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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!


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.


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.


Buying The Right Home Warranty Plan

Buying a house is a big financial decision, and the right home warranty can help you protect some of the most important contents of your new home. A home warranty helps cover repairs to key systems and provides peace of mind once you move into your new home. But how do you choose the right home warranty, and what benefits can you expect? Ahead, we'll cover the critical details of choosing the right home warranty when buying a house.

One of the most common questions about home warranties is, "doesn't my homeowner's insurance cover this stuff?" The truth is that your home warranty and your home insurance serve two different purposes, with homeowners insurance covering major perils like fire, wind damage, and flooding. However, if your furnace, central air-conditioning, or appliances break down on their own, those items won't be covered by homeowner's insurance.

That's where a home warranty comes in because home warranties cover key home systems and appliances. Since repairs to appliances and HVAC systems can be quite expensive, many homeowners prefer the security of a home warranty. Choosing the right home warranty starts with understanding your goals, and how to accomplish them.

  • The Cost of Home Warranties
    A solid home warranty typically costs in the range of a few hundred dollars each year, either in a lump sum or through scheduled payments. While the premiums aren't too high, some home warranties have more added costs than others. Just as you would with insurance, be sure to check exactly what's covered, how the claims process works, and whether you will have to pay service fees to have contractors come to examine problems in the home. There are a ton of home warranty options, so shop around to find a plan that fits your needs.

  • What Is Covered By Home Warranties
    In simple terms, a home warranty should cover a lot of the stuff that isn't covered by a standard home insurance policy. Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems are a major investment for most homeowners and are typically covered under home warranties. A good home warranty should also cover valuable appliances within the home, so you don't have to worry about shelling out big bucks to repair those fancy new kitchen appliances.

  • When to Buy a Home Warranty
    Purchasing a home warranty isn't a requirement when buying a house, so the decision depends on the financial goals of the home-buyer. If you haven't had the time to properly assess the state of a home's appliances, then it may make sense to purchase a home warranty to hedge against bad luck. Since appliance repairs can be quite costly, a warranty may also make sense for anyone who has invested most of their savings in buying a house. Finally, some homeowners simply like the peace of mind provided by a warranty and find the expense to be worth it.

While a home warranty isn't a necessity, it can be a very nice perk when you need peace of mind or when you're working to get your budget back in order after the big financial move of buying a house. If you have questions about whether a home warranty is the right fit for you, your real estate agent is a great person to speak with to learn more. Remember that just as with home insurance, it pays to shop around before making your home warranty choice.


The Beginner's Guide To Buying A Home

Buying a home — especially your first home — is a BIG commitment. It is a commitment that demands time, finances, and lots of hard work. Homeownership can be a smart move with the proper research and planning. Use these home-buying tips to take control of the home-buying process and get you on your way to owning a piece of the American dream.

Take Stock of Your Lifestyle and Future Goals

When you decide to buy a house for the first time, you should plan on living there for a minimum of ten years. That's the average length of time people stay in their starter home before upgrading to something different. Before making a commitment take a hard look at your finances and be realistic about how much you can afford to spend on both the down payment and closing costs. This is also the time to consider whether you intend to expand your family in the next decade, engage in special interests and how far you want to commute.

The better you understand your current and near-future needs, the greater the odds become that you'll purchase a house that fits your budgetary requirements and is in the perfect neighborhood for you.

It's Best to Spend a Little More and Get the Ideal House

One of the biggest mistakes first-time homeowners make when they buy a house is getting something basic with the idea that they'll improve it over time. After a few years pass, most people find that they never seem to find enough time or money to handle the little DIY improvements or to upgrade appliances. If you're stuck between two houses, go with the one that may cost a little more but that's already set up and furnished with appliances you love.

Unless you have the time and money needed to handle repairs right away, you should also stay away from foreclosures. Banks sell foreclosed homes as is, and most buyers find that the amount of work the building needs is often substantial.

Research the Neighborhood

The house you buy is important, but so is the neighborhood. When buying a house, take some time to ensure that the neighborhood fits your lifestyle. Things to consider include:

  • Walkability
  • Traffic
  • Noise levels
  • The general attitude of the residents
  • If the area has pet restrictions that would impact you
  • Schools
  • How far away medical facilities are located
  • If there are any plans for major developments/changes in the works

The most important thing to remember when you're buying a house is to not rush the process. Take your time, and don't settle for something that you don't love.


5 Tips For Hiring A Moving Company

Moving doesn't have to be a stressful experience.

You're moving! Let's face it; whether you're moving across the street or across the country, it can be one of life's more stressful events. Before you surround yourself with cardboard boxes and packing tape, use these tips to find and hire a reliable moving company in your area.

  1. Stay Local
    Use someone in your local community. Ask your real estate agent, family, or friends who they trust for moving projects. They will point you in the right direction.

    The majority of moving scams are found online so stay local by searching businesses in your hometown. You can search online but remember, by staying local, it is easier to verify that they are a legitimate business.

  2. Read Reviews
    In the moving industry, reputation is everything. You're going to tell everyone how great the movers were and that word of mouth is what keeps their business going.

    Further, check out the reviews posted for several moving companies that you are researching. In doing so, you will help ensure that you get a great company for a good value.

  3. Visit the BBB
    Visit the Better Business Bureau and check for any complaints or reports against the moving company. Look for customer complaints and business reports, and even check their Department of Transportation license. Simply ask your moving company for their DOT Number.

    You can then search the database to investigate their record. Make sure the company is insured. Check their insurance number. Visit the moving companies beforehand to see what their operations are like.

  4. Get Estimates
    Get at least three estimates from three different companies that have passed your initial screening tests. Try to ask for a not-to-exceed binding estimate. This means a cap will be placed on the maximum amount they can charge you for the move.

    When the moving company comes to your home, show them your belongings. Further, let them see your home's layout and what challenges they may face with stairs or other obstacles in moving items out of your home. Estimates should be free and always conducted in person. Phone estimates are bad.

  5. Check the Paperwork
    Just like selling your home comes with paperwork, so should a good moving company provide you with several documents. They should give you a bill of lading, which is a legal document that serves as a receipt of the shipment of goods.

    Further, an inventory list should include all of the items they are moving for you. The most important document is the estimate itself which should be a written binding estimate which is dated and signed by the moving company.

You Are Ready to Move

You have checked potential companies thoroughly and should feel good about your choice. You have done your homework. Now choose the best one. A smooth transition awaits.


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.


Should You Buy A Starter Or Your Forever Home?

Ranch, two-story, or condo? City or suburbs? Carpet, hardwood, or tile? However, the biggest question you might face as a first-time homebuyer is: "Starter or Forever Home?" While each person's vision of what a starter home or forever home looks like, here is a basic definition of each: 

  • A starter home is a smaller, more economical house or condo that meets your basic requirements until you outgrow it — typically, about three to five years — with or without improvements.
  • A forever home is a space you can see yourself living in for the rest of your life — twenty years or more. It's what many people call their dream homes... a beautiful kitchen, huge master bedroom with an en suite bath, walk-in closets, and lots of room for growth.

There are three factors to think about before making your decision:  budget, local housing inventory, and long-term goals.

Here are some questions to ask yourself before you make your final decision:

  1. How much house can I afford?
    Many first-time homebuyers quickly realize they do not have the budget to buy a forever home immediately. In this case, it's often better to pick a home you can afford now.

    To determine how much home you can afford, take into consideration your estimated mortgage payment, mortgage insurance, homeowners' insurance, taxes, utilities, and homeowners' association fees (if any). Don't forget to add on one to four percent per year for home repair expenses.

  2. Are there homes available in my local real estate market?
    A real estate agent can help you determine the number and types of homes currently available in your local real estate area. When you buy a property, it should be one that will most likely appreciate in the future, so you have equity when you decide to sell.

  3. Where am I in life?
    Depending upon what your current stage in life might be will help you determine what type of home you may be looking for. Many middle-aged couples are downsizing and are in the market for a smaller home, and a millennial couple could be searching for a long-term home to raise a fam y. Find the home that feels right for you at whatever age and stage of life you may be in.

If you do the math and determine you can afford your forever home, you might just consider taking that plunge. The real estate market is cyclical, and you may not be able to find your dream home if you don't do it now. When you're buying a home, determine how much you can afford and your plans for the near future.


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.


Pay Off Your Mortgage Early With These Tips

The answer is different for each homeowner. Your earning power, expected future earning power, savings, and even your hobbies will all have an impact on how you choose to pay your mortgage. The good news is that there really are simple, effective tactics for paying off your mortgage early — as long as you're willing to stay committed to the process.

One of the best ways to pay off your mortgage early is to make sure that your mortgage fits your finances well before signing on the dotted line. Free mortgage calculators are very useful when shopping for a mortgage. If you're already locked into a mortgage, don't worry, there's still plenty you can do to more quickly own your home free and clear.

  1. Cut Expenses, Increase Savings – The number one tip for paying off your mortgage early is both pretty simple on the surface but sometimes easier said than done. It's sort of like saying that to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you take in. We all know that it's true, but cutting expenses and increasing savings requires a lot of planning, discipline, and persistence.

  2. Earn More, Save More – One of the best options to cut expenses will come when you earn a raise at work or move to a higher-paying position. It's natural to want to splurge a bit, but you've already proven that you can live comfortably on your prior salary. Keep the same budget when you get a raise and put the difference toward paying off your mortgage.

  3. Focus on Frugal Fun – There will always be little sacrifices when you want to pay off a mortgage early, but that doesn't mean you have to forego fun. You'll just want to be smart about how you invest your entertainment budget. Focus on affordable hobbies, plan vacations on a budget, and try replacing a few dinners out with creative, home-cooked meals. It's all about finding the right balance.

  4. Plan Your Financial Future – If you're not on a first-name basis with a financial adviser, now is a great time to change that. A financial adviser can help optimize your budget, minimize your tax load and identify ways to lower spending that won't cut into your quality of life. Investing some of your extra savings can also help with paying off your mortgage early.

  5. Extra Payments – The ultimate payoff of saving more and spending less is the extra payments you'll be able to make, which will help you pay off your mortgage early. These payments add up quickly, and with a little planning, you can start making extra payments soon after buying a house. Your financial adviser can help you optimize your extra payments to make paying off your mortgage early as efficient as possible.

While the goal of saving more and spending less holds true for all homeowners interested in paying off their mortgage early, there are many different ways to reach that goal after buying a house. Research, experiment, and find the savings tips that work for you. The benefits of owning your home free and clear are worth the effort.


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.


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.


Closing On A Home? Make Sure You Do These Things First

Closing on a home is an exciting time. It's the end of one long journey and the start of a new adventure.

It's not fun to think about, but a transaction can run into trouble until the very moment closing is done. There are important steps you can take before closing to keep unusual, but serious, complications from developing at the last minute. Your real estate agent is sure to help you stay on track, but you'll be even more prepared with a little research — exactly what you're doing right now.

Here are the key steps to take care of before closing:

  • Ensure the Home Has Been Inspected
    Contingencies are things the buyers must do before the transaction is final. The most common of these is the home inspection contingency, which is required by many mortgage lenders. Inspections cost $300-$500 but can save you thousands of dollars in repairs. Problems with the electrical system, the septic system, and the roof have been known to scupper a deal within days before closing.

  • Finalize Other Contingencies
    Appraisal is another common contingency — it requires a home to be appraised for a certain amount before the deal goes through. The amount is usually dictated by the lender, who needs it to be high enough to match the funding package. If appraisal fails, funding may need to be renegotiated.

  • Clear the Title
    "Clear title" means it's been verified that the seller has the legal right to transfer ownership of the property, and you have the legal right to receive it. Title problems can arise if there's a lien on the property — usually, issues are seller-related and couldn't have been known by the buyer in advance. Begin this process as early as possible so the seller can take action if any issues are uncovered.

  • Get Final Mortgage Approval
    Final approval takes place when the mortgage loan goes through underwriting. Underwriting is the last check of your credit score, your finances, and the appraisal of the property. Final approval can be quick and easy if you already get preapproved for a mortgage at least a few weeks earlier.

  • Review Your Closing Disclosure
    The closing disclosure is a massive document that communicates all the fine details of the sale that the buyer must be made aware of in writing. It includes details on any contingencies and provisions. It can be an extraordinarily dense document, so it is wise to work with a real estate lawyer to understand it all. Remember, you have the legal right to an adequate review period for your closing disclosure!

  • Perform a Final Walk-Through of the Property
    The final walk-through is often just a formality, but it is not one you want to skip. If you've made an agreement with the seller to perform any repairs (based on the home inspection), this is the chance to verify that work has been done. If you see anything out of the ordinary, you can still raise an objection.

  • Bring All Your Documents to Closing
    Your real estate attorney will give you a detailed list of documents to bring to closing, which may be communicated directly or through your real estate agent. Some of the most critical include your homeowner's insurance policy, a copy of your contract with the seller, home inspection reports, any paperwork required by the bank, and a valid government-issued photo ID.

A successful closing is a relief to everyone — the buyer, the seller, and everybody who helped them along the way. Follow these tips, and you'll be doing your part to make sure that it all goes through smoothly.


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.


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. 


Avoid These Winter Buying Mistakes Unless You Want Coal

The real estate market can slow down a bit during the winter, which can actually work to a buyer's advantage. Because there are usually fewer shoppers, you're likely to face less competition during the colder weather months. This means you may have more negotiating leverage or could have an easier time landing your dream home. Despite this benefit, the winter real estate market can also introduce some unique challenges. Here are some common winter buying mistakes you'll want to avoid when shopping this winter:

  • Making An Impulse Decision
    Because there is usually lower inventory in the winter, buyers might have to look a bit harder to find a home that checks all the boxes. We encourage buyers to be patient and shop around. Don't make an impulse decision and settle for something that doesn't fit your expectations for lack of better options. You might have to wait a bit longer, but the right home will turn up.

  • Accumulating Holiday Debt
    It can be easy to rack up extra debt around the holidays, but it's very important that you refrain from loading up your credit cards during your closing period. Significant increases in debt or changes to your credit profile can jeopardize your financing. Remember your preapproval is contingent on no changes to your financial situation.

    Additionally, your new home may require some minor repairs, new appliances, or upgrades. You'll want to be sure to keep your credit card balances low in case you need to make an unexpected purchase.

  • Focusing Too Much On Winter Curb Appeal
    Weather can really set the tone when visiting a new place for the first time, and homes can be no exception. A home's curb appeal can take a hit in the middle of winter. Trees and landscaping look a lot less vibrant and cold dreary day can impact your perception. Try to make it a point to envision what the home and neighborhood will look like with beautiful landscaping on a bright summer day. A home's curb appeal might have major upside during the spring and summer.

  • Submitting A Lowball Offer
    While there may be fewer buyers during the winter, there is also lower inventory. Buying in the winter doesn't necessarily mean sellers are desperate. Submitting a lowball offer can be off-putting to sellers, and they may close the door for future negotiations. While you may be able to negotiate contingencies, avoid submitting an offer significantly under the asking price.

