Preparing Your Home To Sell

One of the most important things about selling your home is to make it feel inviting to buyers. You want them to come in and feel welcome and want them to stay to look around. You can do this by making sure your home is clutter free, always remember less is more! Local Home Staging Resources will help you see what needs to be done to give you the maximum exposure you need to get your home sold!

With the help of professional advice, you may be able to:

• Obtain the best possible price for your home.
• Negotiate the most favorable terms.
• Secure a buyer in the shortest period of time.
• Relieve you of the stress and inconvenience that can occur when selling a home.

Curb Appeal

• First impressions go a long way
• Flowers, fresh bark dust
• Swept driveways & walkways
• Yard maintained

Interior

• De-clutter (less is more)
• Take down family photos (you want buyers looking at the home)
• Paint soft neutral colors (if needed)
• Make home light & bright (turn lights)
• Make sure curtains are open

Clean

• Carpets (if needed)
• Counters, Refrigerator, stove, ovens
• Empty garbage daily
• All Beds made
• Dirty clothes picked up and put away
• Dishes put away (do not leave dishes in sink)
• Remove pets (during showings if possible)

Article Source: realestate.columbian.com

5 THINGS YOU MUST DO BEFORE BUYING A HOME

1. IMPROVE YOUR CREDIT SCORE
A high credit score snags you the best deals. Below 660 or 680, you’re either going to have to pay sizable fees or a high down payment. 700-720 will get you a good deal and 750 and above will garner the best rates.
2. FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU CAN AFFORD
FHA loan – Your monthly payment can’t exceed 31% of your monthly income. Conventional home loan monthly payment should not exceed 28% of monthly income.
3. SAVE FOR DOWN PAYMENT, CLOSING COSTS
You’ll need to save between 3%-20% of the house price for a down payment.
4. BUILD A HEALTHY SAVINGS ACCOUNT
Your lender wants to know that you’re not living paycheck to paycheck.
5. GET PREAPPROVED FOR A MORTGAGE
This is the #1 thing you should have in order. How do you know what you can afford if you aren’t preapproved?

Article Source: bankrate.com

Going Green

Five money-saving green upgrades

Going green is great for the environment, but that’s not the only benefit. When you make green upgrades in your home, it can also lead to some major savings.

  1. Solar panels: The upfront cost is big, but the long-term savings are huge. Solar panels will cost several thousand dollars to install, but ongoing maintenance costs are very low, and a typical system could save you hundreds of dollars per year. You can even sell your surplus electricity.
  2. Wood furnace: Wood-burning furnaces are relatively inexpensive, and though the yearly savings aren’t as dramatic (about 10% on heating bills), it adds up over the long run.
  3. Insulation: There’s a good chance your insulation isn’t very efficient, especially in older homes. Look into installing floor, cavity, wall, and loft insulation to reduce your heating bills.
  4. Rain barrels: Rain barrels are extremely inexpensive, and provide gallons of free water to use when you wash your car or water your garden.
  5. Geothermal system: OK, so the price tag is scary at first. A geothermal system uses the earth’s temperature to heat and cool your home, but can cost $30,000 to install. But tax credits allow you to get a lot of that money back, and the energy savings average about $1,900 per year. If you plan to be in your home for a decade or two, it’s a great investment.

What affects Property Values?

Some the features that increase property values are obvious—like a remodeled bathroom, a modern kitchen, or a sought-after neighborhood. But here are a few features and circumstances you have not have realized can affect property values.

  1. The neighbors: Not every neighborhood or community has an HOA that can keep the neighbors from going overboard with decorations or neglecting to care for their home. Homes adjacent to crazy neighbors can potentially be undervalued.
  2. Trendy groceries and coffee: Recent statistics suggest that if your home is a short walk from popular grocery stores like Whole Foods or coffee chains like Starbucks, it can actually appreciate faster than the national average.
  3. Mature trees: A big beautiful tree in the front yard is enviable, and it’s not something that can be easily added to any home. Homes with mature trees tend to get a little boost in value.
  4. Parking: This isn’t too much of an issue if you live in the suburbs or in a rural area, but residents in dense cities can have real problems with parking, and homeowners might need to rent a spot just to guarantee a place to park each night. That’s why having guaranteed parking in urban areas will raise property values.
  5. The front entrance: First impressions matter to buyers—many will cross a home off their list within 10 seconds of stepping through the front door. An appealing front door, a friendly entryway, and a functioning doorbell are all necessities for getting top dollar.

HOUSE CARE CALENDAR:  A Seasonal Guide to Maintaining Your Home

From summer vacations to winter holidays, it seems each season offers the perfect excuse to put off our to-do list. But be careful, homeowners: neglecting your home’s maintenance could put your personal safety—and one of your largest financial investments—at serious risk.

In no time at all, small problems can lead to extensive and expensive repairs. And even if you avoid a catastrophe, those minor issues can still have a big impact. Properties that are not well maintained can lose 10 percent (or more) of their appraised value.1

The good news is, by dedicating a few hours each season to properly maintaining your home, you can ensure a safe living environment for you and your family … and actually increase the value of your home by one percent annually!1 You just need to know where and how to spend your time.

Use the following checklist as a guide to maintaining your home and lawn throughout the year. It’s applicable for all climates, so please share it with friends and family members who you think could benefit, no matter where their home is located.

 Spring

After a long, cold winter, many of us look forward to a fresh start in the spring. Wash away the winter grime, open the windows, and prepare your home for warmer weather and backyard barbecues.

