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  • 2018 Spring Cleaning Checklist

    At last, spring has sprung! Flowers are blooming, temperatures are rising, and most importantly, people are suiting up for an annual deep cleaning. Though the words “spring cleaning” may seem daunting, there are many simple ways to make your cleaning run smoothly and effortlessly – and not immediately be forgotten a week later. From clearing clutter and old files to reorganizing your kitchen and having a functional living room, you can get the most out of your spring cleaning efforts with these tips and checklist!

     spring cleaning tips

  • 14 Factors That Can Stall the Mortgage Closing Process

    Once you find your dream house and your purchase offer is accepted, you need to get through one more step before you move in: mortgage closing. The time it takes to close on a home will vary from one person to the next. When everything goes right, loan closings can be completed in as little as 21 to 28 days, says Atlanta-based real estate agent Bruce Ailion. Currently, Ellie Mae reports that the average closing time for home loans is 44 days.

    “Factors like the type of home loan or last-minute changes and requests will affect the amount of time it takes before a house becomes yours. But typically, a lender can close on a mortgage in about a month,” states Andrina Valdes, the division president at Cornerstone Home Lending, Inc. in San Antonio, TX.

     However, not everything always goes according to plan. Issues can arise that can keep you from settling into your new place for weeks and sometimes months longer than you expected. Here are some of the most common snafus that can delay the mortgage closing process.

     

    1. Expensive purchases for your new home

    A word of advice: Don't make any pricey purchases with your credit card before closing on your house. "This could actually put buyers out of qualifying for their new home,” says Texas real estate agent Jeff Peterson.

    After an offer on a house is accepted, some people may be tempted to buy a new sofa, dining set, or another expensive piece of furniture. But real estate experts warn that this could be disastrous. Right before closing, the mortgage lender will pull the buyer’s credit to make sure nothing has changed. A big purchase will show up, which could become an issue, because it means that the buyer is taking on more debt.

    2. Death of the original homeowner

    If there has been a death associated with the desired property, the home may need to go through probate court first to authenticate the former owner's last will and testament. “If that's the case, your closing will be delayed, and there's not much you can do about it,” says Jim Lorio, a Florida real estate investor. In some states, probate can take anywhere from a few months to a few years.

    3. Homeowners association issues If the previous homeowner has outstanding homeowner association (HOA) fees or fines, this could cause delays. In some cases, you may be able to negotiate those fees with the seller; otherwise, you will be responsible for paying them.

    4. Verification issues

    In some instances, the borrower’s landlord, mortgage company, employer, or source of down payment may not be willing to provide verification in a timely manner. Their failure to move quickly can slow you down.

    5. Down payment issues

    There are times when the lender may require the home buyer to put more money down; this may take time, especially if the buyer lacks the extra funding.

    6. Lender may need additional information

    In some cases, additional info may be requested late in the process. Other times, the lender may lose a document that will need to be obtained again.

    7. Scheduling problems

    One party—whether the closing agent, attorney, title company representative, lender, buyer, or seller—may not be available to meet on the closing day, which can push timelines back.

    8. Buyer delays

    If a buyer is self-employed, sometimes additional documents are required. If the buyer has multiple sources of income, this may need to be documented and verified as well. If the buyer is getting a down payment from an unconventional source or a gift, this could also slow down the process.

    9. Flood insurance requirement

    If your new home is in a flood zone, you may need to get flood insurance, which may require a benchmark survey. In some markets, this might take three weeks. Then, it must be reviewed by the mortgage underwriter—aka the person who approves your loan. Flood insurance, and even homeowner's insurance, can also sometimes be tough to get, depending on your past history with claims, credit, and location.

    10. Appraisal disparities

    Before a mortgage is ever approved, the bank must first appraise the home. If the appraisal comes in low, it may take some time to renegotiate the asking price of the home.

    11. Title issues

    In some cases, there may be a tax lien against the property that needs to be resolved first, in order to move forward with the closing process. Other times, the title may have the incorrect signature or attestation.

    12. Property damage

    If there is any type of damage to the property, the lender may require repairs prior to closing.

    13. Contract disagreements

    Sometimes the seller may not agree to the buyer’s contract requests (like agreeing to include the entire contents of the home in the deal). This can kill the transaction or require further negotiation between the agents and other parties involved.

    14. Foreclosure

    If a homeowner is in foreclosure, it can take up to 10 days to get a payoff from the mortgage company, which often includes legal fees.

  • 11 Reasons Why Your Home Isn’t Selling

    When you first put your house on the market, you might be hopeful for a quick sale—especially if you’ve put a lot of money into improving the house over the years and if the neighborhood is one that has historically attracted a lot of buyers. While you shouldn’t panic if the house doesn’t sell the moment you list it, you should begin to worry if the months start flying by without any real offers. If this is the case, here are 11 reasons why your house may not be selling.

