Archive for Home Buyers

8 Smart Home Technology Trends that Can Save You Money

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The ‘smart home’ is the new ‘internet of things’, or objects that can serve you better by communicating with each other or directly with you through apps on your smart phone. In the ideal version of the wired future, all of our appliances and gadgets talk to each other seamlessly.

What could living in a smart home look like? Picture something like this:

The lights in your bedroom slowly illuminate to quietly awaken you in the morning, replacing the typical blaring alarm. The aroma of fresh brewing coffee drifts in and stirs your senses. Once the lights are all the way up, the heating system kicks on, just in time to warm up your room so you’re not shocked once you crawl out from underneath the duvet.

When you step into the shower, it turns on automatically and remembers your preferred temperature and water pressure. And it will shut off right when you’re finished as it knows how long you take to bathe.

Once you’ve driven out of your garage, your home alarm system arms itself. And it will only unlock automatically when it “sees” and recognizes someone else from your family approaching through programmed in biometrics.

Do smart homes really work this way right now? Not exactly…while you may find some of these smart features in certain homes, we haven’t reached the point where every feature intuitively knows what you want and when you wanted. However, each year we’re getting closer and closer toward that shiny, idealized ‘Jetson’ future.

Here are some trends that we see for smart homes, many of which may also help you save money:

Smart Thermostats

Programmable thermostats that are synchronized with the clock have been around for decades. However, they’re often difficult to set and aren’t necessarily efficient; they simply turn on or off as programmed, whether or not you are there.

With the newer models, smart thermostats can be programmed to adjust the temperature when they sense you are present. And once you leave, they can kick back to standby mode so that you’re saving energy and money. Nest does all of this, and it also allows you to check your usage from your cell phone so that you can adjust the temperature remotely and save even more.

Smart Smoke Detectors

Having a working, effective smoke detector saves lives. But unfortunately, many of us still have those battery-run smoke detectors that make that annoying, piercing beep when their batteries are running low on power. And instead of replacing batteries right away, it’s often easier to pull them out and disable the detector (while risking our lives).

Many of the new smart smoke detectors, like the Birdi, monitor smoke, carbon dioxide, as well as air quality. With this new sensor technology, they know the difference between a real fire and burnt toast.

Smart Sprinkler Control

Weather in our area is predictably unpredictable. Often, especially during the summer months, we fall into a severe drought. But then we might have one season that brings extreme amounts of rain, like we did this past spring.

A smart sprinkler controller like Rachio Iro can not only help save you lots of money on your water bill but also help protect our precious resources.

Programmable by computer or smart phone, it can automatically adjust how often you water your lawn based on the season and the weather forecasts. You can also remotely adjust the settings through a mobile app.

Smart Solar Panels

You can put the sun to work for you by using solar technology to power your home. It’s green and renewable, and can save you money over the long term. A recent study conducted by the NC Clean Energy Technology Center determined that Austin customers who invested in a solar system saved an average of $66 per month during the first year that they owned the system.

With smart solar panels, you can program the technology to monitor their performance and even turn them off in case of a weather emergency or fire.

Smart Home Security Systems

Home monitoring has become much more sophisticated in recent years. With the old-style security systems, you had to call in contractors to wire your home with monitoring sensors.

With new smart technology, you can simply place a few smart devices in your home to monitor movement and sense whether doors and windows are closed or opened. Some systems include audio and video monitoring, as well as sirens to scare off intruders. You get real-time feedback on security breaches through an app. And, because you’re alerted as soon as the system senses an intruder, it’s more likely that they will be caught.

Canary is one popular all-in-one audio-video security system, complete with sirens and night vision.

Smart Locks

Go beyond the standard key locks, which can often be compromised by burglars. The new smart lock systems give you more control over those who can gain access to your home.

Some systems, like the Kwikset Kevo, include encrypted virtual keys that you can program for access for a limited amount of time—for example, allowing guests over for a weekend, or cleaning service in during a specific window of time.

Other door locking systems include biometric technology. The Ola smart lock allows you to program your lock to recognize your family member’s fingerprints. Other systems use facial recognition to greet you and unlock your door.

The new August smart lock integrates with Apple’s technology so you can ask Siri to open your door for you.

Smart lighting systems and light bulbs

A well-lit home feels warm and welcoming, and good lighting can instantly increase the value of your home.

However, annual lighting costs can account for up to 12% of your overall electric bill, or over $200 per year according to Energy Star. You can easily reduce this expense simply by using smart lighting technology to add efficiency.

The Philips Hue wifi-enabled lights make it easy to add to your home without installing specialized equipment. Smart lighting dimmers and sensors can give you more control over how much energy you use and allow you to turn them on and off through your smart phone.

New smart light bulbs can give you control over the warmth or coolness levels of your lighting. With the Lifx LED light bulbs, for example, you can program your light bulbs to turn on or off when you want, to slowly wake you up with increasing illumination, or to change from daytime work lighting to entertainment-friendly shades for parties.

