Buying Your First Home: Seven Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

Now that you’ve made the decision to purchase your first home, a hearty congratulations is in order!  Becoming a homeowner, especially for the first time, can stir up some feelings of anxiety and excitement.  With the knowledge that you gain through individual research and the help of your REALTOR®, you will soon begin to feel like a seasoned house hunter.

Tip # 1: Do Your Homework

Did you know that there are a number of incentives available to first-time home buyers?  Everything from a 3-5 percent down payment and interest rates as low as 5.75 percent are just a few of the ways that lenders help to make the dream of home ownership into a reality for many.  An FHA loan, for instance, is especially appealing to first-time home buyers.  The best way to find out what’s available, in terms of down payment requirements and interest rates, is to do your homework by comparing offerings from various lenders.

Tip # 2: Save Money

Although many loans are geared toward offering lower down payments to first-time home buyers, it’s important to save as much money as possible so that you will have enough to provide an earnest money deposit (if applicable), pay for closing costs and still have the funds to furnish and decorate your new home.

Tip # 3: Get Your Credit Profile In Order

When you apply for a loan, the lender will access a copy of your credit report and will use the information to determine your creditworthiness and/or interest rate.  This means that you will want to make sure that the information contained in your credit report is accurate and up-to-date.  You can do this by requesting a copy of your file from each of the three major credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

In addition to past credit history, lenders will also look at your current debt ratio in order to determine whether or not you can afford the home.  This means that you may want to consider paying down some of your existing credit card debt and avoid taking on any new debt before applying for a mortgage.

Tip # 4: Start Your Search

With the World Wide Web being what it is today, it’s no surprise that many potential home buyers start their search online.  A Realtor’s Web site is designed to not only list real estate, but also to educate a buyer as they move through the process of searching for a new home.  In addition, the internet offers a way for consumers to browse through color photos and virtual tours, both interior and exterior, along with information pertaining to the homes themselves.  The convenience of being able to find a home that you like without having to wait is just one of the many benefits to shopping for a house online.  When you are finally ready to meet with a REALTOR®, you will already have one or more prospects in mind.

Tip # 5: Have Patience

Perhaps you will find the perfect house this week, or maybe it will take a little longer.  Some buyers find exactly what they are looking for right away, while others have to do a little more searching to find their dream home.  As a first-time home buyer, it’s a good idea to begin the process with an understanding that good things really do come to those who wait.  You may see a number of homes, take numerous photos and may even make an offer or two, but patience may very well be the key to finding your new home.

Tip # 6: Take Notes

If you see a lot of homes, it will be impossible to remember the features of each.  For this reason, you should consider taking a notebook and writing down each unique or defining aspect that you like or dislike about a particular house.  This information, along with any photos that you take, will help you greatly when it’s time to make a choice.

Tip # 7: Don’t Settle

A home is a big investment and it could, quite possibly, be the largest you will ever make.  For this reason, along with the fact that you will be living in the home every day, make sure that you get what you want.  There could be an instance where you need to make some type of compromise, but you may want to avoid choosing something just because it’s within your price range or you feel as though it’s your only option.  New houses are placed on the market every day and, as a buyer, the next one listed may just be your dream home.

 

Top 12 Tips for a Safer Holiday Home

Our world is full of risk at every turn—from perilous jobs to dangerous driving conditions. That’s why we all love to get back to our homes and not worry about everyday safety hazards. It’s great to feel comfortable and safe at home, but is it as safe as it can be?

Your home should be your haven: the place where you will be protected from harm. It should be a top priority, and yet every year 1200 people or more visit the emergency room during the holiday months due to accidents and unintended injuries sustained from hidden dangers around the home.

With a sharp eye and preventive action you can reduce the chances of lurking safety dangers for everyone who visits your home.

The Top 12 Home Safety Tips

  1. GOOD LIGHTING— Adequate lighting reduces the risk of tripping and falling both inside and outside your home. This is especially important in winters when days are shorter. Critical areas that need to be illuminated are the stairs, outdoors, and foyers. Make sure your street number is well lit and visible from the street to aid first responders find your home. The fix: Make sure adequate wattage is utilized and long-life bulbs and motion detectors are in place.

 

  1. ELECTRICAL PROBLEMS?— Electrical issues, like a flickering light or a dead outlet, can be mild annoyances that actually signal serious dangers. If not addressed promptly, a faulty electrical system can result in house fires and shocks. The fix: If you’re experiencing any problems with your electricity, contact a professional right away. In your daily life, make sure electrical cords are not frayed or pierced and extension cords are securely connected. Do not run too many cords to a single outlet. Unplug small appliances, space heaters, and power tools when not in use.

