Articles Tagged "Home Buying Advice"

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Buy a Home | 2 Posts
Sell a Home | 1 Posts
September
22

Is Buying An Energy-Efficient Home A Top Priority

As you compare different features when looking for the perfect property, you have a lot to consider:  Is energy efficiency on your list?

From price and location to square footage and architectural style, your new home's features will affect your everyday life, so it's important to make the right decision for you. Some factors will affect your comfort, others will affect your home's function, and others will affect your budget. However, one plays a big role in all three: your home's energy efficiency.

Here are some of the most valuable reasons to prioritize homes with energy-efficient features.

  1. Efficient HVAC Systems Could Cut Future Energy Bills in Half
    Programmable thermostats make it much easier to develop efficient heating and cooling habits, but it all comes down to your HVAC system. Inefficient systems can double a home's energy use because they have to work overtime to stabilize indoor temperatures. Because older units are less efficient and may need to be replaced in the near future, it's important to know the age and maintenance history of every HVAC appliance. However, only an energy audit can reveal the efficiency of the whole system. If you're in the process of buying a house, make sure your inspection also includes an energy audit from a certified home energy rater, who will evaluate the ductwork, seals, and other factors that affect how much energy it takes to heat or cool your whole home.

  2. Low-Flow Plumbing & Plants Lower Your Water Bills
    The average household wastes a lot of water on everyday tasks like flushing toilets, brushing teeth, and watering lawns. While you need water, you don't need to pay for water that runs down the drain or feeds plants that don't belong in your climate. Whether you care about saving the planet or reducing your monthly payouts to the water company, it's time to consider indoor and outdoor ways to minimize water waste. Low-flow, dual-flush toilets use only as much water as they need, while drought-resistant landscaping choices reduce your outdoor irrigation needs. Look for homes with tankless water heaters, water-saving sink faucets, and rainwater irrigation systems too.

  3. Extra Insulation Keeps Your Home Comfortable All Year
    Newer windows and roofs should always stand out when you're buying a house, and not just because they won't need to be replaced any time soon. Today's options are more insulated, sun-resistant, durable, and efficient than ever, with materials specifically designed to reduce indoor-outdoor temperature transfer and withstand the elements better. For example, insulated glass units (IGUs) are windows with two or three glass panes, which have moisture-absorbing spacers between them for even more insulation. Reflective shingles keep roofs significantly cooler, preventing hotbox effects in the attic and reducing the strain on the HVAC system. As you look for your next home, look for newer features that increase insulation and prevent huge seasonal fluctuations in your HVAC usage.

  4. Energy Star Appliances & Lights Have Exciting New Features
    Buying a house with greener features isn't all about sacrifice. Energy Star makes it easy to tell which appliances meet recommended efficiency standards, but you'll probably find that these efficient fixtures are more fun, too. For example, LED light bulbs prevent heat gain and use far less electricity, but some also come with innovative features like mobile connectivity and changing colors that respond to music. Energy Star appliances often make cooking and cleaning easier too, so look for that label.

As you weigh different priorities and consider homes with different types of appliances, windows, and more, it's important to make sure energy efficiency is always on your mind.

September
8

The Newbie's Guide To Buying A Home

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

Know what to do before you buy.

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

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

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

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

Track your expenses for a few months.

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

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

Consider listings that leave room for competitive offers.

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

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

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

September
1

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.

August
25

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

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

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

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

Get off to a running start with these five tips:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August
18

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.

August
4

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.

July
28

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.

July
21

How To Make Moving Easier For Your Kids

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

A Family Affair: Keeping Your Kids Involved in Your Move

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July
14

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.

July
7

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.

June
30

How To Find A Neighborhood That's Right For You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June
23

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.

June
16

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.

June
9

Buying A House? Try Our Home Buying Workout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June
2

Settling Into Your New Neighborhood After You Move

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May
26

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.

May
19

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. 

May
12

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.

April
21

10 Things You Should Do Before Moving Into Your New Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April
14

Feeling Overwhelmed About Buying A House? These Tips Can Help

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

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

Here are six steps to ease home buying stress: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April
7

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.

March
31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March
24

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.