Inside

  • Conduct Annual Spring Cleaning
    Be sure to tackle those areas that may have gone neglected—such as your blinds, baseboards and fan blades—as well as appliances, including your refrigerator, dishwasher, oven and range hood. Clear out clutter and clothes you no longer wear, and toss old and expired food and medications.
  • Shut Down Heating System
    Depending on the type of heating system you have, you may need to shut your system down when not in use. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for proper procedures.
  • Tune Up A/C
    If your home has central air conditioning, schedule an annual tune-up with your HVAC technician. If you have a portable or window unit, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper maintenance.2
  • Check Plumbing
    It’s a good idea to periodically check your plumbing to spot any leaks or maintenance issues. Look for evidence of leaks—such as water stains on the ceiling—and check for dripping faucets or running toilets that need to be addressed. Inspect your hot water heater for sediment build up. Check your sump pump (if you have one) to ensure it’s working properly.3
  • Inspect Smoke Alarm and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
    Check that your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are functioning properly. Batteries should be replaced every six months, so change them now and again in the fall. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to test your individual devices. And even properly functioning devices should be replaced at least every 10 years, or per the manufacturer’s recommendation.4 

Outside 

  • Inspect Perimeter of Home
    Walk around your house and look for any signs of damage or wear and tear that should be addressed. Are there cracks in the foundation? Peeling paint? Loose or missing roof shingles? Make a plan to make needed repairs yourself or hire a contractor.
  • Clean Home’s Exterior
    Wash windows and clean and replace screens if they were removed during the winter months. For the home’s facade, it’s generally advisable to use the gentlest method that is effective. A simple garden hose will work in most cases.5
  • Clean Gutters and Downspouts
    Gutters and downspouts should be cleaned at least twice a year. Neglected gutters can cause water damage to a home, so make sure yours are clean and free of debris. If your gutters have screens, you may be able to decrease the frequency of cleanings, but they should still be checked periodically.6 
  • Rake Leaves
    Gently rake your lawn to remove leaves and debris. Too many leaves can cause an excessive layer of thatch, which can damage the roots of your lawn. They can also harbor disease-causing organisms and insects.7 However, take care because overly vigorous raking can damage new grass shoots.
  • Seed or Sod Lawn
    If you have bare spots, spring is a good time to seed or lay new sod so you can enjoy a beautiful lawn throughout the remainder of the year. The peak summer heat can be too harsh for a new lawn. If you miss this window, early fall is another good time to plant.8
  • Apply a Pre-Emergent Herbicide
    While a healthy lawn is the best deterrent for weeds, some homeowners choose to use a pre-emergent herbicide in the spring to minimize weeds. When applied at the right time, it can be effective in preventing weeds from germinating. However, a pre-emergent herbicide will also prevent grass seeds from germinating, so only use it if you don’t plan to seed or sod in the spring.
  • Plant Flowers
    After a long winter, planting annuals and spring perennials is a great way to brighten up your garden. It’s also a good time to prune existing flowers and shrubs and remove and compost any dead plants.
  • Mulch Beds
    A layer of fresh mulch helps to suppress weeds, retain moisture and moderate soil temperature. However, be sure to strip away old mulch at least every three years to prevent excessive buildup.9
  • Fertilize Lawn
    Depending on your grass type, an application of fertilizer in the spring may help promote new leaf and root growth, keep your lawn healthy, and reduce weeds.10
  • Tune Up Lawn Mower
    Send your lawn mower out for a professional tune-up and to have the blades sharpened before the mowing season starts.11
  • Inspect Sprinkler System
    If you have a sprinkler system, check that it’s working properly and make repairs as needed
  • Check the Deck
    If you have a deck or patio, inspect it for signs of damage or deterioration that may have occurred over the winter. Then clean it thoroughly and apply a fresh coat of stain if needed.
  • Prepare Pool
    If you own a pool, warmer weather signals the start of pool season. Be sure to follow best practices for your particular pool to ensure proper maintenance and safety. 

Summer

Summer is generally the time to relax and enjoy your home, but a little time devoted to maintenance will help ensure it looks great and runs efficiently throughout the season.

Inside

  • Adjust Ceiling Fans
    Make sure they are set to run counter-clockwise in the summer to push air down and create a cooling breeze. Utilizing fans instead of your air conditioner, when possible, will help minimize your utility bills.
  • Clean A/C Filters
    Be sure to clean or replace your filters monthly, particularly if you’re running your air conditioner often.
  • Clear Dryer Vent
    Help cut down on summer utility bills by cleaning your laundry dryer vent at least once a year. Not only will it help cut down on drying times, a neglected dryer poses a serious fire hazard.
  • Check Weather Stripping
    If you’re running your air conditioner in the summer, you’ll want to keep the cold air inside and hot air outside. Check weather stripping around doors and windows to ensure a good seal.

Outside

  • Mow Lawn Regularly
    Your lawn will probably need regular mowing in the summer. Adjust your mower height to the highest setting, as taller grass helps shade the soil to prevent drought and weeds.
  • Water Early in the Morning
    Ensure your lawn and garden get plenty of water during the hot summer months. Experts generally recommend watering in the early morning to minimize evaporation, but be mindful of any watering restrictions in your area, which may limit the time and/or days you are allowed to water.
  • Weed Weekly
    To prevent weeds from taking over your garden and ruining your home’s valuable curb appeal, make a habit of pulling weeds at least once per week.
  • Exterminate Pests
    Remove any standing water and piles of leaves and debris. Inspect your lawn and perimeter of your home for signs of an invasion. If necessary, call a professional exterminator for assistance.

Fall

Fall ushers in another busy season of home maintenance as you prepare your home for the winter weather ahead.

Inside

  • Have Heater Serviced
    To ensure safety and efficiency, it’s a good idea to have your heating system serviced and inspected before you run it for the first time.
  • Shut Down A/C for the Winter
    If you have central air conditioning, you can have it serviced at the same time as your furnace. If you have a portable or window unit, ensure it’s properly sealed or remove it and store it for the winter.
  • Inspect Chimney
    Fire safety experts recommend that you have your chimney inspected annually and cleaned periodically. Complete this task before you start using your fireplace or furnace.
  • Seal Windows and Doors
    Check windows and doors for drafts and caulk or add weatherstripping where necessary.
  • Check Smoke Alarm and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
    If you checked your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the spring, they are due for another inspection. Batteries should be replaced every six months, so it’s time to replace them again. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to test your individual devices. And even properly functioning devices should be replaced at least every 10 years, or per the manufacturer’s recommendation.3

Outside

  • Plant Fall Flowers, Grass and Shrubs
    Fall is a great time to plant perennials, trees, shrubs, cool-season vegetables and bulbs that will bloom in the spring.12 It’s also a good time to reseed or sod your lawn.
  • Rake or Mow Leaves
    Once the leaves start falling, it’s time to pull out your rake. A thick layer of leaves left on your grass can lead to an unhealthy lawn. Or, rather than raking, use a mulching mower to create a natural fertilizer for your lawn.
  • Apply Fall Fertilizer
    If you choose not to use a mulching mower, a fall fertilizer is usually recommended. For best results, aerate your lawn before applying the fertilizer.13
  • Inspect Gutters and Roof
    Inspect your gutters and downspouts and make needed repairs. Check the roof for any broken or loose tiles. Remove fallen leaves and debris.
  • Shut Down Sprinkler System
    If you have a sprinkler system, drain any remaining water and shut it down to prevent damage from freezing temperatures over the winter.
  • Close Pool
    If you have a pool, it’s time to clean and close it up before the winter.