Smart Appliances

Programmable slow cookers and coffee makers are the quaint, old-fashioned versions of these home conveniences. Newer, smart appliances give you more control over how your food is kept and prepared, and make it easier for you to complete pesky household chores.

  • Newer coffee makers, like the Smarter coffee machine, let you ‘order’ your coffee exactly to your liking, adjusting everything from bean grind to temperature to strength to time that it’s ready to drink.
  • Smart refrigeration technology can help you store your food at just the right temperature, adjusting the thermostat during peak usage times. For example, the LG THINQ fridgecan alert you via smart phone app if a door is accidentally left open.
  • Smart ovens can ensure that your food is cooked to the right level of done-ness, and alert you when your meal is ready to eat. June, a new counter oven invented by former Google, Apple, Go-Pro and Path employees will give you even more control—it will contain cameras, thermometers, and other technology to ‘learn’ what you like to eat and make menu suggestions.
  • Smart washers and dryers have customizable controls so that you can safely wash any type of fabric. Some units include controls to increase drying time to save energy. And soon, connected appliances from GE, Oster, Samsung, and other makers, will be able to re-order soap and fabric softener directly from Amazon, so you won’t even have to think about running to the store at the last minute.

Have you tested any of these technologies in your home? Did we miss any of your favorite home technologies? Let us know in the comments!

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Don’t Get Burned – Get a Home Inspection to Save Money on Your Next Purchase

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Don’t Get Burned – Get a Home Inspection to Save Money on Your Next PurchaseOkay, you made one of the most important decisions in your life: you’re buying a home! You found your ideal home. It’s in your desired neighborhood, close to everything you love, you dig its design and feel, and you’re ready to finalize the deal.

But, whoa … wait a minute! Buying a home isn’t like buying a toaster. If you discover something’s wrong with your new home, you can’t return it for a refund or an even exchange. You’re stuck with your buying decision. Purchasing a home is an important investment and should be treated as such. Therefore, before finalizing anything, your “ideal” home needs an inspection to protect you from throwing your hard-earned money into a money pit.

A home inspection is a professional visual examination of the home’s roof, plumbing, heating and cooling system, electrical systems, and foundation.

There are really two types of home of inspections. There is a general home inspection and a specialized inspection. Most general inspections cost between $267 and $370. The cost of the specialized inspection varies from type to type. If the inspector recommends a specialized inspection, take that advice because buying a home is the single most important investment you’ll make and you want extra assurance that you’re making a wise investment.

By having your prospective new home inspected, you can:

  • Negotiate with the home seller and get the home sale-ready at no cost to you
  • Prevent your insurance rates from rising
  • Opt-out of the purchase before you make a costly mistake
  • Save money in the short and long run

How Much Money Can a Home Inspection Save You?

A home inspection helps to find potential expenses beyond the sales price, which puts homebuyers in a powerful position for negotiation. If there are any issues discovered during the home inspection, buyers can stipulate that the sellers either repair them before closing or help cover the costs in some other way. If the sellers do not want to front the money to complete the repairs, buyers could negotiate a drop in the overall sales price of the home!

Perhaps even more importantly, a home inspection buys you peace of mind. Your first days and months in a new home will set the tone for your life there, and you don’t want to taint that time with worries about hidden problems and potential money pits.

To help you understand how much money a home inspection can save you, here are some numbers from HomeAdvisor to drive the point home … so to speak.

Roof – Roofing problems are one of the most common issues found by home inspections. Roof repair can range between $316 and $1046, but to replace a roof entirely can cost between $4,660 and $8,950.

Heating and Cooling – Ensuring the home’s heating and cooling system is working properly is very important. Your home inspector will make you aware of any problems with the existing system and let know you whether the system is past its prime and needs replacing. You don’t want to throw down $3,919 to replace an aged furnace. Nor do you want to spend $5,238 replacing an ill-working air conditioner. Replacing and repairing a water heater gets pricey too. Wouldn’t you rather use your savings for a vacation?

Electrical Systems – When thinking of the electrical system, no problem is better than even a small problem. Electrical problems might seem small, but they can blossom into thousand-dollar catastrophes. Make sure your home inspector examines the electric meter, wires, circuit breaker, switches, and the GCFI outlets and electrical outlets.

Foundation – If your home inspector sees that the house is sinking, that means water is seeping into the foundation; cracks in walls, sticking windows, and sagging floor also indicate foundational problems. The foundation is so important that if the general inspection report shows foundation problems, lenders will not lend money on the home until those issues are solved. Foundation repairs can reach as high as $5,880 to repair.

As you can see, a small investment of a few hundred dollars for a general home inspection can save you tons of money and future headaches. To save even more money, you might consider investing in a specialized home inspection as well. A specialized inspection gets down to the nitty-gritty of all the trouble spots the general home inspection might have located.

How Much Money Can a Specialized Inspection Save You?

A general home inspection can trigger a need for a specialized inspection because the general home inspector spotted something off about the roof, sewer system, the heating and cooling system, and the foundation. If humidity is high where you’re buying your home, a pest inspection is recommended. Usually, a pest inspection will check for mold as well as pests. Most homebuyers have a Radon test done to ensure air quality.

