Tips for Choosing a Lender When Buying a House

Are you ready to buy your own home? That may sound like a bit of a weird question; however, many homebuyers are just not prepared when it comes to buying their first or a new home. On the surface, it may seem that taking out a mortgage is going to be easy. Often, the opposite is true. There are many people out there who are poorly prepared when it comes to taking out a loan. It’s essential to understand that getting ready to procure financing is a process, and an important one at that. Choosing an exceptional mortgage lender is crucial to making the home-buying process go smoothly. Remember, like any other industry, there are going to be those you immediately recognize as professionals and others you might have your doubts about. Make sure you don’t pick the latter. Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing a lender: Your Credit Score Matters The mortgage lending process starts way before you even step into the bank. You first need to make sure that your credit score is in great shape. That doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s better to be safe than sorry. Before you even begin looking around for your first home, you should check your credit score. Consider it good financial housekeeping to know your credit score. You can check it once a year for free with leading credit agencies such as Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Make sure your credit report is correct and doesn’t contain any errors. You should also have an understanding of the reasons a credit score can drop. All mortgage lenders will check your credit score to...

Tips for Avoiding Scams

Unfortunately, scammers continue to get more creative in their attempts to trick the general public into relinquishing funds and personal information for nefarious purposes. Here are some important best practices from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to help protect yourself next time you connect with an unknown caller, or come across a suspicious link online: Try to only answer the phone when you know who is calling. Our curiosity is piqued by those unknown phone numbers, and many times, they look just familiar enough, but don’t answer your phone unless you know who it is, says the BBB. Today’s scammers are very convincing once you do pick up, pretending to be anyone from your grandchild to a bill collector from your utility company, but think about this: anyone who genuinely needs to reach you (like a family member or someone to whom you actually owe money!) will leave a message. Don’t provide personal information without asking why. In today’s digital environment, we tend to give away our personal information online with ease. But always question if a site really needs your contact information, credit card information, or Social Security Number. In fact, before entering any information at all, make sure the site has ‘https’ in its URL, which signifies that it is secure. Don’t send payments via wire transfer or prepaid gift cards. The bottom line is, no legitimate business only accepts these payment methods, so when this request is made, you can be pretty confident it’s a scam. Wire transfers and prepaid gift cards are the quickest and most untraceable ways to send money, according to the BBB. If you can’t...

Do Your Homework: A Checklist for First-Time Buyers

By Barbara Pronin Buying your first home is exciting and rewarding, and a tribute to your financial planning. But since your home is likely to be your largest investment, you need to be sure when the keys are handed over that you’ve chosen the right house. Career homebuilder and consumer advocate Bob Vila advises first-time buyers to consider these issues before signing on the dotted line: Know what’s really important. Seeing a super-charming home can make it hard not to lead with your heart. Before you start shopping, have a clear idea as to what’s most important to you. Specific school district? A short drive to work? Garage big enough for a workshop? Take your time and try not to fall in love with a home that falls short of what you need. Check out the neighborhood. You want to love where you’re living as much as you love your house, so even if you think you’ve found the home you want, find out what you can about the neighborhood. Do the surrounding homes look neat and well-tended? How far are the nearest stores? You can even check with local law enforcement to learn about local crime rates. Know your DIY limits. Unless you can be your own handyman, be leery about a home that needs too much TLC. Paying others to bring the home up to your standards can put a big crimp in your budget. Consider all your costs. Besides knowing what your monthly mortgage payment will be, know how much you’ll be paying for property taxes, utilities and homeowners insurance. Once you’ve determined these costs, budget extra money for maintenance...

When Can You Negotiate the Price on a Home?

If you’re searching for a home to buy, you probably know by now that a lot goes into that all-important offer you make on the house you’ve finally decided is the one for you. Hopefully, you’ve connected with a professional, informed real estate agent who has great knowledge of the local market and has been able to advise you on the best offer to make, based on a comparative market analysis and other factors. But what about negotiating? Is it possible that sellers will accept less than what they’re looking for? In certain situations, you can negotiate the price of the home. Here are certain factors that make negotiating possible: You can buy the home with cash. If you’re coming to the table with an all-cash deal, that’s a very attractive option for most sellers, which means they’ll probably be willing to come down on the price. You’re not in a hurry. If you don’t have a house that needs to be sold before you buy a new one, or some other pressing situation that makes moving into the house time sensitive, you have the luxury of toying with price a bit. If the deal falls through, you won’t be left homeless. The sellers are under duress. Ask your agent if there are any particular reasons that the sellers might be under pressure to move things along, such as a divorce, a financial emergency or the need to quickly move elsewhere. You’ve been pre-approved for a mortgage. While this is more the rule than the exception in today’s market, if you’re pre-approved for a mortgage, it shows that you’re a credible buyer and,...