Winter

While it can be tempting to ignore home maintenance issues in the winter, snow and freezing temperatures can do major damage if left untreated. Follow these steps to ensure your house survives the winter months.

Inside 

  • Maintain Heating System
    Check and change filters on your heating system, per the manufacturer’s instructions. If you have a boiler, monitor the water level.
  • Tune Up Generator
    If you own a portable generator, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper maintenance. Make sure it’s working before you need it, and stock up on supplies like fuel, oil and filters. 
  • Prevent Frozen Pipes
    Make sure pipes are well insulated, and keep your heat set to a minimum of 55 degrees when you’re away. If pipes are prone to freezing, leave faucets dripping slightly overnight or when away from home. You may also want to open cabinet doors beneath sinks to let in heat.

Outside

  • Drain and Shut Off Outdoor Faucets
    Before the first freeze, drain and shut off outdoor faucets. Place an insulated cover over exposed faucets, and store hoses for the winter.
  • Remove Window Screens
    Removing screens from your windows allows more light in to brighten and warm your home during the dark, cold winter months. Snow can also get trapped between screens and windows, causing damage to window frames and sills.
  • Service Snowblower
    Don’t wait until the first snowstorm of the season to make sure your snowblower is in good working order. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for maintenance or have it serviced by a professional.
  • Stock Up on Ice Melt
    Keep plenty of ice melt, or rock salt, on hand in preparation for winter weather. Look for brands that will keep kids and pets safe without doing damage to your walkway or yard.
  • Watch Out for Ice Dams
    Ice dams are thick ridges of solid ice that can build up along the eaves of your house. They can do major damage to gutters, shingles and siding. Heated cables installed prior to the first winter storm can help.14
  • Check for Snow Buildup on Trees
    Snow can cause tree limbs to break, which can be especially dangerous if they are near your home. Use a broom to periodically remove excess snow.15

While this checklist should not be considered a complete list of your home’s maintenance needs, it can serve as a general seasonal guide. Systems, structures and fixtures will need to be repaired and replaced from time-to-time, as well. The good news is, the investment you make in maintaining your home now will pay off dividends over time.

Keep a record of all your maintenance, repairs and upgrades for future reference, along with receipts. Not only will it help jog your memory, it can make a big impact on buyers when it comes time to sell your home … and potentially result in a higher selling price.

Are you looking for help with home maintenance or repairs? We have an extensive network of trusted contractors and service providers and are happy to provide referrals! Call or email us, and we can connect you with one of our preferred vendors.

Sources:

  1. HouseLogic.com https://www.houselogic.com/organize-maintain/home-maintenance-tips/value-home-maintenance/
  2. Home Advisor  https://www.homeadvisor.com/r/servicing-your-air-conditioner/
  3. Keyes & Sons Plumbing and Heating http://keyes-plumbing.com/things-to-check-in-spring/
  4. Allstate Insurance Blog https://blog.allstate.com/test-smoke-detectors/
  5. Houzz https://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/17268616/list/how-to-wash-your-house
  6. Angie’s List https://www.angieslist.com/articles/why-gutter-cleaning-so-important.htm
  7. Angie’s List https://www.angieslist.com/articles/what-thatch-and-how-does-it-impact-my-lawn.htm
  8. HGTV http://www.hgtv.com/design/outdoor-design/landscaping-and-hardscaping/lawns/top-spring-lawn-care-tips-pictures
  9. This Old House https://www.thisoldhouse.com/more/may-mulching
  10. Lowes https://www.lowes.com/projects/lawn-and-garden/fertilize-your-lawn/project
  11. The New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/guides/realestate/home-maintenance-checklist
  12. Better Homes and Gardens Magazine https://www.bhg.com/gardening/yard/garden-care/what-to-plant-in-the-fall/
  13. The Spruce https://www.thespruce.com/late-fall-fertilizing-2152976
  14. This Old House https://www.thisoldhouse.com/how-to/how-to-get-rid-ice-dams14
  15. Houzz https://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/55572864/list/your-winter-home-maintenance-checklist

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The Home Buyer’s Guide to Getting Mortgage Ready

Don’t wait until you’re ready to move to start preparing financially to buy a home.

If you’re like the vast majority of home buyers, you will choose to finance your purchase with a mortgage loan. By preparing in advance, you can avoid the common delays and roadblocks many buyers face when applying for a mortgage.

The requirements to secure a mortgage may seem overwhelming, especially if you’re a first-time buyer. But we’ve outlined three simple steps to get you started on your path to homeownership.

Even if you’re a current homeowner, it’s a good idea to prepare in advance so you don’t encounter any surprises along the way. Lending requirements have become more rigorous in recent years, and changes to your credit history, debt levels, job type and other factors could impact your chances of approval.

It’s never too early to start preparing to buy a home. Follow these three steps to begin laying the foundation for your future home purchase today!

STEP 1: CHECK YOUR CREDIT SCORE

Your credit score is one of the first things a lender will check to see if you qualify for a loan. It’s a good idea to review your credit report and score yourself before you’re ready to apply for a mortgage. If you have a low score, you will need time to raise it. And sometimes fraudulent activity or erroneous information will appear on your report, which can take months to correct.

The credit score most lenders use is your FICO score, a weighted score developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation that takes into account your payment history (35%), amounts owed (30%), length of credit history (15%), new credit (10%), and credit mix (10%).1
Source: myFico.com

Base FICO scores range from 300 to 850. A higher FICO score will help you qualify for a lower mortgage interest rate, which will save you money.2

By federal law, you are entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and Transunion). Request your free credit report at https://www.annualcreditreport.com.