March
17

Tips For Buying A House On The MLS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting the Most from the MLS by Working with Your Agent

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

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

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

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

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

March
3

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.

February
24

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.

February
10

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.

February
3

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.

January
27

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.

January
20

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.

January
6

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.

December
30

Buyer Etiquette You Should Adopt Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December
23

Forgetting Something? Here's What Buyers Always Forget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December
16

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. 

December
9

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.

December
2

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.

November
25

Was Your Offer Rejected? Here's What You Can Do

Buying your first home can be a challenging process, but buying in a hot seller's market introduces another layer of complexity. If you're buying for the first time, you might not be able to afford to waive some important contingencies, which can put you at a competitive disadvantage when bidding for a home. As a result, it's common for first-time buyers to experience a rejected offer or two along the way.

A rejected offer doesn't mean all hope is lost — there are still things you can do and learn after a seller declines your bid:

Try To Learn The Reason
The best thing you can do is ask your real estate agent to connect with the listing agent to get more information on why your offer was rejected. Understanding the reason behind a rejected bid can be valuable when you go to make your next offer. Below are some common reasons why offers are rejected:

  • Better Offers - The most common reason for a rejected offer is the seller received a better one. Perhaps your bid was too low, or another bid came along with fewer contingencies.
  • Your Financing Requirements - The seller may prefer to move forward with a buyer who has different financing requirements or is financed by a more reputable lender.
  • Closing Times - Your timeline for closing might not align with the seller's.
  • Requests For Repairs - If you requested repairs or upgrades as part of your bid, the seller may decide to move forward with an offer that didn't contain these contingencies.

Determine If There Is An Opportunity To Negotiate
If the seller didn't respond to your offer by the expiration date, there could be an opportunity to negotiate. Ask your agent to reach out to the listing agent to determine the status of the listing. If the seller is simply slow to respond, you may still have a shot. If the seller is still considering other offers, you may have an opportunity to enhance your bid.

Don't Be Disheartened
It's easy to fall in love with a home, and creating an offer takes time and energy. It can be easy to feel let down when your offer is rejected. Don't be discouraged — it's far worse to overpay or settle for terms in the long run. Besides, there will be plenty of other homes that will come along.

It never feels great to have your offer rejected, but the best thing you can do is learn from the situation. Consider the reasons behind the rejected offer when crafting your next bid. While you might have to hit the market again, it won't be long before you find another opportunity.

November
18

What Exactly Is An Investment Property?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November
11

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.

November
4

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.

October
28

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

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

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

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

What To Do If Your Dream Home Is Pending

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

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

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

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

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

October
14

Should You Tie The Knot Before Buying A Home?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October
7

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.

September
30

What To Do When A Seller Counteroffers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September
23

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.

September
16

Check Your Surroundings Before You Buy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    September
    9

    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.

    September
    2

    Should You Buy A Home With No Money Down?

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

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

    How to Buy a Home with No Money Down

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

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

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

    Benefits of Zero Down Payment Home Purchases

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

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

    Downsides of Buying a Home with Zero Down Payment

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

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

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

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

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

    August
    26

    A House Next To A School? Read This First

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

    Benefits Of Living Near A School

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

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

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

    Disadvantages Of Living Near A School

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

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

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

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

    August
    19

    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 USPS.com 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.

    August
    12

    Can A Seller Bow Out From A Sale?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    August
    5

    What You Should Ask Title Insurance Providers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    July
    22

    Bathroom Red Flags That Could Spell Disaster

    There's a lot to think about when you're evaluating a potential new home. From school districts and neighborhood amenities to closet space and flooring, you'll want to make sure everything is as perfect as possible. When touring a home, it's easy to gloss over the bathrooms; after all, they're pretty much all the same, right?

    Unfortunately, this isn't the case! Noticing important red flags in the bathroom can help you avoid major issues down the line. Here are a few things to watch out for.

    1. Funny Smells

    A funky odor in the bathroom is always a red flag. When viewing a home, also watch out for a strong smell of air freshener in the bathroom. This could be an attempt to hide a problem with the septic system, a plumbing issue, or mold.

    Damp smells could also be a sign that there's water buildup somewhere below the surface. This isn't something you want to discover after you've purchased a home.