  • Setting Expectations Around Closing Times
    The fall and winter also introduce some additional challenges when it comes to closing times. The holidays may slow down the closing process. Sellers may be traveling. Lenders, home inspectors, and contractors may be slower to respond and provide services. Be sure to set your expectations ahead of time.

The winter can be a great time to buy a shop, but buyers may face some unique challenges. Prepare yourself ahead of time and remember to be patient. You'll find the right home in no time.


First Time Buyers Wish They Knew These Facts

Buying your first home is one of life's most exciting moments, but it can also come with a significant amount of stress and uncertainty. First-time buyers usually have quite a lot to learn in a short amount of time. Fortunately, doing some research ahead of time and working with an experienced real estate agent can put you in a good position to navigate these new waters. Here is a quick list of some common facts most first-time homebuyers wish they knew when they started their home search.

  1. Shopping For A Mortgage Can Land You The Best Rate
    Many first-time buyers make the mistake of talking to only one lender during the mortgage shopping process. However, different lenders offer different rates, fees, and quality of customer service, and so shopping around for the right lender is worth the time and effort. We recommend seeking quotes from at least three different lenders as well as a mortgage broker to find the best option for you. Remember to seek quotes within the same 1-2 day period as rates can fluctuate over time.

  2. What You Qualify For Isn't The Same As What You Should Spend
    When you go through the preapproval process, your lender is likely to qualify you up to a certain amount. That amount could be up as high as 40% of your gross income. However, just because you qualify for a certain amount doesn't mean that's the amount you should spend. You need to look closely at your personal finances and factor in both current and future expenses to determine how much you can afford. As a general rule, your mortgage payment should not be more than 30% of your income.

  3. You Should Put 20% Down If You Can
    Saving for a down payment can be challenging, but you should put down 20% whenever possible. If you put down less, you may be required to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI), which could result in higher monthly payments. However, you shouldn't put 20% down if it completely drains your savings. Owning a home comes with a lot of unexpected expenses, so you want to be sure to have some funds on hand.

  4. The Closing Process Takes Some Time
    Many buyers are excited to move in as soon as their offer is accepted, but the reality is the closing process takes some time. Between the home inspection and finalizing financing, you can expect the closing process to take anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks.

  5. Changes To Your Credit or Financial Situation Can Impact Financing
    During the closing process, it's important that there are no significant changes to your credit profile or financial situation. Avoid making significant purchases, changing banks, moving money, or taking out a loan or line of credit. Your preapproval is likely contingent on no significant changes to your credit profile.

  6. Finding Issues During Home Inspection Is Common
    A home inspection contingency is a standard part of an offer that protects buyers from unforeseen or undisclosed issues with the home. Keep in mind, it's common for the home inspection to uncover minor to moderate issues. After the inspection, you'll have an opportunity to decide how to proceed. You can continue with the sale as is, renegotiate the pricing, or request that the seller make repairs.

Many first-time buyers learn as they go, which is why it's so critical to find an experienced real estate agent to help you navigate unfamiliar territory. Your agent will help educate you on the market and has your best interest in mind.


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.


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.


Buying On A Budget? Follow These Tips

Saving for a down payment, qualifying for a mortgage, and learning about real estate negotiations are all factors that can make buying your first home a challenge. First-time buyers must often strike a tricky balance between affordability and living requirements. While it can be challenging at times, it's certainly not impossible, especially if you do your research ahead of time.

If you're buying a home on a budget, below are some tips that can help you along the way:

  1. Be Willing To Compromise
    For many first-time buyers, finding the perfect home for the perfect price is a relatively rare event. As a result, you need to be ready to compromise. Think of all the things you want in a new home and then sort them down into lists: strict requirements, strong preferences, and "nice to haves." To find something that works within your budget, you may have to shift your priorities to some extent.

  2. Set A Budget
    Before you begin shopping for a new home, you need to know exactly how much you can afford to spend. Remember, your total budget is often not the same as the maximum amount you can get approved for. Your lender is likely to approve you for more than you might be comfortable spending. Check out some online housing calculators to help you get a sense of what you can truly afford. Your monthly payment shouldn't exceed more than 27% of your gross monthly income.

  3. Put In Some Maintenance
    If you discover a home with a lot of potential that needs a little bit of maintenance, you might be able to make it work if you're willing and able to put in the time and make repairs. You can likely get a much better deal if you are willing to install new carpet, paint the walls, or update old kitchens or bathrooms.

  4. Think About A Foreclosure
    One way to get a great deal on a house is to pursue a home that is up for short sale or under foreclosure. In both circumstances, you need to be willing to purchase a property as-is, as there is no opportunity to negotiate. However, the upside is that you can likely get the home for a good price. A short sale means the owner is behind on mortgage payments, but the bank has permitted them to sell the property. A foreclosure means the bank has already seized the property and is looking to sell as quickly as possible to recover its costs.

  5. Shop For Mortgage Rates
    When purchasing your first home, it's a good idea to consider rates from multiple lenders to get a true sense of the market. Seek multiple quotes on the same type of mortgage or reach out to a mortgage broker to get a true sense of the rate market. In addition to the actual rates, make sure to consider each lender's fees as well.

  6. Choose A Good Real Estate Agent
    A good agent will work hard to help you find the right home within your budget. They will monitor the market for potential options, schedule showings, and ultimately negotiate with the seller. Do online research, attend open houses, or ask friends, family, or neighbors for recommendations on a good real estate agent.

Buying on a tight budget might create a couple of additional hurdles in the home shopping process, but they're nothing that you can't overcome with a little bit of planning and research.


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.


Can You Buy A Home If Yours Hasn't Sold?

Buying and selling a home at the same time can seem like a logistical nightmare. Things don't always go as planned, and luck and timing often have a large role to play. The good news is your real estate agent is available to guide you through your situation.

There are many scenarios where a buyer needs to close on a new home before selling their old one. For example, you may have just discovered your dream home and don't want to miss it. Or you may be relocating for a new job. For most people, paying two mortgages at once is not an option. If you find yourself in one of these situations, here are some strategies that might help you buy a new home before your current home has sold.

  • Propose A Sale Contingency
    Buyers have an option to include a sale contingency in their offer, which makes your offer contingent on the sale of your current home. This is a good strategy when you've found the perfect property, and you don't want to pass it up. However, sale contingencies aren't very effective in a hot seller's market. If you're competing with other offers, including a sale contingency may make your offer appear less appealing.

  • Explore A Bridge Loan
    Some lenders may be willing to offer a bridge loan to help float you between the closing of your new home and the sale of your old one. However, bridge loans can be risky. If your home doesn't sell, you're still going to need to pay back the loan, and the loan terms are often fairly short. Bridge loans also typically have higher rates and fees than mortgages or home equity loans.

  • Consider A Home Equity Loan
    Another potential funding option is a home equity loan, which is a bit different than a bridge loan. A home equity loan establishes a lien against your home while also reducing the equity in your property. While home equity loans have more favorable terms and rates than bridge loans, this approach is not for everyone. Home equity loans can significantly increase your debt to income ratio, which can have a major impact on your credit score and could jeopardize financing on your new property. On the other hand, a home equity loan could be a good option if you have significant equity in your current property or you're looking to downsize.

  • Try Renting Your Home
    Depending on its size, location, and condition, you could consider renting your home instead of selling it. This approach could offset the burden of paying two mortgages in full; however, operating as a landlord does come with financial risks as well. You'd also only want to go this route if you already have funding for a down payment and closing costs for the new property.

Buying a new home before selling your old one can be tricky, but it's important to know you have options if you find yourself in this situation. You can also consult your real estate agent to come up with the best approach that works for your financial situation.


What You Need To Do Before Moving In

Congratulations! You've finally made it through the closing, and the keys to your new home are now in your possession. While the stressful parts of the home buying process are finally over, there is still a final step: the big move.

To minimize issues, preparing for a move should actually start about 4 to 6 weeks before your target move-in date. Even then, coordinating the logistics of a move can be challenging even for the most organized planner. With so many different pieces, it's easy to see how things can slip through the cracks. If you have an upcoming move, we've compiled some tips and reminders to help you leading up to the big day.

  • Start Making Lists
    The process of moving is comprised of dozens of smaller tasks. It can be nearly impossible to remember everything without making notes. As a result, it's a good idea to get in the habit of creating lists. Starting a rolling to-do list will allow you to quickly document action items when they pop into your mind and can help ensure you don't forget anything.

  • Find A Moving Company
    Choosing a moving company and scheduling your move is a big step. Once complete, it can feel as if a huge weight has been lifted from your shoulders. However, selecting a moving company is no easy task. Moving companies vary in terms of reliability and pricing. You'll want to do a good bit of online research before selecting your moving partner. Ask for references from friends, family, or neighbors. Once you've found a few candidates, ask for a quote or estimate so you can price shop.

  • Measure Your New Home
    Prior to moving, you should spend some time thinking about where you'll be placing your furniture and belongings in your new home. You also need to figure out if you'll need anything new. Be sure to measure all of the dimensions of your new home.

  • Manage Your Utilities
    A week or two before your move, you should contact each of your utility companies to determine next steps. Regardless of whether you're transferring or discontinuing service, you'll want to let each company know your moving dates to prevent billing issues or interruptions in service.

  • Forward Your Mail
    With so much going on, the last thing you want to worry about during the moving process is missing an important piece of mail. Luckily, the post office offers an easy way to change your permanent address online. Visit and follow the instructions for updating your address and selecting the day you'd like to start receiving mail at your new home.

  • Get Rid of Junk
    One of the best ways to make moving easier is to cut down your clutter. Getting rid of junk ultimately means you'll have less stuff to move. Beginning a month or two before your move, go through all of your stuff and start creating piles of things that can go. Then take a trip to your local thrift store and donate what you can. There is no better time to downsize than right before an upcoming move.

  • Pack Each Day
    Waiting until the last minute to pack can create unnecessary stress. Instead, start packing a couple of months ahead of time and make it a point to pack each day. Start with the attic and basement and prioritize things you can live without. Save the essentials, like kitchenware and towels, for the very end. 

Moving can often be a stressful event, but planning can help make the process easy and enjoyable for you and your family.


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.


So What Is Title Insurance?

Buying a home comes with many legal and financial responsibilities. When you purchase a home, you take legal possession of the property and finance a loan through a mortgage lender, unless it's a cash sale. By agreeing to finance the loan, the lender assumes big financial risks on their investment. To protect against financial loss during the loan period, the lender requires the buyer to purchase title insurance on the property.

What is Title Insurance?

When you buy a home, you establish legal ownership by "taking title" to the property. A title insurance policy protects you, as well as your lender, against any financial loss that may arise from disputes on the property, such as:

  • Property liens for unpaid debts and property taxes
  • Easements or encumbrances
  • Disputes over wills between heirs
  • Fraudulent property claims
  • Forged signatures on documents
  • Clerical errors in courthouse documents

When you apply for a mortgage loan, the lender will require a title search on the property before closing the deal through escrow. The title company will search for public records like deeds, mortgages, tax records, court judgments, divorce decrees, and child support orders that may affect the buyer's or lender's property rights. A title insurance policy covers third-party claims that do not show up in the title search.

Title Insurance Policies

There are two types of title insurance policies: lender's insurance and owner's insurance.

Lender's Title Insurance

Lender's title insurance is required to get a mortgage loan because it protects the lender against financial losses. It ensures that the lender has first claims on the property above all other types of claims if problems arise. A lender's title insurance policy is required when purchasing or refinancing a home.

Owner's Title Insurance

Owner's title insurance protects the buyer, and it's optional, not required. Owner's title insurance can protect a homeowner's equity in the property and protect his/her rights to live in the home if a claim arises after purchase. Common problems that often arise with owner's title insurance include:

  • Property deed errors
  • Property survey errors
  • Boundary disputes
  • Building code violations by a previous owner
  • Unpaid child support by a previous owner
  • Fraudulent claims by an ex-spouse

While owner's title insurance may seem like a waste of money to some homebuyers, it can protect against title problems that arise following the sale.

How Much Does Title Insurance Cost?

Title insurance is a one-time, up-front fee – not an ongoing expense. A lender's policy is based on the loan amount, while an owner's policy is based on the home's purchase price. According to the American Land Title Association (ALTA), both policies combined usually cost from 0.5% to 1.0% of the home's purchase price, typically about $1,500 to $3,000.

Most mortgage lenders work with preferred title companies that handle their properties, and most buyers use the lender's recommendation to expedite the sale. However, that doesn't mean that buyers can't shop around if they want to put in the time and effort. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, buyers may save up to $500 by shopping around for price comparisons in title insurance.

To find a title insurance company in your area, you can conduct an online search of the ALTA Registry for listings in your state. Before you make a choice, make sure the company has strong financial ratings and a good financial reputation. Major companies that handle title insurance policies include Fidelity, First American, Old Republic, and Stewart.

If you're buying or refinancing a home, your mortgage lender will require a title insurance policy prior to closing, but you can also purchase owner's title insurance for further protection.


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.


Are You Getting A Value On Your Home?

If you've been thinking about purchasing a new home, now may be a good time to make a move. According to financial experts, 2021 is a good year for home buyers looking for good investments. Although home prices are likely to rise, qualified buyers can still lock in low interest rates to find the right home at an affordable price.

Experts agree that we are currently in a seller's market. Home prices rose in 2020 and are still rising in 2021, especially in certain areas of the country. According to the National Home Price Appreciation Report, the Northeast had the highest home price growth of 5.5%, followed by the West (3.3%), the Midwest (3.2%), and the South (2%). Homes in the medium to high price range of about $485,000 saw the biggest rise in appreciation from 6.6% in May 2020 to 14.6% in November 2020.

Buying in a Seller's Market

As home prices continue to rise, what does this mean for buyers? Since prices are high and inventory is low, buyers are facing unique challenges. In some areas of the country, homes are becoming less affordable and less available, especially for first-time homebuyers. Even with record-low mortgage rates and FHA loan programs designed to help buyers on a tight budget, the current real estate market is very competitive.

Buyers must be smart about their finances and prepared to act when the right property comes along. First-time home buyers may even have a slight advantage because they don't have to sell a home before investing in a new one. Although finding a home in today's market may be more difficult, it's not impossible. Here are tips that can make buying a home in a seller's market a little easier and less stressful.

Learn About Market Condition

Even in a seller's market, there are a lot of good real estate deals out there. Don't assume that all available properties in a seller's market are overpriced. Take the time to learn about homes for sale in desired areas and compare prices based on location, square footage, upgrades, and property amenities.

Explore Possible Appreciation

The area you choose to live in can have a significant impact on home prices. You should investigate proposed and future projects planned in the area. New developments such as shopping malls, new schools, improved roads, and more bus and metro stops can translate to bigger profits down the road.

Look at Unsold Properties

If the home you're considering is priced in the same range as homes that did not sell, there's a good possibility that the home you're looking at is overpriced. If there are several similar homes on the market in the same area, listing prices should be lower, not higher, unless there is something that validates a higher price, such as:

  • A bigger lot
  • A home addition or renovation
  • Solar panels
  • A built-in alarm system
  • A new roof
  • New copper plumbing
  • New appliances
  • Interior upgrades.