Roof – Roof specialists examine the chimney and the flashing surrounding it. They also look at the level of wear and tear of the roof. They can tell you how long the roof will last before a new one is needed. They’ll inspect the downspouts and gutters. The average cost of a roof inspection is about $223. Most roof inspections will cost between $121 and $324.

Sewer System – Making sure your sewer system has no problems should happen before the closing because what might look like a small problem can turn into a large problem in the future. If any issues pop up, you can negotiate with the seller about needed repairs or replacements before closing. Cost of inspection will vary; on the low side, it might cost you around $95, and on the high side, it might cost you $790. Compare these numbers to repairing a septic tank, which can cost, on average, $1,435 (though it could reach as high as $4,459), and you can see that the cost of an inspection is worth it when you catch the problem before you buy.

Heating and Cooling System – A HVAC specialist will check the ducts for blockage and for consistent maintenance of the unit. The repairs needed might be small or they might be big, but this small investment will save you headaches and lots of money down the road.

Foundation – A foundation specialist will pinpoint the exact problem with the foundation. The specialist will look at the grade or slope of the home. The ground should slope away from the home in all directions a half inch per foot. Most homeowners have spent between $1,763 and $5,880 to repair their foundation. And the average cost to re-slope a lawn is at $1,705. Most homeowners paid between $933 and $2,558 to re-slope their lawn.

Pest Inspection – Termites eat a home’s wood structure from inside out and can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage to your home. Other pests can turn your dream home into a nightmare. Depending on the humidity of where you live, you should a pest/termite inspection every two years or so. You can start with your potential new home. Most inspections are extensive and cost between $109 and $281. The good news is that most pest management company will guarantee the past inspection if bugs show up.

Radon Test – Radon is a naturally occurring invisible odorless gas that is the second leading cause of cancer. A radon test is a good test to have done as a good habit. The cost of radon test is low and its cost varies from state to state. Here’s more information about Radon.

Steps You Can Take to Save Money Using a Home Inspection

To help yourself save with a home inspection, you will need to:

Attend the inspection – Attending the inspection is important because it’s an opportunity for you to ask questions.

Check utilities – Checking utilities let’s know the energy efficiency of your potential home.

Hire a Qualified Home Inspector – We can recommend bona-fide home inspectors to you. You can compare our recommendation with all inspectors who belong to the American Society of Home Inspectors. While the decision of who you work with is always yours, we can educate you so that you make a wise homebuying decision.

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Should You Buy a New or Existing Home?

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should you buy a new or existing homeMaybe your dream home has the intricate details that you usually find only in older construction – wainscoting and crown molding in the interior, the front porch with a swing, an older tree shading the back yard, and the white picket fence.

Or maybe your dream home has all the conveniences of modern living – open floor plan in the living and dining spaces, large windows, connected, “smart” appliances and security systems, and minimalist design elements.

Whether you go for a brand new construction or an existing home, both types of properties have their pros and cons when it comes to purchasing. What type of home is right for you will depend on which factors are most important for your lifestyle.

Build your dream home with new construction

If you’re making a home purchase that’s still in the pre-construction phase, you may be able to customize many of the details. Many home builders will give you the option to add design elements that will give you the exact dream home you desire. If it’s a new subdivision, you may even be able to pick which lot you like best.

Very early in the building process, you may have more room to customize. For example, if the walls aren’t complete, you may be able to add extra outlets in each of the rooms or custom wiring for surround sound in the media room. Perhaps you could move the laundry room to the top floor instead of the basement. You might be able to get a separate mudroom entrance.

Later in the building process, you may be able to add marble countertops, an island, and custom cabinets in the kitchen. Your master bathroom could be upgraded with a steam shower, spa tub, and European fixtures. You will want to check with the builder to understand which features are included, and which ones are extra.

New homes save money with fewer repairs and more efficiency

Once your home is complete, all you’ll need to do is move in. New appliances will be under warranty for a few years if they need repairs, and will likely work well for several years without needing fixes. Often, new construction is under a builder’s warranty, so any repairs needed in the first year should be covered.

New homes often contain energy efficient and green appliances, like high-efficiency stoves, refrigerators, washing machines, heaters, or air conditioning units. These energy-saving appliances, along with good insulation and energy-efficient windows, will help you save money on monthly utility bills.

New homes also often use new building materials that require less maintenance — for example, using composite siding instead of wood, which doesn’t need annual repainting. You won’t need to spend as much to maintain your new home.

If you customized it during pre-construction, you won’t need to spend any money on renovations or upgrades for several more years. You can just enjoy it and not worry about saving for major home repairs.

What you need to do to make a good new home purchase

Before you put in your offer, do some research on the builder. Do they have a good reputation? What else have they built? Did their other new properties have issues such as poor construction or unfinished details?

You like the model home, but will you like where it’s situated? After you look at the home itself, come back to the neighborhood to see what it’s like at different times of the day. Walk around during the day and in the evening, and see how you like the area.