Becoming a Home Maintenance Pro: Tips for New Homeowners

By Dixie Somers Congratulations on your new home! You survived the paperwork. You got all of your belongings moved in and everything unpacked. You even got a lawnmower, some power tools and a massive tool chest. Now what? Many new homeowners don’t even think about home maintenance until something breaks, but that’s not the best way to take care of your new home. Here are three tips to help you protect your investment and keep your property in good shape for years to come: Create and Follow a Home Maintenance Schedule A good place to start is by following a home maintenance schedule. Just as your car needs to have an oil change and get its components checked and maintained regularly, your home and yard will need some regular maintenance, as well. If you bought new appliances, make sure you send in your warranties and keep all your owner’s manuals that came with them. If you bought an older home, the previous owners may have left those documents in a kitchen drawer for you to reference. Some of these appliances will have recommendations for repairs and maintenance. You’ll need to mow your lawn, trim your bushes and perhaps even top your trees from time to time. For pest control, you may need to spray or have ground treatment performed a few times per year, too. Don’t be afraid to do some research and speak with professionals about maintenance specific to your location. Have All of Your Home Systems Checked Regularly It’s important to get your electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems checked annually to keep them in good shape. Some of...

Living in the City vs. the Suburbs: Pros vs. Cons

By Wendy Dessler Depending on where you are in life, you might benefit more from living in the city as opposed to living in the suburbs, and vice versa. If you’re a young professional looking to be around the action, then you’ll likely want to live in the heart of the city. If you happen to be a young professional looking the start a family, living in the suburbs is probably more your speed. For example, if you’re currently living in Dallas but want to get out of the city, moving to apartments in Frisco, Texas, may be a great choice for you. Or if you currently live in New York City, but plan to start a family in the near future, buying a house in Westchester County would probably be a smart option. With that said, we’ll take a look at some of the pros and cons of suburban living and compare them to the pros and cons of living in the city. Again, picking the ideal place to live comes down to your personal wants and needs, so be sure to keep that in mind: The Pros of Living a Suburban Life For starters, living in suburbia is great if you plan to raise children, because the school systems are often better. Since you’ll likely pay higher property taxes in a suburban area, there’s more money available to pay for education. Suburban schools will often benefit from a bigger budget when compared to city schools. Next, living in the suburbs is typically calm and quiet. The noise levels are much lower than those in a big city. You’ll have less...

How to Find the Perfect Neighborhood

By David Hakimi Location, location, location. Half of buying a home is all about finding where you want to live. You might’ve found your dream house, but it’s not in your dream neighborhood. So, what should you be watching out for? Here’s how you can find the perfect neighborhood: Check It Out Online Ah—the internet. It provides an immense amount of information. It’s easy and entirely accessible for everyone, so you don’t have any excuses not to take advantage of it. Look up what everyone is saying about a neighborhood you’re interested in. Do people actually enjoy living there? What do they like and dislike about it? Google the crime statistics for the area; safety should be top of mind. You don’t want to get stuck in a neighborhood with a high break-in rate—take your safety and security seriously. At the same time, if you have kids, look up schools in the area. What are they rated? Most school systems have a rating scale based off mostly academics. Find out if they’re good options for your children. Scout It Out Literally. Do drive-bys, and do them at different times of the day. Get a feel for a certain neighborhood. Is there a soccer field or baseball diamond close by? You’ll want to know before it’s too late whether or not cars will be lined up on your street. Make sure you’re in the know. You don’t want things like that to come up as a surprise after you’ve moved in. Furthermore, check out the traffic patterns in the area. What’s that intersection near the home you’re interested in really like during rush hour?...

The Biggest Mistake New Homebuyers Make

As a first-time homebuyer, you’re dealing with a whole new world, with a lot to learn and a complicated set of rules to navigate. And no matter how prepared you are, there will undoubtedly be mishaps along the way. In fact, many new homebuyers often make one common mistake. As real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran recently told CNBC, the biggest mistake first-time homebuyers make is neglecting to save enough money for closing costs (a mistake Corcoran herself made when buying her first home). While you’ve worked hard to come up with the necessary down payment, forgetting to factor in closing costs can leave you short on funds when it comes time to seal the deal. How much do you need to factor in for closing costs? That depends on where you live and the type of loan you’ve chosen, so talk to your real estate agent. A good rule of thumb, however, is to anticipate adding on an additional 2 – 5 percent of the total cost of the home to the final price. What are closing costs? Fees due at closing cover a variety of costs, such as property taxes, homeowners insurance, prepaid loan interest and title insurance, as well as the inspection, application, attorney, appraisal and courier fee, as well as the fee for pulling your credit report. How can you prepare for closing costs? Your lender will provide an estimate of your closing fees with your Loan Estimate within three business days of receiving your loan application. Keep in mind that this is just an estimate; you will receive a revised Loan Estimate should your closing fees change along...