Consider Income Opportunities

If you're on a tight budget, consider possible income opportunities the home may provide. Some mortgage lenders will consider future income generated by the property when reviewing your loan application. Buyers using Fannie Mae loans are allowed to include future rental income in their lending guidelines if the property falls under one of these categories: (1) a principal residence with 2-4 units where the borrower occupies one of the units, (2) a 1-4 unit investment property.

While buying a home in a seller's market presents challenges, it's not impossible if you research and prepare to make an offer at just the right time.


Here's How Many Bedrooms You Really Need

Purchasing a new home comes with many decisions that impact your finances as well as your current and future needs. While a small two-bedroom home may be fine now, it may not serve you well down the road. As your family grows and changes, a quaint two-bedroom home may become crowded and uncomfortable, leaving you with two costly options — move to a larger home or build additions on your current one.

Before buying a new home, it's important to consider how many bedrooms you really need. While it's easy to change your home's decor, it's not easy to change the square footage when you outgrow your home's essential living spaces, especially bedrooms. To prevent cramped quarters, consider your current and future needs before you sign on the dotted line.

  • Current Sleeping Needs
    Start by assessing your current bedroom needs. If you're a married couple with two children, you may want to start with a baseline of three bedrooms, giving each child their own bedroom for privacy and future growth. While children often share bedrooms when they are young, this usually becomes an uncomfortable situation as they grow older. If you have three or four children, you may need a larger home with four or five bedrooms to accommodate everyone's sleeping requirements.

  • Future Sleeping Needs
    While it may be difficult to predict your future needs, it's important to think about possible changes that may impact sleeping requirements. If you're a young couple without children but plan on them down the road, you should factor that into your bedroom requirements. If your finances allow, purchase a three or four-bedroom home that provides room for family growth. Future sleeping needs often vary based on family dynamics, such as starting a new family, downsizing as children grow up and move out, moving parents into the home, or taking care of aging relatives.

  • Flexible Spaces
    To determine how many bedrooms you need, you should also consider the requirements for flexible spaces in your home. Flexible spaces are rooms that can accommodate various activities when necessary. For example, an extra bedroom in the house can be turned into a guest room, an office, a sewing room, or an art studio as family needs change. When purchasing a new home, it's a good idea to have an extra bedroom that does not have a fixed purchase when you move in. Flexible spaces make lifestyle changes less complicated and less costly.

  • Overnight Guests
    If you have a large family who often visits from out-of-town or friends who pop over for an overnight stay, you'll need a guest room in your home. Having an extra bedroom in these situations is a big plus. Although a spare bedroom may get less frequent use, it serves an important purpose when it's needed. When not being used, it can provide extra space for storage or provide a space for relaxing with a good book and a cup of hot chocolate. A guest room is a great space for a coat and hat rack, an umbrella stand, and closet storage for extra clothes and linens.

  • Resale Value
    When it comes to resale, professional realtors usually recommend no less than three bedrooms for home buyers. Although there's still some interest in smaller two-bedroom homes, most buyers are looking for three or more bedrooms to accommodate future growth. In many cases, homes with two bedrooms are purchased by investors for a lower price, so they can add more bedrooms and flip the house for a considerable profit.

If you're still not sure about what type of home will best fit your needs, a good real estate agent can help you make the right decision.


Upsize Or Downsize? What You Should Know Before Shopping

There are lots of reasons someone might want to move, but the biggest reasons often involve the need for upsizing or downsizing. No matter which way you're going, your current home just isn't meeting your needs. That's a good indication it's time for a change. Here are a few things to keep in mind to get it right.

Consider the future first

Buying a house is a big investment and a long-term commitment. Consider if and how your finances or lifestyle may change in the near future. Retirement, growing families, and career changes are a few examples that can make a difference.

When to upsize

Do you really need a bigger home? These are some signs you do, and now might be the time to make the move.

  • You need more living, storage, or outdoor space. Or all of those.
  • You need more room for entertaining. You entertain frequently, but it's usually overcrowded.
  • Your family life is changing. For example, having more children or blending families.
  • The people who live in your home constantly feel like they have no privacy.

Other things to consider when upsizing

  • Maintenance and cleaning. Bigger houses generally come with more maintenance and maintenance costs inside and out. There may be some trade-offs in this area depending on the age, condition, and amenities of your current home compared to the one you purchase.
  • More property taxes. Larger properties tend to have larger property taxes. You'll want to know how much more you can afford and where the favorable tax rates are before you start shopping.
  • Other living expenses. Moving to a bigger place may mean other expenses increase too. That could be something like higher utility bills, paying someone to mow the lawn when you used to do it yourself, or higher commuting costs.

When to downsize

Sometimes it just makes more sense to downsize. Here are the signs it might be right for you.

  • You have more maintenance and cleaning than you can handle. If you can't spend the time or money necessary for maintenance and cleaning, it's probably time to downsize. Also, if you're spending all your free time on either of those instead of enjoying your life and home, downsizing may make you genuinely happier.
  • You have unused space. The more unused space you have, the more likely it is you need to downsize.
  • You want to use your money for other things. Less money spent on maintenance, property taxes, and a house payment means you can save for retirement, pay off debt, or travel.

Other things to consider when downsizing

  • You'll have to get rid of some of your stuff. That can be seriously difficult for some people. You'll also need to allow yourself enough time to actually do it. It's good to start as soon as you decide it's time to move.
  • Proximity to community amenities and public transportation. The transition to a smaller home may be easier if you can compensate in other ways. For example, you'll miss the big backyard less if there's a nice public park or community garden nearby.
  • Relocating away from neighbors, friends, and family. Many neighborhoods tend to consist primarily of one type of home, so moving from a larger to a smaller home may mean you're moving further away from long-time friends and neighbors or family. 

The decision to buy a new home, whether it's bigger or smaller, can mean you have a lot to think about. Ultimately, the best choice will fit both your financial situation and lifestyle. And you can look forward to life in your new home.


Don't Make These Rookie Buyer Mistakes

There are few things more exciting than purchasing your first home! Not only is this a major milestone, but it's also likely one of the biggest purchases you'll ever make. This is why it's so important to avoid the most common first-time homebuyer mistakes. The good news is, it's easy to stay out of trouble when you know what to watch out for. Avoid these rookie mistakes and you'll be just fine!

1. Forgetting to Double-Check Your Finances
You'll avoid a lot of disappointment if you make sure your finances are in order before you begin searching for your dream home. Begin by double-checking your credit score and your credit report.

Next, review your budget to determine how much you can spend. Finally, make sure you've saved up enough of a down-payment and have an emergency fund.

2. Having Unrealistic Expectations
Consider meeting with a lender who will review your current financials and tell you exactly how much they're willing to offer you. Their estimate should also show you approximately how much cash you'll need to bring to closing.

Once you have a budget, make sure to limit your search to homes that are at or below your maximum price. Otherwise, you may end up falling in love with something you simply can't afford.

3. Trying to Do it Alone
Before you begin looking at homes, it's important to find a real estate agent you can trust. This person will guide you through the entire process, offering invaluable advice along the way.

If you're unsure where to start, try asking family and friends if they know a great agent they would recommend. When you interview your potential agent, make sure they take the time to really listen to you and thoroughly answer all your questions. Take your time, as this will be one of the most important decisions you'll make.

4. Underestimating Homeownership Costs
When determining how much you can spend on a home, it's important to include all of the expenses that go with it. Remember, you need to consider the cost of property taxes, insurance, utility bills, maintenance, repairs, and possibly homeowners association fees.

5. Draining Your Bank Account
Don't make the mistake of putting every penny you have towards buying your new home! Remember, you'll still need to pay moving costs, and you may need to purchase furniture and decor. There's also a good chance you'll find that there are some minor repairs you need to do after you move in.

Even if you have to cut into your savings a little bit, make sure you keep some cash on hand for unexpected emergencies.

6. Applying for Credit Before Your Closing
If you've been pre-qualified for a mortgage (which is a great idea!), taking out any loans before your closing can throw everything off. Your lender will be looking closely at your debt-to-income ratio, and borrowing money can push the numbers out of your favor.

If you're thinking about buying a new car, taking out a credit card, or making any other purchases on credit, hold off until you close on your new home!

7. Taking Out a Mortgage You Don't Understand
There are many different types of mortgages available, making it even more important to ensure you understand exactly what you're getting into. For example, an adjustable-rate mortgage can lead to higher payments in the future. Before you commit, make sure you understand exactly what your obligation looks like now and going forward.

8. Making Decisions Based on Emotion
Last but certainly not least, avoid making decisions based on emotion. It's easy to fall in love with what you think is the "perfect" home. However, if you can't afford it or it's not a great value, then it's not as perfect as you may think.

As you begin your journey, keep these tips in mind. Being conscious of the most common rookie mistakes is the best way to ensure a smooth home buying experience.


What It's Like Living In The Suburbs

A lot of ideas come to mind when someone mentions the 'burbs. There are images of meeting your neighbor at the end of the driveway to pick up the morning paper, backyard grilling, and everyone walking their dogs. But preconceptions aside, it's important to know the facts about the suburbs, especially when you're home shopping. Every residential area has its own pros and cons, and the suburbs are no exception. Here's what you should know.

Room To Stretch Your Legs

The obvious benefit of the suburbs is that the homes and yards that come with them are larger than what you'd find close to or in the city. More bedrooms, bathrooms, and storage means there's plenty of room for your family, whether you're just starting one or you're moving with the kids. Larger yards give you a place to enjoy some fresh air that's only a few steps away, and many yards will have mature landscaping depending on the age of the property. This extra space comes with the downside though of higher energy costs and lots of yard maintenance.

The Education

The suburbs are often home to top-notch schools, both public and private, and bus or car rides can be incredibly short depending on how close you live to the schools. Your children will also have the benefit of living close to their friends, so socializing may only be a walk or bike ride away. You'll meet new families who can help you navigate the area and lend a hand when life gets extra busy. All this is great, just as long as your children fit in with the school district. If, for some reason, they need to transfer, your location could complicate the situation.

Bang For Your Buck

Unless you plan on moving to a famous or prestigious suburb, the odds are your property's price will be a great deal for the amount of space you get. You also have easy access to the local school district and the peace of mind of a safer neighborhood, and these come with the property free of charge. You'll always have a lot of flexibility if you ever decide to sell your home, since families are always looking to buy homes near schools and in quiet neighborhoods. You should be careful to remember though that this deal could become less sweet if you have to chase down contractors for repairs or renovations frequently.

A Local Community

In the suburbs, you're bound to find countless little spots and businesses that make everyone in the community love where they live. Restaurants are passed down through families and become local traditions, and parks and trails let you change up the scenery of your life every once in a while. The suburbs will never be able to compete with the city's bustling nightlife, but as long as you're willing to drive a little bit, you're never too far away from a memorable day or night out.

The suburbs are appealing to lots of people, whether you have a large family or not. Knowing if it's the perfect fit depends on your needs. As always, it's best to talk with an experienced real estate agent to find a home that will fill all those checkboxes.


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. 


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.


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.


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.


Buying a House? 3 Ways to Lose Your Earnest Money Deposit

Many first-time buyers don't know the financial obligations involved in buying a house. With so much emphasis placed on saving for a down payment, some people don't fully understand all other financial aspects of the transaction, including the earnest money deposit. I encourage all buyers, first-time or otherwise, to understand what an earnest money deposit is — and how you can lose it when buying a house.

What is an Earnest Money Deposit?

When you place an offer on a home that the seller accepts, you're laying the foundation for the entire transaction. As a part of the purchase offer, the buyer commits to a financial obligation. The earnest money deposit, also called an escrow deposit or good faith money, follows the signing of the sales contract or purchase agreement. The amount may be between 1 percent and 10 percent of the sales price. The contract outlines if and when a buyer may seek a refund for this deposit.

How can you get a refund for your earnest money deposit? One example may be if the house doesn't appraise for the sale price, the buyer can stipulate a contingency that they can take back their deposit. How can you lose your earnest money deposit? It's easier than you may believe. There are three surefire ways to lose your earnest money deposit when buying a house:

  1. You've got cold feet and want to back out of the sale.
    Buying a house is a huge commitment — a commitment that a small percentage of buyers don't fully understand until they've signed the purchase agreement. Backing out of the sale of a home simply because you've reconsidered your personal decision is not permitted.
  2. You've waived away your contingency rights.
    When you're buying a house, always read and understand the stipulations of the contract. Real estate agreements often have contingencies included, like allowing you to remove yourself from the sale and retain your earnest money deposit if the inspection fails or if there are financing issues. Some buyers will waive these rights to make their offer appear more attractive to the seller. For example, if the inspection were to fail or if the house is appraised for less than it's listed, you'll either need to complete the sale or lose your deposit if you've waived the contingency rights.
  3. You've neglected the agreed-upon timeline according to the contract.
    Your purchase agreement will include a number of new responsibilities that you must tend to within a specific time frame. This includes securing financing from a mortgage lender, completing a home inspection, getting an appraisal conducted, and setting availability to schedule closing. While some sellers will extend these time limits within reason if requested, you're contractually obligated to meet these demands, or you can forfeit your earnest money deposit.

Buying a house is one of the most significant decisions and investments you'll make in your life. While it is common to have some uncertain thoughts in this process, you should also keep in mind that you are responsible for keeping up your end of the bargain — morally and legally.


What is a Short Sale?

Watch any popular real estate show on television and you've probably heard a lot of different takes on short sales. Some people swear by them, while others avoid them.

But what is a short sale all about, really?

Simply, a short sale is the sale of a property for less than the amount owed on the mortgage. Short sales aren't quite the same as foreclosures: They're a negotiated agreement between a lender and borrower. Both parties are motivated to sell, but that doesn't mean it's always the best deal.

For a short sale to happen, two things need to be true:

  • The homeowner is so far behind on payments that catching up isn't an option
  • The house must be worth less than the amount leftover on the mortgage

With that in mind, short sales are most common at times when the housing market is in trouble. They are a "last chance" option for avoiding foreclosure, but for the buyer, the process can seem slow.

Buyers Beware This Big Myth Around Short Sales

The biggest myth around short sales is that the seller will push to get the sale done quickly.

Although the seller might be ready to move on, everything in the short sale process must be approved by the lender. And lenders – mostly big banks – have plenty of time to ensure they recover as much of the home's value as possible.

This means the process can go on for months.

How Does a Short Sale Work?

When buying a house, you might want to explore other options before short sales, especially as a first-time buyer. If you decide to go forward, it's important to understand exactly how the process plays out.