Brand new communities usually attract similar types of buyers—urban professionals, couples, or young families, for example. These will be your neighbors, so you’ll want to make sure that you want to be part of this new, homogeneous community.

You may also need to be flexible with your move-in date. Builders will only be able to let you move in if they can meet their construction schedule. If the wiring is delayed, the walls can’t be finished. And because there are so many construction tasks that are dependent on the completion of prior tasks, schedules tend to slip.

Get more variety and established neighborhoods with an existing home

Existing homes are those that have generally been built and lived in between the 1920’s and 1970’s. With existing homes, you will get more variety in home styles, as different types of construction have gone in and out of style throughout the decades. Within one neighborhood, you may be able to find a mix of different styles like Victorian, modern Tudor cottages, tract style, ranch or split-ranch, or contemporary homes.

Existing homes are situated in established neighborhoods, which may have more amenities nearby that a new home in a brand new subdivision may not have. Your new neighborhood may have restaurants, cafes, and boutiques within walking distance

You might also have access to more supermarkets, dry cleaners, discount stores, and gas stations nearby. An established neighborhood might have a nice park, running path, or playground for the kids to enjoy. You might also be closer to a library or the post office.

Resale homes can be a less expensive purchase

If you’re considering a resale home, you may be able to get into a beautiful, unique property at a lower purchase price than a new home.

There are many more resale homes available than there are new homes — according to the National Association of Homebuilders, about 10 times as many. With such a large pool to buy from, the market for resales can be more competitive. You may have more room to negotiate the  selling price of the home. With a brand-new construction, you won’t likely be able to have the same kind of negotiating power.

Before putting a home on the market, sellers often make home renovations or remodel parts of their homes to make them more attractive to buyers and to be able to potentially increase the list price. If the resale home has a brand new, modern kitchen, an updated bathroom, or even a new roof or upgraded windows, you could end up getting a home that’s comparable to new construction without having to pay the potential more expensive new-home list price.

Existing homes have already been inspected at least once on the last sale, so you will know about any potential structural problems or repairs that have been made on the home. Knowing the track record on your potential home will help you avoid purchase mistakes—you’re much less likely to end up with a property that has a rotting roof, dangerous electrical wiring, or a crumbling foundation. With a new home, you could end up with incomplete construction or major issues that you didn’t know about because they weren’t yet documented.

What you need to do to make a good resale purchase

Before you go too far down the road to a purchase, you can protect your purchase by first having the home inspected. A good home inspector will document all flaws, no matter how small they appear. If the inspector finds any major problems, like foundation cracks or leaky roofs, you may be able to counter offer and get the seller to either fix it or reduce the selling price.

Even if the inspection doesn’t uncover any major issues, you will need to expect the unexpected. Older homes will eventually need replacement appliances, a new air conditioning unit, or a plumbing repair. As long as you know that before you buy a resale home, you can plan for surprise repairs.

With an older home, you may want to eventually remodel parts of it. Will you be happy living in your house while you’re doing major work on the living room or the kitchen? If you know that it would disrupt your lifestyle too much, you may want to consider whether you really want to buy an older property.

Whether you choose to buy a new home or an existing home, the best way to get started is to speak with your trusted real estate professional. We will have access to both new properties and resale homes that may fit your goals, and will know which neighborhoods will serve your needs.

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Mortgage Pre-qualification versus Pre-approval

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Two often confused terms in the home buying process are a mortgage loan pre-qualification and a home loan pre-approval. Even some loan officers and real estate agents will use the terms incorrectly, so here’s what you really need to know about each one.

Pre-Qualification

A mortgage loan pre-qualification is simply an estimate of how much house you can afford and how much money a lender would be willing to loan you. The best time to get a pre-qualification is right at the beginning of your home buying process, before you even start looking at houses. This involves either sitting down with a lender or talking with one on the phone, and providing information on your income, assets, debts, and a potential down payment amount. The lender would then provide you with a ballpark figure in writing of how much he thinks you could afford to pay for a monthly mortgage. There is no cost involved and there is no commitment on either side. This estimate is just helpful in helping you figure out if buying a home is a viable option, and if so, what your price range would probably be.

Pre-approval

Getting pre-approved means that you have a tentative commitment from a specific lender for mortgage funding. In this case, you provide a home loan lender with actual documentation of your income, assets, and debts. This process typically requires an application fee as well, since the bank will run a credit check and work to verify all your employment and financial information. Once you are approved, the lender will give you a letter of commitment, stating how much money her bank is willing to loan you for a home purchase. With a pre-approval in hand you can start your shopping – real estate agents and sellers will take you much more seriously when they see you have your mortgage funding in place.

It is important to understand, however, that even a pre-approval is not a guarantee that you will be approved for a mortgage loan.  The funding will only be given when the property appraisal, title search, and other verifications check out on the home you have chosen to buy.  Neither is the pre-approval binding; you can still obtain a mortgage from a different lender. If you do stick with the same company that pre-approved you though, the application process will be much shorter once you find the right house.