Minimum Score Requirements

To qualify for the lowest interest rates available, you will usually need a FICO score of 760 or higher. Most lenders require a score of at least 620 to qualify for a conventional mortgage.3

If your FICO score is less than 620, you may be able to qualify for a non-conventional mortgage. However, you should expect to pay higher interest rates and fees. For example, you may be able to secure an FHA loan (one issued by a private lender but insured by the Federal Housing Administration) with a credit score as low as 580 if you can make a 3.5 percent down payment. And FHA loans are available to applicants with credit scores as low as 500 with a 10 percent down payment.4

Increase Your Credit Score

There’s no quick fix for a low credit score, but the following steps will help you increase it over time.5

  1. Make Payments on Time

At 35 percent, your payment history accounts for the largest portion of your credit score. Therefore, it’s crucial to get caught up on any late payments and make all of your future payments on time.

If you have trouble remembering to pay your bills on time, set up payment reminders through your online banking platform, a free money management tool like Mint, or an app like BillMinder. 

  1. Avoid Applying for New Credit You Don’t Need

New accounts will lower your average account age, which could negatively impact your length of credit history. Also, each time you apply for credit, it can result in a small decrease in your credit score.

The exception to this rule? If you don’t have any credit cards—or any credit accounts at all—you should open an account to establish a credit history. Just be sure to use it responsibly and pay it off in full each month.

If you need to shop for a new credit account, for example, a car loan, be sure to complete your loan applications within a short period of time. FICO attempts to distinguish between a search for a single loan and applications to open several new lines of credit by the window of time during which inquiries occur.

  1. Pay Down Credit Cards

When you pay off your credit cards and other revolving credit, you lower your amounts owed, or credit utilization ratio (ratio of account balances to credit limits). Some experts recommend starting with your highest-interest debt and paying it off first. Others suggest paying off your lowest balance first and then rolling that payment into your next-lowest balance to create momentum.

Whichever method you choose, the first step is to make a list of all of your credit card balances and then start tackling them one by one. Make the minimum payments on all of your cards except one. Pay as much as possible on that card until it’s paid in full, then cross it off your list and move on to the next card.

Debt Interest Rate Total Payoff Minimum Payment
Credit Card 1 12.5% $460 $18.40
Credit Card 2 18.9% $1,012 $40.48
Credit Card 3 3.11% $6,300 $252
  1. Avoid Closing Old Accounts

Closing an old account will not remove it from your credit report. In fact, it can hurt your score, as it can raise your credit utilization ratio—since you’ll have less available credit—and decrease your average length of credit history.

Similarly, paying off a collection account will not remove it from your report. It remains on your credit report for seven years, however, the negative impact on your score will decrease over time.

  1. Correct Errors on Your Report

Mistakes or fraudulent activity can negatively impact your credit score. That’s why it’s a good idea to check your credit report at least once per year. The Federal Trade Commission has instructions on their website for disputing errors on your report.

While it may seem like a lot of effort to raise your credit score, your hard work will pay off in the long run. Not only will it help you qualify for a mortgage, a high credit score can help you secure a lower interest rate on car loans and credit cards, as well. You may even qualify for lower rates on insurance premiums.6

STEP 2: SAVE UP FOR A DOWN PAYMENT AND CLOSING COSTS

 The next step in preparing for your home purchase is to save up for a down payment and closing costs.

Down Payment

When you purchase a home, you typically pay for a portion of it in cash (down payment) and take out a loan to cover the remaining balance (mortgage).

Many first-time buyers wonder: How much do I need to save for a down payment? The answer is … it depends.

Generally speaking, the higher your down payment, the more money you will save on interest and fees. For example, you will qualify for a lower interest rate and avoid paying for mortgage insurance if your down payment is at least 20 percent of the property’s purchase price. But what if you can’t afford to put down 20 percent?

On a conventional loan, you will be required to purchase private mortgage insurance (PMI) if your down payment is less than 20 percent. PMI is insurance that compensates your lender if you default on your loan.7

PMI will cost you between 0.3 to 1.5 percent of the overall mortgage amount each year.8 So, on a $100,000 loan, you can expect to pay between $300 and $1500 per year for PMI until your mortgage balance falls below 80 percent of the appraised value.9 For a conventional mortgage with PMI, most lenders will accept a minimum down payment of five percent of the purchase price.7

If a five-percent down payment is still too high, an FHA-insured loan may be an option for you. Because they are guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration, FHA loans only require a 3.5 percent down payment if your credit score is 580 or higher.7

The downside of getting an FHA loan? You’ll be required to pay an upfront mortgage insurance premium (MIP) of 1.75 percent of the total loan amount, as well as an annual MIP of between 0.80 and 1.05 percent of your loan balance on a 30-year note. There are also certain limitations on the types of loans and properties that qualify.10

There are a variety of other government-sponsored programs created to assist home buyers, as well. For example, veterans and current members of the Armed Forces may qualify for a VA-backed loan requiring a $0 down payment.7 Consult a mortgage lender about what options are available to you.

TYPE MINIMUM DOWN ADDITIONAL FEES
Conventional Loan 20% Qualify for the best rates and no mortgage insurance required
Conventional Loan 5% Must purchase private mortgage insurance costing 0.3 – 1.5% of mortgage annually
FHA Loan 3.5% Upfront mortgage insurance premium of 1.75% of loan amount and annual fee of 0.8 – 1.05%

Current Homeowners

If you’re a current homeowner, you may have equity in your home that you can use toward your down payment on a new home. We can help you estimate your expected return after you sell your current home and pay back your existing mortgage. Contact us for a free evaluation!

Closing Costs

Closing costs should also be factored into your savings plan. These may include loan origination fees, discount points, appraisal fees, title searches, title insurance, surveys and other fees associated with the purchase of your home. Closing costs vary but typically range between two to five percent of the purchase price.11

If you don’t have the funds to pay these outright at closing, you can often add them to your mortgage balance and pay them over time. However, this means you’ll have a higher monthly payment and pay more over the long term because you’ll pay interest on the fees.

STEP 3: ESTIMATE YOUR HOME PURCHASING POWER

Once you have the required credit score, savings for a down payment and a list of all your outstanding debt obligations via your credit report, you can assess whether you are ready and able to purchase a home.