  1. The Homeowner Engages the Lender
    Before a short sale can even begin, the current homeowner needs to work with the lender and do some persuasion behind the scenes. They have to prove not only that they can no longer make their payments (or catch up) but that selling the home is viable under current market conditions.
  2. A Real Estate Agent Lists the Property
    If the lender gives the nod, the seller goes ahead with listing through a trusted real estate agent. Those interested in buying a house will find the property in all the usual ways: Online listings, virtual tours, and the rest. The goal remains to close on the property within 60 days.
  3. The Lender Reviews The Buyers' Offers
    The lender has final approval on all buyer offers. A sales contract must be written up for each offer for the lender's review. In some cases, the lender may not respond to an offer at all. Most of the time, the offer is returned with a variety of proposed changes to make it acceptable.
  4. The Buyer Appeases or Rejects Terms
    If they're still interested in buying a house under the amended terms, the would-be buyer can agree to move forward. They can also continue negotiations by rejecting certain terms or proposing alternatives. Buyers aren't bound by any terms until they decide to sign the contract.
  5. The Short Sale Property Closes
    If the property closes, the title is transferred to the buyer. The lender receives all proceeds from the sale and the seller is released from the mortgage loan. The short sale is concluded and the buyer can carry on as a new homeowner.

Choosing an expert real estate agent is always crucial when buying a house, but it's especially critical for short sales. Lenders do everything they can to protect their interests – be sure you are doing the same!


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. 


6 Tips for Millennial Homebuyers

Buying a house is a goal of many Millennials. However, some people mistakenly believe that it's an impossible goal. If you're interested in buying a home, it's essential to know this goal is attainable with a little patience and preparation. Millennials take note: these six tips will help you become a happy homeowner.

  1. Don't Rush, But Don't Wait Too Long
    Buying a house is a major milestone in your life, and it's a decision you should make responsibly. You shouldn't rush to purchase a home until you're able to comfortably afford it, but you also shouldn't be afraid to buy a home when you're ready and capable. 
  2. Pay Down Debt & Start Saving
    One of the best financial decisions you can make is to reduce your debts and increase your savings as often as possible whether you're buying a house or not. Several factors influence your ability to buy a home, including your credit score. By managing your debts and proactively saving for a down payment, you'll be in a better position when the time comes to make an offer. 
  3. Learn About the Market
    Before you begin your home search, it's not a bad idea to learn about your desired market and real estate transactions in general. For instance, many first-time homebuyers aren't aware of the closing costs they might be responsible for. By learning about these small but important details, you'll be more informed during your search and better prepared to enter into a contract with confidence. 
  4. Plan for Practical Not Pretend
    Who doesn't dream of the perfect home? Dazzling designs, amazing amenities, and one-of-a-kind features are fantastic when you're daydreaming. Unfortunately, not all of us can afford million-dollar homes––or even any home above a certain budget. As you consider buying a home, stay practical in your expectations. Create a list that separates your must-haves from your dream wish-list. This technique helps you manage your expectations and ensures you find a home that meets your needs. Keep in mind that buying a house does not need to be a one-time experience. Buying a house now that you can responsibly afford can set you on your next step to one-day owning your dream home.
  5. Enlist the Help of a REALTOR®
    While it is true that you don't need to hire a REALTOR® when buying a house, it's to your benefit that you do. They are highly educated, trained, and experienced and know the ins and outs of the industry. More importantly, they're 100% on your side. Their job is to ensure you not only get the best deal when buying a house but that you're completely satisfied with the process from start to finish. 
  6. Don't Be Afraid to Ask Questions
    Buying a house can feel intimidating. It's essential to find answers to all of your questions. There are no "stupid" questions in the real estate world, only buyers wise enough to ease their uncertainties before finalizing the contract. Be sure to ask your REALTOR® any and every question you may have; they'll be happy to answer all of them.

Buying a house is a realistic goal for many Millennials. If you learn to manage your finances, gain insight into the real estate market, and trust your real estate professional you'll discover that buying a house is an attainable goal.


Buying a Condo vs. Home. What's the Difference?

Buying a house is a goal for many people. While some folks envision a single-family residence as their dream home, purchasing a condominium brings its own set of benefits. Let's take a look at the benefits of buying a single-family home versus a condominium.

Benefits of Buying a House

If buying a home is your goal, then you're likely most interested in these benefits:

  • Buying a house means you own your property and can usually do with it what you please. You can create a backyard oasis, turn a spare bedroom into a fitness center, or make any number of renovations to the interior and exterior to create your dream home.
  • When you own your own home, you can decide who lives in it. You can rent it out to generate supplementary income, you can offer guests a short-term place to stay, and you can allow as many pets as you'd like to live with you. Condo associations do not permit many of these options. 
  • Not only is homeownership a mark of pride for some, but it's also an investment in your future. Buying a home lets you own a piece of real estate that you can then sell in the future to fund your other goals. 

Benefits of Buying a Condo

If buying a home is an option, but you're curious about other property types, you may prefer these benefits associated with buying a condo:

  • Many condos are more affordable than buying a home, yet they still can offer nearly the same general interior features, such as upgraded kitchens, serene bathrooms, and great entertaining spaces.
  • Most condos offer community amenities such as swimming pools and recreation centers,t which are available for private use by residents. 
  • Often, a condominium will take care of responsibilities like landscaping and other maintenance tasks. They also offer a level of dedicated security around the clock, such as security guards.

Drawbacks of Buying a House

Buying a home is a great feeling, but there are also a few drawbacks of homeownership, including:

  • When buying a house, you're responsible for all issues and repairs, . Repairs mean either having to fix the problems yourself or paying a professional for maintenance.
  • The upfront costs of buying a house are usually much more than buying a condo. Saving up to buy a home may take you longer than saving for a condominium.
  • Living in an HOA will have its perks and drawbacks as well. For instance, it may prevent you from making certain changes to your home's exterior, such as its color or landscaping. 

Drawbacks of Buying a Condo

Although condos do offer some advantages over buying a home, they also come with their share of drawbacks, including: 

  • A lack of privacy because of proximity to neighbors. The shared amenities such as a pool and fitness center also may not be preferable for those who want to relax in solitude.
  • Condo association rules are quite advantageous, but at times they may prevent you from doing what you want. For instance, there may be restrictions on what you can put on your balcony or what renovations you can make in your unit.
  • Depending on availability, you may not be able to get the specific unit you desire. For instance, ground-level units or units with certain features may be limited in your desired location.

Compare the pros and cons of each to discover which is the right type of homeownership for you.


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.


What's Included in a Monthly Mortgage Payment?

If you thought the only number you needed to calculate before buying a house was your down payment, think again. Though the down payment is a vital element in the sale, and often one that many first-time homebuyers place the most focus on, it's essential not to neglect the other significant expense following this transaction: your monthly mortgage payment. If you're buying a house via a mortgage loan, you should be aware that your monthly payment includes much more than just the remainder of the loan cost. Here are a few of the other items which are included in a monthly mortgage payment:

  • Principal
    The principal is the amount that goes directly towards paying down the loan amount. It reduces your total amount owed on the house. It's often a small part of your overall monthly mortgage payment, as other fees will make up a sizeable portion of the full cost.
  • Interest
    Interest is one of those additional costs. The interest payment is determined by the specific rate that you receive when contracting the loan. The total interest owed to the lender is stretched out through your entire mortgage. Thankfully, as you continue to make payments, your interest will lessen, and the amount dedicated to your principal will increase.
  • Taxes
    The property taxes are due each year. After buying a house, your mortgage lender will likely take a small portion of these taxes each month in your mortgage payment and place them in escrow. The lender then pays the government your collected property taxes once a year. Although you can opt to save this money yourself and pay the annual property taxes independently, having them included in your mortgage payment helps you pay them on time without issue. 
  • Insurance
    When buying a house, you'll need to secure homeowner's insurance. Unlike a home warranty, homeowner's insurance is required for all property owners. Insurance covers you, and by extension, your mortgage lender if a natural disaster or other catastrophic event destroys your home. 
  • Private Mortgage Insurance
    While this expense isn't applicable in all situations, some individuals buying a house will have to pay Private Mortgage Insurance each month. The PMI isn't meant to protect you, but rather, protect the lender if you don't pay your monthly mortgage payments on-time. It's common to encounter this extra charge in many cases when buying a house with a down payment of less than 20 percent.

As you're considering buying a house, it's wise to see out a mortgage lender or real estate agent to help you estimate your monthly mortgage payment. You can discuss varying down payment amounts, offer prices, and interest rates to understand how high or low your payment may be.


What is a Short Sale?

Watch any popular real estate show on television, and you've probably heard a lot of different takes on short sales. Some people swear by them, while others avoid them.

But what is a short sale all about?

A short sale is the sale of a property for less than the mortgage amount. Short sales aren't quite the same as foreclosures: They're a negotiated agreement between a lender and borrower. Both parties are motivated to sell, but that doesn't mean it's always the best deal.

For a short sale to happen, two things need to be true:

  1. The homeowner is so far behind on payments that catching up isn't an option.
  2. The house must be worth less than the amount remaining on the mortgage.

They are a "last chance" option for avoiding foreclosure, but the process can seem slow for the buyer.

Buyers Beware This Big Myth Around Short Sales
The biggest myth around short sales is that the seller will push to get the sale done quickly.

Although the seller might be ready to move on, the lender must approve everything in the short sale process. And lenders – mostly big banks – have plenty of time to ensure they recover as much of the home's value as possible.

This means the process can go on for months.

How Does a Short Sale Work?
When buying a house, you might want to explore other options before short sales, especially as a first-time buyer. If you decide to go forward, it's important to understand exactly how the process plays out.

  1. The Homeowner Engages the Lender
    Before a short sale can even begin, the current homeowner needs to work with the lender and do some persuasion behind the scenes. They have to prove not only that they can no longer make their payments (or catch up) but that selling the home is viable under current market conditions.
  2. A Real Estate Agent Lists the Property
    If the lender gives the nod, the seller goes ahead with listing through a trusted real estate agent. Those interested in buying a house will find the property in all the usual ways: Online listings, virtual tours, and the rest. The goal remains to close on the property within 60 days.
  3. The Lender Reviews The Buyers' Offers
    The lender has final approval on all buyer offers. A sales contract must be written up for each offer for the lender's review. In some cases, the lender may not respond to an offer at all. Most of the time, the offer is returned with various proposed changes to make it acceptable.
  4. The Buyer Appeases or Rejects Terms
    If they're still interested in buying a house under the amended terms, the would-be buyer can agree to move forward. They can also continue negotiations by rejecting certain terms or proposing alternatives. Any terms don't bound buyers until they decide to sign the contract.
  5. The Short Sale Property Closes
    If the property closes, the title is transferred to the buyer. The lender receives all proceeds from the sale, and the seller is released from the mortgage loan. The short sale is concluded, and the buyer can go on to the rest of their time as a new homeowner.

Choosing an expert real estate agent is always crucial when buying a house, but it's especially critical for short sales. Lenders do everything they can to protect their interests––be sure you are doing the same!


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.


Buying a House During a Pandemic

It's no secret that COVID-19 has negatively impacted the U.S. economy. However, in many parts of the country, the housing market has remained surprisingly strong. If you're thinking about buying a house soon, you can expect a few things to be different. Consider these things when you're purchasing a home during the pandemic.

Things Move Faster
Many houses that are well-presented and priced right are selling within a week or so on the market. This means that you can't just kick back and relax if you're serious about buying a house. If you see a home you like, don't wait! Visit it as soon as you can, and make sure you're prepared to make an offer right away. 

You'll Face Some Competition
It's increasingly common for home sellers to receive multiple offers. The longer interest rates remain relatively low, the more likely it is that you'll face competition while buying a house. When multiple offers come in, the listing agent will often go back to each prospective buyer and ask for their "highest and best" offer. The winning bid can often be anywhere from 5% to 10% above the asking price. 

Since you'll need some extra wiggle room when buying a house in this environment, refrain from looking at homes at the top of your price range. A good rule of thumb is to know your maximum price and then look for homes at least 10% lower than that. This will give you room to bump up your offer if necessary. 

Expect Extra Safety Precautions 
Thanks to social distancing, buying a house looks a lot different now. Expect to take virtual tours, sign most of your paperwork digitally, and wear a mask when you have in-person interactions. Social distancing may also impact how you interact with the title agents, home inspectors, notaries, and others involved in your home purchase..

You'll Want to Sell Your Own House First
Buying a house when you haven't sold your current one is common. However, you may feel more comfortable bidding against other potential buyers if you don't have the weight of your existing home holding you down. 

Selling your current home and moving into an apartment or rental home while you focus on buying a house is an option many people take. You may also consider selling your current home with a contingency to find your new home first. 

Buying a house in a pandemic is different, but that doesn't mean it can't be a great experience. Many buyers will find their dream homes despite the current environment. Will you be one of them? 


Buying a House: 10 Pricey Mistakes to Avoid

When you're buying a house, a sense of urgency could save you thousands: But it's also important to do research and take the right steps.

Let's review some of the biggest mishaps to avoid when buying a house:

  1. Waiting to Get Preapproved
    Ideally, you should get preapproved for a loan as soon as possible. This will not only help you lock in the most favorable rates but also gives you a clear indication of your budget so you can bid on homes fast.
  2. Neglecting to Compare Lenders
    Although conditions are favorable for buyers, you still want to look for the best deal. A small difference in loan terms can save you a lot of money. With that in mind, it's crucial to talk to at least three lenders.
  3. Failing to Set a Realistic Budget
    When buying a house, your loan amount is only part of what you need to know. You should also write a budget, so you see precisely what mortgage payment will fit your lifestyle. Don't forget to get estimates on utilities for your home and add in the cost of annual maintenance, too.
  4. Not Saving Up Beforehand
    Start saving about 12 months in advance to prepare for your down payment. If you have a shorter time horizon, be sure to ask your real estate agent about home loan programs for first-time buyers. These often have low or no down payment.
  5. Checking Your Credit Report Too Late
    Your credit score is a guideline lenders use to understand your creditworthiness at a glance. Before you look for a home loan, though, you should also check your credit report for errors and contest any mistakes you find.
  6. Not Paying Down Debts
    Besides your raw credit score, lenders also look at your debt-to-income ratio to understand how much you can afford to pay. Paying off credit cards and avoiding new obligations, such as auto loans, keeps your ratio in line.
  7. Leaving the Neighborhood for Last
    It's possible to fall in love with a home in a neighborhood that doesn't really serve your needs. Always spend time checking out the neighborhood early on. That should include driving and walking through in the morning, afternoon, and evening, both weekdays and weekends.
  8. Not Tapping Your Real Estate Agent
    A good agent is a local expert who can keep you on track in all kinds of ways. One of the most vital: He or she can help you accurately estimate the costs of living in a neighborhood, so you use them in your budget.
  9. Being Unclear About Your Goals
    Many loan programs allow you to use gift money from family members, friends, your boss, or even a charity for down payments. If there's a chance someone in your life might want to offer you a gift, loop them into your plans early, so you're all on the same page.
  10. Skipping the Home Inspection
    No matter how pressing your timeline is, there's never a good reason to skip a home inspection. The inspection can uncover serious problems that amount to big repair bills in your near future. Getting a thorough inspection is essential for "as-is" homes.

Done right, buying a house can be the best decision you've ever made. Keep these ten pitfalls in mind so you can truly get the best deal on the home you want.


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.


Let Your Countdown to Moving Day Begin

The countdown to moving day is one of the most exciting times when buying a house. Even though you're ready to grab the keys and get cozy in your new home, there is still plenty of work to do before, during, and after moving day.