 

  1. DO ROUTINE CLEANING— Not maintaining your appliances leads to a greater chance of accidental home fires. The fix: Do simple tasks regularly like cleaning grease off your stovetop, emptying the lint trap on your dryer, and keeping your chimney clean and clear.

 

  1. SMOKE AND GAS DETECTORS— Every home needs functional warning devices that detect smoke and gases. The fix: When purchasing smoke alarms, make sure they also detect carbon monoxide, a deadly gas that is especially dangerous because it is colorless and odorless. Replace the batteries every six months—or whenever you change your clocks. Create an emergency evacuation plan, build a preparedness kit, and practice regular safety drills with your family to ensure awareness of procedures.

 

  1. SECURE YOUR HOME— Many homes now have the latest technological advancements but still rely on locks and hardware from decades ago to keep you safe from intruders. The fix: Do an audit of all entry points to your home—doors and windows and screens. If any do not have secure screens, locks, and deadbolts, have them installed. For those entry points that do already have door knobs, handles, and locks, make sure that they are in good working condition.

 

  1. WHEN YOU ARE AWAY— We all enjoy long weekends and out-of-town vacations, but unfortunately that leaves your home vulnerable to intruders. The fix: Create the illusion that someone may still be there. Leave a TV or stereo on in the room where a burglar would most likely break in. Have neighbor pick up mail and the daily paper. Turn down phone ringers, keep blinds drawn, and don’t leave unsecured valuables in the home even if you think they are well-hidden. Never hide keys around the home or garden, and don’t leave notes on the door that suggest you are out of town.

 

  1. HOUSEHOLD REPAIRS— Even if you are an expert and know your way around electrical, plumbing, car or other household repairs, proceed with caution. A poor repair could be a recipe for disaster. The fix: Call a professional or ask me for a referral from our trusted sources.

 

  1. VEHICLE CAUTION— Remember that there is danger even before you drive on the street. If you are backing your car up, watch out for children and pets on the sidewalk and road. The fix: Be cautious and proceed slowly when driving vehicles in or out of your driveway. If your driveway does not have good visibility in both directions, walk down and look in both directions before you get in your car.

 

  1. MAKE IT SAFE FOR VISITORS— If you are hosting friends and family, consider what additional safety challenges they may face. The fix: Put yourself in the shoes of a small child and look for low, hard edges, sharp objects, easy-to-open cabinets with chemicals and cleaning agents. Look for falling and tripping hazards that may fell seniors.

 

  1. BRACE YOURSELF— Heavy objects are rarely braced in the home. Appliances, artwork, televisions, and aquariums present real hazards if they are knocked down by a person or a natural disaster. The fix: Strap and brace heavy objects and use security hardware for large artwork.

 

  1. UNCOVER HIDDEN DANGERS— If your home was built before the late seventies, there’s likely lead in the paint under the top coats on your walls and windows, and there might be traces in the varnish used on many hardwood floors. In addition, asbestos often can be found in insulation and “popcorn” ceiling textures. The fix: Hire a licensed contractor to test for possible contaminants and remove them safely, especially prior to a remodel.

 

  1. MOTHER NATURE— Your homeowners insurance will cover you in many instances, but did you know that you may not be insured against natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes? They typically require an additional policy. The fix: Contact your insurance agent to make sure you have adequate replacement coverage as home values escalate and coverage amounts can stay static. Discuss costs for adding disaster policies for the natural disaster most likely to hit your area. Finally, having a disaster and communication plan can minimize the risks.

 

Safety Dangers to Kids You May Not Think About

Do you have small children who live with you? Even if you don’t, with the holiday season rapidly approaching, your home may welcome friends with young children and older family members. This makes now the ideal time to survey home your home for potential safety problems.

OPEN WATER

Did you know that as little as an inch of water can be a major hazard? A pail of water in the yard, large puddles from a storm, even a washing machine can induce a small child to trip or fall into and become at risk. The fix: Watch for open ice chests and other standing water, and don’t leave toilet seats open.

SMALL BATTERIES

Button-sized lithium batteries power small electronic devices, including remote controls, watches, musical greeting cards, and ornaments. When accidently swallowed, they can get stuck in the esophagus and generate an electrical current that can cause severe chemical burns and tissue damage. The fix: Only let small children play with mechnical devices and toys under supervision, and make sure to put these items away when not in use.

WINDOWS AND STAIRS

Every year, more than 5,000 kids end up in the emergency room after tumbling out of a window. Combat that by installing window guards or window stops so kids can’t fall out. Stairs are another potential hazard for youngsters with less-than-perfect balance. The fix: Baby gates can prevent young kids from venturing up or down. Steps should always have firm footing and be clear of objects as even older people can slip and fall or trip on items left on the stairs.