    1. You overvalued your property. If your house is overpriced, it’s simply not going to sell. Compare your property to similar properties that recently sold within your area to get a better idea of its true value. An experienced real estate agent can give you an accurate value of your home. Additionally, don’t make the mistake of tacking on the cost of any renovations you made. You can’t just assume that the cost of a renovation translates to added value.
    1. Your listing is poor. If the listing of your home includes a poorly written description without any images, a lot of buyers are going to skip over it. Make sure you and your REALTOR® put an effort into creating a listing that attracts the attention of buyers. Make sure to add high quality photographs of both the interior and exterior of your home. Don’t forget to highlight unique features as well.
    1. You’re always present at showings. Let your agent handle your showings. Buyers don’t want to have the seller lurking over their shoulder during showings, especially during an open house. This puts unwanted pressure on the buyer, which will make them uncomfortable and likely chase them away.
    1. You’re too attached. If you refuse to negotiate even a penny off your price, then there’s a good chance that you’ve become too attached to your home. If a part of you doesn’t want to sell it, or you think your house is the best house in the world, odds are you’re going to have a lot of difficulties coming to an agreement with a potential buyer.
    1. You haven’t had your home professionally cleaned. A dirty house is going to leave a bad impression on buyers. Make sure you have a professional clean your carpeting and windows before you begin showing your house.
    1. You haven’t staged your home. If you’ve already moved out, then don’t show an empty house. This makes it difficult for buyers to imagine living in it. Stage your house with furniture and decor to give buyers a better idea of how big every room is and how it can be used. You want the buyer to feel at home when they are taking the tour.
    1. You kept up all of your personal décor. Buyers are going to feel uncomfortable touring your house if you keep all of your family portraits up. Take down your personal décor so that buyers can have an easier time imagining themselves living there.
    1. Your home improvements are too personalized. You might think that the comic book mural you painted for your child’s room is absolutely incredible, but that doesn’t mean potential buyers will agree. If your home improvements are too personalized, it can scare off buyers who don’t want to pay for features they don’t want.
    1. Your home is too cluttered. Even if your home is clean, clutter can still be an issue. For example, maybe you simply have too much furniture in one of your rooms. This can make the house feel smaller than it is.
    1. Your home is in need of too many repairs. The more repairs that are needed, the less likely a buyer will want your house. Many buyers simply don’t want to deal with the cost or effort of doing repair work, even if it’s just a bunch of small repairs, such as tightening a handrail or replacing a broken tile.
    1. You chose the wrong real agent. In my opinion, choosing the right real estate is simply the most important decision you make in selling your home.  A good REALTOR® makes all the difference in selling your home within a reasonable time.

    All these things can be fixed once you realize your mistake; however, the longer your property stays on the market, the less likely it will sell at listing price. One of the best ways to avoid making these common mistakes is by working with a professional real estate agent.

  • Financial Resolutions That Can Help You Buy a Home in 2018

    If you want to buy a home this year, you may be in the midst of planning—or perhaps you're already well on your way. Purchasing a home is a process made up of many moving parts, including your finances, your overall goals, your planning ability and your current financial situation. That said, it’s the season for New Year’s resolutions, right? Start making some financial ones along with your other goals.

    To get you started, here are five financial resolutions that can help you reach your goal of buying a home in 2018:

    Make a Budget

    Just over 40 percent of Americans have a budget. Budgets are invaluable to prospective homeowners, though. Why? Well, you can see how much you spend per month—and you need to know that before deciding on what mortgage payment you can afford.

    Many people hazard a guess at their discretionary spending. You may think you spend $200 a month on dining out with friends, for example. But if you totaled it up, you may find that it comes out closer to $300.

    That’s important, because those who spend more than they earn, or squeak by financially every month, often do it because they underestimate what they’re paying. So, use a personal finance software like Mint or You Need a Budget and enter everything you purchase for at least a month.

    As you build your budget, divide it into categories determined by your monthly expenditures. You can tweak this going forward. Tally together what you need for necessities, like rent and utilities. Add together discretionary spending, like movies and eating out.

    How are you doing? If you’re within your earnings, great! If not, review your spending for how you can save. Can you eat out less? Maybe cut down on that second or third video streaming service? Brew your coffee at home?

    Save, Save and Save Again

    Purchasing a house costs money. If you’ve been diligently saving for the down payment, congratulations. If not, one of the most crucial things you can do to prepare for homeownership is saving for the down payment.

    Once you’ve got the down payment, continue to save, as you will need moving expenses and a cash cushion. As a rule of thumb, moving and establishing a household always costs more than you think. You may need new furniture or plumbing repairs, so be sure you have an emergency stash of cash.

    Establish a Clear Goal

    Like budgeting for your expenses, you also need to know your overall savings goal. It’s like creating a fund in the event of losing your job—you want a six-month cushion, at least. You will find it easier to save if you can visualize yourself reaching your final goal.

    Scope out starter homes in your area. Look at neighborhoods you’d like to live in with your family. Use an online mortgage calculator to figure out how much you’d be paying for the average starter home per month.

    Once you have a general sense of how much your mortgage would cost, as well as utilities, figure out how much you will need for a down payment. While six months’ worth of your salary is ideal, you can also aim for three months to start.

    Get Your Credit Score

    Most mortgage lenders will only approve mortgages for people with good to excellent credit scores. Good credit scores range from 690 - 720 and excellent credit scores range from 720 - 850. The average credit score in the United States is 679.

    Factors that determine your score include:

    • History of debt payment
    • Total amount of debt
    • Length of credit history
    • Number of credit sources

    Credit scores are relatively easy to obtain, whether from banks, financial software or one of the credit reporting companies, such as TransUnion. In fact, you’re entitled to a free credit score each year, or every 12 months from Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.

    Find out your score before applying for a mortgage.

    If you have a bad credit score, it’s unlikely a bank will approve your mortgage application. But, the great thing about getting your credit report is that you will find out what categories are pulling down the score. Knowledge is power—once you know, you can fix it. If your record of paying bills on time is poor, for example, try to take care of them the minute you get the bill. Your score will go up.

    If your score is average, see if you can increase it before you apply. Many lenders give preferential interest rates and other financial advantages to people with high credit scores, so you want the highest credit score you can get before applying.

    Pay Down Debt

    There are two main reasons you want to pay down debt as much as you can before purchasing a house.

    First, the less debt you have, the higher your credit score is likely to be. The higher your credit score, the more likely your lender is to give you preferential treatment, like a lower interest rate or fewer points and fees.

    Second, the less debt you have, the lower your money debt obligations are likely to be. Less debt can free up monthly cash that you can put toward your savings, home purchases or other expenses, instead of directing that money toward paying off interest fees.

    Ready to become a homeowner this year? With these five resolutions, you can make 2018 your year by boosting your savings and credit score, as well as becoming a go-to candidate for a mortgage with low-interest and fees.

  • 2018 Home Decor Trends: 6 Interior Design Ideas for Your Bedroom

    Your bedroom should be the coziest place in your home—a personal getaway where you can relax, re-energize and be yourself. There’s nothing better than coming home after a long day to a luxurious, comfortable space.

    We can expect some great bedroom design trends in 2018. With so many exciting, new ideas available, it’s the perfect time to re-evaluate your bedroom style and make sure you’re starting the year off in a space you love.