    2. Strange Location

    Most parts of a bathroom are fairly easy to update. However, if the bathroom itself is in a strange location, your options will be limited. If the bathroom is right off the kitchen or living room, it could make for some awkward interactions.

    When considering a home purchase, you'll also want to see whether there's a bathroom on each level of the home and verify how many bedrooms share a single bathroom.

    3. Signs of Water Damage

    If you see stains or dirt around the base of the toilet or the floor nearby, this is a sign of past water damage. You'll also want to look under the sink to see if there are any water stains or soft or rotted wood.

    Even if past water damage has been fixed, there could be lingering issues or a deeper problem that may reoccur.

    4. Lack of Ventilation 

    If your bathroom doesn't have an exhaust fan or a window, you'll end up dealing with humidity problems. This can lead to mildew and mold. Some bathrooms don't have a fan or window but do have skylights. However, this can sometimes do more harm than good since they're notorious for leaking.

    5. Flooring Issues 

    There are many potential red flags you can find by examining the bathroom floor. Damaged grouting, separation, or cracks in the tile could be an indication of past plumbing issues or a problem with pests.

    Also, watch out for areas with fresh grouting that doesn't match the rest of the floor. If you see this, you'll want to find out what's different about that area and whether there were past issues that were repaired. 

    6. Resurfaced Bathtubs 

    The bathtub might look new, but upon closer inspection, you may find that it's actually an old tub that has been reglazed. The problem with this is that it will often scratch or peel, creating an unsightly look that you'll have to fix fairly quickly after you move in.

    To check for reglazing, look closely at the finish, watching out for sags or bubbling. 

    7. Low Water Pressure 

    Not only is low water pressure in your bathroom uncomfortable and inconvenient, but it could also be a sign that you have corroded pipes or other serious plumbing problems. To check for this, run the water in the bathroom sink and check the flow. While the water is running, flush the toilet to see if the flow drops off.

    It's also a good idea to go to the bathroom furthest away from the hot water heater and see how long it takes before the water gets hot. If it's unreasonably long, this could be another potential problem.

    Don't Be Afraid to Ask Questions 

    These bathroom red flags might not necessarily be a dealbreaker, but they definitely warrant a second look. If you notice anything that could indicate a potential problem, don't be afraid to point it out and ask questions. This could save you from major issues down the line.

    July
    15

    5 Tips For Buying A Home Out Of State

    Buying a home can be stressful. We'd like to imagine the process will go seamlessly, but any home-buying adventure will always have its ups and downs. After all, it's a big purchase and a big change in your day-to-day life for several months. But what can be an even bigger change of pace is moving out of state. Don't worry though -- we have some tips that will make moving out of state less scary! These practical tips will make sure you avoid any serious setbacks.

    1. Research
      Fire up your computer and start googling! You want to learn as much as possible about potential communities before you seriously consider home options. Some things are obvious, like the cost of living and crime rate, but things like weather and economic stability are important too. If you have children, you'll want to investigate the different school options and factor that into where you'll be able to live.
    2. Get A Referral
      Odds are you don't know any real estate agents where you'll be moving. But your current local agents may be able to help. Realtors have access to databases that show the success rates of agents all over the country, so there's a good chance they can help you find a trustworthy agent that will help you become more comfortable with your new community.
    3. Hire A Relocation Specialist
      A relocation specialist can be a lifesaver if you're moving out of state. They have all the connections you could possibly need, from movers to home inspection companies. They have information and resources that would otherwise take weeks for you to find out on your own.
    4. Take A Trip
      If you can take a trip to where you're planning to move before closing, you should. What's even better is if you can make it to the inspection. If there are issues with the home, it's best to learn about them in person so you can gain as much information as possible. That way, you can ask questions in the moment. While you're in the area, you can also explore and get a general sense of the community.
    5. Contact Utility Companies
      If you have a home secured, make sure you contact utility companies a couple of weeks before it's time to move. Make a deposit and ensure all your utilities will be functioning when you arrive. Then you can dedicate your energy to more important aspects of moving in and settling down rather than calling around to get your electricity or water turned on.

    Moving, either out of state or not, can be significantly easier when you have help. A good real estate agent will help you throughout the process so you don't have to navigate on your own. Family and friends can also be a huge help, even with little projects and tasks, especially if you're moving out of state.