*content provided by http://www.mortgage101.com/article/mortgage-pre-qualification-vs-pre-approval

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What you need to know about Home Inspections

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It is estimated that about 70 percent of all homes sold receive a home inspection. Make sure you use a “licensed” home inspector if possible but double check credentials, experience and adherence to standards. A home inspection service is for education of potential buyers so they can understand the physical condition of the home. Although some sellers will get a pre-listing inspection to point out items that need to be handled before the home goes on the market. We address seller preparation at the bottom of this post. Also five red flags of which you should aware.

Some items should always be examined.

Structure
The home’s “skeleton” should be able to stand up to weather, gravity, and the earth that surrounds it. Structural components include items such as the foundation and the framing.

Exterior
The inspector should look at sidewalks, driveways, steps, windows, doors, siding, trim, and surface drainage. They should also examine any attached porches, decks, and balconies.

Roofing
A good inspector will provide very important information about your roof, including its age, roof draining systems, buckled shingles, and loose gutters and downspouts. They should also inform you of the condition of any skylights and chimneys as well as the potential for pooling water.

Plumbing
They should thoroughly examine the water supply and drainage systems, water heating equipment, and fuel storage systems. Drainage pumps and sump pumps also fall under this category. Poor water pressure, banging pipes, rust spots, or corrosion can indicate larger problems.

Electrical
You should be informed of the condition of service entrance wires, service panels, breakers and fuses, and disconnects. Also take note of the number of outlets in each room.

Heating and air conditioning
The home’s vents, flues, and chimneys should be inspected. The inspector should be able to tell you the water heater’s age, its energy rating, and whether the size is adequate for the house. They should also describe and inspect all the central air and through-wall cooling equipment.

Interiors
Your inspector should take a close look at walls, ceilings and floors; steps, stairways, and railings; countertopsPreview and cabinets; and garage systems. These areas can reveal leaks, insect damage, rot, construction defects, and more.

Ventilation/insulation
Inspectors should check for adequate insulation and ventilation in the attic and in unfinished areas such as crawl spaces. Insulation should be appropriate for the climate. Without proper ventilation, excess moisture can lead to mold and water damage.

Fireplaces
They’re charming, but fireplaces can be dangerous if they’re not properly installed. Inspectors should examine the vent and flue, and describe solid fuel-burning appliances.

Five Red Flags

Tom Kraeutler of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated radio show on home improvement, points out some of the following home inspection red flags:

  1. Termites and pests: The sooner termites are detected, and steps can be taken to get rid of them, the better.
  2. Drainage issues: A home that has poor drainage can have wood rot and wet basements and crawlspaces, which can then lead to major mold growth.
  3. Mold: Pervasive mold growth may indicate an issue with improper ventilation issues and can also cause health issues to those living in the home.
  4. Faulty foundations: A cracked or crumbling foundation could be a very expensive repair.
  5. Wiring issues: Outdated wiring or overloaded circuits can pose a fire hazard.

Seller Preparation for Home Inspections

David R. Leopold, owner of Pillar to Post Home Inspection in Fairfield County, Conn., says home sellers and their real estate professionals have an important role in preparing for a home inspection to help ensure it goes smoothly. Leopold offers up some of the following tips in an article in RISMedia (April 16, 2013), including:

  1. Don’t hide what isn’t working: If an appliance isn’t working, leave a note that indicates what isn’t working and how you’re getting it fixed. Don’t try to conceal defects because it can make the inspector start to view you as dishonest and wonder what else you’re hiding.
  2. Make things accessible: Ensure the location of the attic and crawlspace are identified and easy to access. Don’t make a home inspector move your belongings in order to gain access.
  3. Check the lightbulbs: If a lightbulb isn’t working, the inspector will need to determine if the fixture is inoperable. Save them time by making sure all the lightbulbs in the home operate, including those in the crawlspace, attic, and furnace rooms.
  4. Note septic systems: If you have a septic system in the yard, be sure to leave a sketch that includes the location of it. It’ll avoid home inspectors, buyers, and real estate professionals having to conduct prolonged searches for it, Leopold says.
  5. Keep appliances clear: Don’t leave dirty laundry in the washing machine or dryer because the inspector will need to test the appliances, and he doesn’t want to have to pull out dirty clothes in front of everybody, Leopold says. “Also, make sure your oven and stovetop are clear and clean, so we can easily test them without setting off the smoke alarm,” he adds.
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Get Your Credit Score in Shape Before Buying a Home

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Get Your Credit Score in Shape Before Buying a HomeHow strong is your credit? Cleaning up your credit is essential before you make any major financial moves. Having a bad score can hurt your chances of being able to open a credit card, apply for a loan, purchase a car, or rent an apartment.

It is especially important to have clean credit before you try to buy a home. With a less-than-great score, you may not get preapproved for a mortgage. If you can’t get a mortgage, you may only be able to buy a home if you can make an all-cash offer.