What Comes With the House? Negotiating Fixtures

By John Voket After receiving a piece of furniture as a last-minute gift from a friend who was selling and moving, the buyer became upset assuming they would inherit the item even though it had not been agreed upon. Something that should be assumed to come with the house is known as a ‘fixture.’ But what counts as a fixture is the basis for many real estate disputes, according to Elizabeth Weintraub at thealance.com – even when that feature or fixture is outside the building. Generally speaking, she says, a fixture is not required to exist inside the house. Landscaping, or any type of plant with roots firmly ensconced in the ground, is considered a fixture, Weintraub says. Connecticut REALTOR® Kathy Hamilton says determining what will stay with the home and what will go with the previous owner will vary by seller and contract. She first suggests checking the listing, however, because a seller may have already specified any such items included in their asking price. When it comes to any questions about which items will stay, Hamilton advises both sellers and buyers to know the “screwdriver rule.” For the most part, she says, if it takes a screwdriver to remove, it’s considered part of the home – this includes shelves, light fixtures and even curtain rods. But, if it’s hung on a nail, or is a piece of movable furniture – even a grand piano – it’s likely not included in the sale. Devon Thorsby at U.S. News & World Report says states have different standards regarding what things are included in a home sale, but light fixtures...

Beware Location Remorse: Over a Third Have ‘Neighborhood Regret’

By RISMedia Staff You can change a house—location is tougher. According to new research by Trulia, 36 percent of Americans have “neighborhood regret,” or would have moved to another neighborhood than the one they reside in today. The feeling is heightened in metros, where 46 percent are dissatisfied with their pick, but less pronounced in rural areas (31 percent) and the suburbs (30 percent) The portal surveyed 1,000 Americans in Austin, Chicago and San Francisco who moved in the past three years. What makes a neighborhood suitable? Forty-eight percent of those surveyed were motivated by the “vibe,” 37 percent were affected by crime rates, and another 37 percent were attracted to easier travel to work. Attributes that led to regret? Lack of public transit, noise and traffic. Is your neighborhood is a problem? For future moves, prepare through research. Look up neighborhood photos—something just 38 percent of those surveyed did—and plan a time to visit. Only 37 percent explored the neighborhood’s popular spots, and 47 percent did not go at night. Remember, as well, that your agent is an expert on the local market. Contact them for help with your move. Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2018. All rights...

How to Know If You’re Paying the Right Price for Your Home

In today’s real estate environment, where bidding wars are heating up in many markets, it can sometimes be tough to know if you’ve paid a fair price for the home you just bought. If you’re working with a real estate professional whose expertise and guidance you trust, chances are he or she has negotiated the best possible price for you. But here are some other ways to know if you’ve paid the right price: Consider the neighborhood. Location really is everything when it comes to a good real estate investment, so if you’ve bought a home in a great area, surrounded by homes of comparable or better condition, odds are you’ve made a good investment and your home’s value will appreciate over time. Your real estate agent should show you comparables of what other homes in your neighborhood sold for and are valued at. Pay attention to the inspection report. If the inspection report comes back with any issues that will require a major investment to repair, this should be reflected in the price you pay for the home. If the owner doesn’t take care of the repair, the price should come down accordingly. Use AVMs (automated valuation models) to get an idea of the value of your home and the neighborhood over time. Ask your real estate agent to recommend a couple they believe are most accurate. The AVM may reveal that while you feel you’re paying too much, the appreciation in a few years’ time makes the investment well worth it…or vice versa. Take your personal circumstances into account. Ultimately, what you pay for the home has everything to do with...