    Tips for Transforming a Bedroom Into Your Personal Oasis

    Before diving into the 2018 bedroom design trends, let’s take a moment and review some best practices for approaching a bedroom redesign or remodel.

    Whether you tackle the process yourself or work with a design build firm, there are a few things you should consider.

    • How many changes do you want to make? Does your ideal bedroom simply involve updating your paint color or duvet cover? Or do you envision a new walk-in closet or larger windows? Think about what you want and prioritize these changes from most to least important.
    • The size of your bedroom. Compare your new ideas with the size of your space. Think about what may or may not be possible and if there are opportunities to restructure the space to fit your vision.
    • Your budget. While you can’t know the exact cost of your redesign without first getting an estimate, it will be helpful to get a handle on how much you want and are able to spend.

    Thinking about the above three points is an excellent place to begin your bedroom remodeling plans. It will certainly help you identify which of the newest bedroom trends will be a good fit for your space.

    2018 Bedroom Design Trends You’ll Love

    Are you ready to dive into the bedroom design trends we expect to see in 2018? There are a range of exciting new ideas we’ll start to see in the bedroom and all throughout the home, but the following six trends are our personal favorites:

     Pantone recently released its color of the year. Any guesses on what it was?

    The winner was “Ultra Violet,” or more specifically, Pantone 18-3838. This bold shade is said to be invigorating yet cozy. It will set the tone for many of the color choices of 2018, including in the bedroom.

    Overall, moodier, jewel-tone colors will be popular. One aspect of this I’m most intrigued by is tone-on-tone jewel palettes. This trend features one main hue paired with another similarly graded tone within that scheme. For example, painting your trim work and walls the same color to create a cozy yet modern feeling that's incredibly interesting.

    If you’re not feeling quite bold enough to spring for a dark, jewel-tone hue, consider using a calmer cousin color. For example, lavender is a nice watered-down version of Ultra Violet and has a softer, more feminine feel.

    Brass Accent Pieces

    Pairing brass accent pieces with jewel tones is a current trend. Many people are moving away from brushed silver and are replacing it with warm and subtle brass pieces.

    There’s something unexpected about using brass in your bedroom; however, the brass tone is universal enough to be paired with a variety of colors and is especially beautiful alongside moodier palettes.

    Some of my favorite ways I’ve seen brass incorporated into the bedroom include:

    • Light fixtures
    • Door or dresser knobs
    • Bed frames

    Another design aesthetic that’s been catching fire is “Wabi-Sabi.” This is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection. Within design, this means incorporating more handmade and natural items into your space, allowing for an organic vibe.

    Here are some great ideas to help inspire the Wabi-Sabi aesthetic in your bedroom:

    • Use linens and humble materials. Try a linen duvet cover and leave the wrinkles. Remember, there’s beauty in imperfection! Choose materials that show their age, like wood, wool, clay, bamboo, leather and iron.
    • Showcase handmade items. This trend is a great opportunity to incorporate local artwork, handmade pottery or other handmade accent pieces.
    • Allow for natural, filtered light. Wabi-Sabi is against bright, harsh lighting. Instead, focus on incorporating soft, filtered light. For instance, gauzy window treatments can allow the perfect amount of soft lighting into your room.

    Creative Storage Pieces

     Your storage pieces no longer need to be just practical. Today, statement storage is a must. Showcase your beautiful storage pieces, anything from dressers and bookshelves to side tables and media consoles. These pieces can and should be creative and beautiful, and they add to your overall bedroom design.

    Mid-Century Everything

    Mid-century modern design has become popular over the last few years and will continue to be a go-to style for homeowners. Adding touches of this retro style is a great way to bring a trendy yet comfortable feeling into your space.

    Some of my favorite mid-century design ideas for the bedroom include:

    • Dressers or nightstands on perched brass legs
    • Mid-century accent colors, including navy, red and orange
    • Large, floor-to-ceiling windows
    • Dark hardwood flooring
    • A fireplace

    Bold Florals

     Floral prints have always been popular, but this year we’ll see them veer away from being incredibly feminine and more toward giving off an interesting, funky vibe. Think contrasting colors and casual, bohemian styling.

    There are many ways to incorporate this trend in your bedroom, whether through unique floral patterned chairs or cushions, or a cozy duvet cover. If you’re feeling especially wild, you can even add floral wallpaper to an accent wall.

    Bring Your Vision to Life

    In the midst of all these exciting new trends, remember that your bedroom should reflect your personality and be a place you enjoy spending time in. Whether you’re interested in completely remodeling your bedroom or just want to refresh the overall look and feel of your space on a budget, you can implement these 2018 trends and turn your bedroom into a space you love.

  • The Pet Owner’s Guide to Home Automation

    Many people know home automation provides benefits to humans. With connected devices such as smart thermostats, cameras, locks and light bulbs, people can now live in more comfort, safety, security and cost savings.

    But for the humans with furry or feathered friends, questions inevitably arise about home automation and pet safety. Will the smart home hurt the dog, cat, hamster or parakeet? Or will the connected devices give pets the same benefits they give humans?

    The truth lies in the second question. Home automation gadgets help your pets lead healthier, safer lives. To choose the best smart products for you and your pet, follow these guidelines:

    1. Start With a Hub

    While you could add a smart thermostat or camera to your home first, you might consider beginning with a hub. A home automation hub acts as the brain of your home, helping to integrate and manage as many or as few smart home devices as you choose. Amazon Alexa and Google Home provide voice-driven hubs, but Samsung and Apple also offer similar products. The key to choosing a home automation hub is to think about the products and services you already use, and then select the hub that works with those things.

    1. Prevent Pet Theft

    In recent years, "dog flipping" has become increasingly common. The practice entails stealing, buying or adopting a dog before selling the dog to the highest bidder. While most of the crimes occur outside the home, you shouldn't leave anything to chance. Protect your home and pup with a smart security system. If a stranger appears in your home's vicinity, the system will send a notification to your smartphone, ensuring your pet stays where you want them—at home, safe and secure.