It’s important to have a sense of how much you can reasonably afford—and how much you’ll be able to borrow—to see if homeownership is within reach.

Your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is one of the main factors mortgage companies use to determine how much they are willing to lend you, and it can help you gauge whether or not your home purchasing goals are realistic given your current financial situation.

Your DTI ratio is essentially a comparison of your housing expenses and other debt versus your income. There are two different DTI ratios that lenders consider:

 

Front-End Ratio

Also called the housing ratio, this is the percentage of your income that would go toward housing expenses each month, including your mortgage payment, private mortgage insurance, property taxes, homeowner’s insurance and association dues.12

To calculate your front-end DTI ratio, a lender will add up your expected housing expenses and divide it by your gross monthly income (income before taxes). The maximum front-end DTI ratio for most mortgages is 28 percent. For an FHA-backed loan, this ratio must not exceed 31 percent.13

Back-End Ratio

The back-end ratio takes into account all of your monthly debt obligations: your expected housing expenses PLUS credit card bills, car payments, child support or alimony, student loans and any other debt that shows up on your credit report.12

To calculate your back-end ratio, a lender will tabulate your expected housing expenses and other monthly debt payments and divide it by your gross monthly income (income before taxes). The maximum back-end DTI ratio for most mortgages is 36 percent. For an FHA-backed loan, this ratio must not exceed 41 percent.13

 

Home Affordability Calculator

To get a sense of how much home you can afford, visit the National Association of Realtors’ free Home Affordability Calculator at https://www.realtor.com/mortgage/tools/affordability-calculator.

This handy tool will help you determine your home purchasing power depending on your location, annual income, monthly debt and down payment. It also offers a monthly mortgage breakdown that projects what you would pay each month in principal and interest, property taxes, and home insurance.

The Home Affordability Calculator defaults to a back-end DTI ratio of 36 percent. If the monthly cost estimate at that ratio is significantly higher than what you’re currently paying for housing, you need to consider whether or not you can make up the difference each month in your budget.

If not, you may want to lower your target purchase price to a more conservative DTI ratio. The tool enables you to scroll through higher and lower price points to see the impact on your monthly payments so you can identify your ideal price point.

(Note: This tool only provides an estimate of your purchasing power. You will need to secure pre-approval from a mortgage lender to know your true mortgage approval amount and monthly payment projections.)

Can I Afford to Buy My Dream Home?

Once you have a sense of your purchasing power, it’s time to find out which neighborhoods and types of homes you can afford. The best way to determine this is to contact a licensed real estate agent. We help homeowners like you every day and can send you a comprehensive list of homes within your budget that meet your specific needs.

If there are homes within your price range and target neighborhoods that meet your criteria—congratulations! It’s time to begin your home search.

f not, you may need to continue saving up for a larger down payment … or adjust your search parameters to find homes that do fit within your budget. We can help you determine the right course for you.

 START LAYING YOUR FOUNDATION TODAY

 It’s never too early to start preparing financially for a home purchase. These three steps will set you on the path toward homeownership … and a secure financial future!

And if you are ready to buy now but don’t have a perfect credit score or a big down payment, don’t get discouraged. There are resources and options available that might make it possible for you to buy a home sooner than you think. We can help.

Want to find out if you’re ready to buy a house? Give us a call! We’ll help you review your options, connect you with one of our trusted mortgage lenders, and help you determine the ideal time to begin your new home search.

The above references an opinion and is for informational purposes only.  It is not intended to be financial advice. Consult a financial professional for advice regarding your individual needs.

Sources:

  1. Quicken Loans Blog – https://www.quickenloans.com/blog/how-does-your-credit-score-affect-your-mortgage-eligibility
  2. myFICO – https://www.myfico.com/credit-education/credit-report-credit-score-articles/
  3. Bankrate – https://www.bankrate.com/mortgages/what-is-a-good-credit-score-to-buy-a-house/
  4. Bankrate – https://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/7-crucial-facts-about-fha-loans-1.aspx
  5. myFICO – https://www.myfico.com/credit-education/improve-your-credit-score/
  6. The Balance – https://www.thebalance.com/having-good-credit-score-960528
  7. Bankrate – https://www.bankrate.com/mortgages/how-much-is-a-down-payment-on-a-house/
  8. Bankrate – https://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/the-basics-of-private-mortgage-insurance-pmi.aspx
  9. Bankrate – https://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/removing-private-mortgage-insurance.aspx
  10. The Balance – https://www.thebalance.com/fha-home-loan-pitfalls-315673
  11. Investopedia – https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/closingcosts.asp
  12. Bankrate – https://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/why-debt-to-income-matters-in-mortgages-1.aspx
  13. The Lenders Network – https://thelendersnetwork.com/fha-debt-to-income-ratio/

Create an Emergency Evacuation Plan for your Pets

An evacuation plan is a necessity for every home, especially if you live in an area where fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding, and other disasters are a possibility. Many homeowners create evacuation plans for their homes and practice them with their kids, but far fewer have considered one for their pets. Take these steps to add your pets to your evacuation plan.

Assign pet evacuation to an adult. Everyone should know how to act during an evacuation, and that includes assigning one parent or adult to the pets. This allows the other parent and the children to focus on their part of the evacuation plan, so there’s no confusion during a high-stress moment when time is of the essence.

Keep evacuation maps and pet carriers readily accessible. If you need to evacuate, you should know exactly where every important item is. If you pets require carriers, keep them in a place that you can access easily.

Practice your plan. Include your pets in your home evacuation drills. It’ll help you see how they will respond and make changes to your plan if necessary. Getting your dog out of a window may not be as simple as you think!

20 Home Gadget Gift Ideas to Fit Any Budget

Looking for the perfect present for a loved one this holiday season? We’ve rounded up 20 of our favorite gift ideas. And since we work in real estate, we focused on items that add enjoyment, comfort and, in some cases, major value to your home.

From music lovers to home chefs, we’ve got something for everyone. And we’ve included a range of price points to suit any budget, from under $50 to major splurge … in case you’re feeling extra generous this year. We hope you find this list useful in identifying gifts your friends and family will love. And maybe some of these items will make your wish list this year, too!