For Sale! Top Tips for First-Time Home Sellers

By Hannah Whittenly Selling a home can be very lucrative, but you need to make sure you don’t make any major mistakes. Many first-time sellers hit roadblocks that end up costing them time and money. Here are a few simple tips that will help you sell your home quickly and at the right price: Focus on Minor Upgrades Unless you have endless funds to spend on major renovation projects, you should stick to minor upgrades. A handful of inexpensive updates could potentially increase the value of your property by thousands. Some of the projects that you might want to consider include painting the walls, replacing old faucets and installing new light fixtures. You will also need to spend some time decluttering your home before any potential buyers come inside. Don’t Neglect Your Home’s Curb Appeal Some buyers might not even ask to see your home if it looks dingy or outdated from the street. Luckily, improving the curb appeal of a home doesn’t have to be an expensive or time-consuming process. In addition to mowing the lawn and trimming the bushes, you should also pick up any clutter in your front yard. Painting your front door is another simple way to improve the appearance of your home and make it more appealing to buyers. Be Ready to Make Sacrifices You’ll probably need to make at least a few sacrifices if you want the offers to start coming in. A buyer might ask for small favors like leaving a few of the appliances behind; carefully consider these. Making a few small concessions could result in an immediate bid. You might also have...

Smart Homes: The Way of the Future or a Risk to Homeowners?

Smart Homes: The Way of the Future or a Risk to Homeowners? By Liz Dominguez Glitches of early iterations aside, AI-based technology has come a long way, and has an increasingly active presence in the lives of homeowners who are looking for convenience and savings in a pushed-for-time era. From adaptive thermostats that automatically gauge energy usage and alter temperatures for optimal savings, to smart home speakers that use sophisticated artificial intelligence to provide services and information in real-time, a smart homeowner can now cross off a variety of menial tasks from their daily to-do list without doing more than speaking a phrase out loud or clicking a button on their mobile device. What is the true cost of this convenience? Some gadget adopters are reporting invasion of privacy, security risks, and more. For those who have not yet invested in smart home technology, these factors are largely holding them back; in fact, it is the second-biggest reason for hesitation for 17 percent of non-users, behind price (42 percent), according to a recently released report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), “Smart Home, Seamless Life: Unlocking a Culture of Convenience.” In addition, 56 percent of surveyed individuals stated they would choose encryption to protect their data when creating their own smart home. What are these misuses of technology that could lead to privacy or security risks? These are a few of the reported instances thus far: 1. Gadgets May Be Susceptible to Hacking Last August, Wired published a story about a British security researcher for MWR Labs, Mark Barnes, who was able to install malware on an Amazon Echo device, turning it into a...

The ABC’s of FHA Loans

By Barbara Pronin Like all mortgage loans, FHA loans require proof of steady income and employment as well as a minimum down payment. But they are attractive to consumers because they are government-backed, offering more attractive interest rates and less stringent qualification requirements. Beyond that, how much more can you share with your clients about FHA loans? Here are seven fast facts to help you brush up: Credit requirements – With a credit score of 580 or higher, a borrower can qualify for an FHA loan with a down payment as low as 3.5 percent. Those with scores between 500 and 579 need down payments of 10 percent. Under certain circumstances, such as insufficient credit history, exceptions may be made. Check with an FHA specialist. Down payment funds – In addition to using their own savings, borrowers can use a gift from family members and/or an assistance grant from a state or local government to make the down payment. Closing costs –The FHA allows sellers, builders and lenders to pay some of the borrower’s closing costs, such as appraisal, credit report or title expenses, as an incentive for the borrower to buy the home. FHA-approved lenders only – Because the FHA is an insurer rather than a lender, borrowers must get their loan from an FHA-approved lender. Mortgage insurance – Two mortgage insurance premiums are required on all FHA loans. The upfront premium is 1.75 percent of the loan amount, which can be financed as part of the loan amount. The second, called the annual premium, is paid monthly. It varies based on the loan amount, the length of the loan, and the initial...

5 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Moving Company

Moving can be a stressful, time-consuming and frustrating experience. The excitement of relocating to your new home can be quickly perturbed by the annoyances of moving day, which is why most homeowners choose to hire a moving company to do the job for them. However, your personal belongings are important to you, and, as such, it doesn’t do any good to hire a mediocre moving team that might damage your delicate items or break irreplaceable heirlooms. If you’re new to the moving game, here are five important questions to ask any company you’re seeking to employ: Do you have any references? No matter the job, references are a large part of what secures your trust and comfort in the person’s ability to perform the task effectively. When looking for movers, be sure to ask the company if they can provide references or a link to some reviews of their business, just to be sure they’re legit. What specific services do you offer? Moving companies vary in terms of what they’re willing to do for you. There are some companies that might refuse to move large items, and only provide the lifting and packing of smaller items. Before you call a moving company, be sure to know exactly what items you need to have moved. If you ask questions, and the response is anything but what you’re looking for, at the very least, you should look around for better options. Do you offer in-home estimates? Knowing what needs to be moved is one thing, but understanding the cost of labor to get the job done is another. Finding a company...