    July
    8

    What Does Home Insurance Cover?

    Virtually every homeowner has homeowner's insurance, but many people don't really understand what it does and doesn't cover. Here's a closer look at some common problems you may run into and what you can expect from your insurance company.

    • Flooding
      Unfortunately, most homeowner's insurance policies do not cover damage caused by flooding. This means that unless you've purchased a separate flood policy, you'll be on the hook if your home is damaged from flooding caused by excessive rains or a strong storm. If you're in an area where flooding is common, you may want to ask your insurance agent about the cost of a separate flood policy.
    • Mold
      Whether the insurance policy covers mold usually depends on what caused it. If it was caused by something that was covered, like a burst pipe, it will usually be covered. However, if the mold is an after-effect of flooding, then you're likely on your own.
    • Earthquakes
      While most insurance providers offer separate earthquake policies, this is not usually covered under a regular homeowner's insurance policy. If you live in an area that's prone to earthquakes, this is definitely something you'll want to ask your insurance agent about.
    • Water Leaks
      When it comes to water leaks, it often depends on how it occurs. Claims related to a slow leak, technically called "seepage and leakage," are often denied coverage.

      For example, if a pipe is slowly leaking behind the wall and causes damage over the long term, there's a good chance your insurer won't pay. However, the insurance often will pay for damage from a water leak that is "sudden and accidental."
    • Wear and Tear
      Unfortunately, your homeowner's insurance policy won't pay for any damage caused by normal wear and tear. The purpose of homeowner's insurance is to cover emergencies that can't be avoided. So, if you see something that could become a problem, do yourself a favor and take care of it as soon as you can.
    • Damage from Renovations
      Many people don't realize that you need a separate renovation policy when doing a major remodel — even if your contractor has a builder's risk policy. The builder's policy only covers new construction, not your existing structure.

      If you're doing small cosmetic changes, you might not need to worry. However, if you're doing something major — like removing the roof — your standard homeowner's policy likely won't cover you. A renovation policy will also cover you if anyone happens to wander onto your property during your renovation and get hurt.
    • Sewer & Drain Backups
      In areas where heavy rains are common, a sewer or drain backup could flood your home. Unfortunately, not all insurance policies cover this, so you could end up paying the fix the damage.
    • Fire, Lightning, Vandalism
      If the interior or exterior of your home is damaged due to fire, lightning, vandalism, or other covered disasters, you can expect your homeowner's insurance policy to cover it. The compensation should be sufficient to repair or even completely rebuild your home.
    • Personal Property Damage
      If your personal property, like clothing, appliances, furniture, jewelry, and other items, is damaged in a covered disaster, your homeowner's insurance policy should cover it.

      Most policies provide coverage for 50% to 70% of the amount of insurance coverage you have on the structure of your home. So, for example, if you have $400,000 in insurance coverage, your policy should cover somewhere between $200,000 and $280,000 for your possessions.

    While the information above is true for most homeowner's insurance policies, every policy is unique. The best way to understand your personal coverage is to review your policy details or talk to your insurance agent.

    July
    1

    What To Do If Your Dream Home Fails Inspection

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

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

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

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

    June
    24

    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.

    June
    17

    Construction Red Flags To Watch Out For

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    June
    10

    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.

    June
    3

    Are You Ready To Be A Homeowner?

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

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

    1. Are You Ready to Settle Down? 

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

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

    1. Do You Have Stable Employment? 

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

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

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

    1. Are You Financially Prepared? 

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

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

    1. Are You Ready for Maintenance and Upkeep? 

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

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

    1. Are You Looking for More Stability? 

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

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

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

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

    May
    27

    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.

    Appraisal

    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.

    Title

    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.

    Mortgage

    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.

    May
    20

    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.

    May
    13

    First Time Home Buyer? Here's a Checklist

    There's nothing like the excitement of receiving the keys to your own home for the first time, but there are plenty of details to cover before now and closing day. This checklist can help you kick-start the process and help you learn what it will take to purchase your first home.

    How to Prep for Purchasing a Home

    • Start Saving ASAP
      Buying a home is the biggest purchase most people will make in their lives, so it pays to start saving as soon as possible. Cut down on unnecessary expenses, and look for any opportunities to save extra cash.