    1. Keep Pets Comfortable

    Before programmable and smart thermostats, pet owners trusted fate. They set the temperature, headed to work and hoped their pet would stay cool or warm. Today, smart thermostats offer a much-improved scenario, adjusting as needed and allowing you control from the office if you forget to set it. By investing in one, you guarantee you come home to a happy pet, not an overheated or shivering one.

    1. Feed Pets on Time

    You want to feed your pet at the same time, every day, but let's face facts: life happens. A meeting runs late or you get stuck in traffic. Fortunately, your pet can still receive its favorite, healthy food on time with a smart pet feeder. You'll want to conduct some research to find the ideal one; each feeder comes with unique features, such as remote feeding capabilities or meal timers that prevent your pet from eating too quickly.

    1. Give Pets Smart Doors

    Dog and cat doors might have been irritants a few years ago, but the doors have gotten "smart." Now you can set timers, as well as allow automatic exit and entry. These smart pet doors can be lifesavers during the night or a long day at work, helping your pet stay healthy and comfortable. Plus, the doors sometimes reward you with another benefit—a tighter seal that keeps heating and cooling inside the home.

    Of course, the items listed here are merely the beginning of pet-friendly home automation. You could also look into smart cameras, smart doghouses, activity trackers and smart toys; however, start with the five tips detailed here. They will set you on the right foot with home automation and ensure home comfort and safety for you and your pet.

  • Smart Home Trends to Look for This Year

    From robots to voice assistants, this year is set to see a boom in smart home products. Earlier this month, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2018 concluded a record year with more than 1,000 speakers and close to 200,000 attendants over the course of four days. Held in Las Vegas, CES is one of the largest tech shows in the world, and, at this year's event, smart home products had a far greater presence than at any previous CES event.

    Here's our list for the top smart home trends to look out for in 2018, based on products presented at CES:

     Voice assistants

    All four of the trends on this list aren't new products or ideas by any means, but in 2018 you should expect to see interest in these tech trends really heat up. That goes for voice assistants. Some of the most popular tech products of last year were the Amazon Dot and Alexa. That's not exactly what we're talking about here—instead, look out for voice functionality to be incorporated into a wide range of products this year. From speakers to dishwashers, many existing smart home products will be adding Alexa, HomeKit and Google Assistant voice functionality.

     

    Smart mirrors

    The beauty category has the most wildly varying set of technologies currently being introduced to the market. From the Kerastase Hair Coach to Amazon's Echo Look, there were many different technologies brought to market in 2017 and we should expect to see even more advances this year. One of the most intriguing trends we've seen are smart mirrors; several were presented at CES, including the HiMirror Mini (pictured above) which analyzes your face and gives you a score based on how many wrinkles and blemishes you have. Other notable examples come from Simplehuman, and MAC, which has begun installing AR mirrors in their stores so people can try on makeup without actually "trying on makeup." It's a safe bet that 2018 will be an interesting year for smart beauty technology.

     

    Exercise equipment

    Peloton has been getting some serious competition lately in the smart home exercise equipment arena. The category has become more and more popular, and brands like Flexispot, with its exercise desk bike, could soon give the connected indoor bicycle company a run for its money. Flexispot's desk bike won a CES Innovation Award this year. Peloton, however, answered back at CES this month by unveiling the Peloton Tread ($3,995). The smart treadmill (pictured above) is similar to the company's bikes in that it includes an HD touchscreen for watching classes taught by instructors live from New York. And, at 32 inches, the treadmill's touchscreen is more than double the size of the bike's. Look out for more eyebrow-raising technology and price tags in the exercise equipment space this year.

     

    Smart appliances

    One of the more intriguing categories, but one that we likely won't see much movement in this year, are smart appliances. Like the name suggests, these are larger appliances—washer machines, refrigerators, etc.—that are integrating smart technology. There are already a handful of these appliances on the market that incorporate voice functionality or can be controlled remotely via an app; however, this is another smart home trend that you should wait and see with.

    One thing's for sure: There is a lot more smart home tech to look out for in 2018 than in previous years—some of it may be worth a purchase, but all of it will be interesting.

     

  • House Hunting? How Good Manners Can Help Get The Home You Want

    As most people know, the real estate market shifts between a buyers' or sellers' market, depending on supply and demand. However, regardless of which market we're currently in, buyer etiquette can help you get the home you want with the least amount of stress.

    It may sound odd to some, especially first-time homebuyers, but manners matter when it comes to the real estate transaction. I'm not talking about "Please" and "Thank you." So, what exactly does this mean?

     Buyer etiquette is not only about doing the things that are vital to helping sales go through but it's also about general manners like being on time for your viewing of a home, being prepared with your financial documents, and being responsive when requests for documents, signatures, or answers are needed from your real estate professionals.

    This isn't about lecturing buyers about minding their manners; rather, think of this as the inside tips to helping land the home you really want. For instance, sometimes, being late for a viewing of a listing could cause you to lose that particular home. In a really hot real estate market, if you're late or you don't show up for the listing, you might not get a second chance - the home could be sold.

    Another consideration is to be aware of how much time you need to view a home. If you try to see too many homes in one day, chances are you're not going to treat each home with the same respect. The first homes might get lots of attention by you in terms of time and what you notice. However, by the time you're on, say, 15th home of the day, you might be so tired that you blaze through it barely giving this last home the attention it deserves. You'll end up wasting your time and potentially making a poor choice because you were worn out when you viewed it. Instead, you may have to return to the last few homes you viewed that day. While it's often expected to return to a home you're very interested in, it's time-consuming to have to return to several homes simply because you weren't able to focus or pay attention in great detail.

    One of the most important etiquette tips is to make sure that you've been pre-approved and are a serious buyer, ready to take action should you find the right home. Shopping for homes is serious business. It's likely the largest monetary transaction you'll make; being financially and emotionally prepared is good etiquette and will help expedite the process.

    When viewing a home, if the sellers are present (sometimes this happens), don't share your likes or dislikes about the home with them. Be courteous and keep the conversation to a minimum with the sellers. You want to make sure you leave the negotiation process to your experienced real estate agent. If you have questions about the home, be sure to take good notes and consult with your agent. Your agent is the liaison for good reason. The agent is experienced and knows how to find out the information you need without undermining your bargaining position. Polite conversation with the sellers is appropriate if the opportunity occurs. And, if the house isn't right for you from the moment you set foot in it, at least give it a quick walk-through, just to be absolutely certain.