FAMILY PETS

Cats can scratch a child not used to playing with finicky felines. The family dog may be big and loving but can outweigh a child by five times. Children can be easily knocked down, nipped, or even bitten by a dog not used to the activity of small children. The fix: Monitor play activity and make sure your pet is not getting anxious or annoyed.

CORDS

Babies can be strangled by cords on blinds and shades. The fix: Excessive cords of all types should be removed or secured down. Always keep cribs away from windows with loose cords.

Now’s the Time

With the upcoming holidays at hand, now is the perfect time to survey your home and address potential safety hazards to yourselves, your family, and your friends. It doesn’t take long, most fixes are very inexpensive and simple to do, and your efforts will pay dividends in peace of mind for years to come.

If you would like our advice on how to make your home safer and need a list of trusted sources for home repairs, please contact us today. It’s our business to ensure that your home is safe and secure for your family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Benefits Of Home Ownership

The decision to purchase a home is exciting and a major investment for your future.  Because there is only so much of it to go around, real estate is the top choice for many investors and the desire for most families.  This article is designed to highlight some of the many benefits of home ownership and how buying a home can often turn the American Dream into a reality.

One of the most profitable markets in real estate is rentals, which means that many families are paying to live in a home that isn’t their own.  In some cases, renting a home is necessary.  For all others, the money that would be spent on rent could instead be used to pay a mortgage.  In fact, monthly rent payments often exceed that of a typical mortgage payment.  One of the greatest benefits of home ownership is putting money into something that you can call your own and knowing that the monthly payments are going toward your home’s equity.

Speaking of equity, many properties experience a growth in value as more development moves into the area or the economy strengthens through an increase in job opportunities.  If this happens, home values soar and owners can bask in the glory of their newfound profit.  When you purchase a new car, it depreciates the moment that you drive off of the lot.  When you buy a home, however, it has the potential to appreciate year after year.  There are few things in life that can offer you a return above and beyond your original purchase price, but a home can.

When you own a home, you will enjoy the freedom of decorating and making any changes that you choose without needing the permission of a landlord or property owner.  In addition, you may even be able to use your home’s equity to finance some needed improvements and/or repairs.  In some cases, these changes may even increase the value of your home.  An upgraded kitchen or bathroom, hardwood flooring or an additional room are examples of changes that could result in added value.

Another advantage of home ownership is the tax benefits that are available.  The interest paid on a home mortgage as well as most property taxes paid are tax deductible.  For additional information on deducting mortgage interest and property tax, consult the IRS or a tax professional.

In addition to providing yourself and your family with a feeling of stability and permanence, home ownership can also help strengthen your credit profile through timely mortgage payments and a steady financial history.

 

Finding A Neighborhood With Great Schools

If you have children, or even if you don’t yet but plan to in the future, schools are something you will need to take into consideration when you search for a new home.  In most areas, certain boundaries define which schools your children will go to, and switching to a different school can be complicated and expensive in many cases.

Fortunately, finding a great neighborhood with good quality schools is not difficult, thanks to the internet.  Online ratings and reviews of schools can help you to make the right call when it comes to finding a home that will offer your children a quality education.

Start With The District

The first thing you should look into is which school district you are considering moving into.  Find out if the schools in that district tend to be highly rated, and what kind of test scores are generally seen among students in the district schools.  All of this information is readily available online.

The school district Web site will be able to tell you which school your children would go to if you were to buy a particular house.  There is usually a boundary map you can check, or you can enter your address and search to find out which school is the right one.

Check The Reviews

The internet allows people to review everything from appliances to doctors—and schools are no exception.  Search for your school of choice online and you will find plenty of reviews from parents whose children have attended the school.  Getting an unbiased opinion of the school will help you to get an idea of what you can expect.

When You Love The Neighborhood, But Not The School

If you really want a particular house in a particular neighborhood, but aren’t too happy with the schools, you can look into your other options.  Most school districts have a system by which you can choose to send your child to a different school.  This usually involves either particular needs that can’t be met by the in-area school, or a fee or lottery system to allow your child to attend the school of your choice.  Find out what the rules are in your school district.

Your other option is to look into private schools.  This is, of course, the more expensive choice, but should you select a private school you will have the freedom to live wherever you like, without worrying about what school your child will be slotted to attend.

 

Simple Ideas To Make Your Home More Welcoming To Buyers

It may seem obvious, but many sellers fail to recognize that a home that feels, looks, and smells welcoming and homey will more likely raise a buyer’s interest when they come for a showing.  Of course, you think your home is pretty comfortable and welcoming already, but there are a few things you can do to make buyers feel right at home from the moment they walk in the door.

