets, new cabinetry, a fresh paint job, better fixtures and so on, but it has to be structurally sound. Homes that need a new roof, have a crack in the foundation or need a new plumbing or electrical system can be far too costly to renovate. And always have a full inspection done before you buy a house.

      3. Don't Do Everything Yourself
        Flipping a house is a team effort, so it's helpful to know a home inspector, accountant, lawyer, and especially a contractor. Hiring a contractor (or a team of subcontractors) to make the necessary repairs and renovations is essential not only for the expertise they provide but the speed at which they can work. Even if you have the construction know-how to do this work yourself, hiring a professional gets the job done quickly, and frees you up to focus on reselling this house and finding the next one. 

      4. Location Is Everything
        Buying a house to flip can be a futile endeavor if the location or market isn't a good one. You need to locate areas where you can resell houses at a profit margin of at least 10% to 20% (although more than that is ideal). A real estate agent can help you identify good cities to flip houses in and find the best neighborhoods within each city.

      5. Use a Real Estate Agent
        A real estate agent is a great resource if you're just getting into flipping houses. But even if you've been at it for a while, a skilled agent can also help take your flipping business to the next level, giving you access to more homes on which you may be able to turn a profit.

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