    • Review and Strengthen Your Credit Score
      Your credit score plays a key role in securing a mortgage and getting the best possible terms. Review your credit scores from the three major credit bureaus, then look for opportunities to improve your credit score.

    Finding the Right Lender and Getting Pre-Approved

    • Discover Mortgage Options for First Time Buyers
      There are a variety of mortgage options to help first-time buyers in addition to conventional mortgages, including FHA loans which allow a low down payment, USDA loans which can help with purchasing properties in rural areas, and VA loans which offer many benefits for military veterans. Research your options to find which type of mortgage best matches your needs.

    • Compare Lenders and Mortgage Rates
      Finding the best mortgage terms often requires shopping around, so it's helpful to compare the costs, rates, and fees that various lenders will offer a first-time buyer.

    • Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage and Find Out How Much Home You Can Afford
      Once you find the right lender, take the next steps to get pre-approved for a mortgage. Pre-approval is crucial for both showing sellers that you're a serious buyer and discovering exactly how much home you can afford.

    Choosing the Right Real Estate Agent and Shopping for a Home

    • Interview Real Estate Agents to Find the Right Match
      The right real estate agent can make your life so much easier during every step of the process, so invest some time in finding an agent who knows how to help first-time buyers. Don't be afraid to interview and compare multiple agents to find the right fit.

    • Explore Homes That Fit Your Budget
      With knowledge of your budget and the help of your agent, it's time to start exploring homes that match your needs. Take advantage of open houses, home visits, and virtual tours to streamline your shopping.

    • Don't Forget to Shop for the Right Neighborhood
      Finding the right neighborhood is a huge factor in choosing a home that you'll love long-term, so research neighborhoods in your target communities to find one that matches your preferences.

    Closing the Deal on Your First Home

    • Lean on Your Agent for Help with Negotiations
      It's natural to have some back-and-forth with the seller as you negotiate, and your real estate agent should be a valuable resource throughout the process. Stick to your budget, negotiate in good faith, and rely on the experience of your real estate agent.

    • Pay Close Attention to the Home Inspection
      The home inspection is a critical step near the end of the process. Pay close attention to the inspection in case there are any underlying issues that may make you rethink the purchase or negotiate with the seller for repairs.

    With all of the details taken care of, all that's left is to close on your first home. Once all of the documents are signed, you can proudly call yourself a homeowner for the first time!

    May
    6

    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.

    April
    29

    Renting or Buying: What Are The Differences?

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

    Renting

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

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

    Buying

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

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

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

    April
    22

    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.

    April
    15

    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.

    April
    8

    Your Guide To Homeowners Associations

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

    What is the Purpose of an HOA?

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

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

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

    What are Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions?

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

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

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

    What are HOA Fees?

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

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

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

    What are the Benefits of an HOA?

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

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

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

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

      April
      1

      Buying a Home on a Busy Street

      For most people, location is a big factor when buying a home. While some buyers prefer to live close to family members, others want conveniences and opportunities. It can be difficult to find the right home in a great location, but what if you find it on a busy street? Do you take a closer look or walk away? Perhaps you should first weigh the pros and cons before making a decision.

      Advantages

      Living on a busy street may be a new experience, but it does have some advantages. A new home in the city may come with perks that make your life less complicated.

      City Attractions

      Living on a busy street provides easy access to many city attractions like retail stores, restaurants, cafes and coffee shops, theaters, and public parks. You can walk to your favorite restaurant for dinner or take your dog to the park around the corner.

      Access to Public Transportation

      Easy access to public transportation means less driving in rush hour traffic. Whether heading to work or the local grocery store, areas with busy streets offer subways, bus routes, bike paths, and sidewalks that create easier and faster travel.

      Street Maintenance

      Busy streets have better maintenance because it's paid for by the local city government. Unlike streets in more rural areas, busy streets get regular maintenance to prevent potholes, road debris, and snow and ice. Streets with daily cars, taxis, and buses get first dibs on street maintenance and safety.

      Price Discounts

      If you're a buyer who enjoys the hustle and bustle of living on a busy street, you can save money on a new home. Not everyone wants to live on a busy street, so sellers often reduce their listing price for a faster sale. This can be a winning scenario for the right buyer.