Use this helpful moving day checklist to reference after buying a house. It will assist you in keeping both your old and new properties all squared away.

Pre-Moving Day Checklist

  • Eight weeks prior: Make comprehensive lists of what all needs to be done before the move is finalized. Begin sorting items into piles labeled "sell," "donate," or "garbage." Understand which documents you'll need to give to the new owner, HOA, or rental agency and which items in your contract you're responsible for before moving.
  • Six weeks prior: Begin making necessary repairs and decide on what steps you'll need to take to relocate your possessions. Research storage units, moving companies, and ask friends or family if they can help.
  • Four weeks prior: Notify all services of your pending relocation like utilities, mail, doctors' offices, vets, schools, and any subscription services. Begin packing less-frequently used items.
  • Three weeks prior: Continue packing, request time off work for your move, and begin addressing items in spaces like the garage, backyard, attic, and crawlspace.
  • Two weeks prior: Move all valuables to a secure place that is separate from your other moving boxes. Consider eating up the items in your refrigerator and pantry so you have less to move.
  • One week prior: Create an essentials bag for each member of your family that will contain medications, device chargers, important documents, healthcare items, and other vital items.

Moving Day Checklist

  • Wake up early and get to work. Your hard work in buying a house is now about to pay off; make sure you have enough time to safely and responsibly complete moving day.

  • If using movers, make sure that they have the physical space needed to park and move in your items. Be available to direct them to where your items should be placed. Consider providing them with donuts in the morning or pizza and water in the afternoon and evening to show your appreciation.

  • Complete one final walkthrough of your old property to make sure nothing is left behind. If leaving an apartment, make sure you receive written confirmation that you are no longer responsible for the property. Consider leaving a note for the new owners with any helpful neighborhood suggestions or tips.

Post-Moving Day Checklist

  • Secure your new home. Buying a house is a major milestone; protect it properly by replacing the locks and setting up a new security system, including smoke alarms.
  • Give your new home one last thorough clean. After buying a house, you're responsible for its upkeep even before you move in. Give it a quick cleaning before unpacking all of your boxes to ensure all nooks and crannies are dust and debris free.
  • Unpack your essentials first and put them away in their designated homes. This includes all items that you'll use on a regular or semi-regular basis like kitchen supplies, bathroom items, clothing, and must-haves.
  • Decorate slowly, room by room. Decorating can be overwhelming, especially when rushed. Decorate each room gradually to ensure the design meets your expectations.
  • Get rid of cardboard boxes quickly. Cardboard boxes clutter your home and attract bugs. As you unpack, break down the boxes and store them in the garage until recycling day.
  • Do a quick safety check. If you spot any new damages such as leaks, burn marks, or other potentially hazardous issues, consult your real estate agent immediately.

While buying a house is stressful enough, getting ready for moving day can be just as chaotic. Use these checklists soon after buying a house to help the relocation process run as smoothly as possible.  


Don't Let Your Credit Score Get You Down

If you're considering buying a house, getting your finances in order is a top priority. However, you may be worried about your credit score more than you need to.

Make no mistake about it, a decent credit score is critical; however, it doesn't have to be perfect! The following facts should help ease your mind. 

A Perfect Credit Score is Rare
While it's a noble goal to strive for a perfect 850 credit score, it's also important to note that only 1.6% of the U.S. population with a credit score has achieved this feat. According to experts, a score of 760 is typically enough to qualify for the best loan rates. However, even if your score is lower than this, it won't likely prevent you from buying a house. 

The Credit Score You Really Need 
While you may have access to more lenders and get better offers with a higher credit score, don't give up on your dream of buying a house if yours falls in the lower end of the spectrum. In fact, the U.S. Federal Housing Administration (FHA), approves loans for homebuyers with a credit score of just 580 as long as you have a downpayment of at least 3.5% of the total home price.

In some cases, you might even be able to buy a house with a score as low as 500! In general, however, you'll need a score of 680 or better to get the best rates. 

Your Income Plays an Important Role
While a lender might be willing to look beyond a less-than-stellar credit score, consistent income is critical. Note that the key word here is consistent. As long as the lender determines that you earn enough to comfortably make your mortgage payments, you don't need a super-high income. In fact, having a high income is less important than having stable employment. 

With layoffs and furloughs running rampant right now, loss of employment is a factor that's more likely to derail your plans for buying a house. Expect that the lender will verify your employment several times during the period between when you first apply for the loan and your closing day. If you're laid off or fired before you close, this could lead to a denial. 

Facts and Myths About Raising Your Credit Score
If you're interested in raising your credit score before buying a house, you can do some simple things. However, many people fall for myths that not only don't help raise their scores but could also lead to other problems.  For example, shopping around for rates and offers from multiple lenders won't lower your score. What it likely will do, however, is save you a few thousand dollars in fees and interest payments over the life of your loan. 

It's also a great idea to pay off debts before you apply for your loan, but you'll want to choose the right ones. Paying off revolving credit, like credit cards, will have a much greater impact than paying down long-term loans. 

It's also important to note that negative marks on your credit history usually won't prevent you from buying a house. As long as your recent credit history is better and you have a decent score, most lenders won't deny you due to a blip in the past. 

The Truth About Buying a House 
Now that you know the credit score you really need before buying a house, you should be able to breathe easier. Remember to avoid taking out any new credit immediately before you apply and to keep making all of your liability payments on time. While you don't need a perfect credit score, the better shape your finances are in, the easier it will be to achieve your goal of buying a house of your own! 


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.


Your Guide for Buying a House Sight Unseen

There was a time when buying a house without actually setting foot in it was a risky bet suited only for Vegas high-roller types. Today, thanks to advancements in technology and the effects of a pandemic, people with less tolerance for risk are more willing to go all-in on virtual home shopping.

In addition, if you're in the military or planning a long-distance move, circumstances may limit your opportunity to make first-hand tours of homes. Use these expert tips to turn up an ace sight unseen.

  • Have a Detailed Wish List
    Sometimes home buyers will go on instinct, believing they'll know the right house when they walk in the front door. When you're shopping for homes online, you can't rely on vibes to guide your decision. Create a list of specific features and amenities you want to make it easier to include and exclude potential houses.
  • Hire a Local Real Estate Agent
    An experienced real estate agent is invaluable in the best of circumstances, let alone when you're navigating a long-distance purchase. Find a reliable real estate in your target area who can give you a valuable perspective on the housing market and other intangibles affecting your search.
  • Leverage Video Options
    Video home tours have become increasingly sophisticated, with features such as 3D tours with 360° views and zoom capabilities. As virtual shopping becomes more popular, sellers and listing agents are investing in higher-quality still photos as well. But don't stop there. Have your real estate agent conduct a FaceTime tour where you can see literally every inch of the home.
  • Research Neighborhoods
    A great home in an unpleasant neighborhood is no bargain at any price. Use sources such as U.S. News & World Report, AreaVibes, NeighborhoodScout, and Sperling's Best Places to do a deep dive into local statistics and information. Particular areas of attention should include school systems, crime and safety, cost of living, housing market, and economy. This is a step where your real estate agent can be extremely helpful.
  • Double Down on Due Diligence
    Yes, a long-distance move is expensive, but due diligence is no place to cut corners. You're more reliant than ever on the accuracy and thoroughness of home inspectors, attorneys, brokers, and any other professionals on your team helping to vet both the home and the purchase process. Mistakes can end up more costly than hiring the appropriate person in the first place.
  • Have a Plan B
    We all know even the best-laid plans can go sideways. No matter how carefully you proceed, there's a chance a long-distance home purchase can fall victim to Murphy's Law. Before you reach the point of no return, be sure to construct a back-up plan. Would you be able to resell the house quickly without a loss? What are the possible options for renting it out? You'll feel more comfortable having a safety net in place.
  • Plan for Move-In Day
    Regardless of how many pictures you've seen and digital tours you've had, there's bound to be a disconnect once you actually see your new house in person. Don't panic! In most cases, the feeling will be temporary. As soon as you start moving furniture in and personalizing the decor, it will begin feeling like home.

Ready to put your cards on the table? Follow this strategy for a winning hand in your virtual home search.


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. 


Waterfront Buying: 8 Steps to Buying a House on the Lake

Does the idea of turning your love of spending weekends out on the lake, fishing, or lounging by the shore, into your everyday way of living? Buying a house on a lake could be your answer. However, be aware it comes with challenges making it a tall order. Still, the effort is worth it!

Let's look at eight crucial steps when buying a house out on the lake:

  1. Connect With a Local Real Estate Agent
    Talk to a trusted local real estate agent as soon as you decide you are in the market. It is not unusual for some agents and firms to specialize in lakefront property. Explain your needs, and they will help you find a terrific property for you.
  2. Visit the Property Multiple Times
    Depending on how developed the lakefront area is, your neighbors could have a significant impact on how inviting the property is to live in. Visit several times – at different times of the week and hours of the day – to get a better sense of the community's culture and the level of privacy.
  3. Make Sure the Water Meets Your Needs
    One of the biggest reasons to pursue lakefront property is to enjoy boating any time you want. This is a laudable goal, but make sure the property can comfortably accommodate your boat. Also, get familiar with local ordinances on boating and docking that could affect your enjoyment.
  4. Factor in Your Frontage
    Frontage is the area of the home that sits along the water itself. In general, the more the amount of frontage, the higher the asking price will be. Rough waters can damage your dock facilities or the lake-facing wall. Factor in these costs and ask the seller about any past repair work.
  5. Give Yourself a "Lifestyle Realty Check"
    Whether you buy a house on the lake or by the ocean, waterfront properties all lend themselves to a certain lifestyle. Double-check to be sure it's really what you want before you commit. The premium you pay for a lakefront home may not be worth it if you never hit the water!
  6. Get a Complete Home Inspection
    Before committing to any lakefront property, get a complete home inspection done. A qualified inspector can uncover issues, such as electrical problems, that might make a home much less attractive. You'll be "in the know" about any repairs that need to be done.
  7. Look Into Wind and Flood Insurance
    Waterfront properties have become riskier buys as climate change strengthens summer storms. In many areas, flooding can happen even outside the rainy season. Depending on your location, this can add substantial insurance costs, so check up on your policy options.
  8. Double-Check for Hidden Costs
    In addition to insurance and vulnerability to weathering, waterfront properties can conceal other hidden costs. One common issue is higher water and sewer rates. Also, review any docking and lift fees and any septic tank or well upkeep charges that apply to your property.

For the right buyer, a lakefront home is an ideal choice. As a primary residence, a seasonal vacation getaway, or even a rental property, it's an excellent investment in your quality of life. Use these eight tips, and you'll be on your way to a successful lakefront buy.


How Long Is Too Long to Respond to Your Home Offer

Buying a house is quite an emotional experience, especially after you've extended an initial offer. Excitement and anticipation mix together as you await the seller's response. How long will it take for the seller's agent to provide an answer — Hours? Days? Weeks? While you can't necessarily wait forever to move into a new home, you also don't want to pressure the seller for a decision and risk losing the home of your dreams. How long is too long to respond to your home offer? Let's take a closer look at this process.

Is the Wait Worth It?

Even if this is your first real estate transaction, you surely know that buying a house isn't a sale that's completed overnight. Many buyers feel pressured to submit an offer as soon as possible, in hopes that they can secure the property before another buyer submits an equal or more attractive offer. Some buyers are also dealing with time constraints like selling their own home or attempting to relocate, increasing their need for a rapid response to their offer.

Unfortunately, waiting is part of the process. Worst of all, there are no laws dictating how soon a seller must respond to an offer. When a seller receives an offer from a buyer, they have the option to either accept it, reject it, or provide a counteroffer. If the seller decides to accept the offer, a real estate purchase agreement is created, and the sale moves into its next phase.

While there are no official timetables in which a seller must respond to your offer, there is an industry-standard which most real estate agents adhere to. It's common practice for a seller's agent to provide an answer to the buyer's agent within a few days. The selling agent will attempt to respond to the buyer's agent with an answer within a day or two, though it may be extended by another day or so as the agent waits for a response from the seller.

Buying a House Takes Time

Although you should expect an answer between 24 and 48 hours of making your offer, there are some exceptions. Certain real estate markets may have different customs. 

Technically, you can attempt to expedite the process by placing an expiration date on your offer. Buying a house can be a tricky process, though, and we often suggest that you consult your real estate agent before making this decision. It may be in your best interest to give the seller ample time to make a decision. Keep in mind that there are some exceptions that may delay a response, such as when you're buying a house that's owned by a bank or if the seller is entertaining multiple offers or counteroffers.

When you're buying a house, patience is key. Though they are permitted to take as much time as they need, most sellers will respond to your offer within a few days. If more than three days pass without a response, ask your agent for advice. They will advise you of whether to retract your offer or wait a little longer to secure your dream 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.


Buying a House? Talk to the Neighbors First

You can't pick your neighbors, but you can pick their brains before buying a house! It's wise to talk to those living in your desired neighborhoods before putting in an offer on a home. Without being intrusive, a casual conversation can be eye-opening. If you're interested in gaining first-hand insight into what life in the cul-de-sac is like, we encourage you to ask neighbors the following questions.

  • How long have you lived here?
    This question is typically the first question buyers ask, as those who have lived in the neighborhood the longest have more detail to offer. Naturally, the next question is, "why do you like living here?" Both questions produce telling answers.
  • Are there many renters? 
    This question is one question that many buyers fail to ask, but it is essential to know when buying a house. Are houses being flipped and rented out, or are long-term owners choosing to stay? Although no one can anticipate neighborhood changes over time, the frequency of which your neighbors are leaving or staying is a good indication of how rapidly the area may evolve.
  • Do you feel safe in the neighborhood?
    It may seem like an awkward and potentially insulting question, but it is important nonetheless. If you feel uncomfortable asking this, call the local police station and ask for crime analysis data from the last two years. Your local law enforcement will be happy to give you the statistics of crimes committed in that area compared to surrounding neighborhoods.
  • Is there a community in the neighborhood, or do people keep to themselves? 
    Some homeowners desire a tight-knit community in which kids and adults alike spend time together. If there is a social presence, ask these neighbors how often and where these groups gather so you can join in on the fun.
  • If you could change one thing about the neighborhood, what would it be?
    Usually, this question is answered with a problem that is inconvenient yet common, such as wishing that the streetlights were replaced or that the roadways were resurfaced. However, if the neighbors begin stating major issues like wishing it was quieter or safer, you may need to take these comments seriously.
  • Do you have to commute far for work, school, or shopping?
    Buying a house means loving the home itself and where it's located. During your showings, you may not have time to explore the area or view it during peak commuting hours. By asking these questions to neighbors, they'll let you know if the main road is bumper to bumper traffic in the evenings or if it's a long drive to certain creature comforts.
  • Is there anything I should know about buying a house in this neighborhood?"
    The inspection and listing should tell you everything you need to know about the house you're considering buying, but it doesn't hurt to ask the neighbors if they know any other relevant information.
  • What were your reasons for buying a house in this neighborhood? 
    This question will also provide telling answers: to raise a family, for work, a love for the area, etc. Don't be surprised if many of the neighbors give the same answer.