Approximate Price Ranges
$ – under $50
$$ – $51 to $200
$$$ – $201 to $500
$$$$ – Splurge

LET IT SNOW

Heat things up this holiday season! Keep your loved ones cozy all winter with these gifts that add warmth and a touch of luxury.

Tabletop Fireplace – $
On cold nights, nothing beats the comfort and glow of a fire. Whether you’re looking to cozy up on the couch with a good book, or enjoy a relaxing night in the backyard with family and friends, a tabletop fireplace is an easy way to light up your evening. The Regal Flame Black Utopia Tabletop Fireplace can be used indoors or outdoors, no vent required. It runs on ethanol, which can be mixed with citronella to double as a mosquito repellent for outdoor use.

Towel Warmer – $$
Who wouldn’t love to wrap themselves in a warm towel when they step out of the shower on a cold morning? While heated towel racks are available in a variety of styles and price points, the Anzzi Glow 4-Bar Electric Towel Warmer in Polished Chrome is an entry level version that gets good reviews. Modern and elegant, this model plugs into a nearby outlet for easy installation and is made of rust-resistant stainless steel. Turn your daily shower into a spa-like experience!

Smart Thermostat – $$$
Now you can wake up to a warm house, even if you like it cool while you sleep. After using the Nest Learning Thermostat for a week, it will start to recognize your patterns and adjust the temperature automatically to your preferences. In its third-generation, Nest claims to pay for itself over time in energy savings. It uses sensors and your phone’s location to check if you’ve left the house, then sets itself to an Eco Temperature. And this smart-thermostat knows when you typically get home from work and can heat things up before you return. If your schedule changes, you can even adjust the temperature remotely from your smartphone.

Radiant Floor Heating – $$$$
Radiant heating has been a popular alternative in new construction to traditional forced-air heating systems. And new technology has made it easier and less expensive to retrofit existing homes with radiant heating. According to BobVila.com, “radiant floors are heated either with electric resistance cables or hot water flowing inside tubing” beneath the floor. It’s energy-efficient, effective, and doesn’t blow dust and allergens around the way forced-air systems do. Not only will you love stepping onto a heated floor on a cool morning, you’ll be adding value to your home, as this is an appealing upgrade to buyers when it comes time to sell.

ROCK AROUND THE TREE

It’s holiday music time! Music lovers are sure to appreciate these gifts guaranteed to enhance their listening experience throughout the home.

Showerhead Speaker – $
Whether you enjoy singing in the shower, or listening to your favorite podcast, the H2oVibe Rain Showerhead Jet with Wireless Bluetooth Speaker syncs with any bluetooth-enabled device so you can stream your favorite music or other audio directly into the shower. The waterproof speaker easily detaches from the showerhead so you can bring it with you from room to room while you get dressed. And the showerhead itself features jets with three times more spray power than the average showerhead, creating a spa-like experience.

Voice Controlled Smart Speaker – $$
Smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home not only stream music on demand via voice control, they can also serve as a central hub for numerous other smart-home devices. Now you can change the channel on your TV, make a phone call, turn on your lights, set your thermostat and lock your front door, all without lifting a finger.

High-End Wireless Speaker – $$$
If you prefer a premium speaker, the Sonos Play:3 is the mid-range option in the brand’s line of wireless speakers. It delivers rich and robust sound with a sleek design that can placed horizontally or vertically to fit almost any space. Sonos speakers sync with Amazon Echo and Alexa, which enable you to control the speaker with voice commands. And you can easily add additional speakers from the Sonos line for an enhanced, surround-sound experience.

Whole Home Audio System – $$$$
The sky’s the limit when it comes to whole-home audio systems, and for a premium sound system you can expect to make a significant investment. Companies like Yamaha offer a wide variety of components, all designed to work in conjunction to give you a customized whole-home audio and home theater system to suit your needs.

ADD SOME SIZZLE TO THE SEASON

Home chefs will love these gifts, perfect for holiday entertaining and home cooking all year long. Not only will they bring excitement to the recipient, everyone in the family will benefit from the delicious dishes these gifts are sure to inspire!

Bread Maker – $
Warm, fresh bread can make any meal feel special. With a bread machine like this one from Hamilton Beach, you can enjoy fresh rolls, pizza dough, cakes, jams, flatbreads and croissants with minimal effort. Plus, there’s a gluten-free setting, which makes this a perfect gift for anyone avoiding gluten in their diet.

Electric Smoker – $$
If you love to barbecue, the Char-Broil Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker gives you the tenderness and flavor of smoking meat, without the hassle. The integrated meat probe alerts you when the meat reaches a predetermined internal temperature, and when it’s done cooking the “warming” feature keeps your food hot until it’s ready to be served.

Smart Sous-Vide Machine – $$$
Sous vide is a method of cooking in which food is vacuum-sealed in a plastic pouch and then placed in a water bath to cook at a precise temperature. The new Mellow Smart Sous Vide Appliance hits the market this holiday season and promises to make sous vide as easy and foolproof as a slow cooker. Its built-in cooling system keeps your food cold until it’s ready to be cooked … so you can stick a piece of salmon in before you leave for work, choose the time you want it to be ready, and dinner will be done when you get home.

High-End Oven Range – $$$$
To really heat things up in the kitchen, any home chef would love a new high-end range, like this 36” Dual Fuel Range with Six Burners from Sub-Zero Wolf. With ten custom cooking modes—including one for proofing dough and one for dehydrating—and a temperature probe alert, this oven makes cooking almost foolproof. And the timeless stainless steel design will enhance the beauty of any kitchen. Investing in a high-end range not only adds enjoyment to meal preparation, it’s highly-desired by home buyers … something to consider if you plan to list your home within the next few years.

SPARKLE AND SHINE

Holiday lights aren’t the only way to make a home sparkle. These cleaning gadgets and appliances will keep your home clean and shiny all year long … and hopefully bring some joy to the cleaning process!

Portable Deep Carpet Cleaner – $
Anyone who has pets or young children will love the convenience of a cordless and portable spot cleaner like the BISSELL SpotLifter 2X Portable Deep Carpet Cleaner. Its cleaning brush agitates soiled spots while simultaneously sucking up debris. Use it to remove small spills and stains from carpet, furniture, rugs, drapes, car seats, and other upholstered items.