      Disadvantages

      While living on a busy street provides opportunities and conveniences, it also comes with drawbacks that some buyers want to avoid.

      Excessive Noise

      The main drawback of living on a busy street is noise. Although well-insulated windows and doors cut down on noise levels, it's difficult to completely eliminate the constant sounds of traffic, car horns, and sirens.

      Air Pollution

      Busy streets are filled with cars, trucks, and buses that increase pollution and reduce air quality. Although healthy air quality may not be a top priority when buying a home, it's important to consider health effects for your family. Poor air quality contributes to allergies, asthma, and respiratory illnesses.

      Parking Problems

      Living on a busy street can create parking problems unless you have a driveway or garage connected to your home. If you're in a busy area with a lot of traffic, you may find cars that are constantly parked in front of your house or blocking your driveway just when you need to leave.

      Lack of Privacy

      If privacy is important, you may not enjoy living on a busy street with cars and pedestrians constantly passing your home. This may mean building a fence in your front yard and keeping windows and draperies closed during the day, and especially after dark.

      Home Safety

      Buying a home on a busy street may raise safety concerns for your family. Distracted or impaired drivers may increase traffic accidents near your home. If you have small children, pets, or senior family members, living on a busy street may not be your best option.

      Living on a busy street has perks, but you should consider the pros and cons before purchasing a home. While it offers conveniences, the lifestyle is not for everyone, which is why you should talk to your real estate agent about the best options for you.

      March
      25

      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.

      March
      18

      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.

      March
      11

      How Much Insurance Do You Really Need?

      When you're buying a home, it's easy to focus on shopping for fun things, like furniture and decor for your new space. However, another item to add to your shopping list is a homeowner's insurance policy. Homeowner's insurance is a type of insurance that protects your home and its contents, so it's important to know how it works and what exactly you're getting. Here's what you need to know about homeowner's insurance, including guidelines to help you select the correct level of coverage. 

      The Ins and Outs of Homeowner's Insurance

      If your home is damaged or entirely destroyed due to a natural disaster, theft, or other incident covered by your policy, your homeowner's insurance will help you pay for the repairs. Homeowner's insurance typically covers your home, any structures on your property (like a storage shed or garage), and your possessions. 

      Note that some events may be excluded from your insurance policy. Some of the most common excluded events include damage from floods and earthquakes. To ensure your home is protected from these excluded events, you'll need to purchase a separate insurance policy specifically intended for these incidents. 

      When you make a claim on your homeowner's insurance, you must pay your deductible. The amount of your deductible will decrease the amount of money you receive. For example, assume a storm causes $10,000 in damage to your home. If you have a $2,000 deductible, you'll receive $8,000 for the incident. 

      While a higher deductible will lower the cost of your homeowner's insurance policy, make sure that it's an amount that you're comfortable paying in an emergency. 

      How to Calculate the Coverage Levels for Your Insurance Policy

      It's imperative to purchase the correct amount of homeowner's insurance to make sure you're properly protected. Your insurance company will not pay more than your selected coverage level, even if your costs wind up exceeding this amount. When selecting your coverage levels, you'll want to consider how much it would actually cost to rebuild your home in the event of a major disaster.

      This figure may be significantly more than the actual value of your home, especially if your home has high-end features or details that required special skills to build or create them. Consult with your insurance agent for guidance regarding the replacement costs for homes in your area. The costs for building materials and construction labor tend to increase over time, so make sure you periodically revisit your coverage levels. 

      Survey the contents of your home, and check that the coverage for your belongings will replace them if they're lost or stolen. If you own expensive items (like jewelry, rare collectibles, or musical instruments), you may need to purchase additional coverage to cover the replacement costs of these pricier possessions. 

      Other Details to Keep in Mind

      When buying your policy, there are other policy coverage limits that you'll need to select. In addition to coverage for your home and belongings, your homeowner's insurance policy provides liability coverage if someone is injured on your property. You should check that your liability coverage is enough to protect your assets in case of a lawsuit. If you have extensive financial assets, you may want to consider an umbrella insurance policy in addition to homeowner's insurance to make sure you're properly protected.