Most neighbors will be happy to speak with you if only for just a few moments. Unfortunately, there will always be a handful of people who may give you the cold shoulder. We recommend talking to a few neighbors in the surrounding houses to get varying opinions for you to consider. The most important aspect of buying a house is to find the one that feels like a loving home, but having friendly, helpful neighbors next door doesn't hurt either!


Introducing Your Dog to Your New Home

You're not just buying a house for yourself — you're buying a home for your whole family! As you tour each property, you need to consider every member of the household, including your pets. Once you've found the perfect place, you may want to bring your dog over immediately to let them explore and share in your excitement. To help them adjust to the space comfortably, use these tips when introducing your dog to your new home.

  • Discover if Any Animals Used to Live in the Space 
    Before you bring your pet over to the new house, you need to know if any animals had previously occupied the space. The presence of another animal, dog or otherwise, means there may be lingering odors that you may not sense. When your dog senses these smells, they may react negatively by covering the scent via urination. Give your new home a deep cleaning and consider using a pheromone diffuser to mask these odors.
  • Prep the Home for the Dog 
    After the home is thoroughly cleaned, you must prep the house for the dog. It's best to complete as much of your move and set up as possible before the dog arrives. This will help them get acquainted with the space without getting stressed from constant furniture moving and box unpacking. Bring their bed and toys over so that their scent has time to settle into the home.
  • Walk the Dog Around the Exterior 
    When you bring the pup over to the house for the first time, it's a good idea to walk them around the exterior. Let them smell the perimeter and consider letting them off of the leash in the backyard. They'll likely be a little excited and a little nervous, so make sure they have time to find a spot to mark their territory in the yard.
  • Explore the Interior One Room at a Time 
    Place the dog back on the leash as you bring them inside. Although you may want them to explore the house, it's best to walk them through the space together during the initial visit. Move from room to room, allowing them to get acquainted with each area before moving onto the next. It's a good idea to take them to the rooms where their bed, bowl, and toys are first so that they can recognize these familiar objects and scents.
  • Keep a Consistent Schedule 
    Whenever you move the dog into your home, try to get them on a consistent schedule as quickly as possible. Feeding, walking, and playing time will help them create a routine that will increase their comfort level in the home.
  • Find a Social Group for Them 
    After your dog is acquainted with your home, it's time to find other spaces for them to play and socialize around the neighborhood. If there is a community dog park, start by taking them once a week. If not, see if you can set up a puppy playdate with your neighbors. 

Buying a house is an exciting moment, especially when you can share it with your pet. As you get ready to introduce your dog to the house, make sure, you keep their needs in mind. Preparing the house for their arrival, and taking your time to guide them comfortably into the space will help them feel right at home in no time.


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.


Understanding the Buying Process

Based on the size of the investment, the intricacy of legal documents and the potential for second-guessing, buying a house is the most intimidating decision 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 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.


Protect Your Investment with Homeowner's Insurance

Buying a house involves a myriad of elements that the average first-time homebuyer is quite unfamiliar with. One critical decision that buyers need to make is whether they need to purchase homeowner's insurance. Though many men and women have a general understanding of what a homeowner's insurance policy is, some do not fully understand what this protection plan covers and why it's necessary. Here is a quick overview detailing the basics of homeowner's insurance.

What is Homeowner's Insurance?

Simply put, homeowner's insurance is property insurance that protects the structure, some furnishings, and people in the event of damages or accidents.

What Does Homeowner's Insurance Cover?

Homeowner's insurance generally will cover damages to the exterior and interior of your home, damage or destruction of personal property, and any injuries that occur on your property. Like car insurance, when you file a claim after an incident occurs, you'll pay a deductible. Keep in mind that certain incidents are traditionally not covered by homeowner's insurance, including damages stemming from "acts of God" or "acts of war". For example, flood damage is typically not covered by homeowner's insurance, however, you can take out a separate flood insurance policy to protect your home.

Is Homeowner's Insurance Required When Buying a House?

Homeowner's insurance is not legally required in most states. While policies like car insurance are often mandatory to own or lease a vehicle, you can legally purchase a home without purchasing a homeowner's insurance policy. However, if you plan on financing your home purchase, your lender will likely require that you purchase some form of homeowner's insurance. When you're buying a house with help from a mortgage lender, they technically own the house as well and will want to protect their investment.

Is Homeowner's Insurance the Same as a Home Warranty?

No, a home warranty and a homeowner's insurance policy are not the same. A home warranty is a separate, optional policy that protects other aspects of your home. A home warranty covers the systems and appliances in your home if they break down. A home warranty may cover:

  • washers and dryers 
  • swimming pools
  • HVAC systems 
  • plumbing or electrical problems 
  • other elements of the home not covered under a traditional homeowner's insurance policy

Why Should I Purchase Homeowner's Insurance?

Even if you're buying a house in cash without additional financing, a homeowner's insurance policy is a wise investment. If a catastrophic event completely ruins your home, you'd be responsible for rebuilding the home and replacing your assets if you are not covered under a homeowner's insurance policy. These policies also protect you in the event that someone, even a visitor or service repair professional, gets injured while on your property. Homeowner's insurance gives you peace of mind against the unknown accidents that could put you, your family, and your finances in jeopardy.

Which Homeowner's Insurance Plan is Right for My House?

There is a range of coverage options available for homeowners of all needs. Many policy providers will customize a plan that meets your specific coverage needs. Compare plans and rates to find the best fit for your home.

Though homeowner's insurance may not be mandatory, we believe that all individuals should purchase this protection plan when buying a house. You'll be surprised at just how much peace of mind these affordable policies can provide.


Top House-Hunting Mistakes to Avoid

Buying a house is a big decision, and even if you're not a first-time buyer, it's easy to get caught up in emotions and feel overwhelmed about your choices. This can lead to making mistakes that can cost you in terms of time and money and lead you to buy a home that isn't quite right for you.

The following are six of the top house-hunting mistakes to avoid:

  1. Not getting pre-approved for a loan
    Getting pre-approved for a mortgage is one of the first steps you should take when you're buying a house. This process allows a mortgage lender to check your credit history to determine the size of the mortgage loan you can qualify for. This gives you an idea of what you can afford while showing sellers that you're a serious buyer who already has financing in place.
  2. Not making a budget
    With your pre-approval letter as a maximum guideline, take a deep dive into your finances and determine what monthly mortgage payment you're comfortable with. You may have items in your budget - such as a yearly vacation or a weekly date night - that you'd like to maintain. If that's the case, figure out what's most important to you and calculate what your monthly mortgage payment should be.
  3. Failing to get help from a real estate agent
    A good, experienced real estate agent knows the local market well. He or she can show you homes that are within your budget and that meet your most important criteria, such as location, square footage, and the number of bedrooms. An agent knows what comparable homes have sold for and can help you make an offer on a home that's likely to be accepted.
  4. Prioritizing the wrong things about a house
    When you're looking at homes, the most important considerations are those that can't be easily changed, such as its location and square footage. Don't be so turned off by decor that looks outdated or even gaudy and fail to realize that these issues can be fixed - and often don't require a huge investment to do so. On the other hand, don't fall in love with a home's staging and neglect to prioritize its location and other important qualities.
  5. Not knowing what you want
    Before you start looking at houses, make a list of what's most important to you. For example, you may feel strongly about having a certain number of bedrooms or living in a certain section of town. Also, include a list of things you'd like to have when buying a home but that aren't deal-breakers. These lists will help you determine what's most important to you and will also help your real estate agent show you homes that fit your criteria.
  6. Not factoring in your future needs
    You may live in your new home for just a few years, or you may stay in it for a decade or more. Either way, a lot can happen in a short amount of time. Although you can't exactly predict the future, you can consider whether you're likely to want to have kids in the near future, or perhaps work at home. If these are possibilities, you may want to invest in a little more space now and make sure your home has enough bedrooms and/or a bonus room to accommodate your needs.

Buying a house is a multi-step process, and it's easy to make some mistakes along the way. By avoiding the preceding slip-ups, you'll make your journey easier and have the best possible chance of finding a home you'll love. 


How Do You Decide Which Home to Buy?

Imagine the feeling of falling in love with your dream home and calling it your own. While thousands of buyers are confident that a specific home is perfect for them, others face a challenging decision--choosing between multiple dream homes. When you're unsure of whether or not a house is the "right" home for you, committing to a single property can seem like an overwhelming and downright impossible decision. Although each buyer is unique, most can make a confident decision when they recognize these signs.

  1. Your Priorities are Covered
    The right home will do more than just please you aesthetically. From the layout and number of bedrooms to the neighborhood and distance from your most visited places, the right home will cover most of your priorities and not leaving you wishing for more.
  2. The Property Can Evolve With Your Lifestyle Needs
    Buying a home means investing in a space that needs to accommodate your lifestyle for years to come. Whether it has extra bedrooms catering to a growing family or functional outdoor space for you to relax in during retirement, the right home will facilitate your expected lifestyle changes.
  3. You Begin Comparing It to Other Homes
    If you walk into each new showing and automatically compare the property to a home you fell in love with, it's apparent that you've already found the right home for you.
  4. Any Problems Aren't Deal-Breakers
    Even your dream home will not be perfect. However, if the additional expenses, lack of certain features, or other ticks on the negative column are easily viewed as acceptable tradeoffs, you'll know that you aren't seeing your dream home through rose-colored glasses.
  5. You Don't Want to Look at Other Listings
    While we advise all buyers to view a handful of homes before buying a house, the phrase "when you know, you know" sometimes applies. If you've fallen in love with a home and are confidently ready to place an offer without viewing other properties, trust your gut!
  6. You Already Feel Right at Home
    Sometimes the perfect home can't be verbally described — it can just "feel" right. Small, subtle details may remind you of happy memories while other aspects of the space blend together to create a positive vibe that embraces you. Simply put, if this house already feels like home, it may be the one.
  7. You're Ready to Place an Offer
    Buying a house is one of the most significant financial decisions any individual will make during their life. Because most individuals will live in this space for years, if not decades, it's not a decision that should be made lightly. If you're confident and convinced that it's time to make an offer on a home, rarely will anything else change your mind.

Buying a house is an exciting experience, especially when you know in your heart that this property is perfect for your lifestyle. If you're unsure if a home is "right" for you, take the time to search your thoughts, seek advice, and consult your real estate agent for guidance.


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.


Homebuyers Beware: How to Spot Real Estate Scams

Buying a home is an exciting process that involves a very large purchase. Unfortunately, large amounts of money can sometimes attract scammers who want to trick buyers before, during, and after the sales process.

The following are a few scams that homebuyers should beware of:

  • Phishing for Cash
    Fraudsters can use malicious software (malware) to monitor the email of someone who's involved in a real estate transaction, such as a real estate agent or attorney. They then send an email, which looks like it's coming from the agent or attorney to the buyer. The buyer is directed to wire money for a down payment or closing costs just before the closing date. Although the buyer thinks the money is going to the seller, it's actually going to the criminal, who is often located overseas. 

    What to do: Call your known phone numbers for the individual named in the email to verify that the request is legitimate.

  • A Credit Repair Lie
    Since your credit score affects whether you can get a mortgage loan as well as the interest you'll pay, scammers may claim they can help you repair your credit. They sometimes say they can remove negative information – which is not truthful, as long as the information is accurate.

    What to do: If the company wants payment upfront and its claims sound too good to be true, don't fall for it. Check with the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) to review your credit information, and if it's lower than ideal, talk to your lender about ways to raise it.

  • A Misleading Location
    It pays to be diligent in researching the neighborhood where you're looking to buy a home. You may get a good deal on a home only to find that soon after you move in, construction begins on a major highway or town dump just beyond your property line.

    What to do: Before buying a home – particularly in a new town – thoroughly research your neighborhood. Search online for information about the immediate area, talk to as many neighbors as possible, and contact a city council or planning commission member to find out if there are any upcoming plans you need to know about.

  • The Rush Job
    When you show interest in a home, you're told you need to act immediately in order to buy it. You'll feel pressured to commit, sign papers, and pay money immediately. Later, you'll find out that the seller doesn't own the title but has your money or that the home has big, expensive problems.

    What to do: Don't let yourself feel pressured, even if you think you've found your dream home at a good price or you're buying a home in a hot market. Real estate transactions are conducted in a deliberate, step-by-step way, so if you're feeling rushed and pressured, you should walk away.

  • A Lemon Loan Modification
    After you've bought your home, a company may contact you and offer to lower your monthly mortgage payments. You'll be asked to pay a fee and give them access to your bank account, but the offer can be a scam.

    What to do: Loans can sometimes be modified, but in order to do this, you should call or stop by a reputable bank or other lending institution. Don't respond to any unsolicited offers by phone, mail, or email.

When you're buying a home, fraudsters may try to take advantage of you financially. By doing your research, avoiding high-pressure tactics, and following up on any suspicious contact, you can lower your risk of becoming a victim of these scams.


10 Red Flags to Watch For When You're Buying a Home

Building a wish list including a finished deck, central air conditioning, and other preferred features is part of the fun of buying a house. It's just as important to have a deal-breaker list with problems and shortcomings that should make you proceed with caution. 

Think twice about buying a house with any of these ten red flags.

  1. Foundation Faults
    Hairline cracks can be a sign of the house settling but cracks larger than one-third inch or bulging spots often indicate a serious structural issue that's time-consuming and costly to repair. In addition, if the yard slopes toward the house, the foundation could be vulnerable to water damage.

  2. Pest Infestations
    While viewing a home, you spot a creepy-crawly or flying invaders such as an ant or fly. How can you be sure it's a random sighting? If you're seriously considering such a house, get peace of mind with a pest inspection first.

  3. Mold
    Everyone has heard at least one horror story about a homeowner's struggle with mold. Even if visible mold has been eliminated, there's no guarantee that the conditions creating the mold have been resolved. Don't put your family's health at risk.

  4. Poor Electrical Wiring
    Test overhead lights, garbage disposals, ceiling fans and anything else that operates off the electrical system. Take a phone charger along when touring homes so you can check the outlets.

  5. Fresh or Spotty Paint
    A quick paint job is an inexpensive and easy cosmetic fix homeowners sometimes use to make the house seem up-to-date. Pay attention to kitchen counters, bathroom tiles and other decor features to see if they look outdated. Spotty paint is more cause for concern as it may be hiding damages.

  6. Messy, Cluttered Interior
    If someone can't be bothered to clean up their home at a time it should be displayed at its best, chances are good they're equally careless when it comes to major maintenance and repairs. On the other hand, has a homeowner kept you from viewing the basement or master bedroom because "it's a mess right now?" Flags don't get any redder than that.

  7. Foggy or Broken Windows and Doors
    Condensation inside double-paned windows generally indicates a worn seal, which is likely to result in higher energy bills. Open and close all windows and doors to see if they function properly without sticking.