    Good manners when house hunting is about more than just having people like you. It could be the potential development of a successful real estate transaction. Good will during that process helps keep things moving along at a steady pace and possibly with a better outcome than if the sellers were selling to a buyer they really didn't like.

  • Solutions To Saving Money On Your Next Move

    Buying a house and moving in is gonna cost you. There's no way around it. Right? Well, actually, there may just be a way to make it not quite so painful. A willingness to negotiate and put in a little work plus a little inside info on special deals you can take advantage of can help you cut some costs. Here are eight ways to save money on your move and move in.

    1. Don't take it all with you

     Furniture you're no longer in love with or appliances like washers and dryers or the fridge you have in the garage can be a pain to move. You can potentially save money (and time and hassle) by including them in your home sale. First-time buyers or someone moving from out of state may appreciate your old stuff far more than you, and you don't have to pay to haul it to your next place.

    2. Leave the flat screen

    If you have a mounted flat screen TV that's at least a few years old, consider leaving it behind too. The cost of taking it down and repairing the wall behind it plus the care involved in moving it might not be worth it. Flat-screen technology is always improving while costs are coming down, so it's a good excuse to buy something bigger and better without spending a lot.

    3. Negotiate everything

    If you've been looking for a house or have bought one before, you're probably already aware of closing costs. But you might not be aware of how much you can negotiate with your lender.

    "Shop around before choosing a mortgage lender, but don't stop there," said Bankrate. "When you receive your good faith estimate of closing costs, or GFE, the negotiation hasn't ended." This itemized list of estimated closing costs includes lender's fees as well as items such as appraisal charges and title insurance premiums.

    "The lender or broker charges some fees, and third parties charge others. The first step is to find out which are loan origination fees and which are third-party fees. Don't guess. Ask the lender or broker."

    Bankrate advises that while "some items are non-negotiable: taxes, city and county stamps, recording fees, prorated interest and reserves," negotiating on others that can "be waived or reduced" can save you money."

    4. Barter for services

    Need a handyman and have appliances or furniture you're getting rid of? You just might be able to make a deal. Ask around for referrals and then introduce a barter system into the equation during your first conversation. You might be surprised what you can get for what you've already got.

    5. Move Smart

    Once you're out of college, or maybe out of your first post-college apartment, thinking about renting a U-Haul and moving yourself (or with a few good friends) seems less than desirable. But if you're willing to sweat a little (ok, a lot) you can save a bundle. Just remember two important things to entice and thank your friends: Pizza. And beer.

    If you don't want to do the whole thing on your own, think of ways you can save by doing a hybrid move:

    • Do the packing and unpacking yourself
    • Have everything on one floor. Stairs can add considerably to the cost of a move.
    • Pare down. Maybe you don't need to bring all that stuff with you. Selling it will earn you a few bucks and save you a few more.

    6. Consider moving and storage hybrid options

    A company like PODS or U-Pack might be a solution for you if you need self storage wrapped into your move. Essentially, the company drops off a mobile storage unit at your house and you pack it up yourself. They then pick it up and move it for you. You can tack on storage at the end if needed, making this a particularly good solution for those who have time between their move out and their move in. This type of move can cost up to 35 percent less than traditional movers, but keep in mind you will be doing the labor - just not the driving.

    7. Take advantage of special offers

    Move-in offers for cable, Internet, and phone service can save you a lot of money. But they often come with a catch that could cost you down the line. Look out for special limited-time offers - one-year or six-month specials that expire, leaving you with much higher rates after the introductory period.

    8. Don't rush the renos

    Chances are, after you move in, you're going to start receiving all kinds of junk mail asking if you want to refi, redo your lawn, and apply for 72 different credit cards. In what seems like an endless pile of junk mail will be some special offers for new homebuyers, but they might not arrive for a month or more. Look out for coupons from handymen, companies selling flooring and window coverings, home furnishing companies like Bed Bath and Beyond and World Market, and offers from landscapers with discounts for new clients. If you're planning to shop, renovate, or do some work on your interior or exterior, taking advantage of a few of these offers can help shave down the cost.

  • Three Percent Or 20 Percent - Which Is The Smarter Down Payment Strategy?

    The minimum down payment on an FHA loan is 3.5 percent, which makes it a popular choice among those who don't have the funds for a large down payment (and also those who don't meet the higher credit score requirements for other types of loans). And that's not even the lowest you can go. Loans like this one require only three percent down, and if you're a veteran or are buying a home in a rural area, you may be able to buy a home for nothing down. But should you go that low just because you can, or are you better off making a larger down payment? We're breaking it down.

    The case for 20 percent

    There are several advantages to putting down 20 percent when buying a home, like:

    • Since the bank will generally consider you a lower risk because you have "more skin in the game," you may be able to get a lower interest rate than you would with other types of loans—as long as you have the credit score to support it.
    • You'll have built-in equity as soon as you move in.

      You can avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI).

    • It's that last part that drives a number of people to strive for that 20 percent down payment since PMI can add several hundred dollars to a new homeowner's monthly payment, and it can be hard to get rid of it. "If you can put 20% down and avoid PMI, that is ideal, said certified financial planner Sophia Bera on Business Insider.

    The case for as little down as possible

    The biggest roadblock to homeownership for many people is coming up with the down payment, so minimizing that expense sounds great, right? "The good news is a first-time buyer can purchase a home for a little as three percent down - and even no money down in some cases," said U.S. News.

    But is that a smart move?

    "The less you put down, the higher the mortgage insurance is," Casey Fleming, author of "The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage" and a mortgage professional in the San Francisco Bay Area, told them. "With five percent down, the mortgage insurance is quite high."

    Yep, there's that pesky PMI again, which, for many first-time buyers, pushes their monthly payment to a level they're not comfortable with. Another bummer about PMI: "If you need to pay PMI, the size loan you can get will be slightly smaller, to allow for the bigger payment," they said.