Or if you do get preapproval, you might get a higher mortgage rate, which can be a huge added expense. For example, if you have a 30-year fixed rate mortgage of $100,000 and you get a 3.92% interest rate, the total cost of your mortgage will be $170,213. However, if your interest rate is 5.92%, you’ll have to spend $213,990 for the same mortgage  – that’s an extra $43,777 over the life of the loan! If you had secured the lower mortgage rate, you could use that additional money to fund a four-year college degree at a public university.

So now that you know how important it is to maintain a good credit score, how do you start cleaning up your credit? Here, we’ve collected our best tips for improving your score.

Talk to a loan professional

You can protect your score from more damage by getting a loan professional to check your credit score for you. A professional will be able to guide you to whether your score is in the ‘good’ range for home buying. Plus, every time that you request your own credit score, the credit companies record the inquiry, which can lower your score. Having a professional ask instead ensures that you only record one inquiry. Once you know your score, you can start taking action on cleaning up your credit.

Change your financial habits to boost your score

What if your score has been damaged by late payments or delinquent accounts? You can start repairing the damage quickly by taking charge of your debts. For example, your payment history makes up 35% of your score according to myFICO. If you begin to pay your bills in full before they are due, and make regular payments to owed debts, your score can improve within a few months.

Amounts owed are 30% of your FICO score. What matters in this instance is the percentage of credit that you’re currently using. For example, if you have a $5000 limit on one credit card, and you’re carrying a balance of $4500, that means 90% of your available credit is used up by that balance. You can improve your score by reducing that balance to free up some of your available credit.

Length of credit history counts for 15% of your FICO score. If you’re trying to reduce debt by eliminating your credit cards, shred the card but DO NOT close the account. Keep the old accounts open without using them to maintain your credit history and available credit.

Find and correct mistakes on your credit report

How common are credit report mistakes? Inaccuracies are rampant. In a 2012 study by the Federal Trade Commission, one in five people identified at least one error on their credit report. In their 2015 follow-up study, almost 70% thought that at least one piece of previously disputed information was still inaccurate.

Go through each section of your report systematically, and take notes about anything that needs to be corrected.

Your personal information

Start with the basics: often overlooked, one small incorrect personal detail like an incorrect address can accidently lower your score. So, before you look at any other part of your report, check all of these personal details:

  • Make sure your name, address, social security number and birthdate are current and correct.
  • Are your prior addresses correct? You’ll need to make sure that they’re right if you haven’t lived at your current address for very long.
  • Is your employment information up to date? Are the details of your past employers also right?
  • Is your marital status correct? Sometimes a former spouse will come up listed as your current spouse.

Your public records

This section will list things like lawsuits, tax liens, judgments, and bankruptcies. If you have any of these in your report, make sure that they are listed correctly and actually belong to you.

A bankruptcy filed by a spouse or ex-spouse should not be on your report if you didn’t file it. There shouldn’t be any lawsuits or judgments older than seven years, or that were entered after the statute of limitations, on your report.  Are there tax liens that you paid off that are still listed as unpaid, or that are more than seven years old? Those all need to go.

Your credit accounts

This section will list any records about your commingled accounts, credit cards, loans, and debts. As you read through this section, make sure that any debts are actually yours.

For example, if you find an outstanding balance for which your spouse is solely responsible, that should be removed from your report. Any debts due to identity theft should also be resolved. If there are accounts that you closed on your report, make sure they’re labeled as ‘closed by consumer’ so that it doesn’t look like the bank closed them.

Your inquiries

Are there any unusual inquiries into your credit listed in this section? An example might be a credit inquiry when you went for a test drive or were comparison shopping at a car dealer. These need to be scrubbed off your report.

Report the dispute to the credit agency

If there are major mistakes, you can take your dispute to the credit agencies. While you could send a letter, it can be much faster to get the ball rolling on resolving a mistake by submitting your report through the credit agency’s website. Experian, Transunion and Equifax all have step-by-step forms to submit reports online.

If you have old information on your report that should have been purged from your records already, such as a debt that has already been paid off or information that is more than 7 years old, you may need to go directly to the lender to resolve the dispute.

Follow up

You must follow up to make sure that any mistakes are scrubbed from your reports. Keep notes about who you speak to and on which dates you contacted them. Check back with all of the credit reporting companies to make sure that your information has been updated. Since all three companies share data with each other, any mistakes should be corrected on all three reports.

If your disputes are still not corrected, you may have to also follow up with the institution that reported the incident in the first place, or a third-party collections agency that is handling it. Then check again with the credit reporting companies to see if your reports have been updated.

If you can keep on top of your credit reports on a regular basis, you won’t have to deal with the headaches of fixing reporting mistakes. You are entitled to a free annual credit report review to make sure all is well with your score. If you make your annual credit review part of your financial fitness routine, you’ll be able to better protect your buying power and potentially save thousands of dollars each year.

How to clean up your credit now

Does your credit score need a boost so you can buy a home? Get in touch with me. I can connect you with the right lending professionals to help you get the guidance you need.