  8. Unpleasant Odors
    Foul smells inside a home could be the result of problems such as mold or rotting wood, or they could be the by-product of bad housekeeping, Either one is a situation you want to avoid when buying a house. On the flip side, overpowering air freshener smells may be an attempt to cover up funkier ones.

  9. "As-Is"
    "As-Is" is another way of saying, "Buyer Beware." A responsible homeowner makes a good-faith effort to present their house in livable condition. When a homeowner offers a home as-is, they're essentially washing their hands of any problems, which are no doubt numerous.

  10. Shabby Neighborhood
    When you're buying a house, it doesn't exist in a vacuum. Are the surrounding homes neat and well-kept, or do you see overgrown lawns and peeling paint? Even if you have a high tolerance, a run-down neighborhood will negatively impact your home's resale value.

Buying a house is an emotional experience. Don't let yourself be dazzled by lots of bells and whistles. Take a clear-eyed look at the whole picture, good and bad, when choosing your future home.


Did You Budget for Closing Costs?

Buying a house requires a significant financial investment — one which many prospective buyers aren't fully aware of. The two elements that receive the most focus are the mortgage calculations and the down payment. Although it's wise to determine how much home you can afford before you begin your search, it's easy to forget about the other costs associated with the transaction. Budgeting for closing costs is a key aspect of your overall budget for buying a house.

What are Closing Costs?

"Closing costs" is a catchall term that refers to the different fees you'll pay as you finalize the home sale. Every real estate transaction is unique and one homebuyer may pay a different percentage than another homebuyer. While these costs are dependent on each individual home sale, most home buyers should expect to pay between two percent and five percent of the principal of the loan. How is this amount calculated? Closing costs usually include:

  • Application Fees: Also known as administrative or processing fees, the application fee is charged by the lender to process your loan application.
  • Inspection Fees: This fee pays for a qualified home inspector to evaluate your home's condition. You may also have to pay a separate fee for a pest inspection.
  • Appraisal Fees: The appraisal fee covers the cost for a professional appraiser to evaluate your home and provide an estimate of its market value.
  • Property Taxes: Depending on your county, you may need to pay roughly six months' worth of property taxes at the time of closing.
  • Title Search & Insurance: These costs are paid to the title company that searches public records concerning the property and to ensure that there are no claims or liens against the property.
  • Real Estate Broker Fees: These fees are paid to both the buyer's agent and the seller's agent for their work in the transaction.
  • Transfer Taxes: Transfer taxes, which may also be referred to as conveyance, property transfer, or stamp taxes, are owed to the government in which the property is located.
  • Prepaid Interest Fees: These costs will cover the interest on the loan between the date of closing and the end of the month.
  • Origination Fees: Similar to processing fees, origination fees are charged by the lender initiating the loan.
  • Credit Report Fees: You may have to pay a lender to check your credit score and issue your credit report.
  • Recording Fees: Recording fees cover the local government's recording of the mortgage and deed into the public record.
  • Notary Fees: This is a small fee paid to the licensed individual who notarizes your documents.
  • Land Survey Fees: These fees are paid to a professional who surveys your land to determine property lines.
  • HOA Fees: If your property is within a home owner's association, you may need to pay certain fees at closing.
  • Flood Determination Fees: Your property will be evaluated by a professional to determine if it's in a flood zone.
  • Home Warranty Fees: This is an optional cost only if you choose to purchase a home warranty.

Who is Responsible for Closing Costs?

Many of these fees are the responsibility of the buyer while some are traditionally the responsibility of the seller. Thankfully, some of these costs can be negotiated between the seller and buyer. Certain fees may even be negotiated or reduce by speaking with the lender. The best way to prepare for these varying costs is to assume that your budget should include a two to five percent increase to cover these costs.

Although you may or may not be responsible for all of these fees when buying a house, having the funds available is the most responsible way to proceed. When it comes to negotiating these fees, confide in your real estate agent and let them advise you on how to approach the negotiations as amicable and respectful as possible.


Open House Etiquette for Buyers

Most people shopping for a new home understand that buying a house is not as simple as it seems. Along with the legal and financial aspects of the sale, one important element of the buying process that many buyers are unaware of is the etiquette required while visiting properties.

Viewing a property one-on-one with a real estate agent makes it relatively easier to mind your manners, but do you know how to act when you're attending an open house? Understanding and following proper open house etiquette is key to making a good impression with sellers and their agents.

The golden rule for all open houses and private showings is obvious — treat a seller's home with the respect and care that you'd treat the homes of your loved ones. Assume that anytime you walk into an open house, you should:

  • Wipe your feet.
    Double-check to make sure you won't track in debris, dirt, moisture or create footprints.
  • Refrain from bringing food or beverages.
    Although you may want to bring a cup of coffee with you from home to home, we suggest you leave it in the car. One accident could lead to a stain which will certainly upset the seller.
  • Instruct children to be on their best behavior.
    It is important to get your children's opinion of a home, but you should wait until your second or third viewing to show them. If you must bring them with you, make sure that they do not run around, climb on furniture or disrupt others viewing the space.
  • Don't let your pets tag along.
    Even if you're shopping for a new home for you and your furry friend, there's no need to bring them along for a tour. Leave them at home until you close the sale.
  • Keep your criticism to yourself.
    Remember, this was a family's dream home once upon a time. While you may choose to renovate or remodel aspects of the house if you purchase it, you wouldn't want to offend the seller by voicing your opinions in the home.
  • Be respectful of personal boundaries.
    Would you appreciate someone going through your drawers or taking photographs of every corner of your home? The seller wouldn't either. Be respectful of privacy and ask to take photos.
  • Don't overstay your welcome.
    An open house is meant to give you a quick yet detailed view of the home. Lingering, asking too many questions, or trying too hard to make a positive impression with the seller or broker is not recommended.

Here are a few answers to common questions about open house etiquette other buyers have had when buying a house:

  • Can you use the bathroom?
    While you could flush the toilet or turn on the sink to test water pressure, we suggest not doing so unless it's an emergency.
  • Can you sit on the furniture?
    Unless you know that the seller is listing the house fully furnished, we suggest that you refrain from sitting on the furniture.
  • Should you sign in the guest book even if you're not ready to buy?
    Yes, you should always register if asked — it's often a requirement to view the home.
  • Should you tell the seller's real estate agent that you have your own agent?
    Yes, you should tell the agent if you have representation so that they can let you view the property on your own.
  • Can you talk to other visitors?
    While it is important to be polite in all interactions, you also want to give other guests enough space to view the home privately.

Practicing proper etiquette while attending an open house is a wise way to ensure that you make a good impression and respect the seller's home.


A Young Family's Guide to Buying a Home

Many young families find themselves ready to buy a home--often for the first time. Buying a house that not only suits your own needs but also those of your child--and possibly future children--requires some planning, but the payoff is well worth it.

The following are some homebuying tips for young families:

  • Consider the Future
    Buy a home that will not only suit your needs now but also in the future. Think about what you'll need in a home when your child is older. Consider the neighborhood and what the schools like. Is there a park nearby? Does the neighborhood have a lot of other kids that could be potential friends for your child?

    Also, think about whether you'll want to add to your family in the next few years. How many bedrooms and bathrooms will you need? Could you use a bonus room to help provide a play space?
  • Budget Carefully
    When you have a child, it can be harder to budget. Try to keep a larger cushion between your expenses and what you expect to earn in order to make sure you can handle your mortgage payments and other obligations.

    For example, you or your spouse may want to reduce the number of hours you work, take a less demanding job, or quit work entirely. This will reduce your household income. Even if you keep your work schedules the same, you may have daycare costs. And whether you continue to work or change your employment situation, you'll also need to pay for everything from diapers to clothes to activities.
  • Make Sure Your Home is Safe for Children
    A home should be a safe haven for your family, so make sure the house itself and its immediate environment area are child-friendly. Take a walk around the neighborhood to determine whether you feel safe. Do you live on a busy road, or in a quiet subdivision where your child could ride their bike? Is there a pool in your yard, and if so, are you comfortable making sure it's gated and has motion-detectors and also ensuring your child doesn't get near it if they're unsupervised? If you have a yard, is it fenced in, or will you take care of having this done yourself?

    In addition, consider the inside of your home. Are there stairs, and if so, are you OK with buying and navigating your way past baby gates? And if you're buying a house that's older, make sure to have it tested for lead paint and asbestos before making a commitment.
  • Take Your Time
    You may want to buy a home before you have your first child, but don't be in a hurry. Take your time and make sure your finances are in good shape and that you'll be able to be approved for a mortgage at a favorable interest rate.

    And when you're ready to look for a home, don't settle for a house just because you're in a rush. Take your time and find a home that's right for you and your family. No home will probably include every single thing that you want, but if you're realistic, you should be able to find one that has the vast majority of attributes you're looking for.

Buying a house will help your family have a place of your own to bond and build memories. By planning, taking your time, and knowing what you're looking for, you'll find the home that's right 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.


Moving to a New Home With Your Canine Companion

Buying a house is an exciting time, and it affects everyone in the family – even the family dog! You'd never dream of making life difficult for your pet, but even the best-behaved pets will need a little extra TLC during all the upheaval of moving.

Dogs can really pick up on the fact that things are changing and any possible stress you're feeling about the situation.  But since they don't understand what's going on, they may be uncomfortable in their surroundings, have sudden behavior problems, or have a sudden change of temperament. There is a lot you can do to help your dog adjust to their new surroundings and handle any travel needed during the process.

  • Check the rules.
    Before buying a house, make sure there are no city ordinances or HOA restrictions on dogs that will apply to you. Breed restrictions and restrictions on the size and number of pets allowed per household are more common than you might think.
  • Take some precautions.
    Make sure your pet is wearing identification at all times. Excitement, curiosity, and fear during the move can make even the best-behaved dogs run off unexpectedly. Have the number of the nearest emergency pet clinic with you. Have any medication your dog needs filled ahead of time.
  • Plan your travel in detail.
    Your dog has to get to your new home somehow. The better you plan, the smoother things will go. They may have to ride with you in the car, fly on a plane, or be transported by an animal transport company. Make sure any arrangements are taken care of well in advance. If your dog needs to get used to riding in the car or being in a carrier, practice frequently before the big day. Plan exactly where to stop for food, water, and exercise. Locate pet-friendly hotels ahead of time. Have your pet's vaccination record handy and familiarize yourself with your airline's rules for transporting animals.
  • Keep routines the same.
    As much as possible, try to keep things consistent for your dog. Meals, walks, playtime and potty breaks should stay on schedule. Don't skip important parts of your dog's routine because you are busier than usual. If you need to change your dog's routine after you get into your new home, give him time to get used to things and change a little at a time. Once your dog is used to the new surroundings, changes will be easier to make.
  • Keep familiar items for your pet.
    We all know buying a house comes with at least some new stuff. Just make sure you keep your dog's items like their bed, food and water bowls, blanket and favorite toys so they have something that looks and smells familiar. It will make your new place seem more like home to them and offer your dog some reassurance that not everything is changing.
  • Don't skip exercise.
    And if possible, work in some extra exercise. It can help your dog burn off extra energy, helping them relax and avoiding behavior problems.
  • Introduce your dog while on a leash.
    Make the initial tour of the house and yard while your dog is on the leash. This gives you the opportunity to check for safety issues and helps your dog feel more secure.

Above all remember to be patient and offer lots of love. Buying a house is a time of change and your dog will eventually adjust to their new home, but it will be in their own time. In the meantime, your help, attention and patience will make things easier for you and your dog.


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?


5 Ways to Make Your Home Offer Stand Out

Buying a house is a time filled with hope, anticipation, and possibly even a little anxiety. But making the right offer the first time can make things a lot easier. These tips can help make sure your offer is appealing and gets noticed by the seller, so you can move on into that new home you've been waiting for.

  1. Get loan pre-approval.
    A pre-approval means the finance company has done a more in-depth investigation of your finances, and other buyers will have it. Especially when you're buying a house in a hot market or competing with cash offers, sellers will want proof that you can secure financing. When you're competing with other offers, not having a pre-approval letter will get your offer ignored quickly.
  2. Write a personal letter.
    You likely don't know the sellers, so telling them why you want to buy their home can help them see you as a human, not just a dollar sign. And that may be just the edge you need. It can be a sentimental time for sellers. If their family has made many happy memories in that house, it can help if they know the person buying their home will be just as happy there as they were. 
  3. Increase your earnest money.
    Since the purpose of earnest money is to show you're a serious buyer, make sure it shows how serious you really are. You could even double it, if you back out for any legally allowable reason, you'll still get your money back.
  4. Offer quick inspection.
    In most areas, a house inspection can be arranged pretty quickly. So if you've already decided on a provider for that service, making a seller wait isn't necessary. It can also help the sale get to closing faster, a bonus for the sellers if they already have somewhere else to live or need to leave soon. 
  5. Waive the repair contingency.
    It generally isn't advisable to waive the inspection contingency, but you don't have to require the seller to make the necessary repairs to close the sale. If you have money available for repairs and are willing to get them done on your own, waive the repair contingency. It may help close the sale faster. And the sellers will save money, which will always grab their attention. 

Buying that new home starts with making your best offer the first time. Making it competitive, flexible, and personalized is sure to get you noticed by sellers.


Homebuyer Checklist: What to Do During an Open House

Buying a house is an exciting process. Open houses are slightly different than a private browsing session, and many of our clients are often unsure of the proper etiquette while touring these homes. To make this event as carefree and effective as possible here's a helpful homebuyer checklist of what to look for during an open house.

  • Make a Good Impression
    A positive relationship with a seller's real estate agent can go a long way when buying a house. If you seem presentable, respectful, and cooperative, these agents will appreciate it. Should you decide to move forward with the process, you'll already have a positive relationship with the agent.
  • Listen to Other Visitors
    You likely won't be alone while touring the home, so be sure to keep an ear tuned to what the other buyers are saying. Note the questions they're asking and what the sales associate representing the home replies. Also, be mindful of their comments about the home. While some may be opinionated, others may help you identify problems or inconveniences that you may have missed.
  • Check for Forgettable Features
    There's so much to take in when touring an open house that you might fail to notice what's missing. Make a list of features or items that you need to be included with the home, including ceiling fans, adequate electrical outlets, and gutters. Also, take note of how old elements are such as the windows or roof as these will significantly impact your level of comfort, security, and insurance.
  • Search for Stains
    Any stain is unwanted, but some stains are especially problematic. Water stains often come with mold or mildew behind the drywall or flooring. Pet stains might encourage your animals to cover these scents. Keep an eye out for stains on the ceiling, wall or flooring and ask the real estate agent if they can explain them.
  • Take Measurements
    Although the home may be staged for the open house, take measurements of each room, so you'll know the exact size of each room. This will help you compare lengths to your current home and determine whether or not your existing furniture will fit.
  • View Any Paperwork Provided
    A thorough real estate agent will have their sellers collect all paperwork applicable to the home and display it during the open house. These documents may include repair receipts, permits, or other official documents that impact the structural and legal integrity of the property. Look at all of these documents, noting any recent renovations made or damages repaired.
  • Snap Photographs
    With so much to see, there's a chance you may forget a handful of pros and cons. Ask permission to take pictures of appealing and concerning areas of the interior and exterior. For instance, snap photos of water spots, outdated appliances, and foliage — any element of the home that adds value or may cost you money should be photographed and weighed.
  • Ask Questions
    When buying a house, don't be afraid to ask questions, even topics you may feel uncomfortable broaching. It's helpful to know why the seller is moving, how many offers they've received, the cost of monthly utilities, and how the neighborhood is. If you want to discuss the house in greater detail, your broker will set up an appointment with the seller's agent.
  • Investigate Comps
    Even if you think you've found your dream home, you should still walk comparable houses in the area. With the notes, photographs, and information you've gathered from the open house, you can now ask to tour other properties and compare your findings.