    You may also have trouble qualifying for a loan even if you have a high enough credit score because you don't have enough cash reserves; if you are using all your savings for the down payment and the lender questions where the funds for your closing costs, taxes and insurance, and any needed repairs are coming from, you could have a problem.

    But, on the flip side, a smaller down payment will up your rate of return, said The Mortgage Reports. "Consider a home which appreciates at the national average of near five percent. Today, your home is worth $400,000. In a year, it's worth $420,000.

    Irrespective of your down payment, the home is worth twenty-thousand dollars more. That down payment affected your rate of return. With 20 percent down on the home - $80,000 - your rate of return is 25 percent. With three percent down on the home - $12,000 - your rate of return is 167 percent."

    Even when you add in the PMI and a higher interest rate, the equation comes out in favor of the lower down payment. "With three percent down, and making adjustments for rate and PMI, the rate of return on a low-down-payment loan is still 106 percent - much higher than if you made a large down payment. The less you put down, then, the larger your potential return on investment."

    The case for somewhere in between

    Finding that balance between down payment and savings is a challenge for many homebuyers, and the sweet spot will be different for everyone depending on their unique circumstances and financial situation. Most financial experts will say that saving and scrounging to get together 20 percent at the risk of depleted savings and zero emergency funds is a shaky strategy, at best.

    "If putting 20 percent down means that you use all of your savings, then don't do it! I would much rather see people put five percent down, wipe out all their other debt with cash, and still have three months of emergency savings versus putting 20 percent down on a house," said Bera.

    Especially when you consider all the added costs you may be facing once you buy: "yard work, home repairs, renovation costs, property taxes, insurance, etc. It's important to consider all of the costs and not just compare the monthly mortgage payment to your current rent amount," she said.

    Another thing to consider when evaluating how much you should put down is what would happen if you had an emergency. It's easy to lose sight of real-life issues that can arise when you are so driven to buy a home and focused on saving the money to get there.

    "A financial event can leave you wishing you had access to the money without selling," said The Mortgage Reports. "Say you lose a job for three months. An extra $20,000 would be a nice safety cushion. And, if you lose your source of income, you can't take home equity out via a cash-out refinance or home equity line of credit (HELOC). Lenders won't approve a new loan to someone between jobs. In short, the more you need to get at the money, the less access you have to it."

  • Financial Don'ts When Getting Ready To Buy A Home

    If you're in the process of buying a home, you've probably already met with a lender who advised you on what to do and what not to do during the escrow process. But if you're just getting ready to buy or plan on doing so in the near future, following a few financial tips can mean the difference between qualifying...and not, and also getting a decent rate. These are a few universal "don'ts" that will help you stay on track, even before you get a lender involved.

    Don't take out more credit

     If you're thinking you're going to buy a house in a matter of a few months, forget that new laptop on the Best Buy card, forget that new car, and forget that Old Navy card. Sure, it's only a $30 pair of pants. But, taking out more credit can harm your debt-to-income ratios, which can make you look like a credit risk. And that's not worth it, no matter how cute the pants are.

    Don't pay off all your current credit cards

    Your lender will tell you specifically what you should pay down and what you should leave alone, but banks tend to like responsible credit management. In some cases, that may mean carrying a small balance on one or more cards.

    Don't charge up all your cards to the limit

    "Responsible credit management" does not mean running every available card up to the limit and/or only making minimum monthly payments. Banks will not look kindly on this when you go to get approved for a loan.

    Be careful with old debts

    You may think that in order to qualify for a mortgage or get the best possible rate you have to pull your credit and go back through every single entry to identify and take care of anything negative. You're right about the first part. Pulling your credit so you know what you're working with is critical, and financial experts recommend doing it annually, regardless of what you're planning (or not planning) to buy. But be careful with old debts. It doesn't hurt to ask a lender what should and should not be taken care of. But, in general, you'll want to:

    Pay in full instead of making settlement arrangements - It's not uncommon for debt collection companies to send out settlement offers that allow you to settle debts for less than the total amount. While this can sound tempting, it likely won't yield the results you're looking for. Yes, it'll stop the harassing phone calls and persistent letters. But if your goal is to get the debt to disappear from your credit report, you'll be disappointed.

     "When you settle your debt, the activity usually shows up on your credit report as ‘debt settled' or ‘partial payment' or ‘paid in settlement.' You can talk to the settlement company about the specific language they use, but the bottom line is: this is a red flag on your report," said clearpoint. "FICO doesn't reveal how much your score will drop, exactly, and your report doesn't indicate how much of the original debt was forgiven; it simply shows you settled. Either way, it still points to the fact that you may be a credit risk."

    Stick to newer debts - Older debts that are getting close to falling off your report should be the last thing you pay. "You also want to consider the statute of limitations on your debt," they said. "Most past debts remain on your credit report for seven years, so if you're close to the time frame when the debt falls off, settling it may not make much of a difference. There's an ethical argument to be made here, but practically, you might just be settling a debt that was about to disappear anyway."

    Be careful with debt consolidation

    If you have a lot of outstanding debt, are in over your head with credit cards and store cards, and can only manage the minimum monthly payment on all your existing loans, you're likely going to have a hard time qualifying for a mortgage. You may be tempted to lump your debt together into one payment through a credit consolidation company, but beware the consequences. There may be startup fees, interest rates on the consolidation loan could skyrocket after an initial teaser rate expires, and, in some cases, an improvement in credit is years away.

    Don't get lax with your payments

    Your lender will reinforce this, but it bears repeating that even after you've been prequalified, you need to keep your payments current on your car, your Visa, etc. Your lender will do a recheck before closing just to make sure nothing has changed in your credit report, and if you have new issues, it could impact your loan.

    Don't move money around

    "We know a story of one homebuyer who almost lost his home because he had stated on his application that the down payment was coming from a mutual fund account. Then, two days before closing, he decided to sell a baseball card collection instead," said HSH.com. "The loan had to be underwritten all over, his ownership of the collection, its value and its sale had to be verified, the closing was delayed and the fees increased."