Robotic Vacuum Cleaner – $$
Robotic vacuum cleaners have been around for years, but new technology has made them more effective and lowered the cost significantly. The ECOVACS DEEBOT N79 Robotic Vacuum Cleaner provides a good mix of features and value. It offers several cleaning modes and moves easily from rugs to tile to carpet. You can also control it with your smartphone using the ECOVACS App.

Dishwasher – $$$
While a high-end dishwasher with all the bells and whistles can certainly be a good investment, there are some great values on the market for those with a more modest budget. For example, the Maytag Front Control Dishwasher gets consistently great reviews for its powerful motor that disintegrates bits of food to deliver sparkling clean dishes, even without rinsing. And its elegant exterior will upgrade the look of your kitchen … all without breaking the bank.

New Washer/Dryer – $$$$
If anything can make laundry exciting, it’s a new washer and dryer with smart-technology like the Kenmore Elite Smart Washer and Dryer. Now you can start a load of laundry remotely from your smartphone to time it with your arrival home. You can also customize washer and dryer cycles and receive an alert when a cycle is complete. And with the Express cycle, you can wash and dry a small load in 45 minutes, saving you time and energy.

KEEP THE GRINCH AWAY

Nothing is more important than the safety of you and your family. Protect your loved ones—and deter intruders—with gifts that keep you and your home safe and secure.

Smart Light Bulbs – $
The Philips Hue White Smart Bulb Starter Kit is a good entry-level investment in smart lighting technology. Now you can automate your lighting and control your lights from your smartphone using the Philips Hue App. Deter burglars by making it look like someone’s home when you turn your lights on remotely. And stay safer by never entering a dark house again. Plus, it has several options to enhance the look and ambiance of your home lighting.

Video Doorbell – $$
Watch over your home and greet visitors from your computer or smartphone with a video-enabled doorbell, like the Ring Video Doorbell 2. Adjustable motion sensors alert you when someone is approaching your door, and live video and audio allow you to see and talk to visitors without opening the door, even if you’re away from home. The best part is, they’ll never know you’re not home if you don’t tell them.

Smart Lock – $$$
Control and monitor your locks from anywhere with a smart lock like the August Smart Lock Pro + Connect. Now there’s no need to leave a key under the doormat or give a copy to the housekeeper. You can activate keyless access remotely, and even lock up when they leave, all from your computer or smartphone. And no more fumbling around for your keys in the dark. Similar to keyless entry for your car, Smart Lock Pro automatically unlocks your door when you approach.

Security System – $$$$
An in-home security system is still one of the best ways to protect your home and family from intruders and alert you to the presence of smoke or carbon monoxide. Some companies, like Vivint, can integrate your security system with video monitoring, a doorbell camera, smart locks, garage doors and even your thermostat. Prices vary depending on the options you select, and a monthly monitoring service is required, but a home security system can bring peace of mind knowing your family and home are protected.

WE’RE HERE TO HELP

As real estate professionals, we get to visit people’s homes every day and talk to buyers and sellers about their favorite features. So we have a unique insight into the elements that truly make a house special, bring joy to homeowners and add value to a home. Did we miss your favorite home-related gift? If so, we’d love to hear about it. Please share in the comments below!

If you do decide to “splurge” on a home upgrade, contact us for recommendations on the best options for your particular home. Buyer expectations and preferences vary depending on price point, style of home and neighborhood. We can run a comparative market analysis to find out how the upgrade you’re considering will impact the value of your home, before you make the investment.

Top 12 Apps for Homeowners and Renters

More than 77 percent of people own a smartphone.1 The average person checks their smartphone 46 times a day, with people under the age of 24 checking it an average of 74 times a day.1 We check it while we’re waiting in line and during our leisure time, whether we’re scrolling through social media, reading emails or getting up-to-date on the latest news.

Smartphones are not only a useful tool for communication. With the following apps, you can get organized (whether you plan to buy or sell), save money, learn about the homes in your neighborhood and get inspired for your next renovation project. If you’re like 81 percent of people, you have your smartphone with you during most of your waking hours; let it help you stay organized and make your life easier.3

Apps For Homeowners: Get Renovation Inspiration

These apps not only offer ideas for your next remodel or home décor project, some of them even give you a preview of what your home may look like once it’s finished.

 1.) Houzz (Free)
The Houzz app is the number one app for home design and it’s no wonder; the app gives you access to all the inspiration, blogs and design ideas from the Houzz site on your phone or tablet. The app features View in My Room 3D, which allows you to view products in your home before you buy. Just take a photo of the space and a 3D version of the product will appear. Browse products, save photos of designs you’d like to view later and connect with local professionals in your area. Whether you’re gathering ideas for your next renovation and décor project or you’re just browsing, the Houzz app will satisfy all your design needs.  (Android, iOS)

 2.) iHandy Carpenter ($1.99)
Make sure the photos, shelves, mirrors and other artwork you hang are even and aligned with this helpful app. It’s an all-in-one tool kit that features a plumb bob, surface level, bubble level bar, ruler and protractor. No need to purchase these tools separately; just hold your smartphone up to the wall and the app will take care of the rest.  (iOS, Android)

 3.) Color911 ($3.99)
If you’re thinking of changing the color scheme of your home or want to find the right shades for lamp shades, rugs or throw pillows to match your vintage sofa, the Color911 app provides pre-selected color palettes to match any color scheme. Take a photo of the room or the furniture and the app will create a custom palette full of complementary colors. Write notes about your palette and organize it all into folders to share with family, friends or your design professional. (iOS)

Bonus Apps for Homeowners:

AroundMe (Free)
Hungry and looking for a local hotspot? Meeting friends at a coffee shop nearby? Or just need to find the closest ATM? AroundMe allows you to search for the nearest restaurants, banks, gas stations, book a hotel or find a movie schedule close to where you live. Open the app and start learning more about your neighborhood. (iOS, Android, Windows)

 BrightNest (Free)
From keeping things clean to making them colorful, Brightnest, developed by Angie’s List, is loaded with suggestions on how to make your home a better place to live. With categories of customized tips (money-saving, cleaning, eco-friendly, healthy, cooking, and creative) there are plenty of great ways to pull inspiration from the app. BrightNest will help you tackle important home tasks with easy-to-follow instructions, a personal schedule and helpful reminders. (iOS, Android, Web)

Apps For Sellers: List & Sell Your Home Quickly
Are you a homeowner who is thinking of selling? If you’re preparing to sell, you know there are a lot of tasks to complete before putting your home on the market. These apps help you manage your to-dos so you can list and sell your home more efficiently with fewer distractions.