Properly preparing for an open house will help you stay organized and objective. Follow these tips, and you'll be ready to potentially make an offer on a great bargain or confidently walk away from a money pit.


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.


6 Questions to Ask Your Lender Before Getting a Mortgage

Shopping for a mortgage is about so much more than simply learning what your monthly payment will be. In order to make informed decisions when buying a house, you need to ask the right questions and find a lender that fits your needs. Asking questions makes it easier to compare loan opportunities with various lenders, and learn exactly what goes into calculating your monthly mortgage payment. Ask your lender these six questions to make sure you have the information you need when shopping for a mortgage.

  1. What Kind of Interest Rate Can I Expect?
    This is the big question, so it pays to ask right away. Get a quote for the direct interest rate, and the annual percentage rate (APR) which includes associated loan fees and charges. The interest rates available to you depend largely on your credit score, with a higher credit score leading to lower rates. To raise your credit score, make all monthly payments on time, pay more than the minimum requirements, and resolve outstanding debts.
  2. Is It a Fixed or Adjustable Rate?
    With a fixed-rate mortgage, your interest rate remains the same for the duration of the loan. An adjustable-rate mortgage, on the other hand, has an interest rate that can change based on the market. Many buyers opt for fixed-rate mortgages when buying a house, but no matter your preference it's important to know whether your rate will stay the same throughout the loan.
  3. How Much Will I Need for a Down Payment?
    The minimum down payment for a mortgage varies based on the type of loan you're pursuing, but the minimum isn't the only factor. Typically, a higher down payment will secure better terms for your mortgage. If you're opting for an FHA or USDA loan, then the minimum requirement may be different from a conventional mortgage. Ask your lender about how much down payment will be required to get the terms that work for your needs.
  4. Will I Need to Purchase Mortgage Insurance?
    Your down payment will also have an impact on whether you will need to purchase private mortgage insurance, and insurance will typically be required when your down payment is less than 20 percent of the home's value. So if you'd like to avoid the added cost of insurance, start saving for a significant down payment.
  5. What Fees Can I Expect?
    Most fees relating to your loan are added with closing costs, but certain fees are calculated differently. Origination fees are calculated as a percentage of the total loan value, usually ranging from 1 to 5 percent. Instead of being taken at the time of settlement, these fees are taken from the amount that you borrow. Finding out exactly what your lender's fee will be is crucial because it helps you understand exactly how much you'll need to borrow to reach the amount you need for the home.
  6. How Do You Communicate with Clients?
    Every question on our list can lead to more questions as you discuss things with your lender, so it's important that you have a way to keep lines of communication open. Ask your lender how they communicate with clients, and make sure that you have an easy point of contact whenever you need answers to your questions.

Securing a mortgage is one of the most important steps in buying a house, so it's worth taking the time to learn exactly what your lender has to offer. Asking the right questions goes a long way toward helping identify the mortgage options that are best for you.


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. 

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.

Coming Around to Color in Your Home

How Color Impacts Mood

The color of a room can drastically impact our mood and productivity. Although each person perceives color differently, most people respond to colors similarly. Warm colors like yellow, orange and red can stimulate the mind while cool colors like green and blue can have a calming effect.

You can change the color of each room to influence your desired mood. For instance, using green in your home office can spark creativity while a subtle gray or a pale shade of blue in the bathroom can create a soothing and calming ambiance.

The choice of room color is vitally important when you choose to list your home. When buyers tour your house for the first time, their immediate reaction will be influenced by the hues and shades that impact their emotions both positively and negatively.

To Paint or Not To Paint?

Take a look at your current wall colors and reference the list below to discover how each room may psychologically impact those within it:

  • Yellow: Happy, inspired.
  • Blue: Cool, calm.
  • Purple: Wise, creative, stimulated.
  • Green: Harmonious with nature, stable, energized.
  • Red: Confident, passionate, courageous.
  • Brown: Content, secure.
  • Pink: Innocent, tranquil.
  • Orange: Wholesome, vibrant, enthusiastic.
  • White: Clean, contemporary.
  • Gray: Classy, elegant, disciplined.
  • Black: Powerful, sophisticated.
  • Silver: Stylish, motivated.

What Colors to Use When Selling Your Home

As you prepare your home for sale, you may want to consider repainting certain rooms to appeal to potential buyers. Here are five of the top twenty color trends for 2019 that we believe you should incorporate before you list your home.

  1. Woodland Shades
    If you watch any home improvement show on television, you'll instantly notice that a rustic-vibe is making its way into the décor of thousands of homes. Although colors found in nature have been a common inspiration for home design, the desire for a natural look is shifting from botanical colors to subdued earthy hues of gray and brown.
  2. Mindful Gray Undertones
    Colors known as "introspective shades" are also making their way into the home setting. Gray undertones complement colors like purple, brown and navy to create a mindful living space that is associated with self-reflection and wise choices.  
  3. Almost White
    White walls will always be a great blank slate that buyers can either keep or paint over. However, you may want to consider enhancing your white walls with an almost white color. Subtle but effective, these nuanced shades present a minimalist look that can adapt to nearly any color or lighting around the room.
  4. Digitally Inspired
    We live in an age where technology surrounds us even in our choice of paint color. As more homeowners incorporate smart technology into their homes, they're continuing to view the world around them through a digital lens. Consider using shades in your home that mimic the intensity of artificial light.
  5. Energizing Coral
    Although the subtle and subdued colors above will be popular choices in home design, invigorating coral tones will also make a big splash on the real estate market. These pinks and orange hues surround homeowners with optimism and hope, uplifting their mood in the living room, office or bedroom.

Living Coral: The Pantone Color of the Year

For over 20 years, the Pantone Color of the Year has been a driving design influence in everything from home furnishings and fashion to industrial and graphic design. This year's color, Living Coral, symbolizes optimism, comfort and the lighthearted playfulness in everyone. Living Coral is a fantastic choice to incorporate into rooms of high activity such as entranceways, kitchens or children's playrooms. 



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.


5 Budgeting Tips When Saving for a Down Payment

Buying a home is a big financial decision and making your new home a reality means you'll need some money for a down payment. Homeownership is a great goal to have, and once you've figured out how much money you need to save, you can get down to business. As a general guideline, you'll need between 5% and 20% of the purchase price of a home. The actual number will depend on your financial situation, but it's always a good idea to get started as soon as possible. If you happen to end up with extra money, it can be applied to your moving expenses.  Here are some suggestions to get started saving.

  1. Make it automatic. Designate a separate account strictly for your down payment and have your money direct deposited or schedule regular transfers from your main account. For many people, it's much easier to save the money if you never see it in your checking account in the first place.
  2. Pay down or pay off your current debt especially if it's high-interest debt. Credit cards and car loans are two common budget busters that can eat up a sizable chunk of your monthly income. You may be able to refinance a car loan to a lower interest rate, and apply the extra money to the principal to pay it off sooner. Most credit cards assess interest daily, so paying more than the minimum as early in the billing cycle as possible will mean you're being charged less interest, allowing you to pay off that card sooner. After you get rid of the debt, you can put that money toward saving for your down payment.
  3. Cut out unnecessary spending. This includes monthly expenses and discretionary spending too. Eat out less, skip the daily latte, cut your grocery bill, give up the monthly subscription box, or get cheaper internet. You also may want to consider living somewhere less expensive or getting a roommate while you're trying to save for a home.
  4. Earn extra income and save it. You could get overtime at your current job, get a second job, or get a side hustle to earn extra income. You could also sell some of your stuff or something big you can do without, like a second car. Then put that money in the savings account for your down payment.
  5. When you do have to spend money take advantage of deals, coupons, and freebies. If you're going out with friends, go for the mid-week dinner specials. Buy one, get one free deal at your favorite lunch place, free concerts, community events, and game nights in can all help you reach your goal.

Saving up for the down payment on your new home can seem like an enormous task. But the truth is several small steps, and a little effort can make a big difference. You'll be in your new home before you know it.


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. 

Getting Over the One That Got Away

Whether you were outbid, ran into financing issues, or passed on a home and later regretted it, it's not uncommon to feel upset when buying a house doesn't work out. While there's no point in obsessing over the past, sometimes we can't help but think about what could have been.

The following five tips will help you accept what happened, let it go, and begin focusing on your future.

  1. Accept the Way You're Feeling
    While some people might try to tell you it's no big deal, if you're still feeling upset about the situation, then it is a big deal to you. There's nothing wrong with feeling bummed about losing your dream home and minimizing it won't help make things better. Acknowledge your feelings and start working on a plan to get over them.
  2. Don't Feel Ashamed About What Happened
    No matter what caused you to lose your dream home, there's no need to feel embarrassed about it. Instead, take a deep dive into what happened and see what life lessons you can learn from it.
  3. Stop Dwelling on the Past
    Unfortunately, after an opportunity passes you by, there's rarely anything you can do about it. Torturing yourself or passing blame isn't productive. 
  4. Celebrate Your Current Situation
    Even if it's not perfect, look for ways to enjoy the home you're currently living in. Find something to love about your current home and remind yourself of it whenever you start feeling depressed.  Make yourself more comfortable in your current situation by sprucing up your home with a fresh coat of paint or some inexpensive décor. If it looks like you're going to be in the house for a while, consider a remodeling project or invest in some landscaping to make it more inviting.
  5. Set New Goals and Create a Plan to Reach Them
    The best way to get focused on your future is to create a new set of goals and start working towards them. You should re-evaluate your priorities and make a plan to ensure your next home search is successful. 

    Before you return your focus to buying a house, take some time to make a list of the exact features you want. This will help narrow down your property search and avoid some of the hesitations that might have contributed to the previous situation. 

    Also, ensure that your credit scores are decent and that you've saved a sufficient down payment. Getting pre-qualified before you start looking at houses will help avoid any surprises and possibly save you from the heartache of having your dreams dashed again.  

When it comes to buying a house, having a great real estate agent by your side can make a huge difference. The right professional will help you find the perfect home in your price range and assist with the negotiation process.


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.

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.


How Much to Budget for Home Repairs

Whether you're a first-time buyer or experienced homeowner at some point you'll need to make home repairs. And those repairs will cost money. It's something first-time buyers often don't think about ahead of time and experienced owners may have learned the hard way. So budgeting at least some money in advance for these expenses is a must. Here's how to figure it all out.

Common Budgeting Approaches 

The first step is deciding how much to save for home repairs. Here are a few different ways you can approach budgeting.

  • Save 1 to 3 percent of the price of your home per year. That means if your home was $200,000 you should devote $2,000 to $6,000 per year to your home repair budget. This rule is based on a per year average over a longer period of time. Some years you'll spend less and some years more. Depending on other factors, you may want to be on the lower or higher end of that range.
  • Save $1 per square foot per year. This makes sense because larger square footage means there is more house to keep repaired. For a 2500 square foot house that comes out to $2,500 per year.
  • A basic budget plus a project specific budget. If you know a major repair is a few years out, use the average costs in your area or actual estimates for those repairs and break it down into payments. You'll still need money to cover the little repairs too, but knowing you need to save at least $300 per month to make that new roof a reality in a few years can be a starting point. Your budget can change a little based on the projects.

Adjusting the Basic Budget for Your Home

Once you have a starting point you'll need to adjust your budget to account for the specifics of your home.

  • Age of your home. Older homes often (but not always!) require more upkeep costs.
  • Current condition of your home
  • Climate. Climate variances can make your home more likely to need certain repairs. Knowing what you're likely to see down the road can help you adjust your budget and take the necessary preventative measures.
  • Exposure to extreme weather and the possibility of storm damage.
  • Single-family vs. condo or townhouse. Condos and townhouses have a lower repair budget because some of the costs are covered by your homeowner's association fees or project specific fees.

Add 10 percent of your basic budget per year for each factor that increases the likelihood of repairs. For example, a basic budget of $2,000 per year for an older home in an area where bad weather is common, would increase that budget to $2,400 per year.

Money Saving Tips

  • Use a separate savings account and automatic deposits. Designating a separate account specifically for repairs and setting up automatic deposits or transfers makes saving easy. Don't tie up this money in long-term investments, you'll want to be able to access it immediately if you need it.
  • Use a budgeting app. It can help you cut costs on everyday expenses so you can divert that money to your home repair budget.
  • Consider DIY projects. Many smaller home repairs require only basic skills that are easy to learn. Just be realistic, and do your research ahead of time. Save calling the professionals for the big jobs.

While no one can guess exactly what your home repair costs will be, being prepared and budgeting in advance will save you lots of headaches later and allow you to enjoy the benefits of homeownership for years to come.


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 Reasons to Use a Military-Friendly Agent

If you're a member of the military, chances are you're used to moving long distances with very little notice and often. So it goes without saying that from time to time you'll need a real estate agent that understands your particular needs and challenges. When you're buying a house, here's why it's so important to work with a military-friendly real estate agent. 

  1. They are used to an accelerated timeline.
    Service members may need to relocate often and quickly, which means buying and selling on a tight deadline. You need a realtor who is comfortable working fast, who can find you a home that meets all you're needs on a much stricter deadline than usual. And if you're also selling your previous home, a military-friendly agent will be able to turn it around quickly without sacrificing your profit.

  2. They understand the VA loan process.
    Plenty of lenders say they do VA loans, but many lack experience, and may not understand the particular circumstances or documentation required. A military-friendly real estate agent will work with lenders who know VA loan requirements.

  3. They can maximize your benefits.
    A lot of housing benefits are available to veterans, active service members, and their families, so it's essential to work with a realtor experienced in working with military personnel. A great way to find out is to ask if your agent is designation by the National Association of REALTORS® as a certified Military Relocation Professional (MRP).

  4. They understand special needs.
    Veterans often have unique needs when it comes to buying a house. Some may need adaptive housing for disabilities acquired during their service, while others may need homes free of PTSD triggers and other potential hazards. The right realtor will understand these vital requirements and has experience helping veterans find VA-approved condos, co-ops, and townhomes.

  5. They are used to long distances.
    Because military clients often aren't able to travel to the area to which they're moving, a realtor has to be comfortable working remotely – taking and sending pictures and videos, working with documents electronically, and doing providing video tours of the property. You need an agent who can make you feel like you know the property even though you might not be able to see it in person until move-in day.

Whether you're a veteran, an active service member or a member of a military family, it's crucial that you work with an experienced real estate agent who understands your needs to find you the perfect house.


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