Lead With The Nose

If your home smells good, it will make buyers want to stick around longer.  The sense of smell is the strongest of all the five senses in its connection to our emotions.  Certain smells simply make us feel comfortable and at home no matter where we are.  There are a few smells that are almost universal.  Try a flameless scented burner that is safe but releases a wonderful fragrance in your home.  Choose scents like vanilla or spices, smells that remind people of home cooking and sweet treats.

Be sure your fragrance isn’t overwhelming, however, and don’t use it to mask other odors like cat litter or food smells.  Buyers will know right away you are trying to hide something!

Let The Light Shine In

Clean your windows and open all of the blinds and curtains to let the sunshine into the home.  The warm feeling will make your buyers want to settle in and bask in the glow.  A brightly lit home looks bigger, too, while a dark home will appear smaller.

Be sure you replace burnt out light bulbs so your home will be fully lit and have a welcoming glow even in the evening or on a cloudy day.

Set The Table

It may seem odd, but a table set as though a family is about to sit down to a meal makes the home feel lived in and comfortable without being cluttered or too personal.  Set the table with matching dishes and a nice but simple centerpiece, to give the dining room that ready to sit down feel.

Making buyers see your house as a home is important in getting them really interested in making it their home.  With just a few simple adjustments, you can create a feeling that welcomes buyers to settle in—they will want to make an offer so they never have to leave!

 

Getting Your Home Ready to Sell

You would never dream of inviting guests to your house without making certain preparations, so don’t invite potential buyers without first making the necessary updates by preparing your home to sell.  If you are like most sellers, you want to get as much as possible for your home and you want to do it as quickly as possible.

Letting Go

After you’ve lived in a house, it becomes much more than four walls and a ceiling.  It’s a home and it has a lot of good memories.  Your first step to preparing your home to sell is to realize that you will take these memories with you wherever you go, but you won’t be taking the house.  It can be difficult to let go, but the task will be much easier if you start to think of it as a new beginning rather than an ending.

Cleaning House

An important part of getting your home ready to sell is in staging the decor for potential buyers.  When you stage a home, you create an environment that is free of any personal items, such as photos and/or anything that stands out as being customized for you or your family.  When a potential buyer walks through your home, they need to envision their belongings and decor without being distracted by yours.  While these items may be special to you, they could possibly prevent the buyer from being able to imagine their own style complimenting the home.

In addition to removing any personal items, make sure that you remove any clutter from the home.  A clean home seems larger and more inviting, whereas a lot of stuff lying around could give the impression that the home is too small or cramped for storage.  Pack up any knickknacks, remove your children’s drawings from the refrigerator and clean up your counter space in both the kitchen and bathrooms.

Staging Your Home

Now that your house is clean, it’s time to put the finishing touches on the staging process.  A solid, neutral shade in a tablecloth should be selected for the dining room table.  Depending on your decor and wall coloring, a solid white, sand or ivory covering will work well.  In the center of the table, a vase with fresh cut flowers (or silk, if you have allergies) will add a nice accent.  Did you know that the kitchen and bathroom are two of the main selling points to any home?  Keep this in mind when preparing your home for potential buyers.

The living room should have one focal point, whether it be a fireplace or breathtaking view of the outside world.  If you have too many features screaming out at potential buyers, they may feel overwhelmed, so focus on one aspect and make it shine.  If you have a mantle, line it with three candles that match your decor in color.  Place a large candle in the center with one smaller one on each end, which will be reminiscent of a perfectly matched bookend set.  A home with a stunning view should have window dressings that accent the positive, instead of hiding it.  If your furniture has a design of any kind, mask it with a solid slipcover to compliment the flooring or wall color.  Some homeowners also add a fresh coat of paint to their home, which will bring life back into a fading color.  Turn on the lights and open the blinds and draperies to create a bright and inviting environment throughout your home.

Where To Store Your Stuff

Now that you know how important it is to remove any clutter and oversized or bulky furniture, you need to know where to put it.  If you already have a new home, you can simply move it there.  Otherwise, you can put it into storage until you are ready to move.  It’s important to leave some essentials in your former home for potential buyers to see, such as a dining room table, a sofa and chairs, bed, etc.  Any additional furnishings that seem to interrupt the flow of your home, or make it feel cramped, should be removed.  You do not want potential buyers to feel as though the house is too small.

Details, Details, Details . . .

As a final strategy to prepare your home to sell, make sure that you have any carpet stains removed, windows cleaned, fresh linens placed in the bedrooms and bathrooms, etc.  You would be surprised how many people pay attention to even the smallest of details, so be sure to fix any small repairs that could be a turnoff for buyers.  Last but not least, make sure your home looks just as good on the outside as it does on the inside.  This means that your lawn should be cared for, flower beds must be maintained and any outdoor clutter must be removed.

 

Should You Buy a New or Existing Home?

Maybe 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.