      Worried that your insurance coverage is too low? Contact your insurance agent today to review the details of your policy!

      March
      4

      How To Negotiate Like A Pro

      When you're looking for a new home, finding the one that meets your personal and financial goals can be a challenge. Even if you find your dream home, negotiating a price with the seller may present obstacles that prevent you from moving forward. Motivated sellers may be less difficult to deal with during price negotiations, but they still have a bottom line. One tiny concession may translate to a big profit loss and a longer closing process that delays the move. Although most sellers expect buyers to negotiate, knowing the right negotiation skills can put you ahead of other interested buyers and move you into the home of your dreams.

      1. Understand the Market

      When a seller puts a home on the market, they have already researched current market conditions that impact home values, interest rates, and inventory. If you're a buyer, you should do the same. While a seller's market is characterized by low inventory, low mortgage rates, and high home prices, a buyer's market is characterized by more houses for sale than buyers. Knowing which market you're in will help with successful negotiations.

      2. Get Your Finances in Order

      Sellers want qualified buyers so they don't experience unnecessary loan problems that delay or cancel out a sale. Getting your finances in order and getting pre-approved by a lender can help significantly with price negotiations. This is especially important in a seller's market when a seller may receive multiple offers on a home with some offers exceeding the listing price. As a buyer, you must be prepared to compete and negotiate to close the sale.

      3. Negotiate Closing Costs

      During every real estate transaction, the seller and the buyer must deal with closing costs that impact the sale. By negotiating closing costs, both parties can benefit. Typically, each party is responsible for certain fees:

      • Seller's Responsibility — Buyer's repair credits; Buyer's title insurance premium; Commission to the listing agent and buyer's agent; Loan payoff; Transfer taxes and recording fees; and Unpaid HOA dues or fees.
      • Buyer's Responsibility — All fees and expenses for Appraisals; Credit reports; Home inspections; Loan applications; and Lender's title insurance and title search. 

      When doing a final review, check with your realtor or real estate attorney to make sure all fees are in the correct columns of the seller's settlement statement.

      4. Put Down a Sizable Deposit

      After an offer is accepted and a purchase agreement is signed, the buyer must put down an earnest money deposit to show a commitment to move forward. The average deposit ranges from 1-3% of the purchase price, but a seller can demand more, especially in a seller's market. Putting down a sizable deposit is a good negotiation tactic that lets the seller know you're a serious buyer. It can motivate the seller to ignore other back-up offers on the table.

      5. Work With a Qualified Realtor

      Viewing hundreds of homes for sale doesn't make you an expert on local market trends and price negotiations. Licensed real estate professionals know how to guide you through the entire process of buying a home. Your realtor will act on your behalf by communicating and negotiating with the seller about important issues like home inspections, appraisals, closing costs, and items that remain on the property. Working with a qualified realtor can increase your chances of closing the sale.

      If you're looking for a new home, negotiating with the seller can reduce your overall costs and close the deal. You may not be the only interested buyer, but you can be first in line!

      February
      25

      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. 

      February
      18

      Considering School Districts While Home Shopping

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

      School System Data

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

      Other Factors

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

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

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

      February
      11

      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.

      February
      4

      Your Buyer's Guide to Fixtures

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

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

      What are Fixtures?

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

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

      Get a Purchase Agreement

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

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

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

      January
      28

      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.

      January
      21

      What You Should Know About Basements

      When it comes to buying a home, it's easy to neglect certain spaces. Updated kitchens, bathrooms, and living spaces often draw the most focus, making it more likely the potential buyer won't take a close enough look at other areas like basements. No matter the size, the basement is one part of a home a buyer should not overlook. From water damage to DIY mishaps, basements can become quite costly after the home is purchased. Looking for the lowdown on the lowest floor of a house? Here's what you need to know before purchasing a home with a basement.

      The history of the basement may be written on the walls.

      Take a walk into the basement of a listed home and the walls will likely say more than the listing. Stains or traces of mold on the walls may be signs of current or prior leaking or flooding. While some may repaint the basement walls as part of the staging process, a few of these homeowners could use fresh coats of paint to cover up visible damage. A professional inspector should inspect the entire basement to ensure the buyer knows everything about the integrity of the home.