4.) Homesnap (Free)
Using the Homesnap app, you can snap a photo of any home, nationwide, to learn more about it. When you’re ready to sell, snap a few of the homes in your neighborhood to find out their valuation. This app isn’t perfect, which is why you should always consult with a local real estate agent. However, it can give you a general idea of the value of your home compared to others in the neighborhood. (iOS and Android devices)

 5.) Docusign (Free)
Use the DocuSign app to complete approvals and agreements in hours—not days—from anywhere and on any device. Quickly and securely access and sign any documents. The benefit to using the app (over your desktop computer) is you will receive push notifications when a document is waiting for your signature and you can view and organize all your docs on-the-go. Using the easily downloadable app, receive and sign documents for free. You can receive and sign documents for free, but will need a paid account to send documents; pricing starts at $10 a month. (iOS, Android, Windows, Web).

6.) Wunderlist (Free)
Designed for use on the Web and mobile devices, Wunderlist is a well-designed to-do list and task management program that makes it easy to create a list and add tasks, due dates and reminders. Organize your ideas or focus into separate lists or create tasks within one list. You can also email them with whomever you collaborate, such as a spouse or your real estate agent. (Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Web)

Bonus App for Sellers:

Real Estate Dictionary (Free)
Not sure what all those industry specific terms mean? Search thousands of words and phrases from real estate, mortgage, and financial dictionaries for clear, in-depth definitions. This is a handy app for anyone who’s buying or selling and wants to learn more about the process. (iOS, Android)

Apps For Renters: Get Ready to Buy
Not ready to buy a home just yet? These apps will help you get into the perfect rental while you save money, build a budget and get on track for homeownership.

7.) Mint (Free)
Do you know where your money goes each month? Manage your bills, budget and credit score all in one place. Mint is a free app that helps you view your complete financial picture and track your spending. We recommend this app to anyone, but it’s especially useful for renters who need to crack down on their spending in order to save for a down payment. Use Mint to look for areas you can cut spending in order to save a little extra each month. (iOS, Android)

8.) Acorns ($1 a month to start)
Acorns is modernizing the practice of saving loose change with their automated savings tool. The app rounds up your purchases on linked credit or debit cards, then sweeps the change into a computer-managed investment portfolio. Acorns is free for four years for college students and everyone else pays $1 a month until their account balance hits $5,000, then 0.25% of their account balance per year. This is a useful tool for those who have a hard time saving. (iOS, Android)

9.) Neighborhoods & Apartments
Built for the on-the-go apartment hunter, this app from Walk Score takes the hassle out of finding your next home or apartment and helps you live near the people and places you love. They collect listings from top rental listing sites and we like them because they share how walkable each address is, determined by access to public transit, things to do, bike trails, shorter commutes, etc. (iOS, Android)

Bonus Apps for Renters:

 Wally (Free)
Wally is a personal finance app that helps you compare your income to expenses, so you can understand where your money goes each month, and set and achieve goals. Wally lets you keep track of the details as you spend money: where, when, what, why, & how much. We love how simple it is to set a personalized savings target and scan receipts. (iOS, Android)

 Credit Karma (Free)
If you’re preparing to buy, boosting your credit score is likely a goal you’ve set. Credit Karma is a free app that allows you to safely monitor your score and receive updates on ways you can improve it over time. They provide financial calculators and educational articles to help you better understand what credit is all about. Check as often as you want, and it doesn’t hurt your score.  (iOS, Android, Web)

Apps for Buyers: Find the Perfect Home
When you’re ready to buy, there are several apps that can help you stay on top of the process. Whether you’re browsing online at different neighborhoods and homes and can’t seem to remember where all your saved data and information went or you want to save an important task or a neighborhood or listing clipped from the Web, these apps help you keep it all straight.

 10.) Dwellr (Free)
Dwellr is run by the U.S Census Bureau and provides demographic information about the neighborhoods you are considering moving to. You get a variety of education/school, real estate, transportation, and population statistics to give you an idea of what it would be like living there. If you want to get the feel of a potential neighborhood, then Dwellr may just be the app to help you find the best home.  (iOS, Android)

 11.) Evernote (Free for the Basic version, $34.99 per year for Plus and $69.99 per year for Premium)
Collect ideas, notes and images in one place to access later on your computer, tablet or smartphone. Categorize your notes so you can find them quickly and easily and share them with others in a group notebook. Add the Web Clipper feature to your browser and clip and save articles, blogs and images from the Web. Whether you’re collecting research on a business idea or you’re looking for inspiration for a home renovation, Evernote can help you keep it all together. (Web, iOS, Android)

 12.) Mortgage Calculator (Free)
There are a lot of free mortgage calculators available for download that will help you quickly determine what your monthly payment will be while you’re house hunting. We recommend picking your favorite and using it to help you shop in your price range. These numbers should be used as a guide, work with your agent and mortgage professional to learn exactly what type of loan you’ll qualify for. (Web, iOS, Android)

Bonus App for Buyers:

 Google Maps (Free)
Google Maps is a must-have for anyone who’s house hunting. When you’re ready to visit a property or check out a neighborhood, you can use Google Maps to give you turn by turn directions to the house. You can use their satellite view to get a good idea how far important things like schools, parks, shopping, bus stops, and restaurants are to a home you are interested in and check out the other houses on the street. (Web, Android, iOS,)

Ready to move beyond the app?
If you’re thinking of buying or selling your home, or know someone who is, keep us in mind because we’re happy to help!

Source:
1. Pew Research Center, January 12, 2017 http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/12/evolution-of-technology/
2. Deloitte, 2016 global mobile consumer survey: US edition https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/technology-media-and-telecommunications/articles/global-mobile-consumer-survey-us-edition.html
3. Gallup, July 9, 2015 http://www.gallup.com/poll/184046/smartphone-owners-check-phone-least-hourly.aspx