    Don't change jobs before you buy your home

    This is a big no-no don't if you're in the process of buying a home or are about to. Among all the other financial information your lender will be collecting in consideration of your loan, they will also be asking about your employment history. You're obviously less likely to be approved if you're unemployed (unless you're independently wealthy, and, in that case, Congratulations!). A recent job change may also be problematic if the bank is feeling jumpy about your job security.

  • These Real Estate Trends Will Be Game-Changers in 2018

    We’re almost there: the long-awaited home stretch of 2017. And quite a year it's been! Already, we can’t help imagining what developments next year might bring to the wild world of U.S. real estate. So we asked our realtor.com® data team to give us the inside scoop. The team sifted through historical real-estate data and other major economic indicators to come up with a realistic forecast of just what might be in store next year.

    And it looks like a sea change is brewing.

    From housing inventory to price appreciation to generational and regional shifts, these are the top trends that will shape, and reshape, real estate markets in 2018. Buckle up! It's going to be quite a ride.

    Game-changer no. 1: Supply finally catching up with demand

    After three years of a crushing shortage of homes for sale, the realtor.com economics team is predicting that the shortfall will finally ease up in the second half of 2018.

    “The majority of the year should be challenging for most buyers, but we do expect growth in inventory starting in the fall,” says Danielle Hale, chief economist for realtor.com.

    That’s a potentially transformative development for many would-be buyers who've been frustrated in their search for a home that meets their needs—and their budget.

    “Once we start to see inventory turn around, there is plenty of demand in the market,” Hale says.

    Although for-sale housing inventory is expected to stay tight in the first quarter of the year,  reaching a 4% year-over-year decline in March, if it increases as predicted by fall, that will be the first net inventory gain since 2015. Markets such as BostonDetroit, and Nashville—all of which recently made it onto our monthly list of the nation's hottest real estate markets—may see inventory recover first.

    Bullish construction is the engine that’s turning this ship around, bringing new homes to the market and creating opportunity for people to trade up into new homes.

    “It’s adding inventory instead of just shuffling people around in existing homes,” Hale says.

    But those itching to buy a starter home may have to be patient for a while longer.

    “We expect the relief to start in the upper tiers, and it will make its way down to the lower tiers,” Hale says. Specifically, most of the initial inventory growth will be in the mid- and upper-tier price ranges, $350,000 and up.

    As the market eases, home prices are expected to slow to 3.2% growth year over year nationally. But again, it’s the higher-priced homes that will be appreciating less. And even slower appreciation still means that prices will continue to rise.

    “Overall, prices are expected to increase, and we’re expecting to see more of that in lower-priced homes,” Hale says. “It will get a bit worse before it gets better for buyers of starter and midprice homes.”

    Game-changer no. 2: Millennials starting to come into their own

    The housing market in 2018 will continue to present challenges for millennials—sorry, all of that student loan debt isn’t just going to disappear—but there are some bright spots on the horizon for these millions of Americans.

    Millennials seem to be having more success at taking out mortgages on homes at varying prices, and not just starter homes, Hale says.

    “They’re at that point where they’re seeing their incomes grow, and that will help them take on bigger mortgages,” she says. That’s because of both the overall strong economy and their own career development.

    And as the largest generation in U.S. history reaches that sweet spot in their 20s to 30s when they're settling down and starting families, they're particularly motivated to buy. Millennials could make up 43% of home buyers taking out a mortgage by the end of 2018, up from an estimated 40% in 2017, based on mortgage originations. That 3% uptick could translate into hundreds of thousands of additional new homes. As inventory starts to rebound in late 2018 and in years to come, first-time home buyers will likely make up an even larger share of the market.

    They probably shouldn't wait too long to buy, either—mortgage rates are expected to reach 5% by the end of 2018 due to stronger economic growth, inflationary pressure, and monetary policy normalization.

    Game-changer no. 3: Southern homes selling like crazy

    When it comes to home sales growth, bet on Southern cities to beat the national average in 2018. We’re especially looking at you, Tulsa, OKLittle Rock, ARDallas; and Charlotte, NC. Those markets are expected to see 6% growth or more, compared with 2.5% nationally.

    The South has been luring corporations and individuals to its balmy cities with its low costs of real estate, and living in general. The resulting strong economic growth and strong household growth, combined with an accommodating attitude toward builders, is setting the stage for an accelerating boom in homeownership, Hale says.

    As soon as there are more homes to sell, these places will be selling strong.

    Game-changer no. 4: Tax reform (maybe)

    The Republican Party’s proposed changes to the tax system could change everything—but with both the House and Senate versions in limbo, the jury is still out on this one.

    If a version of tax reform does pass with the current provisions affecting real estate, Hale says she would expect to see fewer home sales and declining home prices. However, it would be the upper price tiers that would likely be affected the most, in areas with expensive homes and high taxes, such as coastal cities, especially in California.

     

  • How to Remove Scratches From Hardwood Floors (With a Walnut)

    How to remove scratches from hardwood floors? It's a question that plagues just about all owners of these sought-after floors at some point. Moving furniture, fierce stilettos, dirty soccer cleats, and plenty more can mar this surface, and make your whole house look more than a little worn out and run-down. Still, one of the best things about scratches in hardwood floors is that they're easy to repair, especially compared with vinyl flooring or carpeting, says Brett Miller, vice president of education and certification for the National Wood Flooring Association.

    Here's how to remove scratches from hardwood floors with a walnut, Brillo pad, and other cool home hacks.

    How to remove light scratches from hardwood floors

    If you're lucky, light scratches will penetrate only the floor's finish, not the wood itself.

     “Surface scratches are caused by everyday use, grit on the bottom of shoes, or running a vacuum cleaner across the floor,” Miller says. “Anything that can run across the surface of the floor can cause scratches.”

    If you're in a rush, you can lick your finger and rub out the most minor surface scratches. If you're not into the spit-shine approach, you can cleanthe area with a dry cloth, then rub a fine, steel wool Brillo pad along the length of the scratch, with the grain, until the scratch disappears.