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How to Buy a Home: 7 Tips and Tricks from Real Estate Insiders

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7 Tips and Tricks from Real Estate InsidersNo matter if you’re in a buyer’s or seller’s market, there are a few critical steps you can take to make a smarter purchase. Since buying a home is likely the biggest single investment you will ever make, being prepared will help you make a better purchase. Here are our best tips to buying a home.

Know your buying power

What is your buying power? It is the combination of your credit-worthiness and how much you can realistically pay for a home.

First, you need to understand the hidden costs of buying a home. You will need to save not only for the down payment of your home — which is typically between 10% – 20% of the offer price — but also for any additional transaction fees, such as transfer tax, PMI, title insurance, and legal fees.

Then you need to know what you can realistically afford each month to understand how much house you can buy. Your mortgage rate will depend on your creditworthiness — if you have a high credit score, your lender will likely approve you for a lower mortgage rate, which can save you thousands of dollars per year in interest.

How much of your budget should go to your monthly home costs? According to SmartAssets, you can use the 36% rule as a rough guideline. This means that your monthly obligation shouldn’t be more than 36% of your monthly gross income.

A loan professional can help you figure out how much house you can afford.

Fix your credit with the help of a loan professional

According to CreditKarma, a good credit score is usually 720 or above. You want to clean up your credit as soon as you can, and definitely before you go to a lender for a loan preapproval.

When you apply for your loan pre-approval, you don’t want to have anything to hide on your application. So don’t lower your credit score by doing anything that will originate more inquiries into your credit. For example, don’t open any new credit cards. Also, don’t omit any debts or loans when you apply. If the loan officer discovers them in the application process, they may deny you a pre-approval.

Get a loan professional to check your credit score for you. A professional can give you a clearer idea if your score is in the ‘good’ range, or if you need to do some credit cleanup before getting a mortgage preapproval.

Work with a knowledgeable buyer’s agent

Do you understand what kind of market you are buying into? Even within a city’s limits, there can be micro markets that are increasing or decreasing in value.

That’s why it’s important to hire a highly competent real estate agent who knows the specific market. You want to make sure that the professional who you’re working with really understands what the market is like and will help you find the home that you desire.

How can you tell if your agent knows the market? See if they can provide you with a buyer’s market analysis.

A buyer’s market analysis report outlines which neighborhoods are still up and coming — with potential for increased property value — versus those that have peaked with inflated home prices. Having this analysis at your fingertips will help you know if a home’s list price is above comparable properties so you don’t overpay for a home.

Don’t try to time the market…

Even in a hot market, there’s never a perfect time to buy a home. It can take a while to know exactly what you like, and you may have to look at 10 or more homes before you can recognize what suits your lifestyle best. While you’re shopping, take photos of your favorite properties and the details that you liked the best so that you can remember what you liked.

Another good reason to slow down the buying process: you might find a better deal if you do. Investigate expired listings. Expired listings may have gone off the market because they didn’t get any offers at the listed price, so you may be able to underbid the original listing price. It’s not likely worth your time to look at FSBO (for sale by owner) listings, though. Since they are not represented by a professional, they are often overpriced.

When you start shopping, have a one-hour initial consultation with your realtor. Give them every single detail that you know about your lifestyle, buying power, needs, wants and desires for your home. The more detail you can provide, the easier it will be for them to help you find your future home. Your agent may also know of exclusive listings not available to the general public.

… But make the offer as soon as you find the right home

If you love it, make the offer. Otherwise, that dream home may disappear faster than you think, especially if you’re buying in a hot market.

Your buying agent should contact the listing agent before you submit an offer so that they can decide what’s important to include in the offer. If you’re serious about it, you want to increase the chances that your offer is accepted.

Show that you’re serious about the purchase by creating a buyer’s offer packet. It should include your lender’s preapproval letter, a screenshot of your down payment money in your bank account, and comps that support the rationalization of the offer you are presenting.

Get a home inspection

Once you’re in the negotiation process, it’s essential that you get a third-party inspector to run a thorough home inspection. The inspector will be looking for major structural issues, including problems with the foundation, plumbing, and electrical systems. Your inspector should be extra picky, pointing out the most minor faults.

Make sure to have the inspection conducted before it is too late to back out of a deal. If there are any major structural issues, you may be able to make the seller repair them as a contingency to solidifying your offer. Minor issues that you can repair on your own may be points for negotiating a lower offer.

Protect your credit before you close

Don’t raise any red flags with your creditworthiness in the weeks before closing. Any one of these moves could mean that you’re denied the loan and the deal falls through — even if you’ve already been preapproved!

  • Keep your spending to a minimum and don’t make any major purchases before closing — that includes buying furniture, or a car, truck, or van, or any excessive charges on your credit card.
  • Keep your bank accounts stable. Don’t change banks, spend any of the money you have set aside for closing, or make any large deposits to your accounts without checking with your loan officer first.
  • Keep your employment situation stable — do not change jobs, quit your job, or become self-employed. Any sudden change in your income can have that preapproval offer rescinded.
  • Do not cosign a loan for anyone. It will open an inquiry into your credit and add to your debt, which could raise your mortgage rate and cost you thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.