      Some elements may not be up to code.

      Imagine walking into a fully-finished basement that looks amazing, only to discover that the DIY repairs, renovations, and additions were not up to code. For instance, a drywall ceiling DIY installation may not be up to code for a number of reasons. Any electrical wiring not completed by a licensed professional can also be a costly problem.

      Basements may not be included in the square footage of the home.

      Is this space included in the total square footage on the listing? That depends on a variety of factors. Typically, many agents will not include the basement in the square footage. In some states, appraisers will include it, but because these areas are considered "living space," they must have methods of ingress and egress.

      You may not be able to turn that basement into the room of your dreams.

      One of the main reasons buyers are attracted to homes with a basement, finished or unfinished, is that they could use the additional space as a guest room. However, local codes differ from place to place and may prevent the homeowner from transitioning it into a habitable apartment. In some cases, the homeowner won't be able to consider the basement as a legitimate bedroom without a closet or means of egress. Before buying the home, make sure you see official documentation detailing whether or not this space can be renovated to your intentions.

      Basements can be a very desirable addition to a home, but they can also cause headaches for buyers. When inspecting a home prior to purchase, buyers should pay close attention to any repairs, damages, or renovations completed by the current owner.

      January
      14

      How Long Does It Really Take to Buy a House?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      January
      7

      Finding a Home Loan Right for You

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

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

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

      December
      31

      5 Reasons to Get Pre-Approved Before House Hunting

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

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

      1. It Makes Your Search More Efficient

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

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

      1. It Makes You a More Powerful Buyer

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

      1. You're Unlikely to Get an Unpleasant Surprise 

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

      1. You'll Still Have Time to Shop Around

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

      1. It Can Speed Up the Closing Process

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

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

      December
      24

      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.

      December
      17

      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.

      December
      17

      How Home Equity Fuels Your Next Move

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

      What is Home Equity?

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

      How Can I Use My Existing Equity?

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

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

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

      • You could use a cash-out refinance.

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

      • You could take out a HELOC.

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

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

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

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

      December
      10

      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.

      December
      3

      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!

      November
      19

      Why Buying a House During the Holidays is A Great Idea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      November
      12

      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. 

      October
      29

      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.

      October
      22

      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.

      October
      15

      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.

      October
      8

      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.

      October
      1

      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!

      September
      24

      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.

      September
      17

      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? 

      September
      10

      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.

      September
      3

      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.

      August
      27

      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 www.annualcreditreport.com.

        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.

      August
      20

      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.

      August
      13

      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.

      August
      6

      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.  

      July
      30

      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! 

      July
      23

      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.

      July
      16

      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.

      Pros

      • 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.

      Cons

      • 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.

      July
      9

      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.

      July
      2

      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.

      June
      25

      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. 

      June
      18

      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.

      June
      11

      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.

      May
      28

      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. 

      May
      21

      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.

      May
      7

      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.

      April
      30

      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.

      April
      16

      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!

      April
      9

      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.

      March
      26

      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.

      March
      19

      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.

      March
      12

      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.

      March
      5

      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. 

      February
      27

      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.

      February
      20

      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.

      February
      13

      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. 

      February
      6

      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.

      January
      30

      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.

      January
      23

      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.

      January
      16

      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.

      January
      9

      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.

      January
      2

      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.

      December
      26

      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.

      December
      19

      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.

      December
      5

      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.

      November
      28

      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.

      November
      21

      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?

      November
      14

      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.

      November
      7

      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.

      October
      31

      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. 

      October
      24

      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. 

      October
      17

      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.

      October
      10

      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! 
      October
      3

      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.
      September
      26

      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.

      Pros

      • 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.

      Cons

      • 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.

      September
      19

      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. 

      September
      12

      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. 

      September
      5

      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.

      August
      22

      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. 

      August
      15

      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. 

      August
      8

      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. 

      August
      1

      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.

      July
      25

      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.

      July
      18

      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.

      July
      11

      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.

      July
      4

      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.

      June
      27

      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.

      June
      20

      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.

      June
      13

      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.

      June
      6

      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. 

      May
      30

      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.

      May
      23

      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!

      May
      16

      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.

      May
      2