    How to remove deep scratches from hardwood floors (with a walnut)

    Deep scratches expose the raw wood, stripping away the wood’s color. To repair this damage, you’ll have to color the scratch with a wood stain marker you can buy at a hardware store. If you're the creative type, you can color in the scratch with graining pencils and artistically re-create the wood grain. (I've used a brown Sharpie to remove hardwood scratches.)

    Or, you can try the “walnut method,” Mother Nature’s own wood repair crayon that fills and colors minor scratches. Just make sure the walnut isn’t a darker color than the surrounding floor, or the repair will stand out. (Test it in an unobtrusive spot.)

    After the walnut trick, dab the repair with urethane finish. It’s best to use a urethane that matches the sheen (glossy or satin) of the rest of the floor. But don’t sweat the sheen if the scratch is itty bitty; no one will notice.

    How to remove gouges from hardwood floors

    If you take a chunk out of the floor, you’ll have to fill the divot with wood putty, then sand, stain, and finish with urethane, making sure it blends with the rest of the floor. It’s a big job, and one best left to hardwood floor pros, who will charge about $1.50 to $4 per square foot to refinish the floor.

    “I would never suggest a homeowner rent a sander and do this themselves,” says Miller. “It’s a professional job.”

    Still, for smaller scratches, the DIY approach works fine—which is one good reason to keep a walnut handy in your housecleaning supplies.

     

  • New Mortgages Allow Renters to Buy With Tiny Down Payments

    The down payment has been a big obstacle in recent years for renters looking to buy their first homes.

    A new mortgage offering aims to ease the burden.

    Home Partners of America, a rent-to-own company, is offering a new mortgage product to tenants that applies some of the appreciation in their home’s value during the time they have lived there toward reducing the down payment. In areas with even modest home-price appreciation, that could reduce the down payment requirement to almost nothing.

     To qualify, tenants must have paid their rent on time for two consecutive years and be considered first-time buyers, meaning they haven’t owned a home in the last three years.

    The program harkens back to the housing bubble, when millions of Americans received mortgages for homes they couldn’t afford with little or no down payment.

    Bill Young, co-founder and chief executive of Home Partners, said a critical distinction with his company’s program is that prospective buyers have been paying their monthly rent on the same home over a long period, demonstrating they can afford it and are committed to staying there.

    “Their skin in the game is they’ve proven they can pay their rent on time for 24 months,” Mr. Young said.

     Home Partners, which was started about five years ago and has purchased nearly 8,000 homes in more than 50 metropolitan areas, plans to offer the product to current tenants and those who sign a lease over the next two years, the duration of the pilot program. The company won’t make the loans itself, but is working with New Penn Financial, a Pennsylvania-based lender.

    The loans will be backed by mortgage company Fannie Mae, which recently has been experimenting with programs designed to ease credit for young buyers who are missing out on a recent surge in home prices because they haven’t saved enough for a down payment. Other pilots include a program under which Lennar Corp. will pay off a significant chunk of the student loan of a borrower who purchases a home from the Miami home builder. In another, buyers can receive up to $50,000 for a down payment if they agree to rent a room in their home on Airbnb.

    Rent-to-own companies have a poor reputation in the housing industry for taking nonrefundable deposits from tenants who clearly won’t ever be able to qualify for a mortgage or afford a home. Home Partners doesn’t take a nonrefundable deposit, so if the home’s value declines or they decide not to buy for any other reason renters can simply walk away.

     

  • How to Say Goodbye to Renting and Hello to Home Ownership

    Becoming a first-time homeowner takes a lot more than a desire to buy a house. It takes a lot of effort on your part to save up a down payment — which is usually a pretty good sized chunk of change — research neighborhoods, get pre-approved for a loan and other steps. Fortunately, it is quite possible to say goodbye to renting and hello to homeownership, especially when homeowners-to-be consider the following tips:

    Focus on the Down Payment

     In order to leave the land of rent, you are going to need a down payment — plain and simple. While it is common to put down 20 percent, some lenders now allow a much smaller amount, and first-time home buyer programs may go as low as 3 percent. While a smaller down payment may sound enticing, a 5 percent down payment on a $200K home is still $10,000 — not exactly a small sum. If saving money does not come naturally for you, don’t worry. With some relatively minor lifestyle changes you can speed up the down payment savings process. Come up with a savings plan to determine how much you need to set aside every week or month and then find ways to “find” that money in your budget. Using the $10,000 example from before, if you are determined to buy a home in two years, you’ll have to come up with about $415 a month to stash into your down payment account. Take a close look at your monthly bills and determine what you can pare down or eliminate — maybe you are paying $75 a month for a gym membership you rarely use, or you pay $40 extra for premium satellite channels that no one watches. These services can be cancelled and the money can go directly into your savings account. Eat out less, have Starbucks twice a week instead of every day and if you need to, consider a side hustle on the weekends to reach this magical monthly amount of $415.

    Avoid Identity Theft

    Unfortunately, the chances of becoming a victim of identity theft increase when you are buying and moving into a new home. The stacks of documents that are part of buying a home and that are filled with your personal information may accidentally fall into the wrong hands, and once you move, mail may not be routed correctly and thieves may steal your mail and your identity from your old mailbox. Prevent this situation from happening by purchasing an identity theft protection program; find a trusted companythat will help safeguard your personal data. In addition to letting you know when a bank pulls your credit report and asking if you have authorized this inquiry, certain services will monitor your financial activity and alert you if anything is amiss.

    Check Your Credit Report

    When you start the pre-approval process for a loan and then move on to the Big Kahuna of applying for an actual mortgage, your credit report will be pulled numerous times. Your credit score will then be used to determine if you are approved for a loan, and what type of interest rate you will get. Please do not wait until you have the down payment saved and you are champing at the bit to go look at houses to check your FICO score — check your credit as early in the process as you can. If you have a credit card that has been issued through your bank, give them a call and see if they can run your report for you for free; in the cases of some credit cards, they also offer a free monthly FICO score check. Read through the report and check for any errors; this includes credit lines you never opened and delinquent payments that you know were made on time. Dispute any mistakes that you find and look for ways to boost your credit score, like paying down credit card bills and setting up automatic bill pay so you are never late with your payments.

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