Looking for a home in our area? Let us help you find the home of your dreams. We’re well versed in the our local real estate market, and we can provide you with a buyer’s market analysis to help you find the right neighborhood for you. Contact one of our trusted agents today.

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Contract Documentation

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Unlike other contracts that don’t involve making an offer to buy or lease real property, real estate forms are required to be in writing. Real property transfers or leases for more than a year must be written to be enforceable. Every state’s real estate law governing home sales requires purchase contracts and other real estate contract forms, such as easements, leases for rental property for longer than a year, or seller’s disclosure statement, to be in writing to be enforceable. Lot or land purchase contracts are subject to the Statute of Frauds, the law requiring written real estate contract forms in home sales and other land contract situations.

As a licensed Realtor, EMA Real Estate is required to belong to the local MLS board and take continuing education some of which covers the latest changes in real estate law and writing and accepting contracts. Here are some brief explanations about contract documentation.

  • Residential Sales Contract – often called an offer by your RealtorⓇ is a 8-15 page document that details the terms of the offer/sale and requires all parties to initial and sign off acknowledgement and agreement
  • Addendum– these are additional terms and agreements often added to a contract when a counter offer is made or in instances where an extension to the closing is required. Your RealtorⓇ usually handles the negotiation on the terms and creates the document.
  • Lead Base Paint Disclosure – the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992 was passed to protect families from exposure to lead from paint, soil and dust. This required HUD and EPA to required the disclosure be completed in every sales contract package for home built before 1978.
  • Appraisal – an analysis that is performed by a licensed professional to determine a current market price for your home. Lenders use this document as a guideline for mortgages.
  • Home Inspection – this is an inspection done by a certified professional who determines the condition of the home before you buy. They will provide the buyer or homeowner with a PDF version of an inspection report detailing any issues found with the home. Most Home Inspectors are not eligible to check or report on the structure or foundation of the home so check the inspector’s credentials before you hire if you need that service.

Don’t forget to check out our FAQ page for more in-depth information about buying a home.

 

 

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Tax Benefits for Homeowners

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5 Star GuaranteeWe all know the old adage about nothing being certain except death and taxes. However, on a more positive note, you can also be certain of tax benefits if, that is, you are a homeowner.

Purchasing a home can provide valuable tax savings to home buyers. Mortgage interest, property tax, and other payments associated with financing a home can apply to your tax deductions. They may decrease the amount of income tax you must pay to the federal government.

Another financial advantage to owning a home is that as you begin to pay off your mortgage
loan, you build equity in your property. In other words, the value of your home can increase as your total mortgage amount decreases over time.

Additional Advantages of Home Ownership
  • Scheduled Savings: When you are a homeowner, your monthly mortgage payments serve as a type of savings plan. Over time you will accumulate what lenders call “equity,” an ownership interest in your house that you may be able to borrow against or convert to cash by selling the house.
  • Stable Housing Costs: While rents typically increase year after year, the principal and interest portion of most mortgage payments remains unchanged for the entire repayment period. Because of the effect of inflation, you pay the same amount with ever “cheaper” dollars.
  • Increased Value: Houses typically increase in value over time. It’s not unusual for a house that sold fifteen years ago to be valued at much more than its selling price today. This increased value is as good as money in the bank to the homeowner.
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First Timer Steps

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Some great tips if you’re considering buying your first home.

When you’re a first-time home buyer eagerly anticipating getting into the market, there are several steps that you should take to help you decide whether you’re ready to take the plunge.

First, check the selling prices of comparable homes in your area. You can also do a quick search of actual MLS listings right here on our website.

Next, figure out what you can afford. Use our handy home affordability calculator below to help determine exactly what you can manage!

Affordability Calculator

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To get an idea of what you’ll pay in insurance, pick a property in the area where you want to live and make a call to a local insurance agent for an estimate. You won’t be obligated to get the insurance, but you’ll have a good idea of what you’ll pay if you buy. For and idea of what you’ll pay in taxes, Zillow publishes property-tax information for homes all over the country. Just remember that exemptions and the intricacies of local tax law can create differences between what a homeowner is currently paying and what you can expect to pay as a new homeowner.

Next, find out how much you’ll likely pay in closing costs. The upfront cost of settling on your home shouldn’t be overlooked. Closing costs include origination fees charged by the lender, title and settlement fees, taxes and prepaid items such as homeowners insurance or homeowners association fees. You can see what closing costs average in your state by looking at Bankrate.com’s annual closing cost survey.

Now, look at your budget and determine how a house fits into it. Fannie Mae recommends that buyers spend no more than 28% of their income on housing costs. Go much past 30%, and you risk becoming house poor.

Mortgage Calculator

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Finally, talk to us about the current real estate climate. We’ll give you the straight facts about where prices are now, and where we believe they’re headed.

When you’re ready, quickly and easily search for foreclosure properties here. You can also set up customized searches! We’re ready to help – just contact us and we’ll set up some private tours.

 

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